on 16 January 2002
As the title suggests this book just covers the events leading up to the trial and execution of Charles I. The wider events of the Civil War are covered in her 2 earlier books The King's Peace and The King's War, both of which I would recommend. The great strength of this book is its concentration on one specific event, and its examination of it in great depth. As is often the case in reading history it is often better to read deeply on one specific subject than read lightly on many. In discussing the personalities and events surrounding the trial and execution, C.V. Wedgewood manages to illuminate broader themes and says much about human nature. Having defeated and imprisoned the King a relatively small minority in parliament, lead by Cromwell and Ireton, wanted to execute him. The rest (including Lord Fairfax the general in charge of the army) baulked at shedding royal blood. Their control of the army now allowed this small group of zealots to effectively perform a military coup, and seize control of parliament. They then forced through the necessary legislation for the trial and execution. Throughout this process they try to maintain the pretence of legality for their actions, while most of their wavering supporters slip off to the country or stop taking their seats in the house. The scene in which a bullying Cromwell rallies the waverers at the trial is one off the most compelling in the book.
The strengths of the book are the interplay of the various characters involved, and the narrative drive she gives to events. If I was to have one criticism it is that she concentrates on Charles himself. Much less is said of Cromwell, Ireton and the leading parliamentarians. That said it is a gripping, informative book.