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Aristocrats: Power, Grace and Decadence? Britain's Great Ruling Classes Since 1066: A History of British Lords, Ladies and Landowners from Medieval Times to the Present Hardcover – 3 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company (3 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316731897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316731898
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.1 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 646,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


`A thousand years of privilege is not easily maintained . . . Lawrence James shows exactly how the process has worked in Britain' The Times --The Times

`James's sprightly study is rich in anecdote and detail' Scotsman --Scotsman

`James has a gift for illustrating points with memorable examples and writing pithy prose' Financial Times --Financial Times

`An accessible history of the last 900 years through the perspective of the aristocracy . . . Well-written . . . Admire the range, drive and verve of James's study' BBC History Magazine -- BBC History Magazine

`Entertaining' Daily Telegraph --Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Lawrence James was born in Bath and was educated at the University of York and Merton College, Oxford. After a distinguished teaching career he has emerged as one of the outstanding narrative historians of his generation.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. Haworth on 5 July 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was hoping for an interesting, fun overview of the aristocracy's impact on Britain over the last five hundred years. Instead, I found this book very uneven - some chapters are vividly written, well researched and full of the details that make social history come to life, and others are just a bewildering mishmash of names, opinions and summaries of other historians' work.

After a strong start, the book comes unstuck in the section on the Wars of the Roses, where it seems to take Shakespeare as a primary source. If I wanted a book about Shakespeare's history plays I'd have bought one. I was also disappointed that the chapter on the aristocracy in the twentieth century and the role of the House of Lords in a new millennium seemed so rushed.

Also, and it's a minor point, the index at the back of the Kindle edition is completely useless as it has no locations or page numbers.

I'm not sorry I gave this book a go, but I can't recommend it.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Philip Harkins VINE VOICE on 19 May 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A somewhat boring book which deals with the history behind the rule of the aristocracy and landed gentry here in the UK; I found it to be very dry, with little 'gossip' and way too much focus on the past; The cover suggests that you will have lots of info on modern day aristocrats, but only get one chapter on them, and even these selected few are dealt with in a very broad way.
If your after a decent, accurate, historical record of the basis here for the aristocracy than this is the book for you.
If your after a light, frivolous gossipy book than give it a pass!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some years ago I read another book on the same subject ("Rise and fall of British Aristocracy").
I ordered this one expecting to find a fresher approach and possibly additional information.
Instead the book proved to be rather flat in my taste and quite simplistic.
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16 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 20 Sep 2010
Format: Paperback
Lawrence James, in his new book, "Aristocrats", takes a long look at the British aristocracy from 1066 to modern times. He examines the role the aristocracy has played in English history, society, governmental affairs, the arts, and warfare.

The aristocracy has held a middle place between English royalty and the common people. Great families were raised to aristocratic level - pointedly one layer under royalty - as a reward to helping the monarch in both war and peace time. Along with the Church, aristocrats were often the only members of society educated during the late middle ages and served their royal masters as government officials and representatives of the central government.
These families often fought among themselves for access at court - for continued royal favor. Great dynasties could flourish and often overwhelm a weak ruler. There was a constant balancing act between sovereign and the aristocracy over power. Royalty often married into aristocratic families and those families were particularly good at grasping at power. This has continued to present day; Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was a member of high Scottish aristocracy when she married the future George VI. And, of course, Diana Spencer was from a wealthy aristocratic family.

Wealthy merchants and military officers were often given peerages as reward for their duties to the Crown. Old families died off and new people were ennobled, replenishing the aristocracy. James is particularly effective when writing about the social impact the aristocracy played in English life.

Aristocrats were often charged with running the various governments of the British Empire, as well as serving as high-ranking military officers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Interesting, but too focused on politics 10 May 2013
By Walter E. Kurtz - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book is an account of some eight hundred years of history of the British aristocracy. The narrative focuses mainly on politics and how the British aristocracy initiated certain events (assuming that they did) and how did it then react to said events. The author takes it for granted that the reader is familiar with English history. For example, he talks about what the aristocracy was doing during the War of the Roses or what was their reaction to the English Civil War, but he does not explain what the War of the Roses or the English Civil War were. The author assumes that the reader already knows. Fortunately for myself, I have studied English history a little bit, so most of the time I was able to understand the historical background. But there were many references to events and people about whom even I (a history buff) was ignorant. To truly understand everything in the book, one would need university level knowledge of British history of the past eight centuries.

So what kind of political class was the aristocracy? The standard image of aristocracy (all aristocracy in general, not just British) I always had was that of quarrelsome, vain people who are perpetually at war against each other and their king. The book confirms somewhat this image, but I was surprised to read that the aristocracy had something of love-hate relationship with their monarchs. The nobles were vain and jealous of their privileged status, so they quite naturally opposed any attempts by the central government to encroach on their rights and privileges. Eventually, the Crown did manage to tame the nobility, but it was a slow process that took centuries. However, having a weak king, or no king at all, was even more disastrous than having a strong king. Weak central government (or no government at all) would lead to civil war. In times of civil war aristocrats would wage internal battles and engage in private vendettas that left many destroyed or ruined. The aristocracy understood, either consciously or subconsciously, that having a tyrant on the throne was bad, but having a weak king who could not protect them from other predatory aristocrats was even worse. Balance had to be maintained.

Politics aside, there are a couple of chapters devoted to the lifestyle of the aristocracy. They talk of such things as the nobility's lavish spending, obsession with hunting and frequent dueling.

Although I did enjoy the book, I found it somewhat limited in scope. For one, the author begins his narrative some one hundred years after the Norman conquest when aristocracy, as a social class, was already well established. It would have been interesting to begin at the beginning with William the Conqueror and how the British aristocracy came into being.

But my biggest complaint is that the book teaches very little about the mentality of the British aristocracy. How did they relate to commoners? How did they relate to each other? What differentiated them from the Continental aristocracy. Yes, we do get information how they loved to build opulent houses, how they hunted like crazy and how they were passionate about breeding horses and dogs, but those are just snippets of aristocratic life. They say (at least to me) little about their mentality in general. Besides, all of European aristocracy loved opulent houses, hunting and horses. What made the British special? Because they were drinking more tea than Europeans?
history.. 22 Oct 2012
By Agata - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
...a lot of facts, but not very well writen...still a work which spans 800 years.
Author takes care to be impartial-I would like a foot note to be more detaild.
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