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The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewomen, Soldiers, and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  274 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
In this compelling history of the violent struggle between the monarchy and Parliament that tore apart seventeenth-century England, a rising star among British historians sheds new light on the people who fought and died through those tumultuous years. Drawing on exciting new sources, including letters, memoirs, ballads, plays, illustrations, and even cookbooks, Diane Purk ...more
Paperback, 680 pages
Published December 4th 2007 by Basic Books (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 878)
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Daniel Wright
There is possibly no period of English (indeed, British) history more unjustly neglected than the Civil Wars. Far more than the feudal wranglings of the Wars of the Roses, they made the United Kingdom the nation that it is, politically, ideologically, and even spiritually. This is the central thesis of this magnificent book, illustrated through the words and actions of innumerable individuals: high and low, male and female, all the parts they play are instrumental in the unravelling of events. C ...more
Jul 27, 2010 Bluenose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Contrary to the title, this is not a history of the English civil war of the 1640’s. It’s a collection of contemporary accounts from original documents focusing on a number of people who were prominent and obscure participants in the historical events. The research was staggering and is documented in FURTHER READING at the end of the book.

Reading the actual words of the participants is a revelation and immediately conveys the sensibilities and motivations of the time. To say religion was the ca
John Herbert
Apr 27, 2012 John Herbert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The English Civil War is the most underrated occurrence in British history; even the major battlefields are poorly marked and signposted. And yet this remarkable war amongst ourselves changed forever how this island of ours ruled their affairs.
Of course there are countless books running through the battles and reasons, but this book goes deeper into the psyche of the real people - the ones who fought, the ones who remained behind to be savaged by both armies, the ones who battled for a real revo
Jul 05, 2010 Shawn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This history is rather disorganized and sometimes difficult to follow, but it does a good job of purveying the FEEL of the Civil War by examining the wartime experiences of people of more ordinary rank than the royals and grandees and other major players, including several women. Take it for what it's worth.
Lisa Houlihan
I deliberately selected this because the only things I know about the English Civil War are Roundhead vs. Cavalier and that Dr. Dolittle's friend Polynesia first came to England when Charles II was hiding in a tree (or Charles I). See? Nothing. Then I began to read it and almost immediately fell asleep. I cannot explain why the Stuarts, alone of all the English royal families, fail to interest me.

(In first grade when I finally could read with fluency instead of slowly sounding it all out, I rea
Ben Haymond
The research done for this book was obviously immense and there are many gems about all areas of English society during the civil war. When Purkiss writes about Milton, Cromwell, or the royal family for example, she hits her groove. Or when she gets on a more narrowly defined topic like food, Christmas, iconoclasm, or specific radical reformers, this book is riveting. However, the incredible body of research often takes precedence over the narrative of the story which causes the book to sometime ...more
Steven Peterson
If you want a history of the battles of the English Civil War, this is not the book for you. If you are interested in the human side of this horrific period, then this is a book for you. While the battles are mentioned, they are placed in a much broader context.

This is a history of the English Civil War, told to a considerable extent through the words of observers and participants. Letters and diaries of people such as Brilliana Harley; tracts by Garrard Winstanley (a leading Digger); the debat
Czarny Pies
Nov 26, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in English history.
Shelves: european-history
This is a very solid book about England during the civil war. It covers the events of the war as well as providing a solid overview of the cultural, theological and intellectual context in which in occurred. I have not read enough on the period to know how well it compares to other books written on the topic. It may even be worth an additional star.

The book manages to explain both why the monarchy fell and why it would be restored once Cromwell was dead.
This is a popular history and lacks the detailed footnotes I want when reading this type of book.

I read with very a very specific aim which it would have satisfied had it been footnoted. But I did skip chunks of it as not relevant for what I wanted.

However, I seriously disliked her patronising tone regarding Christopher Hill. Should she ever become half the historian he was I would accept her comments but she has to my mind in no way reached that status and I doubt she ever will.

