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The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man who sent Charles I to the Scaffold [Paperback]

Geoffrey Robertson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Oct 2006

Charles I waged civil wars that cost one in ten Englishmen their lives. But in 1649 parliament was hard put to find a lawyer with the skill and daring to prosecute a King who was above the law: in the end the man they briefed was the radical barrister, John Cooke.

Cooke was a plebeian, son of a poor farmer, but he had the courage to bring the King's trial to its dramatic conclusion: the English republic. Cromwell appointed him as a reforming Chief Justice in Ireland, but in 1660 he was dragged back to the Old Bailey, tried and brutally executed.

John Cooke was the bravest of barristers, who risked his own life to make tyranny a crime. He originated the right to silence, the 'cab rank' rule of advocacy and the duty to act free-of-charge for the poor. He conducted the first trial of a Head of State for waging war on his own people - a forerunner of the prosecutions of Pinochet, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, and a lasting inspiration to the modern world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (5 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099459191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099459194
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 160,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Redeems from obscurity an unsung hero of true greatness... Sheds invigorating light on the course of the English civil war" (Spectator)

"Robertson has come up with that desperately rare thing: a subject worthy of biography who has never before been addressed and, to his huge advantage, in his field. The result is a work of literary advocacy as elegant, impassioned and original as any the author can ever have laid before a court" (Anthony Holden Observer)

"Robertson tells a spellbinding story. He combines lucid analysis of the legal issues with acute understanding of the various factions. His prose is crisp and he inserts some comments that only a professional advocate, as opposed to an academic historian, would make" (Christopher Silvester Daily Telegraph)

"Fascinating... Illuminating... This is a work of great compassion and, at a time when it seems to be fashionable for politicians to denigrate lawyers, it is an essential read for anyone who believes in the fearless independence of the law" (John Cooper The Times)

"[Robertson's] forensic intelligence can penetrate where professional historians have not reached" (Blair Worden Literary Review)

Book Description

Life and law during the Civil Wars as you have never seen it before - and a passionate argument for the people's right of justice against tyrannical leaders.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Perspective 31 Mar 2006
Apart from anything else, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Geoffrey Robertson's style brings immediacy to the events he narrates and makes the book as enjoyable to read as if it were a well-written historical novel.
As other reviewers have noted, the book is blatantly anti-royalist, but since all history is written from a perspective, I think it is refreshing to find Robertson owning up to his perspective right from the title, which makes it obvious where his sympathies lie.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is a further perspective that Robertson brings, namely that of a lawyer. Seeing the trials of both Charles I and the regicides from the insider viewpoint of someone who is intimately familar with the law as opposed to most historians, who interpret events primarily from a political standpoint, brings all kinds of new insights to the interpretation. An independent judiciary, and one where lawyers must take any brief brought to them by a citizen, is an integral element in a functioning democracy and it is enlightening to read about some of the early developments in this direction, particularly those espoused by Cooke.
I would, however, definitely recommend balancing the views in this book with other sources on the civil war as there are certainly areas that are glossed over by Robertson in presenting his partisan point of view.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Arguing the Cooke Brief 28 Jan 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this work, which gave dimension to a courageous radical who undoubtably had the courage of his convictions. Nevertheless, I had the feeling throughout that I was attending to partisan advocacy rather than reading a work of history.
I am not naive enough to expect any historian to be completely objective and disinterested, but this work makes no pretence of balance. Royalists are demonized and held to 21st- century standards of behaviour. Presbyterians are all double-dealing rogues, and only Puritan Independents emerge as admirable or even tolerable. At worst, their more aggressive deeds are judged by a 17th-century standard, a courtesy denied their opponents. In this regard, it is hard to accept the rationalization of the Drogheda massacre and yet swallow the concept of Charles I as the predecessor of Milosevic or Hussein.
The book is, as noted, interesting, and certainly Cooke deserves to be re-examined and re-evaluated. Nevertheless, this work needs to be viewed as pleading or advocacy, and as such be read critically in the context of other works dealing with the Civil War and Interregnum.
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2.0 out of 5 stars SPECIAL PLEADING 23 Aug 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Geoffrey Robertson’s is the most up to date and possibly the most complete account of the trial of Charles I. It was written in the wake of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, while Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussain were both awaiting trial for war crimes. The author is a leading human rights barrister, and a campaigner who took the view both that the invasion was unlawful under international law, although Saddam deserved, morally, to be overthrown, and ought to have been tried (in an appropriate forum) for tyranny. His view of the trial of Charles I is that of a radical – that the trial established important principles of lasting importance. He is very dismissive of the Whig view that it was the Glorious Revolution of 1689 which truly secured the liberties of the English (he calls that Revolution ‘constitutional milksoppery’). Accordingly, he sees the central event of 1649 as winning parliamentary sovereignty, judicial independence, no taxation without representation and no detention without trial. I would say almost all of this is wrong; but the more important point is the way in which Robertson’s politics affect his view of the law and of the trial itself.

