Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Montagu Slater's Englishmen With Swords

I am currently working on a review of Montagu Slater's Englishmen with Swords. The book has been sitting on my bookshelf for nearly three years, so I thought it was about time it came in from the cold.

I know little about Slater. He was in the Communist Party, but he was not around its historians. The book is a work of fiction but contains historical facts and Slater has written the book in the form of a journal of a real life figure from the Civil war period Gilbert Mabbott.

I have read very few historical novels so at the moment cannot form an opinion of the genre. From what Iittle I know of the genre it has its admirers and it has its detractors amongst historians who have a tendency to look down their noses at it. Some of their criticisms I can sympathise with especially if there are major historical inaccuracies. But having said that there appears to be a little too much academic snobbery as well.

After all there were and are some very great writers of the genre such as Dickens, Tolstoy just to name two. For a thought provoking article called From Progress to Catastrophe-Perry Anderson on the Historical Novel. @ http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n15/perry-anderson/from-progress-to-catastrophe

Researching for the review led me to the main figure in Slater’s book Gilbert Mabbott. According to Patrick Ludolph who has a blog called funny enough Gilbert Mabbott which can be found @http://gilbertmabbott.wordpress.com/about/

“Gilbert Mabbott was a licenser of pamphlets and newsbooks from 1645 to 1649. He was also brother-in-law to Sir William Clarke and a client of John Rushworth. From 1647 to 1649, he was in the pay of the New Model Army, acting as their “agent” in London. As well, Mabbott has been accused of being the editor of the radical newsbook The Moderate, an accusation which I have come to believe”.

I contacted Patrick and asked for his opinion on the Book and this is what he said “I have read it, but I couldn’t tell you much more about its background than what’s already on the dust jacket. It’s from the point of view of Gilbert Mabbott (which you obviously know because you commented here, but I thought I would say for others out there) and makes use of a number of original documents from the Civil War. However, Slater chose Mabbott because he knew absolutely nothing about him. He saw his name on a bunch of documents and decided to write from his viewpoint because Mabbott was a virtual nobody, a clean slate to write on. The irony is not lost on me. It’s been a while since I looked at it; I seem to recall that Slater was a little confused about some things, but I don’t remember what.Come to think of it, I probably should have done a post on this, but I read it before I started blogging”.

Front cover of the Perfect Diurnall for January 16-23, 1654, with which Mabbot was associated.

Figures like Mabbott have been largely neglected by modern day historians this is mostly down to the opposition of revisionist historians to look into radical figures such as Mabbott who had links to groups such as the Levellers. Another neglected area of research is regarding  the proliferation of secret printings presses before the war which would tend to contradict historians such as Conrad Russell who have put forward that radicalism did not really exist before the outbreak of civil war hostilities. Mabbott after all was involved in the publication of the Moderate newsbook.

For more on this subject see (Secret Printing, The Crisis of 1640 and the Origins of Civil War Radicalism- Past And Present 2007 David R Como.

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