Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolutionby Peter Ackroyd
In this book, Peter Ackroyd has captured the period as only he can. From the accession of the thrillingly unappealing James VI & I, who though rather ghastly, was also extraordinarily eloquent, to his hapless heir, Charles I, whose taste in art was peerless, but whose political judgment was so fatally poor, to Oliver Cromwell, far from pretty, ruthless and,
In this book, Peter Ackroyd has captured the period as only he can. From the accession of the thrillingly unappealing James VI & I, who though rather ghastly, was also extraordinarily eloquent, to his hapless heir, Charles I, whose taste in art was peerless, but whose political judgment was so fatally poor, to Oliver Cromwell, far from pretty, ruthless and, ultimately, as much of a despot as "that man of blood," the king he executed, Ackroyd tells the story of the turbulent seventeenth century, in which England suffered through three civil wars—two fought between Parliament and both Charles I and Charles II, and, finally, the "Glorious Rebellion of 1688," which saw Charles II’s brother James deposed and sent into exile.
Civil War doesn’t just give us the brutality of politics and war. It also gives us glimpses of the extraordinarily rich literature of the time—Jacobean tragedy, Shakespeare’s late masterpieces, the sermons of Dr. Donne and Lancelot Andrewes, Milton, Hobbes—and of ordinary life, lived against a backdrop of constant disruption and uncertainty.
Agitation was in the air throughout 17th-century England, and Ackroyd skillfully captures the feelings and events of the time in this third volume of his history of England (following Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I). The narrative opens with the merging of England and Scotland under one monarch, James I, whose massive gluttony Ackroyd contrasts with the dire finances of the country as a whole. There existed a “gulf between king and country,” as the author describes it, which only widened during the reign of James I’s successor, Charles I, due to wars with Spain and France. Following great financial distress and a civil war that pitted royalists against parliamentarians, Charles I was executed. While Scotland declared Charles II king, England’s parliament steered the country into what became the “Commonwealth of England,” with Oliver Cromwell as “Lord Protector.” In 1660, the monarchy was restored with Charles II on the throne. Ackroyd ends at the Glorious Revolution—when William III (William of Orange) overthrew James II after yet more religious upheaval—having left no stone unturned. Addressing politics, religion, court life, scandal, science, literature, and art, the depth and scope of Ackroyd’s account is impressive, and it is as accessible as it is rich. (Nov.)
Biographer, historian and novelist Ackroyd (Three Brothers, 2014, etc.) continues his History of England series with the third of six proposed volumes. What makes the author so special is that he relates history as it once was told by the bards. Ackroyd tells us not just the history, but the story behind it and the story as it might have been viewed at the time. This was a violent period of religious struggle, with countless groups vying to eliminate each other and all of them hating the Catholics. King James was so impressed by the wealth of England that he immediately set about spending just about every penny in the treasury. He relied mostly on the help of his favorites at court, particularly the Duke of Buckingham, who scoffed at Parliament's impeachment. The premature death of Henry, James' eldest and most Protestant son, left inept Charles to inherit the throne and continue the Stuart traditions of divine right and treating Parliament as his piggy bank. They just couldn't accept that the king might be subject to English common law. All this led up to the civil war, the beheading of Charles and the rise of Oliver Cromwell, who was a man with more power than any king and who ruled as an absolute military dictator. His death quickly brought Parliament together to reinstitute the House of Lords and the office of king in the person of Charles II. He and his brother, James II, clung to the Catholic religion, generally poor attitude toward Parliament and lots of devious plots, which inevitably led up to the Glorious Revolution. Oddly enough, during the reigns of the early Stuart kings, trade increased, shipbuilding peaked, coal production doubled, and the agricultural revolution laid the basis for the 18th-century's Industrial Revolution. Appropriately detailed, beautifully written story of the Stuarts' rise and fall—will leave readers clamoring for the further adventures awaiting England in the 18th century.
