The Life and Entertaining Adventures of Mr. Cromwell, Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell, Written by Himself. Giving a particular Account of his Unhappiness in Love, Marriage, Friendship, etc., and his great Sufferings in Europe and America. Intermixed with Reflections, describing the heart of Man in all its Variety of Passions and Disguises; also some curious Particulars of Oliver's History and Amours, never before made publick. London: Printed for T. Astley, at the Rose in St. Paul's Church-Yard, 1735.
[This book, written by Abbe (Antoine) Prevost (1697-1763), contains some 380,000 words--about the size of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749) and three times the length of Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726). In the book all the s?s are spelled with an f, but in the quotes I cite, I'll use s.]
"The study of history is so advantageous, and at the same time so delightful, that 'tis no wonder it has been cultivated by the finest spirits in all ages. The history of kingdoms and empires, raises our admiration, by the solemnity, if I may so call it, of the images, and furnishes one of the noblest entertainments. But at the same time that it is so well suited to delight the imagination, it yet is not so apt to touch and affect as the history of private men; the reason of which seems to be that the personages in the former, are so far above the common level, that we consider ourselves, in some measure, as aliens to them; whereas those who act in a lower sphere, are looked upon by us as a kind of relatives, from the similitude of conditions; whence we are more intimately mov'd with whatever concerns them....
"If any man had a perfect knowledge of the world 'tis our author. Brought up, like another Lemuel [Gulliver], under a mother's eye, whose vast love for him, made her extremely solicitous to form his mind, and whose large experience, capacity and understanding, enabled her to do it without any foreign assistance; the depravity of his fellow-creatures was strongly inculcated to him, at an age when others amuse themselves with trifles. The solitude he was brought up in; the excellent moral authors which his fond parent put into his hands; and the judicious comment she made upon them, gave a peculiar bent to Mr. Cleveland's mind; so that when he came to enter upon the Stage of the world, which he did with the utmost reluctance, it appear'd to him in a quite different light, from what it does to the rest of men....
"The Reader will very possibly be desirous of knowing how these Papers came into my Hands. To satisfy his curiosity, I am to inform him, that they were given to me by Mr. Cleveland, the author's son, a person advanced in years, who spent the greatest part of his life in foreign countries and lives now in Kingstreet, Westminster. I first got acquainted with him about three years ago at Montpelier.... After some stay in this city we return'd to Paris where we lodg'd in the same house. There he first shew'd me his father's papers.... He told me, that the only objection he had to my proposal [to publish them], was, the confus'd method in which they were writ...we methodiz'd it in the manner in which it is now publish'd, without altering a single circumstance in the whole work...he consented readily to its publication.
"Some surprising incidents which we meet with the following sheets, may perhaps incline some readers to doubt the truth of them. But how many famous authors have been accus'd of writing untruths, which afterwards have been found to be matters of fact?...
"The things about which Mr. Cleveland writes, did not happen so many years ago but that there are persons now living who remember them. That the lord Axminster suffer'd under great misfortunes, is well known: Not to mention that our author agrees in a great many particulars with the most authentic historians; a circumstance which adds no little weight to his testimony in general. The cave of Rumney-Hole is well known to be of a prodigious extent...." [There is a town in Devonshire called Axminster which is near the caves described, but I haven't been able to find any information about a Lord Axminster--JWA]
"If, notwithstanding what has been said, the reader should still suspect the truth of some particulars, I yet am persuaded he will not think the time spent in the perusal of this work lost; since, besides the agreeable turn of the incidents; the many solid and masterly reflections which are scatter'd up and down the work, afford amost useful instruction to all who are desirous of it. Telemachus is well known to be a fictitious piece, but what book was ever more entertaining, or abounds with finer precepts for the conduct of life?
"As I have been absent some years from my native country [France], possibly the expression may not, in some few places, be altogether so correct as it ought to have been, for which I must desire the judicious reader's indulgence. In a little time I shall publish two volumes more, which will conclude the work.
"The Editor [Prevost]"
Mr. Cleveland [we are never given his first name] begins his tale, "My Father's Name [Oliver Cromwell] is so well known in the World, that I need not expatiate upon my Extraction," and the book continues on to give a first-person account of his adventures. Then he states, "My Mother's Name was Elizabeth Cleveland [all proper names in the book are italicized] she was a daughter to one of the chief officers that superintended the palace of Hampton court. Her beauty was so engaging, that Charles I, no sooner saw her but he was smit." Elizabeth Cleveland, tired of being Charles I's mistress and enduring his "fickelness," happened to make friends among the opposition and, because of this, had her pension cut off by Charles and was disowned by her father who had remained a staunch royalist. Through her new friends she got to know Oliver Cromwell and "did not think it beneath her to become the Mistress of a Man of my father's character, tho' she had been dear to a king." But then "my father [Cromwell] himself no longer valued her, after she had indulged all his desires...and treated her as a common mistress."
Elizabeth got disgusted with Cromwell and, pregnant, withdrew to Hammersmith [just west of London] to pursue a life of independent study of literature, philosophy, Latin, etc. [There is no date recorded of Mr. Cleveland's birth but based on later information is estimated to have been about 1641. Oliver had married Elizabeth Bourchier in 1620.] [Vikki's Note: Some researchers use these dates to discredit the Cromwell rumor, for our ancestor would have had to be born about the time that Oliver was marrying, a difference in dates of nearly a generation.] While [Elizabeth Cleveland was] rearing Mr. Cleveland and teaching him herself, Cromwell became "the head of an army of furious malcontents," which eventually ended in the "villainous" act of the "murder of Charles the first, our lawful sovereign." Because of ambiguous feelings for Cromwell and, hopeful that he would provide for her son, Mr. Cleveland [the name she gave him], as he had for her, she decided she should meet Oliver again and introduce her son to him. Oliver greeted her and his son and offered to set them up in a fine estate in Jamaica. Secretly, though, he planned to have them killed, but the plot was foiled by the intervention of a friend, Mrs. Riding, who let them live in a labyrinth of caverns called Rumney-Hole on her estate in Devonshire.
Mrs. Riding told them of the fate of another of Oliver's mistresses, a Molly Bridge, who was mentally tortured by him and driven to suicide leaving an orphan boy named Mr. Bridge whom she had lost track of after he was imprisoned. While in Rumney-Hole, Mr. Cleveland chanced to meet a Lord Axminster who was also living in the caverns to escape the wrath of Cromwell whom Lord Axminster had challenged after his wife had been raped and stabbed by Cromwell's lieutenants. Mr. Cleveland and Lord Axminster struck up a strong friendship, and Cleveland fell in love with Axminster's daughter, Frances [called Fanny through the rest of the book]. After the death of Cleveland's mother and Axminster's wife, the three of them plus Mrs. Riding made plans to leave England for France and escape Cromwell.
Mr. Cleveland's grandfather, hoping to keep him in Europe near him, managed to have a fake marriage certificate produced which purported to show that Mr. Cleveland was already engaged to marry an attractive widow they?d met at Roan named Mrs. Lallin. Mrs. Lallin played along, and Fanny, disillusioned with Cleveland, left for America with her father and Mrs. Riding. King Charles got mad at the younger Mr. Cleveland for alleged duplicity and had him held under house arrest in Mrs. Lallin's home. Lallin and Cleveland became friends; she told him how he was duped by his grandfather; pitied him and arranged for them to escape to England where they booked passage on a ship bound for the West Indies. The Captain of the ship, Mr. Wills, gained the confidence of Cleveland who then told his story [one of many times in the book] including his escape from his father, Cromwell. Wills, an undercover Cromwell supporter, then shackled Cleveland and handed him over as a prisoner to another ship headed toward England and kept Mrs. Lallin for his own amusement on his way westward.
But in one of many unexpected turns of fate, it turned out that the captain of the ship which received Mr. Cleveland was none other than his half-brother, Mr. Bridge [no first name either]. Mr. Bridge then related to Mr. Cleveland how he was rescued from England by a Mrs. Elliott who was looking for honorable young men to populate a religious colony located neat St. Helena Island which had been started by Protestant emigrants from La Rochelle when it had been besieged by the Catholics and Cardinal Richelieu. [La Rochelle surrendered in 1628.] Something in the soil or other environmental factors had created a situation where only girls were born to the inhabitants. Most of Book III is taken up with the account of Mr. Bridge's adventures on the island. Although the elders of the community had determined spouses by lot, Bridge fell in love with Mrs. Elliott's daughter, Angelica, whom he secretly married. The young men, including an impetuous man named Gelin who remained unmarried, had to flee when their ideas of free choice ran counter to the dictates of the elders of the colony. Bridge, Gelin, and one named Johnson had been trying for several months since they were banished from the island to find it again and rescue Angelica and Johnson's wife. They were in the midst of trying to find the island again when they came upon Captain Wills' ship and took the "prisoner" Mr. Cleveland.
Mr. Cleveland persuaded Mr. Bridge and his companions to take him to the West Indies so he could try to find Lord Anxminster, Fanny, Mrs. Riding, and Mrs. Lallin. They finally agreed and set ashore at Martinico where he learned that Axminster and company had been just a few days prior before going up to Florida and Virginia. Mr. Cleveland arranged for passage to Virginia and with the company of a West Indian guide named Iglu, arrived in Powhatan town and then Jamestown where he learned they had been. He then followed them westward toward the Appalachians and eventually found them in the Carolinas. He was happily reunited with Fanny, Lord Axminster, and Mrs. Riding and explained how his grandfather had tricked them in France. The group then moved to an area of the country inhabited by a tribe of Abaquis. [Prevost's sense of geography gets somewhat confused here as he supposes that Florida is immediately south of Carolina and that the area is part of the West Indies.]
Mr. Cleveland and Fanny are "officially" married in a rope ceremony according to the Abaquis tradition, and Mr. Cleveland sets about to establish a utopian government among the Abaquis tribe. Much of Book IV is given over to the institution of his government and provision of defense from a hostile neighboring tribe, the Rouintons. It's of interest that he gave women nearly an equal say in the running of the government though men still did the soldiering. He also showed them his brand of Natural religion which was devoid of many of the traditions he had seen practiced elsewhere. [For all his reading there is curiously no mention of the Bible.] Cleveland, of course, was the authority figure, and hoped by this means to gain the ability to slip away to join Lord Axminster whom he had sent out to explore the continent further for King Charles.
Finally Cleveland persuaded the Abaquis to head south with him in search of Lord Axminster. When they came into Florida, nearly the whole Abaquis force was destroyed by disease, and then they were attacked by the cannibalistic Rouintons. Mrs. Riding and Fanny's first child, a daughter, were taken away, burned, and eaten. Eventually, Mr. Cleveland and Fanny escaped and arrived at Pensacola. There they saw Lord Axminster, who had been captured and forced to travel with Indians. He had just been deposited at Pensacola a few days before they arrived and was gravely ill.
Lord Axminster died a few days after, and Mr. Cleveland and Fanny had him taken with them to Havana, Cuba, where he was buried. In Cuba they fell under the care of Don Pedro, the governor, who was the father of Lord Axminster's deceased wife. In Cuba Fanny gave birth to two sons, William [called Billy] and Tommy [born about 1663].
While in Cuba, Mr. Cleveland visited other islands including Seranna, where he argued with one of Cromwell's former dissenter adversaries, Lambert, who had been exiled. Mr. Bridge, Gelin, and Johnson arrived then with tales of how they found their lost island [it was actually the interior plain of St. Helena, an island known two centuries later as the exile home of Napoleon] and Bridge was reunited with Angelica [who is referred to in the rest of the book as Cleveland's sister-in-law or sister]. To the Bridges was born a daugher named Bezy.
Mr. Cleveland then left for Virginia again in search of Mrs. Lallin, whom he found and brought back to Cuba. While he was away, however, Gelin took a fancy to Fanny and plotted to seduce her. Mrs. Lallin's arrival planted some doubt in Fanny's mind about Cleveland's love for her, since it seemed that he preferred conversation with Mrs. Lallin rather than her and chided her for disturbing his reading of philosophy. When the entire group decided to go to St. Helena in order to pick up Angelica, Gelin ran off with Fanny, leaving Mr. Cleveland in St. Helena bemoaning his misfortune [something he does a lot in the book].
Mr. Cleveland and the Bridges then traveled to Corunna, Spain, where, amazingly, they ran into Gelin again. Unbeknownst to Cleveland, Fanny had run away from him toward France. A sword fight ensued between Gelin and Mr. Bridge and both were wounded, but Mr. Bridge died and Gelin escaped. Grieved at his losses, Mr. Cleveland decided to go back to France with his two sons, Mrs. Lallin, and his sister-in-law.
