Despite the partial rehabilitation of Cromwell and the growing cornplexity of historical studies of the 17th century, most people still see the English Civil War in simple terms. It is all a matter of "cowboys and Indians".
It was, the general opinion goes, a confrontation between good (the "Cavaliers") and bad (the "Roundheads"). The persistence of such an interpretation owes much to the romantic character of many of the leading royalists as compared to the apparently stolid uniformity of the Parliament men.
The popular view is reinforced in
this new biography of James Graham, first Marquess of Montrose — perhaps the most important of the King's men in Scotland.
Mr Hastings is an enthusiast both for Montrose himself and for Scotland — and his book has the merits and disadvantages of the committed.
He brings life not only into the meteoric career of the Marquess, who inspired sufficient leadership in a ragged army of "lrishers" and Highland clansmen to wage — in the King's name — a successful war against the anti-royalist and antiepiscopal "Convenanting" armies in Scotland but also into the campaigns themselves, which he describes with a rare eye for the important detail.
He paints the dramitc last scenes
of Montrose's short life — the 38year-old "King's Champion" going to the gallows in Edinburgh with such dignity that "he humbled the tyrants who ruled Scotland, as surely as ever he had crushed them upon the battlefield."
The world "tyrants" reflects the author's opinion of Montrose's opponents. He offers little sympathy to the opposing side, and glosses over the excesses of Charles's governance which rested heavily on his Scottish subjects.
Even so, despite a lack of balance and occasional over-writing, this book can be recommended for all those who like a good story, with a dramatic (if not a happy) ending, set in a period of exceptional conflict and appeal.