Reading for War

Book Review: The Tyrannicide Brief by Geoffrey Robertson

By Tara Bucknall October 31, 2019


A book that has influenced me is The Tyrannicide Brief written by Geoffrey Robertson. I have never really been interested in reading a book written by Geoffrey Robertson. Geoffrey Robertson is a lawyer and talks like a lawyer (for those who remember or those who watch ABC TV, he is the presenter of the “Hypothetical” series). But I heard him interviewed one day when he discussed his book and I thought it was an interesting subject.  The book itself is hard going because it is written by a lawyer, is about 1500 pages long,  reads like a law manual (although the description of both the King’s beheading and John’s Cooke’s execution are pretty gory and gruesome) and uses words that senior officers in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) use to impress people.

The Tyrannicide Brief is a book about the events that led up to the King of England, Charles I, being put on trial for being a Tyrant and ultimately executed by beheading. It is primarily a biography of John Cooke who was the lead lawyer in the King’s trial. It is the story of how he became the lead lawyer when all the other lawyers given the job quit or fled the country. It also tells of how, after the monarchy was restored (when Oliver Cromwell died and no-one was willing to replace him), Cooke himself was put on trial and executed by being Hanged, Drawn and Quartered.

There are three reasons why I think this book is good professional development. The first was confirming my belief that even if the system of government (socialism, communism, democratic monarchy – whatever) does not work that it takes more than a generation to change. The replacement, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell couldn’t fix all the things that were wrong in England; in fact, some would argue that he was worse than the previous King and the monarchy in general.

The second was that if you believe in something, and you think that it is wrong, then you should be prepared to put your money where your mouth is. John Cooke believed in a universal health system, support for the poor (when you are not hungry you don’t have to steal to feed your family) and a legal aid system – plus much more. But he believed that a monarch that could change the decision of an elected parliament would never fix these things. This is why he agreed to be the prosecutor for the King even though he knew that there was every chance he would be persecuted should the monarchy return,.

The third reason is that it demonstrated to me that you don’t have to be the best, the richest or the most influential person to change something. John Cooke was a pretty average lawyer - I think he was about the 15th person offered the job - and there were plenty of others around (if they hadn’t skipped town) who were better than him. But he stuck to it and worked hard to argue his case both against the King and for his own life. Sure, he may not have won the last one, but some of the arguments he put forward then are now the basis for fair and equitable trials in our judicial system.

So if you have some time on your hands (EX Hamel or deployment), grab a copy, shove it in your bag. The worst that can happen is that you have something to help go to sleep at night. The best is that you learn some very interesting things about history and why they are still relevant today.


Portrait

Biography

Tara Bucknall

Tara Bucknall joined the Army in 1988 and is currently the Deputy Commander of the Australian Army Cadets, a role she says is her most challenging and rewarding military appointment. She particularly enjoys the opportunity to provide a youth development program that inspires the youth of Australia to be better community members of today and the future.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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