The White King: A Narrative Story on the Life of King Charles I

 

England’s King Charles I is often pictured as arrogant, clueless, and stupid. A less common view, offered by Alexandre Dumas in Twenty Years After, portrays him as a noble martyr. Where does the truth lie? The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr by Leanda de Lisle offers an objective biography of this king.

De Lisle paints a portrait of a Charles Stuart that reveals him more nuanced than the popular image of the man today. He is shown as intelligent and active, acting more out of principle than of self-interest. Indeed, principle would lead to his downfall. As de Lisle shows, he was willing to compromise on many areas, including the power he would exercise as king.

Yet, Charles was unwilling to compromise on religion. His life took place against the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War, a convulsion driven by religion. Charles viewed himself as “The Defender of the Faith,” the faith being the Anglican church established by Henry VIII. Charles refused aid from France contingent on a conversion to Catholicism, from the Scots if he became Presbyterian, and rejected a settlement with the victorious Parliamentarians because it required changing the established church along Puritan lines.

De Lisle reveals divisions between Parliamentarians and Royalists during the English Civil War were not as clear-cut as portrayed today. Both Parliament and King claimed to be defending the tradition rights of Englishmen, a case both sides could creditably make. Charles I was attempting to rule without the consent of Parliament. Yet the price Parliament demanded sometimes exceeded the limitations of a legislature (this included the right to conduct trials in Parliament, outside the judiciary).

De Lisle shows Parliament was often unrepresentative, driven by the Independents, a minority determined to force their views. Like today’s Antifa, Independent mobs rioted, preventing members with contrary views from attending Parliament, allowing votes made only by those friendly to the Independents. Eventually, the Independents established a military dictatorship.

The White King offers gripping reading. It rewards those who read it a better understanding of King Charles I and a greater appreciation for the events which shaped his life.

The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr, by Leanda de Lisle, PublicAffairs, 2017, 346 pages, $30

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Seawriter: Eventually, the Independents established a military dictatorship.

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Also, too bad his brother died young. Henry was well-loved. Little Charlie inspired no confidence in anyone.

    • #2
  3. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    I have a distant ancestor who was executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I (after the restoration, obviously).  His family fled to Switzerland, and eventually to Pennsylvania.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Locke On (View Comment):
    I have a distant ancestor who was executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I (after the restoration, obviously). His family fled to Switzerland, and eventually to Pennsylvania.

    Which one of the regicides?

    • #4
  5. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    I took a summer class at Cambridge University.  Prof John Morrill was one of the two professors.  He thought that Charles 1st was one of the worst, if not the worst, English monarch.  And if Cromwell had lived a couple of more years, there would have been no restoration since Charles II’s dissolute nature would have become obvious in that time.

    • #5
  6. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I was trying to fit white privilege in there somewhere, but couldn’t quite figure it.

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Also, too bad his brother died young. Henry was well-loved. Little Charlie inspired no confidence in anyone.

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    I took a summer class at Cambridge University. Prof John Morrill was one of the two professors. He thought that Charles 1st was one of the worst, if not the worst, English monarch. And if Cromwell had lived a couple of more years, there would have been no restoration since Charles II’s dissolute nature would have become obvious in that time.

    Read the book. Charles I does not come across as badly as his reputation. He was definitely the wrong king for the time. An English version of Henri IV (Paris is worth a mass) would likely have held his throne. Plus, a lot of his reputation appears to result from post-facto justification for his execution. Cromwell did not want the king executed, but felt forced to go through with it after Charles challenged the legitimacy of the trial. (It was purely an army action, without sanction of Parliament, until after its conclusion.)

    Seawriter

    • #7
  8. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    I was trying to fit white privilege in there somewhere, but couldn’t quite figure it.

    Why did the movie Dunkirk have so many white people in it?  /s

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Read the book. Charles I does not come across as badly as his reputation.

    I don’t have to. I was there.

    • #9
  10. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Also, too bad his brother died young. Henry was well-loved. Little Charlie inspired no confidence in anyone.

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    I took a summer class at Cambridge University. Prof John Morrill was one of the two professors. He thought that Charles 1st was one of the worst, if not the worst, English monarch. And if Cromwell had lived a couple of more years, there would have been no restoration since Charles II’s dissolute nature would have become obvious in that time.

    Read the book. Charles I does not come across as badly as his reputation. He was definitely the wrong king for the time. An English version of Henri IV (Paris is worth a mass) would likely have held his throne. Plus, a lot of his reputation appears to result from post-facto justification for his execution. Cromwell did not want the king executed, but felt forced to go through with it after Charles challenged the legitimacy of the trial. (It was purely an army action, without sanction of Parliament, until after its conclusion.)

