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MRS. CROMWELL, "THE LADY PROTECTRESS.” 245 men, by cutting off such a detestable villain from the face of the earth," and giving his kingly word that the man, by whose hand the deed might be done, should have a pension of £500 a year for the rest of his life.
The presbyterians also lent themselves to these designs against his life, and one of their ministers, who had preached before his Highness at Hampton Court, seized the opportunity of being in the palace, to "pump” the servant boy who waited on him, by asking him “what was the reason his Highness did sweat so much when he took exercise ?" The boy answered that he always wore a close coat (that is a coat of mail) under his other clothes.” This piece of information the rascally presbyter forthwith communicated to his co-religionists, who in their plots against his life took their measures accordingly.
With Cromwell, when he established himself permanently at Hampton Court, also came Mrs. Cromwell," the Lady Protectress," as she was half-satirically called, who, as the wife of the arch-enemy, was the favourite butt for Royalist abuse and ridicule. The Cavalier wits, indeed, seem to have borne her a particular aversion, and they were never tired of scoffing at “old Joan,” as she was derisively called, and of recounting scandalous and comical stories about her. She was no doubt a plain, and perhaps a commonplace woman, and not being over-wise, and having no great aptitude for accommodating herself to her new and great position, frequently said and did things that afforded the smart ladies and gentlemen of the opposite party the most exquisite amusement. But beyond this, there does not appear to have been anything in her conduct or demeanour, which could fairly subject her to censure, for she seems to have settled down at Hampton Court to a simple, unostentatious life. Whatever she did, however, exposed her to laughter from the most opposite points of view. Sometimes it was the preposterous airs that she gave herself as Lady Protectress, and her ridiculously awkward imitations of Court manners, that were found fault with. At another time it was her simple tastes—“the impertinent meannesses” of her mode of life, so unbefitting a lady of her station !
In a publication entitled “The Court and Kitchen of Joan Cromwell,” a scurrilous writer particularly makes fun of her household establishment at Hampton Court, laughing at her habits of "nimble housewifery," and declaring that she had employed a surveyor to make little labyrinths and trap-doors for her, “by which she might at all times, unseen, pass to and fro, and come unawares upon her servants, and keep them vigilant in their places.” Besides, they accuse her of being continually down in the kitchen, worrying the cook about all sorts of trivial things, and being at the same time as niggardly and stingy as she was exacting. Even her character was assailed: some of the libellous pamphlets of the time charging her, without any shadow of foundation, with an excessive indulgence in strong liquor.
Nevertheless, in spite of the general homeliness of the lives of the Protector and his family at Hampton Court, the exigences of State functions sometimes compelled him to depart from his domestic habits and give great public entertainments, such, for instance, as the banquet with which he feasted the Swedish ambassador in this palace on July 26th, 1656. On occasions of this sort something of the old princely splendour of the Court of the Stuarts was imitated, the Protector's bodyguard of halberdiers attending in the Banqueting Room, and the dishes being brought to the table by the servitors with the ceremonial of the old English Court.
All this, of course, did not escape the censure of his critics, who commented severely on his “Court of Beggars, and such like mean people,” who were rendered “very gay and jocund” by festivities of this sort. “A great deal of State," writes Heath, one of his bitterest satirists, was now used towards him; and the French Cringe, and other ceremonious pieces of gallantry and good deportment, which were thought unchristian and savouring of carnality, introduced in place of austere and down-cast looks, and silent mummery of starched and hypocritical gravity, the only becoming dress, forsooth, of Piety and Religion !”
Cromwell, however, was in truth chiefly solicitous about being treated with respect, in the presence of foreigners, as head of the English Commonwealth. Among his ordinary associates and the colonels of the army he still maintained his former relations of somewhat boisterous familiarity. Whitelock, who was in constant intercourse with him, tells
us that “he would sometimes be very cheerful with us, and laying aside his greatness, be exceedingly familiar with us, and, by way of diversion, would make verses with us, and everyone must try his fancy. He commonly called for tobaccopipes and a candle, and would now and then take tobacco himself. Then he would fall again to his serious and great business, and advise with us in those affairs."
Heath also gives us a similar account of his life at Hampton Court, though, of course, tinged with a strong satirical animus. “His custom,” says he,
was now to divert himself frequently at Hampton Court (which he had saved from sale, with other houses of the King's, for his own greatness), whither he went and came in post
, with his Guards behind and before, as not yet secure of his life from the justice of some avenging hand. Here he used to hunt, and at the fall of a Deer, where he would be sure to be present, embrue his hands in the blood of it, and therewith asperse and sprinkle the attendants; and sometimes to coax the neighbouring Rusticks give them a Buck he hunted, and money to drink with it. His own Diet was very spare, and not so curious, except in publique Treatments, which were constantly given every Monday in the week to all the officers of the Army not below a Captain, where he dined with them, and shewed them a hundred Antick Tricks, as throwing of Cushions, and putting live Coals into their pockets and boots; a table being likewise spread every day of the week for such officers as should casually come to Court. . . . With these officers while he seemed to disport himself, taking off his Drink freely, and opening himself every way to the most free familiarity, he did merely lye at the catch of what should incogitantly and with unsuspected provocation fall from their mouths, which he would be sure to record and lay up against his occasion of reducing them to the speaker's memory, who were never likely to forget the prejudice and damage they had incurred by such loose discoveries of their minds and inclinations. He had twenty other freaks in his head, for sometimes before he had half dined, he would give order for a drum to beat, and call on his Foot Guards, like a kennel of hounds, to snatch off meat from his table and tear it in pieces; the like Jocos and Frisks he would have with other company; even with some of the nobility, when he would OLIVER CROMWELL AT HOME.
not stick to tell them, what Company they had lately kept, when and where they had drank the King's health and the Royal Family's, bidding them when they did it again, to do it more privately, and this without any passion, and as festivous droll discourse.”
Cromwell, however, also occupied himself with other amusements and tastes more refined than these rather rowdy gambols. For instance, he appreciated the arts sufficiently to keep Mantegna's "Triumph of Julius Cæsar" at Hampton Court, in order that it might decorate the walls of this palace. That he was, besides, not indifferent to the beauty of the old tapestries preserved in the palace, is proved by the facts that not only did he have the Great Hall decorated with them, but that he even hung his own bedroom with such an ungodly and carnal subject as "five pieces of fine tapestry hangings of Vulcan and Venus !” We learn this from the "Inventory of the goods at Hampton Court,” taken after his death by order of the House of Commons, from which document we find his bedroom also contained the following furniture: “2 window curtains, one of scarlet baize, the other of serge; 1 small couch of fly coloured damask, and cased with watchet baize; 2 elbow chairs, ditto; 4 back stools, ditto ; 1 black table with a turned frame; 1 pair of andirons with double brass ; 1 pair of creepers with fire-shovel and tongs; 1 pair of bellows.” In his dressing room were: 'I old coberd; i Spanish table; 2 small Turkey carpets; I pair of andirons with double brass; 1 pair of creepers, and fire-shovel, tongs and bellows; 4 back stools of Turkey work.”
All of these articles, except the “ i old coberd” and the tapestries, which are described as belonging to the State, are entered in the inventory, which is still preserved in the Record Office, as being the private property of Cromwell ; and similar distinctions are made throughout that document in regard to the contents of every room in the palace. How he can have become possessed of the enormous amount of furniture and household goods, thus made out to be his own, is not clear. They evidently were part of the original contents of the palace; and, perhaps, he bought them in bulk from the persons to whom they had been knocked down at the sale, and who had not removed them from the palace