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Who could say, after its or so pages, what it is about? Its unexplained title is presumably a market pitch.

The subtitle, perhaps another pitch, lays bare a problem which John Stubbs never grips. The bulk of the book is set in the generation before it, from the years around the accession of Charles I to the outbreak of fighting in Before there were no sides to take. It had associations of careless upper-class merriment, wild and braggard living, gallantry, equestrian dash.

The three figures about whom Stubbs has most to say, the poets Sir John Suckling, Thomas Carew and William Davenant, do to varying degrees answer to that description.

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Though his book makes no claims to archival discovery, it lights up their writing and brings fresh perception to the ties of friendship between them, to their travels and adventures and quarrels, to their amatory excursions. But Suckling and Carew were dead when the civil war started. That does not make their values and conduct irrelevant to it.

They would undoubtedly have supported the king and seen connections between their outlook and his cause. The challenge Stubbs skates past is to explain the continuity. Thirty or forty years ago the task would have been easier.


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Leading historians supposed that the occupants of early Stuart England had missed what posterity could discern: a process of polarisation, of which the war, when it came, was a perhaps inevitable expression. On that view, fundamental and inflammatory social conflicts demanded resolution. They set the court and aristocratic privilege against the nation, reactionary economic forces against progressive ones.

The confrontation, which in religion was reflected in the clash of Anglican and Puritan, was mirrored too in poetry, drama and the visual arts. They belonged, it was alleged, to a cocooned world. While the young Milton was getting the spiritual measure of the time and confronting its earnest issues, they wrote sycophantic court masques.

While ship money and Anglican ceremonialism were provoking national discontent they promoted ethereal concepts of Platonic love favoured by that disastrous political influence, to whom the careers of Suckling, Carew and Davenant were annexed, Queen Henrietta Maria. Historians cited one poem above others, by Carew, to illustrate those shortcomings:.


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But let us, that in myrtle bowers sit Under secure shades, use the benefit Of peace and plenty, which the blessed hand Of our good King gives this obdurate land … Tourneyes, Masques, Theatres, better become Our Halcyon dayes; what though the German drum Bellow for freedome and revenge, the noyse Concernes not us, nor should divert our joyes.

The political divisions that mattered in the s were not between an effete establishment and a broad-based opposition but within the government, where reasoned cases for and against foreign involvement turned not only on underlying commitments of principle or strategy but on finely balanced diplomatic calculation. Historians, as Stubbs acknowledges, have come to doubt whether prewar England was polarised. Even among his protagonists there was no single voice.

They think the government broke down not because the king watched too many masques, which anyway are now held to have contained, behind the obligatory outward adulation, some searchingly critical advice, but because his policies went wrong.

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The Scottish war gave new life and force to English opposition which the Crown had worn down. They were courtiers, not councillors. Even within the court their lifestyles were at odds with the chaste and fastidious decorum of the royal entourage. Stubbs remarks on the oddity of the choice of the licentious Carew, whose verse had been best known for a long erotic extravaganza of a poem, to write a hymn to marital fidelity, the masque of , Coelum Britannicum , for the queen.

The English Civil War Part 1 Blood On Our Hands

He aims, I suppose, at a portrait of a side of the age, an honourable ambition. He achieves most in close-up, through choices and contrasts of biographical or topographical or literary detail.

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War (Paperback) | The Book Table

He pursued an image of theatricality. He had himself painted, by van Dyck, reading Hamlet. He fought infamous public brawls over an heiress. Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War Mark Stoyle finds that an otherwise interesting survey of 17th-century notables promises more than it delivers on the English Civil War.

March 28, at am. Ancient Greece. Your guide to the battle of Thermopylae.

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War by John Stubbs – review

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