In an essay of 1990 entitled ‘The Baronial Context of the English Civil War’, John Adamson raised a banner of rebellion against some of the citadels of modern British historiography. For more than a hundred years, the Civil War had been painted as a battle for constitutional government against royal absolutism, a fight by the rising bourgeoisie to overthrow the rotten oligopoly of crown and court, and a godly crusade to free men’s souls from the diktats of a bloated, scolding church. In none of these interpretations, Whiggish, Marxist or Puritan, did the nobility find much of a place, except as the enfeebled adjunct of a monarch who was the source of all ills, or as the trimming, irresolute bagmen of the indomitable House of Commons. Adamson’s thesis, later elaborated in his book The Noble Revolt, restored the Lords to centre stage. He argued that the Civil War was provoked, initiated and – at least in its early stages – prosecuted by a committed cadre of noblemen determined to ‘Venetianise’ the English government, shrinking the monarch to a figurehead.
While debate about the origins of perhaps the most extraordinary episode in British history has hardly been stilled, Adamson’s thesis redrew the battle lines, as Richard Cust’s learned response demonstrates. Adamson’s concern was the ‘junto’ of opposition peers led by the pious yet hearty Earl of Warwick, who had been