Paid military officers and civil officials were excluded from election. The plan was apparently accepted by the Commons, and a bill based on it was again and again discussed, but there was a suspicion that no serious purpose of its own dissolution was entertained by the House. The popular discontent found a mouthpiece in John Lilburne, a brave, hot-headed soldier, and the excitement of the army appeared suddenly in a formidable mutiny in May. "You must cut these people in pieces," Cromwell broke out in the Council of State, "or they will cut you in pieces; " and a forced march of fifty miles to Burford enabled him to burst on the mutinous regiments at midnight, and to stamp out the revolt. But resolute as he was against disorder, Cromwell went honestly with the army in its demand of a new Parliament; he believed, and in his harangue to the mutineers he pledged himself to the assertion, that the House proposed to dissolve itself. Within the House, however, a vigorous knot of politicians was resolved to prolong its existence; in a witty paraphrase of the story of Moses, Henry Martyn was soon to picture the Commonwealth as a new-born and delicate babe, and hint that " no one is so proper to bring it up as the mother who has brought it into the world." As yet, however, their intentions were kept secret, and in spite of the delays thrown in the way of the bill for a new Representative body Cromwell entertained no serious suspicion of the Parliament's design, when he was summoned to Ireland by a series of royalist successes which left only Dublin in the hands of the Parliamentary forces.
With Scotland threatening war, and a naval struggle impending with Holland, it was necessary that the work of the army in Ireland should be done quickly. The temper, too, of Cromwell and his soldiers was one of vengeance, for the horror of the Irish massacre remained living in every English breast, and the revolt was looked upon as a continuance of the massacre. "We are come," he said on his landing, " to ask an account of the innocent blood that hath been shed, and to endeavour to bring to an account all who by appearing in arms shall justify the same." A. sortie from Dublin had already broken up Ormond's siege of the capital; and feeling himself powerless to keep the field before the new army, the Marquis had thrown his best troops, three thousand Englishmen under Sir Arthur Aston, as a garrison into Drogheda. The storm of Drogheda by Cromwell was the first of a series of awful massacres. The garrison fought bravely, and repulsed the first attack; but a second drove Aston and his force back to the Mill-Mount. "Our men getting up to them," ran Cromwell's terrible despatch, "were ordered by me to put them all to the sword.
And indeed, being in the heat of action, I forbade them to spare any that were in arms in the town, and I think that night they put to death about two thousand men." A few fled to St. Peter's church," whereupon I ordered the steeple to be fired, where one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames: 'God damn me, I burn, I burn.'" "In the church itself nearly one thousand were put to the sword. I believe all their friars were knocked on the head promiscuously but two," but these were the sole exceptions to the rule of killing the soldiers only. At a later time Cromwell challenged his enemies to give "an instance of one man since my coming into Ireland, not in arms, massacred, destroyed, or banished." But for soldiers who refused to surrender on summons there was no mercy. Of the remnant who were driven to yield at last through hunger, " when they submitted, their officers were knocked on the head, every tenth man of the soldiers killed, and the rest shipped for the Barbadoes." " I am persuaded," the despatch ends, " that this is a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood, and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future." A detachment sufficed to relieve Deny, and to quiet Ulster; and Cromwell turned to the south, where as stout a defence was followed by as terrible a massacre at Wexford. A fresh success at Ross brought him to Waterford; but the city held stubbornly out, disease thinned his army, where there was scarce an officer who had not been sick, and the general himself was arrested by illness.
At last the tempestuous weather drove him into winter quarters at Cork with his work half done. The winter was one of terrible anxiety. The Parliament was showing less and less inclination to dissolve itself, and was meeting the growing discontent by a stricter censorship of the press, and a fruitless prosecution of John Lilburne. English commerce was being ruined by the piracies of Rupert's fleet, which now anchored at Kinsale to support the royalist cause in Ireland.
The energy of Vane indeed had already re-created a navy, squadrons of which were being despatched into the British seas, the Mediterranean, and the Levant, and Colonel Blake, who had distinguished himself by his heroic defence of Taunton during the war, was placed at the head of a fleet which drove Rupert from the Irish coast, and finally blockaded him in the Tagus. But even the energy of Vane quailed before the danger from the Scots. "One must go and die there," the young King cried at the news of Ormond's defeat before Dublin, "for it is shameful for me to live elsewhere." But his ardour for an Irish campaign cooled as Cromwell marched from victory to victory; and from the isle of Jersey, which alone remained faithful to him of all his southern dominions, Charles renewed the negotiations with Scotland which his hopes from Ireland had broken. They were again delayed by a proposal on the part of Montrose to attack the very Government with whom his master was negotiating; but the failure and death of the Marquis in the spring forced Charles to accept the Presbyterian conditions.
The news of the negotiations filled the English leaders with dismay, for Scotland was raising an army, and Fairfax, while willing to defend England against a Scotch invasion, scrupled to take the lead in an invasion of Scotland. The Council recalled Cromwell from Ireland, but his cooler head saw that there was yet time to finish his work in the west. During the winter he had been busily preparing for a new campaign, and it was only after the storm of Clonmell, and the overthrow of the Irish under Hugh O'Neil, that he embarked again for England.