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6: The Fast Sermons of the Long Parliament - Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century 
The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001).
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The Fast Sermons of the Long Parliament
“It was an observation of that time,” wrote Clarendon of the Puritan Revolution, “that the first publishing of extraordinary news was from the pulpit; and by the preacher’s text, and his manner of discourse upon it, the auditors might judge, and commonly foresaw, what was like to be next done in the Parliament or Council of State.”1 Clarendon himself took a great interest in the techniques both of parliamentary management and of political preaching. He had himself, in the first eighteen months of the Long Parliament, ample opportunities of watching the “tuning of the pulpits” by Pym; and indeed, I shall suggest, his first tactical defeat by Pym may have been in one such matter. Though some of his particular illustrations are incorrect, his general statement is, I believe, true. In this essay I wish to show how the leaders of the Long Parliament, while there was effective leadership, used the pulpit both for strategic and for tactical purposes: both to declare long-term aims and to inaugurate temporary shifts of policy; and I shall do so particularly with reference to those sermons over which the parliamentary leaders had direct control, the regular “fast sermons” which were preached before Parliament on the last Wednesday of every month from 1642 to 1649.
General fasts, with appropriate sermons, were, of course, nothing new in 1640. Great occasions had always called them forth. There had been a general fast on the approach of the Armada in 1588, a weekly fast in 1603 until the plague was over, and another general fast for the great plague of 1625. More recently, fasts had also been held at the beginning of Parliament. There was always something a little distasteful to the Crown about such proposals: they emphasized the gravity of affairs and implied that Parliament, with God’s support, provided the means of solution. Consequently Queen Elizabeth never allowed them. In 1580, when the House of Commons suggested a public fast for the preservation of the queen’s life and the better direction of the actions of the House, she was furious. The proposal was very modest, and the House proposed to leave the choice of preacher entirely to the Privy Councillors in the House “to the end they might be such as would keep convenient proportion of time and meddle with no matter of innovation or unquietness.” Even so, the queen expressed her great misliking and astonishment at such rashness and made the House eat the humblest of humble pie. That done, she graciously allowed that their rash, unadvised, and inconsiderate error had proceeded from zeal, not malicious intent, and forgave them provided that they never misbehaved in that sort again.2
They did not; and it was not till the last Parliament of James I that a more formidable House of Commons revived the proposal. On 23 February 1624 Sir Edward Cecil moved that there be a general fast, with a collection for the poor, as in Holland. The House was to choose the preachers. But of course the king must give the authority: Parliament could only prescribe for itself. So the Commons conferred with the Lords and together they moved the king. James I agreed, saying that he would consult the bishops as to the best time. After that the practice became regular. There were general fasts, proclaimed by the king on the motion of both Houses, at the beginning of each of the first four parliaments of Charles I.3
Apart from fasts, or “days of public humiliation” in times of crisis, there were also special sermons on certain anniversaries and on days of thanksgiving for great victories or deliveries. The accession-day of the reigning monarch was one such anniversary; another was 5 November, the day of the Gunpowder Plot; a third, which rose in popularity as the Stuarts fell, was 17 November, the accession-day of Queen Elizabeth. This was an unofficial day of thanksgiving, on which the Stuart kings, not unnaturally, tended to frown.4
Thus when the Long Parliament met in November 1640, it was perfectly natural that one of its first acts should be to propose a general fast, and it was, by now, perfectly natural that the king should agree to it. It was also perfectly predictable that particular crises or particular triumphs might elicit special days of “public humiliation” or “thanksgiving.” What few would have predicted was that such occasions would be converted into a regular system in order to sustain the unity of Parliament and the fulfilment of an ever more radical programme over several years; that Pym would learn to “tune the pulpits” as effectively as ever his heroine Queen Elizabeth had done; and that well-timed sermons would not only declare the general party line, but also, on particular occasions, prepare the way for dramatic episodes. They would foretell the death first of Strafford, then of Laud; declare the civil war; initiate the iconoclastic programme; and, finally, they would announce the most dramatic, most revolutionary gesture of all: the execution of the king himself.
The first episode in this history comes at the very beginning of the Parliament. When Parliament met, its very first act was to propose a general fast. The procedure followed the form which was now usual. Both Houses, in agreement, requested the king to authorize the solemnity. Each House chose its own preachers. All business was to be suspended. There were to be sermons morning and afternoon. The Lord Mayor was to make arrangements in the City. At the same time the House of Commons, following earlier precedents, also appointed a day on which all its members should take the sacrament and listen to further sermons. This was an internal matter requiring no royal authority. When these plans were agreed, the dates were chosen. Symbolically, the date chosen for the joint fast was 17 November, Queen Elizabeth’s day; the date for the taking of the sacrament was to be 29 November. The preachers chosen by the Commons were, for the first ceremony, Stephen Marshall and Cornelius Burges; for the second, John Gauden and George Morley.
These arrangements were not casual. Nothing, in those early days of the Long Parliament, was casual. After all, this great meeting of Parliament had been planned long ago. For three years “the great contrivers,” as Clarendon called them, had been planning their tactics, preparing their programme. They had a political programme and a social programme, and they intended to realize them both by certain clearly defined steps. First, they had to force the king to summon Parliament; then they had to secure the return of their friends to Parliament; then they had to dismantle the existing royal government; finally, they had to persuade the king to accept the reformers into his counsels. For this purpose the great peers—the earls of Warwick, Pembroke, Bedford—had used their clerical and borough patronage. For this purpose the great strategists—Bedford and his supports, Pym and St. John—had devised their strategy. Naturally, now that the moment for parliamentary action had come, they were not unprepared. The function of the first sermons was to lay down the policy of Parliament, and the preachers chosen already knew their parts.
By far the most important of the preachers was Stephen Marshall, minister of Finchingfield, Essex, the most famous political parson of the revolution. Like so many of the political clergy, Marshall was a client of the Earl of Warwick, and he had served his master well, preaching for his parliamentary candidates throughout Essex. He had already preached the fast sermon at the beginning of the Short Parliament, that first false start of the reforming programme.5 In the Long Parliament he would emerge as the inseparable political and spiritual ally of Pym, the interpreter of Pym’s policy after Pym’s death. At every stage of the revolution we can see him. Now he is thumping his pulpit on great occasions; now he is meeting with Pym, Hampden and Harley to prepare parliamentary tactics; now he is bustling through Westminster Hall to push voters into the Parliament before the division; now he is retiring, exhausted, to recuperate in the well-appointed house of his good friend “my noble Lord of Warwick.” Later he would be the Parliament’s envoy to Scotland, its chaplain with the captive king; he would pass unscathed from Presbyterianism to Independency; and if he always appeared as the spokesman for the winning side, his changes can be explained by one consistent aim, which was also the aim of Pym: to preserve the unity of opposition against royal and clerical reaction.6
From beginning to end Marshall was the clerical tribune of the Parliament. Others accompanied him for stretches of the road only. At the beginning his constant companions were Cornelius Burges, who now preached with him on the fast-day, and Edmund Calamy. They too were both clients of the Earl of Warwick. As a political parson Burges at least was hardly less active than Marshall. His greatest achievement would be the ingenious financial device of “doubling” on bishops’ lands to pay off the Scottish armies. That busy Scotch minister, the Rev. Robert Baillie, who so piqued himself on his political ability, recognized “good Mr. Marshall” and “my dear friend Dr. Burges” as kindred spirits—at least until he found that they were even sharper than he. From the opposite side Clarendon would also single them out. “Without doubt,” he would write, “the archbishop of Canterbury had never so great an influence upon the counsels at court as Dr. Burges and Mr. Marshall had then upon the Houses.”7
Thus from the start the stage was set. By the time that Burges and Marshall mounted their pulpits, their message was predictable. Strafford was in prison, his plans to break the Parliament frustrated, at least for a time. But for how long? All depended on the cohesion of Parliament, its refusal to be divided by royal manoeuvre or internal strains. This had always been Pym’s message: from his earliest days in Parliament he had advocated a “covenant” among the enemies of popery and tyranny. Now both Burges and Marshall sang to the same tune. In the universal peril, said Marshall, all hope lay in a covenant such as had been made to defend religion in the days of Queen Elizabeth. It was not enough, added Burges, “to pull down and cut off some of the Nimrods” who had invaded English laws and liberties: “there must be a thorough joining of themselves to God by covenant.” And each in turn looked back to the same day eighty-two years ago, “the auspicious entrance of our late royal Deborah (worthy of eternal remembrance and honour) into her blessed and glorious reign.”8
Marshall and Burges laid down the political conditions of parliamentary survival. The next sermons, the sermons of 29 November, showed something of the social programme envisaged. They also gave a further glimpse of the mechanics whereby the pulpits were tuned. John Gauden was another clerical protégé of the Earl of Warwick. George Morley was, as far as we can see, unconnected with the “great contrivers.” He was an intimate friend of Hyde and Falkland, an Anglican of Socinian views like Falkland himself, and a regular member of Falkland’s circle at Great Tew. His future was to be as a royalist ally of Hyde. But in 1640 Hyde and Falkland were reformers and Morley had incurred the dislike of Laud: they could therefore propose him in a loyal but anti-Laudian Parliament, and he could be chosen along with the candidate of the “great contrivers,” Gauden. But even at this early stage the distinction between the real party leaders and their “moderate royalist” allies was made apparent. When the sermons were over, the House voted its thanks to Gauden, and invited him to print his sermon. The thanks, and the request, were conveyed by Sir Thomas Barrington, the brother-in-law of the Earl of Warwick. But Morley fared differently. His sermon, we are told, “was so little to their gust and liking” that no such message was sent to him. His sermon was not printed and we do not know what he said.9
On the other hand, Gauden’s sermon, the sermon which the leaders of Parliament blessed, is a very revealing document. It was a plea for a peaceful, social and religious reformation in England, and it ended with a positive suggestion. If Parliament wished, said Gauden, to carry out this reformation, it could not do better than to consult “two great and public spirits who have laboured much for truth and peace,” John Dury, the apostle of Protestant unity, and John Amos Comenius, the Bohemian reformer of education, “both famous for their learning, piety and integrity and not unknown, I am sure, by the fame of their works, to many of this honourable, learned and pious assembly.” In the published version of his sermon Gauden added a note. It might not seem easy, he wrote, to fetch these men to England since Comenius was in Poland and Dury in Sweden. However, “there is a fair, easy and safe way of addresses to them both”: they could be reached via Samuel Hartlib of Duke’s Place, London.
Certainly Hartlib, Dury and Comenius were “not unknown” to the leaders of Parliament: they were far better known to them than to the preacher who now uttered their names. Hartlib was a close friend of Pym, and for the last few years most of the “great contrivers” had been in touch with them, directly or indirectly, circulating their works, supporting their projects, supplying them with money. Those three men were the philosophers of the “country party,” and in naming them Gauden was stating in advance the social programme of the parliamentary reformers. And once the programme had been thus indicated, the rest followed. Hartlib was requested to fetch Dury and Comenius to England in the name of “the Parliament of England.” Next year they came; and although the deterioration of politics made it impossible to realize their reforms, and Comenius would retire, disillusioned, to Sweden and Holland, their names would never be far from the lips of the parliamentary leaders. Whenever political peace seemed (however falsely) to have returned, Hartlib and Dury would be summoned to draft the new social millennium; and when Oliver Cromwell had at last, among the débris of Crown and Parliament, established some kind of order, it was from their circle that he would accept advice on religious reform, social and educational policy, even foreign affairs.10
So much for the first fast sermons, the sermons of 1640. At that time there was no thought of repetition. The ceremonies were inaugural ceremonies; the sermons charted the course ahead; the rest should be plain sailing. Unfortunately it was not in fact plain sailing. What Bedford called the great rock of Strafford’s case thrust itself up and threatened to wreck the Parliament. For the trial of Strafford did not go according to plan. The legal charges were hard to prove and yet it seemed suicide to acquit him. Bedford himself wished to spare Strafford for the sake of ultimate compromise with the king; but would the king ever compromise if he had Strafford to advise him? Was it not safer to knock that fatal adviser on the head as a beast of prey, even if it alienated the king for ever? That was the view of Bedford’s more radical allies. Between these two policies the parliamentary leaders wavered. Then, at the beginning of April, events occurred to decide them. On 1 April Bedford and Pym learned of the Army Plot, the plot to rescue Strafford from the Tower by force. At first Bedford, in his desire to keep tempers down, persuaded Pym to say nothing to the Commons. But Pym, it is clear, was now converted. On 3 April he caused the remaining Irish charges against Strafford to be hastily despatched so as to push forward the more damaging English charges; and next day, being Sunday, he once again used the pulpit to declare policy.
