The Regicides and the Execution of Charles I (review)

So, it has been a while since my last, yet again. Things I learned: teaching American History is very easy and Winstanley had a very interesting mind. I am currently trying to rework an article to make it publishable (we will see how that goes) and am looking for full-time employment. It is likely that I will be leaving academia. Oh, and my first article just came out in Parliamentary History. But on to the topic of this post.

I will be writing a partial review of Jason Peacey, ed., The Regicides and the Execution of Charles I (New York: PALGRAVE, 2001). I have read chapters from this book before, but I recently called it back up from the library to look it back over while putting some polish on my article. I have not read all of the pieces and I will not even be reviewing all of the chapters that I have. For instance, Jason Peacey’s chapter, “Reporting a Revolution: a Failed Propaganda Campaign” is worth a read, but because I discuss it in my article, you can see some of my take on it in my article, if it ever comes out. Instead I will be reviewing these chapters:  John Morrill and Philip Baker, “Oliver Cromwell, the Regicide and the Sons of Zeruiah”; John Adamson, “The Frighted Junto: Perceptions of Ireland, and the Last Attempts at Settlement with Charles I”; Sean Kelsey, “Staging the Trial of Charles I”; David Scott, “Motives for King-Killing”; Andrew Sharp, “The Levellers and the End of Charles I”; and Elliot Vernon, “The Quarrel of the Covenant: the London Presbyterians.”

One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the regicide is when Oliver Cromwell decided to kill the king. After all, his decision was the most important. One of the traditional dates for this decision is late December (perhaps Dec. 26) 1648 and the failure of the earl of Denbigh’s mission to reach some kind of accord with the king. This mission has traditionally been dated Dec. 25. Gardiner believed that while Cromwell had wanted to save the king’s life, Charles’s refusal to even meet with Denbigh turned Cromwell against him (Gardiner, 4:285-7). Recently, Mark Kishlansky has thrown this chronology into disarray. In “Mission Impossible: Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, and the Regicide” (2010), Kishlansky argues that the Denbigh mission never happened. I bring this up because Kishansky’s argument, which appears sound, has to force us to reevaluate the sequence of decision-making, but these chapters were written nearly a decade before Kishlansky’s piece was published. They all assume the existence of the Denbigh mission. I want to be clear, I do not fault them for this; everyone accepted the existence of the Denbigh mission. Their arguments just have to be taken with a little more salt.

Ch. 1: Morrill and Baker, ” Oliver Cromwell, the Regicide and the Sons of Zeruiah,” 14-35.

Morrill and Baker seek to show the evolution of Cromwell’s thinking about Charles from October 1647. They do this using the lens of biblical allusion. Perhaps my favorite line from the whole piece is that “there is not a shred of evidence from this period that Cromwell read anything other than the Bible” (17). The authors argue that Cromwell was not opposed to monarchy itself before the regicide, but he became convinced by early November 1647 that God wanted Charles to be struck down, but he was uncertain about his and the army’s role.

The piece gets its title from one of Cromwell’s allusions. When Col. Harrison called for the prosecution of the king in 1647, Cromwell made a reference to David saying that he would not prosecute Joab for killing Abner because “the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him.” The implication was that while Charles did deserve punishment, he was too dangerous for justice. The constant refrain throughout the chapter is that Cromwell wanted Charles dead, but also believed that killing him was a bad idea.

Morrill and Baker conclude that Cromwell was resolved on trying Charles by Nov. 25, 1648, but he had not committed himself to abolishing monarchy or necessarily killing the king, though the latter was a definite possibility. They show that Cromwell was not interested in overthrowing the monarchy through his references to the story of Gideon and Isaiah.

My own grasp of these biblical allusions is very weak, so I am not in a position to evaluate their accuracy, but from what I can understand Morrill and Baker have done something very interesting and useful here. It is generally accepted that Cromwell was a very devout man, and so it seems odd that there has not been more of these studies before now. In the absence of clear evidence about Cromwell’s sentiments leading up the regicide, his biblical reading and meditation are the best ways to understand his thinking.

