Audiobook Review: Quarrel With The King

Quarrel With The King:  The Story Of An English Family On The High Road To Civil War, by Adam Nicholson, read by Simon Vance

Having already read and pondered some about the Pembroke family of Wilton, which is near Salisbury [1], I must say that I found it of great interest to listen to this thoughtful book about the conflict between the Herbert family of Pembroke (and later Montgomery) and the monarchy.  The author stated at the outset that he would discuss the ambiguity of the relationship between the Herberts and the throne, and its relationship to the deeper problems of England during that period, and it did exactly that.  A work of profound sensitivity on subjects of art criticism and social history, as well as troubled interpersonal dynamics, this book is also thought-provoking on the problem of centralization, government corruption, and the way that great nobles and other elites are often simultaneously dependent on central authority while also resistant to its demands.  Beyond being a work of interest to those fond of studies in the history of the Tudor dynasty and the early Stuart kings, this is a book that contains frightening implications for contemporary British and American history in the enduring tensions between court and country, between centralizing tendencies and between principled localism in opposition to these tendencies.

The author has designed his book in a very straightforward fashion that combines a chronological look at the Herbert family themselves and their troubled relationship with the crown, as well as with other high nobles and Parliament and with each other, as well as occasional digressions to discuss matters of the Van Dyck painting of the Herbert family in the 1630’s and the growing social pressure felt within the English villages, the decline of traditional ways of working the land that included generational continuity and the opportunity for peasants to save the profits after modest rents and the rise of exploitative rack rents, rural vagrancy, and violent stresses among neighbors.  The end result is a book, that even if it overuses certain words and expressions like Arcadian or ambivalent and tends to be a bit repetitive in its discussion, its research is impressive and the overall result is a book that is well worth reading or listening to about a fascinating and often unexplored area of the family history of the Herberts in the early period of their rise from obscurity to the point where they served as the reluctant and ambivalent mediators between an increasingly intransigent Charles I and an equally stubborn and altogether radical Parliament, in which the Herberts (and many others) were caught in the middle between the two extremes.

Despite the fact that the book could be a bit boring for some readers who lack an interest in political and social history, art criticism, or the family history of the Herberts, for those who do have an interest in these matters, this book is immensely intriguing.  For one, the book gives a longitudinal study of a family demonstrating its humble origins, its search to convert wealth and power that were the result of royal favor to more lasting land and titles from where an independent base could be made, demonstrates the way that elites are often resentful and dependent on central authorities, and how central authorities are simultaneously often resentful and also dependent on elites that help provide the consent of the governed that allows for authority to be exercised [2].  The book is also a helpful reminder of the delicate tension between large-scale demographic pressures that are nearly anonymous and the importance of personal decisions, strengths and weaknesses and choices, in shaping history.  Although usually social history and political history, the first emphasizing large groups and demographics and economics, and the second emphasizing the choices and decisions of individuals, are usually seen in opposition to each other, this book manages to find a rich tapestry among the tension between the two approaches, and the result is a book that is immensely worthwhile and intensely thought-provoking.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Audiobook Review: Quarrel With The King

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Past We Share | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Ideological Origins Of The American Revolution | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: A History Of England From The Tudors To The Stuarts: Part 1 | Edge Induced Cohesion

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