Thursday, 12 October 2017

Civil War London: A Military History of London Under Charles I and Oliver Cromwell Paperback-by David Flintham-Helion Books 2017

"From which I may say that London was never truly London till now; for now she sits like a noble lady upon a royall throne, securing all her encroaching pendicles under the wings of a motherly protection; yet these limits were never heretofore granted till the Parliament, for their better safety, confirmed this construction, that (Grand Cayro excepted), I have not seen a larger inveloped compasse within the whole universe.[1]"

William Lithgow

"And it was also Ordered that there should be Bulworkes presently raised in the Fields before the Citty, to Fortifie the same against any Invation ..."

A Continuation of Certain Speciall and Remarkable Passages -24 October 1642

David Flintham’s new book is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of London during the English civil war. London was without a doubt an essential city economically and militarily for both Royalist and Parliamentary forces during the English Revolution, so it hard not to disagree with David Flinthams new book that it does deserve a far more widespread academic interest than it has already received. It is hoped that Flintham’s excellent new book stimulates further research.

The historians who have written on London have recognised its importance. Some have gone as far as saying that King Charles I leaving London led to his defeat.

As Flintham outlines in his book, London was not an easy city to defend. At the start of the war, Parliament quickly recruited amongst the capital's citizens.

Using extensive photographs and illustrations, Flintham has expertly put together a vivid picture of how Londerners constructed a vital system of fortifications. Like today, in fact, it was not an uncommon sight to see armed soldiers patrolling the capital.

The hallmark of any good book is to give its reader a new insight into the subject, and Flintham’s book does that, who knew that London had a considerable section of its population who were neutral during the war.
Another strength of the book is that the author an acknowledged expert on London's Civil War defences and had visited the places he talked about in the book and photographed them a trait that the late historian John Gurney did to good effect.

As I said, London was of vital importance to both sides during the Civil Wars. Parliament recognised that at some point Charles 1st would seek to try to win his capital back

So in August 1642, Parliament issued 'Directions for the Defence of London'. It urged its trained bands to "take a speedy cause to put the City into a posture of defence, to resist and oppose all such force, to fortifie all the passages into same, suburbs and places adjoining whether the same be within the said City and Libertie;"[2].

Flintham is sceptical as to Parliament’s motives for such large-scale construction “In considering the effort which was put into the construction of the Lines of Communication, the question arises the Royalist threat that great that the defences needed to be constructed quickly to protect the capital? Or was the construction of the defences seen as a way of channelling Londoners' energy away from protesting at the way the war was going and the conditions they were living under?”.

London must have a been an extremely tense city in which to live in. In his Lecture London and the English Civil War the historian Barry Coward[3] uses an eyewitness account by William Lithgow to described the atmosphere during wartime

“Lithgow’s comments are not only a fantastic contemporary eyewitness account of what was happening in Civil War London, but in inviting comparisons with post-invasion, present-day Baghdad – constant military activity, a collapsing economy and a society fractured by internal political and religious divisions and the tearing down of statues – they provide an excellent introduction to the historical question that this article addresses: why did London not collapse into an anarchy of disorder, why did the capital not fall apart under the impact of the Civil War, why did the capital’s social, economic, political, religious and governmental structures survive the massive stresses and divisions brought about by the war that is reflected in Lithgow’s eyewitness account?

What makes this the intriguing historical problem is that as the major part of this article will show, London was subjected to pressures by the Civil War that could easily have rent apart its social, economic and political order, in the process shattering its internal stability. As will be seen, the general character of London on the eve of the Civil War made it a very unstable, volatile place in normal times, and the extraordinary conditions of Civil War brought massive additional economic problems, political divisions, religious controversies and a ferment of ideas that shook the stability of the capital. Yet, shaken though the stability of London was, there was no real threat that the social and political order in the capital would disintegrate into anarchy or revolution “[4].

While the first part of the book is given over to describing how London fortified during the civil war the second part provides us with a Gazetteer of Civil War London. This part of the book in no way diminishes the first in fact it enhances it.

Apparently, much work has gone into not only researching the places listed in the book, but Flintham has used an extraordinary amount of shoe leather in visiting and photographing these places.

The book was a pleasure to read and hopefully gets a wide readership. It is an excellent introduction to the military history of the civil war and deserves to be on university booklist.






[1] https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2017/06/30/londons-forgotten-civil-war-fortifications-walk-4/
[2] http://www.mernick.org.uk/thhol/whimount.html
[3] http://seventeenthcentury.info/index.php?title=London_and_the_English_Civil_War
[4] http://seventeenthcentury.info/index.php?title=London_and_the_English_Civil_War