Peter Ackroyd has been praised as one of the greatest living chroniclers of Britain and its people. In Rebellion, he continues his dazzling account of the history of England, beginning the progress south of the Scottish king James VI, who on the death of Elizabeth I became the first Stuart king of England, and ending with the deposition and flight into exile of his grandson James II.
The Stuart monarchy brought together the two nations of England and Scotland into one realm, albeit a realm still marked by political divisions that echo to this day. More importantly perhaps, the Stuart era was marked by the cruel depredations of civil war and the killing of a king. Shrewd and opinionated, James I was eloquent on matters as diverse as theology, witchcraft, and the abuses of tobacco, but his attitude to the English parliament sowed the seeds of the division that would split the country during the reign of his hapless heir, Charles I. Ackroyd offers a brilliant, warts-and-all portrayal of Charles's nemesis, Oliver Cromwell, Parliament's great military leader and England's only dictator, who began his career as apolitical liberator but ended it as much of a despot as "that man of blood," the king he executed.
England's turbulent seventeenth century is vividly laid out before us, but so too is the cultural and social life of the period, notable for its extraordinarily rich literature, including Shakespeare's late masterpieces, Jacobean tragedy, the poetry of John Donne and Milton, and Thomas Hobbes's great philosophical treatise, Leviathan. Rebellion also gives us a very real sense of the lives of ordinary English men and women, lived out against a backdrop of constant disruption and uncertainty.
©2014 Peter Ackroyd (P)2014 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
The period covered in this book is a very interesting one, but unfortunately the content is let down a bit by both the author and the narrator, especially the latter. Clive Chafer reads like he is doing the graveyard shift news update at a local college news station. There is no emotion, and his monotone delivery can be very trying.
That being said, I stuck with the book, and am glad I did. As always with Ackroyd, however, his anecdotes are very scattershot, and he leaves vast gaps in the narrative that better historians like Alison Weir would never leave empty.
For example, when discussing the reign of James I, he offhandedly mentions that James was angry when he discovered that his principal secretary, Robert Cecil, had been in the employ of Spain. Robert Cecil was a truly huge figure in both Elizabethan and early Jacobean England, and this comment was begging for further elaboration. Alas, he simply skips past it.
This happens all too often in the book, and the habit will be well-recognized by those who have read his other works. In the end, Rebellion strikes one as more of a primer on the period than a truly in-depth and insightful study. I don't know why, but this seems to be the case with all his books.
I'd still recommend it, but don't expect to be blown away.
For anyone who is not a specialist in American politics, yet still wants to know the political history that informed the Founding Fatherrs, this is a "must read". It's informative, yet engaging enough for the average reader.
And it gives a much clearer understanding of the 17th century political turmoil roiling in England, Scotland and Ireland at a time when English settlement in America was at an embryonic stage: the Stuart dynasty; Anglicanism vs. Presbyterianism vs. Catholicism; the question of the divine right of kings; regicide; Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth Interregnum; the Restoriation; and the Glorious Revolution that brought William and Mary to the throne.
Fascinating stuff. Here in Northern Virginia, for example, we're constantly tripping over English names from this period--Fairfax, Clarendon, Arlington, Stafford, etc. And many of the concepts raised in initiatives like the Great Remonstration against Charles I are recognizible in our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution. As an American who has had very little exposure to this history, I found it invaluable.
Unlike Wedgewood's history of the Thirty Years War, Peter Ackroyd's Rebellion flows effortlessly and brightly from one event to the next. We are carried along through wars, revolutions, courts and Parliaments by vivid imagery, funny anecdotes. He makes the history come alive.
History of English Civil War
Interesting story telling.
No, he sounds like a BBC News reader. It was demanding to pay attention.
This book is easy to follow although it describes a somewhat confusing era. I would have liked an epilogue discussing how these events changed history on a global scale at the time, and further exploration of how the commercial gains of the colonies led to England's ultimate stability.
The author focused on the theme, rebellion, and as a result included plenty of saucy details in an age of wit and irreverence. The narrator was great.
Pepys. A million times Pepys.
The author glossed over the true significance of the era. The Civil War was the penultimate event of the liberal western tradition that started with the ancient Greeks. The American and French revolutions, and thus the modern western tradition, wouldn't be possible without the rebellions against the Stuarts. None of this is touched upon, and it doesn't make use of any authoritative sources; it's merely a good collection of biographies and events.
Good history. Short on some areas that seemed rather important. Like 6 minutes devoted to the Glorious Revolution and how James II was allowed to escape. That seems to deserve a little more detail but oh well. It was ok overall but the areas he choose to expostulate on could have been better chosen.
Of a very complex time. The religious fights of the era created an atmosphere of intrigue reflected in the convoluted history of the times.
I'd listen to Clive Chafer read the phone book.
This is a story that's been told before. It's a great turning point in the history of the West and as such deserves to be told again and again, and, as Mr Ackroyd tells it, in some detail. Still I'd like to know more of what was happening in the coffee houses, in the streets, in the law courts, at sea, etc. I'd like to know more about Cromwell, I'd love to know about his welcoming the Jews back into England, a detail that Mr Ackroyd skipped or overlooked.I felt that Milton was given short shrift. As a player in the political and religious and cultural events of that momentous time, the whole story, or much more of it, might have been told from his point of view. I'd like to know more about the Cromwellian Commonwealth. The vile Stuarts and their appalling court scene is pretty much what happened for a thousand years of European dynastic government. Not much new there, but the great revolution that was the Commonwealth, that's something to write about and to read about. Ah well.
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