cover image The King and the Gentleman: Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell, 1599-1649

The King and the Gentleman: Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell, 1599-1649

Derek Wilson, Author St. Martin's Griffin $27.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-312-24405-7

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.)