The Death of Lord Falkland

Falkland’s death alone, wrote Clarendon, would have branded the Civil Wars as ‘infamous and execrable’. Desmond Henry asks whether the young man sought to end his own life in a mood of deep depression?

‘If there was no other brand upon this odious I and accursed Civil War than that single loss, it Amust be infamous and execrable to all posterity.’ Lord Clarendon thus describes the death of his friend, Lucius Cary, second Lord Falkland, at the first battle of Newbury in 1643. It is not surprising that Clarendon should single out Falkland’s death with such profound feeling from all the miseries of the time since he and Falkland had been very close friends for many years.

It is interesting, however, that to most people who knew him, particularly among the Royalists but also among their opponents, Falkland’s death seemed to stand out as a special tragedy.

The reason for this may have been that his death, in a way, seemed to personify the whole futile misery of the Civil War because this very popular and respected Secretary of State, ‘this incomparable young man’, died fighting for a King he personally disliked, against a Parliament he had until recently greatly admired.

Some contemporary writers hinted at a deeper tragedy still. Both Whitelock and Aubrey suggest that Falkland may have deliberately sought his own death in that ‘unhappy battle’. Later historians in general followed this line of thought and some, like Carlyle and Gardiner, bluntly stated that he committed suicide.

Until the nineteenth century Falkland was of interest only to historians, but then his personality seemed to capture the imagination of other writers. Matthew Arnold saw him almost as a saint and Disraeli practically granted him posthumous membership of the Tory Party.

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