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Mike Duncan (00:00):
As we come to the end of our history of the English Revolution, I think it’s high time we look back at the first great history of the period. The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, written by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. Hyde not only lived through it all, but from his positions in Parliament and the courts of Charles I and Charles II, he had a front row seat for all the action. It would not do to walk away from the English Revolution without giving the man his due. After all, his version of history essentially became the official version of history for almost 200 years.
Edward Hyde was born in 1609, the sixth of nine children. When he was a teenager, he went off to study at Magdalen Hall and would have entered the clergy had not his two older brothers died, leaving him the family heir. So instead of divinity, he was steered into law by one of his uncles, who happened to be a Chief Justice. He enrolled at Middle Temple and then married in 1632, but his wife died almost immediately, so the only fruit of the union was the connection Hyde made with his in-laws, the Villiers, as in George Villiers, the late Duke of Buckingham. Hyde first appeared on the royal radar by writing a defense of Buckingham’s conduct, which wound up being read by an approving King Charles I.
After being called to the bar, Hyde remarried in 1634, another auspicious union that got the young attorney access to an excellent class of clients, which soon included Archbishop Laud of all people. During this period, Hyde also befriended a sensitive kindred spirit named Lucius Carey, the Viscount Falkland, and joined an informal philosophical society that generally met out of Falkland’s estate. This group wound up forming the core of the so-called Constitutional Royalists, men who believed in both the monarchy and the established Anglican Church, but who also believed that there was a set of rights and responsibilities and limits to each.
In 1640, thanks to his connection to fellow attorney Oliver Syngin, Hyde was elected to the short parliament, and then a few months later he was elected to the long parliament. His role in both houses was to work tirelessly for compromise. He absolutely believed that Charles’ conduct during personal rule was illegal, but all he wanted was for the King to get back into his box. Hyde supported the impeachment of Strafford, but after that unpleasant bit of political theater he pulled back from the more extreme measures being brought up for discussion. He did not support the abolition of the bishops, and he did not support the Grand Remonstrance, both of which he thought went way too far.
It was, in fact, a thorough takedown of the Grand Remonstrance that got Hyde noticed again by the King. Charles was so impressed by Hyde’s reasoning that he co-opted the essay, signed his name at the bottom, and issued it as the official royal response. This brought Hyde permanently into the inner circle of Charles’ court, and for the next few years he served as the King’s primary ghostwriter, drafting most of the King’s declarations during this critical period. But though he supported Charles, Hyde abhorred the business about the five members and sought always to temper the King’s more extreme interpretations of just what Divine Right really meant.
When the King left London, Hyde soon followed him to York. He was knighted, put on the Privy Council, and then made Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was present at Edgehill, and was then devastated to learn that at the First Battle of Newbury, his dear friend Viscount Falkland had been killed, and by all accounts the cause of death was suicide. Falkland was one of those who believed that Edgehill was going to decide the war, and after it didn’t, he grew despondent over the continued fighting that killed so many while helping so few. He rode out at full gallop through a line of parliamentary musketeers and was mowed down. Pretty soon though, Hyde’s constant recommendations that Charles cut a deal and end the war ran him afoul of the more dedicated Cavaliers, so he was shipped off to Bristol with orders to tend to young Prince Charles. Hyde remained with the Prince through the end of the First Civil War, following him to Cornwall after news of the disaster at Naseby, and then on to the silly Isles when it no longer became safe to remain in the country. Eventually the Prince’s entourage settled in Jersey, where Hyde recommended that they all stay, but young Charles elected to heed his mother’s call and sail for France. Hyde meanwhile stayed in Jersey for the next two years, and it was there that he wrote up the first volumes of what would one day become his masterful history.
Through correspondence with friends back home, his own clear memories, and personal papers, he was able to reconstruct a fairly good picture of what had gone wrong and why. And though he wrote with an obvious royalist slant, Hyde is widely respected even today for refusing to let the King and his advisors off the hook. Their mistakes and misjudgments are not overlooked.
When the Second Civil War broke out, Hyde was called to the Hague by Prince Charles, but by the time he got there, the war was already over. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed to the Prince’s Privy Council over the strong objections of the Queen who did not like Hyde one bit, though it is worth noting that that feeling was mutual. Hyde did not approve of the Queen’s attempt to make a deal with the French, nor did he believe that cutting a deal with those mad Presbyterians up in Scotland served anyone’s best interest. After Charles I was executed, Hyde went off to serve as ambassador to Spain while Prince Charles – let’s now call him Charles II – sailed off to start the Third Civil War.
