24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2009
This is Tim Harris's second of two books covering the Restoration of King Charles II and the Glorious Revolution that ended the reign of his brother James II.
Whilst the author states that each of these books can be read in isolation, I would recommend that they be read together in sequence since the first gives so much insight into the second. But if you are not familiar with the history of those times, I would further recommend first reading a more broad-brush history of the events (such as Edward Vallance's "The Glorious Revolution: 1688 - Britain's Fight for Liberty") to gain a better perspective of Harris's theses.
Theses is probably an appropriate word to describe Harris's books since they are academic works that break new ground, and differ in many ways from more customary histories. Most noticeably they do not focus on events: the Monmouth rebellion is dealt with in less than a page, and the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne are covered in probably fewer words. Yet what he writes about these and other events is all that needs to be said about them (though one might not appreciate their historic significance if one was not familiar with the stories surrounding them). Instead, Harris focuses on the way events were affected by the views of contemporary people - monarchs, ministers, MPs, churchmen, local officials and the general population, and how the lives of people were affected by then.
Both books are in fact compendiums of contemporary quotations from historical records, combined with Harris's own incisive interpretation of the views that are expressed and on the effects of such views on events. It's a vivid mosaic that gives the reader a genuine sense of appreciating and understanding the later-Stuart world as people experienced it. Indeed Harris's intended purpose in doing this is to demonstrate how public opinion rose in importance in steering the actions of the leading politicians of the day, and ultimately how it brought about the deposition (or resignation) of James II.
Not only is Harris's work unusual in its approach to the interpretation of history, but it is probably unique in describing the effects of Charles and James II's policies on the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland and how each country's response to events affected the policies of the others. Harris claims (no doubt correctly) that no detailed study had previously been conducted into the causes and effects of the Glorious Revolution on the Scottish kingdom, and yet it becomes clear from his narrative that events in Scotland had a profound effect on those in both England and Ireland.
Harris's work firmly justifies his conclusion that the Glorious Revolution was perhaps not so Glorious and it was certainly not the peaceful revolution that it is sometimes claimed to be, especially in the Scottish and Irish kingdoms where much bloodshed resulted. But Harris demonstrates that it was, in all its various outcomes, a much more profound revolution than the Cromwellian revolution in that it not only shaped the Britain of today, but many its effects are still with us and even now are only gradually being undone - for instance with the formation of an independent Scottish parliament, and discussions about ending the ban on Royal marriages to people of the Catholic faith.
Harris's two books combine to make probably the most interesting "history" that I have ever read. He is to be congratulated for completing what must have been a monumental task in researching and recording thousands of contemporary records, interpreting their meaning and putting them into a modern perspective, whilst consistently maintaining a pace and style that makes both his books compulsive reading.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2008
The revolution of 1688 was for centuries considered the foundation of the modern British state and constitution. In 1788 and 1888, there were great national celebrations to commemorate it. In the 1960s it fell out of fashion, first with Marxists historians, and then with conservatives, who argued it was merely a coup d'etat within the ruling class.
Tim Harris's book is one of a number putting the revolution back into proper historical context, and explaining how fundamental it was not only in the political and social development of Britain, but also in Scotland, Ireland and in the American colonies. Harris explains how the Stuarts' ideology of the absolute divine right of kings gave way to the constitutional rule of law to which everyone was equally subject, with an independent judiciary, division of powers, free speech, popular elections and parliaments. Of the current crop of popular histories of the revolution, this is probably the best in terms of balanced overview, and in presenting a conventional "narrative history". It's probably the best general history book on the subject at least since David Ogg's work in the 1950's.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2011
This is a very strange book. Although it seems to have high praise reviews, I see this book as fundamentally flawed. The cover is badly chosen. It shows William of Orange (William III of the Netherlands) but he is within the book a minor player. A mere puppet who is not indicated to have had any influence on historical events, which are described as merely a British Isles affair. There is no indication of why he decided to go to England (he was invited and merely came as if summoned), all the narrative concerns discussion within the local parliaments and William merely gives his final consent and does not seem to have any influence. He is not an active participant for such an important figure. I therefore see the rich detail as chosen in an extremely biased way with fundamental aspects omitted for drawing adequate causal conclusions.
