The English Civil Wars, 1640-1660

Mark Stoyle applauds a succinct introduction to a complex topic


Reviewed by: Mark Stoyle
Author: Blair Worden
Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Price (RRP): £12.99


As Blair Worden wryly observes in the preface “professional historians nowadays delight in the complexity and density of the subject to which this book offers an introduction”. Pleasurable as the process of constructing ever more elaborate narratives of the mid-17th-century conflict may be for the scholars involved, the effect of their industry has often been to make the Civil Wars seem increasingly perplexing and remote to the general reader.

Worden’s purpose is to turn his back on this trend and to present his readers instead with a clear narrative of the conflict which is “as straightforward as is compatible with adult discussion and with the picture which modern research has produced”. There can be no doubt that he succeeds triumphantly in this aim. In a series of five tightly-written chapters,

Worden considers: first, the origins of the conflict; second, the course of the Civil War itself; third, the execution of Charles I; fourth, the trials and tribulations of the English Republic; and, finally, the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Worden’s prose is enviably penetrating and lucid throughout, while his ability to summarise the conclusions of a clutch of academic monographs or a whole series of scholarly articles in a single sentence is remarkable.


Not everybody will agree with all of his conclusions, of course, and, inevitably, there are many aspects of the conflict which are left unexplored. But for anyone seeking a short, sharp and – above all – immensely readable introduction to the English Civil Wars, Worden’s book will now be the obvious choice.