Occasioner, author, and continuer of the said unnatural, cruel and bloody wars

Royalists, parliamentarians, independents, puritans, presbyterians, catholics, soldiers, English, Irish, Scots, all plotting in shifting alliances – the English civil war period was a complex event, and Michael Braddick’s God’s Fury, England’s Fire doesn’t make it much clearer. That’s not in itself a bad thing. I think one of the jobs of a historian is to confuse us, to help us understand how unclear and complex historical events really were. Contrast that to the charlatans who treat history as a well of clear moral lessons for our time. I don’t want clarity from history. I want truth.

But to this unavoidable challenge Braddick adds the avoidable one of unclear language. As he himself might put it: the passive voice is highly present in the pages of this book, representing a challenge of interpretation for the reader, who finds themselves in a continous linguistic struggle for understanding. Ie.: Braddick writes poorly, which makes the book hard to read. Nobody ever does anything here, things just sort of happen. When, at the end, Charles I is executed, (I mean martyred), you’ll almost believe the axe flew by its own accord.

That’s a shame, because this is a fascinating subject. I’m most interested in the cultural aspects. The collision of ideas and beliefs and practices, daily life in the shadow of political and religious upheaval. Some examples: A witty prisoner, censorship by ear-cropping, and descriptions of the cost of war for common soldiers. Fine and vivid writing, which unfortunately is not representative of the whole.

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