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Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681). Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson. 1906.

The Life of John Hutchinson: 1649

After the purgation of the house, upon new debate of the treaty at the Isle of Wight, it was concluded dangerous to the realm and destructive to the better interest, and the trial of the king was determined. He was sent for to Westminster, and a commission given forth to a court of high justice, whereof Bradshaw, serjeant-at-law, was president, and divers honourable persons of the parliament, city, and army, nominated commissioners. Among them Colonel Hutchinson was one who, very much against his own will, was put in; but looking upon himself as called hereunto, durst not refuse it, as holding himself obliged by the covenant of God and the public trust of his country reposed in him, although he was not ignorant of the danger he run as the condition of things then was.

In January 1649, the court sat, the king was brought to his trial, and a charge drawn up against him for levying war against the parliament and people of England, for betraying their public trust reposed in him, and for being an implacable enemy to the commonwealth. But the king refused to plead, disowning the authority of the court, and after three several days persisting in contempt thereof, he was sentenced to suffer death. One thing was remarked in him by many of the court, that when the blood spilt in many of the battles where he was in his own person, and had caused it to be shed by his own command, was laid to his charge, he heard it with disdainful smiles, and looks and gestures which rather expressed sorrow that all the opposite party to him was not cut off, than that any were: and he stuck not to declare in words, that no man’s blood spilt in this quarrel troubled him but only one, meaning the Earl of Strafford. The gentlemen that were appointed his judges, and divers others, saw in him a disposition so bent on the ruin of all that opposed him, and of all the righteous and just things they had contended for, that it was upon the consciences of many of them, that if they did not execute justice upon him, God would require at their hands all the blood and desolation which should ensue by their suffering him to escape, when God had brought him into their hands. Although the malice of the malignant party and their apostate brethren seemed to threaten them, yet they thought they ought to cast themselves upon God, while they acted with a good conscience for him and their country. Some of them after, to excuse, belied themselves, and said they were under the awe of the army, and overpersuaded by Cromwell, and the like; but it is certain that all men herein were left to their free liberty of acting, neither persuaded nor compelled; and as there were some nominated in the commission who never sat, and others who sat at first, but durst not hold on, so all the rest might have declined it if they would, when it is apparent they should have suffered nothing by so doing. For those who then declined were afterwards, when they offered themselves, received in again, and had places of more trust and benefit than those who run the utmost hazard; which they deserved not, for I know upon certain knowledge that many, yea the most of them, retreated, not for conscience, but for fear and worldly prudence, foreseeing that the insolency of the army might grow to that height as to ruin the cause, and reduce the kingdom into the hands of the enemy; and then those who had been most courageous in their country’s cause should be given up as victims. These poor men did privately animate those who appeared most publicly, and I knew several of them in whom I lived to see that saying of Christ fulfilled, ‘He that will save his life shall lose it, and he that for my sake will lose his life shall save it’; when afterwards it fell out that all their prudent declensions saved not the lives of some nor the estates of others. As for Mr. Hutchinson, although he was very much confirmed in his judgment concerning the cause, yet herein being called to an extraordinary action, whereof many were of several minds, he addressed himself to God by prayer; desiring the Lord that, if through any human frailty he were led into any error or false opinion in these great transactions, he would open his eyes, and not suffer him to proceed, but that he would confirm his spirit in the truth, and lead him by a right-enlightened conscience; and finding no check, but a confirmation in his conscience that it was his duty to act as he did, he, upon serious debate, both privately and in his addresses to God, and in conferences with conscientious, upright, unbiassed persons, proceeded to sign the sentence against the king. Although he did not then believe but that it might one day come to be again disputed among men, yet both he and others thought they could not refuse it without giving up the people of God, whom they had led forth and engaged themselves unto by the oath of God, into the hands of God’s and their enemies; and therefore he cast himself upon God’s protection, acting according to the dictates of a conscience which he had sought the Lord to guide, and accordingly the Lord did signalize his favour afterwards to him.

After the death of the king it was debated and resolved to change the form of government from monarchical into a commonwealth, and the house of lords was voted dangerous and useless thereunto, and dissolved. A council of state was to be annually chosen for the management of affairs, accountable to the parliament, out of which, consisting of forty councillors and a president, twenty were every year to go off by lot, and twenty new ones to be supplied. It is true, at that time every man almost was fancying a form of government, and angry, when this came forth, that his invention took not place; and among these John Lilburne, a turbulent, spirited man, that never was quiet in anything, published libels; and the levellers made a disturbance with a kind of insurrection which Cromwell soon appeased, they indeed being betrayed by their own leaders.

