A rumour that the King was to be removed to London, a new army raised, a new civil war begun, roused the soldiers to madness. Five hundred troopers suddenly appeared before Holmby House, where the King was residing in charge of Parliamentary Commissioners, and displaced its guards. "Where is your commission for this act?" Charles asked the cornet who commanded them. "It is behind me," said Joyce, pointing to his soldiers. " It is written in very fine and legible characters," laughed the King. The seizure had in fact been previously concerted between Charles and the Agitators. " I will part willingly," he told Joyce, " if the soldiers confirm all that you have promised me. You will exact from me nothing that offends my conscience or my honour." "It is not our maxim," replied the cornet, " to constrain the conscience of any one, still less that of our King." After a fresh burst of terror at the news, the Parliament fell furiously on Cromwell, who had relinquished his command and quitted the army before the close of the war, and had ever since been employed as a mediator between the two parties.
The charge of having incited the mutiny fell before his vehement protest, but he was driven to seek refuge with the army, and on the 25th of June it was in full march upon London. Its demands were expressed with perfect clearness in an " Humble Representation " which it addressed to the Houses. " We desire a settlement of the Peace of the kingdom and of the liberties of the subject according to the votes and declarations of Parliament. We desire no alteration in the civil government: as little do we desire to interrupt or in the least to intermeddle with the settling of the Presbyterial government." They demanded toleration; but "not to open a way to licentious living under pretence of obtaining ease for tender consciences, we profess, as ever, in these things when the state has made a settlement we have nothing to say, but to submit or suffer." It was with a view to such a settlement that they demanded the expulsion of eleven members from the Commons, with Holies at their head, whom the soldiers charged with stirring up strife between the army and the Parliament, and with a design of renewing the civil war.
After fruitless negotiations the terror of the Londoners forced the eleven to withdraw; and the Houses named Commissioners to treat on the questions at issue.
Though Fairfax and Cromwell had been forced from their position as mediators into a hearty co-operation with the army, its political direction rested at this moment with Cromwell's son-in-law, Henry Ireton, and Ireton looked for a real settlement, not to the Parliament, but to the King. " There must be some difference," he urged bluntly, " between conquerors and conquered; " but the terms which he laid before Charles were terms of studied moderation. The vindictive spirit which the Parliament had shown against the royalists and the Church disappeared in the terms exacted by the New Model; and the army contented itself with the banishment of seven leading " delinquents," a general Act of Oblivion for the rest, the withdrawal of all coercive power from the clergy, the control of Parliament over the military and naval forces for ten years, and its nomination of the great officers of State. Behind these demands however came a masterly and comprehensive plan of political reform which had already been sketched by the army in the "Humble Representation," with which it had begun its march on London. Belief and worship were to be free to all. Acts enforcing the use of the Prayer-book, or attendance at Church, or the enforcement of the Covenant were to be repealed.
Even Catholics, whatever other restraints might be imposed, were to be freed from the bondage of compulsory worship. Parliaments were to be triennial, and the House of Commons to be reformed by a fairer distribution of seats and of electoral rights; taxation was to be readjusted; legal procedure simplified; a crowd of political, commercial, and judicial privileges abolished. Ireton believed that Charles could be "so managed" (says Mrs. Hutchinson) "as to comply with the public good of his people after he could no longer uphold his violent will." But Charles was equally dead to the moderation and to the wisdom of this great Act of Settlement. He saw in the crisis nothing but an opportunity of balancing one party against another; and believed that the army had more need of his aid than he of the army's. " You cannot do without me - you are lost if I do not support you," he said to Ireton as he pressed his proposals. " You have an intention to be the arbitrator between us and the Parliament," Ireton quietly replied, "and we mean to be so between the Parliament and your Majesty." But the King's tone was soon explained. A mob of Londoners broke into the House of Commons, and forced its members to recall the eleven.
While some fourteen peers and a hundred commoners fled to the army, those who remained at Westminster prepared for an open struggle with it, and invited Charles to return to London. But the news no sooner reached the camp than the army was again on the march. "In two days," Cromwell said coolly, " the city will be in our hands." The soldiers entered London in triumph, and restored the fugitive members; the eleven were again expelled, and the army leaders resumed negotiations with the King. The indignation of the soldiers at his delays and intrigues made the task hourly more difficult; but Cromwell, who now threw his whole weight on Ireton's side, clung to the hope of accommodation with a passionate tenacity. His mind, conservative by tradition, and above all practical in temper, saw the political difficulties which would follow on the abolition of Monarchy, and in spite of the King's evasions he persisted in negotiating with him. But Cromwell stood almost alone; the Parliament refused to accept Ireton's proposals as a basis of peace, Charles still evaded, and the army grew restless and suspicious.