Ch, 2: Adamson, “The Frighted Junto,” 36-70.

It may not surprise you to learn that Kishlansky took a very unflattering view of Adamson’s chapter. If there was not Denbigh mission, many parts of Adamson’s argument become suspect. However, he does follow through on one of his main purposes for his paper: to remind us that Charles was the king of three kingdoms. He also wants to explain the delay between Pride’s Purge and the king’s trial and the last minute attempts to make an accommodation with the king, particularly the Denbigh mission, despite the fact that the New Model’s “clarity of purpose . . . had shown through its public manifestos in November” (36-7).

Adamson, in keeping with his views of the wars as a final baronial revolt, puts a handful of lords at the center of the politics of the regicide. The delay of the trial was part of an attempt to get some of the Independent peers on board, or at least to keep them from becoming enemies. Warwick was a key figure in this because he controlled the fleet. Because of the “revolted ships” (mutinous ships that broke off from the rest of the fleet) and a potential invasion from Ireland, it was very important to keep Warwick happy.

Adamson makes a lot of guesses about secret meetings and peace proposals. For instance, he argues that Warwick brought proposals to settle the kingdom of some sort to Fairfax, but it is not clear what those were. Also, he argues that the Independent peers used the new of a trade agreement between the Dutch and the Kilkenny Confederation, making them defensive allies, to put pressure on the army to reach an accord with the king. The evidence for these meetings and plans do not appear to rest on clear evidence, but appear to be rumors more often than not.

There is much clearer evidence for the fear of Ormond. The army was enraged by Charles’s attempt to start a third war. Adamson also argues that the Denbigh mission was part of an attempt to halt plans for an Irish invasion. However, with the failure of the Denbigh mission, Cromwell began to accept that there would have to be a trial. Adamson believes that Cromwell had been trying to postpone or avoid a trial, and instead wanted to exact justice against notable royalists.

When it looked like Charles, Ormond, and Inchiquin were planning to go forward with an Irish invasion, the Lords tried to get parliament to pass a bill that made it treason for a king to raise a new war against parliament, which would have absolved him for the last two wars, but not if he launched a third; it was a threat. According to Adamson, attempts to reach an agreement with the king to halt an invasion continued, perhaps into the trial. However, “what the trial established, then, far more decisively than the monarch’s guilt for crimes past, was Charles I’s continuing determination to fight another war” (61). Adamson ends with the provocative line: “On the scaffold outside the Banqueting House, Charles I became the first casualty of the Cromwellian reconquest of Ireland” (62).

If there was no Denbigh mission, than much of Adamson’s argument does not hold up. Even so, there is not much supporting evidence for the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that the Lords were supposed to have been behind. However, the arguments concerning the fears of an Irish invasion appear sound. So much focus has been made on Charles’s “blood guilt” that, in much of what I have seen, not enough attention has been paid to Charles’s intention to start a third war. If the second was damning, the third would have been wantonly evil. In this way, Adamson has integrated the story of the regicide into the revisionist “wars of the three kingdoms.”

Ch. 3: Kelsey, “Staging the Trial of Charles I,” 71-93.

If you have not read any of Kelsey’s pieces, he wishes to prove that the trial of the king was not originally intended to be a show trial, but was part of an “extended negotiation” with the king. This negotiation failed because Charles refused to submit to the court and enter a plea. The piece in this book refers to that argument, but seeks to make a much more guarded point, that the people involved with the trial had different goals in mind, and not all of them were intent on regicide. Kelsey uses the symbolism of the materials used on the court and the insistence on there being a trial in Westminster under parliamentary control prove the above point. As an example, he argues that, because most of the commissioners appointed to the High Court of Justice were connected to parliament and because the trial was held in Westminster rather than Windsor, the message to Charles was that parliament was in charge and that the ancient constitution was not being threatened.

