Welcome to another blog post, where I talk to you about my trip to Oxfordshire. I hope you will find it informative and interesting and maybe inspire you to go and visit yourself. Now before I start, my purpose of my visit to this county was to study the English Civil War. Oxford was Charles I capital and it was here where he was based during most of the conflict. I will also talk about a few reflections I had whilst in Oxfordshire regarding the English Civil War
So firstly Oxford, it is a beautiful city with grand old architecture. Of course, if you want a tour, you will mainly hear about the university, and I mean Oxford university, not Oxford Brooks! But the history in the city is amazing, if you want natural history, science, literature, it is all there, just not what I wanted, which was the civil war! It’s amazing isn’t it, that the place that was the Kings own capital, hardly has any history in it about it! Around Oxford apparently, they have the parks peace parks, stopping any re-enactments from taking place there, which I just find frankly absurd! Nonetheless, the city, with the likes of the famous group of writers (the inkling, such as C.S.Lewis and Tolkien), being known to meet in a pub known as the Eagle and the Child, it certainly has a lot of inspiration! What does strike me, is that they mention all these famous person who went there, however, one whom I would like to point out Cecil Rhodes, was quite a nasty person and well, shouldn’t really be celebrated like he was!
Oxfordshire however, saw many battles during the Civil war, and you would expect to find a lot of information on them at the battle sites…right? Wrong, sadly there is hardly anything there! One would expect to at least have sign posts to the battlefields like they do at Naseby, but alas, only Chalgrove Field was shown. Nonetheless, Oxfordshire has still so much more history to offer than the civil war, take a look at Blenheim Palace, I have to say I was in awe, my inner Leveller (as I have now called it) was clearly upset, but one cannot go to Blenheim and not be impressed. It is a beautiful place. It is interesting to note how they love to compare Churchill to the first duke of Marlborough every time. So so wrong in my opinion! They are completely different people, you can’t compare them.
Of course when you see museums, you have to remember that it will have some bias, you cannot show something without it. However, they seemed to show Churchill in a way that was so over the top it was ridiculous, historians have recently contested the importance of the politician, but that whole debate was not there, not surprising I guess, but do be careful when you do visit museums, remember there is always a bias!.
So what did I actually find in Oxfordshire that helped me in my research of the Civil War? Well, there were the occasional monuments, if you looked hard enough, a few to Levellers, who were executed for their mutinies at the end of the Civil war. However there are none that are to the common soldier. I was quite surprised, especially when you think that Britain lost at least 13% of its population to the war. The most information I found were in churches, memorials to generals or captains, the upper class so to speak. However the churches had the most information to give, and some even had information about the people who were remembered there.
For most of the research, I could not rely on the internet or on road signs, they did not give a lot, but using the local knowledge of the local populace, you can find things you would have never known about, therefore if you really want to uncover the truth, as our duty as historians should be, then do not be afraid to get into the field and ask people, they know more than you think! Nonetheless, one thing I did learn was how the English Civil War has become forgotten, its importance played down. Especially in this day and age, where revolutions seem to be a common occurrence, and with a distrust of politicians in our own country, it just seems all too familiar. My trip to Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties just showed me that we must learn and remember the past. I find Tristam Hunts books on the Civil war a masterpiece, in it, he notes that modern conversations really find their roots in the Civil war. I spent my evenings reading his book The English Civil War at first hand, and it really helped with my understanding of events.
And another book I read whilst on my holiday was Thomas Hobbes’s book Leviathan, again another amazing book, in which, we can learn a really important fact. The state is nothing more than a Leviathan, in other words it is a giant that collects and encompasses the strengths of a nations people to secure a monopoly over violence (look at Nation making for a clearer understanding). It can be seen throughout history that when a group tries to take control of that power, it is usually through violent suppression and elimination of their rivals, but if the Leviathan strength weakens and eventually fails, other groups will emerge to fight for the enormous privileges hat go with a leading a state. For me it just shows the failings of communism, but that’s not my argument right now. It’s that the Civil war should be our starting point when we look at today’s events, and if we can learn from those mistakes of the past, we can avoid them. I think that was partly Hobbes’s reason for writing this book, that at the end of the day, it was futile.
So to conclude, Oxfordshire was a great place to visit, I really learnt so much whilst I was there, but I was disappointed in the lack of Civil war information. If we don’t try and learn from the past, then events will happen just as Hobbes said they would. Nonetheless, for a place of literature inspiration and a place to see one of England’s great Universities then it worth a visit, it was such a beautiful and interesting area!