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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 2018-03-29 01:19
Power for the sake of power
Disraeli - G.I.T. Machin

Of the great political figures of Victorian Britain, none have captured the popular imagination like Benjamin Disraeli. A converted Jew from a family of merchants and the son of a noted literary scholar, he rose in an aristocratic age to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. While numerous biographies have been written about him, most concentrate on his ostentatious personality, the style that characterized the man. Ian Machin's brief study, a volume in the "Profiles in Power" series, focuses instead on the political side of Disraeli's life, examining the positions and tactics he adopted over the course of his long career in public life.

 

Machin's book offers a good introduction to Disraeli and his politics, examining both his rise through the Tory ranks and his attitudes towards the prevailing issues in mid‑Victorian politics.. His contention is that the quest for power is the dominant theme running through Disraeli's career. To achieve it, Disraeli adopted an opportunistic approach in advocating policies or principles, trimming his sails to catch the prevailing political wind. This is most readily apparent in his economic policy, where Disraeli's advocacy of protectionism (which led to the destruction of Sir Robert Peel's government in 1846) was abandoned six years later in an attempt to improve his party's odds of winning seats in Parliament. Even after the Conservatives finally took office with a majority government in 1874, Machin notes, Disraeli possessed no legislative agenda beyond pursuing reform measures that would appeal to the public in an increasingly democratic age.

 

Though some might object to Machin's interpretation of Disraeli's career, this should not overshadow the overall qualities of the book. Balanced and insightful, it does a remarkable job of surveying Disraeli's life and career in such a short number of pages. For readers seeking to learn about this larger‑than‑life political figure, this is a good place to start.

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review 2018-03-28 04:48
A disappointing addition to a great series
A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England, 1783-1846 - Boyd Hilton

All too many surveys of history start with soaring language that stresses how the period being examined was one of great change. Refreshingly, Boyd Hilton’s contribution to the New Oxford History of England series does not do this, focusing instead on the continuities of English history from the late eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century. While acknowledging the dramatic demographic growth of this period and the economic transformations it spawned, he argues that the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century fueled an embrace of neo‑conservative ideologies that proved remarkably enduring throughout the period.

 

Hilton's argument shapes not just his interpretation of these decades, but his presentation of it as well. Arguing that a "politicization of society" took place during this period, he provides more political narrative than previous authors in the series have for their volumes. These chapters provide an insightful analysis of the period, particularly with regards to the political ideologies of the period. He supplements this with a superb bibliography at the end, one that offers a stimulating analysis of the historiography on the period.

 

Yet judged by the standard of the series, the book is something of a disappointment. The predominance of the political narratives crowds out other aspects of the era, most notably the dramatic technological changes so critical to it; these are usually addressed only in their consequences, and incompletely even then. A more persistent problem, however, is the author's presentation of historical arguments in the text. Often Hilton presents the varying interpretations of a topic or a personage with little sense as to his own opinion on the issue. While some may value the opportunity to make their own assessments, his effort at even‑handedness deprives the reader of the sort of informed judgments that have made the series such a valuable tool for understanding English history.

 

These flaws do not detract from the book’s many strengths so much as contrast them in stark relief.  Boyd’s sections on politics and (especially) political ideology make this book an essential study of the period.  It is only when compared to the other volumes in the New Oxford History of England series that its deficiencies become apparent.

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review 2018-03-23 19:05
An outstanding account of a major British suffragist
Christabel Pankhurst: A Biography - June Purvis

The Pankhurst family is indelibly associated with the British suffragist movement, thanks in no small part to their tireless activism on behalf of women's rights. Yet while the matriarch Emmeline is commemorated with a statue at Westminster and her second daughter Sylvia has been the focus of numerous printed works (including her own 1931 book The Suffragette Movement) Emmeline's eldest daughter Christabel has not received the same degree of recognition for her efforts. Part of the reason for this, as June Purvis explains in her superb biography of the orator and activist, is because of the sibling rivalry that existed between the two sisters and the role that Sylvia's history-cum-memoir played in shaping our perception of their roles in the suffrage movement -- a role that has overshadowed the vital role Christabel played in winning British women the right to vote.