Kelsey’s other works have recently been taken to task by Clive Holmes, who dissects and disproves many of Kelsey’s arguments. My own work on the regicide, which may or may not be published sometime in the future, has also worked against Kelsey’s interpretation. However, the more careful point that Kelsey makes toward the end of this piece is more compelling. He says that “the trial had not been intended as a ramp for a republican settlement. By giving all parties something to hold onto, it had become the only way to keep on board as many parliamentarians as possible after the revolutionary hurricane broke at Westminster in December 1648” (86). While I am not sure that agree with all of the interpretations of the evidence here, this point warrants more consideration. If we are to follow Underdown and Worden, as I assume that we should, that in the aftermath of the Purge, Cromwell and the New Model officers tried to bring as many moderates on board with the new government as possible, even to the point of watering down the Engagement to the new government and cost of readmittance, why should this have not been the case with the High Court of Justice? When you kill a king, you do not want to be standing alone, after all, and by bringing on more moderates, you might be able to counterbalance the more radically minded conspirators (86).

Ch. 6: Scott, “Motives for King-Killing,” 138-60.

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece though, as Scott admits, there is not enough evidence to be certain about much. Scott wants to try to give backgrounds to some of the regicides to better understand why they would have signed the death warrant. While he cannot discuss all of them, he instead chose to focus on the regicides from the north: Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire. There were a surprising number of regicides from these five counties, and Scott wants to know why.

Republicanism was not a major motivator for most of these men. Scott frequently pointed to defense of godly religion as being centrally important, but it is not always easy to see how he made those leaps. For instance, with regard to John Alured, Scott assumes that because he did not appear to be a social or political revolutionary, “his motivation for regicide was either millenarian zeal or militant Puritan notions concerning the workings of providence” (145).

I enjoyed this piece as much as I did because it brought back the three-kingdom problem. In this case, the problem was not Ireland, but Scotland. Scott reads into these men, and the north in general, a powerful anti-Scottish feeling. Scott points out that these counties had the most experience with the Scottish armies, as allies to the English parliament and as enemies. Therefore, when the king allied with the Scots, he earned their hatred. This combined both the three-kingdom dimension to the war and the sense of Charles’s blood guilt.

Ch. 8: Sharp, “The Levellers and the End of Charles I,” 181-201.

Sharp’s overall goal is to explain how the Levellers came to be accused of royalism despite their anti-monarchial writings. He also wants to explain why the Levellers, who should have been overjoyed by the regicide because they had been asking for the king to be punished for years, came to oppose it. In short, the Levellers were ambiguous about the regicide when it happened. They came out against it because they were upset with the way the army was settling the kingdom, or, in Sharp’s words: ““Leveller royalism, such as it was, was the accidental production of the odium in which they held the new regime” (198).

Sharp’s argument is fairly simply stated and his evidence is not new, taking lots from Leveller pamphlets, particularly Lilburne’s Legal Fundamentall Liberties, so I am not going to go too deeply into it. The argument makes sense and does a good job of explaining the gap in Leveller propaganda in late 1648 and early 1649. He shows that Lilburne, from the start of the Whitehall Debates, made it clear that he did not trust the army to carry out justice against the king before they settled the kingdom, because he believed that the king was necessary to counterbalance the army for the time being. This is where Leveller royalism came from. I would recommend reading the chapter.

However, Sharp makes two points that, while not critical to his argument, were more questionable. Sharp agrees with Lilburne that Ireton used the debates over the Agreement to distract the Levellers while he and the officers went about preparing to execute Charles. This may be true, but it is a contested point, and I am not sure that there is enough evidence to prove it. Second, he points out that the Moderate supported the trial and execution, but refers to the newsbook as a Leveller paper, following Howell and Brewster. This would seem to work against his argument which depends on the Levellers having mixed feelings over the High Court of Justice. My own reading of the Moderate is that it was not a Leveller newsbook, but a radical Independent publication. This generally agrees with the interpretation by Jürgen Diethe, though I differ with him on a number of details. I would say that you could read about that in the fourth chapter of my dissertation, but it won’t be available for another 1.5 years. In any case, this latter reading of the Moderate helps to smooth out Sharp’s argument for the better.

