As Mercurius Politicus notes with a nice selection of images, today is the 360th anniversary of Charles I’s execution. As that post points out, the narrative of how and why the regicide happened shifts emphasis with almost every generation, and whether, if in London today, you’ll be paying homage outside Charing Cross or the Houses of Parliament largely depends on what you bring of yourself to the concept of beheading a king. This of course is the principle reason that the Civil War remains one of England’s most fascinating decades, an area of historical study which churns out volume after volume with an almost mechanistic regularity.
Not entirely coincidentally, this month I read one of the latest, Michael Braddick’s God’s Fury, England’s Fire. In his review of the book in The Guardian, Keith Thomas criticised it for the weakness of its conclusion. This seems to me a mite unfair – Braddick’s work is certainly not a startling reinterpretation a la John Adamson’s magnificent The Noble Revolt, but to judge its potency of argument merely by its final paragraph is a little niggardly. God’s Fury, England’s Fire actually does a rather good job – through a refreshing concentration on contemporary publishing – of giving the reader a sense of the debates of the period, particularly on the Parliamentarian side. What Braddick tidily emphasises is that one of the reasons we still find it so hard to attribute cause, design and effect to almost any actor or action during the period is that so too did the men and women who lived through it. The Parliamentary cause in particular spent almost the whole time just trying to figure out what it was up to.
Braddick’s specialism is the formation of the early modern state, and therefore his chapters on governance and administrative structures are top notch. His narrative perhaps lacks bite, and particularly the years of active war read a tad thinly, but in this anniversary year it’s useful to remind oneself that, 1066 And All That aside, any blanket definitions, let alone Good and Bad, were hard to come by in the mid-sixteenth century (a point further highlighted by another bit of reading this month, Kevin Sharpe’s 1987 analysis of Personal Rule masques, Criticism and Compliment). Fundamental to our history, those years will probably always be punctuated with a question mark – perhaps especially that most vexing of January 30ths.
EDIT: Brilliantly, I originally mistyped the ‘6’ in 360 as a ‘5’. Great commemoration of a significant anniversary there, Hartland. Decidedly less slapdash, Mercurius Politicus has also since updated with a mini carnival on the regicide. Magic!