‘Unseen but very evident’: Ghosts, Hauntings, and the Civil War Past

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Hauntings have played an important part in fictional and non-fictional uses of the English Civil War. This chapter traces the visible engagements in early-modernism in both the adaptations of, and the historiography concerning, the English Civil Wars in order to interrogate different aspects of the War’s haunting returns. It begins with a discussion of Peter Young’s 1967 military history, 'Edgehill 1642: The Campaign and the Battle', which marshals the stuff of the archive to depict in “vivid” detail the first major military encounter of the English Civil War, a chaotic and inconclusive battle fought on a flat-topped ridge near the village of Kineton, Warwickshire, between King Charles I’s royalist forces and the opposing forces of England’s parliamentarian troops, led by Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex. It then moves on to discuss Ben Wheatley’s art-house costume drama, 'A Field in England' (2013), which follows a group of English Civil War soldiers who, having fled an unnamed battle field in 1648, are taken hostage by a conjurer, an Irishman named O’Neil, and forced to help him search for buried treasure. On the face of it, these texts—separated by over four decades, and appealing to different audiences and very different expectations—may seem like unlikely companions, and indeed neither text can be said to be a ghost story, at least in any straightforward way. However, they are representative of, and are both haunted by, ghosts: the ghosts of the Civil War, and more broadly by the ghosts of historical loss and erasure. Indeed, while both texts seek to bring back and re-enact the past, and were together praised as highly realistic engagements with England’s revolution, bringing their consumers closer to the action of the 1640s through documentary evidence, or realistic dialogue and costume, they at the same time introduce questions regarding the limits of historical recovery and return, and it is through metaphors and tropes associated with the ghost and the haunting that these questions emerge.


  • Civil War, Seventeenth century, HISTORY, Film, Literature
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFrom Medievalism to Early Modernism
EditorsAidan Norrie , Marina Gerzic
ISBN (Print)9781138366572
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Medieval Literature and Culture
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