Review: Rebellion – The History of England (Volume 3)

Posted 2 October, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution (A History of England, Vol. 3)
By: Peter Ackroyd
Format/Source: Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley

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 a political 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.

This book follows up from the first two volumes in the series, Foundation (review) and Tudors (review). I was quite excited when I found it while browsing through NetGalley as I enjoyed the first two volumes. Peter Ackroyd does a wonderful job in laying out events in English history. This book will be available on 21 October 2014.

Rebellion was a pretty straightforward read, recounting the period of history between James I’s ascension to the throne to the arrival of Mary & William of Orange, signaling the Glorious Revolution and ending a period of civil war and tumult. To those unfamiliar with this period of English history, it’s a very informative book as it goes into considerable detail about the events the transpired, the figures involved, and the implications of the events on English society. Ackroyd’s narrative adds to what I had previously–and briefly–learned during undergrad.

Having said that, I admit that this is not my favourite part of English history, so it didn’t quite captivate my imagination the way the first two volumes in the series did. The chapters about the cultural achievements happening during the time was quite interesting, from Shakespeare’s works to the progress made in the field of science. I also admit, I was a little disappointed to find that there was no afterward in this book this time around; I find his afterwards to be the best part of the book as his insights and analysis are quite interesting.

Overall, Rebellion is another solid addition to the History of England series despite of my own personal preferences and the absence of an afterward this time around. Looking forward to the next installment!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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2 Responses to “Review: Rebellion – The History of England (Volume 3)”

  1. Isn’t it a strange thing that we can have ‘favourite’ periods of history? Because the period this book describes is not the one I’m most interested in either, so I would probably easier pick up one of the other books of Ackroyd.

    • His earlier books covering early England and the Tudor period were great, I highly recommend those 🙂

      Strangely enough, I think I can tell you what periods of history I’m not so interested in, but when it comes to listing my favourites I have a bit more difficulty…not sure why, haha, maybe because I have too many favourites! 😀

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