The origins of the Civil War are apparent from the outset of the History of the Rebellion: “he who shall diligently observe the distempers and conjunctures of the time,” Clarendon contends, “will find all this bulk of misery to have proceeded, and to have been brought upon us, from the same natural causes and means which have usually attended kingdoms swoln with long plenty, pride, and excess, towards some signal mortification, and castigation of Heaven.” The relationship between prosperity and calamity is, of course, commonplace in classical as well as seventeenth-century chronicles of civil conflict, but both the sections of the History written in 1646 and those added some twenty years later insist that “the like peace and plenty and universal tranquillity for ten years was never enjoyed by any nation” (I, 84). Although he modifies his praise of this peaceful era in The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon, claiming that “England enjoyed the greatest Measure of Felicity that it [and not, as he earlier said, any nation] had ever known,” this view of Caroline prosperity remains extreme. Clarendon likens the years of Charles's personal rule to a golden age. Without specifically invoking the classical tradition of the halcyon calm or the return of Astraea, his recollection of the 1630s gives central importance and new immediacy to a well-established Caroline myth of peace.
Modern historians have generally found much amiss in the decade of Charles's personal rule, and they have naturally questioned Clarendon's characterization of unrivalled happiness. Only B. H. G. Wormald's seminal study of Clarendon accepts the notion of “unparalleled prosperity,” which, it argues, “is an indisputable fact so far at least as the gentry were concerned.”