A Monarchy Transformed: 1603-1714by Mark Kishlansky, David Cannadine
The century between 1603 and 1714--an era of profound social, economic, and religious change--launched Britain from an isolated archipelago to a world-class intellectual, commercial, and military center. An outburst of intellectual creativity that surpassed even the Renaissance saw a language scarcely known beyond its native shores become immortalized for a future world. 400 pp.
Kishlansky (English and European History/Harvard) recognizes that history is a story and that a good historian is a storyteller. His strongly delineated point of view contributes to the flow of the narrative, and his enthusiasm for the subject sustains the reader through thickets of detail about high politics and war. Viewing 17th-century Britain through the eyes of those at the top, Kishlansky always comes down on the side of political stability. He successfully avoids uncritical power worship with judicious criticism of both the Stuart monarchs and of Cromwell. However, as a volume in the new Penguin History of Britain (see also Peter Clarke, Hope and Glory: Britain 19001990, p. 186), A Monarchy Transformed is intended to provide a definitive introductory guide for the student and general reader. Although every historian must leave things out of the story, too many important things are neglected in this one. Kishlansky mentions in passing such important matters as Britain's overseas empire, the slave trade, art and literature, science and mathematics, but doesn't weave such materials into his narrative. John Donne is identified merely as a recipient of royal patronage, and John Milton dismissed as an "ideologue." The momentous religious changes of the period are discussed mainly when they influence politics or threaten social stability. What is most disappointing, though, is the treatment of women. Queen Mary is mentioned and Queen Anne gets a chapter, but beyond that women appear at the margins of history, as irrational teenage royal brides or midwives accused of kidnapping children for satanic rituals. Women should not be marginalized in any volume that aspires to the status of a general survey.
Although successful as a forceful narrative of politics at the center, this volume is a disappointing general introduction to 17th-century British history.
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This book covers the entire Stuart period of English history from James I to Queen Anne. That period included the civil wars of the 1640's where Charles I lost his head, the Commonwealth and restoration, the Glorious Revolution. It ended with the war of the Grand Alliance where England became a world power and the War of Spanish Succession. The two left England with massive debts which led to the founding of the South Sea Company (South Sea Bubble of George I's reign). It led from an Absolute Monarchy justified by "Divine Right" to a Constitutional Monarchy justified by Social Contract. More importantly, it led to a real revolution in political philosophy with writers like Sir Robert Filmer and Thomas Hobbes, defenders of absolute monarchy; and like John Locke, Algernon Sidney, and David Hume, the defenders of social contract theory and the people's right to resist the sovereign. These latter, in fact, supplied the ideological fuel for the American Revolution and the United States Constitution 100 years after the Glorious revolution.
The style is easy to read and follow, though the author makes occasional use of trite expressions or similies. The book opens with two chapters on the Social and Political conditions of the century. From the third chapter on it is in strict chronological order. One feature that leads into the successive chapters is that each chapter begins with a two page description of one significant incident (2-3 pages in length) followed by a short 1-2 page thumbnail sketch of the entire period.
It is an easy read and informative for the non-specialist who is interested specifically in this period or in some of the background for the American Revolution. That connection is not explicit, but one familiar with American Revolutionary history cannot miss many of the parallels and the rhetoric common to that period.