Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 29.djvu/45

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Ireton
Ireton
39

his father-in-law, and by Colonel Lambert’ (Memorials, f. 254).

The form, if not the idea, of the ‘engagement’ of the army (5 June) was probably due to Ireton, and the remonstrance of 14 June was also his work (Rushworth, vi. 512, 564). He took part in the treaty between the commissioners of the army and the parliament, and when the former decided to draw up a general summary of their demands for the settlement of the kingdom, the task was entrusted to Ireton and another (Clarke Papers, i. 148, 211). The result was the manifesto known as ‘The Heads of the Army Proposals.’ By it Ireton hoped to show the nation what the army would do with power if they had it, and he was anxious that no fresh quarrel with parliament should take place until the manifesto had been published to the world. He hoped also to lay the foundation of an agreement between king and parliament, and to establish the liberties of the people on a permanent basis (ib. pp. 179, 197). But, excellent though this scheme of settlement was, it was too far in advance of the political ideas of the moment to be accepted either by king or parliament. Ireton was represented as saying that what was offered in the proposals was so just and reasonable that if there were but six men in the kingdom to fight to make them good, he would make the seventh (‘Huntingdon's Reasons,’ Maseres, i. 401). In his anxiety to obtain the king's assent he modified the proposals in several important points, and consequently imperilled his popularity with the soldiers. When the king rejected the terms offered him by parliament, Ireton vehemently urged a new treaty, and told the house that if they ceased their addresses to the king he could not promise them the support of the army (22 Sept. 1647). Pamphlets accused him of juggling and underhand dealing, of betraying the army and deluding honest Cromwell to serve his own ambition, and of bargaining for the government of Ireland as the price of the king's restoration (Clarke Papers, i. Preface, xl–xlvi; A Declaration of some Proceedings of Lieutenant-colonel John Lilburn, 1648, p. 15). In the debates of the council of the army during October and November 1649, Sexby and Wildman attacked him with the greatest bitterness. Ireton passionately disavowed all private engagements, and asserted that if he had used the name of the army to support a further application to the king, it was because he sincerely believed himself to be acting in accordance with the army's views. He had no desire, he said, to set up the king or parliament, but wished to make the best use possible of both for the interest of the kingdom (Clarke Papers, i. 233). In resisting a rupture with the king he urged the army, for the sake of its own reputation, to fulfil the promises publicly made in its earlier declarations (ib. p. 294). With equal vigour he opposed the new constitution which the levellers brought forward, under the title of ‘The Agreement of the People,’ and denounced the demand for universal suffrage as destructive to property and fatal to liberty, although for a limitation of the duration and powers of parliament and a redistribution of seats he was willing to fight if necessary (ib. p. 299). He wished to limit the veto of the king and the House of Lords, but objected to the proposal to deprive them altogether of any share in legislation.

Burnet represents Ireton as sticking at nothing in order to turn England into a commonwealth; but in the council of the army he was in reality the spokesman of the conservative party among the officers, anxious to maintain as much of the existing constitution as possible. The constitution was always in his mouth, and he detested and dreaded nothing so much as the abstract theories of natural right on which the levellers based their demands (ib. Preface, pp. lxvii–lxxi; Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1833, i. 85).

On 5 Nov. the council of the army sent a letter to the speaker, disavowing any desire that parliament should make a fresh application to the king, and Ireton at once withdrew from their meetings, protesting that unless they recalled their vote he would come there no more (Clarke Papers, p. 441). But the flight of the king to the Isle of Wight (11 Nov.) led to an entire change in his attitude. The story of the letter from Charles to the queen, which Cromwell and Ireton intercepted, is scarcely needed to account for this change. Without it Ireton perceived the impossibility of the treaty with Charles, on which he had hoped to rest the settlement of the kingdom (Birch, Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, General Fairfax, &c., 1764, p. 19). He held that the army's engagements to the king were ended, and when Berkeley brought the king's proposals for a personal treaty to the army, received him with coldness and disdain, instead of his former cordiality (29 Nov. 1647; Berkeley, Memoirs; Maseres, i. 384). Huntingdon describes him as saying, when the probability of an agreement between king and parliament was spoken of, ‘that he hoped it would be such a peace as we might with a good conscience fight against them both’ (ib. i. 404). When Charles refused the ‘Four Bills,’ Ireton urged parliament to settle the kingdom without him