The preacher of this ordinary Sunday sermon was Samuel Fairclough, a country clergyman from Suffolk. The patron of his living there was Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston, a close ally of Pym; and the preacher himself acknowledged that only the favour and command of his patron could have brought him from his rural obscurity to address so exalted a congregation. When the sermon was over he would return to that obscurity and come to our notice again only twelve years later, when he would preach at his patron’s funeral. Nevertheless, this demure and humble parson was not afraid, on this occasion, to pronounce a very remarkable sermon. It was about the “troubler of Israel,” Achan, whose sins lay heavily on the whole people of God, until they were relieved of it by his prompt execution on the orders of Joshua. For “troublers of the state,” said the preacher, though they must have the benefit of “due trial and examination,” must always be despatched “without any unnecessary delays or procrastination.” Thereupon, with revolting relish, he repudiated in turn every argument of justice or humanity. Death, only death, would satisfy the remorseless preacher, death without time for repentance on one side or for reflection on the other. And then, lest he should seem to be speaking of too abstract a case, he dropped the case of Achan, whose punishment was more apposite than his crime, and turned to other “troublers of Israel” who had deserved the same fate. In particular he turned to Achitophel, the treacherous councillor of King David, who, having wormed his way into his master’s confidence, and then stirred up armed revolt, finally undertook himself to suppress the rebellion he had raised, in order “that, as he had been President of the Council in peace, so now he might feed his ambitious humour in making himself general of the forces in war.” In this capacity Achitophel, said the preacher (who seemed remarkably well informed about Strafford’s speech to the Privy Council on 5 May 1640), had urged “all haste and expedition, no further counsel but his own: he would not have the battle delayed one day.” Therefore let there be no delay in his despatch, which will give such joy to the Church as Israel felt when the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, when Sisera was beheaded, when Haman was hanged.11
At this time, it should be noted, Strafford, though on a capital charge, was still legally presumed innocent. The knowledge of the Army Plot was still confined (it seems) to Bedford and Pym. The details of Strafford’s advice in Council would not be revealed to Parliament till the next day. It is hardly conceivable that this country clergyman, so submissive to his patron, so dazzled by his momentary publicity, should have dared, on his own initiative, to dictate to Parliament, while the great trial was still sub judice, a new and more sanguinary course. And yet from that date this was the course which would be followed. The conclusion is forced upon us that Fairclough’s sermon was the means of declaring a new party line.
Perhaps it was the usefulness of that sermon which suggested to Parliament a more frequent use of solemn fast-days; for only a fortnight afterwards a proposal for another joint fast was referred to a committee, and the committee, on 28 April, reported that there indeed were grounds enough for such a solemnity. Notwithstanding the former day of public humiliation, progress had been slow, dangers and fears remained, plague threatened . . . However, the proposal seems not to have been pursued. No doubt it was lost in the press of business. And when Strafford’s head was at last off, and the king, it seemed, had surrendered on all issues, the occasion for sackcloth and ashes was over. In the summer of 1641 Pym even felt able to disband the Scottish armies on which Parliament had hitherto relied and which had now become a liability. The next special religious demonstration was therefore not a fast but a day of thanksgiving for the peace with Scotland. To celebrate that event, the sign of victory, the basis of a purely English reformation, on 7 September 1641 the church bells were rung all over England; and Parliament listened to ecstatic sermons from Stephen Marshall and Jeremiah Burroughes. To both of them 1641 was annus mirabilis, “this wonderful year,” greater than 1588, the year of the Armada, the “return of the prayers of forty and forty years” since the accession of Queen Elizabeth: the year which had silenced all critics, would enable swords to be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks, and would begin “a very jubilee and resurrection of Church and State.”12
The euphoria of that autumn was general. It was then that Milton’s great pamphlets were written, then that Dury and Comenius met in England to plan the new social reformation for which the political basis, it now seemed, was secure. The disillusion caused by the Irish rebellion and its consequences was therefore profound. By the middle of December the affairs of Parliament looked blacker than ever. The king was now back in London. He had won over the City, the House of Lords, the “neuters” in the country. He was preparing to strangle the Parliament. So we need not be surprised to find the leaders of Parliament, on 17 December, proposing once again (as well as certain more practical measures) a “day of humiliation.” This time it was to be not only a parliamentary but a general fast, to renew and re-emphasize the solidarity of Parliament and people. The fast was to be celebrated by the two Houses and the City on 22 December, by the country on 20 January. The preachers to the Commons were to be, as so often, Stephen Marshall and Edmund Calamy. The Lords and the City would choose their own preachers. The arrangements in the country were to be made by the local authorities on the instructions of their members of Parliament.
By the day of the parliamentary fast London was already in turmoil. Pym had won one great victory: the City elections had given him control, through his radical ally Alderman Penington, of the Common Council. The king had counter-attacked by putting a notorious cavalier in command of the Tower. At any moment, it now seemed, the crunch would come. If Parliament was to survive, it must keep left, disdain no weapons, draw on the radical spirit of the City mobs, exalt their radicalism by ideological gestures. In the previous winter Pym had contained the City mobs, diverted their attacks on episcopacy, on images, on “popish” ceremonies. Now he must appeal to these forces. The sermons of 22 December reflected this mood. While Calamy deplored the delay in reformation caused by the sins of the City, which made it, like Sodom, ripe for destruction, Marshall beat the drum ecclesiastic and urged his hearers to hunt out the sinners. They should remember good King Josiah, who not only broke down “all the images and reliques of idolatry,” but also “executed the justice and vengeance of God upon the instruments of the kingdom’s ruin, the idolatrous priests, digging the bones of some of them out of their graves.” No nice scruples of prudence or legality had hindered that good work. Josiah “consulted not with flesh and blood”: it was God’s work and he did it without question, “with zeal and fervency.” Parliament should now go and do likewise.13 For these seasonable sermons the preachers were duly thanked and voted a gratuity of £20 apiece in plate.
So the fierce struggle for London was launched. Massive processions demanded justice against “bishops and popish lords,” the obstacles to reform; “images” were denounced and attacked, Westminster Abbey and the House of Lords invaded; the impeachment of the queen was threatened. The king retaliated with his attempt on the Five Members and, failing, left London, resolved to enter it again only as a conqueror.
To the leaders of Parliament the king’s flight was a declaration of war. At the time neither side might be prepared for war, and it would take eight months before the necessity of it could be admitted and the armies raised. The great problem was created by the “neuters,” that solid body of men throughout the country who insisted, and would long insist, that there was no cause for civil war and demanded that king and Parliament make concessions to each other to restore the old “mixed monarchy.” All through these first eight months of 1642 the “neuters” bombarded both sides with their appeals. But on both sides the leaders had already decided. On the king’s side, we see it if we look behind his formal statements to his private correspondence with the queen. On Pym’s side we see it, once again, in his tuning of the pulpits, and, in particular, in the utterances of his spiritual oracle, the true amplifier of his master’s voice, Stephen Marshall.
For on 24 December, at the height of the struggle for London, when Marshall’s last sermon was still echoing in their ears, the Commons once again turned their attention to public fasts. Recognizing that they were now faced by a permanent crisis, and that their survival depended on continuous contact with the country, continuous propaganda, they invited the Lords to join them in proposing to the king that as long as the troubles in Ireland remained unsettled, there should be a regular monthly fast. The ground was well chosen. The Lords agreed; the king could not demur; and a royal proclamation was duly published. By its terms, the last Wednesday of every month was to be kept as a fast-day “as well by abstinence from food as by public prayers, preaching and hearing the word of God . . . in all cathedrals, collegiate and parish churches and chapels” throughout England and Wales. The fast already arranged for the country on 20 January was confirmed. Thereafter Parliament, City and country would celebrate the fast on the same day, beginning on 23 February 1642.14
The parliamentary sermons of 23 February thus marked the beginning of a new regular system, a standing covenant between Parliament and people. Ostensibly linked to the rebellion in Ireland, which king and Parliament pretended equally to deplore, it was in fact tied to the English crisis which was sustained by that rebellion. By agreeing to the system, Charles I had put into the hands of his enemies a means of co-ordination and propaganda to which he himself had no parallel. What kind of an engine it was would be shown from the very start, in the opening sermons of those two star performers of the Parliament, Stephen Marshall and Edmund Calamy.
As before, Edmund Calamy, the unpolitical clergyman, looked to the past. Hitherto, he pointed out, the new English reformation had been carried out in a peaceable, parliamentary way. While the other nations “travailed through blood to a reformation,” the building of the new England had gone forward, like Solomon’s Temple, without the noise of hammer or axe.15 It was all very satisfactory—so far. But what of the future? At this point Stephen Marshall, the politician, took over. As before, he looked forward; and he looked forward, quite clearly, to war. The bloodthirsty sermon in which, six months before the outbreak of hostilities, he denounced the “neuters” and called for total war would become the most famous of all his works. It was also the sermon which he himself most admired. According to his own account, he afterwards preached it, up and down the country, sixty times, and it was several times printed. It caused him to be known as “the great incendiary of this unhappy war.” When he published it, he entitled it Meroz Cursed.
For there are times, explained the minister of Christ, when “God’s blessed servants must come down from mount Gerizim, the mount of blessing, and go up on mount Ebal, the mount of cursing, and there curse, and curse bitterly,” as the angel of the Lord once cursed the men of Meroz for failing to join in the battle “against King Jabin and his general Sisera, who for twenty years had mightily oppressed the children of Israel.” “For all people are cursed or blessed according as they do or do not help the Church of God in its need.” Does not the Holy Writ expressly say, “cursed is he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently”? And what is this imperative work of the Lord? “The next words,” replied the preacher, “will tell you: cursed is everyone that withholds his hand from shedding of blood.” For the Lord, he explained, “acknowledges no neuters”; “he that is not with me is against me,” and “public neuters” shall receive from the hand of Christ the same bloody doom and execution which Gideon very properly imposed upon the men of Succoth and Penuel when they refused to co-operate in catching and killing his enemies. Then, moving on from the barbarities of the Old Testament to the barbarities of the Middle Ages, Marshall invited his hearers to admire “that brave Bohemian captain,” John Zizka, “who not only was willing to fight while he lived but bequeathed his skin, when he died, to be made a drum-head for the service of the war.”
Meroz Cursed was the first of a long series of incendiary sermons which, from now on, scandalized royalists and moderate men alike. “No good Christian,” wrote Clarendon, “can without horror think of those ministers of the Church who, by their function being messengers of peace, were the only trumpets of war and incendiaries towards rebellion.” The scriptural phrases used by Marshall, the texts concerning the men of Meroz, the curses upon those who did the work of the Lord negligently or held back from the shedding of blood, would become the commonplaces of many a later preacher.16 So would some other choice scriptural examples: the virtue of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, who did not wait for authority but slew the transgressors with his own hand and thus stayed the plague that had visited Israel; the vices of Saul, who ignored the orders of Samuel to hew Agag, King of the Amalekites, in pieces, and of Ahab who similarly defied the orders of a prophet and spared Ben-Hadad, King of Syria. They were part of the horrible propaganda with which Pym found it necessary, at times, to rally his forces in order to resist, and bring into “a good correspondency” with Parliament, a king whose circumstances happily dispensed him from such disagreeable language.
