- War in England 1642-1649
War in England: 1642-1649 is the long awaited culmination of the labors of Barbara Donagan, an independent scholar associated with the Huntington Library, who has been working assiduously on the subject for the last quarter of a century. For that period, a search of the Royal Historical Society's online bibliography on "English Civil War" produces 886 hits—I too was staggered. So the criterion for a new work must be its originality. War in England seems to accept this challenge. The dust jacket lauds this book as "A fresh approach to the English Civil war." Well, how fresh is it? Without doubt Donagan's work on codes of conduct, military education and atrocities, for example, is original, but its freshness is limited by the fact that her fine articles on these matters, some published as long ago as twenty years, are well known. She deals with topics such as training, leadership, soldiers as tourists, plunder, weapon capabilities (to name a few), that others such as John Morrill, Ian Gentles, John Kenyon, Stephen Porter, and Mark Stoyle (to name another few), have also analyzed. Curiously this book, which claims "to illuminate the experience of soldiers, and, to a lesser extent civilians" (page 10), does not cite John Wroughton's Unhappy Civil War: the experiences of ordinary people in Gloucester, Somerset and Wiltshire, 1642-51 (1998), Martyn Bennett's The Civil Wars Experienced: Britain and Ireland, 1638-60 (2000) and my own Going to the Wars: the experience of the British Civil Wars, 1638-1651 (1992). More egregious for a monograph deeply influenced by "the new military history", no mention is made of Sir John Keegan, apart from a trivial piece in the Times Literary Supplement.
Such omissions exaggerate the book's originality, and tend to make one overlook its very real strengths. First there is its depth of research. For over twenty five years as an independent scholar based in one of the finest libraries in the world (and, unlike [End Page 631] most of us, free from teaching and going to committees), Ms Donagan has left hardly a stone unturned. She has assiduously mined both primary printed sources as well as the archives to produce a rich, deep, and highly textured account of the war. Take, for instance, the issue of atrocities, a subject which Ms Donagan has made her own since the American Historical Review published her article on the topic in 1994. For every example others cite, she lists many, many more. Of course, such assiduousness can become over-egging the custard, having the unintended effect of exaggerating the prevalence of atrocity.
The second strength of Donagan's book lies in its last hundred pages, two studies of sieges. The first, that of Boarstall House near Oxford, which lasted from the summer of 1644 to June 1645, was a pretty genteel affair, with the roundheads replenishing the royalist defenders' stocks of wine. The ten-week Siege of Colchester in 1649 was a very different matter. It took place after the royalists had surrendered at the end of the first civil war, and many had given their parole not to fight again. This explains the siege's brutality: tombs were desecrated, prisoners murdered, both sides accused the other of using poisoned bullets. Starved into submission, the Royalist defenders surrendered on August 28. Within twenty four hours and after a drum head court martial, their two leaders, General Sir Charles Lucas and Colonel Sir George Lisle, were shot by a firing squad. Barbara Donagan's description and analysis of the Siege of Colchester is magnificent, well written and thorough: I know of no finer description of a siege and would recommend it to all students of the experience of war.
Raleigh, North Carolina