Jason McElligott, David L. Smith, eds. Royalists and Royalism during the English Civil Wars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xii + 250 pp. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-87007-8.
Reviewed by Jasmin L. Johnson (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-War (May, 2008)
This volume, edited by Jason McElligott and David L. Smith, is the result of the proceedings of an international conference entitled "Royalists and Royalism: Politics, Religion and Culture, 1640-60," which was held at Clare College, Cambridge, in 2004. For those of us who spend time researching the period of the British civil wars, it is well known that Royalism is an inexplicably under-researched area. "This strange neglect of Royalism," as the editors describe it, was first noted by Ronald Hutton and Conrad Russell in the late seventies, and it has taken until the dawn of the twenty-first century for the balance to begin to be redressed (p. 1).
This volume focuses on the decade leading up to the regicide, and, as ever, arguments rage over the true nature of the character of King Charles I. Mark Kishlansky, in his essay "A Lesson in Loyalty: Charles I and the Short Parliament," perceives the king as fundamentally honest, sincere, and open to compromise, although it has to be said that the writer's view has shifted recently and that this reviewer admits that she (like many others) finds this a difficult position to accept. In contrast, Sean Kelsey, in his essay "A No-King or a New: Royalists and the Succession," takes the more traditional view of Charles as essentially inflexible, duplicitous, and unwilling to compromise.
In "The Court and the Emergence of a Royalist Party," Malcolm Smuts does well to remind us that we must not talk simply of Royalism, but of Royalisms. Court and parliamentary politics were a cause of rifts not just between supporters of the king and parliament, but also within those ranks. Barbara Donagan expands this in "Varieties of Royalism," in which she perceives what she terms a "rainbow coalition" within the ranks of Royalism (p. 66). What these essays do, perhaps, demonstrate is that loyalty to the king or Parliament was not, as has been traditionally assumed, a matter of social class or rank. David Scott's essay, "Counsel and Cabal in the King's Party, 1642-1646," serves to further examine the divisions and factions within the Royalist camp, pointing out the ever-widening rift between the "peace party" and the "war party," while Rachel Foxley, in "Royalists and the New Model Army in 1647: Circumstance, Principle and Compromise," demonstrates that even if the king were unwilling to compromise, there were those of his party who were, whether for the best of motives or from unfettered opportunism and greed. Michael Mendle, in "The Royalist Origins of the Separation of Powers," also picks up on attempts to reach an accommodation between king and Parliament as exemplified in the king's response to the Nineteen Propositions that attempted to set out a way in which the monarch and the two houses of Parliament might work together. Nothing came of this initiative, but its influence, Mendle argues, can be seen in elements of the Restoration settlement.
Ian Roy's essay "Royalist Reputations: The Cavalier Ideal and the Reality" examines the issue of whether the cavaliers ever lived up to the codes of conduct, oaths of loyalty, and rules of warfare that they had created once it came to handstrokes. It has to be said that once the two armies were in the field, it was the king's faction that was the first to acquire an unsavory reputation for looting and thuggery. This contribution could be the first adumbration of a Royalist perspective to match Blair Worden's Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil War and the Passions of Posterity (2001).
Sarah Poynting's intriguing contribution, "'I doe desire to be rightly vnderstood': The Rhetorical Strategies in the Letters of Charles I," is a moving reminder of how hard the king found it to make people understand his position. As an aspiring absolute monarch without the power to be absolutist, Charles's correspondence often shows the weakness of his arguments and the difficulty he found in expressing them. Little of the personality of Charles the man comes across in his correspondence other than a feeling that he kept pressing his point of view until one agreed with him! There is one exception--a little letter written to his daughter Elizabeth when he was at his lowest ebb. Trapped on the Isle of Wight and perhaps knowing that the game was up, he wrote a short note to his daughter, and for once, movingly, we get a view of the man behind the mask: "'It is not want of affection that makes me write so seldom to you, but want of matter such as I could wishe: & indeed I am loathe to write to those I loue, when I am out of humour, (as I haue been these days past,) least my letters shold trouble those I desyre to please; but hauing this opportunety I would not lose it; though, at this tyme, I haue nothing to say, but God bless you'" (p. 154).
Finally, the volume includes an essay by Worden, "The Royalism of Andrew Marvell," the "Cavalier Poet," as he is sometimes known. Worden reminds us that the "civil war was fought on two fronts: by the sword and by the pen"; a truism given the level of poetry, polemic, and propaganda that survives from the period (p. 214). He also points out that characters as disparate as Marvell, the arch-propagandist and proto-journalist Marchamont Nedham, and the Republican polemicist James Harrington might have much in common.
In conclusion, this volume of essays is a political, rather than a military, history of Royalists and Royalism (one awaits with relish a more detailed study than John Barratt's publication Cavaliers: The Royalist Army at War, 1642-1646 ). The editors hope that a further volume will be produced to examine the reaction of Royalism toward what they term the "interregnum" (although one cannot help thinking that "Republic, Commonwealth, and Protectorate" would be a more accurate term). Royalists and Royalism presents a disturbing, but nonetheless probably justified, view that at some stage in the time leading up to his execution on January 30, 1649, King Charles had reached the view that martyrdom would be preferable to abject surrender--and that his supporters had also realized that their leader was perhaps more useful to them dead than alive. That masterpiece of propagandistic justification for the king's actions, "Eikon Basilike" (while probably not, as one writer in the collection wishes to claim, by the king's own hand), became more powerful after the macabre theater of the king's execution than Charles Stuart had ever managed to be.
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Jasmin L. Johnson. Review of McElligott, Jason; Smith, David L., eds., Royalists and Royalism during the English Civil Wars.
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