The History of England (abridged)

f019e13e6b24a025969336e6741444341587343The History of England by Thomas Babington Macaulay
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The progress of history is ever moving forward, away from superstition and autocracy towards free-thought and greater liberty, at least that what Lord Macaulay believed. In his The History of England (from the Accession of James the Second), Macaulay brings forth “the Whig interpretation of history” for the first time that changed how history was interpretation for the next century.

This abridgment of Macaulay’s five-volume history of events leading up to the Glorious Revolution during James II reign through the death of William III begins with Macaulay’s purpose for his work. The first half of the abridgment covers how James II began his reign by slowly alienating his traditional supporters in the Anglican Church and Tory county squires by putting Roman Catholics in high positions and supporting the Irish against Anglo-Scot colonists. Even though he survived one rebellion early in his reign, James kept on escalating his efforts until both “Exclusionist” and Tory politicians—including moderate Roman Catholics—joined forces to invite William to take the throne. The second half of the abridgment covers William’s invasion and the Revolution in all three Kingdoms, not just England. While the English portion was political rather than martial, it was not the same in Ireland and Scotland as battles between those supporting James and William took place in bloody fashion though mostly in Ireland. Another bit of history was the religious aspect of the Revolution, while in England there was more toleration in practice which included Roman Catholics it was a different matter entirely in Scotland were Presbyterians retook control after suffering under Restoration policies for over 30 years. Finally, the effects of the Revolution on finance and Parliamentary corruption are examined before Macaulay’s final summing up.

While Hugh Trevor-Roper did an admirable job in selecting portions over five volumes into approximately 550 pages, it is also the main problem with the book. With such a reduction of Macaulay’s prose, the reader gets glimpses of his thoughts and intentions but without consistency the reader doesn’t get the importance of the overall work. As for the work itself, Macaulay’s bias of excusing his hero (William III) and aggressively character assassinating those he dislikes (Marlborough), is one of the biggest flaws.

The History of England is a glimpse into the larger work of Lord Macaulay that really doesn’t give the reader a constancy to see why it was such an important piece of historical literature. If given the choice, I would have chosen five books of the total work over a short abridgment.

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton 1775-1777 (The Revolution #1)

1627790438.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The American Revolution was both political and martial in scope, yet while the high dramatic points are often touched upon it’s the details that are missed where real history can be seen affecting and creating those high points. The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson is the first book in a trilogy chronicling the military history of American Revolutionary War from major battles to minor skirmishes to unknown campaigns left out of other general histories of the period.

The account of the Revolutionary War begins in 1773 with the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party put Massachusetts under martial law and the resulting insurgency throughout the entire colony that restricted the royal government’s control to Boston alone. This situation led to the British regulars’ expedition to Concord, via Lexington, thus beginning a colonial rebellion that would slow mushroom into a global conflict. From this beginning Atkinson chronicles the military events of the war over the next two years in as best chronological fashion he can provide with multiple theaters opening up from Boston to Virginia to Canada to the Carolinas to New York and New Jersey with multiple other little events happening around the colonies as well. Atkinson avoids venturing into the political aspects of the Revolution save for how it directly affected military affairs thus George Washington’s appointment and the Declaration of Independence shaping the American military cause are covered, on the flip side the politics on the British side especially George III’s view and how the British government’s instructions to it’s commanders and the logistics of a transatlantic war were covered in-depth to provide context to the how and why of various British strategies. And the slowly developing diplomatic “front” which would be important later in the war is given its groundwork beginning, centered around Benjamin Franklin.

The approach Atkinson takes in his chronicle of the American Revolutionary War is first and foremost a military history with political, diplomatic, and social influences of secondary importance and in context of their influence on the military situation. In previous histories of the period I’ve read, the civilian governments support, or lack thereof, of the Continental Army were focused on a lot but Atkinson flips the narrative and focuses more on the British side to emphasize the transatlantic nature of their war effort especially as their expectations of loyalist support in both manpower and supplies. Atkinson brings forth many minor engagements surrounding better known battles, first in the Canadian expedition and later in various Southern colonies/states in 1775-6 that general histories do not touch on. While Atkinson is good in providing biographical information to many important participants from both sides as well and how disease affected both sides, it is also where some of his biggest mistakes and oversights occurred that left one scratching their head but not bad enough to ruin the whole of the book.

The British Are Coming begins Rick Atkinson’s military history trilogy of the American Revolution in dynamic way while also giving the reader a new view of the period. The emphasis of the historical narrative on the martial conduct of the war from major battles and campaigns to minor engagements as well as giving a clearer focus on the British side of the conflict makes this different from other books of the period I have read and has me looking forward to the next book.

English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century: 1603-1689

0521091217.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century by J.R. Tanner
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The English political landscape changed drastically over the course of the 17th-Century as the ideas and actions of the Stuart kings came up against opposition in Parliament in a series of clashes that would result in trials, wars, and revolutions. English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century: 1603-1689 is a book of transcribed lectures by J.R. Tanner from his University of Cambridge class of the same name in the 1920s, detailing how the English Constitution was put on the course to the present-day.