“Splendid . . . Ackroyd keeps things moving briskly along by alternating between weighty matters of state and vignettes of everyday life. An accomplished novelist, he has an eye for the revelatory digression.” The New York Times Book Review
“An exhilarating experience. Readers will come away from this book with an appreciation of how and why the cataclysmic events of seventeenth century England shaped world history for the next two centuries.” NPR.org
“Appropriately detailed, beautifully written story of the Stuarts' rise and fall - will leave readers clamoring for the further adventures awaiting England in the 18th century.” Kirkus (starred review)
“Ackroyd is a wonderful storyteller, and he has a wonderful and vitally important story to tell... providing excellent insights into the character and motivations of several of the prime movers of events... He eloquently describes the development of literature, the ongoing religious controversies, and the evolving political sympathies and their effects on the lives and opinions of ordinary citizens.” Booklist (starred review)
“The depth and scope of Ackroyd's account is impressive, and it is as accessible as it is rich.” Publishers Weekly
“In the same vein as the previous two volumes, Rebellion does more than lay out the facts of history. Spliced between the chapters that move the chronological history forward are vignettes on daily life in 17th-century England, covering the theatres, literature, politics and economics, and the emerging popular press, as well as contemporary analysis of historical events. This is a fascinating look at life in England during tumultuous times.” Shelf Awareness
“Peter Ackroyd is energetic and gifted enough to have mastered his sources and produced a sparklingly fresh account of Tudor England. . . . Ackroyd has a wonderful eye for the telling detail, cameos that stick in the mind.” The Weekly Standard on Tudors
“Peter Ackroyd's love of his subject shines through every page. This is a thrilling story that will delight readers interested in this period.” San Francisco Book Review on Tudors
“Ackroyd writes with such lightly worn erudition and a deceptive ease that he never fails to engage.” The Telegraph (UK) on Tudors
“Superbly accessible and readable.” Financial Times (UK) on Tudors
“Relaxed, unpretentious, and accessible.” The New York Times Book Review on Foundation
“Ackroyd's trademark insight and wit, and the glorious interconnectedness of all things, permeate each page.” Observer (UK) on Foundation
“Ackroyd brings delightful but revealing details of the lives of the people from the past into the present.” Sunday Express (UK) on Foundation
“An extraordinary book . . . Peter Ackroyd is arguably the most talented and prolific writer working in Britain today.” Daily Express (UK) on Foundation
Read an Excerpt
The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution
By Peter Ackroyd
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Peter Ackroyd
All rights reserved.
A new Solomon
Sir Robert Carey rode furiously from London to Edinburgh along the Great North Road, spending one night in Yorkshire and another in Northumberland; he arrived at Holyrood Palace, 'be-bloodied with great falls and bruises' after a journey of more than 330 miles. It was late at night on Saturday 26 March 1603. He was ushered into the presence of King James VI of Scotland and, falling to his knees, proclaimed him to be 'King of England, France and Ireland'. He gave him as testimony a sapphire ring that his sister, Lady Scrope, had thrown to him from a window at Richmond Palace immediately after the death of Elizabeth I. 'I have', he told his new sovereign, 'a blue ring from a fair lady.'
'It is enough,' James said. 'I know by this you are a true messenger.' The king had previously entrusted this ring to Lady Scrope in the event of the queen's death.
A body of prelates and peers had already met Sir Robert Cecil, the principal councillor of the old queen, at Whitehall Gate before they proceeded with him to the cross at Cheapside where Cecil proclaimed James as king; bonfires and bells greeted the news of the swift and easy succession. Cecil himself declared that he had 'steered King James's ship into the right harbour, without cross of wave or tide that could have overturned a cock-boat'. The councillor had entered a secret correspondence with James before Elizabeth's death; he had urged the Scottish king to nourish 'a heart of adamant in a world of feathers'.
On 5 April James left Edinburgh to travel to his new realm. He had been the king of Scotland for thirty-six years, ever since he had assumed the throne at the age of thirteen months after the forced abdication of his mother Mary Queen of Scots. He had been a successful if not a glorious monarch, managing to curb the pretensions of an argumentative clergy and of a fractious nobility. From his earliest years the restive and combative spirit of the Scottish lords ensured that, in the words of the French ambassador, he had been nourished in fear. Yet he had by guile and compromise held on to his crown. Now, as he told his followers, he was about to enter the Land of Promise. He had already written to the council at Westminster, asking for money; he did not have the funds to finance his journey south.