    Seawriter

    I like the story that James II was afraid that someone would assassinate his brother Charles II.  Charles looked at him like he as insane and said, “No one would be stupid enough to kill me and make you king.”

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    I like the story that James II was afraid that someone would assassinate his brother Charles II. Charles looked at him like he was insane and said, “No one would be stupid enough to kill me and make you king.”

    Now, Charles II was quite the wit. But their father was just a PITA.

    • #11
  12. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Read the book. Charles I does not come across as badly as his reputation.

    I don’t have to. I was there.

    I would have pegged you as a Cavalier, not a Roundhead.

    Seawriter

    • #12
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    I would have pegged you as a Cavalier, not a Roundhead.

    Well, one would think, but…

    • #13
  14. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Locke On (View Comment):
    I have a distant ancestor who was executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I (after the restoration, obviously). His family fled to Switzerland, and eventually to Pennsylvania.

    Which one of the regicides?

    Gregory Clement.

    My notes on him:

    “Became a Puritan, was a member of the court which tried Charles I of England, and signed the death warrant of the king in 1648, along with Oliver Cromwell and 57 others. During the revolution, his name was scratched off the warrant by the Puritans because he was caught in bed with his maid-servant. After the Restoration of Charles II, he hid out in London but was recognized “by his voice which was very extraordinary.” At first pled not guilty, but recanted this, and was hung, drawn, and quartered in October 1660 (between the 13th and 16th) along with John Jones (Cromwell’s brother-in-law), Adrian Scroope, Thomas Harrison, John Carew and Thomas Scot, who had also signed the death warrant. “

    • #14
  15. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    I’ve always felt badly for Charles, and I’ve never had any love for Cromwell or the roundheads.  I’ll grant that Charles was, like Nicholas II centuries later, ill-suited to the job, and had the curse of bad luck (queue Napoleon’s quote on luck), but the Parliamentarians were over-reaching too.

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I’ve always felt badly for Charles, and I’ve never had any love for Cromwell or the roundheads. I’ll grant that Charles was, like Nicholas II centuries later, ill-suited to the job, and had the curse of bad luck (queue Napoleon’s quote on luck), but the Parliamentarians were over-reaching too.

    A pox on both their houses?

    • #16
  17. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Arahant (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I’ve always felt badly for Charles, and I’ve never had any love for Cromwell or the roundheads. I’ll grant that Charles was, like Nicholas II centuries later, ill-suited to the job, and had the curse of bad luck (queue Napoleon’s quote on luck), but the Parliamentarians were over-reaching too.

    A pox on both their houses?

    Sorta.  I lean slightly more towards Charles’s side.

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Sorta. I lean slightly more towards Charles’s side.

    Overall, the Puritans were way out of line, and kept pushing and pushing. Many of the Parliamentary generals were generally ( ;^D ) moderating influences, but wound up pulled in multiple directions by the more incendiary types on both sides or against them. I don’t think Cromwell set out to make himself a military dictator. I think circumstances pushed him hard in that direction. There were several attempts at reconciliation and one side or the other always would not give. Finally, as the most competent and reasonable man, he acted.

    That happened in Ireland, too. Requests were put through for moderating policy, but the army got told, “No, just do what we tell you, no matter how hard that makes your job.”

    And don’t get me started on the Levellers.

    • #18
  19. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    I’m a Cromwell fan.  I had thirteen ancestors on the Mayflower but I’m sure that there were plenty of my ancestors still in England in the 1640s.  Don’t know how they lined up.

    One funny turnaround was in 1688 when the Anglicans needed the people they’d been persecuting for almost 40 years in the struggle against James II.

    • #19
  20. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Sea,

    What I find particularly interesting in this period of English History is the Petition of Right passed by Parliament and signed by the King in 1628. We can acknowledge the powerful roles played by Religion and by Charles & Cromwell’s personalities. However, I think that after Cromwell defeats the King, convicts him of treason and executes him, and then Cromwell’s Lord Protector dictatorship is ended there is only one thing left standing. That is the Petition of Right. These four extremely basic rights wrest total control from the autocrat and provide a modicum of representative democracy to Parliament and independence to the courts.

    I like this particular set of events because it predates the Enlightenment and the highly sophisticated philosophical views that are the hallmark of the Enlightenment. The struggle for power between the King and Parliament happens at a much more visceral level. We can see why this would prepare the American colonists for the titanic struggle to wrest their independence from King George. It is not just the high Enlightenment words of the first few paragraphs of the Declaration that is their motivator. The last section of the Declaration is all about rights that King George has abused. These are the Rights of Englishmen established in the Petition of Right and later. The colonists already have an expectation of their rights against the power of the King if only a basic limited subset. This is what makes the colonists so tough and determined.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #20
  21. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    That is the Petition of Right. These four extremely basic rights wrest total control from the autocrat and provide a modicum of representative democracy to Parliament and independence to the courts.

