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The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth-century England [Hardcover]

Adrian Tinniswood
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2007
'To know the Verneys is to know the seventeenth century,' writes Adrian Tinniswood in his brilliant new book - and thanks to the chance survival in an attic of tens of thousands of their letters, we know the Verneys very well indeed. By drawing on their letters, he reveals the world of this family of Buckinghamshire gentry in extraordinary detail and intimacy. Here are Edmund Verney, Charles I's standard bearer at Edgehill. He died there; all they found of him was his hand, still clutching the King's standard. Edmund left ten children, the oldest of whom, Ralph, struggled to hold the family together during the Civil War. He lost the respect of his brothers and sisters because he alone of the Verneys supported the Parliamentarian cause. Then Parliament, suspicious of royalist connections, hounded him into exile. Ralph's brother Mun was a professional soldier who survived Cromwell's attack on Drogheda in 1649, only to be stabbed to death two days later. Their sister, Mall fell pregnant out of wedlock. Bess ran off with a clergyman. Henry was obsessed with horse-racing. Cary gambled away a fortune. Tom was a devout Christian and a petty crook: packed off abroad, he kept returning to sponge off his family. The next generation led equally exciting lives. Ralph's son Jack went to Syria and made a fortune. Cousin Pen stayed at home and slept with her sister's fiance. Cousin, Dick was hanged at Tyburn. Jack's brother Edmund married a girl who was rich, beautiful and deeply in love with him. Within months of the marriage, she lost her mind. The "Verneys" is narrative history at its very best - fascinating, surprising, enthralling. It is nothing short of a triumph.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; 2007 First Edition edition (1 Mar 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224072552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224072557
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.7 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 457,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`an admirable work of scholarship, written with verve, style and
imagination' -- Spectator, Review by Jonathan Sumption

`The rich and vivid characters of the Verneys make history not only
painless but positively pleasurable. This is a welcome return to exactly
the kind of history that has always captivated the general reader' -- Dian Purkiss, The Independent

`a compelling drama of marriage, death, madness, adventure and travel' -- The Sunday Times, Stella Tillyard

'By far the most historically assured, best told, and most
entertaining telling of the Verney saga.' -- Sunday Telegraph

'Enormous flair and skill Mr Tinniswood uses...full of spectacular
rows and tearful makings-up' -- The Economist

'Enthralling... [Tinniswood] writes with an ease, a sympathy, a
simplicity...that makes this book extraordinary' -- The Telegraph

'It combines scholarly enterprise and precision with the power of
imaginative re-creation' -- Literary Review

'This book hums with Tinniswood's infectious enthusiasm.'
-- Independent on Sunday

'Tinniswood gives a pungent sense of the wrangling and entangling of 17th-century life'
-- The Guardian

Book of the Week -- The Week

Book Description

The extraordinary story of one English family in the seventeenth century: narrative social history at its best.

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling history! 14 April 2008
This is history at its best - it's readable, compelling and thoroughly enjoyable. Tinniswood's book achieves many goals in one - a fascinating social history, meticulous biography, powerful family saga, and not least it is a really good and engaging read.

The tale begins with Sir Francis Verney who ran away from his teenage wife in 1608, sold off much of the Verney property, converted to Islam and became one of the most feared pirates on the Barbary Coast. Carry on to read about Bess, who ran off with a clergyman; Cary, a heavy gambler, and Henry who was obsessed with horse racing; not to mention those involved in the English Civil War; Mall, who became pregnant out of marriage, or one of the later relatives who was hanged at Tyburn. A really good and compelling portrait of seventeenth-century England, and especially the Verney family. The history is based predominantly on the extensive records of the Verneys, particularly hundreds of letters kept by Sir Ralph Verney (1613-96) who presided over Claydon House in Buckinghamshire for over 50 years.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stuart era soap opera 29 Oct 2007
Adrian has taken the collected letters of the Verneys and turned them into a fascinating story of life in the Civil War and Restoration. The Verney family characters are all uniquely human with frailties and aspirations that are recognisable today, especially in how Sir Ralph Verney tries to maintain the family fortunes, have his sons shoulder responsibilities and marry well with large dowries. The women are not in the background and show how they rebel to the strictures placed on them by society.

Adrian's own views stay in the background except for some, for him, shocking revelations as to personal conduct. Its a surprisingly readable page turning insight into how an aristocratic family copes with being torn apart by the Civil War, with parallel in today's world
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By the Sword Divided in book form. 26 Nov 2008
By Mrs J
I've just finished this book and found it hard to put down. The 17th Century was a time of massive change in England and for that reason alone, this book is fascinating. However, if you take the history away, this is a story of the lives, loves, triumphs and tragedies of a family. It reads like a soap opera with happy marriage, unhappy marriage,struggling to make ends meet, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, criminality, birth, premature death, love, laughter and grief.
If you liked "By the Sword Divided" ( If you're old enough to remember!) then I heartily recommend this book to you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars definitely recommended 17 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
this is a wonderful book. I was recommended to read this by a work colleague as historical novels are not my usual reading material. However I was enthralled by this family and what made it more worthy was the fact that it was based on true account of peoples lives from letters written. The power of the pen never ceases to amaze me, and it is a sad thought that children today know how to text and twitter, but rarely write a letter!

This book is a definite must read book for anyone as the people draw you into their lives, but it is difficult to put down, so allow yourself time to get into the book.
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