Thus the regular series of “monthly fasts” began. They would continue for seven years. The routine was soon established. When one ceremony was over, the next would be prepared. The two Houses would separately choose and invite their preachers. The invitation of the Lords was impersonal, that of the Commons conveyed by named members—neighbours, friends, kinsmen: presumably their original sponsors. Sometimes, of course, there were refusals and substitutes had to be found. When the fast-day came, official parliamentary business was omitted or cut down to a minimum. The Lords normally gathered in King Henry VII’s chapel of Westminster Abbey, the Commons in St. Margaret’s, Westminster. The two preachers delivered the sermons, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The ceremonies were open to all: unless expressly excluded by a parliamentary order, the public was free to attend and (according to the fashion of the time) to take notes of the sermons. Next day, or within a few days, votes of thanks would be passed and conveyed to the preachers, generally with a request to print their sermons, by named members, generally their original sponsors. Then the process was repeated. Similar ceremonies took place all over the country. Nor was it only on the last Wednesday of the month that Parliament subjected itself and the people to this heavy dose of religion. Special crises called forth special fasts also: fasts to celebrate the opening of the Westminster Assembly, to desire blessings on the parliamentary armies when in difficulty, to persuade God to remove “a great judgment of rain and waters” or “abundance of rain and unseasonable weather,” and to abate such calamities as the miseries of Scotland during the triumphs of Montrose, the incidence of the plague, divers crying sins and enormities of the Church, the spread of heresies and blasphemies, etc. There were also, when occasion called for them, special days of thanksgiving. All these entailed special sermons, whose preachers were chosen, thanked and invited to print in the same way.
Of course the procedure looks smoother in the parliamentary journals than it was in fact. In fact the fasts were always regarded as party propaganda and, in consequence, were often resented in the country. From the beginning there were complaints. Even Members of Parliament were accused of forgoing abstinence and sermons in order to drink and dine in taverns, and royalist pamphleteers and poets made merry at the sleek, black-robed, well-paid Marshall who lifted his nose like a whale to spout, and beat and banged his pulpit as he thundered damnation to the absentees. In the country the inattention was even worse, and a constant stream of orders and ordinances, imposing new burdens of enforcement and new penalties for omission, showed that the parliamentary example was ill followed. Still, at the centre a good appearance was kept up. There was also, in London, a good supply of preachers. From the start, as “scandalous” ministers were ejected, country preachers, encouraged by their local Members of Parliament, poured in to compete for their places, and from 1643 the Westminster Assembly provided a constant reservoir of clerical talent, eager to display itself to the new, many-headed patron of the Church. For the first few years, therefore—as long as the Parliament was united—the system reflected parliamentary policy. It also reflected the shifts in that policy. Out of many possible instances, a few must suffice.
The first great test of Pym’s leadership, after the outbreak of war, came in the early months of 1643. At first, both sides had expected a quick victory: neither was prepared for a long war. Consequently, when both had failed in their first objectives, the pressure towards compromise was irresistible and Pym was obliged to negotiate with the king. But as he had little faith in the king’s peaceful intentions, it was essential that the “treaty of Oxford” should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness on the parliamentary side. If the conservatives on Pym’s right were willing to accept a treacherous peace, he must rely on the radicals on his left and show that, with their support, he would fight on for a more stable settlement. This resolution was clearly shown, on the very eve of the negotiations, by one of the fast sermons of 25 January 1643. It was a sermon which might seem, to anyone unaware of the real situation at Oxford, singularly inappropriate to the opening of a peace treaty.
The preacher was John Arrowsmith, who had been proposed by Pym’s step-brother, Francis Rous. His text was Leviticus xxvi. 25, “I shall bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant,” and his message was that bloody civil wars were peculiar signs of God’s blessing on a country, and that England, having now been singled out for this favour, must fight it out, exacting “like for like and, particularly, blood for blood (Rev. xvi. 5–6).”17 After listing the sins which called most loudly for blood, and which included especially the neglect of God’s covenant and disrespect for its messengers, the clergy, he gave his specific instructions. He reminded his hearers that the English victory over the Scots at Musselburgh, a century before, had been won at the hour when Parliament, in London, ordered the burning of “idolatrous images.” Thus if Pym held out his right hand to treat with the king, with his left he pointed the way to a more radical war and a new campaign of iconoclasm. Five days later he emphasized his threat by pushing through Parliament an ordinance abolishing episcopacy and including the ratification of the ordinance in the terms of the treaty. No doubt this paper ordinance was as yet merely a threat, to be withdrawn if necessary: Pym would always have settled for “moderate episcopacy”; but such withdrawal presupposed a real settlement. At present he suspected the king’s motives and was determined to negotiate only from the appearance of strength and radical resolve.
The event justified him. In fact the king had no intention of making peace. He was playing for time till the queen should arrive from Holland with the means of victory. And in fact, all through the first three weeks of the treaty, as he spun it out, he was waiting for news of her arrival at Newcastle upon Tyne. Finally, after a series of dramatic adventures at sea, her little fleet arrived at Bridlington. By that time Parliament had been able to draw the moral, and on 22 February, as she drew towards land, the fast-preachers made it clear. They were John Ellis, invited once again by Rous, and William Bridge, whom Bishop Wren had driven abroad, but who had now returned, like the queen, from Holland, to be “one of the demagogues of the Parliament.”
Ellis was chiefly concerned to expose the dangers of “a false peace”—that is, one which did not guarantee the future by “putting Christ into the treaty.” He urged his hearers to remember the message of his predecessor Mr. Arrowsmith and make no peace till the false brethren and enemies of Christ had been trodden down like straw in the dunghill. Bridge was more explicit. Kings, he explained, were sometimes, like King David, too indulgent to their families, and he thought it necessary to warn King Charles against this fault. “Sir,” he exclaimed, “your Absalom and your Adonijah, you may love them well, but not better than your own peace, your own people. If the Queen of your bosom stand in competition with your kingdom, you must not love her better than us, than it.” He then quoted an edifying story from Turkish history. A Turkish emperor, he said, was charged by his subjects with neglect of his kingdom, “moved thereto (as they alleged) by the too much love of a lady, his concubine; whom in a great assembly the emperor showed to all his people on a time, and they concluded that, in regard of her excellent beauty, they could not blame him for being misled. But, saith he, that you may know how little I regard her in comparison with you, he drew his scimitar and killed her before them all.”18 Such was the example, which Mr. Bridge held up to Charles I, preparing to welcome, after a year’s absence, his beautiful queen.
So the attack was launched on the queen, as the fomenter of civil war, the irreconcilable enemy of “settlement.” In March, while still formally treating with the king, Parliament invaded the queen’s chapel, broke up its furniture, expelled its priests. Then, on 16 April, the treaty was broken off, and radical passions had to be enlisted in earnest for the renewal of a more desperate war. On 24 April Sir Robert Harley asked for a committee to destroy superstitious monuments in London churches and himself at once set about the work. Two days later it was among headless statues and shivered stained-glass windows that the Commons gathered in St. Margaret’s to hear the monthly fast sermons. The first, appropriately enough, was by a protégé of Harley himself, a country clergyman from Cheshire who served up the now familiar texts “Curse ye Meroz” and “Cursed be he that keepeth his sword back from blood.” The second was by William Greenhill, another of Bishop Wren’s victims, famous for his commentary on Ezekiel. His sermon once again was a pointer to immediate policy. He chose the ominous text, “The axe is laid to the root of the tree.”
Like Samuel Fairclough two years before, Greenhill demanded “justice on delinquents.” Indeed he referred back explicitly to the execution of Strafford. “When your justice fell upon that great cedar-tree above a year and a half ago,” he cried, “did not all England tremble?” And now too much time had passed without a second stroke. Though great “delinquents” still lived, the executioner’s axe had culpably been allowed to rust. That was most improper. However, he added, regretfully, “if justice be at a stand and cannot take hold of living delinquents to keep the axe from rust, let justice be executed upon lifeless delinquents. Are there no altars, no high places, no crucifixes, no crosses in the open street that are bowed unto and idolized? Lay your axe to the roots and hew them down!”19
The message was clear, and was instantly obeyed. Two days after the sermon, the terms of Harley’s committee were extended to include the destruction of idolatrous monuments in streets and open places. On 2 May Cheapside Cross, that bugbear of the Puritans, the pride and glory of the City, was at last ceremonially hewn down. Thereafter, Parliament turned to “living delinquents.” There can be no doubt who was in the mind of Greenhill when he spoke of living delinquents whom justice could not yet reach. It was the queen. And sure enough, on 23 May, Henry Darley proposed her impeachment. Darley was Pym’s oldest ally and agent, and Pym himself intervened often in the debate and finally himself carried the resolution up to the Lords. Another member who intervened was Sir Peter Wentworth, who stated that it was high time to lay the axe to the root. The reference to Greenhill’s sermon is obvious; and indeed it was Sir Peter Wentworth who had proposed Greenhill as preacher to Parliament. A week later another more accessible “living delinquent” felt the consequences of the same sermon. In the small hours of the morning a party of musketeers commanded by the implacable William Prynne, breaking into his room in the Tower, seized the documents, the diary, even the devotions of the Parliament’s forgotten prisoner, Archbishop Laud. His impeachment too, long laid aside, was now to be resumed.
The spring and summer of 1643 was Pym’s most radical period. He had to be radical. The position of Parliament seemed desperate, and at times his own position in Parliament seemed desperate too. Unless he kept left, he would lose control of it to the real radicals, Henry Marten, Alderman Penington and their friends. But Pym by himself was not a real radical. Always he saw past the immediate radical gestures to the ultimate conservative settlement. Therefore he never yielded anything substantial to the radicals on his left. Radical gestures could be forgotten, radical ordinances reversed, broken windows repaired. In the autumn of 1643, thanks to the Scottish alliance and the failure of Waller’s Plot—dramatically revealed in the middle of the monthly fast sermon20 —Pym recovered his central position; his chief rival, Henry Marten, was expelled from Parliament; and a new policy could be adopted. When Pym died, in December 1643, nothing irrevocable had been done. The queen was still unimpeached, Archbishop Laud was still alive, the episcopal Church was destroyed on paper only. A stroke of the pen could restore it: its lands were unsold. So when Stephen Marshall preached his master’s funeral sermon, its message was neither radical nor sanguinary. It did not need to be. It was merely a plea for perseverance in the long, just, necessary civil war.21
If 1643 had begun as the year of the radicals, 1644 began as the year of the Scots. In December 1643 the Scotch commissioners and Scotch ministers returned to London and at once showed their resolution by boycotting Pym’s funeral sermon. In 1641 they had been sent empty away, but this time they meant business. “Nothing for nothing” was their rule. If they were to come as deliverers, they must receive the price; and the price had long ago been stated: in order to guarantee the revolution in Scotland, England too must adopt a full Presbyterian system, on “the Scots model.” That meant, incidentally, that the English Parliament, like the Scotch, accept the orders of a General Assembly of the Church. The Westminster Assembly, from a mere advisory body, a reservoir of preachers chosen by the lay Parliament, must assume command. As practised hands in clerical and political intrigue, the Scotch ministers were confident that they could bring this about. They obtained seats in the Assembly; they organized a party, gave orders, reported home. And they secured invitations to preach not merely, as in 1640–41, to the gaping populace of London, but to the Parliament itself. This was an opportunity not to be missed.
