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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Kathy on 02-01-15
Essential Background Plus A Good Story
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.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
By Ryan on 01-21-15
Good but not great
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.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful