Profile for Stephen Cooper > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Stephen Cooper
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,777
Helpful Votes: 1028

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12
pixel
The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield
The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield
Price: £25.79

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ENGLISHMAN AND HIS HISTORY, 8 Nov. 2011
The book contrives to tell us about Butterfield's Life and Thought; and it succeeds in doing both. It is very interesting indeed on the Life. There is new material here, concerning an unlikely affair which HB had in the 1930s; but I found it even more fascinating to explore how a shy working class boy from a small village in West Yorkshire became one of the most prominent intellectuals of the late twentieth century in Cambridge. There is much about the realities of academic life, which the author is well qualified to comment on. And there is a revealing account of HB's relations with fellow academics at Peterhouse, particularly Brian Wormald, the father of Patrick Wormald, whom I knew. Father and son seem to have had careers as historians which followed a remarkably similar and tragic path.

As to the 'Thought', Butterfield was a prolific writer when it came to the philosophy of history (contrast history itself); and I found the setting in context of works like 'The Whig Interpretation', 'Christianity and History' and 'George III and the Politicians' quite fascinating. Of course, there is no subsititute for the originals, and the author's description is somewhat eliptical; but having said that, you would never get the full flavour of how distinctive Butterfield's Christianity was without reading a learned commentary, which this book provides.

Stephen Cooper


Christianity and History
Christianity and History
by Herbert Butterfield
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars READ AN OLD BOOK, 6 Nov. 2011
This is a slim volume, but it contains much wisdom. I wish I had read it when I was a young man. Back then, Marxist historians like Christopher Hill and controversialists like E.H.Carr ruled the roost. In their view, history had a purpose. H.A.L. Fisher had lamented that he could see `only one emergency following upon another, as wave follows upon wave'; but for Hill and Carr there was indeed `a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern'. History (and historiography) must be more than just `one damned thing after another'.

Sir Herbert Butterfield (1900 - 1979) was Master of Peterhouse in Cambridge (1955 - 1968) and then Regius Professor of Modern History there (1963 - 1968). He thought that individuals were more important than systems of government or impersonal economic forces. History was a matter of chance and accident and therefore unpredictable. Any grand theory of history was a fiction, which reflected more on the historian's prejudices and predilections, than on the age he was writing about. Although Butterfield was a Christian, he did not believe that historians could `uncover the hand of God in history'. Providence was indeed at work, but it did not do so in any simplistic way. The true struggle between good and evil was a struggle within the soul of Man, not between rival political systems. The main driver in human history was Man's ineradicable cupidity and self-righteousness.

A few quotations will demonstrate the quality of `Christianity and History', which was written in 1949, when many thought that some kind of Communism would eventually prevail throughout the world, and that we had better get used to it, even if we didn't like it much. Butterfield's remarks about capitalism would still seem to be highly relevant - since I write at a time of widespread `anti-capitalist' protest:

`History is always a story in which Providence is countered by human aberration.'

`There is one sin that locks people up in all their other sins... namely the sin of self-righteousness.'

`The industrial revolution and the rise of the capitalist system are the best that Providence can do with human cupidity at certain stages of the story'

`Men are often governed more by their hatreds than their loves, and some men have more surely hated the capitalists than they have loved the poor.'

Stephen Cooper


Anonymous [DVD] [2011]
Anonymous [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Rhys Ifans
Price: £2.98

21 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A DANCE TO LOONEY'S TUNE, 6 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Anonymous [DVD] [2011] (DVD)
`Anonymous' takes certain facts from Tudor history and weaves an entertaining and exciting story around them, incorporating more than one conspiracy theory. It has an all-star cast and is visually superb, and well-acted. Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson make a perfect pair as the older and younger versions of Queen Elizabeth I. We marvel at the re-creation of Tudor London; but it is all pretty silly, in historical terms.

It is true that, in 1601, the Earl of Essex was involved in a conspiracy to seize power, was thwarted by William Cecil, and executed in the Tower of London. It is also true that the Earl of Southampton was involved in the plot; that he was a patron of William Shakespeare, and may have been the mysterious `Mr .W.H.', to whom the poet's Sonnets were dedicated; but much of the rest of the film - including the fundamental idea that it was the Earl of Oxford who wrote Shakespeare's plays - is fantasy.

Some respectable scholars have entertained doubts as to the authorship of the plays; and the Earl of Oxford has been proposed as an alternative, along with Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and the Earl of Derby. Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, who star in this film, are both on record as `Oxfordians'; but their fame, and any success which `Anonymous' may have, should not lend respectability to the theory. It was first proposed in 1920 in his book 'Shakespeare Identified', by a somewhat eccentric English schoolmaster, J. Thomas Looney (sic), who chose to ignore the fact that the Earl of Oxford died in 1604, whereas the plays kept appearing for several years after that. Shakespeare, by the way, died in 1616). Two of Looney's followers developed the theory that Oxford and Queen Elizabeth I had been lovers and had produced a son; but Looney himself rejected that idea, since he feared that it would bring his original theory into disrepute.

The makers of `Anonymous' seem to have no such fear. They suggest, not only that Elizabeth and Oxford had a child together (the Earl of Southampton), but also that Elizabeth was Oxford's mother - so that incest, and a double dose of illicit sex are added to the heady brew. They also have Oxford writing all Shakespeare's plays, even those which appeared after his own death; and they portray Shakespeare himself as an illiterate buffoon, whereas in real life he attended a grammar school in Stratford, where he would have received a rigorous education. Meanwhile Elizabeth I is shown as Cecil's dupe, at least in her dotage, which it is difficult to believe that she ever was.

