The English Civil War in Verse

February 7th, 2015 in category Rare & Collectible Books

English Civil War in Verse

A little while ago I was at an auction and ended up buying a book that I'd missed when I'd read the catalogue. It was only after the sale had started when I noticed a book in the catalogue entitled 'The History of The Grand Rebellion', published in three volumes between 1713 and 1715. Given my interest in the history of the 17th century I bought it, not knowing exactly what it was and without having looked at the volumes themselves and I find myself quite glad to have done so.

My first thought about these books when I saw the title was that they were probably about the Jacobite rebellion. The Jacobite rebellions are a consequence of the Glorious Revolution which saw the end of the Stuart dynasty in England and the placing of William of Orange on the throne of England. James II did try and land an invasion force in England in 1708 but was unsuccessful and the first serious rising is in 1715, after the first volume of this set had been published and if the subject of the book isn't the Jacobite rebellion then the only other likely candidate is the English Civil War and so it proved.

English Civil War in Verse

Perhaps the title should have made it obvious, being as similar as it is to the Earl of Clarendon's famous account of the civil war, "History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England: Begun in the Year 1641." But, given the thirty seconds one has in an auction room to decide whether or not to bid the connection didn't immediately register, but on looking at the book it was obvious. What these three volumes contain is a retelling of Clarendon's work, but in verse. Rewriting Clarendon's history in verse seems like an unlikely thing to do and I was curious and wanted to know more about the books, beginning with who wrote them. The title pages make no mention of the author and there were no copies online. A search of the British Library catalogue provided the authors name, Edward (Ned) Ward (1667-1731).

English Civil War in Verse

Ward was a writer and satirist who is most famous for his "Hudibras Redivivus". That work was published in 24 monthly parts between August 1705 and June 1707. Ward was a high church Tory and in "Hudibras Redivivus" he satirised the Whigs, the party responsible for the Glorious Revolution, the placing of William of Orange on the throne, and supporters of Queen Anne. In 1706, as a result of his writings Ward was twice charged with seditious libel, fined and stood in the pillory. It was after this episode and in the closing numbers of "Hudibras Redivivus" that Ward began to versify Clarendon's work. He did this seeing that it provided a safe means to satirise the Whigs. Some years later he returned to the work of rewriting the History of the Rebellion in verse and the first volume was published in 1713. The printing cost Ward £500, a large sum of money in 1713 and Ward lost money publishing the work. Much of the cost must have lain in the illustrations, there are 84 engraved portraits and 3 engraved maps.

English Civil War in Verse

The book is not uncommon in institutional libraries both in the UK and America. It does however seem less common in the antiquarian book trade. The only sales record I could find was for a copy sold in a London auction house in 1974, when it made £40. That doesn't mean it’s not been sold at auction since, only that it’s not been recorded, either because it’s been lotted-up with other books or because the auction house doesn't appear in book auction records. Perhaps its uncommon because given its expense the print run was limited. It’s also possible that few copies survive because Ward himself was not a writer with sufficient reputation for his work to have seemed worthy of preservation. For the most part his output was populist and so while he had a large readership during his career his work rapidly fell out of fashion after his death, but three hundred years later they seem much more interesting; populist history writing from the early 18th century with a political slant.

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