Clio, the Muse of History, is doubtless the most sensible and bluestocking of the nine sisters; but over the last century or so she has seemed to bestow her gifts of inspiration with a highly partisan (and, at times, downright Whiggish) hand. The choice of who, among historical figures past, is accorded a biography is a case in point. During the seventeenth century, for example, it is the Parliamentarian radicals, the alleged precursors of modernity, that hog the biographical limelight: thus there are a dozen biographies of the Leveller leader and ‘democrat’, John Lilburne, for every one devoted to even the most important of the Roundhead patrician grandees. Even such central figures as the Earls of Warwick or Essex – ‘Who they?’ the reader well might ask – have languished in scholarly obscurity, as historians more often looked for subjects who could be made to seem relevant to the here-and-now, rather than those who actually mattered to their contemporaries.
To be a Royalist nobleman, however – not just ‘Wrong but Wromantic’, in the famous phrase of 1066 and All That, but ‘Wreactionary’ as well – was to be consigned to an outer circle of bien-pensant disdain. On the high road from the medieval world to modernity, these were men