The Execution of Charles I According to Blackadder

Blackadder- The Cavalier Years (  Comic Relief)

It is 1648. King Charles is in hiding on the set of the hugely successful Blackadder   series.  Loyalists, lead by Sir Edmund himself are trying to help him, but Oliver Cromwell has the upper hand, and the King’s death is inevitable. The fifteen minute sketch, available on the Comic Relief website on YouTube, gets the fundamentals correct but   moves away from the true story of his execution so the jokes can be made.

For the sake of the licence fee, the New Model Army is reduced to one man who is fully armoured for battle, and for the sake of timing Oliver Cromwell is already the Lord Protector, six years early. However, many of the lines ring true. Cromwell plays Prince Charles in the style the present heir to the throne, as socially concerned and liberal, which is hilarious but far from historical. Charles congratulates Cromwell on his new position using the conversational gambit of the modern monarch –“What exactly does a Lord Protector do”? In reality, there was never any satisfactory answer to that question. Later on, Charles says confidently that “there was not a jury in England that would bring a verdict of guilty”, and that is why   the real Charles kept being stubborn to the very end. Charles in real life always underestimated the power of the army, made easier in the video by the small number of soldiers

Oliver introduces the King to a catholic priest prior to his execution, something which neither of them would have put up with in real life. In an echo of Britain in 1650s, Blackadder makes some jokes about Puritanism, which are still funny now because they happened at the time, and people still hate puritans today. Blackadder worries that they would all be “ for the chop” after the execution of the King- at times the sketch feels like one about the French revolution. It underestimates Parliament’s desire for harmony, but that is because reconciliation isn’t very funny

The central plot is all about money and greed. The story suggests that it was not east to find an executioner and this was true; nobody wanted the job in real life. The story is also funny when it shows Blackadder trying to extort money from the King to organize a clean, efficient execution with one correct blow to the neck. This was no joke; this is what people did, although there is no reason to believe that this was the case on January 3oth 1649. Charles would know about the execution of his grandmother, Mary Queen of Scots. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head, and the second did not sever it completely. That may be why Charles was to give elaborate instructions to his executioner –who had covered himself from head to toe to avoid detection- any lay flat on the floor with his neck exposed. The Black Adder version of this is less graphic, funnier and more based around a pumpkin

Video here

My books on the Civil War for new readers; an unusual biography of Oliver Cromwell; and an in-depth look at the men who executed the King

A book about all 59 regicides of Charles I; how it was written!

(Shorter version of this here)

I have never seen a blog post about how a history book was written. So this blog is either breaking new ground or doing something too boring to bother about. Lets see!

When I pitched this book to Pen and Sword, I was able to say, with confidence, that nobody had ever produced a 59 person history of the period of Civil War, Regicide and afterwards. When starting to write such a book, I discovered why; it was an organisational nightmare. There were 59 stories, sometimes different but often the same, sometimes over-lapping and sometimes not, covering the period 1590 to 1692. How do you structure that?

I started with a database of their births and deaths and decided that stage one would be to make a list of those who died early. There were five; so I had my first chapter.

Chapter 1 The Morning Stars of the Regicide ;John Alured, John Moore, John Blakiston,
James Temple, Peregrine Pelham
The plan was to get those who died early out of the way. But this was also an introduction; and it soon became obvious that each of these men represented a different ‘aspect’ of the regicide. Alured was as the three- generation puritan, and I put him first because he also had most of the other qualities of the regicides. Moore as the Northern hater of Catholics; Blakiston as the anti Bishop figure ; Temple as the early military fighter for Protestantism and Pelham as the local military commander and run-of- the mill MP. Temple was my first compromise; he did not die early, but seemed to do nothing after 1650. Another early death was John Venn, who was a famous iconoclast in an age that was already infamous for such behaviour. However, when I researched him, he struck me as far too important to go in this chapter. I debated which I wanted more; a 100% all round watertight introduction OR Venn in the correct place.

Next, Chapter 2. I kept telling myself that this was NOT a book about Oliver Cromwell. Chapter Two needed to be an overview of the period up to 1649, but not via Cromwell. It was then that Ireton came to the rescue; I could tell the story through him and insert a bit of Cromwell. It was then I thought of the ‘main/ other’ structure that runs through the book.

Chapter 2 The Main Regicide; Henry Ireton

I think it is a fair comment that Ireton was the main force towards regicide. It was realistic enough to be written, but just different enough to be….. different. My main problem was that it also had to act as an introduction to the period up to 1649 for those who may not be totally well informed about the period. So it was a little longer than I intended, and of course because it was Ireton, Cromwell kept appearing.

Six regicides down, fifty- two to go. My next chapter had to provide an overview of the military situation and battles 1640- 1649, and introduce a new category. So this is what I choose;

Chapter 3 The Gentry Soldiers; Oliver Cromwell, Richard Deane, John Okey

Ideally, these three should be in the order of their death so that the stories overlap as little as possible, but as you can see, this is not the case. However, because this was not a book about Cromwell, help was at hand. The Cromwell story stopped at 1649 ( it also worked well that Ireton was so close to him in the previous chapter). Anything about Cromwell that happened after c1650 is told through the narratives about the others; this meant that OC received the correct level of importance without the book being about him. Deane followed as a similar ‘gentry soldier’. Okey was a boon on one level because he was different in attitude to Cromwell and Deane, which allowed the narrative to develop, but problematical as he lived until the end of the story which meant that I had reached 1662 by chapter 3. I had to watch out that I did not repeat myself. So I saved as much as possible about Okey until the execution section at the end of the book

I decided to repeat the format with the next chapter with the lower class regicides.

Chapter 4 The Brewer, the Servant and the Cobbler?;Thomas Pride, Isaac Ewer, John Hewson

I was happy with this; it allowed me to add to the narrative without repeating it, look at a different type of regicide and cover the whole period again, but differently. It made a nice balance with Chapter 3. They were mostly soldiers again, which suited me too. I was still worried about John Venn….where else could he go, and who could go with him?

London dominates the Civil War Story. I gathered together the London men, but I was never going to brave/stupid enough to create a chapter called ‘Regicides From London’ . But when I looked at them, my heart leapt. They were the same type of person! They did the same type of things, sometimes together! All but one was horrible, and horrible in similar ways! Then I had my alliterative next chapter! John Venn was at home!

