Sir Edward Dering: The Squire Who Changed Sides

William M. Lamont profiles the Kentish Squire who introduced the “Root and Branch” Bill in 1641, only to later change his mind and fight for King Charles and the Established Church.

Like many men who were pathologically timid, Sir Edward Dering cared far too much about being consistent. He could not fall back, as so many of his colleagues were to do during the Civil War, on the discovery of a “new light” to justify a change of position. When he came at the beginning of 1642 to write an apology for his actions in the preceding year he had, therefore, precious little room for manoeuvre.

How was he to reconcile his actions in May and June of 1641? In May the darling of the radicals had introduced the first reading of the Root and Branch Bill to destroy episcopacy; a month later he had introduced a compromise proposal for a “reduced episcopacy”.

Dering took the only course open to him: he claimed that it was not he, but his opponents, who had changed. Of them he said, with an ingenuous air that almost disarms the critic:

“Whilst they are floating, I stand steady, wondering to what coast they are bound.”

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