In 1667 [the first date cited in the book] Mr. Cleveland and his entourage traveled to Nantz [?Nantes] and then settled in Saumur, France. There Cleveland got reacquainted with Lord Clarendon, one of Charles' trusted ministers, and also engaged in some heavy introspection. Not surprisingly he became depressed at the inability of his philosophy to save him from the wiles of passion and fortune. He contemplated suicide, even thinking at one point of taking his sons' lives with him to spare them the cruelties of the world. His sons heard him muttering these thoughts and fled from his presence, thus jolting him back to reality.
Mrs. Lallin arranged for counseling with a Protestant minister first and then with a Catholic, Father Le Bane. He engaged in spirited discussions with the ministers about the advantages and disadvantages of the various religions. He was then summoned to Angers, France, by the Bishop who would have ordered his children to Catholic schools and his niece, Bezy, to a convent, had not the Duchess of Orleans [Henrietta Anne or "Minette," sister of Charles II] intervened. Through Clarendon, he had developed an acquaintance with the Duchess, and his friendship with Lord Axminster had endeared him to Charles II. Mr. Cleveland told his sad tale to the Duchess, and she surprised him with the news she had seen Fanny in the convent of Challiot nearby. However, the news did not hearten Mr. Cleveland, who still blamed her for deserting him and running off with Gelin.
At the suggestion of the Duchess, Mr. Cleveland and his extended family moved to St. Cloud. There Mr. Cleveland was visited by a Jesuit who sought to teach him how to find peace by reading a book of catechism, other books, and visiting the community. Cleveland had little use for the books the Jesuit provided, and when he visited a Mr. Ringsby, a Protestant, he fell in love with his daughter, Cecilia. [At the time he had considered Fanny lost to him.] After a series of amorous discussions and adventures [no steamy sex scenes in the book] and the admission that he had been married but that his wife had left him, arrangements were made for him to get a divorce and marry Cecilia. Because the Catholics in France were persecuting the Protestants at this time [The Edict of Nantes was eventually revoked formally by Louis XIV in 1685], the plans were being developed for the entire group [Cleveland, Riding, Bridge, Ringsby, and servants] to flee to England.
In order to secure the divorce, Mr. Ringsby traveled to Challiot convent to have Fanny sign a paper stating that she had been unfaithful. Fanny, who had almost immediately realized she'd made a mistake in allowing Gelin to take her away and had resisted his advances as he and others were later to disclose, agreed, nevertheless, to sign the papers. Out of her shame and love for Mr. Cleveland and the mistaken assumption that Mr. Ringsby meant Mrs. Lallin was the intended, she uttered these words to Ringsby which were repeated to Cleveland, "Tell therefore Mr. Cleveland, that I wish he may live more happily with her, than he has done with me: Tell him, that I shall beg this earnestly of heaven. And since my consent only is wanting to make him happy, assure him that he has it; and only remind him, that I never in my life oppos?d his happiness." Mr. Cleveland was moved by the comments but still believed that Fanny had wronged him.
Mrs. Lallin took the two boys and Mrs. Bridge to the convent and there was great joy mixed with sorrow when they met her through the chapel gate. Subsequently the chaplain and others corroborated the story of Fanny?s abduction and her innocence. Then Gelin disguised as a priest entered the story again and confronted Mr. Cleveland, challenging him to a sword fight. Gelin detailed also how Fanny had refused his advances, and her faithfulness to Cleveland made him despise Cleveland all the more. Gelin wounded Cleveland and was captured.
Cleveland recovered from his wounds, and Gelin was spared death by "converting to Catholick." Cleveland was still confused by having to choose between Fanny and Cecilia when fate intervened again.
The Duchess of Orleans, Mr. Cleveland's protector against the wiles of the French Catholics and the Jesuit particularly, died in 1670, and there was suspicion she was poisoned. With this news the Jesuit who had been instructing Cleveland moved in with his men to capture Cecilia and take her to a convent. Mr. RIngsby rode after them and was killed.
By this time Mr. Cleveland had been sufficiently reassured of his wife's fidelity, and he and Fanny were then joyously reunited and went to live near Lord Clarendon in Roan [Rouen? or Roanne?]. After Lord Clarendon's death in 1674, Mr. and Mrs. Cleveland, their two sons, sister [Angelica] Bridge and niece Bezy, and Mrs. Lallin left for England. The trip was not uneventful as they were attacked by pirates, and Mrs. Lallin and the Bridges were carried away. Later they were rescued off the Barbary Coast and Mrs. Lallin reunited miraculously with her brothers who hadn't seen her since she had left for America with Mr. Cleveland in Book III. Mrs. Bridge and her daughter were also freed.
