Parliament. The walls echo with the voices of the most influential people of our time. The floors echo with the footsteps of men and prisoners alike. It’s said to be a room like no other and one upon which I am unlikely to ever set my eyes.
My father is a member of Oliver Cromwell’s parliament. In the early mornings I will often walk with him to the very building where the core of English power sits. I will press my ear against the stone walls, hidden in an alcove away from the heavy military force that stands at every entrance. The voices are muffled and with the exception of a few screams and shouts, I hear very little.
Lately, my father has been spending less time at home and more time at the Palace of Westminster. Two days ago, I tried to follow father on his way to the palace and I was firmly reprimanded.
“Elizabeth.” He chastised, “Go home this minute!"
He continued to walk in front of me, and in the hopes of someday being able to return with him to the palace, I hurried home.
During the days when there is little to be done at home, I sneak into my father’s study. Recently, Mother has seemed quite preoccupied with her own projects so I have spent many hours in the study. Many books line the walls, more than I have ever had time to count. The ones that frequently lay open on his polished wooden desk feature our previous leaders. Elizabeth, for who I am named, is one of my father’s favourites. I resent the name, not that I would ever explain the reason to my father. He and my mother often discuss our previous king, Charles, who led the Royalists against the Parliament, only to fall at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. The battle was apparently quite grand, as things with Mr. Cromwell tend to be. My father is not Mr. Cromwell’s biggest supporter. My mother often discusses under her breath what a fine performer my father must be to remain in this parliament. They both do not think too highly of our current leader.
Some evenings, men from Parliament show up at our house to discuss certain measures with my father. They are not usually quiet. On such evenings, I creep down the stairs, hoping to get a glimpse of Mr. Cromwell in person. The discussions often become quite heated. Last night, they were arguing about the trial of King Charles. Oliver Cromwell seems quite steadfast in the idea that they will find him guilty. My father’s pained expression was enough for me to know how he felt on the matter. What verdict was reached I do not know, as I accidentally dislodged a pot from the railing, sending me hurrying back upstairs before I was caught.
Today they will kill the King. I overheard my mother and father discussing it before father left for parliament that morning. The trial pronounced him guilty of treason, sentencing him to death. Mother seems upset and disappears into her bedroom just after breakfast. I dress quickly and sneak out the door, walking briskly to stay warm. When I reach Whitehall, the crowds are so thick that I can barely squeeze between each person, much less glimpse the King. I find an open door and see my father deep in discussion with one of the other members, black hats pulled low, concealing their faces. I slip through the doorway, just before they march the prisoner, our King, up the stairs. As I follow, I finally see Oliver Cromwell in all his glory. His attire is in stark contrast to my father's. Cromwell wears his Capotain proudly atop his blonde curls. While my father appears to have something to hide, Cromwell seems to bear the pride of his decision. Democracy favours some, I suppose. Despite his boastful appearance, Cromwell’s face is set in a frown and he does not follow the King out onto the scaffold. As my father and his friends slip out of the door unnoticed by their leader, I walk out into the open, coming to stand close to Mr. Cromwell. He appears to be lost in thought and takes no account of me as I listen to King Charles address the crowds gathered there.
“What is your name, girl?” Cromwell speaks and I jump.
“Elizabeth.” I say quietly, turning to go before he can admonish me.
“Like the queen?” He murmurs.
“Unfortunately, yes.” I respond before biting my lip. Insulting royalty in front of soon to be royalty has never been a highly praised action.
Cromwell smiles softly at me. “You and I seem to think alike, my dear.”
Cheers go up outside and I must be visually surprised for Cromwell sets his jaw and states, “Do not trust the cheering, for those persons would shout as much if you or I were going to be hanged.”
“Who will take his place as King?” I ask, for all I’ve ever known is that another person in line must take the throne.
“That is the question.” Cromwell muses and leans in close to me. “You and I appear to think in similar ways. I believe that the King is not the only way to govern a nation.”
“Will you do it then?” I’d heard the discussion of making Oliver Cromwell the next king from my father, who frowned upon the action.
He gave me a fond look, “One man should never hold all the power. If I were to become King, then killing one would be futile.”
I hear the swift noise of the axe coming down on the back of Charles’ neck.
“You best be off, Elizabeth.” Mr. Cromwell steps back to lean against the stone again. “Remember, it is better to have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which those call a Gentle-man and is nothing else.”