With peace, the events of 1643 passed into history. Apart from
Clarendon's "History" there were no additions to the historiography
of the event until the second half of the nineteenth century, when
there was a sudden revival of interest. It is difficult to account
for this, but there is a trace of a clue in a chapter heading of
Prof. Asa Briggs' book "Victorian Cities" - 'Birmingham:
The Making of a Civic Gospel'. Although this chapter deals with
the development of the City in an economic and political fashion,
is it unreasonable to suppose that with this development, there
also came a desire to manufacture a history? The various accounts
set out to glorify the part played by the townspeople, and this
they do quite well, even if they do raise to the status of a major
encounter, what was little more than a skirmish.
Chief among these glorifications of history is the account of J.A.
Langford. In the account of the Battle itself, use was made of a
phrase of Hutton's: "the sturdy sons of freedom" - a phrase
the dramatic tone of which serves to heighten the effect of the
account. One could quote numerous examples on this train of thought,
but one more will serve to illustrate the point. In 1899, Lavinia
Benbow wrote "The Old Oak House: a tale of the Seventeenth
Century". It is very Victorian in style, written in 'polite'
English, full of well-formed sentences, and perfectly grammatical
dialogue. Rhetorical questions abound, and the next quotation may
serve to illustrate both the style of the book and the dramatic
writing of this event. As Prince Rupert marched away, leaving Birming-ham
in flames, Miss Benbow wrote thus of the townspeople:
"They had fought hard for liberty, for all they believed to
be right, and their effort seemed worse than vain. But was it in
vain? Not so !"
A second curiosity is that song which is appended below; "The
Armourers' Widow". Although there is no evidence that this
is original, there is no reason to doubt "Tan's" honesty,
or the pedigree of the song.
In twentieth century historical writing, there have been brief
references, generally in connection with other subjects. Gill, in
the standard two-volume history of the city, devoted a slight account
of the battle; the Victoria County History provides a brief reference;
but beyond that - it is a forgotten subject. S.R.Gardiner, in his
great account, provides no mention of the event: nor does Peter
Young deem it worthy of attention in his recent book on Edgehill,
although the King's baggage train was plundered in Birmingham on
the march from Shrewsbury to Kineton.
The situation now is one of complete neglect - it is as if the
events of the Battle of Birmingham had never happened. And, perhaps,
"a decent obscurity" is a better fate than nineteenth-century
glorification, for what was, after all, only "A Civil War Incident".