In 1648, Colonel Thomas Pride turned up at Westminster and fulfilled an Arrse fantasy by debarring any MP that his faction believed was not up to the job. Pride’s Purge, as this came to be known, is the primary reason why his name has come down to us, yet Thomas Pride was an influential member of Cromwell’s army, an effective soldier, a prime mover in the execution of Charles I and a successful businessman. One of the backroom boys of history, thanks to Robert Hodkinson, his remarkable story has been unearthed and retold in ‘Cromwell’s Buffoon – The Life and Career of the Regicide Thomas Pride’.
- Robert Hodkinson
The book is part of a series called ‘Century of the Soldier 1618-1721’ which seeks to cover the era of ‘Pike and Shot’ by stepping out of the mainstream and examining the era via some quite esoteric studies which focus on such subjects as the Duke of Buckingham’s army, Marlborough’s early life, the English Civil War in Shropshire, the war in the Welsh Borders, the Royalist Army in exile and a couple of obscure biographies, of which ‘Cromwell’s Buffoon’ is one. If ‘Cromwell’s Buffoon’ is anything to go by, the rest of the series is probably worth a look.
The first challenge for any author attempting to tell the story of someone with obscure origins is to gain some idea of what those origins were on the basis of very limited information, and this book impresses on that basis from the very beginning. What is known is well described and the inevitable blanks are successfully filled in so as to give a likely basis for the development of Pride’s attitudes and beliefs, even if the exact details remain elusive. The inevitable extrapolations are intelligent and, as a result, the reader gains an interesting insight into the nature of religious radicalisation in seventeenth century England as well as a summary of the opportunities open to the children of the less well-off trying to make a career. There is always a danger with such an exercise that the biography gives way to a broader social commentary and the book loses its way but Hodkinson successfully avoids this by consistently tying back more general points to his subject, and Pride comes to life as a result. If Pride’s intellectual journey was not exactly as described, it probably approximated to it, plus one gets an additional insight into the likely guiding influences of much of the rank and file of the New Model Army.
Unsurprisingly, once the story reaches the better documented part of Pride’s life, the narrative truly takes off and what follows is a very detailed but still very readable account of the development of Pride from a junior officer to a regimental commander and senior political figure. For some strange reason, seventeenth century wars seem to make for particularly complex history, with the Thirty Years War achieving a near-total degree of impenetrability. On the evidence of this book at least, there is perhaps an argument to be made that these wars might often be better understood by following the careers of specific individuals rather than taking the war as a chronological whole. Hodkinson’s description of Parliament’s disastrous campaign in the Southwest, seen from Pride's standpoint, comes across as clear, concise and easy to follow and he pulls out the various aspects of personality and their likely effects on the command relationships involved.
At 176 pages, this is not a long book but it is authoritative and well referenced and you will not require a working knowledge of the English Civil War to enjoy it. This is certainly one for anyone with a specific interest in the English Civil War, and they should put it on their Christmas list without delay, but there is also much here for the general interest reader. The main themes of religious extremism and intolerant political debate are increasingly themes of our own times, and perhaps this is a useful warning and reminder of what happens when they are given free rein, but the work also gives an interesting insight into social, political and commercial life during the pre-war period that is not often studied and yet, in many ways, marked the foundation of our modern world.
It takes a deep love of subject and a rare scholarship to create such a readable and authoritative account around such a relatively obscure figure at four centuries distance and Hodkinson is to be congratulated for his success in putting flesh on the bones. The proof-reading leaves a bit to be desired, which is disappointing given that the really hard work has been done well, but, overall, this book was time well spent and deserves four stars.