We, looking back after two centuries, are of course free to recognize, that one effect of the Tudor despotism had been to train Englishmen towards ruling themselves;—we may agree that the time had come for Lords and Commons to take their part in the Kingdom. But no proof, I think it may be said, can be shown that this great idea, in any conscious sense, governed the Parliaments of James and Charles. It is we who,—reviewing our history since the definite establishment of the constitutional balance after 1688, and the many blessings the land has enjoyed,—can perceive what in the seventeenth century was wholly hidden from Commonwealth and from King. And even if in accordance with the common belief, we ascribe English freedom and prosperity and good government to the final triumph of the popular side, yet deeper consideration should suggest that such retrospective judgments are always inevitably made under our human entire ignorance what might have been the result had the opposite party prevailed. Who should say how often, in case of these long and wide extended struggles,—political and dynastic,—the effects which we confidently claim as propter hoc, are only post hoc in the last reality?
Waiving however these somewhat remote and what many will judge over-sceptical considerations, this is certain, that unless we can purify our judgment from reading into the history of the past the long results of time;—from ascribing to the men of the seventeenth century prophetic insight into the nineteenth;—unless, in short, we can free ourselves from the chain of present or personal prepossessions;—no approach can be made to a fair or philosophical judgment upon such periods of strife and crisis as our Civil War preeminently offers.
With glory he gilt; Yet to readers, (if such readers there be) who can look with an undazzled eye on military success, or hear the still small voice of truth through the tempest of rhetoric, Cromwell’s foreign policy, (excepting the isolated case of his interference with the then comparatively feeble powers of Savoy and the Papacy on behalf of the persecuted Waldenses), will be far from supporting the credit with which politico-theological partisanship has invested it.
Holland was beyond question the natural ally on political and religious grounds of puritan England. But a mischievous war against her in 1652-3 was caused by the arrogant restrictions of the Navigation Act of 1651. The successful English demand in 1653 that the Orange family, as connected closely with that of Stuart, should be excluded from the Stadtholdership, was in a high degree to the prejudice of the United Provinces.
In 1654 Cromwell was negotiating with France and Spain. From the latter he arrogantly asked wholly unreasonable terms, whilst Mazarin, on the part of France, offered Dunkirk as a bribe. News opportunely arriving that certain Spanish possessions in America were feebly armed, Cromwell at once declared war: and now, supplementing unscrupulous policy by false theology, announced ’the Spaniards to be the natural and ordained enemies of England, whom to fight was a duty both to country and to religion:’ (Ranke: xii. 6).