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Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion

Clarendon’s great ‘History’ was composed largely in exile and published after his death. Hugh Trevor-Roper discusses how the historian had originally intended this great work to be private political advice to the King.

Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon, was the greatest English statesman on the Royalist side in the period of the English Puritan Revolution. Born in 1608, educated at Oxford University (to which he remained always devoted), trained as a lawyer, but always interested in literature and historical studies, he entered politics in November 1640, as a member of the Long Parliament whose opposition to Charles I gradually turned into Civil War.

For the first year of that Parliament, Hyde supported the party of reform; but in the summer of 1641, believing that the essential reforms had been achieved and that further opposition to the Crown and the Church would irreparably damage the fabric of government, he moved over to the Royal side and sought to persuade Charles I to accept and maintain the constitutional reforms already achieved, at least on paper, by the concessions of the last year. Charles I did not do so.

Early in 1641, after his abortive attempt to seize the leaders of Parliament, he withdrew from London to York and prepared for civil war. Hyde, who was now a Royal minister, joined him there in May, and put hL pen at his disposal. He drafted manifestos in which the King asserted his moderation, his belief in ‘mixed monarchy’, and his acceptance of reform. In this way he made an important contribution to the royal cause: he helped to create what had previously been lacking, a Royalist party.

Hyde undoubtedly believed his own propaganda. Unfortunately the King did not: he merely used it. Throughout the first Civil War (1642-6) Hyde had to compete, in the royal council, with the ‘Cavaliers’, the men of war, who encouraged the King to believe in a war not for ‘settlement’ but for ‘conquest’. The competition was unequal, for the Cavaliers had the support of Charles I’s French Queen, Henrietta Maria, who in the end always prevailed.

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