Roundhead Reputations, The English Civil Wars and the Passions of Posterity, by Blair Worden
Published by Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, in 2001. 387 pages. First Edition. Hardback with Dust Jacket (WSOU2)
The scars of England's Civil Wars have never healed. In this fascinating book the author shows how, over 350 years, the memory of the conflict has been a battlefield of its own.
In every age, writers and readers have seen their own reflections in the conflict and have used images of Puritan rule to sanction programmes for the present. The "Cavalier" allegiance has been inherited by successive generations of Tories and Anglicans, the "Roundhead" one by their opponents. Contenting against each other, the two traditions have also divided within themselves.
This book tells the Parliamentarian side of the story. It explains how radical Whigs in the late 17th and the 18th century, combative Liberals and Nonconformists in the 19th, and Marxists in the 20th struggled against more establishment-minded Roundhead sympathizers for interpretative supremacy.
Blair Worden begins by discussing a spectacularly successful literary fabrication: the "Memoirs" of the regicide Edmund Ludlow, always a prominent source for the Civil wars, which were concocted for a Whig purpose and deceived posterity for three centuries. The middle section turns on representations of Algernon Sidney, a colourfully splenetic republican transformed by posthumous admirers into a plaster-saint. Finally he considers the fluctuating reputation of Oliver Cromwell, whom the Victorians, inspired by Thomas Carlyle's great edition of his letters and speeches, rescued from obloquy and made a cult figure - until socialists came to prefer the Levellers and Diggers, the Civil War heroes of modern times.
For anyone interested in the Civil Wars, or in how history gets to be written, "Roundhead Reputations" should be enjoyable. Blair Worden is one of the leading scholars of the period, and this is a major work with large implications for an understanding both of England's sense of its own identity and of the relationship between past and present.
The condition of the book is generally excellent. The dust jacket has one or two very minor scuffs, but the black cover boards are clean and tidy, the spine is intact, and all pages are clean & bright, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.