The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewomen, Soldiers and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain

Diane Purkiss, Author . Basic $26.95 (627p) ISBN 978-0-465-06756-5

There are many ways to approach the history of the 17th-century upheaval that beheaded a king and laid the foundations for democratic revolutions to come, and this absorbing, ungainly study tries them all. Oxford historian Purkiss (The Witch in History ) draws a gallery of sharp biographical sketches of participants from Cromwell to ordinary soldiers, paying special attention to the oft-neglected doings of women, like aristocratic intriguer Lucy Hay and radical dissenter Anna Trapnel. She also slathers on plenty of social history, digressing on everything from contemporary housing to cookbooks. And she interweaves an avowedly disjointed, episodic kings-and-battles narrative of military campaigns and political maneuverings, replete with dramatic eyewitness accounts. Fixated on trees rather than the forest, Purkiss offers no clear overview of events or much coherent interpretation of the conflict, aside from some facile psychoanalysis ("Charles I's longing to make the monarchy independent of any hurtful criticism proceeded from the bullied child he was"). The book doesn't work as a general introduction, but readers who already know some of the history will find it full of colorful personalities and scenes and evocative period writings that bring to life the people, culture and violent turmoil of the age. Photos. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/15/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-00-715062-5
Paperback - 627 pages - 978-0-465-06757-2
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