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The Tyrannicide Brief: The Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold Hardcover – October 31, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


Praise from the United Kingdom for
The Tyrannicide Brief

“Those terrible, blood-soaked years are vividly conjured up by Geoffrey Robertson. This is a fine book: well researched, well written, well indexed and well illustrated. The fact there is no bibliography is evidence that Robertson has broken new ground. Not only has he written the first biography of John Cooke, one of the pivotal figures of the mid-seventeenth century, but he has illuminated the legal process by which a powerful monarch was held to account by the law of the land.”
–Sunday Herald

“In telling his story, Geoffrey Robertson has redeemed from obscurity an unsung hero of true greatness, a selfless champion of the poor and a law reformer of rare distinction. More important, he has shed invigorating light on the course of the English Civil War.”
–The Spectator

“Geoffrey Robertson provides us with some fascinating insights into this significant case. What makes the book especially illuminating are the parallels with modern practice . . . [A] work of great compassion and, at a time when it seems to be fashionable for politicians to denigrate lawyers, an essential read for anyone who believes in the fearless independence of the law.”
–The Times

“[Robertson’s] forensic intelligence can penetrate where professional historians have not yet reached.”
–Literary Review

“A work of literary advocacy as elegant, impassioned and original as any the author can ever have laid before a court.”
–The Observer

About the Author

Geoffrey Robertson is a leading human rights lawyer and a UN war-crimes judge who has won landmark rulings on civil liberties from the highest courts in Britain, Europe, and the British Commonwealth. He was involved in the cases against General Pinochet and Hastings Banda and in the training of judges for the trial of Saddam Hussein. Robertson is the author of Crimes Against Humanity, which has been an inspiration for the global justice movement. Born in Australia, he now lives in London.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 429 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; 1st ed edition (October 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701176024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701176020
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,138,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dizwell on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-told tale of the background to the English Civil Wars of the mid-Seventeenth Century, and of the establishment of the first (and, currently, only) English Republic. Specifically, it recounts the contributions of one John Cooke, who turns out to have been years ahead of his time in lobbying for legal reform, justice for the poor, and professional ethics amongst barristers. Cooke has been something of a footnote in most histories of the period, but Geoffrey Robertson reveals just how original was his thinking -some of his ideas were implemented in English law only as recently as 2000 -some 350 years late!

Cooke was the first to elaborate a witness's right to avoid self-incrimination, and the U.S.'s famous Fifth Amendment thus owes its existence, ultimately, to him. He was also the first person ever to prosecute a head of state, and to elucidate the idea that sovereign immunity should not extend to committing acts of tyranny or crimes against humanity. These are timeless themes, and by writing the biography of a hitherto obscure 17th Century lawyer, Robertson has neatly emphasised just how timeless they are: as a sometime judge for the UN War Crimes court for Sierra Leone, the relevance of sovereign immunity to Robertson, and through him to us, is obvious.

Robertson writes witty, elegant prose, with enough gentle jibes against fellow practitioners of the barrister's art to keep his readers chuckling gently. It's a gifted insider's view of how the legal profession should conduct itself, and the history angle is used skillfully to make a current case.

In short, it's a brilliant book, written well. It's a fascinating story about an inspired man living in interesting times, but it is simultaneously so much more than that: it's relevant, and un-put-downable. I loved it.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Edward Patrick Flaherty on March 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Along with Dickens' Bleak House, this book is a must read for all common law lawyers and those who aspire to join the profession (to be read after Bleak House!!). It is a riveting story unto itself, describing the first piercing (and the last for another 300 years) of the shield of sovereign immunity by a low-born, commoner barrister whose courage, character and conviction allowed him to face down and bring to book one of the most brutal dictators of his day, King Charles Stuart I of England. The parallels between the trial of Charles 360 years ago and those of Milosevic and Saddam today are unnerving to say the least.

If only we had Robertson's protagonist, John Cooke, with us today to take on similar prosecutions--Charles' trial , sentencing and execution took all of 2 weeks--a shameful rebuke to those incompetent bureaucrats running our present day War Crimes' Tribunals (which incompetents recently allowed Milosevic to slip the "noose" of justice, such as it is today, by dying in his bed after more than 4 years of aimless prosecution). To make matters worse, Charles was probably even afforded purer due process.

Robertson's exhortation in his epilogue to human rights lawyers and campaigners to work towards the passage of an anti-tyranny covention under the auspices of the UN to allow for the lawful removal (as opposed to the current reliance on the principle of might makes right) of sovereign dictators and despots who are culpable of tyranny and other crimes against humanity towards their own citizens is spot on. The problem is that the UN today in many ways acts with the impunity of a tyrant towards its own staff and other third parties, and can never be trusted to be the court of last resort to prosecute the likes of Saddam, Mugabe and their ilk.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I confess: I like the way Geoffrey Robertson thinks and the way he writes even if I don't always agree with his conclusions. This book is a great read. If you can suspend your knowledge of the history (and any associated bias) and look at the events through the perspective of the law, then this is a wonderful fresh look at the legal issues uncovered/exposed by these events.

This book is not just about the events of 17th century England. The issues discussed reverberate today in the trials of modern war criminals and leaders.

Highly recommended to all who have an interest in history, the law and contemporary international events.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A truly brilliant analyses of the single most critical trial English legal history, very well written, thoroughly researched and blending a trial of an arrogant lying brigand who believed in two critical absolute: firstly, that as a king he had a divine right to rule his subjects as if they were mere sheep; and secondly that as he could do no wrong he could lie, cheat, break the laws of England and all the while wrapping himself in the bloody flag of absolutism.
The 'restoration' of his son Charles II taught the Stuarts nothing at all. Charles II was even worse than his father even going to the extent of plundering the graves of all of those that his minions could find who had (or hose families had) any role in the trial of Charles I and sentencing their bodies to be dragged out of the ground and displayed in such public places as he could find, He also had the participants in his late unlamented fathers trial, and their families, prosecuted and punished by having them half hanged, (that is choked but cut down before they died) their genitals removed with a red hot knife before slitting them from throat to crotch (still alive if possible) beheading them and then having their bodies hacked up into pieces and then left their bits to the kings mercy.
This trial has much relevance to today, When heads of state try to disinter the doctrine (in modern form) of their divine or semi divine rights that permit them to ignore the law with the impunity that was once the right only of the actual head of state acting within his or her powers.
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