Beginning with an introductory lecture that set the stage in the history of the Tudor relationship with Parliament, particularly under Elizabeth, and the brooding religious controversies that were about to boil over under the Stuarts and cause so much strife. Tanner then examined the relations between James I and the Parliaments that met during his reign before moving to doing the same between Charles I and Parliaments during his early reign. Next was an examination of Charles I’s 11-year personal and how he was able to find loopholes and stretched laws to get money, but when war came then came Parliament. Tanner then spends a quarter of the book examining the Long Parliament, the various Civil Wars, and the execution of Charles I before moving onto the Purge Parliament then the Parliaments under the Protectorate. Tanner turned his attention to the Restoration of Charles II and how the monarch dealt with his ever-changing first Parliament in his attempts to bring about religious toleration before the Exclusion controversy dominated the latter part of his reign. Finally, Tanner deals with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the ending of the Constitutional changes for the century.

The book begins off dryly until Tanner gets to the reign of Charles I when the conflicts really begin in the Stuart era. The back and forth between the king and Parliament is when things really pick up in the book and it continues throughout the Civil Wars period, the Protectorate, and the Restoration. The anticlimactic final chapter begins abruptly and proceeds rapidly while not really going in-depth as what occurred in his father and brother’s reigns. Given that the book focuses on politics, it is only during the Civil War era that other facets of history really come play.

Overall English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century: 1603-1689 is a good introduction to the Stuart era especially on the political and law front. J.R. Tanner shows his mastery of the subject presented in this short book, even though the transcription of lectures to text.

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

031216985x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Rise and Fall of the British Empire by Lawrence James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The largest empire in history ended less than a century ago, yet the legacy of how it rose and how it fell will impact the world for longer than it existed. Lawrence James’ chronicles the 400-year long history of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, from its begins on the eastern seaboard of North American spanning a quarter of the world to the collection of tiny outposts scattered across the globe.

Neither a simple nor a comprehensive history, James looks at the British Empire in the vain of economic, martial, political, and cultural elements not only in Britain but in the colonies as well. Beginning with the various settlements on the eastern seaboard of North America, James describes the various colonies and latter colonial administrators that made their way from Britain to locations around the globe which would have an impact on attitudes of the Empire over the centuries. The role of economics in not only the growth the empire but also the Royal Navy that quickly became interdependent and along with the growth of the Empire’s size the same with the nation’s prestige. The lessons of the American War of Independence not only in terms of military fragility, but also politically influenced how Britain developed the “white” dominions over the coming centuries. And the effect of the liberal, moralistic bent of the Empire to paternally watch over “lesser” peoples and teach them clashing with the bombast of the late-19th Century rush of imperialism in the last century of the Empire’s exists and its effects both at home and abroad.

Composing an overview of 400-years of history than spans across the globe and noting the effects on not only Britain but the territories it once controlled was no easy task, especially in roughly 630 pages of text. James attempted to balance the “positive” and “negative” historiography of the Empire while also adding to it. The contrast between upper-and upper-middle class Britons thinking of the Empire with that of the working-class Britons and colonial subjects was one of the most interesting narratives that James brought to the book especially in the twilight years of the Empire. Although it is hard to fault James given the vast swath of history he tackled there were some mythical history elements in his relating of the American War of Independence that makes the more critical reader take pause on if the related histories of India, South Africa, Egypt, and others do not contain similar historical myths.

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire is neither a multi-volume comprehensive history nor a simple history that deals with popular myths of history, it is an overview of how an island nation came to govern over a quarter of the globe through cultural, economic, martial, and political developments. Lawrence James’s book is readable to both general and critical history readers and highly recommended.

The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714

0582067227-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 by Barry Coward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims

MilbrandtThey Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims by Jay Milbrandt
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

One of the enduring founding myths of the United States is the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, and like all myths it was based on true events that were warped as time passed. They Came for Freedom by Jay Milbrandt explores how and why the Pilgrims came to the shores of Cape Cod as well on how they survived when other settlements failed.

The arrest and trial of one Henry Barrow, who defied the Anglican Church’s version of Christianity and maybe the authority of Queen Elizabeth by his dissent, the story of the Separatists who would eventually become the Pilgrims begins. Milbrandt followed the Pilgrims narrative through London, a small village in Nottinghamshire, to the Netherlands, and then across the Atlantic to Cape Cod. But alternating with that of the Pilgrims was the biography of Squanto, whose own life and adventures before the landing of the Mayflower led to him being a pivotal individual for the success of New Plymouth. Once the Pilgrims had landed, Milbrandt merged the two narratives together in a very readable detailed history that went up until the fall of 1623. Although Milbrandt continued his history until 1646, the last 20 years was just a glimpse of tidbits of historical importance.

At around 225 pages of text, Milbrandt’s efforts are particularly good considering that his primary sources were few and even those were slanted to give the colony of Plymouth a good impression. Although several historical inaccuracies did appear, they were mostly naming conventions and not detrimental to the overall book.

While short, They Came for Freedom is a good general history that gives the reader a sense of the real events that later became mythologized in American culture and folklore. Overall it’s a nice, readable book about a topic most American know little able.

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Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650

ReformationsReformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter? In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation. An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences. This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time. The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses. “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result. “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s. “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history. The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers. This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe. Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does. So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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