Leanda de Lisle’s new biography of Charles I presents a revisionist account of Charles and his reign. White King: Charles I – Traitor, Murderer, Martyr is an engrossing, beautifully written work, shot through with original research. It seems set to become the definitive modern account of the man dubbed Martyr by his friends, and Murderer by his enemies.

The traditional view of Charles – a vain, arrogant, failed King – has been hard to shift. A short walk from where I am writing in Edinburgh lies St Giles’ Kirk, where a serious riot was incited after Charles imposed the Prayer Book upon Scotland. Charles’ subsequent machinations north of the border would lead to the Bishops’ Wars and ultimately the Civil War.

The White King does much to present a more nuanced view of Charles, both as a man and a King. Personality is made paramount. Privately, Charles was “the best master, the best friend, the best husband, the best father.” He was often the victim of the intrigues and lusts of those around him, such as the Earl of Holland and the Countess of Carlisle. Holland moved from royal favourite to supporting the most extreme of the Parliamentarians. Carlisle, as Charles cynically notes, had “proven faulty” in her loyalty.

De Lisle’s focus on the women who surround Charles is particularly riveting. Henrietta Maria is traditionally portrayed as an ineffectual, naïve, and childish queen consort. With the aid of previously unpublished letters, she is shown rather to be a brave, determined, and highly political woman. Whilst being investigated by the Commons for treason, Henrietta Maria led a Royalist army to meet Charles at Oxford, and captured over 400 Parliamentarian soldiers en route. During the Civil War, when she spent time on the Continent, even in the midst of severe illness she continued to raise funds and support for the Royalist cause.

In the same vein, Lucy Carlisle, Countess of Carlisle, is given a central role. A descendent of Anne Boleyn, and the apparent influence for Milady de Winter in Dumas’ Three Musketeers, Carlisle’s intrigues on both the Royalist and Parliamentarian sides of the conflict are drawn out with a great awareness of her psychology.

Charles’ life would end, of course, outside the Banqueting House. At the last, one cannot overlook the bravery and resilience he displayed leading up to his execution. He refused to renounce his faith, his friends, or his kingship. One is lest musing that perhaps a new revisionist account is needed of the Parliamentarians – the “Junto” – who descended into extremes.

In White King Charles is not completely redeemed from his failures, but emerges as a much more sympathetic figure – a “venturous knight,” courageous and dignified.

‘White King’ is available from Chatto & Windus for £20.00