Ch. 9: Vernon, “The Quarrrel of the Covenant”

I admit that I had never paid too much attention to the Presbyterian response to the regicide. I have looked at a lot (probably most) of the surviving pamphlets from this period and I noted some consistent themes, but because it was not my primary interest and what I saw generally seemed to match what I expected, I did not adventure further. Vernon explains the main thrusts of Presbyterian propaganda in this period as they sought to stop the regicide.

There were a few steps to this process. First, the Sion College ministers had to prove that they could legitimately get involved in politics. They used Paul and various parts of the Old Testament to do so, arguing that it was their duty to renounce sin or else be stained with it.

Then they had to answer charges that their own declarations from earlier in the war made regicide possible. They argued instead that it was the army that was breaking the rules of resistance. The Presbyterian ministers said that they had argued for resisting Charles through the lesser magistrate theory of resistance; parliament, which was itself part of the supreme authority over England along with the king, could justly resist the king. The army, however, was a “multitude of Private Persons” who had no authority to resist on its own (207).

The ministers kept going back to first engagements to demonstrate the army’s error. After all, if the army had been created by parliament to resist the king, how could the army use force against it? Also, if the war was about defending rights, privileges, and religion, what authority was there to kill a king? The Presbyterians kept going back to the Covenant, which itself became a “Presbyterian shibboleth” (212). This was a religious oath that the Presbyterians believed the army was breaking and in doing so threatened the country’s relationship with God.

There is a bit more to the argument than this, but it became clear that the central part of their argument against the regicide was the Covenant.

A few last general thoughts:

Much has been made over Charles’s blood guilt, and certainly that appears to have been a central motivation for regicide, but one thing that a few of these pieces make is that it was not just the past wars but the threat of future war that made it necessary to kill Charles. In general, more attention needs to be paid to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms aspect and more tangible parts of the war, such as suffering, than religious and political arguments over whether or not it was okay to kill the king While it is no longer a new book, I think it does help to stimulate further thinking about the regicide, and through that, the nature of the conflicts of the 1640s.

I have begun reading Baker and Vernon’s edited collection on the Agreements of the People. With my other responsibilities (child care, household maintenance, applying for jobs, etc.) I only get at best a chapter of reading in a night, but I will be putting together a review of it when I am done. I have gotten a lot out of their work in the past, so I am optimistic about the book. It has been nice having even the limited time that I have to get back into keeping up with the scholarship of the period.

This blog post has already chewed quite a bit of my time, so it has only received very cursory proofreading. My apologies.

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US History and Gerrard Winstanley

First, a little on teaching U.S. history. It is surprisingly easy. As a well worn survey course, there is a very clear path for teaching it. Despite my earlier reservations, I am enjoying teaching it. The material seems to affect the students far more deeply since it is not so far removed from them either geographically or temporally. My students have generally been stunned to learn about some of the utterly awful things that the U.S. has done and have really engaged with some of the material. I think I may have gone too far last week with a source about abandoned and murdered babies in New York. Even I had a hard time getting through that one. I haven’t seen my students since then, but I will bet that they will have a lot to say on it. I wonder if this is what it is like teaching a nation’s history in that nation. Would it be like teaching English history in England?

I am proceeding with learning about Winstanley.  He is fascinating.  I have read a good amount of secondary material on him—but there is so much that I have barely scratched the surface—and am currently working my way through Law of Freedom. There isn’t too much in the way of utopian literature from this period, but this one merits a read.

My paper is taking shape in my head.  I am planning to discuss Joachim of Fiore a little bit to see his larger historical plan.  Then I am going to show its continuing relevance in the Radical Reformation through Thomas Müntzer and one of his printers, Hans Hergot. Both have distinct Joachist leanings.  What will be useful here is to start considering the utopias laid out by Fiore, Hergot, and Winstanley. I still don’t know too much about Fiore’s other than some broad outlines, but Hergot’s and Winstanley’s show some similarities.  Most importantly, both have retained clear government despite believing that they were part of the age of the Holy Spirit in which equality and freedom would reign.  I will mostly focus on the concepts of equality and freedom presented in these works.  Winstanley is particularly fascinating because his version of freedom allowed for a totalitarian government.  Something that seems to come out of both sources is that freedom means having freedom from economic dependence.

