English historians, it seems, never tire of examining the relationship of Charles I to his archrival, Oliver Cromwell. An unpopular ruler, Charles reigned as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 to 1649. His religious intolerance, exacerbation of class divisions, and financial recklessness provided ample fodder for Royalist opposition, led by Cromwell. A far more skilled military leader and politician than the King, Cromwell led the radical Independents to victory in the civil wars of the 1640s. His popularity and challenge to the monarchy ultimately led to its abolition as well as the execution of the King. Cromwell governed as Lord Protector until his death in 1658.
With The King and the Gentleman, Derek Wilson fills a scholarly void by examining the rulers' formative years as well as their religious convictions. According to the author, only a thorough understanding of both in context provides an accurate understanding of them as adults and their opposing visions for England. One of England's leading biographers and novelists, Wilson has not written for the initiate to English history; he expects a solid historical foundation from his readers. Those who find the conflict of Charles and Cromwell as absorbing and deserving of fresh insight will consider The King and the Gentleman a must-read. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack
From Publishers Weekly
In a full-blooded example of old-fashioned storytelling, biographer Wilson (Rothschild; Hans Holbein) attempts a dual biography of Charles I of England and his fatal nemesis. Hoping to free his subjects from an academic cage of "isms," Wilson aims to restore the human face of the 17th century, paying special attention to Charles and Oliver in their formative years and above all to their religious views. He suggests that both wished to transcend the Puritan education that had instilled in them their immutable faith: while Charles rose ever nearer sensuous Catholicism, Cromwell gravitated toward charismatic evangelism. Direct and accessible, often to the point of clumsiness, Wilson writes with impatient immediacy and a minimum of footnotes, intending "to bridge the gap between the archive and the airline lounge, the study and the bedsit." There are illuminating flashes of color: we learn that the aging Cromwell once began a pillow fight during a constitutional debate. However, these moments are shrouded in a tedious mass of detail the bedsit reader will struggle with. The chapters on "Genes" and "Kith and Kin" present a befuddling barrage of names, and despite a nod to psychohistory, the focus on character is repeatedly lost in the shuffle. The author seems unaware of the lively controversy about parent-child relations in early modern Europe and, despite an au courant bibliography, shows a striking lack of interest in scholarly debate or analysis. While much may be explained by Wilson's desire to write a popular history, this remains an overlong and intellectually cavalier narrative. 16 pages b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Dec.)
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