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Review: The Governor of England by Marjorie Bowen

King Charles I of England had governed “nine years without a Parliament, contrary to the laws and ordinances of the realm of England.” As liberties, both religious and civil, were being threatened, one farmer, Oliver Cromwell, was called in a vision to be God’s “servant in this work which is to be done in England.” 

Over the course of many years, Cromwell humbly followed this vision as it was unfolded for him, step by step and often against his personal wishes.   Although he labored to save the King, strove for tolerance, and wearily longed for a peaceful life on his farm, these things were not to be.  The King was beheaded; other Englishmen did not believe in tolerance; and rather than retire to his own farm, he become Lord-Protector of England.  Following Cromwell on his fascinating journey, we meet many of the great men and women of the time, and some of them we actually get to know.  

Marjorie Bowen traces the tumultuous Cromwell years with her usual accuracy and attention to detail, clearly showing the difficulties of governing England during the mid-1600’s.  Although this book is about Cromwell, she portrays both King Charles and Cromwell as complex persons, each with serious flaws as well as greatness.  Charles was underhanded and unreliable in many ways but willing to defend, to the death, his belief in the Church of England and his own divine right as king.  Cromwell, a man led by visions and revelation, ended up, quite inconsistently, almost replacing Charles in position and actions.  Truthfully, however, this was never Cromwell’s goal, and he reached it reluctant step by reluctant step until there was no turning back.

Obviously this novel is full of religious and theological ideas.  Bowen presents Charles’s steadfastness in his two great beliefs.  She also tells of Cromwell’s spiritual struggles and triumphs, attributing his spiritual agony to his Puritan faith.  I have an uneasy feeling that Bowen subtly mocks Cromwell’s visions, speeches, and beliefs; perhaps it is just that his earnest words, a mix of Biblical prophecy and personal ideas, sound amazing to our modern ears.   

This is an excellent fictionalized biography but, despite the subtitle, I would hesitate to call it a novel.  True, it is full of excitement, but there is really no plot.  Besides, there’s no one to love in the book except for Cromwell’s daughter Elisabeth, a minor character whose terminal illness Bowen attributes to dismay at all that is happening around her.

The Governor of England is an invaluable addition to any study of English history.  It balances the more popular approach in which Charles is idealized and Cromwell vilified.  I’m thankful to have read it twice, since it teaches so much about life and human nature as well as about history. 

The Governor of England: A Novel on Oliver Cromwell, originally published 1917, has been reprinted by Inheritance Publications.  

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Inheritance Publications in order to review it.  I am not compensated for my reviews and my opinions are my own.

The Governor of England is my 26th book in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge

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