When Charles returned to the continent after escaping the Battle of Worcester, Hyde joined him in Paris and would serve as the would-be King’s closest advisor through the years in exile, always arguing in favor of the established Anglican Church, abhorring all alliances with Catholics in Europe, and trying to put the kibosh on any half-baked scheme to restore the monarchy by way of cunning plans and daring adventures. After Oliver Cromwell’s death let some sunlight shine on the flagging royalist spirits, Hyde was made Lord Chancellor, and he took the point on trying to get the old moderate parliamentarians to sign up for a great push to restore the monarchy.
As the Commonwealth crumbled, Hyde was instrumental in the decision to draw up and publish the Declaration of Breda, which paved the way for Charles to ascend to the throne on his own terms and with minimal loss of prestige, all the while making it look like he was being generous and magnanimous.
After the Restoration, Hyde attained the pinnacle of his power and influence, serving as Lord Chancellor to the King he had been advising and safeguarding for the last fifteen years. Hyde was then brought even closer to the royal family when his daughter had a fling with Prince James, the future James II, and wound up pregnant. The royal family decided to accept the legitimacy of the match, and Hyde’s daughter was married to James, becoming the Duchess of York, while Hyde himself was created Earl of Clarendon to give him a title befitting a royal in-law. While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that while James himself was eventually run out on the rails, he was succeeded first by his daughter Mary and then his daughter Anne, making Hyde the grandfather of two future British queens.
His end, however, is a sad one. He was never much liked by the more flagrant Cavaliers, like the Duke of Buckingham’s son for example, who ran around Restoration England like it was their own personal frat house. After England lost the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667, the fiasco was pinned on Hyde, though he had steadfastly opposed entering the war in the first place. Having lost royal favor and now facing impeachment, Hyde chose exile in France over giving his enemies the satisfaction of prosecuting him.
It was during this exile, an exile that would last for the rest of his life, that Hyde returned to the great history of the rebellion he had set aside twenty years before. He constantly begged old colleagues and friends to send him documents, letters, and any inside information they might have gleaned over the years. Eventually, the work sprawled to a million words, and that only covered the period between the ascension of Charles I and the Battle of Worcester.
Edward Hyde, the first Earl of Clarendon, died in exile in 1674. After his death, the massive manuscript he left behind collected dust for the next thirty years, until it was finally dusted off by one of his sons, who had it published in installments between 1702 and 1704. From there on out, it more or less served as the official history of the Civil Wars until S.R. Gardner’s own massive account finally superseded it in the 1880s.
Reading it is not for the faint of heart, because, for example, Edward Hyde, the first Earl of Clarendon, was allergic to periods. But if you ever really want to get into the Civil Wars, you have to read it. The abridged version is fine. You can pick up a nice version published by Oxford University Press, under their official imprint, the Clarendon Press, named after our man Edward Hyde, because according to lore, proceeds from the sale of his history helped build the university’s new printing house in the 1720s.
Edward Hyde, I think, is more representative of the men and women who lived through the Civil Wars and the Revolution than many of the people we wound up focusing on in the show. Naturally, it was the extremists on both sides who drove the narrative, this way, and then that way, and then right into the ground. But I would guess that the majority were guys like Hyde, men who were forced to choose sides, but who could see that, yeah, you know, you’ve got a point about that, but look, I’ve got a point about this, and isn’t there a way we can just work this out?
Hyde may not have been able to steer the course of history in his preferred direction while he was alive, but the epic narrative he left behind certainly steered it after he was dead. Imagine if you have to wade through sentences three pages long to get there.
- Charles II of England
- Oliver Cromwell
- Charles I of England
- George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
- Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon
- James II of England
- The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England by Edward Hyde Earl of Clarendon: https://amzn.to/3VT6GAs
After serving in Parliament and the courts of both Charles I and Charles II, Edward Hyde wrote a massively influential history of the English Civil Wars.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider buying Mike Duncan's books:
- Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution: https://amzn.to/3VNqViT
- The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic: https://amzn.to/3h26YpW
- The History of Rome: The Republic: https://amzn.to/3UAvImK
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