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Trying and Executing a King

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For the first few months of 1647, Oliver Cromwell was concerned about what role he would play in the new government that followed the English Civil War. King Charles I was held hostage by Parliament, but Parliament itself had returned under the control of a conservative Presbyterian faction which favored restoration of the monarchy. From January to April, Cromwell did not sit in the House of Commons at all, and even contemplated leaving England to fight in the wars which continued to rage between Protestants and Catholics in Germany.

The troops of the New Model Army were restless as well, particularly because the soldiers had not been paid for some time. A mutiny seemed imminent, and Parliament sent Cromwell to Essex in May 1647 to bring the army back under Parliament's command. Although it was Parliament's understanding that Cromwell would offer the men only partial redress of their grievances, on May seventeen Cromwell and his fellow officers sent Parliament a startling report which said that they planned to stand united with the restless troops.

The message had immediate repercussions. Many in Parliament accused Cromwell of secretly fomenting rebellion among the soldiers, and wanted to see the Army disbanded entirely. On May twenty-five, Parliament issued an order to Cromwell and his officers to gradually disband the Army, but they refused to obey. Parliament was alarmed and voted to grant the troops their full back payment for the services they had rendered. The action came too late, however, as the Army, under Cromwell and the other officers, gathered at Newmarket in June and decided to occupy London.

On June fourteen the Army Council issued a declaration calling for a purge of Parliament, especially of the conservative Presbyterians who seemed too attached to the old system of monarchy. The declaration also proclaimed that the troops were not mercenaries at Parliament's disposal, but citizens of England wearing military uniforms. The Army Council also accused eleven leading Presbyterians of treason.

In the meanwhile, Cromwell had resumed his former position as Lieutenant-General of the Army. The troops saw him as a natural leader, but Cromwell made it clear that he was in favor of restoring military order and discipline. He rejected the democratic ideology being pushed by the radicals in the Army, who were known as the Levellers. At this point in time, in fact, Cromwell thought of the monarchy as a necessary part of social order and property rights, and worried about his soldiers' demands for populist rule.

While negotiations were being conducted between Charles I and the leaders of Parliament, the Army advanced closer to London. By July seventeen the Army was just outside the city, and the eleven accused Presbyterians resigned their seats. Conflict ensued when the deposed Presbyterians called the London mob to their assistance, and groups of armed Londoners invaded the House of Commons demanding the immediate restoration of king Charles. Parliament called the city militia to its defense. By August six, the New Model Army occupied London, restored order, and put Parliament at its mercy. Cromwell and his brother-in- law, Commissary-General Henry Ireton, resumed negotiations with the King, thereby angering the Levellers, who did not want to see a compromise settlement of any kind. Although the Levellers threatened the unity of the Army, Cromwell was able to subdue them with a fearsome speech at a meeting of the General Council of the Army.

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