Chapter 5 The Metropolitan Militia Men ; John Barkstead, Robert Tichborne,
Owen Rowe, John Venn

I was always going to write a chapter about the events of 1648. They made the execution move from unthinkable to inevitable. I had the title early on; but what about the regicides to go in it?. Then it became clear that there were three men who rose to prominence in that year for broadly similar reasons which allowed me to develop a hypothesis around them; that the second civil war hardened hearts. They also faded away very quickly after 1649 so I didn’t need to tell the later part of the story again. I was, for about 10 seconds, going to call it The Undoubting Thomases;

Chapter 6 Turning Point, 1648 ;Thomas Waite, Thomas Horton, Thomas Wogan

After 1648, I wanted an extended narrative on the trial and the legal aspects of the regicide, and also wanted to return to the ‘main/ other theme’ started with the chapter on the ‘main regicide’. So the next two chapters were shoe- ins.
Chapter 7 The Main Lawyer ; John Bradshaw
Chapter 8 Two Regicide Lawyers ; William Say, Augustine Garland

The problem with the lawyers was that the regicide group was swarming with them. I eventually put them into other chapters, arguing that they were more significant for that criterion than law. Whether I convince people is a different matter!.We were now entering the ideological part of the book. For those considering a purchase, I am not able to cast much light on the military strategy and battles; it is a book about ideas; and I decided to approach republicanism with the same strategy of ‘main/ other’
Chapter 9 The Main Republican; Henry Marten
Chapter 10 The Regicide Republicans; Thomas Chaloner, Thomas Scot, Valentine Walton

This worked well; the first three names knew each other, worked together and had similar fates in the end. They were mostly ideologues rather than fighters which allowed me to blend in with the earlier chapters on law. Valentine Walton was, I admit, a little bit of a push. Less is known about him than I anticipated…but he was a republican in his own way. Buy the book and tell me if you agree!

Two regicides have extensive documentary evidence. I decided early on that they would be in the same chapter. They were both republicans in the same way as those in the previous chapter, so the ideal place was here.
Chapter 11 Two Well Documented Men? Edmund Ludlow, John Hutchinson

There is no chapter called puritanism; it would have included 50 names. However, the next step after the lawyers was the extreme millenarians/ fifth monarchists who were small in number but influential. The main/ other theme is repeated

Chapter 12 The Main Fanatic; Thomas Harrison
Chapter 13 Three Fanatics ; John Carew, John Jones, Thomas Grey

Once again, like the republicans, these men knew each other and worked together . It made the narrative more economical and allowed me to build on chapters. The inclusion of Thomas Grey is a little controversial; but I think it works well, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

My next two chapters used the main/ other structure to examine those who supported Cromwell in the 1650s. Those who opposed him had already been covered in the republican/ fanatic section, so this felt like the logical place for it.

Chapter 14 The Main Cromwellians; Edward Whalley and William Goffe
Chapter 15 The Cromwellians ;Robert Lilburne, William Constable, John Dixwell,
Anthony Stapley

The further into the book, the more compromises were necessary. Goffe could have been in Chapter 15 ; Robert Lilburne was a wavering Cromwellian. Stapley was so weak he could have gone into the infamous chapter 19.

Then I wanted a chapter on the people who mostly did the paperwork and the administration:
Chapter 16 The Committee Men ; William Purefoy, Vincent Potter, Miles Corbet

You could argue that Purefoy should not be there; my heart sank when he took up the military struggle; you could argue that this was the best place for William Cawley, but in the end I decided that he was a crook ( see Chapter 18) .

My next chapter resulted in real imposter syndrome. Two regicides were singled out for being wastes of space by the great Dame Veronica Wedgwood. I wanted to test her hypothesis, and I can’t believe the conclusion I came to.
Chapter 17 Unprincipled, Choleric, Malcontents? ;Thomas Mauleverer, John Bouchier

Then there were the greedy and naughty. Greedy was hard to define; naughty less so, but the chapter on adulterers and cowards only includes those who were caught out
Chapter 18 Mostly About The Money? Humphrey Edwards, Gregory Norton, John Downes, Daniel Blagrave, William Cawley

Chapter 19 Adulterers and Cowards; Gilbert Millington, Michael Livesey, Peter Temple,
Gregory Clement

Then there were two people who seemed to have been involved in the regicide for no really important reason
Chapter 20 Suspect Motivations John Danvers, Simon Mayne

At this point, I was desperate. Chapter 22 was sorted; it was men that, it could be argued, did not cover themselves in glory when they were punished, although I don’t hold that against them. Then I had two regicides left. I was about the slot them into existing categories until I realised how differently they were treated by the authorities in 1660, and it created an interesting chapter on the uneven nature of justice at the restoration.

Chapter 21 The Strained Quality of Mercy ;Richard Ingoldsby, Adrian Scrope
Chapter 22 Reluctant to Kill, or Just Reluctant to Die?; Hardress Waller, Henry Smith, George Fleetwood

That’s it. I hope that I have provided the world with something a little different.

Charles I’s Executioners



The Devil’s Whore; the Civil War on film

The Devil’s Whore (Channel 4, 2008, DVD and on demand on All 4)

us version


This mini-series (called the ‘Devil’s Mistress’ in the USA where our exported Puritanism still has some influence in their media) is very much based on fact, except in the one way that really mattered. Religion hardly receives a mention. It concentrates on the preoccupations of today- politics and feminism, so like many modern films about the civil war tells us more about ourselves than the people at the time.

Our   imaginary hero Angelica Fanshawe interacts with real historical characters and even marries two of them. Angelica is member of the aristocracy who was a member of Charles’s court in the years before the civil war and is aware of the problems with the king’s power that were emerging in the 1630s. When the conflict starts she is quickly radicalised. There were such people, such as Elizabeth Lilburne, wife of the radical leader John Lilburne, who probably deserves a Channel 4 drama of her own. She at least  was a real person.

