QAB Book Review: “The White King – Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr” by Leanda de Lisle


October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of a momentous day in World History, the day an Augustinian friar got the notion to post his 95 Theses to the door of the Whittenburg Castle Church. As historian Diarmaid MacCulloch will teach us here at the website tomorrow, Martin Luther had no idea the religious tug-of-war he was about to unleash — nor the theological debate among Evangelicals, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and later varying Protestant denominations — as well as the ultimate literal fight for survival between Evangelicals, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics that would unfold. Whether knowing or unknowing, publisher Hachette Book Group chose this date to release Leanda de Lisle’s brilliant new biography The White King – Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr. Charles I the victim of regicide, his wife and children the victims of pervasive religious persecution, and their subjects the victims of religious and governmental infighting culminating in both religious and civil wars, the release date could not be more fitting.

“The White King” Charles Stuart I was like his father King James Stuart I/VI and Queen Elizabeth Tudor before him, a High Church Anglican and supreme monarchist. An obsessive patron of Arts with the world’s most expansive collection of portraiture, Charles I, was a staunch believer of both clerical authority and the divine right of kings. Unfortunately for him, his family, closest advisors, and those loyal to his perceived ultimate authority, Calvinist Protestants were gaining support and power, and with them the notion of a representative governmental rule. With Roman Catholics, in contrast, gaining the upper hand in Europe, the stage was set for both religious and civil wars in Scotland, Ireland, and England… the end results unthinkable, regicide and the assumed end of the English monarchy.

The White King – Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr paints a brilliantly balanced look at the tragic life and complicated reign of King Charles I. Vivid in detail, Leanda de Lisle’s research is balanced and insightful. The title of the book is a bit misleading, though. King Charles I as painted by Leanda de Lisle is neither traitor, murderer or martyr — nor is he a hero or villain. Instead, King Charles I is shown to be complex men, single-minded in his quest to supremely rule, like King Henry VIII before him, a determined defender of the faith, Supreme Head of the Church of England. Courageous, family-devoted, politically naive, and like all men, humanly flawed, King Charles I lacked the ruthlessness of his forefathers and political opponents. Thus, he perished.

Beyond the vivid life story of King Charles I, The White King – Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr also expertly details the life stories of those closest to him — family, friends, adversaries, and closest advisors. Leanda de Lisle, well-known for her rich contributions to “women’s history”, also doesn’t miss an opportunity to highlight strong women in this work. I admit freely that I have a new-found appreciation for Queen Henrietta Maria. This was one passionate, courageous, determined, and brilliant woman. Leanda de Lisle not only dispells misconceptions, she sets the record straight. Largely rehabilitated, Queen Henrietta Maria is given long overdue and well-deserved credit for her considerable contributions to world history. Beyond Henrietta Maria, other women of the era highlighted include her mother Marie de’ Medici, as well as her “frenemy”, Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle and others.

If you have an interest in English History, do buy this book. Richly researched and engagingly written, you will gain excellent insight not only into the life of King Charles I and the lives of those closest to him, but also the religious and governmental strife that drove Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales into bitter religious and civil war.


Leanda de Lisle

Leanda de Lisle is a renowned journalist and historian who writes articles and book reviews for BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator, as well as several national newspapers in the United Kingdom.  Leanda’s first non-fiction book made a huge impression, a runner-up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. Leanda’s book, Tudor; The Family Story (1437-1603),  was a top ten bestseller in the United Kingdom and released in the United States, re-titled for an America audiences. The highly anticipated release of Leanda’s newest biography The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr is set for October 31, 2017. Fittingly, Leanda lives near Bosworth Battlefield, Bosworth, England. For more information, visit Leanda’s website at LEANDA DE LISLE.


Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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