The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr, by Leanda DeLisle
This book is a classic example of an author walking into trouble and bragging that she has managed to avoid the trouble while only making it obvious what sort of trouble she is up to. The author is an English Catholic who seeks to promote a positive view of English Catholicism of the 17th century (and Catholicism of that period in general) while simultaneously not realizing that the praise she gives to absolutist rulers inflames the sort of anti-Catholic hysteria that made life so dangerous for both Catholics and Arminians who supported Charles I during the 1620’s through 1640’s when Charles I was put to death as a tyrant. Sometime an author attempts to do too much, such that their desire to fulfill one of their agendas prevents them from fulfilling another. One cannot brag about the power of Baroque absolute monarchs and the way that they seemed to be threatening Protestant regimes and then complain that Protestant realms like England were suspicious and hostile towards Catholics and that there was no cause for them to be. If you do not realize that the two aims of promoting a pro-Catholic agenda and bragging about the strength of absolute monarchs are not contradictory when it comes to a liberty-loving people, you should not be writing history books for the general public, but should instead take up writing mere propaganda for fellow Catholics.
This book is almost 300 pages and is divided into four parts and 25 chapters. This book begins with a list of illustrations, map, family trees of the Stuarts and Devereux lines, an author’s note, and a preface praising the success of the counter-reformation. The first part of the book contains six chapters that discuss Charles I’s relationship with his father’s “wife,” The Duke of Buckingham (I), including Buckingham’s encouragement of the young crown prince (1), Charles I becoming king (2), the marriage alliance he made with France (3), Charles’ position as a prominent monarchs in Europe (4), and the entrance of Lucy Carlisle (5) and the exit of Buckingham after being assassinated (6). The second part of the book looks at the relationship of Charles I with his French wife (II), with chapters on the peace that Charles sought in the 1630’s (7), the return of Mme de Chevreuse (8), the horrors of division within England and Scotland (9, 10), Stafford’s trial (11), the abandonment by Charles of some of his favorites (12), and the division of the British isles into civil war (13). The author then discusses the turncoat servant of Charles (III) with chapters about the rhetoric of opposition to Charles I (14), Edgehill (15), the rise of violent men and women (16), the entrance of Cromwell into leadership (17), evil women (18), the search for splendor (19) as well as the troubles of legitimacy (20) and the royalist rising that led to a new round of fighting (21). The final part of the book examines Charles’ nemesis within the British elite (IV) with chapters on Charles’ whorish red-haired mistress (appropriately named Whorwood) (22), the king’s trial (23), his execution (24), and the author’s praise of Charles’ posthumously published thoughts on kingly authority (25). After that there is a postscript, an appendix on Lucy Carlisle as Milady de Winter, acknowledgements, notes, and an index.
In reading this book I was struck by the way that the author seemed to be unaware that she was undermining herself through her writing. Charles I had every chance to be a good constitutional monarch but he wanted to be an absolute one, contrary to the tenor of the English people going back to the Middle Ages, and the result was both predictable and lamentable. Even if one was not as extremely egalitarian in one’s politics as I am, it is not hard to see that the author’s praise of royal absolutism is completely tone deaf in a world where there are very real and very legitimate fears about intrusive and tyrannical and unaccountable government authority gaining hold once again over much of the world, including most of Europe. The author is perfectly free to champion attempts at absolutism, but cannot make someone out to be a martyr when their attempts at making themselves a tyrant go over like a lead balloon and lead to the death of tens of thousands of people. A man is a martyr when he dies for a good cause, not when he kills others and receives his just desserts as a result of a scrupulously legal trial after having sought to overthrow good government. I shed no tears for dead tyrants, but one would wish that others would not seek to bolster them in order to support their own pry-tyrant political agendas.