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review 2018-07-04 14:52
The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714
The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 - Barry Coward

After the act of the Tudors, how would the Stuarts follow up in ruling England?  Barry Coward covers the history of England between 1603 and 1714 in The Stuart Age giving the reading a comprehensive look at the developments across religion, economy, politics, and government while trying to dispel old assumptions and highlight new research.

 

Coward begins and ends the book with looking a statistical view England, at first looking how England developed through the early Stuarts to 1650 and then through the Interregnum and late Stuarts until the Hanoverian ascension.  The vast majority of the book covers the narrative flow of history of the period from the ascension of James VI of Scotland as James I of England after the death of Elizabeth to the death of his great-granddaughter Anne with all the twists and turns that happened within the domestic political arena that saw numerous failed attempts at Scottish union to disagreements between monarchs and parliament and finally the dispossessions of monarchs from the throne through execution and invited invasion then dictating who can take the throne.  Plus add in the events in Scotland and Ireland that played important roles at critical times that shaped events in England that made the century what it was.

 

The book is first and foremost an overview of the era with Coward attempting to give the events that took place their proper context in the evolution of government or religion or anything else related to “modern” Britain.  In doing this he set aside many myths about the era especially in the context of their times, he also gave context between “court” and “country” political establishments especially in relation to developments on the continent, i.e. the rise of absolutism and centralized government.  However, one of the drawbacks is that Coward would bring up other historians and juxtapose their theories on events without just simply making his own mark on the interpretation of the events.  Another feature which was lacking was that the military campaigns of especially the English Civil War, but also the continental wars, weren’t highlighted much especially since the Civil War was only covered in one whole chapter yet as an overview book it wasn’t unexpected.  And finally, as this edition of the book—the 2nd published in 1994—is almost 25 years old further research and debate has been missed out on.

 

The Stuart Age does its job fantastically well by giving an overview of the entire Stuart era that like other parts of English history seemed to be overshadowed by the proceeding Tudors.  Barry Coward’s layout of the period gives the reader perspective of the statistical elements of history that will influence the later narrative of the political and military events that make of the majority of the book then the aftereffects of those events on the same statistics, though slow in the beginning pays off and make this book pop.  If you’re looking for an overview of this period in English history, then you should consider this book.

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review 2018-06-18 20:04
Review of The New World by Winston Churchill
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 2: The New World - Winston S. Churchill

This second volume of Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples was fantastic. I love the way Churchill writes, and I think for these historical works, he mixes in just the right amount of information with his personal touch and opinions. I think he is biased toward the greatness of England (in his mind), but I find this gives more character to the books. This volume covered the Tudors and the Stuarts and filled in some gaps in my knowledge (particularly with the Stuarts). Looking forward to the next one.

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review 2018-04-07 01:20
A detailed account hobbled by a dense text and poor maps
The Williamite Wars in Ireland, 1688-1691 - John Childs

The overthrow of King James II during the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 is one of the key events of not just English history but Irish history as well.  As king, James had pursued a policy of “Catholicization” in Ireland, allowing Catholics to serve in the army and the government, which fueled anxieties among the Protestant population.  When news reached them of the dramatic events in England, the Protestants began defying the Catholic authorities, who responded to what soon became an uprising against Catholic rule.  The result was three of the bloodiest and most destructive years in Irish history, as the island served as the battlefield on which broader struggles were waged.  This war is the subject of John Childs’s book, which details the campaigns from the initial unrest to the conclusion of the conflict.

 

Childs traces the success of the rebellion to the two-week period in 1688 when Derry was without a garrison, arguing that had the town been continuously occupied and the Protestants there suppressed the rebellion could not have prospered.  Yet even with Derry the Protestants faced a difficult first year, as the more numerous Catholic forces gradually asserted control throughout the island.  By the summer, only Derry and Enniskillen remained as Protestant holdouts, yet the arrival of forces under the command of the Duke of Schomberg managed to secure most of Ulster before the end of the campaigning season.  The new year saw an increased commitment of forces against the Catholics, one led by King William III himself.  With William’s army pressing down from the north, the two sides clashed at the Battle of the Boyne, which broke James’s fragile resolve.  His flight left his supporters with no other option than an attrition campaign that could buy them time in the hope that William might suffer defeats elsewhere that would salvage the situation for them.

 

Childs recounts the conflict in considerable detail, carefully tracing the numerous skirmishes that characterized the “war of posts and ambuscades”.  This results in a dense text, one that makes it challenging to follow the sequence of events.  Making matters worse are the inadequate maps provided, which provide only basic geographic details, rendering them less than helpful in following the various battles and campaigns.  Better maps and subheadings within the chapters would have gone far into providing a more accessible history of the war than the one Childs has written, in which the value of his examination of the conflict is offset by its inaccessibility.

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review 2018-04-05 16:57
A useful but limited narrative
Alfred the Great: The King and His England - Eleanor Shipley Duckett

Eleanor Shipley Duckett’s biography is a useful introduction to Alfred the Great, the Wessex monarch who effectively created the kingdom of England.  She begins with a description of the politics of eighth-century England, a world of maneuvering between regional kingdoms and invading Viking armies.  It was in this dangerous and fluid environment that a young Alfred came of age, watching his father and two elder brothers deal with the threats Wessex faced before gaining the throne at the age of 22.  From here her focus is on his struggles against the Danes, though other chapters also address his kingdom, his education, and his years after his many martial triumphs.

 

While enlightening, the book suffers from an excessive focus on narrative.  As readable as Duckett’s prose is, Her focus on recounting the chronological development of events too frequently comes at the cost of a clear understanding of Alfred’s character and the significance of the developments of his life.  Readers wanting to familiarize themselves with the basic details of Alfred’s life will find this a useful and enjoyable book, but those seeking a more comprehensive analysis of the great Anglo-Saxon king would be better served by Richard Abels’s more recent Alfred the Great.

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review 2018-03-28 17:47
Analyzes the image and perception of a queen
The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (New Cultural Studies) - Carole Levin

In an age when the English government lacked a professional bureaucracy or a standing army, the authority of a monarch rested on their legitimacy.  As a woman occupying a position traditionally held by men, Elizabeth I faced a special set of challenges in this regard.  Trapped between the contrasting expectations of sexuality and politics, she sought to represent herself in a way that allowed her to maintain her legitimacy – and thus her power – in a tumultuous age.  In this book, Carol Levin analyzes Elizabeth’s efforts to project this image, as well as how she was perceived by her contemporaries as both a woman and in her role as a monarch.

 

In a series of overlapping essays, Levin focuses on her court’s manipulation of images of royalty and the public’s reaction to them.  The essays are roughly chronological, as the early ones examine the problems of her succession and the early response to her rule, while the later ones consider the challenges she faced as her reign came to an end.  Throughout the chapters, Levin charts the ways in which Elizabeth balanced the contrasting expectations she faced, in the end successfully assuming the masculine roles her position required while still exhibiting the femininity her people expected of her.

 

Levin’s book is an interesting, if fragmented examination of Elizabeth’s images and how they were received.  Her study of these often overlooked elements of Elizabeth’s reign helps the reader understand  how Elizabeth succeeded as a woman in one of the most masculine of jobs. While few of the arguments she makes are original, she presents her case effectively with a convincing analysis backed by considerable research.  For anyone seeking to learn how Elizabeth balanced the demands of her position with those of her gender, this is a good book to read.

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