22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updating History
Michael Braddick's "God's Fury, England's Fire", is a new history of the English Civil Wars and for those of us who first studied the subject forty years ago the emphasis on "new" is appropriate. Then the seminal works of Gerald Aylmer, and his former tutor, Christopher Hill, provided alternative interpretations based on Whig and Marxist lines. This appeared to reflect...
Published on 19 Feb 2010 by Neutral
10 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A cure for insomnia
This book may well be a new history of the Civil War. Unfortunately the author's prose style is so leaden and convoluted that I found it all too easy to put down. One should not have to read sentences twice in order to understand them, so whilst I think there are probably some interesting insights here I was unable to finish the book. It also has nothing much to say on...
Published on 16 July 2009 by J. Busby
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updating History,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)Michael Braddick's "God's Fury, England's Fire", is a new history of the English Civil Wars and for those of us who first studied the subject forty years ago the emphasis on "new" is appropriate. Then the seminal works of Gerald Aylmer, and his former tutor, Christopher Hill, provided alternative interpretations based on Whig and Marxist lines. This appeared to reflect the contemporary politics of the 1960's but, such has been the impact of historical revisionism since that time, that neither Aylmer's "Struggle For the Constitution" nor Hill's "Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution" appear in Braddick's extensive twenty seven page bibliography.
Debates over the rise or decline of the gentry, the role of the bourgeoisie and the crisis of the aristocracy, were integral to the study of history at the time but have since been displaced by more detailed studies of conflict in specific areas. Crude generalisations have been replaced by individual studies which showed that traditional Royalist and Parliamentarian divisions were more complex than had been previously suggested. The identification of the aristocracy, gentry or bourgeoisie, were insufficient, per se, to guarantee what their position would be in the conflict between King and Parliament. In addition, the civil wars have been set in the wider context of common problems affecting the triple but separate monarchies of Scotland, Ireland and Scotland.
Braddick emphasises the importance of publicity in stirring up the conflict and the perceived interpretation of the conflict by contemporaries. Hill had examined this in "The World Turned Upside Down" which like, God's Fury, was the title of a contemporary tract. Rather like modern media campaigns rumours became fact long before the facts were established and maintained even after they were shown to be false. As Braddick notes, "this was a decade of intense debate and spectacular intellectual creativity - not just in politics and religion but in understanding of the natural world and how public opinion was mobilised." In addition, the nature of that public opinion needs to be understood as political conflict within a culture which included eschatological interpretations of contemporary events.
Braddick shows the conflict was not so much a constitutional crisis as a crisis in Reformation politics. Henry VIII had made the secular superior to the religious in relation to Rome, the next question was how to define the relationship of the secular to different Protestant confessions. The constitutional issue was resolved but not in the manner originally envisaged by either party. Although some Parliamentarians were determined to claim political power from the King, Charles never fully grasped the art of political compromise. He was a key player but failed to play the key role that may have resolved the problem peacefully. Neither does he appear to have acknowledged the legitimacy of popular discontent with the practice of politics.
Charles was a believer in the divine right of kings. For him the discharge of his duties was a sacred responsibility. Therefore, without a change of view, it was impossible for him to accept the right of others to over-rule him. Thus, while giving the appearance of listening to his critics, he chose to ignore them, retaining advisers such as Buckingham, Laud and Wentworth, even when he was aware of their failures. While the puritan conscience wrestled with the dilemma of the use of force against lawful authority, Charles never doubted he was the final arbiter of lawful authority, even when his hand was forced by his opponents.
Braddick's book is not only a superb read it is great value for money. It can be argued that there is too much information in such a tightly packed volume but this simply shows the extent to which scholarship has progressed over the past four decades. Braddick's account is pure narrative with economic analysis given its proper place - in passing!! Braddick has reawakened my interest in this period of history, not least because of the amount of reading needed to bring my own knowledge up to date. Easily worth five stars this splendid book will soon be an addition to my personal library.
78 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A war to reach a compromise,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Hardcover)I am always a little reluctant to buy books that claim to be a "new history" of events that were well recorded and happened some 370 years ago. English history lacks bite, a dull procession of uninspired monarchs and a frenzy of Empire building. The Civil War seemed more a squabble, relatively small armies and minor engagements. Brought up in the West Country, the ruins of Corfe Castle and siege at Sherborne vaguely linked me to Cromwell, the man with warts, with no more than a hazy school history to call on.
I dipped into Michael Braddick's large book and - as they say - found it hard to put down. The issues, sketched from numerous angles were well developed. The politics of the three Kingdoms (although this is not focussed on Ireland and Scotland), the personality of Charles vacillating between high principles and sordid double-dealing, the profound religious divisions in a land of deep superstions. The most surprising element was the sophistication of the political debate. Fuelled by pamphlets the people engaged with the issues and considered them on a level far more intelligently than our own age. They had a self-belief, a desire to stand up and be heard. News was circulated, "high politics, the most important matters of state, were now being canvassed quite deliberately on the streets of London and in the counties."