 

In many ways Christabel's activism was a product of her upbringing. A barrister and activist, Richard raised his children to advocate for social and political reform. Even before completing university Christabel was doing just that, as she joined with her mother in forming the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. Breaking away from the mannered and respectable agitation of older women's rights organizations, the WSPU disrupted speeches, vandalized property, and engaged in hunger strikes and other activities in prison to promote their cause.  Christabel was a leading figure of this effort, thanks to her abilities as an orator and her commitment to her cause.

 

Exiled to France in 1912, Christabel returned to Britain with the start of the First World War. Unlike her pacifist sisters she joined with her mother in championing the war effort, renaming the WSPU's newspaper Britannia and calling for a more vigorous prosecution of the conflict. Though her conviction that such efforts would be rewarded with the vote were partially vindicated in 1918, she shared the despair many of her contemporaries felt at the loss of so many lives, A chance encounter in a bookstore led Christabel to embrace the Second Adventist movement, and in the early 1920s she moved to Los Angeles, where she spent her later years as a preacher and author of religious books.

 

Exhaustively researched and well-written, Purvis's book is a model of what a biography should be. Her efforts serve to rehabilitate Christabel's image from the diminishment of it that her sister and other scholars have so often unjustly inflicted. It is a book that everyone interested in the suffrage movement should read, both for its celebration of Christabel's achievements and the insight it provides into how she and other activists fought for and won the right for millions of women to be heard.

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review 2018-03-10 16:40
Highlighting an overlooked aspect of Lloyd George's career
Lloyd George and Foreign Policy, Volume I: The Education of a Stateman, 1890-1916 - Michael G. Fry

Up until the First World War David Lloyd George was regarded as a politician focused predominantly upon domestic issues. Having championed such causes as old age pensions, Welsh Disestablishment, and women's suffrage, he was more commonly associated with national subjects than the foreign policies that would define his tenure as prime minister and shape much of his legacy. As Michael Graham Fry demonstrates, though, this impression is a misleading one. His book, the first half of a two-volume study, traces Lloyd George's engagement with foreign policy prior to becoming prime minister in an effort to chronicle the development of the views he would apply once he won the highest of offices.

Fry beings by situating Lloyd George in the world of his youth, showing him to be a product of the Nonconformist and Welsh nationalist currents rushing through Wales in the late 19th century. From this he developed a view of international affairs that framed issues in moral terms, a perspective that was subsequently reflected in the public rhetoric he used in framing issues for his audiences. He first came to national attention with his criticism of the war in South Africa, the nuance of which was obscured with his labeling as a "pro-Boer." When the Liberals formed a government in 1905 Lloyd George took office first as President of the Board of Trade, then in 1908 as Chancellor of the Exchequer. While these offices were focused more on economic and fiscal matters, Fry draws out his subject's role in shaping foreign policy during these years, finding within them an ongoing evolution of his views on international issues. He highlights Lloyd George's goring concern about Germany during this period, which was reflected both in advocacy for a naval agreement and in his speeches and Cabinet efforts in 1911 during the Agadir crisis. This puts his support for joining the war in 1914 look less like a betrayal of his earlier views and more a product of the development of his views over time, with his subsequent embrace of a vigorous war effort paving the way for his assumption of the premiership in 1916.

By detailing the development of Lloyd George's engagement with foreign policy, Fry provides readers with an invaluable study of his subject. Yet the value of Fry's analysis is hampered by his writing, as it oscillates between extremes of sweeping generalizations and a morass of detail. A better balance between the two would have allowed Fry to make his arguments more effectively, but those willing to take their time with Fry's text will be rewarded with an astute examination of the intellectual and political development of a key 20th century statesman.

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