History Books

I read this entire book in about ten days, which is unusual for me. I had it checked out from the library, and in light of many other things to do, I had to read fast.

The book is a comprehensive study of one of England’s historical monarchs, King Charles I. One reason for choosing this particular monarch was because he stuttered when he spoke, like my beloved Uncle Sonny did, who died a few years back. In this manner, I have clear visuals as to how Charles must have been perceived by his peers. Another reason is because his reign lies at the heart of understanding my primary area of study, known as the “Long 18th Century,” a period of time generally understood to stretch from 1688-1817. I have a 100+ page thesis paper to write, so I need as much understanding as I can possibly get. 

Reasons for temporarily departing from literature to history are simple. What I found about two years ago, when I took a class on English plays from the Augustan Age (1700-1745), was that much of the innuendo, jokes and comments were difficult for me to understand. I had no comprehension of the historical contexts in which the works were created. As it stands, I am already much of a history buff concerning the American Revolution all the way to the Vietnam War; this in conjunction with my interests in Tudor Dynasty drama; so when the time came for me to get down to the fundamentals of 18th Century England, I already had some contexts to work with. One of the mediums that helped me to get started was Simon Schama’s History of Britain. I was able to watch all fifteen episodes on YouTube; from there my mind essentially went on a history induced frenzy.

Getting back to King Charles, I became solemnly fascinated because I had realized all along, there was a story lying beneath the reason for his execution. With images of my Uncle Sonny trying to pronounce words, I had great trouble imagining this type of person being executed. The truth is, yes, Charles had some troubles, but after reading the definitive history, I found his execution, along with millions of others, to be unjustified. Charles was a victim of the winds of change, and sometimes the only way for change to become manifest is for drastic things to happen. I read with complete understanding the notion that was Charles doing things wrong, but alongside of this behavior was a man who didn’t deserve to die. He loved many people and he loved his kingdom; the complexities of religious belief set the stage for his undoing. He was a man of vast dignity who was immensely devoted to his wife, and in spite of his physical ailments, his stutter, and the people out to smear him, he did his best to stand for what he believed in. Unfortunately for him, though for the better of England, the divine right of kings grew to become a thing of the past with his passing.

Intermixed with his personal story lay the complexities of war-torn Europe, events unto themselves I can better understand with the reading of this book. As I pursue my 18th Century studies, I now have more of an understanding of what the English writers were reeling from: the English Civil War. From this I follow the trail that leads from one monarchy to the next, and in this manner, I become tuned in to the innuendo, jokes and comments referenced during the age in which the novel was born.

Why do I study the Long 18th Century? Partly because I’m fascinated with the origins of the novel, partly because my escapist tendencies lead me in this direction, and partly because I find some of the writing to be more challenging than modern day writing. In addition, the more I experience the vast evolution of religion, religions splits, wars, trials, executions and death, all in connection with religion without any mention of the presence of an actual god, the more I am able to understand the world around me in the modern age.

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