The English Civil War was one of the most reported in the United Kingdom up until that time and was a catalyst for the use of words in order to undermine the enemy, it was also used as a recruitment tool and to spread disunity by means of dis-information. The public were hungry for news and human nature being what it is people loved to hear about the worst possible traits of whatever side they happened to oppose, cruelty, inequality, licentiousness, drunken behaviour, pillaging, rape of innocents, all were lapped up in much the same as they are to this day.
Also mirroring some modern practice, bad news could be effectively deflected or hidden, "burying bad news" is the term our politicians use. Character assassination is something we all see everyday within our various media outlets, take something your opponent has said or done and twist it to suit the point you are trying to make, this was common practice by both sides, on the Royalist side Prince Rupert was the victim, if that is the right word, of some heavy duty character assassination by the Parliamentarians.
Rupert who was of Germanic origin became known amongst other things as The Bloody Prince, largely as a result of the part he played in the sack of Birmingham in April 1643, he is depicted in wood cuttings of the time astride his horse with his pistol pointing towards Birmingham, a city in flames.
Possibly the strangest piece of fantasy to emanate from the war related to Rupert and his pet dog Boy, he had acquired the dog from the Earl of Arundel who had given the animal to Rupert in an effort to lift his spirits during his imprisonment in Linz Austria after he had been captured at the battle of Vlotho in Germany by Austrian soldiers.
Some of these soldiers had stated that although they had shot at Rupert from very close range he had remained remarkably unharmed, and so this resulted in a rumour being spread that the Prince was somehow invulnerable to bullets.
Rupert kept the dog and it remained with him after his eventual release, and then the Prince became a key figure of the English Civil War, he won a huge victory for the Royalist cause at the Battle of Edgehill, this is when he attained almost legendary status, and the rumours that had circulated previously about his perceived invulnerability became even more outlandish.
During 1642 the printing of pamphlets had become widespread and in London many of these were used to undermine the King and his friends and supporters, pamphlets began to appear which sought to attribute to Rupert devilish powers, remember that these were times when the belief in witchcraft was widespread amongst the populace and to suggest that one of the Kings most famous allies held satanic powers was an attempt to taint not only Rupert but the whole Royalist cause likewise.
A very early example of Fake news, which we hear a lot about and many people believe this to be a contemporary phenomena largely propagated through social media, in fact the events described above went on to become even more bizarre in an amusing twist carried out by the Royalists who took the story and exaggerated it and turned the whole thing on its head to accuse the Parliamentarians of gullibilty bordering on gross stupidity.
This was precipitated by a poem written by the Royalist writer John Cleveland in which he lampooned the Parliamentarians mocking them as fools for their beliefs, this was then followed up by a fake pamphlet produced by a Royalist writer but portrayed as a product of the Parliamentarians which made even more outlandish claims about the dog. So we can think of pamphleteering almost as the 17th century eqivalent of Twitter where people who should know better insult and belittle each other or make outlandish claims, so as the saying goes, "There is nothing new under the Sun". Personally having used Twitter some the the posts don't bear any relation to reality when scrutinised, as a little research will usually reveal.
To anyone in England wanting to portray the enemy as the devil incarnate a foreigner fighting on the other side was manna from heaven, what better way to whip up hostile sentiment than the brutal wicked foreigner, even better if he had under his command troops from oversea's whose behaviour could be portrayed in the very worst possible light.
The Royalists in their turn depicted Parliamentarians as religious radicals whose sole purpose was to undermine order in regards to the church and the very state itself, the Royalist tract "The battaile of Hopton heath in Staffordshire" reported that the Earl of Northampton having been unhorsed continued the fight, but was finally overcome with the report going on to say that the Parliamentarians refused to give up Northampton's body to his son unless lost arms were returned to them, this lead to the Royalists declaring they had behaved worst than the Turks, an insult indeed in those times.
Intrigue, intransigence, deceit, behind the scenes machinations, bloodletting, purges, broken promises, reputations destroyed with the real possibility of leaving only a legacy of disappointment despair and failure. I know what you are thinking, Brexit right ? but no this was seventeenth century England,
The Book Eikon Basilike purportedly written by Charles in the period leading up to his execution contained his recollections of the Civil War period and instructions to his Son, whoever the author it sought to portray the King as essentially a good man, godly, and pious, righteous, and in a clever twist within the book the King admitted freely to his weaknesses, it was in effect nothing less than propaganda which sought to justify the King leading the country into a calamitous war and Royalism in general.
The Kings agenda was to further the Royalist cause, and redeem his own reputation even after his own death, he wanted the people to see how he been grievously wronged, he questioned the authority of his accusers right until the end, and cleverly urged the forgiveness of those who would bring his life to an undignified end, executed as a traitor.
The book was a indeed a triumph of propaganda, extremely popular the Parliamentarians saw the danger the book posed and sought to suppress it although in this respect they were unsuccessful as it appeared in many editions in 1649 alone.
The Parliamentarian dilemma before after the Kings execution was to legitimise their actions, because although the King had many enemies there were still many people within the land who although they wanted change the idea of actually putting to death their King was an anathema,
The Protectorate made this accusation against Charles -
That he had conceived " a wicked designe totally to subvert the antient and fundamentall lawes and liberties of this nation". "And in their place to introduce an arbitary and tiranicall government".
Faced with this threat to their cause the Parliamentarians knew they needed to counter the claims made in the book and in an effort to do so they gave this task to John Milton whose riposte was Eikonoklastes, Milton went straight back to the fundamentals of the Christian faith with references to false idols, this was his counterpoint to Charles portrayal of himself as a godly person.
Milton didn't hold back in his thoughts on Eikon Basilike, in a part of the text where Charles claims to have been with gentlemen, "Gentlemen indeed; the ragged infantrie of stews and Brothels".:
So at this point does any of the above ring any bells with you ?? can you see any modern day parallels ??
I'm not making any political point here just observations on the seemingly unending cynicism of politics and the people involved in it, and more to the point the more religious these people claim to the more damage they seem to cause.
Remember a chap called Tony Blair, didn't he supposedly find religion eventually, TB wrote a book in which he claimed "he was writing a letter to the country he loves", I'm not so sure that that love extended in the opposite direction, but maybe, and I'm only postulating here, maybe, just maybe the aim of the book was much the same as Eikon Basilike,
Now while on the subject of TB, the picture below is a great piece of propaganda, guaranteed to raise hackles on both sides.