The Scotch ministers preached to the Commons on the four successive fast-days after their arrival. The series was opened by Alexander Henderson, the framer of the National Covenant of Scotland. He delivered, according to his colleague Robert Baillie, “a most gracious, wise and learned sermon” urging the English legislature to repair its past errors and now, though late, build the house of the Lord in England. The other three ministers, Samuel Rutherford, Baillie himself and George Gillespie, pressed the same message. England, said Gillespie, had been culpably slow in following the good examples of Scotland. The whole nation was guilty of scandalous laxity in the past, still unredeemed. Why had not the idolatrous high places been taken away? The trouble was, England was intolerably Erastian: it put its trust in the laity, not the clergy: “it did even make an idol of this Parliament and trusted to its own strength and armies.” No wonder God had been greatly provoked and had visited the guilty country with defeat, until it had drawn the correct deductions and appealed to Scotland. From now on, given due obedience, all would be well: “Christ hath put Antichrist from his outer works in Scotland and he is now come to put him from his inner works in England.” Baillie, in printing his sermon, rubbed it in even deeper. He was astonished, he told Francis Rous, the chairman of Parliament’s committees on religion in England, that “the wheels of the Lord’s chariot should move with so slow a pace.” This “wearisome procrastination to erect the discipline of God” was inexplicable “to mine and every common understanding.” It caused millions to live in every kind of carnal sin “without the control of any spiritual correction.” All this was the result of a deplorable freedom of speech in the Assembly. Such things could not happen in Scotland . . . By a happy irony, Baillie sent an inscribed presentation copy of the sermon to “the most lernit, his noble friend Mr. Selden, in testimony of his high respect,” adding the words τὸ μέλλον ἀόρατον, “the future is invisible.” It was indeed. Long and loud Baillie would afterwards lament the ruin of all his plans by “the insolent absurdity” of that “head of the Erastians,” John Selden.22
So the Scots, from the parliamentary pulpit, laid down the new party line, their party line. Unfortunately, as they soon found, the line was not followed. They had been invited merely out of civility, and once civility was satisfied, they were ignored. Except for an invitation to Alexander Henderson to preach on the day of thanksgiving for Marston Moor, a Scotch victory, they were never invited to preach to the Commons again; and their English successors were lamentably tame and Erastian. On one occasion, indeed, Baillie could report “two of the most Scottish and free sermons that ever I heard anywhere.” This was in the autumn of 1644, on the special fast-day for the armies of the Lord General, Essex, then in straits in the west: the two preachers then “laid well about them and charged public and parliamentary sins strictly on the backs of the guilty.” And frequently the London clergy, responding to Scottish pressure in the Assembly, and excited by the prospect of clerical power, let fly at the error of toleration, at antinomian doctrines or at preaching tradesmen. But in general the Scots found that their labours were in vain. They colonized the Westminster Assembly only to find the Assembly itself ignored by the Parliament. The Parliament insisted on choosing its own preachers; naturally it chose those whom it could trust; and the preachers thus chosen, as Baillie lamented, spoke “before the Parliament with so profound a reverence as truly took all edge from their exhortations and made all applications to them toothless and adulatorious.”23
However, one occasion should be recorded which may be regarded as a Scottish victory. In the autumn of 1644, while the Scots could boast of Marston Moor, the English armies were everywhere in difficulties. At Westminster tempers were frayed, Cromwell was attacking his commanding general, the Earl of Manchester, and the Scots were throwing themselves eagerly into the quarrel. Some radical gesture was needed to emphasize ultimate solidarity, some scapegoat, on whom all could agree, must be sacrificed. It happened that, at this time, the long, desultory trial of Archbishop Laud had at last reached the point of decision. All the evidence had been heard, and it seemed that, legally, he must be acquitted. But in fact the old archbishop was too good a scapegoat to miss. Presbyterians and Independents alike hated him. The Scots, in particular, pressed for his death. So the leaders of Parliament decided that he must die. And once again, as with Strafford, their decision was made clear through official fast sermons.
A special fast for the union of the parliamentary armies was held on 22 October. On that day Laud’s room in the Tower was once again vainly raided for evidence on which to destroy him. At the same time Edmund Calamy, preaching before the Commons, reminded them of “all the guilty blood that God requires you in justice to shed, and you do spare.”24 A few days later “many thousand citizens” petitioned for “justice” on delinquents, and Members of Parliament who sought to reject the petition were voted down. Then, on 30 October, came the monthly fast. “When your gins and snares catch any of the bloody birds,” cried the Rev. Henry Scudder, “dally not with them: blood will have blood; contract not their bloodguiltiness upon your own souls by an unwarranted clemency and mildness.” Would God, exclaimed the Rev. Francis Woodcock, the robe of justice were often “dyed in a deeper colour with the blood of delinquents. It is that which God and man calls for. God repeats it, Justice, Justice; we, echoing God, cry Justice, Justice.”25
These were the sermons to the Commons. But sentence must be passed by the Lords, and the Lords were still sticklers for legality. What preacher, in these circumstances, would the Lords choose? In fact, they found a way of evading the problem. For the fast-day of 30 October they did not choose their own preachers but, only five days before the ceremony, invited the Westminster Assembly to appoint them.26 The Assembly, of course, was glad to do so; the Scots, naturally, were delighted by this unusual subservience of a lay body; and the Lords heard a predictable sermon. The Rev. Edmund Staunton admitted that he had had “short warning”; but he did not have to look far for his matter. The City petition for the blood of delinquents, he said, had suggested his subject. So he sang the praises of Phinehas, who did not wait for legal authority before spearing Zimri and the Midianite woman, and of the eunuchs who threw down Jezebel so that “her blood was sprinkled on the wall”; he lamented the wickedness of Saul who omitted to hew Agag in pieces; “and now,” he ended, “could I lift up my voice as a trumpet, had I the shrill cry of an angel which might be heard from east to west, from north to south, in all the corners of the kingdom, my note should be Execution of Justice, Execution of Justice, Execution of Justice! That is God’s way to pacify wrath: Then stood up Phinehas and executed judgment, and so the plague was stayed.”27
Next day, with mechanical precision, the House of Commons dropped the impeachment of Laud and proceeded by way of attainder to destroy him, guilty or not, and cast his head before the king as a preliminary to the treaty of Uxbridge, just in case he should doubt their radical resolve.
But if the destruction of Laud represented a victory for the Scots, it was a very slight victory compared with the defeat inflicted on them in the same months by the internal revolution in the English Parliament. For those were the months in which Vane and Cromwell, the Independents, established their authority and, in the New Model Army, forged a weapon which would soon eliminate the Scots from England and defeat them in Scotland. How deeply the Scots committed themselves to the losing side in that internal English struggle is vividly shown in Baillie’s letters, and much of the hatred of Cromwell for the Scots, and their consequent misfortunes, dated from those days when they had sought to have him impeached, like Laud, as an “incendiary” between the two kingdoms. The climax of the struggle came in December 1644 with the proposal of the Self-Denying Ordinance; and in the methods by which Vane sought to carry this crucial ordinance he showed himself, in tactics if not in spirit, the true disciple of Pym.
The immediate chain of events began on 9 December 1644. On that date a report was due from the committee to which the bitter quarrel between Cromwell and the Earl of Manchester had been referred. The chairman of the committee was Zouche Tate. Instead of reporting on the particular issue, Tate submitted a general conclusion “that the chief causes of our division are pride and covetousness.” Thereupon Cromwell delivered his famous speech about the moral decline of Parliament and the necessity for self-denial; Tate proposed a resolution that no Member of Parliament should, during the war, hold military or civil office; Vane seconded the proposal; and in the mood of the moment it was accepted by the House. A committee was instructed to bring the resolution forward as an ordinance.
This was a good beginning, but as yet it was only a beginning. The ordinance still had to be framed and read three times by the Commons. Meanwhile the mood of the moment might pass. And even if the ordinance passed the Commons, the Lords would certainly see it as an attack upon their authority. It was therefore essential to Vane and his friends to prolong the confessional mood and to spread it, if possible, to the Lords. For such a purpose they resolved, in Clarendon’s words, “to pursue the method in which they had been hitherto so successful, and to prepare and ripen things in the Church that they might afterwards, in due time, grow to maturity in the Parliament.” On 11 December, the day on which the ordinance was first read, the Commons agreed to hold a solemn fast in which they would humble themselves for their “particular and parliamentary sins” and so secure divine support for their future measures. This fast was fixed only a week ahead—a sure sign of immediate political necessity. Moreover, it had certain special features. First, the Lords were invited to celebrate it together with the Commons: instead of choosing their own preachers, they would thus have to listen to the preachers already chosen by the Commons. This also entailed a change of place. Neither Henry VII’s chapel nor St. Margaret’s would hold both Houses together, and Lincoln’s Inn chapel was finally chosen. Secondly, the whole service was invested with a peculiar secrecy. Cries for the blood of “delinquents” might serve to rally the people, but the sins of the Parliament could be opened only in private. Strict measures were therefore devised to exclude the public from Lincoln’s Inn chapel on 18 December while Lords and Commons listened “for eight or ten hours” to Thomas Hill, Obadiah Sedgwick and the inevitable Stephen Marshall. And these preachers, though thanked by both Houses, were not invited to print, and did not print their sermons.
For this reason we do not know exactly what they said, but there is no reason to distrust the general account which has been preserved by Clarendon.28 After appropriate preliminary orisons, the preachers, he tells us, delivered their sermons, in which, “let their texts be what they would,” they told the Houses plainly and at great length that all their troubles sprang from private greed and ambition which was alienating the people and postponing all hope of reformation. Finally, “when they had exaggerated these reproaches as pathetically as they could . . . they fell again to their prayers, that God would take his own work into His hand, and if the instruments He had already employed were not worthy to bring so glorious a design to a conclusion, that He would inspire others more fit, who might perfect what was begun and bring the troubles of the nation to a godly period.” Next day, in the Commons, Vane dwelt on the lesson of the preachers. If ever God had appeared to the Parliament, he said, it was in the exercises of yesterday. And having enlarged on the holy theme he sped the Self-Denying Ordinance through its third reading and passed it up to the Lords.
It was a brilliant manoeuvre; but in politics there are no short cuts, and the Lords, in spite of their heavy religious battering, were not stunned into submission. It would take another three months, and other methods, before they would finally accept a much modified Self-Denying Ordinance. Nevertheless, the struggle over the Self-Denying Ordinance marked a crucial stage in the eclipse of the Scots. From then onwards they were gradually pushed out of English politics and forced to witness the success of that “high and mighty plot of the Independents,” which Baillie had foreseen, “to have gotten an army for themselves under Cromwell” and so to push on with a purely English revolution.29
The Scots did indeed find one opportunity of fighting back, at least from the pulpit. This came in the summer of 1645. By that time their own position had become very delicate. On the one hand they had, as they felt, triumphed in the Westminster Assembly and, through it, were demanding the instant, overdue establishment in England of a Calvinist theocracy, complete with all-powerful General Assembly, ruling elders, and full powers of excommunication. On the other hand, even as they pressed their claims abroad, their position at home was in jeopardy. While Cromwell was winning victory after victory in England, in Scotland Montrose was master of almost the whole country. It was therefore significant that at this moment the Commons appointed as fast-preacher a man who, in the Westminster Assembly, was already known as an Erastian friend of Selden, an enemy of Scotch claims. This was Thomas Coleman, formerly a rector in Lincolnshire, now—as once before—sponsored by the two members for his county, Sir John Wray and Sir Edward Ayscough. In his sermon Coleman urged that the lay legislature of England “establish as few things jure divino as can well be,” allow no rules to have divine sanction without clear scriptural warrant, and “lay no more burden of government upon the shoulders of ministers than Christ hath plainly laid upon them.” The clergy, he said, should be content to be secured in learning and supplied with maintenance: Church government they should leave entirely to Parliament, for “a Christian magistrate, as a Christian magistrate, is a governor in the Church.” In this manner the English Parliament, triumphant at Naseby, gave its answer to the Scotch General Assembly, reeling under the victories of Montrose.30
Coleman was not an Independent. He explicitly opposed Independency. He was a “Presbyterian”—but an English “Presbyterian,” and the Scotch Presbyterians were aghast at his doctrines. They had already been very busy in the Assembly: a “blasphemous book” had taken up much of their time “before we got it burnt by the hand of the hangman.” Now they found themselves faced by Coleman. To be silent under such an attack was impossible; but where could they counter-attack? The House of Commons was no good: the majority there were “either half or whole Erastians.” But by good luck another opportunity presented itself. The House of Lords, commiserating with the military disasters of the Scots, had invited the four dominies to preach at four successive fasts and the last of these occasions was still to come. It was to be on 27 August, and the preacher was to be the youngest, most learned, most argumentative of the four, George Gillespie.