Against this are themes of low politics. The use of black propaganda and generation of fear and unease (Irish atrocities, anti Popery) to attain political cohesion. This has a direct resonance with much of what we endure today; irrational fear rapidly moves people more than reason. The role played by the mob reminds us of Rome. It need not have happened; compromise was always at hand but opportunities missed. The nation(s) stumbled to violent disaster. It could have been easily avoided, it so often nearly was. I liked Braddicks' style; he presents a multi faceted picture of Charles, his strength, his vanity, his dilemmas and his stupidity. He leaves it to the reader to make up their mind, villain or martyr or just a man trapped by circumstance. His execution was self-inflicted. Alternatively, was it the kindest act to stop him fermenting more bloodshed? Cromwell is in this account a relatively minor figure late to arrive but capitalising on a political vacuum to mount a military coup.
This is a fine book; the complexities of the politics, the role of the state, religion, and the military campaign are well woven into a narrative. It provides clarity and demands you should read further. The paradox was once combat got underway "the escalation of warfare was not accompanied as to what, precisely, the fighting was for". The English civil war was about people taking extreme positions to find a compromise.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vigorous history of the civil wars of the 1640s,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)Michael Braddick, professor of history at Sheffield University, has written a splendid new history of the civil wars in Britain in the 1640s. The book is in three parts: the crisis of the three kingdoms (1637-42), war (1642-46), and revolution (1646-49).
Part 1 describes the Scottish Prayer Book rebellion and the politics of reformation, politics and society in Charles' England, the English and the Bishops' Wars, the Long Parliament, the Irish rising, the struggle for the provinces and the slide into war. Part 2 studies the battle of Edgehill, the English war efforts in 1643, the Irish Cessation and the Solemn League and Covenant, the battle of Marston Moor, death and its meanings, the battle of Naseby and the New Model Army, the costs and benefits of civil war, and the politics of parishes at war. Part 3 describes postwar politics, attempts at settlement, the Putney debates, the Engagement and the vote of No Addresses, Charles' starting of the second civil war, his trial and execution, and England's freedom.
The people opposed the king's party on the issues of royal powers, his religious policies, taxation, his foreign policy, and his Catholic advisers. Charles sought to uphold his supreme power over the people. He refused to work with Parliament or to be subject to its authority. People noted that Charles tried to stay out of war in Europe against Catholics, but was ready to go to war against his own Protestant subjects. Public opinion was such that, as Braddick writes, "Military mobilization by prerogative power in order to enforce Laudian ceremonialism would have plenty of opponents." Yet in 1649, the king was still unrepentant and uncompromising, and still bent on another war: defeated in England and Scotland, he was as yet unbeaten in Ireland.
Braddick recounts the organised, disciplined and popular assertions of traditional common rights - throwing down enclosures in forests and fens, tearing up hedges, and breaking open the Earl of Middlesex's deer park and killing his deer. Tactically astute, people gathered in groups of two, thus evading the legal definition of a riot.
More and more people became active citizens. People fought for the idea that "All power is originally and essentially in the whole body of the people of this Nation."
As Braddick writes, "What was really new and radical ... was that fundamental questions were being debated before a public audience." It was `a decade of intense debate and spectacular intellectual creativity ... the beginnings of a passage from the world of reformation to the world of enlightenment'.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent history of the English civil wars.,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)The civil war is a period of English (and in a wider sense, British) history that I was unfamiliar with. I have to confess that what prompted me to look into it was pre-ordering the excellent New Model Army. SF and completely different, but it reminded me about Cromwell.
If you wish to know about the Civil wars and their wider influence on both English history and the history of the surrounding kingdoms of Ireland and Scotland this is a fantastic, comprehensive survey of the times. It also works well to show that the roots of the enlightenment were in the reformation period.
It covers both the political wrangling in court and parliament and the arts of propaganda. Fascinating to see what an influence this could have on the shape of a conflict. Naturally ideas wouldn't spread as fast as they do now, but the printing press and rabble-rousing pamphlets had a great influence on the conflict. Fascinating.
As such a densely packed survey of English history the details help to make it. Though a published work, undoubtedly for the general reader, it would be easy for this book to be a dry tome which failed in the task of introducing a subject to the lay reader. However, one of the things that helps to make it is the incidental details. For example, the Spanish not becoming involved in some of the conflicts because they complained that British bakeries didn't have the correct ovens to supply the bread that their troops would require. This is then followed by officials rushing about trying to source them, though this was an obvious brush off. Or the idea that book-burning wasn't hated by everyone - there was some evidence that publishers were happy as it led to increased sales. These details aren't in themselves essential, but I think they add to the narrative.
An excellent, dense (in a good way) survey of an important time in English history. As noted - it is dense - and I suppose that it could be written in a slightly more accessible way. However, I think a lot could be lost if you tried to simplify it.
