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The History of England (English Library) Paperback – 26 Jul 1979

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (26 July 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140431330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140431339
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 40,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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[Macaulay begins his History - which was intended to be a history of England from 1688 to 1789 - with a declaration of his purpose.] Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Romilly on 11 Nov. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Much to my shame and regret I have in my sixth decade turned to Macaulay. What I have been missing. Along with Gibbon he has long been revered as our foremost historian. I understand why. He writes with a freshness and verve, his narrative is taut and detailed, his analysis of people and events compelling and memorable. It is simply unforgettable., and remains by far the best account of the period.

Called a history of England, it begins with the Anglo-Saxons and proceeds to the Civil War, but it is primarily (1300 pages out of 1500) devoted to the reign of the most inadequate Stuart of them all (James II), the Glorious Revolution that toppled him and the constitutional monarchy that replaced his attempt at Catholic Continental despotism and secured our liberties under the law. This is perhaps the most significant age in British history and yet is largely ignored. Everyone knows the fate of Charles I, but few know what befell his even less adequate younger son. James concluded that his father had lost the throne and his head by too great indulgence, and from this false premise decided to be even more obdurate and stubborn. It cost him his kingdom, thank God, and saved us from some form of despotic Catholic regime. It has often been said and rightly so that we owe much more to the vices of our worst kings (John, Charles I, James II) than to the virtues of our best. This book shows how and why. Between them these two stupid Stuarts were monarchical disasters in reaction to whom was created our current constitutional monarchy.

The Whig interpretation of history exemplified in this exemplary work, has still at lot to commend it, especially in contrast to the foolish fleeting fashions of our age and its Marxist and feminist histories. Give me the Whigs any time, and don't they write well.

This is a magnificent achievement and one that should be read for pleasure and edification by all those interested in our history.
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Format: Paperback
Macaulay's "History of England" was first published in 1848 and it is a book with which every historian writing on the Glorious Revolution of 1688 still has to engage today. This is because Macaulay's interpretation is so powerful and convincing. He saw the Revolution as resolving the main conflict of English history, that between Parliament and the Crown. Through the permanent presence of Parliament, it established the rule of law and thus the nation was united and able to evolve towards material progress and great power status. It was above all a conserving Revolution. In Macaulay's words, in it " may be discerned a profound reverence for the past ... the only question was in what sense those traditions were to be understood."
But for the reader there is much more to Macaulay than this. He is not only a scholarly historian; he is above all a great writer. I think the key to this greatness lies in a series of contrasts which add variety and dynamism to his work. First, we are dealing with two contrasting periods: the later seventeenth century he is writing about and the mid-Victorian period whose confident mindset he embodies. Macaulay never tires of comparing the two always to the advantage of his contemporaries. Secondly his history is very detailed; he devoted five thick volumes almost entirely to the period between 1685 and 1702. The reader should be in danger of becoming bogged down in this mire of detail. This doesn't happen because the writer opens up large vistas of time and broad cultural comparisons. So , for example his interpretation of the Revolution involves a closely argued comparison with the revolutions of nineteenth century Europe, including those of 1848 itself.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Excalibur on 26 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback
Macaulay's History of England (with the first volumes published in 1848) is today a book more known of than read. "Whig history" is now a term of abuse, a discredited way of writing history that looked at history from the point of view of the present and disregarded historical setting in an anachronistic self-congratulation of "progress". Indeed, Sir Herbert Butterfield's condemnatory essay on the Whig interpretation of history is today more widely-read than Macaulay's History. The only good thing that is said about Macaulay's History nowadays is that it is well-written.

However the attack on Macaulay's History is unfair. A history of the reigns of James II and William III, it devotes a whole chapter to setting the reigns in historical context with a chapter on England in the reign of Charles II. It describes not just the political background but also the social context, for example it has a lively portrait of Restoration London with its hackney coaches, bustling markets and lively theatres flourishing after the repression of the Puritans had passed away. Macaulay used contemporary sources such as diaries, letters, and newspapers. He was not uncritical of his sources either but had an eye for knowing when a contemporary source should be trusted or not.

The opposition to Maculay's History really springs from his politics. Macualay was indeed a Whig but this should not be a term of abuse. Whiggism was devoted to liberty, and the rule of law which made such liberty possible. It was a patriotic celebration and defence of the rights of Englishmen, a libertarian creed that had inspired the men who had recovered England for freedom during the seventeenth-century in the face of Stuart kings who aimed for an absolute monarchy that would make Britons slaves.
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