Gillespie seized his opportunity. Instead of lamenting the miseries and perhaps acknowledging the sins of his country, as the occasion required, he turned on Coleman. Coleman, he said, had been neither active nor passive on the side of reformation “but will needs appear on the stage against it.” His views struck at the root of all Church government, were contrary to the Word of God, the Solemn League and Covenant, the opinions of other Reformed Churches, and the votes of Parliament and Assembly. They had given no small scandal and offence . . . But Gillespie soon found that he himself had caused no less scandal, especially by misusing such an occasion. The controversy thus roused rumbled on, with increasing acrimony, for six months. Sides were taken; pamphlets proliferated. But whatever the power-hungry clergy of London thought, inside the Parliament the views of Coleman prevailed. Never again, even in the period of “Presbyterian” domination, was a Scotsman invited to preach to the English Parliament.31
Indeed, 1645 saw the end of Scotch influence in England. As the English “Presbyterians” asserted themselves, it became clear that they were not really Presbyterians at all—the Scots had merely imposed the label on them. Even Stephen Marshall, Baillie now discovered, was really little better than an Independent: he “miskens us altogether,” Baillie lamented: “he is for a middle way of his own.” And meanwhile, even Marshall was finding his position as the oracle of Parliament challenged by more radical preachers imposed upon Parliament by the triumphant Cromwell. In 1645–46, the year of final victory, new names begin to appear as fast-preachers. The old regulars, Calamy and Burges, Sedgwick and Case, and many others who will soon abandon the revolution, are joined by their future supplanters, William Strong, Peter Sterry, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Nicholas Lockyer, Walter Cradocke, William Dell, Hugh Peter.
Above all, Hugh Peter. What Marshall was to Pym, Hugh Peter is to Cromwell. If Marshall preached electioneering sermons before the Parliament of 1640, Peter would ride round the country “making burgesses for Parliament” before the “recruiting” elections of 1646. If Marshall declared the reforming, political programme of Pym in 1640, Peter would declare the radical, social policy of Cromwell in 1647. If Marshall preached the thanksgiving sermon for the peaceful victories of 1641, Peter would preach the thanksgiving sermon for the military victories of 1646. If Marshall holloa’d the parliamentary pack onwards into war in 1642, Peter, in 1647, would holloa the Army onwards into revolution. If Marshall pressed his unwanted spiritual services upon Archbishop Laud as he was led to the block in 1645, Peter would utter his hideous, vindictive texts in the ears of a yet greater victim, as he was sent to the block in 1649. Both were great emergency preachers. In delicate crises, when other men hung back, they would come forward. But the occasions were different. Marshall, like Pym, sought always to preserve the Parliament, to carry it forward, armed and united, on the old path to reform; Peter, like Cromwell, would seek, with new allies, to hack a shorter, bloodier way to what he valued above any political form: a new society.32
Only one of Peter’s fast sermons was ever printed. It was the thanksgiving sermon for victory preached on 2 April 1646. Like Marshall in 1641, when the Parliament seemed to have won its bloodless victory, he announced the present year as annus mirabilis, the most glorious year since the year of the Armada. “Oh the blessed change we see, that can travel from Edinburgh to the Land’s End in Cornwall, who not long since were blocked up at our doors! To see the highways occupied again; to hear the carter whistling to his toiling team; to see the hills rejoicing, the valleys laughing!” Even Germany, by now, seemed to be “lifting up her lumpish shoulder”; even “the thin-cheeked Palatinate” looked hopeful; the “over-awed French peasant” was studying his liberty, and the Dutch remembered how they had “bought their freedom with many, many thousands of good old Elizabeth shillings.” “All Protestant Europe seems to get new colour in her cheeks”; why then should not England too flourish again?33 And just as Marshall’s thanksgiving sermon had been followed by blueprints for the new society which men believed to be within their reach, so Peter’s thanksgiving sermon also announced a new spate of social pamphlets. Hartlib and Dury, the original prophets of the “country party,” rushed into print again; Dury had been invited to preach before Parliament; and Hugh Peter himself, in pamphlet after pamphlet, projected the new social reforms which could be achieved, if not by the Parliament, then directly, outside Parliament, by the Army.
As yet, these new preachers of 1645–46 had to be discreet. To the Parliament, political settlement came before social change, and the pace must not be forced. Peter kept his social pamphlets distinct from his parliamentary sermon. John Owen attached his scheme of Church government to his fast sermon only when printed. William Dell went too far and paid the price. He kept his fast sermon within bounds but then published it with an outrageous preface. He was summoned before the House of Commons and disciplined. Nor was he ever allowed to preach before Parliament again. Even the Rump Parliament, which made him Master of Caius College, refused to have him: when his name was suggested, the House, for the only time on such a matter, divided; and he was voted down.34
Political settlement or social reform, an imperfect political compromise as the basis for future reformation or a social reformation now, without tarrying for any—that was indeed the issue of 1646–47, the issue on which Parliament and Army ultimately divided and through whose division revolution came in. And in that revolution, which wrecked the Parliament, the old methods of parliamentary business were wrecked too. Pym and his friends, even Vane, St. John and Holles, might “tune the pulpits” in order to keep Parliament and people together along a prepared line; but how could this be done when Parliament was at the mercy of its own warring parties, and of military force? By now the London clergy, the natural source of fast-preachers, were more “Presbyterian” than the “Presbyterians” in Parliament, and the Army was more radical, more Independent than the Independents in Parliament. In such circumstances clergymen hardly knew what to say. There were too many tuners and no agreement about the musical notes. This became painfully clear in June 1647 when the mutinous Army, having seized the king, was hovering ominously around London, uncertain as yet whether to strike.
One of the preachers for the June fast was Nathaniel Ward, recently returned from New England. He was, as he afterwards wrote, “truly unwilling to come upon any public stage, knowing how perilous and jealous the times are”; and in fact he contrived to give universal offence. He urged Parliament to restore the king to his authority and establish the Church on a sure basis: “till these two wheels be set right, all the lesser are like to go wrong”; and so he proposed that the Parliament pay off the Army, reassert military discipline, correct the extremer forms of heresy in the ranks, and remedy some obvious grievances. It was eminently sensible advice, but unfortunately timed: only two days earlier the Army had forced the eleven “Presbyterian” leaders to withdraw from the House and presented a series of much more radical demands. Ward’s commiseration of the king did not please the “Presbyterians”; his proposals for dealing with the Army infuriated the Army. His sermon “gave offence” to a terrorized House; in the Army it was described as “worse than Edwards his Gangraena”; and he was neither thanked nor asked to print.35
Next month the fast-day was even worse timed. It was due to fall on 28 July. But on 26 July the City mob invaded the Parliament and forced the House of Commons to reverse its recent votes and recall the eleven members; after which both Houses adjourned themselves till 30 July. The preachers thus delivered their sermons in a moment of “Presbyterian” counter-revolution. How the London preachers took advantage of that counter-revolution is recorded in the diary of Lord Lisle, a Member of Parliament: “on that day Mr. Edwards and divers other ministers in London stirred up the people in their sermons to raise arms to suppress the army, abusing the day which was set apart for the calamities of bleeding Ireland and exciting the people to put this kingdom again into blood, and so to make it bleeding England also.”36 But two days later, the illusion of “Presbyterian” victory faded. The Speakers of both Houses fled to the protection of the Army, the Army marched on London, and by 4 August Parliament and City alike were in its power. Fortunately the parliamentary preachers seem to have been very prudent, for they were thanked not only by the “Presbyterian” Parliament of 2 August, but also (since the proceedings of those days were afterwards annulled) by the Independent Parliament of 25 August. They showed their prudence still further in omitting, though invited, to print any of their sermons.37
The man who did publish was Stephen Marshall, who once again, in a moment of crisis, emerged as the politician of the hour. Like other men who were neither Cromwellians nor radicals,38 Marshall believed that, at that moment, the unity of Parliament and Army was all-important and that the alternative would be confusion leading to unconditional royal reaction. So, in these last days of July, he flung himself into action. He made a party in the Westminster Assembly, worked on the aldermen of the City, darted to and fro between Lords, Commons and Army headquarters, and finally, with seventeen supporters in the Assembly, presented a petition to Parliament and City offering to make their peace with the Army. His efforts were successful. The City militia offered no resistance, and the Army entered London without a struggle. When all was over, the defeated party recognized Marshall as the chief architect of their ruin. “In that nick of time,” wrote Baillie, when “one stout look more” would have established Presbyterianism for ever, it was Mr. Marshall, “the main instrument” of the Solemn League and Covenant, who, with “his seventeen servants of the Synod . . . put presently in the Army’s power both Parliament, City and nation”; and Denzil Holles, the twice-purged leader of the “Presbyterians” in Parliament, never failed to denounce the former zealot for “Presbyterianism” who, on that occasion, became “a principal instrument” of Cromwell “. . . going and coming between Westminster and the headquarters, or the Parliament doors soliciting the members of both Houses, persuading them by all manner of arguments, sometimes assurances, sometimes terrifyings, to agree to those things which the Army desired.” To Skippon, the commander of the City militia, and “to his chaplain Marshall,” wrote Holles, “we must attribute all the evil that has befallen king and kingdom.” Naturally, when the purged Parliament obediently voted a day of thanksgiving “for the restoration of the honour and freedom of the Parliament”—i.e., for its rescue by the Army from the “most horrible and abominable rape and violence” of the City mob—it was Stephen Marshall who was invited to preach the main sermon; and he preached it, as we should expect, to some tune. “That apostate,” commented Holles, who now found himself accused of dividing king from Parliament, Parliament from City, and City from Army, “went beyond Ela, making the deliverance a greater one than the Gunpowder Treason, as I have been credibly informed by those that heard him.”39
To Marshall it seemed that the old unity of Parliament had been restored. Once again, thanks to the Army, the old policy of his master, Pym, could be pursued. In fact it was not so. In fact the intervention of the Army proved the end of Parliament as an effective body in politics. This breach is indicated, incidentally, in the fast sermons. For five years the system had worked smoothly. Every month preachers had been chosen, had preached, had been thanked, had been invited to print their sermons, and had printed them. But from that date onwards all changes. Preachers are harder to find; refusals are more frequent; the Parliament becomes more dependent on a few reliable servants. Until 1647 no preacher had preached to either House of Parliament more than once a year, except Marshall and his understudy, the learned Greek and Hebrew scholar Joseph Caryl,40 who had sometimes preached twice or thrice. But in 1648 Marshall would be called upon seven times, Caryl four times and one other clergyman four times.41 Finally, even those clergymen who could be prevailed upon to preach fast sermons showed a remarkable reluctance to print them. From the beginning of the monthly system until June 1647 every preacher had been asked to print his sermon, and had printed it. Nathaniel Ward, on 30 June 1647, was the first not to receive such an invitation. Even so, he printed his sermon. But from then on, though invitation remained the rule, printing was the exception. Only five out of the last fourteen fast sermons of 1647 were published, and thereafter the proportion steadily declined.42 From July 1648 even Marshall forbore to print. It is clear that, from the revolution of 1647, the fast sermons, like the Parliament itself, had lost their purpose.
