BOOK REVIEW – S. R. GARDINER – HISTORY OF THE GREAT CIVIL WAR 1888 Windrush Press edition.
A massive, comprehensive blow by blow of the events of the English Civil War (1642-49) in four under-indexed but well annotated volumes. It is a definitive study, essential reading for most histories of the period to follow.
Unlike many historians of the period, Gardiner is extremely objective, taking no sides. Many Victorian radicals were very much inclined to see the Republican Roundheads as role models. Gardiner treats both sides dispassionately, which is both a strength and weakness in his writing, which can be very slow and ponderous at times.
He focuses more on politics than battles, which he cuts through rather too quickly. He is best seen describing the rise of factions such as the Levellers.
There are inadequate maps on campaigns and battles, but the text more than makes up for that.
Though professing to start at the beginning of the conflict, Gardiner starts with the raising of The King’s Standard in Nottingham in 1642, without much reference to the troubles preceding that, such as the Bishop’s Wars and the signing of The Scottish Covenant. He also stops right after the execution of Charles 1st in 1649, with little regard for the later Royalist risings of Charles 2cd, the years of Cromwell’s Commonwealth or the 1660 Restoration.
Christopher Hill’s introduction to the books is fascinating in itself. Gardiner rarely wrote a chapter until fully satisfied with a previous one, and he cycled round Britain to visit the battlefields and other locations personally. He also treats the Civil war as a class struggle as much as a religious conflict.
The book is not an easy one to pick at for details on specific activists or seeing the war’s progress in any given region. It is nevertheless a work of major importance to anyone studying British history.
Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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