The king did not perhaps expect so effusive and jubilant a welcome from his new subjects. He recalled later how 'the people of all sorts rid and ran, nay rather flew to meet me'. They came to gaze at him, since none of them had experienced the rule of a male monarch. He himself was impressed by the prosperity of the land and by the evident wealth of its rulers. He said later that the first three years of his reign were 'as a Christmas'. It took him a month to reach London, largely because he wished to avoid the funeral of his predecessor. He had no great fondness for Elizabeth; she had prevaricated over his right to the succession and, perhaps more significantly, had ordered the execution of his mother.
He reached York by the middle of April, where Cecil came to greet him. 'Though you be but a little man,' the king told him, 'we shall surely load your shoulders with business.' At Newark-on-Trent he gave orders that a cutpurse, preying upon his retinue, should summarily be hanged; he had not properly been informed on the provisions of English common law. It is an indication that he was still, in many important respects, a foreigner. At Burghley-by-Stamford he fell from his horse and broke his collar bone. Slowly he made his way to London. For three or four days he rested in Hertfordshire at Robert Cecil's country home, Theobalds House, at which seat he took pleasure in creating many knights.
He was so generous with titles that he was accused of improvidence. The reign of Elizabeth witnessed the creation of 878 knights; in the first four months of the king's rule, some 906 new men were awarded that honour. The queen had knighted those whom she considered to be of genuine merit or importance; James merely considered knighthood to be a mark of status. He was said to have knighted a piece of beef with the words 'Arise, Sir Loin'. On another occasion he did not catch the name of the recipient and said, 'Prithee, rise up, and call thyself Sir What Thou Wilt.' Other titles could be purchased with cash. The diminution in the importance of honour marks one of the first changes to the old Tudor system.
Those who were permitted into the king's presence may not have been entirely impressed. He was awkward and hesitant in manner; his legs were slightly bowed and his gait erratic, perhaps the consequence of rickets acquired in childhood. One admittedly hostile witness, Sir Anthony Weldon, also described him as forever 'fiddling about his codpiece'.
He was a robust and fluent conversationalist, who rather liked to hear the sound of his own voice, but the effect upon his English audience was perhaps impaired by the fact that he retained a broad Scots accent. If he was eager to talk, he was also quick to laugh. He could be witty, but delivered his droll remarks in a grave and serious voice. His manners were not impeccable, and he was said to have slobbered over his food and drink. He paid little attention to his dress, but favoured thickly padded doublets that might impede an assassin's dagger; ever since his childhood he had lived in fear of assault or murder. He was said to have a horror of naked steel. He had a restless, roving eye; he paid particular notice to those at court who were not known to him.
On 7 May he rode towards London, but was greeted 4 miles outside the city by the lord mayor and innumerable citizens. He lodged at the Charterhouse for four nights, and then made his way to the Tower, where he remained for a few days. While staying in the royal apartments he began an excited tour of his capital, 'secretly in his coach and by water', as one contemporary put it; he was particularly struck by the sight of the crown jewels, held at the palace in Whitehall. Here was the glittering and unmistakable evidence of his new-found wealth.
Yet London was not a pleasure-dome. Even as he approached it, the plague began its secret ministry in the streets and alleys; by the end of the summer it had claimed the lives of 30,000 citizens. A grand state entry had been planned for 25 July, the day of the coronation, but the fear of infected crowds curtailed the ceremony; there would be a crowning, but no state procession.
Even in these early months of the reign conspiracies began to mount against his throne. A group of gentlemen, among them Sir Walter Raleigh and Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, were suspected of a scheme to depose James and to replace him with his cousin Arabella Stuart; like most conspiracies it was plagued by rumour, indecision and premature disclosure. Raleigh was arrested and consigned to the Tower, where two weeks later he attempted suicide; at his subsequent trial he was denounced by the attorney general, Sir Edward Coke, as 'a spider of hell'.
Raleigh: You speak indiscreetly, barbarously and uncivilly.
Coke: I want words sufficient to express thy viperous treasons.