But how the public business went on, how Cromwell finished the conquest of Ireland, how the angry presbyterians spit fire out of their pulpits, and endeavoured to blow up the people against the parliament, how they entered into a treasonable conspiracy with Scotland, who had now received and crowned the son of the late king, who led them in hither in a great army, which the Lord of hosts discomfited; how our public ministers were assassinated and murdered in Spain and Holland; and how the Dutch, in this unsettlement of affairs, hoped to gain by making war, wherein they were beaten and brought to sue for peace,—I shall leave to the stories that were then written; and only in general say that the hand of God was mightily seen in prospering and preserving the parliament till Cromwell’s ambition unhappily interrupted them. Mr. Hutchinson was chosen into the first council of state, much against his own will; for, understanding that his cousin Ireton was one of the commissioners to nominate that council, he sent his wife to him, before he went to the house, that morning they were to be named, to desire him, upon all the scores of kindred and kindness that had been between them, that he might be left out, in regard that he had already wasted his time and his estate in the parliament service; and having had neither recompence for his losses, nor any office of benefit, it would finish his ruin to be tied by this employment to a close and chargeable attendance, besides the inconvenience of his health, not yet thoroughly confirmed, his constitution being more suitable to an active than to a sedentary life. These and other things he privately urged upon him; but he, who was a man regardless of his own or any man’s private interest wherever he thought the public service might be advantaged, instead of keeping him out got him in, when the colonel had prevailed with others to have indulged him that ease he desired. Mr. Hutchinson, after he had endeavoured to decline this employment and could not, thought that herein, as in other occasions, it being put upon him without his own desire, God had called him to his service in councils as formerly in arms, and applied himself to this also wherein he did his duty faithfully, and employed his power to relieve the oppressed and dejected, freely becoming the advocate of those who had been his late enemies, in all things that were just and charitable. Though he had now an opportunity to have enriched himself, as it is to be feared some in all times have done, by accepting rewards for even just assistances, and he wanted not many who offered them and solicited him therein, yet such was his generous nature that he abhorred the mention of anything like reward, though never so justly merited; and although he did a thousand high obliging kindnesses for many, both friends and enemies, he never had anything in money or presents of any man. The truth is, on the contrary he met with many that had not the good manners to make so much as a civil verbal acknowledgment. Among the rest one Sir John Owen may stand for a pillar of ingratitude. This man was wholly unknown to him, and with Duke Hamiliton, the Earl of Holland, the Lord Capell, and the Lord Goring, condemned to death by a second high court of justice. Of this, though the colonel was nominated a commissioner, he would not sit, his unbloody nature desiring to spare the rest of the delinquents, after the highest had suffered, and not delighting in the death of men, when they could live without cruelty to better men. The parliament also was willing to show mercy to some of these, and to execute others for example; whereupon the whole house was diversely engaged, some for one and some for another of these lords, and striving to cast away those they were not concerned in, that they might save their friends. While there was such mighty labour and endeavour for these lords, Colonel Hutchinson observed that no man spoke for this poor knight; and, sitting next to Colonel Ireton, he expressed himself to him and told him that it pitied him much to see that, while all were labouring to save the lords, a gentleman, that stood in the same condemnation, should not find one friend to ask his life; ‘and so’, said he, ‘am I moved with compassion that, if you will second me, I am resolved to speak for him, who, I perceive, is a stranger and friendless’. Ireton promised to second him, and accordingly, inquiring further of the man’s condition, whether he had not a petition in any member’s hand, he found that his keepers had brought one to the clerk of the house; but the man had not found any one that would interest themselves for him, thinking the lords’ lives of so much more concernment than this gentleman’s. This the more stirred up the colonel’s generous pity, and he took the petition, delivered it, spoke for him so nobly, and was so effectually seconded by Ireton, that they carried his pardon clear. Yet although one who knew the whole circumstance of the business, how Mr. Hutchinson, moved by mere compassion and generosity, had procured his life, told him, who admired his own escape, how it came about, yet he never was the man that so much as once came to give him thanks; nor was his fellow-prisoner Goring, for whom the colonel had also effectually solicited, more grateful.

