Summoning his coach, by a sudden impulse, the Protector drove with a few guards to Westminster; and setting aside the remonstrances of Fleetwood, summoned the two Houses to his presence. "I do dissolve this Parliament," he ended a speech of angry rebuke, " and let God be judge between you and me." Fatal as was the error, for the moment all went well. The army was reconciled by the blow levelled at its opponents, and the few murmurers were weeded from its ranks by a careful remodelling. The triumphant officers vowed to stand or fall with his Highness. The danger of a royalist rising vanished before a host of addresses from the counties. Great news too came from abroad, where victory in Flanders, and the cession of Dunkirk, set the seal on Cromwell's glory. But the fever crept steadily on, and his looks told the tale of death to the Quaker, Fox, who met him riding in Hampton Court Park. "Before I came to him," he says, "as he rode at the head of his Life Guards, I saw and felt a waft of death go forth against him, and when I came to him he looked like a dead man." In the midst of his triumph Cromwell's heart was in fact heavy with the sense of failure. He had no desire to play the tyrant; nor had he any belief in the permanence of a mere tyranny.
He clung desperately to the hope of bringing the country to his side. He had hardly dissolved the Parliament before he was planning the summons of another, and angry at the opposition which his Council offered to the project. "I will take my own resolutions," he said gloomily to his household; " I can no longer satisfy myself to sit still, and make myself guilty of the loss of all the honest party and of the nation itself." But before his plans could be realized the overtaxed strength of the Protector suddenly gave way. He saw too clearly the chaos into which his death would plunge England to be willing to die. " Do not think I shall die," he burst out with feverish energy to the physicians who gathered round him; "say not I have lost my reason! I tell you the truth. I know it from better authority than any you can have from Galen or Hippocrates. It is the answer of God Himself to our prayers! " Prayer indeed rose from every side for his recovery, but death drew steadily nearer, till even Cromwell felt that his hour was come. "I would be willing to live," the dying man murmured, "to be further serviceable to God and His people, but my work is done! Yet God will be with His people! " A storm which tore roofs from houses, and levelled huge trees in every forest, seemed a fitting prelude to the passing away of his mighty spirit.
Three days later, on the third of September, the day which had witnessed his victories of Worcester and Dunbar, Cromwell quietly breathed his last.
So absolute even in death was his sway over the minds of men, that, to the wonder of the excited royalists, even a doubtful nomination on his death-bed was enough to secure the peaceful succession of his son, Richard Cromwell. Many, in fact, who had rejected the authority of his father submitted peaceably to the new Protector. Their motives were explained by Baxter, the most eminent among the Presbyterian ministers, in the address to Richard which announced his adhesion. "I observe," he says, "that the nation generally rejoice in your peaceable entrance upon the Government. Many are persuaded that you have been strangely kept from participating in any of our late bloody contentions, that God might make you the healer of our breaches, and employ you in that Temple work which David himself might not be honoured with, though it was in his mind, because he shed blood abundantly and made great wars." The new Protector was a weak and worthless man, but the bulk of the nation were content to be ruled by one who was at any rate no soldier, no Puritan, and no innovator. Richard was known to be lax and worldly in his conduct, and he was believed to be conservative and even royalist in heart.
The tide of reaction was felt even in his Council. Their first act was to throw aside one of the greatest of Cromwell's reforms, and to fall back in the summons which they issued for the new Par liament on the old system of election. It was felt far more keenly in the tone of the new House of Commons. The republicans under Vane, backed adroitly by the secret royalists, fell hotly on Cromwell's system. The fiercest attack of all came from Sir Ashley Cooper, a Dorsetshire gentleman who had changed sides in the civil war, had fought for the King and then for the Parliament, had been a member of Cromwell's Council, and had of late ceased to be a member of it. His virulent invective on "his Highness of deplorable memory, who with fraud and force deprived you of your liberty when living, and entailed slavery on you at his death," was followed by an equally virulent invective against the army. " They have not only subdued their enemies," said Cooper, " but the masters who raised and maintained them! They have not only conquered Scotland and Ireland, but rebellious England too; and there suppressed a Malignant party of magistrates and laws." The army was quick with its reply.
It had already demanded the appointment of a soldier as its General in the place of the new Protector, who had assumed the command. The tone of the Council of Officers now became so menacing that the Commons ordered the dismissal of all officers who refused to engage " not to disturb or interrupt the free meetings of Parliament." Richard ordered the Council of Officers to dissolve.' Their reply-was a demand for the dissolution of the Parliament, a demand with which Richard was forced to comply. The purpose of the army however was still to secure a settled government; and setting aside the new Protector, whose weakness was now evident, they resolved to come to a reconciliation with the republican party, and to recall the fragment of the Commons whom they had expelled from St. Stephen's in 1653. Of the one hundred and sixty members who had continued to sit after the King's death, about ninety returned to their seats, and resumed the administration of affairs. But the continued exclusion of the members who had been "purged" from the House in 1648, proved that no real intention existed of restoring a legal rule. The House was soon at strife with the soldiers.