Here are some observations that I made about Winstanley so far, most of which I have not seen others discuss, but some that I have.  Overall, I have started to view him as a version of Carlo Ginzburg’s Menocchio.  He appears to have cobbled together his philosophy from different things he has heard or read. He frequently makes use of concepts or words particularly popular in the late 1640s (like “no respecter of persons” and saluus populi, suprema lex).  I think he may have been an Arminian, or at least he was not a fan of predestination.  I’m not sure where he would have picked this up, but he may not have believed in heaven or hell.  He picked up some Baconian philosophy and appears to have some knowledge of developing reforms in natural philosophy. He was a big fan of understanding God through his “second book.”  I could probably dig up more, but I am guessing that this was the result of his haphazard education, as others like James Alsop have remarked upon, and a tendency to be, as Winstanley described, one who “keeps his thoughts to himself” while searching for answers.

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A new year

I suppose that my New Year’s resolution could be to keep up with this blog, but that seems like a sad resolution. Nonetheless, I am going to make more of an effort to update frequently, though I cannot promise that the content will be particularly scintillating.
The big news is that I have finally filed my dissertation. The degree will not be officially conferred until March, but I have gone about changing my email signatures and so on to reflect my imminent Ph.D. It is a great relief to finally be done. Filing is also what makes me think that I will be able to update this blog more often. It was difficult to justify spending time on a blog instead of writing my dissertation, but now the dissertation is over. Oh, and don’t go looking for the dissertation. No one will be able to read it for at least two years.
I am continuing as an adjunct at GGC, but this semester, in addition to a World History 1 class, I am teaching the second part of the American history survey. I have absolutely no background in American history beyond having grown up here, so prepping this class will be quite a challenge. Still, I figure that having it on the CV couldn’t hurt when looking for work. This year’s job market has been brutal. If I can’t find an academic job, I plan to pursue another line of employment. I have a family, after all.
So, to let you know what you are getting in for, if you plan to read this at all, most of my posts will be on matters relevant to my life right now. This means teaching American history, teaching in general, having a toddler, minor home repairs, and the Diggers. I submitted a proposal for a paper on the Diggers not thinking it would be accepted, and now I have to write the darned thing. So I will be looking at Gerrard Winstanley and some other examples of the Radical Reformation to look for commonalities, particularly with regard to common property, and also seeing in what ways I can tie them back to Joachim of Fiore. When I was teaching History of Christianity, 1300-1648, this summer, I was surprised how frequently Fiore’s tripartite version of history kept popping up and how similar it was to some radical groups. I don’t know if this has been done before. Like I said, I didn’t really think the paper would get accepted, or else I probably would have submitted something else. It just fit really well with the conference’s theme. At some point, I will probably start ruminating on the irony of thinking so much about teaching while studying Winstanley, who thought that the teacher-student relationship was a form of tyranny used by the powerful to control the weak. If I remember correctly, Thomas Müntzer said something very similar. Maybe I will bring him up, too. Oh, and I will have to read Ethan Shagan’s book on moderation. More on that later. Happy New Year!


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AHA, Christmas . . .