Raleigh: You want words, indeed, for you have spoken the one thing half a dozen times.
This was the end of what was called 'the Main Plot'. A 'Bye Plot' was also discovered, whereby the king was to be kidnapped by priests and forced to suspend the laws against Roman Catholics. It came to nothing, of course, except for the deaths of the principals engaged in it.
The time had come for the formal, if subdued, coronation of the king; the archbishop of Canterbury performed the ceremony expeditiously in the sight of an invited audience. James's consort, Anne of Denmark, agreed to receive her crown from the archbishop; as a Catholic, however, she refused to partake of Protestant communion. Being of a complaisant and gregarious disposition she caused very little trouble for the rest of her husband's reign. Her chaplain once remarked that 'the king himself was a very chaste man, and there was little in the queen to make him uxorious; yet they did love as well as man and wife could do, not conversing together'. After the ceremony the royal family left pestilential London for the healthier air of the country. James and Anne made their first 'progress' in the August of the year, making their way to Winchester and Southampton before turning north into Oxfordshire; in this, they were following the fashion of the king's illustrious predecessor.
James had already established, however, the foundations of his court and council. In particular he took care to reward his Scottish nobles with the most prominent positions in his personal retinue. The centre of his rule lay in the royal bedchamber, which was almost wholly staffed by the entourage that had followed him from his native land. This was a source of much discontent and disquiet among the English courtiers; it was said that the Scottish lords stood like mountains between the beams of the king's grace and themselves. Yet a new privy chamber was also established, half of Scots and half of English; the king revelled in his role as 'the pacifier', and this equal pairing evinced his moderation.
Among the English councillors the palm was awarded to Sir Robert Cecil and to the Howards. Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, was appointed as lord warden of the cinque ports at the beginning of 1604 and, a year later, lord privy seal; in the previous reign he had sent what James called 'Asiatic and endless volumes' of advice to Edinburgh. Thomas Howard, earl of Suffolk, was lord chamberlain. Cecil, soon to become Viscount Cranborne and then earl of Salisbury, was in fact pre-eminent; he was very small, with a hunched back, but he stood above the others. The king had told him that 'before God I count you the best servant that ever I had, albeit you be but a beagle'. He often addressed him as 'my little beagle'. Cecil managed parliament, and the revenues; he supervised Ireland and all foreign affairs. He was forever industrious, highly efficient and always courteous; he had borne with patience all the humiliating remarks about his appearance and physique. He was the ultimate civil servant and his cousin, Francis Bacon, once said of him that he might prevent public affairs getting worse but could not make them any better. That is perhaps too harsh; Cecil had so great a political intelligence that he may qualify as a statesman. Snapping at his heels, however, was Henry Howard.
Elizabeth's council had comprised some thirteen members; James soon doubled its size, but took great pleasure in avoiding its meetings. He favoured private deliberations, in the seclusion of his bedchamber, where he could then delegate responsibility. He preferred intimate meetings where his wit and common sense could compensate for his lack of dignity. He did not particularly like London in any case, and always preferred to go hunting in the countryside beyond; from this vantage James once wrote a complacent letter to his councillors, imagining them to be 'frying in the pains of purgatory' upon royal business. Yet he made quick and sudden visits to the capital, when his presence was deemed to be indispensable; he said that he came 'like a flash of lightning, both in going, staying there, and returning'.
The palace of Whitehall was a straggling complex of some 1,400 rooms, closets and galleries and chambers huddled together. It was a place of secrets and of clandestine meetings, of staged encounters and sudden quarrels. This is the proper setting for John Donne's satires as well as for Ben Jonson's two Roman plays on the nature of ambition and corruption. It is also the setting for the great age of the masque. A ball, or a comedy, was staged every other day.
Yet the court is also the most significant context for the collection of Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, which came to include the architectural drawings of Palladio as well as the work of Holbein, Raphael and Dürer. The great lords and courtiers also built elaborate houses at Audley End, Hatfield and elsewhere. The earl of Northampton furnished his house in the Strand with Turkish carpets, Brussels tapestries and Chinese porcelain; he also owned globes, and maps of all the principal nations. This is the burgeoning world of Jacobeanism.