In episode one Angelica  mostly stays naïve and   innocent. This changes when   she interacts with the Levellers, and later with the Diggers and Ranters. She meets John Lilburne while he is the Fleet prison, with his two mates Thomas Rainsbourough and Oliver Cromwell. They are all too chummy to be realistic, and there while Cromwell protested about Lilburne’s imprisonment in the early 1640s, it did not happen as early as the film suggests.

charles i coverThroughout the episodes, Leveller views are very accurately presented and so are Cromwell’s reservations about them. The fiction arrives in the belief that Cromwell had nothing better to do during the civil war than ride alongside Rainsborough and discuss who should vote and how rich people should be allowed to be. A much more significant Thomas, Sir Thomas Fairfax, has gone missing. John Lilburne appears at regular intervals, agitating the soldiers and whipping up their grievances, both financial and political. Rainsborough is given undue importance because he marries the imaginary Angelica.

There is a fleeting but believable  Prince Rupert and a more prominent King Charles in the programme. We don’t see any negotiations but it is clear that Charles had no intention of really discussing a settlement. The Earl of Manchester is incompetent  and proud and just as scared of victory as defeat, and there is a meeting with Lilburne that is probably fictional but tell you true things about both men. The war was creating a society where, eventually, there would be less bowing, although most of the people, who supported parliament at the beginning   were still in favour of it.


In episode two, Angelica is ruined a desperate and at the mercy of evil   men-certainly one of the features of the civil war, but Angelica’s response is much more that of the modern women. Despite being the obvious hero of the mini – series, and the so- called the ‘devils whore’, she is a modest women who reacts to events and doesn’t deserve to be called satanic. It is early 1647 and Angelica is hardened by her adventures and a factual character, Edward Sexby.

Most of the Sexby plotline is made up, while still telling truths about a particular kind of man who fought in the civil war. A hardened fighter in a permanent growly bad temper who murders people without a second thought, his link with the devil is more secure than Angelica’s. Unlike most, Sexby was a man whose loyalty to one side developed slowly. He is shown changing sides at Edgehill by removing one coloured scarf with another, which, unbelievable, is how they did it.

picture civil war

The political background is accurate; in 1647 the army was in open revolt against the MPs who are venal and unpleasant. Lilburne is now persecuted by parliament   instead of Charles I. Sexby is shown, probably correctly, being part of the Army group who kidnapped the king from parliament, although in real life he spend more time organising the army against the king and no time looking wistfully at Angelica, who of course did not exist.

Cromwell is shown- accurately- changing his mind about what to do about the king, but still hanging out with the wrong Thomas. The Putney debates are shown accurately, with script writers borrowing Rainborough’s lines about the least important he deserving a say   and Cromwell’s reply that it would led to political anarchy. In real life, there would have been more days of prayer and soul searching, but that looks terrible on television.

Thomas dies at the end of episode two; the king starting the second civil war unites all sides and Rainsborough is murdered. Cromwell (in reality Fairfax) sends him to Pontefract and he is murdered by people unknown. There is still debate today about whether Cromwell and Fairfax had a hand in it; in the drama Angelica’s heart hardens even more; she has learnt a lot since the civil war started, none of it very good.

Episode three continues to show Cromwell spending much more time with the Levellers than he did in real life. Honest John refuses to take part in the trial of the king, and asks Cromwell if there was any prospect of the king being found innocent; and ‘answer came there none’.

The trial is very foreshortened and wrong in forgivable ways; but basic truth is there, that this was not a fair or indeed permissible trial in English law and as Anne Fairfax shouts out in protest  ‘Not one half, not one quarter of England was in favour’. Bradshaw the chef judge seems to have the metal to protect his head from being shot off on the outside rather than the inside, and it at this point that you notice that all the internal shot of courts and marriages and meetings have taken place in the same building.

The king then dies, quickly and with reasonable accuracy and on the same day imaginary Angelica is saved but struggles to change her attitude to the person who saved her. She becomes more radical with every tumultuous event, but still finds that the rule of men continues even when the rule of kings comes to an end.

It is 1649 and Sexby is sent to Ireland by Cromwell and his  attitude to the local people is brutally clear, although Wexford and Drogheda seem to be conflated. In real life Sexby was innocent of these crimes because he was not there, as his regiment was sent to Scotland; but had he been there, his attitude would have been the same. One Sexby line stands out ‘Ireland is our back door- it must be bolted shut’. That’s how it was.

Angelica becomes a Digger, but is first reminded that she must be married to join them and is then further  reminded that male attitudes still ruled. She then starts to dig the wasteland of her own former house, taken from her royalist first husband and given to her Presbyterian arch enemy Joliffe. This man torments her for most of the four episodes.

Angelicas world has been turned upside down, as she turns first to communal living and the belief that it was the end of days, then to the belief in universal love and Ranterism. Ranterism is portrayed as it was, or, more likely as the panicking authorities thought it was, with lots of open fornication and mocking of the Bible and the Christian rituals, with pigeon pie and red wine representing the blood and body of Christ,  while Angelica is- once again, as a bystander to events. Men still rule. Cromwell’s spymaster Thurloe tells her new husband that the Rump had just made female adultery a capital offence and that he should rescue his wife from the Ranters.

John Lilburne gets into trouble for continuing to nail himself to the cross of freedom and to martyr himself for the cause. His wife Elizabeth loses some patience with him- as happened in real life. To help the drama, Cromwell sends him to prison in Jersey to die a year earlier than in real life; and die he did, which did not happen in real life. He died a few years later, a few months before Cromwell.

Sexby turns against Cromwell because of his treatment of Lilburne and the Levellers- not the Irish and conspires against him actively when Cromwell becomes Lord Protector. The end in the film is a fiction; he died in the pace where the powerful put their enemies, the Tower of London. Angelica survives and outlives all the men in her life; a fiction for her, but a reality for thousands of women in the civil war.


I have three books on the English Civil War and another on the Regency

Charles I’s Executioners is a biographical study of all fifty-nine men who signed the death warrant for Charles I (published in October 2020)

Following the Footsteps of Oliver Cromwell, done in a different way- through the places he visited, lived and fought and a discussion of his reputation today.

The English Civil War in Fact and Fiction is an introduction to the subject which takes some controversial questions about the Civil War and asks if they are true or not.

Introducing ‘ Charles I’s Executioners’

This is an introduction to my latest Civil War book

charles i cover

How many names were on the death warrant of Charles I? Did you know that there were fifty-nine? If you are interested enough to read this, you probably know some of them. Oliver Cromwell, of course; that goes without saying. Then the judge, John Bradshaw and Cromwell’s ally, friend and relative Henry Ireton. Perhaps the colourful Henry Marten will be known to you. After that, even the well informed are often struggling. What about the others? Who were they, and why did they do it?

Who were these people? In short, they were puritans, politicians, soldiers, lawyers, bureaucrats, merchants. Some were opportunists, cowards, men filled with spite and personal ambition, while others sacrificed their life for a cause that dominated their lives. To distil the list further, the majority of signers were army officers or MPs, or both. Some of them claimed their place in British history but the majority-a clear majority- are very little known. They signed one of the most significant documents in British history. They deserve to be remembered just for that.

This book fills that gap. There are books on the subject, and very good ones, but some settle on a handful of famous people and some define regicide quite loosely. This book is about all of the names on the warrant. Most books on the civil war mention most regicides mostly in passing, but this one mentions them all with between 500 and 3000 words depending on their importance, and tries to bring together their motivations. The problem inherent in this process is that their relative degrees of importance are compressed- Henry Ireton is more than six times as important as John Venn, but at least the opposite, more common problem has been attacked. The civil war was not all about Cromwell and Charles and without men like John Venn, there would have been no civil war and no regicide.

The plan is to find at least one interesting thing about each regicide which adds to the answer- why did they do it? Not one of the fifty-nine let me down; there was something personally interesting about all of them, and they all provided reasons for why the civil war happened.

This is not a book of mini -biographies. Such a book would both repeat itself tediously and fail to get over some of the similarities between the men that help to explain events A biography, ‘mini’ or ‘maxi’, is not even possible for many of the regicides. The evidence is often scarce and tainted by the centuries of hatred and resentment. Information about character and personality is rare and not always reliable; but it has been pounced on when it is available. It is also a book about men. This is down to the sources. Women mattered in the civil war. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; this applies to many of the men also. When women made a difference, their story has been told where it is known.

Each chapter is a group; some people are so pivotal that they are in a group of one, but the following chapter contains more people in the same group. They can only be grouped by the use of generalisations. Pains have been taken to make the groupings work, but they are never one hundred percent convincing. Some apparent groupings turned out to be illusions; there were six Sussex regicides, but there was nothing about Sussex that united them, apart from their Puritanism. A group called Puritans would have fifty plus members. That Sussex was more puritan than most was not a categorization that shone any light on their motivations and actions. Buckinghamshire was another Puritan county but their regicides could not hang together in the same group, despite the fact that they lived close together and were members of the same extended families.

I know I would say this, but this is an excellent first or fifteenth book on the Civil War. If it is your first, you will be introduced to a variety of king killers, all different but all sharing characteristics that explain the momentum for the 1649 execution. Then, your next journey to the main figures would be easy and better informed. If this is your fifteenth book, then you will meet some people who have passed fleetingly through the narrative before, adding a lot to your understanding.

More details here.

My other books on the Civil War.

Why do we have statues of Oliver Cromwell in England?

This is an edited excerpt from by book on Cromwell. It deals with his life, the places he lived, work and fought, and his changing reputation after death. The details are after the article.


By 1901 there were four statues of Cromwell in England. Cromwell appears in Warrington, Manchester, St Ives and most famously, outside the Old Palace Yard, near the Houses of Parliament. They all originate from the late Victorian period, when Cromwell’s reputation was at its highest outside of catholic Ireland. The earliest was in Manchester in 1875; the others can be directly linked to the tercentenary of his birth in 1599; Westminster and Warrington date from 1899, and the later one in St Ives (1901) was a direct result of Huntingdon failing to mark the tercentenary.

The momentum for statues came from the historian Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle resurrected the reputation of Cromwell, providing the antidote to two centuries of misinformation by printing his actual words in the form of his collected speeches. In Carlyle’s view, Cromwell was the greatest Englishman who ever lived, especially in comparison to the mediocrities that were being celebrated in his time. Carlyle lamented the spirit of the age when crooks were held in high regard. His first attempt was to encourage/ browbeat the town council around the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary, but this was too soon. Public opinion was not ready. Indeed public opinion was only just coming into existence.

manchestercromwellIt was another generation before anything happened, and then not in any of the obvious places. Manchester was a radical supporter of parliament during the civil war and it was a group of Liberal politicians, lead by Thomas Potter, who agitated for a statue. Cromwell never set foot in Manchester. It was what Cromwell represented that attracted the Liberals of the city. Cromwell’s reputation among the locals was not as strong, with its Irish residents and its mercantile conservative united in opposing him, but many Liberals saw him as an ideal symbol of their progressive city. Thomas Potter, for one, would not dilute his opinions, pointing out that ‘This tardy act of justice to the memory of Cromwell was most appropriate in this great city, where the greatest movements in progress had been carried on’. It was more about Potter and Manchester as it was about Cromwell. Wherever Liberals and Non Conformists took power in Britain, Cromwell’s stock rose.

warringtoncromwellWarrington has a different Cromwell connection. It declared for the King in 1642, was cleared of its royalist garrison in June 1643 and remained relatively peaceful until the second Civil War. In 1648, when the royalist army had been defeated at Preston, there was a major mopping up operation led by Cromwell.

Support for a statue came –once again- from Liberal, nonconformist politicians. In this case it was Fred Monks, a relatively lowly born man who became an iron entrepreneur. As a nonconformist, he would have shared Cromwell’s view of Protestantism. The proposed statue was not new in 1899- it had been shown at an international exhibition in 1862 and had been viewed with disfavour by Queen Victoria. In 1899 Monk wrote to the Warrington Council and offered them this statue of a ‘remarkable man’. Alderman Henry Roberts (Peoples College, grammar school, self-made brick and tile manufacturer) put forward the idea that he was great Englishmen- despite some of his actions. Dr Cannell believed that he was ‘an absolute murderer’ and ‘a diabolical scoundrel’. Dr Cannell also argued that a man who had cleared, bullied and manipulated parliaments could not be regarded as a friend of democracy. This was, and remains, a fair point.

The vote was won, and the statue erected. The Council decided that Monk had no political leanings. This was clearly untrue. When Monk died in 1897, the Warrington Guardian made this clear.

‘In politics he was for many years a convinced and enthusiastic Liberal, but like thousands of other Nonconformists, his anti-Roman proclivities proved stronger than this loyalty to Gladstonian Liberalism’

st ives cromwellHuntingdon failed to raise enough enthusiasm for the tercentenary of Cromwell’s birth in 1699. But they did not try very hard. The Town Council only started to raise funds in January 1899 for a statue that was meant to be unveiled in September. St Ives took then the initiative, raising the money by public subscription. This was the same method that Huntingdon had used,but sentiment in St Ives was different.The local free churches, stronger in St Ives than they were in Huntingdon, led a successful campaign to raise the money.

The long road to a Westminster statue is a similar story. Carlyle, who had just started his Cromwell crusade, predictably called for a statue, or at least a bust. The subject came up regularly, two years in a row in the early 1860s, but given the controversial nature it was an easy decision to postpone.

It was another Liberal who pushed the argument forward. Prime Minister Lord Roseberry was having trouble with what he saw as an over-mighty House of Lords, and Cromwell came to mind, despite the historical fact that Cromwell reinstated a House of Lords during his personal rule. The Liberal cabinet agreed to ‘a standing figure of heroic size’. Although it was agreed by House of Commons, the opposition to the cost and the principle of financing it was so vehement elsewhere that Roseberry decided to become an anonymous donor it cost around £5000. Once again, the same pattern can be seen- they appear only when a Liberal, non- conformists majority can go ahead and ignore the protests of the monarchy, the conservatives and the catholic Irish. The fact that the statue was unveiled at 7.30 am on a dull morning in November 1899 shows the need for a low key event.

Part of the reason why the statue went up was that just enough Conservatives now regarded Cromwell as a patriot and imperialist, and were able to see past the fact that he was a radical and dissenter, which was what the Liberals liked about him. Cromwell suited the Victorian age more than most. He could be lauded as a self-made man, a model of social mobility and a militarist.

I have three books on the English Civil War.

Charles I’s Executioners is a biographical study of all fifty-nine men who signed the death warrant for Charles I (published in October 2020)

Following the Footsteps of Oliver Cromwell, done in a different way- through the places he visited, lived and fought and a discussion of his reputation today.

The English Civil War in Fact and Fiction is an introduction to the subject which takes some controversial questions about the Civil War and asks if they are true or not.

Introducing ‘Following in the Footsteps of Oliver Cromwell’

cromwellcover  With  135 full length biographies of Oliver Cromwell, why write another one?

The title gives the game away. This first half of the  book is a history and geography of Oliver Cromwell, and the second half is a review of his reputation after death. This is a new angle, suggested to me by the good people at Pen and Sword publishers, who know a USP when they see one, and it is now part of a series.

It covers the places where he was brought up and educated- Huntingdon and Cambridge, and later the places he lived St Ives and Ely.  The book examines the influence of these places on his early upbringing and guides you to some of the places where you can still follow in his footsteps, including Hinchingbrooke House, the home of his uncle; his grammar school in Huntingdon, now a  Cromwell Museum, and Cromwell’s house in Ely, now a major tourist attraction as a museum.

Its not just a tourist guide; it is a biography of his life with a particular emphasis on place. Place does matter; men like Cromwell, opposed to Charles I and the religious changes of the 1630s, where more likely to come from East Anglia than anywhere else.

Other places covered are the battlefields of Edgehill, Marston Moor and Naseby, Basing House, St Mary’s Putney where he debated (and rejected)  democracy, Westminster Hall, where the trial of the king was held, and the Banqueting House, where he was executed. It also features:

  • Putney- where Cromwell crushed the Leveller revolt
  • The crucial and controversial events of Drogheda and Wexford
  • The Battle of Worcester, where his enemies were defeated
  • His home  at Hampton Court Palace .

The last part is Cromwell’s reputation after death. This includes his changing reputation over time, the debate about him being a war criminal, the travels of his embalmed skull, depictions of Cromwell in films, and history of things named after him. This includes a famous stream engine and a supermarket gin.

Its different- its not an academic book; it is an introduction to Cromwell because it covers all the main parts of his life; its a book for people who want to go and visit the places mentioned but the book is still interesting if you don’t . If its your 20th book on Cromwell you will get some new perspectives.

Please consider buying a copy or request it from a library. Publisher details here.

Check Amazon ( but its not always the cheapest; believe me!) and preview the first part of the book for free.

If you are interested in the English Civil War; try these 

My unusual biography of Oliver Cromwell 

My ‘Fact and Fiction’ approach the the English Civil War 

A study of all 59 men who signed the death warrant of Charles I in 1649

My social history of the Regency ( 1811-1820) is the Dark Days of Georgian Britain 


When Oliver Cromwell came to Lancashire- the Battle of Preston 1648


The whole article is here-  commissioned by the Lancashire Evening Post in 2019 

My four published history books, three of them on the Civil War 

Introducing ‘ Charles I’s Executioners’

Introducing ‘The English Civil War: Fact and Fiction

Introducing ‘Following in the Footsteps of Oliver Cromwell’

The Civil War Diggers on Film – ‘Winstanley’ (1975)


winstanley film                               Winstanley (1975, British Film Institute Player and DVD)

This is a fine film, best suited for people who know a little about the civil war before they watch it. It starts at the end of the civil war, with radical soldiers disappointed at the gains they have made after defeating the king. The fighting is as a gruesome and accurate as the budget could allow, made even more grisly by the use of black and white, which continues throughout the film.

The soldiers are shown to be equally disappointed the Putney debates, which is presented as a little more noisy than it actually was; there were no grimy gap- tooth soldiers shouting at Cromwell at the real event . There are accurate quotations from the major players from Ireton and the Levellers, and the film honestly shows Cromwell chairing the meeting and strongly suggests that he was opting out of any meaningful discussion. The film then focuses on Cromwell’s crushing of the Leveller rebellion at Ware. This was not the last army rebellion; that was at St John’s Church at Burford, but then a field is cheaper to film than a church.

It is made clear that, for people like Ireton and Cromwell, the abolition of the monarchy did not mean the end of property, or even the extension of democracy, and the film then segues into the story of Gerrard Winstanley and his friend and fellow Digger William Everard.

working diggersThe film is highly realistic. Only seventeenth century breeds of cattle graze the fields. The land the Diggers squatted on is wet, windy and smoky, and the poor people are filthy and wrapped in many layers of fetid clothing. They fall down mud banks and crawl up hills. Those who do not speak still act through close up of faces and seventeenth- century looking teeth and hollow cheeks.