    Eh, this sort of thing was still not respected fully until George I and his successors.

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The last section of the Declaration is all about rights that King George has abused.

    Really that the British Parliament abused against the colonists. Had King George III been more autocratic, we might still be colonies, because he was smart enough to know that most of these things were stupid ideas.

    • #21
  22. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Arahant (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    That is the Petition of Right. These four extremely basic rights wrest total control from the autocrat and provide a modicum of representative democracy to Parliament and independence to the courts.

    Eh, this sort of thing was still not respected fully until George I and his successors.

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The last section of the Declaration is all about rights that King George has abused.

    Really that the British Parliament abused against the colonists. Had King George III been more autocratic, we might still be colonies, because he was smart enough to know that most of these things were stupid ideas.

    Ari,

    First, if the King can imprison anyone at anytime without notifying the courts that it has happened and why it has happened, then the courts are worthless. Think about it.

    Second, I would suggest that the abuses listed at the end of the Declaration were not considered “stupid” by the colonists. They were taken very seriously and a primary motivating factor. Whether the King was directly responsible for all of them or just he who would take the blame is irrelevant. Without this pre-existing sense of just rights and proper demands, I doubt that the colonialists would have made it through Valley Forge and continued following George Washington on his wild gamble of an asymmetrical fight against the world’s most powerful country.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Whether the King was directly responsible for all of them or just he who would take the blame is irrelevant.

    Ah, the old, “I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you” defense.

    • #23
  24. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    I took a summer class at Cambridge University. Prof John Morrill was one of the two professors. He thought that Charles 1st was one of the worst, if not the worst, English monarch. And if Cromwell had lived a couple of more years, there would have been no restoration since Charles II’s dissolute nature would have become obvious in that time.

    John may be right about Charles. But it is fair to say that he was inept, not wicked, and that he ceased to be inept when he was captured and cornered. At his trial, he was brilliant; and on the scaffold, he was even more impressive. I doubt that anyone would have cared about Charles II’s dissolute character. After living under the Major Generals, the English were ready to party.

    • #24
  25. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Arahant (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Whether the King was directly responsible for all of them or just he who would take the blame is irrelevant.

    Ah, the old, “I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you” defense.

    Ari,

    Remember the colonists are 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic Ocean. It takes quite some time to cross and they have zero navy and the English have the best navy in the world. You feel that your fundamental rights as Englishmen are being abused. In short, that power 3,000 miles away is screwing you royally, with or without Parliament’s assistance. Your recourse appears to be either send Benjamin Franklin to annoy them or break with them politically. Breaking with them politically means breaking with the King’s authority.

    Oh, com’on Ari, this isn’t quantum physics. Cut TJ and the Continental Congress a little slack wouldya!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #25
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Cut TJ and the Continental Congress a little slack wouldya!

    The Continental Congress? Aren’t they the guys who ignored the achievements of the greatest general in the war, giving rewards to others for his accomplishments, and nickeling and diming him into penury, not reimbursing money he spent on his troops, such that he finally said to heck with them and switched sides? Those guys? No better than the Parliament they were really fighting.

    • #26
  27. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Arahant (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Cut TJ and the Continental Congress a little slack wouldya!

    The Continental Congress? Aren’t they the guys who ignored the achievements of the greatest general in the war, giving rewards to others for his accomplishments, and nickeling and diming him into penury, not reimbursing money he spent on his troops, such that he finally said to heck with them and switched sides? Those guys? No better than the Parliament they were really fighting.

    Campaigning to rehabilitate Benedict?

    • #27
  28. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Arahant (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Cut TJ and the Continental Congress a little slack wouldya!

    The Continental Congress? Aren’t they the guys who ignored the achievements of the greatest general in the war, giving rewards to others for his accomplishments, and nickeling and diming him into penury, not reimbursing money he spent on his troops, such that he finally said to heck with them and switched sides? Those guys? No better than the Parliament they were really fighting.

    Ari,

    Hey, at least they signed the Declaration of Independence. That alone took some kahunas (technical political science jargon, no really). Wow, you are critical today. Picky, picky, picky.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Cut TJ and the Continental Congress a little slack wouldya!

    The Continental Congress? Aren’t they the guys who ignored the achievements of the greatest general in the war, giving rewards to others for his accomplishments, and nickeling and diming him into penury, not reimbursing money he spent on his troops, such that he finally said to heck with them and switched sides? Those guys? No better than the Parliament they were really fighting.

    He was the kind of general who was one independent command away from getting jammed up very badly. A lot like Joe Hooker — great corps commander but out of his depth with and army.

    • #29
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Campaigning to rehabilitate Benedict?

    Always.

    • #30

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