Sonnet XVI: To the Lord General Cromwell

Original Text: 
John Milton, Letters of State Written by Mr. John Milton (London, 1694). [Published with Edward Phillips' life of Milton.] B-10 702 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
On the proposals of certain ministers at the Committee for Propagation of the Gospel
2     Not of war only, but detractions rude,
3     Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
4     To peace and truth thy glorious way hast plough'd,
6     Hast rear'd God's trophies, and his work pursu'd,
10     To conquer still: peace hath her victories
11     No less renown'd than war. New foes arise
12Threat'ning to bind our souls with secular chains:
14     Of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw.


1] Though not printed till Phillips's Life of Milton (1694), the sonnet was composed in May, 1652, as the Cambridge MS. states, and on the occasion of the proposals of certain ministers at the Committee for Propagation of the Gospel (of which Cromwell was a member). The Committee was set up by the Rump Parliament to bring some order into the Church by licensing preachers and to examine methods of supporting a ministry other than by tithes, which, however, were to be maintained until the Committee reported. The proposals referred to were offered by a group of moderate Congregational ministers and recommended state support for the Church. Milton by this time was an advocate of the complete separation of Church and State, and relied on Cromwell's agreement, since he had long supported religious toleration. Back to Line
5] The allusion to the overthrow of the monarchy and beheading of Charles I is obvious. God's trophies are memorials of victories in God's cause. Back to Line
7] Darwen stream: referring to the battle of Preston. Back to Line
8] Dunbar field: The Scots had acknowledged Charles II, on his father's execution. Cromwell invaded their country and defeated them, September 3, 1650. Back to Line
9] Worcester: Cromwell's last great victory (1651); his "crowning mercy'' he called it; hence laureate wreath. Back to Line
13] Milton had condemned the Roman Catholic priesthood under the image of the wolf (Lycidas 128-29) and the Episcopal clergy as mere hirelings (ibid. 114-22), then the greed of the Presbyterian ministers (New Forcers of Conscience), and now he couples wolf and hireling in a similar condemnation of the ministers of the Committee. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Hugh MacCallum; A. S. P. Woodhouse
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.237.