The English Civil War at First Hand, By Tristram Hunt

Christopher Hirst
Friday 01 April 2011 00:00 BST

The same robust and vivid language of the King James Bible propelled the civil war that killed almost 250,000 people 30 years later. It was largely a religious dispute and these on-the-spot reports, linked by Hunt's lucid commentary, are reminiscent of the statements currently emerging from Libya.

Writing to a fellow soldier, Oliver Cromwell first touched on his recent victory. "Give all the glory to God. Sir, God had taken away your eldest son by a cannon-shot," before adding more gently, "He was a gallant young man, exceeding gracious."

This book brings us up close to momentous events like Charles I asking his executioner, "Does my hair trouble you?" As Hunt notes, "Nothing became him so much as his execution."

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