In his attempt to portray that trial as unprecedented but lawful, Robertson emphasizes the legal niceties which were observed: the fact that the Rump Parliament and the Army agreed to put Charles on trial at all – rather than simply murder him, or subject him to court martial; the fact that he was tried in public and given the opportunity (which he rejected) of defending himself, having counsel and testing the evidence. None of these opportunities was afforded to the accused after 1660, when the regicides (including Robertson’s hero John Cooke) were dealt with in a very summary and to our minds illegal fashion.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Partisan but important 23 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This biography is of a lawyer whose reputation was for years vilified or ignored. He had prosecuted a King and ensured the death of Charles I. My main caveat is not that this book is pro-republican, but that it does not seem to recognise that there were real problems with the whole trial process, and contemporaries, including radicals denounced it as a travesty of justice..

To try a king was unprecedented, and those determined on such a course were forced to resort to improvisation and expediency. What happened was not justice as the English knew it with a judge, a jury and in accordance with long-established law, but an ad hoc creation to deal with an otherwise insuperable problem: the fate of a king whose very existence posed a threat to the state.

Parliament did not pass legislation authorising the trial. It did not and it could not because it no longer existed, except in name. In a military coup on 6th December 1648, carried out by the aptly named Colonel Pride, the House of Commons had been `purged' of the 240 members who had supported negotiations with the king and who would have opposed any measures to indict him. The `Rump' that remained passed an `Ordinance' `in the name of the people of England' establishing a High Court of Justice for the purpose of trying the king for treason. Under the Ordinance 150 Commissioners were to be the jury, and the three chief justices of the common law were to be the judges. All three, however, although they were opponents of the king and had all been recently appointed, denounced the proceedings as manifestly illegal. So too would have their illustrious predecessor, Edward Coke. None of them would deign to participate in such a legal farce. The Lords rejected the measure unanimously.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much of a political platform
This book came to me a Christmas present and would be a period and topic I would have only a fairly passing knowledge of. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Edmond
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
This is an excellent book covering the life and times of John Cooke, Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth. It's an easy read and the legal detail is never too heavy. Read more
Published on 17 Sep 2011 by John Slaytor
5.0 out of 5 stars Biased but excellent
It is very clear from the start where the authors sympathies lie but this in no means detracts from a well researched and argued text which manages to be both entertaining and... Read more
Published on 1 Jan 2011
5.0 out of 5 stars The Tyrannicide Brief
This book is fantastic. I was blown away by this book. I was unable to put it down and frequently found myself at 2am in the morning still reading it when I should have been fast... Read more
Published on 5 July 2010 by bishwop
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant defence of the English Republic!
Geoffrey Robertson's account of the life of Cromwell's Solicitor-General is the best defence of the English Republic I have so far read. Read more
Published on 5 May 2008 by Mr. R. White
5.0 out of 5 stars Is British Republicanism Indegenous?
All the praise for this book in other reviews is well justified and so I need not add my own. This is among other things a great book for the Republican cause. Read more
Published on 21 Nov 2007 by Dandelo
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Re-evaluation
This is a long overdue forensic analysis of the trial of Charles I, and John Cooke, the man responsible for preparing the charges. Read more
Published on 27 Oct 2007 by BadgerBorg
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing New Light on the Civil War Era
Amid the thousands of volumes published on every aspect of the English Civil War the Tyrannicide Brief stands out. Read more
Published on 7 Jan 2007 by Historyhawk
5.0 out of 5 stars History From A Legal Perspective
This is a great read, and a very interesting re-casting of the trials of King Charles I and "the regicides" (those who were major players in the King's trial). Read more
Published on 12 Dec 2006 by T. Watson
5.0 out of 5 stars An overdue rebalancing of history!
I must confess that my interest in this period is passing at best but after reading the few disparaging reviews of this work on Amazon I felt I had to buy it. Read more
Published on 3 Nov 2006 by Darren O'Connell
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