The film has a documentary feel. It benefits from a commentary by the Winstanley character in which his views are truly started, and so the full complexity of the story can be told. The Diggers are not loved by the local poor people, because they are squatting on common land that was partially used by the poor to graze and collect wood. They were ploughing land that had been left as common because it was so poor and unproductive. None of these contradictions are ignored, but what shines through is their innocence and non- violence, and at the end, explains what happens to people who innocently proclaim their peacefulness to cynical people who hate them. The film is accurate even when it conflicts with modern views For example, the Diggers believed in holding property in common, but believed that women should be obedient to their husbands. The film is strong enough to prefer the historical truth to the beliefs of today’s audience.

The Diggers are hated by the property owners because they are a threat to them, even though Winstanley insists that they would not use force to take property. In any case, violence is mostly used against them, by one of the characters was an enemy of the Diggers in real life, Parson Platt. Platt confronts Winstanley on the blasted heath and accuses him of manipulating those for who poverty and ignorance had turned their heads. His reply ‘then the fault is with poverty and ignorance’ perhaps still applies today when people blame the poor for their poverty or the ignorant for their ignorance.
The Diggers want to turn the world upside down and live a simple life. A Ranter appears in their midst and the peaceable Diggers live with him, despite his odd behaviour. This is fiction; Winstanley rejected the Ranters and thought that they were a government designed stick to beat him with, and nobody who identified as such would have been welcome.
sidIn the fiction, the Ranter is played by Sid Rawle (left) who was a squatter and land reformer in real life. Ranters believed that there was no such thing as sin, so this character adds entertainment value to the film. Sid Rawle himself had seven children by different mothers, and was called by others the ‘ King of the Hippies’ in the 1960s, and you get the strong impression that Sid was playing himself, even when he runs around naked a camp full of long haired Diggers. He probably did this in real life too; and the 1960s Hippies do bear some similarities to the Diggers and the Ranters; perhaps some would argue that another similarity was that they all grew up in the end and became accountants. The real Winstanley was a corn chandler, property owner, and church warden in later life.

winstanley quote



Above are my three books on the civil war.

1 The story of all 59 regicides of Charles I, putting their stories in the context of the execution. Publisher’s short details here. My longer details here

2 The English Civil War in the form of some fact and fiction questions on the main points of discussion. Publisher’s short details here. My longer details here

3 An unusual biography of Oliver Cromwell. Learn why it is unique here, or my longer introduction here.

If you are interest in the social history of the British Regency period, try this

Please consider recommending my book to your UK library too!



John Evelyn’s Civil War- 1642-1660

picture civil warThe second most famous diary of the seventeenth century is that of John Evelyn, a prosperous and cultured Surrey gentleman, who kept an extensive account of his life, more of less from beginning to end. They are certainly worth a read.

First, the problems. John isn’t Samuel Pepys. For a start, he wrote his diary in plain English and didn’t, like Samuel, use code when being naughty, and therefore being interesting. Evelyn was a Royalist, which needs to be taken into account when the story is read, and was only 21 when the civil war broke out in 1642. He also left the country for a fair amount of the war and goes on a version of the Grand Tour. When something really important happens, he tells us how he feels, but this is not one of the reflective diaries that tell us how his mind works.

Next, the good news. Despite his age and his holiday in the middle of the war he was quite well connected. He was no fanatic. Despite being extremely religious, he was only a moderate Royalist. He wrote for a long time, not the ten years of Pepys. Although it is not always clear why he wrote the diary, he does not seem to be writing to twist the arm of people in the future; so we can proceed with caution.

john e

He was born into a respectable gentry stock, in a brick built house big enough to impress. He was baptised in the local parish church of ‘the then glorious CHURCH OF ENGLAND’ (he was writing this later in life, when the national church was being taken apart by puritans). He was put to the wet nurse at birth. His saw elder married sister die at 20 after childbirth-the baby died too. A year later, he saw his mother die aged 37. He literally saw her, bring present at her deathbed. He heard her asking that she should have an inexpensive funeral and the money spent on the poor. John reported ‘for she feared, that God had a little punished her for the pomp and expense of my sisters’

John was sent to his grandfather in Lewes at the age of five. He schooling began a four and continued in Lewes. He had private tutors for Latin and French aged 8, still in Sussex. He would have hardly seen his family up to this point. Even without the civil war, the diary is worth reading as a description of a different world to ours.

By 1637 having failed at school, he was sent to Balliol College, Oxford. He approves of Archbishop Laud, who was Chancellor of University. He still has no interest or knowledge of any political crises, but does have his first cup of cafée– 15 years before the first documented coffee shop in Britain. He does not make his first political comment until 1638. ‘This was our fatal year, wherein the rebellious Scots opposed the king, upon pretence of the introduction of some new ceremonies’. This was not his main interest- he liked music, travelling around the country cheaply and noting every time he took the blessed sacrament. In a religious age, he was very, very religious.

John was present when the Short parliament was called. By this time he was a student lawyer at Middle Temple; he seemed more worried that his lodgings were up four flights of stairs than the political situation. It is clearly a myth that everybody in London in 1640 was obsessed with politics, but eventually politics came to him.

He was present at the assault on Laud’s Palace by a mob ‘from Southwark’, showing a south of the river snobbery that we would recognise today. Then, the personal matters that are often forgotten when politics are discussed, his father seems to be dying and he rushes home. His father recovers. He returns to London in time to see the opening of the Long parliament, calling it ‘ungrateful foolish and fatal. . . the beginning of our sorrows for twenty years after’.

Then his father dies and he admits that he has been ‘a little raw, vain, uncertain and very wary’, but the tone of his diary changes as he realises how much trouble his country was in. He saw the trial of Strafford and noted the malice of the spectators. He also saw the execution, but then most people did, it was one of the best attended executions in British history. He was scathing. No law had been broken; a new one had been created from nothing to condemn him. That was pretty much the truth.

Evelyn was now an orphan, not interested in politics and decided to ‘see this one out’ and go to Europe. He started a lifetime of looking at things and reporting back. His diary is almost a tourist guide. It was pure ‘cruise ship’ tourism (apologies to cruise lovers), moving quickly and without much else but description throughout Europe. He loved curiosities, inventions and buildings.

