Cromwell’s Failed State and the Monarchy

Cromwell’s Failed State and the Monarchy

Timothy Venning
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
Written by Timothy Venning, this book details the turmoil in the decades following the English Civil War, a fascinating period in history when Cromwell’s great experiment in nation making, covering regicide, dictatorship, wars of conquest and defence, and eventual collapse, was enacted on the broad canvas of the Protectorate England, Scotland and Ireland.

Published by Pen and Sword, this is a 360-page hardback book, with a hefty price tag of £25. There are a selection of black and white photos showing prominent locations mentioned in the text, which add little to the story. It is a book of two parts, firstly covering the immediate aftermath of the first Civil War looking at aborted settlements and the reasons for their failure, and secondly detailing the post- second Civil War formation of the Commonwealth, and its various crises. This is not a history of the English Civil War, and makes no pretence of being such.

Venning is not a natural story teller; there is no preface setting the scene, the author just gallops off into the esoteric hinterland, giving no context to the historic reasons for his subject, or any explanation of the Civil War itself, with no linkage between the various chapters. Instead, this is a selection of essays covering specific topics, rather than a wider history of the period. Looked at from this viewpoint a can imagine that this is a valuable work in its own narrow scope; however, for someone like me whose knowledge of Cromwell is limited to half-forgotten history lessons and seeing Richard Harris with a pudding bowl haircut it is just too in-depth and specific.

Within its scope the book is extremely detailed; if you want to know the inner workings of European recognition of the Commonwealth, or the Parliamentary reorganisation in the aftermath of Charles’ execution, then this is a book for you (so long as you already have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the period). It’s definitely not a book for me. I’ve spent the last two weeks fighting my way through it, and I’m heartily sick of the whole bloody lot of them; as far as I’m concerned Charles II was absolutely justified in his post-mortem hang/draw/quarter party-piece on Cromwell if three and a half centuries later he’s responsible for me wading through this (having said that, working from home it's at least made me do my job as light relief).

As such, I feel it’s only fair to give this book three potato heads; I don’t feel qualified to review this book fairly, however the number of people who are qualified could probably be counted on one hand, and you would want to meet any of them for a pint.

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