The rich detail to the seeds of unrest are well described (James and the implementation of his agenda and the reaction to this among the general public). It is however the case that such unrest could only be changed into a change of ruler if there was any real backing of military force behind it with teeth. This is indicated by the failing of two minor military uprisings that were supposed to be fuelled by popular resentment. The Dutch were the most powerful and wealthy protestant country at the time and were the only ones able to finance and back a real threat with ease. They were also the only with the ability to launch a maritime invasion since the Dutch had supremacy of seas since the English were not yet the rulers of the sea. The book completely overlooks this aspect as having an important causal effect. Even though events preceded the actual invasion, it was known that the invasion was going to happen and therefore the changing of grumbling into action must have been heavily influenced by this plan. Any detailed pamphlet debate within the British Isles, which is what the book concentrates on, would be merely academic without this substantial military law enforcement force available. Any influence of William and the Dutch within this phamplet debate is disregarded as well.
The author clearly has not looked into any Dutch historical sources and as such misses out important causal events. William was an extremely competent ruler, used to dealing with parliamentarian like bodies in the Netherlands, which were much stronger developed compared the British Isles. Within Dutch history he is seen as the Orange ruler who was best able to deal with the divided forces in the Netherlands between the conservative protestants who were seen as the Orange supporters and the liberal parliamentarians of the ruling trading class of the province of Holland. The marriage to Mary was from early on a political marriage since he had ambitions for the English crown. He was certainly not a passive player in arranging and organising any revolt or uprising. I bought this book to get a good English perspective on this, finding out that there is no perspective at all.
One of the problems with James was that he needed the resources of his kingdom to maintain power. The establishment of a standing army was dependent on tax and he needed parliament for this. William did not need this. He had the might of Dutch money to finance this endeavour and was therefore in a much more powerful position. He actually needed to discuss this invasion within the equivalent of the Dutch parliament and they approved. He even had to ask and discuss if he could be made king within the Netherlands. This is therefore a relatively consorted effort from the Dutch nation to get him over.
William retained the elite of his Dutch army in the UK throughout his rule, indicating that he saw the potential for uprising. The population was thus unable to disagree too much with this loyal military presence that they knew would not waver. The Dutch military suffered consequentially within the European theatre since they could not rely on a well trained military core which remained in the British Isles.
This book therefore forces the subject of the revolution to be a British Isles affair while the Dutch and international situation with France cannot be ignored. One paragraph is devoted to this within the book, stating that it had influence but subsequently downplays it completely.
These gross omissions go together with almost tedious detail of unrest description, giving the impression of high levels unrest in England and Scotland (apart from the true war situation in Ireland). There is however no comparison with unrest levels in other periods making it difficult to say if unrest was more or less compared to other periods. The examples are so detailed that we cannot conclude if these were the only ones or examples of a large number. There is also a high emphasis on how protestants justified their shift allegiance from James to William, which is in many ways very academic since they did it anyway and so a debate on why they did it is far less interesting compared to the political power play. The influence of William as a ruler and the changes that he made are also completely ignored. Are any of the parliamentarian changes after the revolution based on a Dutch system of government? What was there influence of William being familiar with a much parliamentarian system on the changes in the British Isles? Again he is a mere puppet and parliament makes changes and he is not mentioned as a player in any way.
As a conclusion a biased book with overly high detail on specific national parts of the revolution while omitting important other parts of more international nature, which influenced the outcome and changes from the revolution.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2014
This book was recommended by the lecturer on a course attended mainly by pensioners for interest.
As a retired engineer, I found the book, like the course, was a bit repetitive. Other books I have read on similar subjects are the same.
I suspect that I am used to books written for science and engineering students for whom such repetition is unnecessary.
I can't mark down a book for being written in an unfamiliar style.