QAB Interviews Historian Leanda de Lisle…. The Topic? King Charles I, Of Course

Editor’s Note: QAB recently got together with Leanda de Lisle online to discuss her new highly anticipated biography. The White King – Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr, published by Hachette Book Group, releases tomorrow, October 31, 2017. Do check out QAB’s Review of this fantastic look at English History’s tragic Stuart monarch. 

Leanda de Lisle


King Charles I by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1628

Leanda, your biography of King Charles I is brilliant, an absolutely wonderful accounting of a remarkably complicated man. Why did you choose to focus your research and interest in arguably England’s most tragic and misunderstood monarch?

Thank you! I knew the drama of the Tudor age had not ended with the death of Elizabeth I. It was only in the reign of Charles I that it would find a resolution. The Reformation had thrown up questions about faith and power that had yet to be answered, and that story is a fascinating and dramatic one that I could not resist.



John Pym, Parliamentarian (Artist Unknown)

Tell us your biggest “surprise” in researching King Charles I. Is there a common misconception that most stunned you when the reality became known?

I was shocked by the behavior of Charles’s opponents in the lead up to civil war. I had been taught they were parliamentary heroes, and yet they had deliberately fanned religious and ethnic hatreds to recruit to their cause, in the worst examples of populism. This propaganda still informs English culture, not least in popular memory of Charles’s maligned queen, Henrietta Maria.  Incidentally, she was called Queen Mary at the time (they considered calling her Queen Henry!), hence Maryland, which was named after her. I have stuck to Henrietta Maria, so not to confuse.


William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (after Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1636)

Your biography of Charles I is releasing on the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, October 31st, the day Martin Luther defiantly nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. Though your American publisher likely did not understand the significance of this when the date was selected, I find it a sadly ironic. How much do you feel that the infighting of Protestant denominations, as well as Protestants fears of a Roman Catholic counter-reformation, set the stage for the ultimate fall of King Charles I?

This infighting was key – the English civil war was a war between Protestants over the nature of the Church of England, as well as the limits of royal power. The Church of England was informed by Calvinist theology but was not purely Calvinist. It had aspects to it that were closer to Lutheranism. King Charles also reformed the Church,  moving away from a Calvinist focus on sermons and extempore prayers, set in plain buildings, to a style with ritual and music, set in beautified churches. His enemies called this Popish and unfairly accused him of being influenced by his Catholic wife. People were very sensitive to the threat of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which was making huge advances in Europe, and so the accusations of Popery caused Charles many problems. He retaliated by persecuting those Calvinists known as Puritans, who opposed his reforms  – and many of them fled to the Puritan colonies in America.


Queen Henrietta Maria (Anthony van Dyck)

King Charles I’s consort, Queen Henrietta Maria’s perhaps surprisingly remarkable life, and influence is brilliantly highlighted and a hallmark best practice accounting in your new biography. Why do you believe Henrietta Maria gets “short-shifted” and negatively portrayed by so many historians? What do you believe is her most profound contribution to English History?

 Quite simply the propaganda of Charles’s enemies still informs English history, and this is helped by old misogynistic attitudes that we have absorbed almost into our DNA. Amongst these is a view of women as Eve, seducing men into wickedness and bringing misery into paradise – which is exactly what Henrietta Maria is accused of – seducing Charles to make poor choices and causing a horrendous civil war in peaceful England. Wickedness is represented by ugliness. In fairy tales, the seductive face of a beautiful woman is a witches spell, behind which lies the hag. And so I find it telling that descriptions of Henrietta Maria – including one given in a book published this August – quotes a description of the queen as a sick woman in middle age, and applies it to her when she was young and beautiful.  The truth is she was never responsible for Charles’s choices.


King Charles I (Anthony van Dyck)

Given how powerfully King Charles I needed to struggle with Parliament for control over the ultimate governmental, societal and power control over the realm, was his decision not to call Parliament for over eleven years a wise decision or a poor one? Why so?

It was a poor one. One royalist observed that no autocrat of the Orient was as powerful as a King working with his Parliament. Parliament gave his actions the force of law and the implicit support of the nation.  Without Parliament, his power was more limited. Charles also should have called a new Parliament at a time of his own choosing. As it was, he called Parliament when he had little choice and that left him weak.


Oliver Cromwell and Charles I (Paul Delaroche, 1831)

Speaking of Parliamentarians, now that you have extensively researched the Tudor Era, the Stuart Era and the English Civil War, who had the greatest and most long-lasting contribution to English government as we now know it to be — Thomas Cromwell or Oliver Cromwell? Why so?

Oliver. Hatred of the Puritan Commonwealth gave England a lasting distaste for radical politics and ensured we still have a monarchy.



King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Marie — I never appreciated just how much these two people loved each other before reading The White King. Queen Henrietta Maria was exceptionally supportive of her husband. What assistance did she provide him that was most helpful to his governance and struggle to stay on the throne?

I think she was most helpful in raising money and arms in Europe during the civil war, but also simply in giving him love and loyalty.


Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle by Adriaan Hanneman

Since you are visiting, I need to ask. Lucy Carlisle, a direct descendant of Mary Boleyn, just how resourceful and manipulative was she? Do you find her a compelling historical figure? Why or why not?

Yes, I think she is in many ways as remarkable as Queen Anne Boleyn. She was always at the center of political events, and usually had the leading men eating out of her hand. Glamorous, clever, and exciting, she had a dark side that makes her all the more intriguing, and was an important figure in her own right, independent of a husband.



Sir Jeffrey Hudson by Anthony van Dyck

Many browsers of enjoy historical fiction where Jeffrey Hudson pops up as a popular character. Queen Henrietta Marie seemed to cherish Hudson, as well as other people of difference in her “menagerie of freaks”. Was the “ownership” of people of difference common in the 17th century? Why do you believe Queen Henrietta developed such close relationships with people such as Jeffrey Hudson?

Henrietta Maria was a warm character, devoted to her friends and certainly very fond of Jeffrey.  Midgets and dwarves were very popular at all the royal courts. In the past so were those with limited mental capacity, such as those with Downs Syndrome. They were called ‘innocents’ and valued for that quality. Mary Tudor, for example, had an ‘innocent’ in her service.


King Charles I was World History’s preeminent patron of portrait artists and likely held England’s greatest collection of portraiture. Were their other interests of the king that are notable to world history?

Charles’s influence on the Church of England still marks it today – its bishops, its music, its ritual – and as such he still shapes a part of English culture.


Charles I (Anthony van Dyck)

Was King Charles I a great warrior? Why?

I would not say he was a great warrior, but he was a brave and resilient one who inspired great loyalty. Parliament held London and the majority of England’s wealth and population at the outset of the civil war. For a time they also had the backing of the Scots. Yet it took four years to defeat Charles militarily.

Beyond his fight to maintain the throne and ultimate execution, what do you believe King Charles I’s most pronounced contribution to English History is? Why so?

His influence on the Church of England remains important, and he left a memory sufficiently positive to allow for the restoration of his son and with it the British monarchy.


Do you have any new projects on the horizon that you would like to share?

 I would like to focus on telling people about Charles I and his reign for a few months at least…and give myself time to explore what comes next!!



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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