The conquered lost six thousand men, and all their baggage and artillery. Leslie was among the prisoners: Hamilton among the dead. Charles himself fled from the field; and after months of wanderings made his escape to France.
"Now that the King is dead and his son defeated," Cromwell said gravely to the Parliament, "I think it necessary to come to a settlement." But the settlement which had been promised after Naseby was still as distant as ever after Worcester. The bill for dissolving the present Parliament, though Cromwell pressed it in person, was only passed, after bitter opposition, by a majority of two; and even this success had been purchased by a compromise which permitted the House to sit for three years more. Internal affairs were almost at a dead lock. The Parliament appointed committees to prepare plans for legal reforms, or for ecclesiastical reforms, but it did nothing to carry them into effect. It was overpowered by the crowd of affairs which the confusion of the war had thrown into its hands, by confiscations, sequestrations, appointments to civil and military offices, in fact, the whole administration of the state; and there were times when it was driven to a resolve not to take any private affairs for weeks together in order that it might make some progress with public business.
To add to this confusion and muddle there were the inevitable scandals which arose from it; charges of malversation and corruption were hurled at the members of the house; and some, like Haselrig, were accused with justice of using their power to further their own interests. The one remedy for all this was, as the army saw, the assembly of a new and complete Parliament in place of the mere "rump " of the old; but this was the one measure which the House was resolute to avert. Vane spurred it to a new activity. The Amnesty Bill was forced through after fifteen divisions. A Grand Committee, with Sir Matthew Hale at its head, was appointed to consider the reform of the law. A union with Scotland was pushed resolutely forward; eight English Commissioners convoked a Convention of delegates from its counties and boroughs at Edinburgh, and in spite of dogged opposition procured a vote in favour of the proposal. A bill was introduced which gave legal form to the union, and admitted representatives from Scotland into the next Parliament. A similar plan was proposed for a union with Ireland. But it was necessary for Vane's purposes not only to show the energy of the Parliament, but to free it from the control of the army.
His aim was to raise in the navy a force devoted to the House, and to eclipse the glories of Dunbar and Worcester by yet greater triumphs at sea. With this view the quarrel with Holland had been carefully nursed; a "Navigation Act" prohibiting the importation in foreign vessels of any but the products of the countries to which they belonged struck a fatal blow at the carrying trade from which the Dutch drew their wealth; and fresh debates arose from the English claim to salutes from all vessels in the Channel. The two fleets met before Dover, and a summons from Blake to lower the Dutch flag was met by the Dutch admiral, Van Tromp, with a broadside. The States-General attributed the collision to accident, and offered to recall Van Tromp; but the English demands rose at each step in the negotiations till war became inevitable. The army hardly needed the warning conveyed by the introduction of a bill for its disbanding to understand the new policy of the Parliament. It was significant that while accepting the bill for its own dissolution the House had as yet prepared no plan for the assembly which was to follow it; and the Dutch war had hardly been declared when, abandoning the attitude of inaction which it had observed since the beginning of the Commonwealth, the army petitioned, not only for reform in Church and State, but for an explicit declaration that the House would bring its proceedings to a close.
The Petition forced the House to discuss a bill for "a New Representative," but the discussion soon brought out the resolve of the sitting members to continue as a part of the coming Parliament without re-election. The officers, irritated by such a claim, demanded in conference after conference an immediate dissolution, and the House as resolutely refused. In ominous words Cromwell supported the demand of the army. "As for the members of this Parliament, the army begins to take them in disgust. I would it did so with less reason." There was just ground, he urged, for discontent in their selfish greed of houses and lands, the scandalous lives of many, their partiality as judges, their interference with the ordinary course of law in matters of private interest, their delay of law reform, above all in their manifest design of perpetuating their own power. "There is little to hope for from such men," he ended with a return to his predominant thought, " for a settlement of the nation".