He kissed the exiled Queen of Bohemia’s (see picture)  hand in The Hague (she was Charles I sister, Elizabeth) and saw his first elephant in Rotterdam. He went to a Synagogue, a Presbyterian church and visited some of the Independents who were just beginning to raise their heads in London. After three months he returned to London via Dover and Canterbury, where he saw the stained glass windows, soon to be destroyed by Puritans.

His dairy records the beginning of the Irish rebellion in November 1641, but his main reaction was that it was spoiling his 21st birthday. . He witnessed the arrival of the king from his ill fated visit to Scotland; this was the last time Charles could rely on a good reception from the London crowd.

He had been chosen as the man to organise the Christmas party for the lawyers. However, it seems that he did not have the heart to celebrate as hard as last years. He fails to mention the rioting that was taking place more or less outside his lodgings.

John started the year 1642 in denial about the outbreak of war. Although he visits London now and then he seems to be constantly on his travels. He mentions the battle of Edgehill and then is suddenly, but not very convincingly involved in the Battle of Brentford-’I came in with arm just at the retreat’. He was too late to enjoy the king’s victory.

At this point he gives up the struggle and leaves the country-with the king’s consent. Charles, despite his victory was retreating to Oxford (Evelyn says Gloucester- you get the impression that he is not paying attention at times)-the first of many odd decisions. The Evelyn’s family’s estates were so near to London that they would easily fall into the hands of parliament if he was seen as a delinquent. He also seemed to be hoping that his half-hearted military effort had not been noticed. On 7 December he is still in London ‘nobody knowing of my having been in his Majesty’s army’

Evelyn had beliefs, but he was not fanatical. People like him don’t get much of a mention in this book. But at this point he runs away and does more of the ‘Grand Tour’ with a long visit to France, Italy and Switzerland. The war in his own country does not seem to cross his mind until his path crosses with Queen Henrietta Maria, fleeing the country, in 1644. He has a clear interest in architecture and gardens, and does not care that it was all created by the Catholics that he was supposed to fear. He likes his food too- he discovers the truffle ‘a certain earth nut, found out by a hog, trained up to it’ This was the life; a life that large numbers of the gentry in Britain had given up for a civil war-but not our John. He continues to travel and eat thorough Europe buying and sending homes works of art with no apparent interest in the state of the nation.

He witnesses a circumcision in Rome December 1644 and describes it in the same neutral tones as the works of art that he sees; he visits a sauna and is rubbed by a naked youth; the Venetian carnival is called ’the universal madness’. You do get the impression that he is collecting experiences. Now and then he meets the war, but swerves around it. He ends up on the same coach out of Padua with a son of Christopher Wray, a parliamentary officer- he was ‘by no means welcome to us’- he said bravely, in his diary, but not to his face.

Evelyn married in June 1647, and returned to England on 4 October; before he undertook the journey, he made his will. When he returned, he paid a visit to King Charles and moved around the country on family and personal business. While buying and selling property, he reported back on Royalist uprising in Kent and the various attempts to bring peace between ‘ his majesty and the rebels’ On 6 December, when the army was removing those MPs who wanted to settle with the king, he was lending thousands pounds to his friends; in January he seems back in the centre of actions and has harsh things to say about Hugh Peter and John Bradshaw. He was not present at the execution but finds out about it from others; he takes the day as a fast; but the art collecting continue.

(continues below)

Here are two books by me that you might wish to consider. Blog and books are different.



1   A general, fun guide to the big Civil War questions here
2    A detailed biography of Oliver Cromwell, focussing on the important places he visited here.


In April 1649 he made an inventory of all his works of art, putting all of them in the same place for the first time; he had dispersed them because of the fear that they would be stolen. He also, like many mainstream Protestants, attended private services at home where they could use the prayer book that had been abolished by the puritans; but in the same way he was no too bothered by war when he was in Europe, he seemed determined to continue his life when the world had been turned upside down. Like many people living in a dictatorship, now and them, he created a private world to avoid the horrible reality.

He returned to France in July. It’s clear from his diary that the rich could travel easily and quite anonymously to the continent, but there were lots of pitfalls on the way. His ship was chased by pirates; he was sea sick and some French soldiers stole his spaniel. On way back to England in June 1650 he gets sunburn. Back in Paris he continues to enjoy the social and artistic round, often with Royalists, who, unlike him, are not really able to go back. He is not really interested in the war; he notes the defeat of the Scots in a single line of regret in September 1650. A year later he is mortified at Cromwell’s victory at Worcester, but has not yet mentioned his name.

By February 1652 he was back in London and Cromwell gets his first mention as a mourner at Henry Ireton’s funeral ‘Cromewell and his mock parliament men’. He then settled in Deptford, deciding to stay in England ‘there no being so little of change for the better’. He doesn’t like it at all; he manages to find a church was a Church of England priest in it ‘most of them are filled with independents and phanatiques’.
The sightseeing stops for a bit; instead he describes the uncomfortable details about living in London. He tells us a lot about the day- to- day battle to keep healthy is the face of constant threats. He gets the quartan ague (mild malaria) regularly and the purging leads to haemorrhoids. His friends and family die regularly, often and unexpectedly, but John was able to cope. Apart from preachers that he does not like, the main problem seems to be weather, food, disease and crime.

Evelyn himself was a victim of some of these things; and he takes it in his stride in a way that would make you a positive hero today. His private world continues. He is disgusted to see tradesman preaching in his new local church in Deptford. He is convinced that he could learn nothing from a cobbler; and when Church of England preaching finally finishes at the end of 1656, he regards it as the ‘mournfullest day of my life. ’ Christmas and Easter services become illegal and he has to worship at home or visit a secret group in London.
The birth of his first child, Richard in 1652 has sixteen words. His second son, John, contained thirty words. This seems harsh but it is not meant to be unfeeling. The most moving part of the diary is the near fatal choking death of John; force fed bread by a maid. Both children died early and the details still feel distressing from a distance of three centuries. On the death of his second son he notes that ‘Here ends the joy of life and for which I go mourning into the grave’. Yet he still gave his third son the same first name-John. Once again- this is a different world.

