August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO [HENRY COLE] ; 16 February 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440216-TC-HC-01; CL 17: 271-274


Chelsea, 16 feby, 1844—

My dear Sir,

Leaving aside the matter of subsidies, I am again in a little antiquarian dubiety, from which it perhaps lies a little more in your department to deliver me. At all events I will acquaint you with it.

Noble in his very stupid Memoirs of the Cromwell Family acquaints us (vol I. p. 100) with the interesting fact, if it be one, that Oliver the Protector was Member of Charles's first Parliament (june 1625) for the Borough of Huntingdon. Noble I have found too often to be an ass to trust him in this matter; I have therefore tried Willis's Notititia Parliamentaria;1 and find Noble indeed to be wrong, but perhaps Willis himself to be wrong also, and the whole matter involved in suitable chiaroscuro! These are the features of it:

1. It appears from Willis (an exact man, conversant with the Petty-Bag Office2 and the parchments), that in James's last Parliament, “4th Parliament, anno 1623, ” the two members for the COUNTY of Huntingdon were Edward Montague Esq and Oliver Cromwell alias Williams Kt,—which I doubt not is the very fact; this Montague being of the Sandwich or Manchester breed,3 and this Sir Oliver Cromwell alias Williams being the well-known Uncle of Oliver Protector, the Knight of Henchinbrook, “Golden-Knight,” so-called; who ruined himself, poor fellow, by his golden habitudes, and had to sell Henchinbrook to the Montagues (Sandwiches, who still hold it).4 So far therefore all is right. But now

2. In the first Parlt of Charles, the Parliament immediately subsequent, Willis tells us, the members for this same County were ‘Edward Montague Esq’ (the same gentleman as before), ‘and Oliver Cromwell Esq,’—whom also I strongly suspect to be the same gentleman as before but miswritten.5 This is the doubt I would fain clear up and reduce into a certainty one way or the other.

Noble, we see, is wrong; for the members for the Borough of Huntingdon are, in both those Parliaments, two quite other persons, ‘Mainwaring & St John’:6 but is Browne Willis right?— I have another fact or two that bears on it:

3. In the second Parliament of Charles, feby 1625–6, the County members for Hunts are Edward Montague (as above), and Sir Robert Payne (an altogether new figure). Our Golden Knight, I gather elsewhere, is about selling his Huntingdon estate in these days: the sale, of Henchinbrook &c to Sidney Montague (Edward the member's kinsman), took place in june 1627;—the Golden Knight may well have declined sitting for the Shire in these circumstances! The members for the Borough are Mainwaring (as before) and J. Goldsborough.7 There is no Cromwell on any side in this Parliament. But

4. It is indisputable, from Willis and many other public and private evidences, that in the next, namely in the third Parlt of Charles, anno 1628, Oliver Cromwell the Protector, he his very self, did sit; and make a short pithy speech,8 which all people have remembered. But note here, he sat for the Borough of Huntingdon, not for the County; the County members are the ‘Payne’ first seen in the 2nd Parliament, and another new figure, ‘Capel Bedal Esq.’9

Is it at all likely that Oliver Protector, in whose circumstances about Huntingdon where he lived, there had no change taken place except perhaps an improvement, should have sunk from a Knight of the Shire in the first Parliament to a Burgess in this,—even if he had ever been likely for a Knight of the Shire at all; which I think he never was, being a young man (five-and-twenty at the time), of small fortune and no business, whose Mother had set up a Brewery in Huntingdon?10 It must have been the Uncle, and not he, that was at any time Knight of the Shire. For those distinctions were far more marked then than they are now. I have a fourth Note to add:

4 [5]. That in the next Parliament, in the next two Parliaments, the Short and the Long, both of 1640, our Oliver sat for Cambridge Town, having now removed into that County, and become distinguished by a public service there. For Huntingdon County, on these two occasions, sit Capel, Bedal (see above) and Sir T. Cotton (the celebrated Sir Robert's son and himself the ‘celebrated’); for the Town sit, Willm Montague (a new Montague) and ‘R. Bernard’ Recorder of the place.11 These are all my facts. Plenty, I daresay, you will exclaim!—

Now, do you know any man learned in Parliamentary matters and records who could throw any light for me on this question? If so, it were charitable that he did it. A truth is good, a non-truth is bad everywhere in this Universe; and there are few men that ever lived here who deserve better to have the whole truth distinguished from the non-truth in their History than Oliver the Protector.

Sir Francis Palgrave12 sits, I think you told me, in the Petty-Bag Office, where the official lists of all these Parliaments, it would appear, are duly reported. If the difficulty be not too great, I should like at least to have the Willis reading, in my No 2., verified; to know of a truth that there does on that place stand ‘Oliver Cromwell Esq,’—and also to understand from some competent person what chance there was of a mistake having been committed in the designation of him. I once thought of writing to Sir F. direct; but decide on giving you that blessing, that you may consult him and any likelier man there is, if you see good.

On the whole, there is no haste about this thing; neither indeed is there vital importance in it for me. I must give myself a fair chance for evidence about it; but must also be ready to rest satisfied with bottomless dubiety respecting it, as respecting so much else in those unfortunate departments,—forsaken by human wisdom and given up to human Stupidity as they have too long been!— Some day or other I shall most likely burst in again for a clutch at your Statutes,13 before all is done. When you get any glimpse of likelihood about this Huntingdon business, pray let me hear of it.14

With many kind regards / Yours always truly /

T. Carlyle