I am currently sitting in my hotel room at the AHA conference in New Orleans. My wife and infant son (who is about the cutest baby in the whole world) are not with me, unfortunately. I have been reviewing old notes and lecture plans to prepare for an interview tomorrow. Now seemed as good a time as any to reflect on my own and the more general history.
To update on me, my wife and I had a wonderful baby boy, and we have been very happy despite the assorted troubles that go with having a newborn. He is generally quite happy and sweet. My work on my dissertation has slowed considerably, but I have been making progress in recent days, and plan to finish this school year. I have been teaching world history at Georgia Gwinnett College, and next semester, in addition to GGC, I will be picking up a class at Kennesaw State University.
To any relatively new grad students out there, I have some advice. 1. Make sure that you can teach world history. All the work I have been able to get has hinged largely on my ability to teach world history. Make sure that your fourth field and possibly your third are as eclectic as possible. My fourth field is Japanese history, and I am very grateful for it. My third field is Sci. Rev., which also has opened the door to places that lack anyone who does history of science. Make sure that you can teach broadly, because most departments are small and you are much more attractive if you can do many things. Being comfortable teaching world history also means that you can say something (if only one thing) to almost any historian which won’t sound entirely stupid or made up. 2. If at all possible, get some experience teaching writing. This is not possible at all institutions, but what interviews I have had have shown me that whether or not you intend to teach writing, people like to see that there. Most historians don’t actually know how to go about teaching writing, but it is very important to us. 3. If given the opportunity to teach a class, teach something at the edge of your abilities. It is very tempting to teach your major field, but being able to prove to potential employers that you can teach all the things you say you can is very helpful. They know you can teach your primary field; it’s the others that are in doubt. 4. Oh, and this is a bit of a side thought, but make sure to pay attention in your methodology class. You would be surprised how useful that will be. 5. Take copious notes on your computer and sign up for a cloud service. Make sure that those notes and all your teaching materials are up there, too. It never hurts to have easy access to those things when away from home. I recommend sugarsync.
That was all advice (except for the last) that I have received from a variety of people over the course of my graduate career, but considering the path of my career, I think they are among the most useful pieces of advice I have received.
My fingers are crossed for tomorrow, though I know that the odds are not in my favor. It is hopefully only the first of many such opportunities.
The title of this post comes from a pamphlet from 1647 (or possibly 1646, I don’t really feel like looking it up right now). I used to see it abbreviated as “Aha! Christmas . . . ” and it was connected to the Christmas riots that followed parliament’s attempt to halt the celebration of Christmas. It does not have much to do with this post, except that it includes the words “AHA” and “Christmas,” and the latter is only relevant because it was recently Christmas. I just thought it was a funny title/abbreviation.


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Life continues

Wow, it has been half a year since my last post.  Well, life gets in the way sometimes.  It isn’t like I haven’t been doing a lot of writing anyway.  In short, my wife is pregnant and we are expecting in about a month, we bought a house about a month ago, and I have been working furiously on my dissertation to try to get as much done as possible.  It won’t be be done before the baby arrives, but I just have one chapter, an introduction, and revisions left. So there is that.

I recently (two days ago) made a rather significant discovery.  I’ll have more on that in the future, but for now I’ll just say that Mabbott made a very serious attempt to control the news industry during his career as licenser.  I would only call if half successful, but it was brilliant nonetheless.  And it really pissed off Henry Walker.

So I now have chapters 1, 2, 3, and 5 completed.  I am currently working on the chapter focusing on the Moderate and some of the other parliamentary newsbooks, looking for signs of news sharing or anything else that might be of interest.  This is somewhat worn territory, but since my interests are more specific, it will hopefully still yield something useful.  I am trying to track Mabbott’s political and career development in the period.

I will try to post something of what I’ve done for the other chapters in the next week or two.  Maybe I’ll review some of the articles I’ve read recently.  I had to do some thinking about the public sphere and its relation to my research, so that might interest somebody out there.


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The Leviathan

I will try to upload some real content soon.  In the meantime, I will leave you with two items.  One: while looking through the Lords Journal for something else, I ran across the Lords debating a writ of error between a man named Kirke and a man named Bishop.  Got a good chuckle over that.  You can find those in Aug. and Oct. 1648.  Two: this is one of my favorite woodcuts yet.  Leviathan smiles.

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Some quick images

I took a couple of screenshots of some items that made me laugh for one reason or another.  For the first, how often do you see that?  For the second, it wasn’t actually an emoticon, but wouldn’t it be great if it was?

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