Nevertheless, on one last occasion the system returned to life. First in April 1641, when Pym had decided to change from legal impeachment to political attainder in order to destroy the life of Strafford, then in October 1644 when Vane had decided, in the same way, to destroy the life of Laud, the preachers had been brought in to announce, and to justify, this fearful change; and how could the grim masters of the Parliament now do less when the victim was both greater and, by now, in their eyes, guiltier than either Strafford or Laud? This time, because of that difference, the pace was slower, the pressure stronger; but the method was the same. The same careful choice, the same exact timing, the same bloodthirsty message indicated the continuity of technique between the judicial murder of the servants and of the master.
It was on 16 November 1648 that the Council of Officers, gathered at St. Albans, received from Henry Ireton the Remonstrance of the Army, which he had drawn up during Cromwell’s absence in the north. It demanded that the king, as the sole and capital author of all the troubles of the kingdom, be speedily brought to trial. On the very next day the House of Commons had to appoint a preacher for the next fast, for the preacher nominated over a fortnight ago had suddenly withdrawn. This defaulting minister was that same Samuel Fairclough who, in 1641, had first called for the death of Strafford, and who had now, once again, been nominated by his patron. But in the face of these new developments his patron found himself more conservative, and perhaps Fairclough shrank from such a double triumph. In his place a radical Member of Parliament proposed a young clergyman, George Cokayne, minister of St. Pancras, Soper Lane. This was a famous Independent church whose minister was appointed by the parish and whose parishioners included the three pillars of radicalism in the City: Rowland Wilson, who would become sheriff, and Robert Tichborne and John Ireton, who would become lord mayors of the republic. John Ireton was the brother of Henry Ireton, the moving spirit of the revolution. Three days later, Henry Ireton presented the Remonstrance to a trembling Parliament, which sought to bury it by postponement. Then, on 29 November, came the fast-day, and the newly appointed Cokayne followed his senior colleague Obadiah Sedgwick into the pulpit.
His message was predictable. In every respect it echoed the Remonstrance. From the procrastinating Parliament, Cokayne demanded judgment and that quickly. “Delay not to act for the people’s good who have intrusted you.” He did not predetermine the method—“we leave that entirely to your wisdom”—nor the sentence—justice should still be “mingled with mercy”; but then neither did his brief, the Remonstrance. But his language, like that of the Remonstrance, was ominously firm: he reminded the Commons, as they had by now been reminded ad nauseam, of Saul and Ahab, who had “ventured God’s displeasure” by sparing their captive kings. “Honourable and worthy, if God do not lead you to do justice upon those who have been the great actors in shedding innocent blood, never think to gain their love by sparing of them.”43 When the sermon was over, the thanks of the intimidated House were boldly conveyed by Cokayne’s parishioner Rowland Wilson.
The order was given; from now on the events followed. On 1 December 1648 the person of the king was seized. On 6 December the Parliament was purged of its resisting members. It was the greatest purge of all, Pride’s Purge. On the very next day the machinery was put in motion. A special fast was declared, and it was declared at once. There was to be no question of waiting for the ordinary monthly fast, whose preachers had already been appointed before the Purge, no chance of counter-organization. The fast was to be on the morrow, on 8 December; and the preachers were carefully chosen. They were Stephen Marshall and Joseph Caryl, the two preachers most acceptable to the Army, and “the grand journey- or hackney-man of the Army,” the “stalking-horse and setting-dog of the grandees of the Army,” Hugh Peter.
None of the three sermons was afterwards printed, but the gist of them is clear from contemporary newspaper reports. Marshall and Caryl, the old parliamentary preachers, urged the broken remains of the Parliament, now as in 1647, to preserve harmony with the Army. Hugh Peter, more bluntly, told them to obey their masters. In particular, he advised them “to adjourn till Monday or Tuesday, that they may know how to steer their debates by the resolutions of the soldiery.” The Rump of Parliament recognized the voice of its ruler. It adjourned for four days, till Tuesday.44
All through the next month Hugh Peter worked hard in favour of the Army and its violent proceedings. This was the time when he earned his sinister reputation as a tribune of revolution, a buffoon-preacher who dragged religion through the gutter and used it to sanctify every incidental indecency of naked power. His next opportunity to preach to the Parliament came on 22 December. This was a special fast-day, hastily appointed “for removing the heavy judgment of God now upon the kingdom.” It was celebrated by both Houses together, in St. Margaret’s (they could all fit into it comfortably now). The whole churchyard was filled with musketeers and pikemen, to guard the Parliament, and soldiers surrounded the pulpit to guard the preacher. Our accounts of the sermon are imperfect and perhaps exaggerated: they come from contemporary pamphlets and later recollections; but in substance they are no doubt true.45
Once again Peter gave the Rump of Parliament its immediate orders. He bade it (as if it had any alternative) put its trust in the Army, which would lead England out of its Egyptian bondage. But how was that to be done? it might be asked. “That,” replied Peter, “is not yet revealed to me.” Then, placing his head on the pulpit-cushion, he pretended to sleep until a voice from Heaven awoke him with a start, and with the answer. “Now I have it,” he exclaimed, “by Revelation! Now I shall tell you. This Army must root up monarchy, not only here but in France and other kingdoms round about. This is to bring you out of Egypt. This Army is the corner-stone cut out of the mountain, which must dash the powers of the earth to pieces.” As for the objection that such a revolution was “without precedent,” Peter soon disposed of that. The Virgin Birth was also without precedent, but it happened. “This is an age to make examples and precedents in.” Then the preacher showed what precedent he would establish. He demanded the immediate trial of the king. The citizens of London, the London preachers, were all opposed to such a trial. Peter soon dealt with them. “Those foolish citizens,” he said, were like the people of Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s crucifixion: “for a little trading and profit they will have Christ (pointing to the redcoats on the pulpit-stairs) crucified and this great Barabbas at Windsor released; but I do not much heed what the rabble says. . . . My Lords, and you noble gentlemen of the House of Commons, you are the Sanhedrin and the Great Council of the Nation, therefore you must be sure to do justice and it is from you we expect it. . . . Do not prefer the great Barabbas, murderer, tyrant and traitor, before these poor hearts . . . the Army, who are our saviours.”46
Next day the gentlemen of the House of Commons at least obeyed their orders. They set up a committee to consider how to proceed by way of justice against the king. But only four days later, before that committee could report, and before Cromwell himself had made up his mind, another fast-day had come round. This time it was the regular monthly fast, whose preachers, unlike those of 22 December, had been chosen a month before—in fact, before Pride’s Purge. This, as it turned out, was unfortunate: it showed that, in revolutionary times, special fast-days, at short notice, were safer than an independent regular routine.
One of the ministers chosen proved sound. He was Thomas Brookes, a radical minister whose sponsor, Sir John Bourchier, would survive the purge and become a regicide. Brookes preached a fire-eating sermon demanding justice, whatever the cost. Parliament, he declared, should ignore the clamour of kindred and friends, ignore the “ignorant, sottish people who think that the doing of justice will undo a land,” and recognize that, on the contrary, neglect of justice will provoke God “to throw all your religious services as dung in your faces.” He therefore recommended to them the classic examples of holy murder and impious clemency: Phinehas who did not wait for judgment; Saul and Ahab who spared the kings whom God had commanded them to kill.47
So spoke the morning preacher. It was an echo of the sanguinary sermons of Fairclough, calling for the blood of Strafford, of Scudder and Woodcock and Staunton calling for the blood of Laud; and the Rump Parliament duly approved his sermon. But in the afternoon a different, discordant voice was heard. Thomas Watson, pastor of St. Stephens, Walbrook, was a “Presbyterian” who had been proposed by the “Presbyterian” London merchant John Rolle. But the revolution which had occurred since he had been nominated, and which had probably excluded his sponsor from the House, did not deter him. To a congregation of furious or frightened men, hurrying or hurried blindly forward, he preached one of the boldest sermons that was ever uttered to the Long Parliament. It was a sermon against hypocrisy, and the preacher sketched, in apposite detail, the character of the hypocrite. The hypocrite, he said, is “zealous in lesser things and remiss in greater . . . zealous against a ceremony, a relic or painted glass . . . but in the meantime lives in known sin, lying, defaming, extortion, etc.” He is zealous against popery, but makes no conscience of sacrilege, starving out the ministry, “robbing God of his tithes.” Then he drew nearer and struck deeper. The hypocrite, he declared, “makes religion a mask to cover his sin.” So “Jezebel, that she may colour over her murder, proclaims a fast.” Already the congregation of parliamentary saints must have begun to tremble for what would come next. And well they might, for it came hot and strong, even personal. “Many,” said the preacher (and there could be no doubt of whom he was thinking), “make religion a cloak for their ambition. Come see my zeal, saith Jehu, for the Lord. No Jehu, thy zeal was for the kingdom. Jehu made religion hold the stirrup till he got into the saddle and possessed the Crown. This is a most exasperating sin.”
Predictably, the Rump did not thank Watson, or invite him to print his sermon. Even the Levellers, who would soon echo his sentiments about Cromwell’s “hypocrisy,” rejected such an ally. “This Presbyterian proud flesh,” they said, “must down with monarchy, one being equal in tyranny with the other.” But Watson ignored the implied veto. He published his sermon himself. He had no difficulty in finding a printer. The sermon came out under the same imprimatur as the Serious and Faithful Representation, the protest of the London clergy against the trial of the king and against the charge that they, by their opposition, had ever intended the destruction of the monarchy.48
Immediately after the fast-day, Cromwell made up his mind, and on 28 December the obedient Rump passed the ordinance for the king’s trial. Two days later it chose its preachers for the next fast, which was due to fall on 30 January 1649. This time there was to be no chance of error. The two preachers were proposed by two safely radical members, Gilbert Millington and Francis Allen, both of whom would sign the king’s death warrant. They were John Cardell and John Owen.
So the most dramatic month of the whole revolution began. At every stage the courage of the regicides was sustained by the shrill voice of the preacher, and the preacher, in that month, was always the same; for if there were several ministers who would press the Parliament to try the king, there was only one who would openly demand his execution. Between 26 December and 30 January there was no official parliamentary fast, but there were plenty of unofficial opportunities, and Peter used them to the full. Every stage of the personal tragedy of Charles I was punctuated by his gleeful exclamations. When the king was fetched from Windsor to St. James’s Palace, Peter rode before his coach “like a bishop-almoner . . . triumphing.” Himself placed in charge of the palace, he pestered the king to confess his crimes, as he had pestered Archbishop Laud at his trial and the Marquis of Winchester in the smouldering ruins of Basing House. At the solemn fast with which the High Court of Justice began its proceedings he exclaimed rapturously that, “with old Simeon,” he could now cry Nunc dimittis; for after twenty years of prayer and preaching his eyes had seen salvation. Then he preached his famous sermon on the 149th Psalm:
At critical moments in the trial Peter preached to the soldiers, encouraging them to hope for a bloody verdict; he gave them cues to drown all murmurs of dissent with rhythmical cries of “Justice, Justice!” or “Execution, Execution!”; and when sentence had been given, he preached a final sermon at St. James’s Palace itself, choosing as his text Isaiah’s famous denunciation of the King of Babylon:
All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit: as a carcase trodden under feet.
Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.
This savoury text Peter had hoped to utter to the face of the king himself; but, as he afterwards regretted, “the poor wretch would not hear me.” Three days later the monthly fast was postponed for one day in order that London might witness a more spectacular ceremony: the execution of the king.
