Saturday, February 7, 2009

God's Fury, England's Fire : A New History of the English Civil Wars by Michael Braddick

Nothing escaped being politicised during the English civil war, not even astrology. As Michael Braddick explains, the astrologer William Lilly made quite a name for himself by accurately forecasting the victor of the battle of Naseby in 1645. A less fortunate rival, George Wharton, predicted a big win for the royalists. In fact, so many opinionated people believed that they alone could explain events that the historian, says Braddick, is faced with "a chaos of highly principled and competing certainties". Braddick is especially good on the enormous paper trail of the period, with 30 pamphlets appearing every week. He even suggests that the Levellers were merely a "print phenomenon", all "paper talk" and no substance. This book is scrupulously relativist, so whereas 1950s and 60s leftwing historians got engagingly excited about, say, popular sovereignty, Braddick leaves us with no sense that the English revolution has any relevance today. Perhaps each generation gets the history of the English civil war it deserves.

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