Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 May 2017)
Gill Blanchard charts the life of an interesting 17th century figure, who’s career spanned the civil wars, the commonwealth and the Restoration. To gain a greater understanding of any period in history, biographies like this are invaluable. You will gain a greater insight to 17th century England by studying its people, as uounwill the politics and wars, because it was men like Lawson who took part in them.
Lawson, a perennially cash strapped, unshakeably pious, die hard Republican, of obscure origins emerged from the merchant service when he ran coal up and down the country, to play a somewhat obscure part in the civil war and on to become a rear admiral of the commonwealth and fought against the Dutch in the 1650s.
His life is an up and down voyage over a troubled sea. Where his values were constantly put to the test by friend and foe alike. He hurts most fully upon the stage during the restoration crisis that preceded the return of the monarchy. When the commonwealth was split over what was to be done after Cromwell’s totalitarianism had thrown the new republic on the rocks. Lawson who had already spent time in the tower after being implicated in a plot to kill the Lord protector, had faced down the army in a land and sea standoff which effectively ended when Monck took control, but it is probably even less appreciated that Lawson then played a vital part in the restoration of King Charles II.
Blanchard has painted an excellent portrait of a fascinating figure. A man who could stand as an excellent conduit to the great events and movements of this turbulent period. It’s unlikely for instance that a general reader will care to give their time to a study of non conformism in the 17th century, but through works like this the issue is brought to the surface, as is the curiously haphazard nature of 17th century English naval affairs, where soldiers became admirals, sorry “General’s at Sea”, and colliers could end up commanding fleets and the fates of nations.
In a way it is an ironic life. A republican who opposed monarchy, yet helped bring it back & then was mortally wounded fighting under the royal standard he had fought to pull down in the civil wars.
His death, as it happened, from a wound incurred by the shattering of his kneecap at the Battle of Lowestoft is actually a prime example of why surgeons would usually amputate any joint wound, and his demise was a direct consequence of efforts to remove bone fragments and the ball.
A comparison with Nelson is perhaps warranted. Indeed Lawson is somewhat singular amongst the more famous admirals of his day, in that he actually knew how to sail, and was a seaman, unlike General Monck or his sometime adversary Prince Rupert. Lawson was of the breed of Drake and Raleigh, and for his day he was a new kind of admiral, a man who new his business, and who came from obscure origins. He was the sort of man that the modern navy would be built upon.
Lawson Lies Still in the Thames is a splendid book with which to delve deeper into this topsy turvy era.