Mr. Cleveland and Fanny settled into life in England, and he participated in the life of the court of Charles II. [Many names are mentioned which would be of interest to those knowledgeable of this period of English history, but these contacts will not be mentioned here.] Mr. Cleveland helped to foil an insurrection attempt led in part by a Father Giffard who, it turned out, was the sinister Jesuit of France who abducted Cecilia and killed her father. He confessed to Cleveland that he didn't intend to take her to a convent but to make her his mistress. He tried to rape her, and when she refused, he stabbed her and left her for dead. Father Giffard was subsequently imprisoned and executed by poison.
The Clevelands lived near the Rumney-Hole area of Devonshire, England, and two daughters were born to them. Tragedy again struck when their oldest son, Billy, was stabbed to death by an assassin who escaped and whose identity was initially unknown.
Mr. Cleveland continued to occupy himself with more affairs of Charles II's court. Mrs. Lallin, Mrs. [Angelica] Bridge, and daughter Bezy reached England after their kidnapping adventure and related their adventures and rescue. Mr. Cleveland's only remaining son, Tommy, and Mrs. Bridge's daughter, Bezy, renewed their love which had begun in France, and they were married.
One day while walking in the woods, Mr. Cleveland was shot, and the attempted assassin said to be a Jesuit named Blood was arrested. When Cleveland met him, he discovered that Blood was his old enemy Gelin. Gelin stated that it was he who had killed Billy and would continue to make Mr. Cleveland's life miserable. Gelin was taken away and presumably executed. In order not to upset Fanny, Mr. Cleveland never told her it was Gelin who had murdered her son.
In 1684 Fanny became ill and died several days after comforting Mr. Cleveland, "I am so oppressed with sickness, that alas! I have no hopes of recovery; and I even believe my end is very nigh. Remember, my dear spouse, the strength of mind with which I was endured, when I was told the cruel end of our darling son. I earnestly implore heaven to indulge you the same support, when it shall think fit to separate us. Live happy with my survivors, and be assured that your submission to the Divine Will will prove the greatest comfort to you. We shall meet again in the mansions of Glory, and there enjoy each other to all eternity. To thee, my God, I give my soul! Save me by the merits of my blessed Savior!"
Encoouraged by his children, Mr. Cleveland put his grief behind him: "Your observation was very just, dear daughter, when you told me that ?twas envying my dear wife's felicity, to wish her again in this frail, sublunary world. Let us firmly resolve to submit our selves on all occasions to the will of Providence; for I am persuaded that the more we resign our selves, our tranquility will be greater.... Formerly, I should have called philosophy to my aid, but on this occasion I had recourse to the Gospel."
Shortly after Fanny's death, Mr. Cleveland received a lengthy letter from Cecilia who expressed her condolences at Fanny's death and told how she had escaped from the Jesuit and then had happily married a Count in Germany. In the next year, 1685, Mr. Cleveland related the death of Charles II, and noted that after a few years of James, he was pleased to report that William of Orange had acceded to the throne and ushered in a new era more benevolent to the Protestants.
There is no Epilogue to the book and we aren't told, even in the preface, when Mr. Cleveland died except it was before the date of publication, 1734. Presumably the son who gave the manuscript to Prevost according to the fictitious preface would have been Tommy, but there is no further mention of him after his marriage to Bezy except that he served in the army under William of Orange. Lord Axminster had, before he died, made Mr. Cleveland the inheritor of his estate, and this no doubt devolved to Tommy. No mention of the fate of his two daughters is mentioned in the book.
As to why Prevost chose the name of Cleveland to be that of his protagonist, we have no word. Charles I was beheaded in 1649, and in his book on Charles II, Hutton mentions that in 1650 at Worcester, "Lord Wentworth's father, the aged Earl of Cleveland, led a desperate charge to hold the enemy [the Parliamentarian Roundheads and Cromwell's Model Army] while the King [Charles II] escaped [to Normandy]." The aged Earl of Cleveland lived several more years after the battle. There is also the account of Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (1641-1709), a mistress of Charles II, of whom Prevost may have had knowledge. Neither she nor the Earl of Cleveland were mentioned in Prevost's novel.
John Arnett, January 1996
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