The English Civil War was all about the "divine right of kings" to govern, wasn't it? A king who got above himself was brought to earth, minus his head, by the forces of parliament and democracy? Actually, it's fairly common ground that the "Wars of the Three Kingdoms" that started in 1639 and lasted until (depending on your analysis) 1651, or 1660, or the end of the 1680s, were very much provoked and fuelled by religious fundamentalism in Scotland.
"Zealots: How a Group of Scottish Conspirators Unleashed Half a Century of War in Britain" by Oliver Thomson tells the story of a period in which perhaps as many as 600,000 people across the British Isles were killed in conflict (out of a very much smaller population than today). It does so in an engaging and accessible way, and it tells it very much from a Scottish perspective. The flap on the dust jacket talks of this being a "controversial history". It's certainly an eye-opening one. The author sets the scene in his preface: "It has long been accepted that the the impetus for the three English Civil Wars came from Scotland, but this book narrows down the area to one small neighbourhood of Fife. With its strong North Sea contacts, Fife had more than its share of ex-mercenaries from the German wars. Add to this a close-knit group of frustrated politicians, lawyers and church ministers, all living within a 20-mile radius, and you have the explosive mixture that led eventually to the death of Charles I and nine wars in fifty years."
The author goes on to say that four key questions are posed in the book: "Would there have been an English Civil War of the Scots had not invaded England in 1640? Would Cromwell have won the Civil War without Scottish help? Why did the Scots change from the winning side to the losing side? Why did Fife play such an important role in these wars?"
We'd have to admit that we've always found this a puzzling period of Scottish history, partly because of the difficulty in coming up with rational answers to some of these questions, and especially the third: why Scotland changed sides in a way that proved so disastrous for the country. Oliver Thomson's approach is a measured and largely convincing one. He starts with his key players, divided into ministers, lairds, royals and professionals, and succeeds in establishing the Fife connection very strongly. He then takes a chronological approach to the main events and multiple conflicts that took place over the half century he covers. The result is a book that helps clarify what can all-too-easily be a very opaque period during which key people, often driven by fundamentalist motives that can seem hard to comprehend to a modern reader, felt their beliefs were more important than their own - and other people's - lives.