Wednesday, 14 February 2018

An Evening with Charles Spencer

Charles Spencer has spent the last few weeks touring the country publicising his new book To Catch a King. The basic story is of Charles II escape from parliamentary forces during the second civil war.

The evening spent at Waterstones Kensington High street with Spencer was a pleasant one, and the event itself was well organised.

The major problem I have in reviewing this event or his books is that we have opposed political and historical worldviews. That will not change.

Having said that Spencer from a human standpoint is a kind man and a skilful narrative led historian.Aside from the rigour of his work he has a passion for history that is admirable in a historian. His book Killers of the King was the second highest selling history book in the UK in 2014[1].

Spencer is a natural speaker almost like a raconteur. In fact, he speaks as he writes. His books are pure narrative, but that does not mean he is sloppy with his research.

He made some interesting points during the evening. Perhaps his most important was a downgrading of the study of the English revolution in schools both private and public.

In an interview, Spencer recounts “‘When I was a boy, you learned about the English Civil War. Now you do not. Part of that is because history is no longer a compulsory subject after a certain age. 'The Tudors and the Nazis are much easier periods to attract students to. If you are a history teacher you want to keep your job, so you go for the easy areas.”

Like many who write on the Revolution Spencer had descendants who were active during the civil war.The windows in his chapel were rescued from another Spencer house that was burned down during the English Civil War.

“I think I would have done what my ancestor did. He was very anti the king during the build-up to the Civil War, but when it came to the actual conflict, he decided he could not draw his sword against his king. 'Reluctantly, he became a royalist.”

Another aspect of Spencer, the historian, is his openness to suggestions for future work from readers. His choice of subject for his latest book was in fact given to him by a reader.

When I asked him a question about Ollards book and other historians such as the great Whig historians he made some interesting points. He saw himself as primarily as a narrative historian, but he believes that parallels exist between the past and the present.

He is not reticent about describing his work as ‘popular history’. A Genre that that was mastered by historians such as Sir Thomas Macaulay, E. P. Thompson and A. J. P. Taylor.

Spencer is not yet in that league, but his work does command serious attention and is well worth the price of his books.

A review of To Catch a King will be done at a later date.


The escape of Charles II after the battle of Worcester Hardcover – 1 Jan 1966-by Richard Ollard
King Charles II Paperback – 6 Jun 2002- Lady Antonia Fraser

[1] See my review -