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GREAT BRITONS (2): OLIVER CROMWELL
M r. P r i e s t 1e y: One of the chief threads that make up the pattern of English history, a thread that runs through it from the earliest times almost to our present day, is the struggle between the King and the people (or the Parliament) to decide which should be supreme. At first and for many centuries the King was all-powerful, but gradually his powers were reduced and those of Parliament built up untill now it is the Parliament that, in all but name, is the chief power in the land.
And in this long struggle one of the most decisive moments came in the seventeenth century. It was during this period that the political parties as we know them today began to take shape. Charles I was on the throne. His portrait, painted by Van Dyck, has given us a vivid impression of his handsome face with its sad, thoughtful eyes, his kingly manner and his charm. We know that as a man he was admirable, sincerely religious, a faithful husband and a loving father. As a King he was dishon ourable, and untrustworthy. He was brought up to believe in the "Divine Right of Kings" and hated the idea of a Parlia ment, believing that its only purpose was to vote the money that he thought necessary. To get the money he lightly gave any promise that Parliament asked for, and just as lightly broke that word of honour. Time and again he was trusted and time and again he was false to that trust, until it was forced on the people that no promise that he gave was of any value. At last, when Charles I entered the House of Commons itself with the intention of arresting the five men who were the leaders of the party that opposed him, people realised that if freedom and truth and justice were to live at all there was no other choice but to resist him by force.
The actual fighting in the Civil War broke out in 1642. At first the tide of battle went completely against the Parlia mentary forces, and they were hopelessly defeated in almost every battle. Itwas natural that they should be. The majority of the country landowners and the wealthy men, most of whom had been trained in arms and had weapons and horses, sup ported Charles I. He had, too, skilful leaders like Prince Rupert of the Rhine; he had all the gay, pleasure-loving, fashionable gentlemen of England, the Cavaliers as they were called, on his side. The Royalists were far more attractive than the Parlia-
mentarians. They had learning, courtesy and good manners. They loved poetry and music and art; their long, curled hair and gay-coloured clothes were the outward expression of an inward gaiety and love of the beautiful.
The Parliamentarians had none of this charm. They were mostly Puritans, men who wanted a simpler and plainer form of religion, and, among the extremists at least, only too often this showed itself in actual dislike of the beautiful merely be cause it was beautiful. It led them to destroy pictures, the love ly stained-glass windows of churches and often the churches themselves.
The Puritans, too, bore the outward signs of their beliefs; their dress was plain and dull in colouring; their hair was cut close - the Cavaliers called them "Roundheads", -their fac es were habitually sour. To them all pleasures, even the most innocent, were sinful things. They scorned learning and art; they were bitterly intolerant of the opinions of their enemies and the pleasures of their friends.
But -on the other side of the picture -they had a courage that no defeats could crush; they had a religious faith that inspired every act of their lives. For them God was a living, daily reality. "If they knew nothing of the works of philoso phers and poets they were deeply read in the writings of God; if their names were not found in the book of courtiers they were written in the Book of Life. Their palaces were houses not made with hands; their crowns were of glory that should never fade away. On the rich and the learned, on nobles and priests, they looked down with scorn, for they knew themselves to be rich in a more precious treasure, nobles by a greater right, priests by the laying on of a mightier hand. Thus, the Puritan was made up of two different men; the one all humbleness, gratitude, feeling; the other proud, calm, unbending. He hum bled himself in the dust before his Maker; but he set his foot on the neck of his King. The intensity of their feelings on one subject made them calm on all others. They had their smiles and their tears, but not for the things of this world. For them death had lost its terrors and pleasure its charm 1".
But courage and religious faith alone are not enough to win battles. Leadership and training are necessary too, and it was the hour - the darkest hour for Parliamentary forces - that brought the man, Oliver Cromwell.
1 Macaulay (1800-1859), Essay on Milton (adapted to Essential English).
Cromwell was a country gentleman, a farmer of Hunting donshire, with no desire to be known in the world. He had wanted to leave England and find a new home in America where he would be free to worship as he wished, but the King had forbidden him to leave England. He had been in Parliament, a rough, ungraceful figure, unskilful as a speaker but known for his strength of character and his deep sincerity and religious feeling. Cromwell saw that if the Parliament army was to be victorious it must not only be as fearless and as full of faith in its own cause as the Cavaliers were in theirs, but it must be as well trained as Charles's army - and, if possible, better trained.
CAYALIER FAMILY PURITAN FAMILY
He went to the eastern counties and gathered soldiers there, men specially picked for their courage, strength, horsemanship and religious feeling. He said: "A few honest men are better than numbers. If you choose good, honest men to be captains of horse, honest men will follow them". He trained his men in complete obedience, filled them with the desire to fight for freedom, Parliament and religion, combining the spiritual and the practical as in his famous order:
"Trust in God, and keep your powder dry".
Then when they were ready he led them into battle, and on that day his army -the Ironsides as they came to be known - did not give way. For the first time the Cavaliers had been held.
Several battles were won by Parliamentarians, and finally at Naseby, 1645, the King's forces were completely defeated.
Cromwell was now leader of the whole Parliamentary for ces; the King's army was scattered and the King himself was in flight. Seeing that his cause was lost, he gave himself up, and was imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of Wight. Finally he was brought to trial in London for having made war on his people and for being an enemy of his country. He was
found guilty and sentenced to death. At his trial he behaved nobly and firmly, refusing to defend himself before a court which, he said, had no power to try him, and he received the death sentence with a calm courage.
Four days later, after a sad farewell to his younger children 1 in St. James's Palace, he walked across St. James's Park through the snow to Whitehall and there, outside the palace, he was beheaded. Whatever may have been his faults in life, he bore himself like a real King in his last moments:
He nothing common did or mean Upon that memorable scene,
But bowed his comely2 head Down as upon a bed.
Cromwell now became ruler of England, not as King but as "Protector of the Commonwealth", and for ten years he ruled England firmly but well. He could be merciless - his treat ment of Ireland was one of the blots on his character - yet he loved mercy, and in an age that was bitter with religious intol erance he was nobly tolerant. "The State, in choosing men to serve it", Cromwell wrote before the battle of Marston Moor, "takes no notice of their opinions. Ifthey are willing, faithfully to serve it, that is enough". And from the field of Naseby, just after the victory, he wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons: "Honest men served you faithfully in this action. Sir, they are trustworthy. I beg you in the name of God not to discourage them. He that risks his life for the liberty of his country, should have liberty of his conscience. In things of the mind we look for no compulsion but that of light and reason3". It was he who really united England, Scotland and Ireland, who enforced justice and order at home and made England stronger and more respected abroad than she had ever been before in the whole of her history, and if he at times acted like a tyrant, he did it because in this, as in the execution of Charles I, he saw that this was the only means of bringing order and peace in England. His rough, harsh nature, like his stern, harsh face, did not inspire affection - though under the rough out ward appearance there was kindness, - but his strength, his unshakable honesty and his sincere religion made him respected
as one of the greatest Englishmen.
1 His wife and eldest son hall already gone to France.
2 Comely ['kAmh] = handsome (poetic). From a poem by Andrew Marvell (1621- 1678).
3 Slightly modernised and written in Essential English.
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