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

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9780312244057: The King and the Gentleman: Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell, 1599-1649

The Palace of St. James', 1649. Night. Armed soldiers guard a coffin resting in a dimly lit room. In it lies the shattered corpse of Charles I, King of England, head crudely reattached to torso. Past the guttering torches glides a human shadow, wide-brimmed hat pulled down over the eyes, a cloak drawn around the lower part of the face. The visitor--Oliver Cromwell, soon to be named Lord Protector of England--gazes for several moments at the dead king's features. "Cruel necessity," he mutters, then retires to the darkness as stealthily as he came.

This scene--with all the trappings of Victorian melodrama--is possibly apocryphal. Nevertheless, any chronicle of seventeenth- century England is, in a very real sense, an account of the conflict between Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell and the beliefs that impelled them. Almost exact contemporaries (nineteen months separated their birth dates), King and subject were both possessed of a deep sense of divine mission; both were profoundly religious and immovably stubborn. Their ideals sent them on a course that would culminate in one of the most dramatic events in British history: the execution of a reigning sovereign on Tuesday, January 30, 1649.

In The King and the Gentleman, historian Derek Wilson details the parallel lives of a foreign-born aesthete-prince and a down-to-earth country squire. The passions the aroused and the conflict they unleashed would forever change the face of a nation.

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Review:

English historians, it seems, never tire of examining the relationship of Charles I to his archrival, Oliver Cromwell. An unpopular ruler, Charles reigned as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 to 1649. His religious intolerance, exacerbation of class divisions, and financial recklessness provided ample fodder for Royalist opposition, led by Cromwell. A far more skilled military leader and politician than the King, Cromwell led the radical Independents to victory in the civil wars of the 1640s. His popularity and challenge to the monarchy ultimately led to its abolition as well as the execution of the King. Cromwell governed as Lord Protector until his death in 1658.

With The King and the Gentleman, Derek Wilson fills a scholarly void by examining the rulers' formative years as well as their religious convictions. According to the author, only a thorough understanding of both in context provides an accurate understanding of them as adults and their opposing visions for England. One of England's leading biographers and novelists, Wilson has not written for the initiate to English history; he expects a solid historical foundation from his readers. Those who find the conflict of Charles and Cromwell as absorbing and deserving of fresh insight will consider The King and the Gentleman a must-read. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack

From the Inside Flap:

The chronicle of the first half of the 17th century is, in a very real sense, an account of the conflict between Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell and the beliefs that impelled them. Both were possessed by a deep sense of divine mission. Both were profoundly religious. Both were immoveably stubborn. Their ideals set them on a collision course which culminated in one of the most dramatic events in British history: the execution of a reigning sovereign in January of 1649. The King and the Gentleman intriguingly parallels the lives of the foreign-born aesthete-prince and the down-to-earth representative of a struggling squirearchy.

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