For the moment the crisis was averted by the events of the war. A terrible storm had separated the two fleets when on the point of engaging in the Orkneys, but Ruyter and Blake met again in the Channel, and after a fierce struggle the Dutch were forced to retire under cover of night. Since the downfall of Spain Holland had been the first naval power in the world, and the spirit of the nation rose gallantly with its earliest defeat. Immense efforts were made to strengthen the fleet, and the veteran, Van Tromp, who was replaced at its head, appeared in the Channel with seventy-three ships of war. Blake had but half the number, but he at once accepted the challenge, and the unequal fight went on doggedly till nightfull, when the English fleet withdrew shattered into the Thames. Tromp swept the Channel in triumph, with a broom at his masthead; and the tone of the Commons lowered with the defeat of their favourite force. A compromise seems to have been arranged between the two parties, for the bill providing a new Representative was again pushed on, and the Parliament agreed to retire in the coming November, while Cromwell offered no opposition to a reduction of the army. But the courage of the House rose afresh with a turn of fortune.
The strenuous efforts of Blake enabled him again to put to sea in a few months after his defeat, and a running fight through four days ended at last in an English victory, though Tromp's fine seamanship enabled him to save the convoy he was guarding. The House at once insisted on the retention of its power. Not only were the existing members to continue as members of the new Parliament, depriving the places they represented of their right of choosing representatives, but they were to constitute a Committee of Revision, to determine the validity of each election, and the fitness of the members returned. A conference took place between the leaders of the Commons and the Officers of the Army, who resolutely demanded not only the omission of these clauses, but that the Parliament should at once dissolve itself, and commit the new elections to the Council of State. " Our charge," retorted Haselrig, " cannot be transferred to any one." The conference was adjourned till the next morning, on an understanding that no decisive step should be taken: but it had no sooner re-assembled than the absence of the leading members confirmed the news that Vane was fast pressing the bill for a new Representative through the House. " It is contrary to common honesty," Cromwell angrily broke out; and, quitting Whitehall, he summoned a company of musketeers to follow him as far as the door of the Commons. He sate down quietly in his place, " clad in plain grey clothes and grey worsted stockings," and listened to Vane's passionate arguments. "I am come to do what grieves me to the heart," he said to his neighbour, St. John; but he still remained quiet, till Vane pressed the House to waive its usual forms and pass the bill at once. "The time has come," he said to Harrison. " Think well," replied Harrison, " it is a dangerous work!" and Cromwell listened for another quarter of an hour.
At the question " that this Bill do pass," he at length rose, and his tone grew higher as he repeated his former charges of injustice, self-interest, and delay. " Your hour is come," he ended, " the Lord hath done with you!" A crowd of members started to their feet in angry protest. " Come, come," replied Cromwell, " we have had enough of this; " and striding into the midst of the chamber, he clapt his hat on his head, and exclaimed, "I will put an end to your prating!" In the din that followed his voice was heard in broken sentences - " It is not fit that you should sit here any longer! You should give place to better men! You are no Parliament." Thirty musketeers entered at a sign from their General, and the fifty members present crowded to the door. " Drunkard!" Cromwell broke out as Wentworth passed him; and Martin was taunted with a yet coarser name. Vane, fearless to the last, told him his act was " against all right and all honour." " Ah, Sir Harry Vane, Sir Harry Vane," Cromwell retorted in bitter indignation at the trick he had been played, " you might have prevented all this, but you are a juggler, and have no common honesty! The Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane! " The Speaker refused to quit his seat, till Harrison offered to "lend him a hand to comedown." Cromwell lifted the mace from the table. " What shall we do with this bauble?" he said. "Take it away!" The door of the House was locked at last, and the dispersion of the Parliament was followed a few hours after by that of its executive committee, the Council of State. Cromwell himself summoned them to withdraw. " We have heard," replied the President, John Bradshaw, " what you have done this morning at the House, and in some hours all England will hear it.
But you mistake, sir, if you think the Parliament dissolved. No power on earth can dissolve the Parliament but itself, be sure of that!"