This is not the
Lauren Albert
This took what was for me a long time to read. But it is a very long book. I really liked her vision of the war from "the ground up." It helped me understand the complexities of the situation for the people who were actually living it--and not just the powerful. I hadn't realized how much a fear of Catholics played into the events--not just hatred or bigotry but fear. According to Purkiss, everyday people were convinced that they faced imminant invasion. I also liked it for how it showed that lu ...more
Feb 23, 2013 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was an excellent alternative to a traditional top-down history of the English Civil War. I was fascinated, but I am interested in this period so I suppose it wouldn't take much to hold my attention. It was engagingly written and I enjoyed the focus the author placed on religious extremism rather than battles. My only criticism is that she expected the reader to remember the names of all of her little-known figures as easily as they remembered the names of Cromwell and Fairfax, so ...more
May 20, 2016 HattieB rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the book. Here is my review:
John Wright
Dec 25, 2007 John Wright rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far so good. Standard, but well-written social history of the English Civil War based on the much revived narrative school. Brings in revised understandings based on work done on religious and women's history over the past 20 years. Purkiss' sense of contemporaneous geography, world-view and class bring a fresh sense of how large and how small, how public and private, the worlds of pre-William and Mary English were. Plus I learned what 'repandous' means.
Apr 18, 2014 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not your mother's history book. Do not read it expecting to get a linear account of the war, or a nice clean version of cause and effect. Rather, it is an intriguing and insightful glimpse into the complexities of the war, gleaned through the writings and lives of those who lived it. A tragic time, and yet one which really lays much of the groundwork for the philosophies that grounded the American and French revolutions. Fascinating read.
Sep 07, 2012 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It was fantastically written and well presented and Purkiss didn't take sides and try and claim that one side was 'right' or 'better' than the other. She gave heart to the material and often added small personal remarks that were more humorous than anything else. For example, she describes John Milton as 'fiercely competitive, neurotic, insecure and emotionally constipated.' This book is well worth the read for any history buffs.
There's some crackingly vivid stuff in this book, which was marred only for me by a bit of sniffyness about the more radical tendencies thrown up by the conflict. That's not what I expect from something billed as "a people's history". Maybe some of Christopher Hill's work is what I need to be looking at for that.
This book was less interesting than I thought it would be. It probably would have helped if I knew something about British History, but I felt that the timeline was a bit too jumpy. It took me a long time- nearly 3 months to slog through it, without a particularly good sense of the overall argument- was kind of a mishmash of primary sources lacking the backbone of a clearly stated argument.
Mar 17, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it
It does help to have a basic knowledge of the English Civil War prior to reading this book. Purkiss presents the English Civil War though the viewpoints of the people who fought in it, lived during it, and wrote during it. It is an all encompassing look, focusing on people who do not make the over all big histories. Well worth the read if you like English history.
It's an interesting read: the English civil war told through they eyes of the myriad people who lived it. But it can be tedious unless the reader is familiar with the events and the history. I'm not so I found it hard to get through the major history parts while waiting for the biographical parts. Nothing against the concept or the author, it just wasn't for me.
Feb 08, 2013 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very interesting compilation of the stories of people from all walks of life woven into a history of the English Civil War. Having a passing familiarity with the major events of this war is helpful; I didn't, so I had to look things up (not that that's a bad thing). Good read, very enlightening.
Sep 15, 2012 Epicdoug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An account of the "civil" in the Civil war, of the ways people saw and interacted with the war. Does that make any sense? I hope so.

Not really an introduction to the war itself, since I learned about it in high school history I don't know what would make a good introduction. Sorry.

Feb 13, 2016 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The world turned upside down but Diane Purkiss has written a book that will enable you to keep your footing amid a tumultuous period of English history. So good, I am going to read it again. Thank you for a clear social, political and military depiction of the civil war.
Mar 06, 2009 Grace rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was very interesting - better for a sense of the time and issues rather than an overview although I do think it could have done with a timeline. Bit too much 'psychology'/speculation about the impact of childhood experiences for my taste sometimes.
James Stephenson
In many ways, this is a superb book. The writing is occasionally odd and awkward, but the principle - a social history told by people of significance and insignificate almost half a millenium ago - is fascinating page after page.
Oct 14, 2008 Gramarye rated it it was ok
A little too speculative for this historian's liking, but a decent starting point for someone interested in an introduction to the English Civil War that focuses more on people (especially women) and less on politics.
Mar 20, 2012 Lysergius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Somehow manages to turn an interesting period of English history into a long dull diatribe filled with forgettable characters. Even Charles I ad Cromwell appear as cardboard cutouts.
May 14, 2012 Alice marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I'm having a lot of fun with this. . .not exactly a Zinn sort of people's history, but a people's history nevertheless that makes the English civil war. . .well, rather interesting.
Nov 02, 2011 4ZZZ rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, england
I enjoyed this book but had issues. It was not as well written as I would have liked. A peoples history this is but Charles Carlton's Going To The Wars told it so much better.
Feb 02, 2013 Liisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive and difficult to plough through at times but also very enlightening. It was interesting hearing about the english civil war from such an array of sifferent sources.
Kimberly Chapman
Reading as research for a prequel to Finding Gaia.
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Purkiss also writes children's books with her son, Michael Dowling, under the pseudonym Tobias Druitt.
More about Diane Purkiss...

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