Next day the more prudent clergy emerged again. Messrs. Cardell and Owen duly congratulated the Rump on its great act of justice; they paraded, in retrospective vindication, the old gory texts about the wicked kings of Israel; and then they looked forward to the long-delayed reformation, the social reformation of which men had dreamed in 1640, in 1641, in 1646–47, only to be blocked by recurrent obstacles: Strafford, the Irish rebellion, the revolutionary crisis, and the second civil war. Now at last, it seemed, all the obstacles, even the greatest, had been destroyed: the way was clear. The Rump, said Owen, was God’s instrument of justice which it was sin to resist; and when he published his sermon he appended to it a treatise on the religious reforms which were required in order to vindicate this title. The kingdom, said Cardell, was “an old ruinous house,” ready, unless repaired or rebuilt, “to drop down upon your heads”: there were “worm-eaten beams,” “rotten posts and studs . . . that will never serve again, that must of necessity be removed.”49
On the same day Stephen Marshall preached to the Lords. Unlike his colleagues, he was too prudent to print his sermon, but we can hardly doubt its gist. Marshall had travelled the whole way with the revolution hitherto. The spiritual ally of Pym had become the spiritual ally of Cromwell. From a “Presbyterian” he had become an Independent. Like Cromwell, like all the Independents, he was indifferent to “forms of government.”50 By agreeing to preach on the very morrow of regicide, even though it was to the reluctant Lords, he to some extent condoned the act. As the Presbyterian Robert Baillie afterwards wrote, “he was more satisfied with the change of government, both civil and ecclesiastical, than many of his brethren”; and the moderate royalist Thomas Fuller, no unfriendly biographer, noted that “he was of so supple a soul that he brake not a joint, nay sprained not a sinew, in the alteration of the times.”51
Marshall’s sermon to the House of Lords was its epitaph. When Cardell had spoken to the Commons of the rotten posts and studs of the kingdom which must be removed, there could be little doubt of his meaning. In fact, within a week, the House of Lords was abolished; but the House of Commons went on, and Marshall went on with it. But how different it must have seemed to him since the great days when, with Calamy and Burges, he had laid down its tactics and preserved the unity of its 400 members: when he had instructed them in St. Margaret’s how to vote and then shepherded them busily into Westminster to register their votes; when he had trumpeted them into war and carried them, dwindling but still united, through the years of misfortune! By now all his old colleagues had fallen away. Calamy and Burges had joined the “Presbyterian” opposition; Gauden had passed through “Presbyterianism” to royalism, and had compiled the most famous, most effective of royalist tracts. In order to find fast-preachers, Parliament now had to draw on radical Army chaplains and furious sectaries. And in any case, it might be asked, what was the point of regular fast sermons now? Parliament had shrunk to a mere handful of commoners. Marshall himself had done his best to stay the shrinkage. He had protested against Pride’s Purge—though, as always, he had clung to the winning side.52 He would be used by Cromwell to woo back the “Secluded Members,” but in vain.53 Those who now sat at Westminster were so firmly held together by common interest, even common crime, that the old device of parliamentary sermons seemed hardly necessary.
Indeed, at such a time, political sermons were an added risk. The Rump had had one taste of the danger in Watson’s sermon of 26 December. It had another on 25 February when Thomas Cawton, a London minister, publicly prayed before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen for Charles II and all the royal family. For this “treasonable prayer” the Council of State promptly sent him to the Gatehouse. Meanwhile Eikon Basiliké was circulating everywhere to encourage misguided religious devotion to the Stuarts. Nor was it only the royalist and Presbyterian enemies of the republic whose views were expressed in religious form. Levellers and Anabaptists on the left of the precarious new government were already preaching a “second revolution.” Faced by this double danger, the Rump Parliament began to think that political sermons had lost something of their charm. Like so many revolutionary parties, it decided that liberty of expression was a luxury to be allowed only in the days of opposition; and at the end of March it acted accordingly. On 28 March it decided to bring in an Act ordering preachers in London not to meddle with matters of government but “only to apply themselves to their duty in preaching Jesus Christ and his Gospel for the edification of their congregations.” A convenient precedent for such a measure had been given by the states of Holland and West Friesland which had acted a month ago to forbid the expression of any political opinion by the clergy.54 Next day a timely pamphlet reinforced this decision. It was by John Dury, one of the original prophets of the social reformation which was now, at last, to be realized; and it was entitled, A Case of Conscience Resolved, concerning Ministers meddling with State Matters in their Sermons.
Dury admitted that the “Court chaplains” of Charles I had preached political sermons, and that since 1640 “the popular preachers have paid them back in their own way”; but in the end what good, he asked, had come of all this political preaching, this confusion of the minister with the magistrate? On both sides it had “wrought nothing else but animosities and confusion.” To those who insisted—and how often the Puritan preachers had insisted!—that men must not be lukewarm neuters, but zealous in the cause of God and for the public good, Dury replied that we must also beware lest we mistake the cause of God. It was the voice of religion disgusted with politics: the voice which would ultimately lead so many disillusioned men, and Dury himself, towards the new, quietist gospel of Quakerism.55
In all these circumstances we can hardly be surprised that doubts began to assail the Rump as to the desirability of continuing the regular monthly fast. After the king’s execution, the old procedure was followed and the usual preparations were made for a fast on 28 February. Stephen Marshall was once again invited, but refused. So did another clergyman. Two preachers were ultimately found, and preached, but did not print their sermons. Then the House decided to change the date of the next fast to 22 March, and set up a committee, including Scot, Ireton and Cromwell, to draw up reasons for the change. Ten days later the committee was strengthened and the date of the fast was postponed to 5 April. On 17 March an Act was brought in accordingly, but in discussion the date was once again postponed, this time to 19 April. With this change the Act was published; but at the same time the committee was ordered to bring in, with all convenient speed, another, more general Act. On 23 April this Act was duly brought into the House. It was an Act to repeal the Act for the observation of the monthly fast.
The reasons given were no doubt true enough. The Parliament of England, it was said, had found by sad experience that the observation of the monthly fast had, for divers years, in most parts of the Commonwealth, been wholly neglected and in other places had been very imperfectly celebrated. Therefore, from now on, the said fast was abolished and all men should, on the last Wednesday of the month, follow their lawful callings. In future, instead of the regular fast, there would only be such special fasts as might from time to time be ordered. In particular, there was to be a special fast on 3 May in the London area, and on 17 May in the country, to pray God to pardon the sins of the nation, its unthankfulness for recent mercies, its proneness and endeavour to relapse into its former tyranny and superstition, and “the iniquities of the former monthly fast-days.”
Meanwhile the Parliament was concerning itself with political preaching in general. All through the early months of 1649 both royalists and radicals continued to use their opportunities. At first the great danger had been counter-revolution; but before long the threat of a second revolution seemed more imminent, as the Levellers roused their followers against the new “juggling junto” of Cromwell and Ireton. To a timid spirit even some of the official fast sermons might seem dangerously radical. The preachers on 19 April, for instance, gloried in the prospect of further convulsions and looked forward to the triumph of radical heresy and the cause of the poor.56 On the special fast-day of 3 May, the sermons were even more radical. The preachers, we are told, declared “that after the oppressor was taken away, the oppression ought not to be continued” and that true patriots would prefer “to be poor in a rich Commonwealth than rich in a distracted, poor and almost ruined nation.” At the time of the last Leveller mutiny these radical sentiments were not relished and the preachers, though thanked, were not invited to print their sermons. Next day Parliament ordered that the Act prohibiting the clergy from meddling in politics be reported. The Levellers believed that this Act was directed against them;57 but in fact, when it was passed, on 9 July, the threat from that side was over; the last Leveller mutiny had been crushed, and the text was openly directed only against royalist propaganda and, more generally, against those who directly or indirectly preached or prayed against the power, authority or proceedings of the Parliament.58
With these two measures of 1649, the abolition of the regular monthly fast and the order against political preaching, we may conclude this study of the political sermons of the Long Parliament. Of course it was not a final end. If the monthly fast had ceased, special fast-days or days of thanksgiving continued to be declared, and it would soon be clear that political sermons were by no means extinct. It was not even a tidy end. The monthly fast had originally been designed to continue as long as the troubles in Ireland. How much more satisfactory it would have been if it could have been kept going for those few remaining months! For, in fact, now that the troubles of England, however temporarily, were settled, the Irish troubles would soon be ended. On 1 November 1649 Parliament would learn of Cromwell’s sack and massacre of Drogheda and Marshall and Sterry would be appointed to preach at the day of thanksgiving. If only the monthly fasts could have been kept up till then, they could have been called off with a ceremonious, triumphant flourish. But perhaps their premature end was really more appropriate. The connection with Ireland was, after all, accidental. The real purpose of the monthly fast had been to provide a constant sounding-board of parliamentary policy, a regular means of contact with, and propaganda to, the people. By the spring of 1649 none of those purposes could be fulfilled. A Parliament which had shrunk into an oligarchy no longer needed such a sounding-board, and an oligarchy which had lost touch with the people could no longer exploit the means of propaganda. Though we have few texts of the special fast sermons or thanksgiving sermons preached from 1649 to 1653, the circumstances in which they were preached sufficiently show the changed spirit behind them. The careful preparation, the narrow definition, the penalties threatened for nonconformity, all indicate a defensive spirit very different from that which had animated a national Parliament fighting for liberty; and by ceasing even to authorize the printing of the sermons, Parliament renounced the hope of using them to influence the country. In the hands of Hesilrige and Scot, Pym’s broadcast propaganda had become a private lecture.59
Meanwhile others were taking up the discarded weapon. Already, during the rule of the Rump, the new political preachers were emerging. Once again, as in 1645–47, it was in Cromwell’s army—that moving, restive body of men, rendered nervous by constant tension, exalted by successive victory—that they discovered their power. They were the Anabaptist chaplains, the Fifth Monarchy Men. Stepping into the gap left by the ruin of the Levellers, these men quickly captured the old machinery of propaganda. Thanks to the patronage of Harrison, they even penetrated into St. Margaret’s and uttered their disconcerting doctrines to the Parliament. Just as Cromwell, in 1645–46, had introduced Hugh Peter and Peter Sterry to alarm the followers of Holles and Stapleton, so Harrison now brought in the revolutionary Fifth Monarchy tribunes to alarm the followers of Hesilrige and Scot. It was he who sponsored Vavasour Powell in February 1650, John Simpson in March 1651 and Christopher Feake in October 1652. The Parliament shrank away from these radical preachers. It voted down a proposed vote of thanks to Simpson, avoided offering one to Feake; and in January 1653, when Harrison proposed the radical William Dell, it divided to defeat him. But the radicals, at the beginning of 1653, were not to be defeated by mere parliamentary votes. They had patrons more powerful than Hesilrige and Scot, congregations more numerous than the Rump; and they were determined to use both. If Parliament would not use them, they would overturn Parliament itself.
On 3 March 1653 the Long Parliament held what was to be its last solemn fast: a fast to implore God’s blessing on the counsels and armed forces of the Commonwealth. The preacher, once again, was Stephen Marshall. That faithful servant, “the arch-flamen of the rebellious rout,” “the trumpet by whom they sounded their solemn fasts,” had begun the long series; now, accidentally, he was to end it: to pronounce the epitaph of the House of Commons as he had already done for the House of Lords. We do not know what he said. But while he uttered to his diminished congregation his unthanked, unrecorded sermon, a new force was mustering out of doors. In the churches and open places of London, Vavasour Powell, Feake and Simpson would soon be addressing massive audiences demanding the end of Parliament and a new system of government in which the pulpits should not be tuned by any man, but all power should be exercised direct by the preachers, the Saints.
[1. ]Edward, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion, ed. W. D. Macray (Oxford, 1888), iv, 194.
[2. ]Some early fast-days are mentioned in a later fast sermon by William Gouge, The Right Way . . . (1648). See also Commons’ Journals (hereafter referred to as C.J.), i, 118 ff.
