Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson by Gill Blanchard

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Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson by Gill Blanchard

Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson was one of the most notable figures to change allegiance after the Civil War and the death of Oliver Cromwell, and play a leading role in the restoration of King Charles II. The author has produced a well-balanced account of the public and private life of someone who until now has attracted little attention from historians.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1445661230

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Twice within three centuries, England was convulsed by internal armed struggle. During the Lancastrian-Yorkist hostilities, several powerful figures changed sides at least once. Two hundred years later, when the roundheads and cavaliers were at odds, it was not uncommon for some of their protagonists to do likewise. This book tells the life of one of the major Stuart era changelings, one who as the author says played a pivotal role in the death throes of the republican cause for which he fought hard over seventeen years.

Initially a staunch republican, Sir John Lawson was in command of ships in the parliament's service during and after the English Civil War. For much of the interregnum he was a devoted servant of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, especially in the war against the Dutch. The incident which apparently made him reconsider his allegiance was when some of Cromwell's supporters urged him to proclaim himself King, the catalyst for three hundred malcontents, known to posterity as the Fifth Monarchy, to try and depose him. Lawson was among those arrested for conspiracy, but soon released and appointed Commander-in-Chief of the fleet two years later. Arguably the height of his career came in January 1660 when there was rioting in the London streets, and with Parliament under the control of the army, he took a fleet of warships into the Thames and in defence of Parliament blockaded the city. It was this action which prompted the noted diarist Samuel Pepys to record that 'Lawson lies still in the river', hence the title of this biography.

While there is evidence that he was still a republican at heart, he was one of those who followed the lead of General George Monck in 1660 and declared that he supported the restoration of the monarchy under the King-in-exile, who was shortly to return as Charles II. His career flourished accordingly; he was knighted later that year, subsequently served in the Mediterranean and in North Africa. A successful career was cut short when he was commissioned as Vice-Admiral during the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665, hit in the kneecap by a musket ball at the battle of Lowestoft, and died of gangrene three weeks later.

Very few characters from this era have been come down through posterity as household names. The author has done well to add to our knowledge of one of the more interesting characters. It would have been too easy for her to make this a primarily naval biography with much technical detail which would not enthral the average historical reader, but she has resisted the temptation. Altogether she has placed him perfectly against a constantly shifting background, that of the Civil War, the Protectorate, the restoration, and the Anglo-Dutch War that followed. She has also pieced together some details of his personal life, not least the knowledge that he and his wife Isabelle had six daughters, three of whom sadly died within a short time of each other in an epidemic of probably typhus soon after the Restoration.

You will close this book knowing rather more about an obscure but diligent servant of the time, and a good deal more about England in the seventeenth century as well.

For another life of the early Stuart era, you may enjoy a biography of King Charles I's consort, Henrietta Maria by Dominic Pearce

Buy Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson by Gill Blanchard at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson by Gill Blanchard at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson by Gill Blanchard at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson by Gill Blanchard at Amazon.com.


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