* * *
On his progress to London from Edinburgh, at the beginning of his reign, the king was given a petition; it was an appeal from his puritan subjects that became known as the 'millenary petition', bearing the signatures of 1,000 ministers of religion. In moderate terms it suggested to the king that the sign of the cross should be removed from the baptismal ceremony and that the marriage ring was unnecessary. The words 'priest' and 'absolution' should be 'corrected', and the rite of confirmation abolished. The cap and the surplice, the vestments of conformity, were not to be 'urged'.
The king himself liked nothing so much as doctrinal discussion, in which he could display his learning. The first important act of his reign, therefore, was to bring together a small number of clerics at his palace of Hampton Court where they might debate matters of religious policy and religious principle. Five distinguished and learned puritan ministers were matched against the leading ecclesiastics of the realm, among them the archbishop of Canterbury and eight bishops.
This was an age of religious polemic, perhaps prophesying the civil wars of the succeeding reign. On the side of the bishops were those generally satisfied with the doctrines and ceremonies of the established Church; they were moderate; they espoused the union of Church and state. They put more trust in communal worship than in private prayer; they acknowledged the role of custom, experience and reason in spiritual matters. It may not have been a fully formed faith, but it served to bind together those of unclear or flexible belief. It also suited those who simply wished to conform with their neighbours.
On the side of the puritans were those more concerned with the exigencies of the private conscience. They believed in the natural depravity of man, unless the sinner be redeemed by grace. They abhorred the practice of confession and encouraged intensive self-examination as well as self-discipline. They did not wish for a sacramental priesthood but a preaching ministry; they accepted the word of Scripture as the source of all divine truth. They took their compass from the stirrings of providence. Men and women of a puritan tradition were utterly obedient to God's absolute will from which no ritual or sacrament could avert them. This lent them zeal and energy in their attempt to purify the world or, as one puritan theologian put it, 'a holy violence in the performing of all duties'. Sometimes they spoke out as the spirit moved them. It was said, unfairly, that they loved God with all their soul and hated their neighbour with all their heart.
They were not at this stage, however, rival creeds; they are perhaps better regarded as opposing tendencies within the same Church, and their first formal confrontation took place at Hampton Court in the middle of winter. The proceedings of the first day, 14 January 1604, were confined to the king and his ecclesiastics. James debated with his bishops the changes suggested in the 'millenary petition'. On the second day the puritan divines were invited to attend. John Reynolds, the first to be called, argued that the English Church should embrace Calvinist doctrine. The bishop of London, Richard Bancroft, quickly intervened. He knelt down before the king and demanded that 'the ancient canon might be remembered', by which he meant that 'schismatici' should not be permitted to speak against the bishops. James allowed the discussion on specific matters to continue.
In the subsequent debate the king seems to have been shrewd and judicious. He did not accede to the puritans' demand for Calvinism, but he did accept their proposal for an improved translation of the Bible. This request bore magnificent fruit in the King James translation published later in the reign. The delegates then discussed the problem of providing a learned ministry, and the difficulties of dealing with issues of private conscience. The king was willing to concede certain matters to the puritans, in the evident belief that a middle way would encourage unity within the Church. In the bitter weather the fires of Hampton Court roared, while the king sat in his furs; the bishops, and even the puritan delegates, were also clad in fur cloaks.
All seemed to be proceeding without much incident until Reynolds recommended that the bishops of the realm should consult with the 'presbyters'. At this, the king bridled. 'Presbyter', the term for the elder or minister of a Christian church, had for him unfortunate connotations. He had previously been outraged by the Presbyterian divines of Scotland, who did not always treat His Majesty with appropriate respect; they inclined towards republicanism and even egalitarianism. One of them, Andrew Melville, had called him to his face 'God's silly vassal'.
Excerpted from Rebellion by Peter Ackroyd. Copyright © 2014 Peter Ackroyd. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
PETER ACKROYD is an award-winning novelist, as well as a broadcaster, biographer, poet, and historian. He is the author of the acclaimed Thames: Sacred River, London: The Biography, and the first and second volumes of his history of England, Foundation and Tudors. He holds a CBE for services to literature and lives in London.
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