History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England Critical Essays

Edward Hyde


(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The HISTORY OF THE REBELLION AND THE CIVIL WARS IN ENGLAND has been called the first great English history , without which Macaulay’s famous continuation would not have been possible. Clarendon’s work was first published in three volumes, in 1702, 1703, and 1704, at Oxford, through the effort of his second son. THE LIFE OF EDWARD, EARL OF CLARENDON, . . . WRITTEN BY HIMSELF, a companion volume, was written expressly for his children and was not published until 1759. The history was begun informally, being compiled during his two periods of exile in which the earl hoped that something could be learned to improve the future from the “wicked times” of vindictive lawlessness. As an Anglican, loyalist, and legalist he acted always out of high principles during the exasperating Short and Long Parliaments, in exile, and in the Restoration court “full of excess, idleness, and luxury; and the country full of pride, mutiny, and discontent.”

The work is not known for its accuracy, although the first draft was completed when state documents were available, nor is it known for its completeness; Clarendon was biased and treated in detail the Royalist argument, to the neglect of the Commonwealth’s. However, he was aware that his art and method were different, full, vigorous, “with fidelity and freedom of all I know of persons and things.”

As an Oxford bachelor of arts in the Middle Temple, he had moved among the literati and intelligentsia; Ben Jonson and Lord Falkland were his mentors and friends. For twelve years a member of the House of Commons, he was quick to follow the lead of Falkland, learning statesmanship under his tutelage. Clarendon was inspired by the feeling of the revolutionary times, by classical historians whom he knew well, and by historians of his own time, notably Hooker. The history proper begins with his own removal from Parliament to the position of trusted adviser, chief defendant and speech writer, and Chancellor of the Exchequer for the ill-fated but kingly Charles I. Clarendon’s advice to Charles I, which was not heeded, was to bring about a conciliation of the factions of Puritans, Royalists, Levellers, Catholics, and Presbyterians. As...

(The entire section is 903 words.)