Cavaliers and Roundheads

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The accession of England’s second Stuart monarch, Charles I, in 1625, marked the acceleration of absolutist goals first begun by James I. An advocate of monarchical supremacy and traditional Anglicanism, Charles quickly ran into trouble with Parliament and attempted to rule without it from 1629-1640. A rebellion by Scottish Presbyterians against an attempt by the crown to install the Anglican Church in Scotland necessitated the recalling of Parliament to raise revenues for prosecuting a war. After the so-called Short Parliament proved resistant to the king’s demands, Charles dismissed it and immediately called an election that produced the Long Parliament, which sat, often in an abbreviated form, until the Stuart Restoration in 1660. This body, which consisted of large numbers of Puritans and Independents, quickly legislated an end to Stuart absolutism, provoking, in 1642, an unsuccessful attempt by the king to arrest its leaders. In the civil war that ensued, Cavaliers and Roundheads fought with the extreme brutality that has often characterized such conflicts. Initially the war went well for the Cavaliers, who were led by the king’s German nephew, Prince Rupert. Parliament, however, retained the loyalty of London, the seat of government, and of the navy, and benefitted from the capable military leadership of Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex, Sir Thomas Fairfax, and Oliver Cromwell. By 1646, having secured for a time the support of the Scottish Presbyterians, the Roundheads had won the first and conclusive phase of the war. Charles’ wooing of the Scottish Presbyterians to his side led to a second phase in 1648, that resulted in the Cavaliers’ second defeat, the end of the war, and the beheading of the king in January, 1649.

Characteristically Hibbert has enlived his narrative with numerous entertaining and informative anecdotes. He has also included useful sections on the fates of those characters not recorded in the text and on some of the principal civil war sites, buildings, memorials, and museums. Although the author’s concentration on military history sometimes becomes tedious, he has written a needed narrative that will be welcomed by the general reader.