[3. ]C.J.,i, 671, 715, 869, 873–74, 922–26.
[4. ]For the celebration of “Queen Elizabeth’s day” under the Stuarts, see J. E. Neale, Essays in Elizabethan History (1958), pp. 9–20.
[5. ]Cal. S.P. (Dom.) 1639–40, p. 609.
[6. ]There is no adequate biography of Marshall, whose importance, at least as the spokesman of policy, seems to me greater than has been allowed. The particular details which I have mentioned come from two passages in the diary of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, both quoted in F. A. Shaw, A History of the English Church . . . 1640–1660 (1900), i, 81–82, and from A Copy of a Letter written by Mr. Stephen Marshall (1643), p. 1.
[7. ]Clarendon, History of the Rebellion,i, 401.
[8. ]C. Burges, The First Sermon Preached to the House of Commons . . . (1640); S. Marshall, A Sermon Preached before the House of Commons (1640).
[9. ]The fate of Morley’s sermon is described by Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, ed. P. Bliss (1813–21), iv, 150. Wood does not date it precisely: after mentioning “the wars,” which, he says, commenced anno 1641 [sic], he says “at the beginning of which he [Morley] preached one of the first solemn sermons before the Commons. . . .” Since “the wars” began in 1642, the DNB (s.v. Morley) says that his sermon was in 1642. But in fact Morley was never invited to preach after November 1640. The Commons’ Journals for November 1640 show that he was then invited to print his sermon, but less warmly than Gauden. It therefore seems clear that this is the episode to which Wood refers. In writing “at the beginning of which” Wood was no doubt thinking rather of “the troubles” generally than “the wars” particularly.
[10. ]I have dealt more fully with this episode and its significance in my essay “Three Foreigners,” above, pp. 219–71.
[11. ]S. Fairclough, The Troublers Troubled, or Achan Condemned and Executed (1641).
[12. ]Jeremiah Burroughes, Sion’s Joy (1641); S. Marshall, A Peace Offering to God (1641).
[13. ]Edmund Calamy, England’s Looking-Glass (1641); S. Marshall, Reformation and Desolation (1641).
[14. ]For the proclamation, see John Rushworth, Historical Collections (1721), iii, i, 494.
[15. ]Edmund Calamy, God’s Free Mercy to England (1642).
[16. ]“There was more than Mr. Marshall who, from the 23rd verse of the 5th chapter of Judges, Curse ye Meroz . . . presumed to inveigh against, and in plain terms to pronounce God’s curse against all those who came not with their utmost power and strength to destroy and root out all the malignants who in any degree opposed the Parliament.” (Clarendon, History of the Rebellion,ii, 320–21.) Clarendon’s editor, W. D. Macray, remarks on this passage that “prolonged search has failed to trace the other sermons to which Clarendon refers.” In fact the curse upon Meroz for neutrality is explicitly repeated in numerous fast sermons, e.g., Thomas Wilson, Jericho’s Downfall (28 Sept. 1642); Thomas Case, God’s Rising, His Enemies Scattering (26 Oct. 1642); Charles Herle, A Pair of Compasses for Church and State (30 Nov. 1642); John Ley, The Fury of War and Folly of Sin (26 April 1643), etc.
[17. ]John Arrowsmith, The Covenant’s Avenging Sword Brandished (1643).
[18. ]John Ellis, The Sole Path to a Sound Peace (1643); Wm. Bridge, Joab’s Counsel and King David’s Seasonable Hearing It (1643).
[19. ]William Greenhill, Ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν Ῥίζαν (1643).
[20. ]Both Thomas May (The History of the Parliament, 1647, p. 45) and Clarendon (History of the Rebellion,iii, 44) mention that the news of Waller’s Plot was publicly communicated to Pym during the monthly fast, and Clarendon emphasizes the ominous significance of the gesture: “The time when Mr. Pimm was made acquainted with it is not known, but the circumstances of the publishing it were such as filled all men with apprehensions. It was on Wednesday the 31st May, their solemn fast-day, when being all at their sermon in St. Margaret’s church in Westminster, according to their custom, a letter or message is brought privately to Mr. Pimm, who thereupon with some of the most active members rise from their seats, and after a little whispering together remove out of the church: this could not but exceedingly affect those who stayed behind.”
[21. ]S. Marshall, Θρηνῳδία, The Church’s Lamentation (1643).
[22. ]Alexander Henderson, A Sermon Preached to the House of Commons (1643); S. Rutherford [same title] (1644); R. Baillie, Satan The Leader in Chief . . . (1644); G. Gillespie, A Sermon before the House of Commons (1644). Baillie’s inscribed presentation copy to Selden is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
[23. ]Baillie, Letters and Journals (Edinburgh, 1841–42), ii, 220–21.
[24. ]Edmund Calamy, England’s Antidote against the Plague of Civil War (1644).
[25. ]Henry Scudder, God’s Warning to England (1644); Francis Woodcock, Christ’s Warning Piece (1644).
[26. ]Lords’ Journals,vii, 44.
[27. ]Edmund Staunton, Phinehas’ Zeal in Execution of Judgment (1644).
[28. ]Clarendon, History of the Rebellion,iii, 456–60. S. R. Gardiner (Great Civil War, 1901, ii, 91) refers to Clarendon’s “blundering account” which, he says, is “plainly inaccurate” because Clarendon presupposes a fast of which there is no record in the parliamentary journals and which could have taken place only on a Sunday, i.e., 8 Dec., a day “on which no fast was ever appointed.” But this criticism, which suggests that Clarendon, on the basis of mere “Oxford gossip,” invented a non-existent fast, is in fact based on a misunderstanding: a misunderstanding which is at once cleared up when it is realized that Clarendon has confused the initial debate of Monday 9 Dec. with the second debate, and passage of the Ordinance in the Commons, on Thursday 19 Dec. As so often, Clarendon has interpreted the situation correctly, in spite of confusion of detail.
[29. ]Baillie, Letters and Journals,ii, 246.
[30. ]Thomas Coleman, Hope Deferred and Dashed (1645).
[31. ]G. Gillespie, A Sermon Preached before the House of Lords (1645). See also Baillie, Letters and Journals,ii, 306; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1645–7, p. 127.
[32. ]For Peter, see especially R. F. Stearns, Hugh Peter, The Strenuous Puritan (Urbana, 1954).
[33. ]Hugh Peter, God’s Doing and Man’s Duty (1646).
[34. ]Dell’s sermon (25 Nov. 1646) was printed as Right Reformation; the Commons’ Journals report the sequel (v, 10 etc.). The abortive attempt to invite Dell to preach to the Rump was made on 28 Jan. 1653 (C.J.vii, 252).
[35. ]C.J.v, 205, 228; Rushworth, Historical Collections,vi, i, 596; Clarke Papers,i (Camden Society, 1891), 150. The sermon was afterwards printed “without the knowledge, or consent of the author,” but containing a “Letter to some Friends” signed by him (A Sermon preached before the House of Commons, 1647).
[36. ]Sidney Papers, ed. R. W. Blencowe (1825), p. 26.
[37. ]The preachers on 28 July were, to the Lords, Christopher Love and Henry Langley and, to the Commons, Benjamin Whichcote and Thomas Jaggard.
[38. ]E.g., like the Earl of Manchester, who had strong personal grounds for opposing Cromwell and who is generally regarded as a “Presbyterian,” but who nevertheless joined the Army on this occasion and, being Speaker of the House of Lords, gave it the authority which it needed to overpower the Parliament.
[39. ]For Marshall’s part in the events of July–Aug. 1647, see Lords’ Journals,iv, 368; Baillie, Letters and Journals,iii, 17, 302, 306; Denzil Holles, Memoirs (1699), pp. 88, 110, 123, 143, 160, 168. S. Marshall, A Sermon Preached to the Two Houses of Parliament . . . (1647).
[40. ]Caryl accompanied Marshall as chaplain to Charles I at Holdenby House. He was one of the very few ministers who, like Marshall, preached regularly to Parliament during the whole period from 1642 to 1653.
[41. ]The other clergyman was John Bond. Caryl and Bond remained, with John Owen and William Strong, the main preachers of the Rump.
[42. ]Only 13 out of 48 such sermons were printed in 1648, and only 10 out of 56 for the years 1649–53.
[43. ]George Cokayne, Flesh Expiring and the Spirit Inspiring (1648). The full and laudatory biography of Cokayne by John B. Marsh, The Story of Harecourt, being the History of an Independent Church (1871), curiously omits any reference to this part of his sermon, or to any detail which links him with the trial of the king.
[44. ]Stearns, Hugh Peter, p. 328. C.J.vi, 95.
[45. ]Theodorus Verax [Clement Walker], Anarchia Anglicana (1648), or the History of Independency, part ii, pp. 49–50: “The Trial of Hugh Peter,” in An Exact and Most Impartial Accompt of the Indictment . . . of 29 Regicides . . . (1660).
[46. ]Mr. Stearns (Hugh Peter, pp. 330–32) makes two separate sermons out of this material, ascribing the passage about Barabbas to a later sermon preached at the time when the Rump was hesitating to pass the Act setting up the High Court of Justice—i.e., between 3 and 6 Jan. But the source—a Mr. Beaver, who heard the sermon and gave evidence at Peter’s trial in 1660—is quite clear. He says that the occasion was “a fast at St. Margaret’s” in Dec. 1648 “a few days before the House of Commons made that thing called an Act for his [the King’s] Trial” (i.e., the ordinance which passed the Commons on 28 Dec.). It is also clear from the text that Peter was preaching to both Houses. All this evidence points conclusively to Peter’s official fast sermon of 22 Dec.
[47. ]Thomas Brookes, God’s Delight in the Progress of the Upright (1648).
[48. ]Watson’s sermon was published as God’s Anatomy upon Man’s Heart. The Leveller comments are from The Moderate (no. 25, p. 235, and no. 26, p. 248).
[49. ]J. Owen, A Sermon Preached to the House of Commons . . . (1649); J. Cardell, God’s Wisdom Justified and Man’s Folly Condemned (1649). Owen’s sermon, in the preface to which, as Wood says (Athenae Oxonienses,iv, 103), “he doth insolently father the most hellish notion of the preceding day,” was among the books formally condemned and burnt by the University of Oxford in 1685.
[50. ]As he put it in A Letter to a Friend in the Country (1643), “among the divers kinds of lawful governments, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, no one of them is so appointed of God as to exclude the other from being a lawful government.”
[51. ]Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England (1672), ii, 52.
[52. ]That Marshall remonstrated against Pride’s Purge appears from a marginal note in A Serious and Faithful Representation of . . . Ministers of the Gospel within The Province of London (1648), p. 1.
[53. ]Wood, Athenae Oxonienses,iii, 964.
[54. ]C.J.vi, 175. The orders of the states of Holland and West Friesland had been procured by de Witt in consequence of clerical denunciations of the execution of Charles I. They were published in England on 26 Feb. 1649 as An Extract out of the Register of the Resolution of the States of Holland, etc.
[55. ]Dury’s tract inevitably landed him in controversy. He amplified it next year in A Case of Conscience concerning Ministers Meddling with State Matters in or out of their Sermons, resolved more satisfactorily than before.
[56. ]John Owen, Οὐρανῶν Οὐρανία,The Shaking and Translating of Heaven and Earth (1649); John Warren, The Potent Potter (1649).
[57. ]The Moderate, no. 43 (1–8 May 1649), p. 492.
[58. ]Resolves of the Commons concerning such ministers as shall preach or pray against the Present Government (9 July 1649).
[59. ]Formal thanks and invitations to print were the rule until March 1651, though preachers seldom took advantage of the invitations. From March 1651 thanks are rare and invitations to print rarer still, gradually ceasing altogether.