Book Review: Rebellion: The History Of England From James I To The Glorious Revolution

Rebellion:  The History Of England From James I To The Glorious Revolution, by Peter Ackroyd

In reading this volume, I was puzzled by the fact of its existence.  In the case of the first two volumes of this series, the author made it clear that he had a particular perspective that he was wishing to provide that was different than the usual one.  This book, though, does not really present anything unusual for me.  Perhaps it is because this book is about a subject where I have read a lot and perhaps because the elite politics the author explores are more familiar to me (not least as an American for whom this period has a great deal of relevance), but this book did not really feel new to the extent that the other volumes did.  There is something to be said for reading a competently written and worthwhile history of a relatively familiar period, but I wondered if the author had higher ambitions.  This book appears to be part of a series that strikes revisionist ground to be assigned for reading at the O- or A-levels for British students interested in English history, or for audiences in English-speaking areas who have the same personal interest, but why read this book when one can read others that are about the same general subjects and have the same general views?

This book is more than 450 pages long and it is divided into 45 chapters.  The author begins with James I taking the throne of England and them moves immediately into the Gunpowder Plot, his favorites, and the Spanish marriage machinations as well as the tragedy of his daughter and son-in-law’s experience in Bohemia at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War.  After that the author spends some time looking at the reign of Charles I and the problems that existed between the throne and an unruly Parliament that was unwilling to accept his ideas of rulership when he was in need of money from them and yet unable to develop a sound working relationship with them.  The author spends some chapters talking about the horrors of the English Civil War as well as the government of Cromwell that succeeded it.  A discussion of the glittering but corrupt reign of Charles II, including the fires and plague during his reign, and the troublesome reign of James II, including the rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth that failed and a closing chapter about the Glorious Revolution that ended up succeeding.

Ultimately, this is a book that promises a bit more than it really delivers.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  As a reader I do not demand the amount of novelty that others do, because I read books fairly quickly and read a lot of them and thus do not demand the sort of originality that would be necessary for someone who only read a few books a year.  If your expectations are modest and you simply enjoy reading an elite-focused history about the 17th century of English history starting with a look at James I as a king (with a look into his favorites and the scandals of his reign) and then continuing on to a similar look at the rest of the century and the problems of legitimacy faced by the English monarchs as well as their overly mighty subjects, this book will offer pleasures.  It will be a reminder, if such a reminder is necessary, that things could have gone differently at different places had people made different decisions.  The author clearly is not a believer in divine providence and seems a bit offended by Whig interpretations of history or a belief in historical inevitability, but this book is not sufficiently different from many histories to be as original as the author thinks it is.

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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