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 Crude generalisations have been replaced by individual studies which showed that traditional Royalist and Parliamentarian divisions were more complex than had been previously suggested.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.
on 16 May 2010
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.
on 25 January 2015
very informative, unbiased, a good historical work, definately worth recommending. a pretty detailed account, too. interesting insight into the character/aims of Charles and the (collective :D ) Parliament.
still left me a little confused about the nature of the prostestant ideas, where the factions differed religiously, how they chose their sides and why they changed them, exactly who the Independents were (how many factions does this contain??), but I will just say it's probably unavoidable and let it go at that.
what I miss a little is more elaboration on the role of Cromwell, but I'll just try to find that in another source.
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.
on 16 February 2009
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'.
on 7 October 2014
Whether you like this book or not depends on what you want out of it.
If you're after narrative history, maybe in the style of Tom Holland, the kind that tells history almost like a story and makes an effort to keep the lay man interested, this really isn't for you. This book reads like a thesis. The narrative does not flow, since the author takes the time to go intoevery single point he makes with incredible detail and innumerable examples. This is great if you're after a complete historical study of the wars and their causes and side effects, but doesn't make the events flow into each other very well. The account of events is interrupted repeatedly with digressions into the attitudes of people towards religion, politics, the printed press etc. These issues are gone over again and again and again, with every example and every source detailed exquisitely, each point laboured endlessly and repeatedly. This is great if you're writing a thesis, but to keep the layman interested it fails miserably. In order to illustrate a particular point being made, sometime sreference will be made to events in the future or, more problematically events will be told out of order. Again, fine for a thesis, but not something that will endear the book to someone who doesn't know and much and is already struggling with the endless string of names that are introduced, sometimes only for a paragraph, dropped, then reintroduced with little reminder of who they are. There is no economy, no thought of "maybe I can leave out that person or that event or maybe I don't need to go into that much detail." Everything but everything is examined with the same microscope. The result is probably the most detailed treatment of the civil war available, but an incredibly boring book
I am not a historian, but I love reading about history. However I found this unbelievably tedious and long.
on 15 September 2015
A book that crosses from popular history to an academic study. Great if you are studying the period but not if you want to be more informed about the civil war. The author's style does not help either. Sentences can be long and convoluted and he does go off on tangents. An example of the latter is the section on astrology; I could not see its relevance to the Civil War. Still if you want a very thorough examination of the Civil War this is your book. My rating is based on the astonishing level of research and detail as opposed to reader accessibility. I struggled on to the end but it was a slog.
on 15 December 2010
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!
on 6 May 2015
This is a technical coomment on the Kindle version of this title. There are 4 maps at the font of this title illustrating the military situation at various stage in the war. These show quite satisfactorily on my Kindle Paperwhite 2 and on Kindle for PC. However they are not displayed at all by my Kindle for iPad app.
on 28 August 2015
Detailed examination of the background and consequences of the 1640s.