Excellent and recommended.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)This remarkable book examines the socio-religious and political landscapes of England during the 1640s, synthesizing the diverse and complex social elements of the time into an accessible history and coherent narrative of the English Civil Wars. It is unarguably a comprehensive, insightful, and authoritative treatise on one of the defining periods of English history.
Throughout, Braddick's stance is refreshingly impartial and he eschews the normal polarization and finger pointing usually associated with historical accounts of the period. Nonetheless, this neutral style does not preclude some incisive analysis of the belligerents' actions nor prevent some perceptive commentary on individual contributions to conflict escalation. However, this account is not simply restricted to the main protagonists and Braddick's skilful incorporation of personal histories and parochial interests in order to illuminate the greater context ensures that the wider social impact of the conflicts is properly addressed. Herein is an important point: this is not a military history, it is a socio-political history, and it is far more instructive as a result.
If there can be any criticism of this work it must be confined to comments regarding Braddick's style. Like many academics, Braddick has a proclivity for wordiness and this can result, at times, in the text being a little cumbersome. Exacerbating this tendency for verbiage is Braddick's habit of including (sometimes large) tracts from pamphlets and publications of the period, resulting in an esoteric mix of archaic and modern English that can grate on the uninitiated. Those unfamiliar with the language of seventeenth century England may find that a significant commitment is required in order to garner a full appreciation of the text. However, these grievances are petty, no more than niggles really, and certainly not worthy of the title, complaint!
Either as an introductory text or as an alternative perspective to the consensus on the English Civil Wars, I suspect that there are few better offerings: outstanding!
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars God's Fury England's Fire,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)A thorough examination of the social, political and religious threads running through the English Civil Wars. Anyone who wants to understand the conflicts should read this book. Full of interesting facts and revealing comments by the commentators of the time. The shifts of allegiances are surprising - royalist one day parliamentarian the next. The final outcome of the wars rested on a series of tactical gambles. The book only describes the major battles in minimal detail however.
10 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A cure for insomnia,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)This book may well be a new history of the Civil War. Unfortunately the author's prose style is so leaden and convoluted that I found it all too easy to put down. One should not have to read sentences twice in order to understand them, so whilst I think there are probably some interesting insights here I was unable to finish the book. It also has nothing much to say on the actual fighting, which is an important part of most wars, preferring to concentrate on pamphlets. I have a degree in history but this book beat me.
8 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult Reading,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Hardcover)Having for a long time wanted to gain some knowledge of the English Civil Wars I was more than a little excited when I purchased God's Fury England's Fire. Sad then to report that I have had to give up on it after only the second chapter. I have found Michael Braddick's style of writing to be far too wordy and complex for someone as basically educated as myself. I ended up having to have a dictionary with me while reading. Then I became very mixed up with regards Presbyterians, Calvinists and Arminians and had to resort again to my dictionary for clear explanations of what these groups represented. It then struck me that had the book been clearer I wouldn't have had to have resorted to a dictionary so often.
So to sum up I would say that this book is clearly for the more advanced historian and not really for someone wanting a good and easily understandable basic overview of the British Civil Wars. All I gained from it was confusion and a headache. It does however look very good on the shelf in my study.
10 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)A dense book....There's so much detail in here that one can only be amazed at the depth of the author's knowledge.
I just wish he hadn't tried to include all of it. Don't get me wrong, for anyone with the leisure to spend a few weeks on it this book will offer great rewards. However, for those with lives to live it may not be the book for them.
I want you to imagine being taken round a great medieval cathedral by an incredibly informed & erudite guide. He regales you with the most wonderful anecdotes, gives you an amazing amount of information about the history & construction of the building, the people involved down through the centuries, & does it in such a way that the hours just fly by...
And that's the problem, because, after all those highly entertaining & informative hours spent in his company, you look up & realise you're still just inside the porch! At that point it becomes (sadly) clear to you that this tour is going to require you to return every day for the rest of the week in order to get the whole way around the place.
If you have the time to devote to it, or are willing to make the time because you want to gain an in depth knowledge of the period, then get this book straight away - you won't be disappointed. If, however, you are looking for a book which will give you an insight into the period sufficient that you will know who did what to whom, how, & when, maybe you should look elsewhere.
1 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful,
This review is from: God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (Paperback)This is possible one of the worst books I've read in recent years.
It started out great, in fact the first third was so good that I started to research other books by this author. However after about a third it started to fall apart, and by two thirds through it was all over the place. With about 100 or so pages to go I finally gave up, and I can't remember the last book I failed to finish
Like I stated, it all started so well, but then it starts going of a tangents and some of his writing is very very difficult to understand. There was more than one paragraph that I read, and re-read an re-read, and still did't comprehend what on earth he was trying to tell me.
I felt as though the author was trying to pad the book out and there were sections that I felt are direct copies from other sources. However, I had enough when he started labouring on about witchcraft, the occult and astrology.
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God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars by Michael Braddick (Paperback - 29 Jan 2009)