John’s time in England is a brilliant description of the state of England under Cromwell. He even went on another tour of Britain and managed to be present at the major events. He does not have a good word for Cromwell as might be expected- ‘arch rebel, pretend Protector- and describes the funeral in 1658 ‘It was the joyfullest funeral that I ever saw, for there were none that cried, but dogs’

He became braver as the government of the Cromwells falls apart. On 25 April 1659, he cries out for God’s protection in the face of anarchy and confusion and by January 1660 he is openly calling for the king to return. You can understand how the change happened so quickly as thousands of others like John found their courage at about the same time. He talks a lot about the conflict in 1660 when it turns his way; he witnesses the arrival of Monck and the king touching people for scrofula. He pays his poll tax-gladly- to be rid of the army. He did not see the execution of the king killers and saw the aftermath- ‘ I saw their quarters, cut, mangled and wreaking’. It was God’s providence.

John Evelyn was to live on until 1707-living, visiting, eating and collecting for the whole of his life. However, the rebellion that he detested, and tried his best to ignore, had still changed the country for ever.


My book on late Georgian Britain 




The worst film ever about Oliver Cromwell? To Kill a King (2003)

There are lots of reasons to watch this Channel 4 film. Learning about the civil war would not be the first of them. It turns the complex, multi-sided conflict into a fiery bromance between Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, a very close relationship that did not really exist in the way shown.
It started accurately with the horror of the battle of Naseby, although the relatively low budget ruled out showing the battle itself. The opening scene seems too dramatic to be true, but is sensational enough to grip the views at the start of a film. After that, most of the fighting is done by the two men.

The film makes the correct point that it Fairfax’s triumph and not Cromwell’s. Fairfax is shown as handsome, popular and committed to beat the king in battle. Cromwell is the second in charge and takes every chance to promote his friend Tom’s greatness. Nobody is calling anybody a military genius.

Anne_de_Vere,_Lady_Fairfax                                                                        Anne Fairfax
There is a strong woman in this film, just like there were strong women in the civil war. This time it is Lady Anne Fairfax, wife of Thomas; Henrietta Maria, as a strong influence on another main character, would have got in the way. Anne is the third person in the bromance; she visits her husband on the evening after his victory for some soft focussed, fluffy pillowed and clean linen lovemaking. Cromwell waits outside, guarding his friend, with just the slight hint that he was jealous. The bromance verges on the homoerotic at times; at the point of the execution of the king, Fairfax asked Cromwell if he is acting from sexual jealousy. However, Cromwell spends more time cursing Anne during the film and some of his sad faces after he sees the married couple together does not make it clear who he really in love with.

In order to focus on this sexual tension, Elizabeth Cromwell is presented as a frumpy looking puritan wife who couldn’t make a pottage without people puking up, and is bullied by her husband; this works for the film but is inaccurate. The Royalists were later to nickname her ‘Joan’ and comment that the only skills she had were in the kitchen, so this comment, meant to be nasty, also contradicts the film.

The film correctly shows Fairfax slowly turning away from the parliamentary cause, and shows how King Charles tries to manipulate Fairfax’s loyalty to the crown. When Charles asks Fairfax for the return of his earlier loyalty, Fairfax replies that his loyalty would return when Charles acted like a true king again. That’s how Fairfax really felt. Fairfax had fought for the king in the Scottish Bishop’s War in 1639; this is not mentioned in the film, as there is no way the bromance could be complicated by any mentions of Scotland and Ireland.

That was the crucial difference between the two men; Fairfax thought a defeat and the removal of evil advisors would do the trick; Cromwell was drawn to the conclusion that he had to be removed, without the film really explaining why he thought that.

charles i coverThe film shows parliament dominated by the corrupt MPs who wanted to settle with the king, and shows the parliament purged by the army in December 1648. In real life, Colonel Pride camped outside with a list, while in the film it was a full scale invasion of the House of Commons with Presbyterian being pulled out by the ears. Once again, the detail was incorrect, but the message still gives the right general impression. The film accurately shows a grumpy and conniving King Charles constantly harping on about the divine right of kings, even to the point of punching a servant, which the real Charles, who sincerely hated violence, would never do.

The film does not really mention the role of the army in negotiating with the king; all the agreements are written by Cromwell himself; according to the film, the army merely wanted to be paid and go home, while in real life they wanted to get paid and have a say in the agreement with the king. Charles I tears up agreements and cannot be trusted, but both Anne and Thomas Fairfax stick with him. This is true; but instead of going back to Yorkshire and keeping his head down as he did in reality, Fairfax sticks around to squabble with his friend.

Events are shortened. Cromwell and Fairfax spend a lot of time petulantly arguing in rooms clearly built fifty years after their deaths. Soon the king is on trial for his life and Lady Anne is in the audience. The trial accurately shows the king’s defence- basically asking how ordinary people could claim to judge a lawful king. The execution warrant is drawn up before the trail, which historians believe may be partly true, with half the names already on it, but in the film, this gives Cromwell the chance to taunt his troublesome friend with it. That didn’t happen.

picture civil war
An introduction to the English Civil War.

For drama’s sake, Fairfax and Anne are shown at the trial. In real life he was absent, having decided that trial was one step too far for him. The film shows Fairfax picking up his wife and then bowing to the king. Fairfax had visited the king to enquire about his health, perhaps a bit crass a few days before your appointment with the axe but did nothing as public as shown in the film. Anne protests bravely during the trial; in reality she was in real danger if being shot.

There is no puritanism in the film apart from all Cromwell’s supporters wearing plain clothes and a stern expression. Fairfax has his long hair; Cromwell has his wart. The only real problem for somebody interested in the civil war, the only unforgivable one, is that Cromwell is presented as a very violent man. He beats up a soldier who tries to hurt his mate Fairfax; he uses what looks like water boarding to torture and then kill an informer; he strings up a dozen ‘traitors’ when the king is executed and is grimly enjoying it; he shots dead a man in the street who is selling souvenir locks of the dead king’s hair. The execution scene is inaccurate and grisly. It seems odd that Fairfax still actually likes him; but Cromwell is always forgiven by Fairfax, and Fairfax still follows him about.

The last twenty minutes of the film bear no resemblance to historical reality, and to list them would be small minded and take a long time. Perhaps just one- on his death bed, the real Oliver Cromwell asked for reassurance that he was one of God’s elect, and was destined for heaven; in the film he waves a gun around.



Here are three books by me that you might wish to consider. Please recommend them to you UK library. Blog and books are different.



A general, fun guide to the big Civil War questions here.

A detailed biography of Oliver Cromwell, focussing on the important places he visited.

A new book, published in October 2020, which takes a panoramic view of all the regicides, not just the most famous ones.