Some of the army, being very desirous to get amongst them a person of whose fidelity and integrity to the cause they had so good experience, had moved it to the general, my Lord Fairfax; who commanded to have it inquired in what way he would choose to be employed; and when he told them that, in regard of his family, which he would not willingly be much absent from, he should rather accept the government of some town than a field employment, four governments were brought to him, to select which he would have; whereof Plymouth and Portsmouth, and one more in the west, being at a vast distance from his own county, Hull, in the north, though a less beneficial charge than the other, he made choice of, thinking they had not offered him anything but what was fairly fallen into their dispose. Soon after this, the lieutenant-general, Cromwell, desired him to meet him one afternoon at a committee, where, when he came, a malicious accusation against the governor of Hull was violently prosecuted by a fierce faction in that town. To this the governor had sent up a very fair and honest defence, yet most of the committee, more favouring the adverse faction, were labouring to cast out the governor. Col. Hutchinson, though he knew him not, was very earnest in his defence, whereupon Cromwell drew him aside, and asked him what he meant to contend to keep in that governor? (it was Overton.) The colonel told him, because he saw nothing proved against him worthy of being ejected. ‘But’, said Cromwell, ‘we like him not’. Then said the colonel, ‘Do it upon that account, and blemish not a man that is innocent, upon false accusations, because you like him not’. ‘But’, said Cromwell, ‘we would have him out, because the government is designed for you, and except you put him out you cannot have the place’. At this the colonel was very angry, and with great indignation told him, if there was no way to bring him into their army but by casting out others unjustly, he would rather fall naked before his enemies, than so seek to put himself into a posture of defence. Then returning to the table, he so eagerly undertook the injured governor’s protection, that he foiled his enemies, and the governor was confirmed in his place. This so displeased Cromwell that, as before, so much more now he saw that even his own interest would not bias him into any unjust faction, he secretly laboured to frustrate the attempts of all others who, for the same reason that Cromwell laboured to keep him out, laboured as much to bring him in.

But now had the poison of ambition so ulcerated Cromwell’s heart, that the effects of it became more apparent than before; and while as yet Fairfax stood an empty name, he was moulding the army to his mind, weeding out the godly and uprighthearted men, both officers and soldiers, and filling up their rooms with rascally turn-coat cavaliers, and pitiful sottish beasts of his own alliance, and other such as would swallow all things, and make no question for conscience’ sake. Yet this he did not directly nor in tumult, but by such degrees that it was unperceived by all that were not of very penetrating eyes; and those that made the loudest outcries against him lifted up their voices with such apparent envy and malice that, in that mist, they rather hid than discovered his ambitious minings. Among these, Colonel Rich and Commissary Staines and Watson had made a design even against his life, and the business was brought to the examination of the council of state. Before the hearing of it, Colonel Rich came to Colonel Hutchinson and implored his assistance with tears, affirming all the crimes of Cromwell, but not daring to justify his accusations, although the colonel advised him, if they were true to stand boldly to it, if false to acknowledge his own iniquity. The latter course he took, and the counsel had resolved upon the just punishment of the men, when Cromwell, having only thus in a private council vindicated himself from their malice, and laid open what pitiful sneaking poor knaves they were, how ungrateful to him, and how treacherous and cowardly to themselves, he became their advocate, and made it his suit that they might be no farther published or punished. This being permitted him, and they thus rendered contemptible to others, they became beasts and slaves to him, who knew how to serve himself of them without trusting them. This generosity, for indeed he carried himself with the greatest bravery that is imaginable herein, much advanced his glory, and cleared him in the eyes of superficial beholders; but others saw he crept on, and could not stop him, while fortune itself seemed to prepare his way in sundry occasions. All this while he carried to Mr. Hutchinson the most open face, and made the most obliging professions of friendship imaginable; but the colonel saw through him, and forbore not often to tell him what was suspected of his ambition, what dissimulations of his were remarked, and how dishonourable to the name of God and the profession of religion, and destructive to the most glorious cause, and dangerous to overthrow all our triumphs, these things which were suspected of him, would be, if true. He would seem to receive these cautions and admonitions as the greatest demonstrations of integrity and friendship that could be made, and embrace the colonel in his arms, and make serious lying professions to him, and often inquire men’s opinions concerning him, which the colonel never forbore to tell him plainly, although he knew he resented it not as he made show, yet it pleased him so to discharge his own thoughts.

The islanders of Jersey wanting a governor, and being acquainted, through the familiarity many of their countrymen had with him, and the abilities and honour of Colonel Hutchinson, they addressed themselves to my Lord General Fairfax, and petitioned to have him for their governor, which my lord assented to: and accordingly commanded a commission to be drawn up, which was done; but the colonel made not haste to take it out. But my lord, having ordered the commission, regarded him as governor, and when the model of the castle was brought to my lord to procure orders and money for the repair of the fortifications, he sent it to the colonel, and all other business concerning the island.