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A Cavalier Defence

Decadent, effeminate, outdated, the image of the Cavalier remains that of his enemies, victorious in the Civil Wars. John Stubbs offers a rather more complex corrective view.

In May 1641 Sir John Suckling (1609-42), ‘a great gamester’, fled London on a charge of treason. He was wanted by Parliament for his part in a plot to seize the city for the beleaguered king. Charles I’s struggle with his reformist opponents at Westminster was entering its second year and his position seemed increasingly hopeless. Suckling had been at the centre of a plot to bring the English army, which was scattered and depressed after a catastrophic showing against Scottish rebels at Newcastle, south to the capital. There loyalists would see to the release of Charles’ condemned chief minister, Strafford, and put the upstarts in Parliament back in their place.

The scheme saw the creation of a ‘Cavalier’ faction, and Cavalier planning saw that it unravelled disastrously. Facing arrest and trial, Suckling and his cohorts bolted. Suckling was a slightly built, gingery young socialite, best known about town for his lavish theatrical productions, enormous gambling debts and uncertain prowess as a duellist and cavalry commander. He made his way to Paris, where his funds shortly ran dry. The record of his final days is hazy, but it is clear enough that they ended in accidental death or suicide. Suckling’s was among the first of innumerable Cavalier careers to end in exile and regret. He had sincerely hoped to reinforce the monarchy and help dispel the prospect of mass armed conflict, but succeeded only in making the threat loom larger. He raised the stakes in the ongoing contest and gave moral ammunition to the king’s enemies.

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