Andrew Abram, For a Parliament Freely Chosen (Helion, 2021)
Sir George Booth launched his rebellion against the Rump Parliament on 1 August 1659. He had 4,000 men with him in Cheshire and expected others across England to join in; the auspices looked positive for success. Within 24 days, Booth was isolated, defeated in battle, and captured trying to escape disguised as a woman. What happened? Andrew Abram is here to tell us while putting Booth’s Rebellion in the wider context of an England in turmoil and on the cusp of revolutionary change.
Abram sets out his stall by surveying Cheshire after the First Civil War, from 1646 to 1650. This was a turbulent period of local political conflict and many old wounds remained open. The 1650s were, of course, the years of Cromwell’s Protectorate. In Cheshire, Abram reviews the settlement of the militia who fought for Cromwell in the Scottish invasion of 1651. The rest of the decade is highlighted as one of discontent within the county, particularly among dispossessed Royalists and disaffected Presbyterians, and Cromwellian attempts to smooth things over. Out of this emerged Sir George Booth, a man acceptable to both Royalists and Cromwellians, though not without suspicion.
1659 proved a pivotal year for the governance of England. This is where Abram focuses next in a contextual chapter that leads into Booth’s rebellion. Abram describes the rebellion’s strategy, leadership, and cohesion as Booth led his small army to Chester from Warrington to begin his campaign. Unfortunately for Booth, Parliament had been tipped off. Moreover, Abram argues that Booth lacked experience of military command and made significant mistakes, one of which was to expect a general uprising. That never materialised, and to make things worse, Major General John Lambert was on his way from London with a sizeable force. Abram detours from his narrative to describe Booth’s army, which he estimates at about 4,000 with the usual mix of trained and raw troops, some motivated and others pressed into service. Abram then turns to the Council of State’s reaction in London, which was to send the troops under Lambert and from other places, most notably Ireland. That brings both sides to the Battle of Winnington Bridge. This was as one-sided as battles get, and it seems that only Lambert’s restraint prevented a general massacre. The perpetrators of Booth’s rebellion got off light in the subsequent turmoil that led to the Restoration. Booth spent some time in the Tower of London but was released to play his role in Charles II’s return. Abram ends his story there but adds some appendices for primary documents and an excellent bibliography.
On reading For a Parliament Freely Chosen, there is no doubt that Abram is an expert in his field. He displays this through the detailed narrative and analysis he presents on every page and the manner in which he switches seamlessly from local to national themes. Abram is also persuasive that Booth’s Rebellion was a nationally significant event. He gets into the weeds at times, as you might anticipate in such a detailed work, but he never loses his readers in doing so. Abram’s book is part of Helion’s Century of the Soldier series, meaning that the production quality in illustrations, maps, and general presentation are what we have come to expect. Overall, not an introductory book to the Civil War era, but enthusiasts will certainly enjoy reading this.