Of course, Shakespeare himself took liberties with the facts; but the film takes too many. It is also open to the same objection as many conspiracy theories. A rational observer is bound to think that, if all this were true, and so many people were involved, somebody would have spilled the beans. Moreover, if we apply Ockham's razor to the problem, we must conclude, along with A.L.Rowse, Stanley Wells, Stephen Greenblatt, Bill Bryson, Trevor Nunn and many others, that it was Shakespeare who wrote Shakespeare; and, if that is so, this film is little more than a variation on a theme by J. Thomas Looney.

Stephen Cooper
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 7, 2012 1:41 PM BST


Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England
Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England
Price: £3.70

3.0 out of 5 stars A MISLEADING TITLE, 3 Nov. 2011
Frederick William Maitland was the father of English legal history. He was much admired in his own day and since. The late C.P.Wormald, author of 'The Making of English Law' (Blackwell, 1999) thought that his mastery of the subject was unmatched.

No-one can question Maitland's scholarship, though his style of writing is somewhat discursive and academic for the modern taste; but the main criticism of this book has to be that it is not about Domesday Book, despite the title. It is about Anglo-Saxon and early Anglo-Norman society, as revealed by Domesday Book. If you want to know about lords and villeins, boors and slaves, manors and boroughs, in great detail, this is the book for you; but if you want to know how and why Domesday was made, it is not.

There has been a long-running controversy about the Book. Was it a 'geld-book', as J.H. Round originally proposed, and as J.O.Prestwich argued in the 1960s? Or was a feudal register, as V.H. Galbraith first proposed in the 1940s? Or was it all a big mistake, little used for either purpose, as M. T. Clanchy argued in 'From Memory to Written Record'? There is now a voluminous literature on the subject; but Maitland was not really concerned with that. He was concerned with the message rather than the medium.

Stephen Cooper


Black Prince's Expedition
Black Prince's Expedition
by H. J. Hewitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE LOGISTICS BEHIND THE CHIVALRY, 28 Oct. 2011
H.J.Hewitt, who died in 1986, started by writing about Cheshire. He graduated to writing about military history. This had already been much written about; but Hewitt had an original take on it. He concentrated on logistics, rather than on battles, sieges and chivalry. He was widely acclaimed in his day, as a pioneer, for both `The Black Prince's Expedition' (1958) and `The Organisation of War Under Edward III' (1966). He also wrote a short but charming book on `The Horse in Medieval England' (1983).

All Hewitt's books were based on painstaking research in the Public Records Office and local archives. His groundwork was exhaustive, his writing style impeccable. He tells us that he originally intended to call his second book on military history `The Civilian in the Hundred Years War'; and this provides a key to his approach. He was concerned to show how a battle like Crécy or Poitiers represented the tip of the iceberg of the English war effort; and he succeeded brilliantly.

Reading Hewitt one can readily appreciate how the raid of 1355 was an even greater achievement than victory in the field at Poitiers. The English succeeded because they were better organised than the French.

Stephen Cooper


The Organisation of War Under Edward III
The Organisation of War Under Edward III
by H.J. Hewitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ORIGINAL TAKE ON MILITARY HISTORY, 28 Oct. 2011
H.J.Hewitt, who died in 1986, started by writing about Cheshire. He graduated to writing about military history. This had already been much written about; but Hewitt had an original take on it. He concentrated on logistics, rather than on battles, sieges and chivalry. He was widely acclaimed in his day, as a pioneer, for both `The Black Prince's Expedition' (1958) and `The Organisation of War Under Edward III' (1966). He also wrote a short but charming book on `The Horse in Medieval England' (1983).

All Hewitt's books were based on painstaking research in the Public Records Office and local archives. His groundwork was exhaustive, his writing style impeccable. He tells us that he originally intended to call his second book on military history `The Civilian in the Hundred Years War'; and this provides a key to his approach. He was concerned to show how a battle like Crécy or Poitiers represented the tip of the iceberg of the English war effort; and he succeeded brilliantly.

Reading Hewitt one can readily appreciate how the capture of Calais was an even greater achievement than victory in the field at Crécy. The English succeeded because they were better organised than the French.

Stephen Cooper


George III and the Historians (Cassell history)
George III and the Historians (Cassell history)
by Herbert Butterfield
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NARRATIVE VERSUS STRUCTURE, 27 Oct. 2011
There was recently an article in 'History Today' entitled 'Who Was Herbert Butterfield?' The answer is that Butterfield (1900-1979) was an historian in Cambridge (England). He was Fellow and Master of Peterhouse; Regius Professor of Modern History; and editor of the Cambridge Historical Journal. He was best known for his writing on the philosophy of history; and in particular for 'The Whig Interpretation of History' (1931). This popularised the idea that much historical writing, particularly about the history of the Reformation, had been written from a point of view which incorporated too many modern assumptions; and that `Whig' historians tended too readily to award points to `progressives' and deduct them from `reactionaries'. The tendency to write `Whig' history was to some extent inevitable, since historians write in the present (and many readers are only interested in the past if it seen as `relevant' to the present day); but it should be avoided so far as possible, since it is fundamentally anachronistic.

The book received particular attention from E.H.Carr in 'What is History' (1961) - which was virtually a set text at `A' level - but in fact 'George III and the Historians' (1957) is a much better explanation of Butterfield's ideas than that contained in either 'The Whig Interpretation of History' or 'What is History'. This is partly because it is about the real Whigs, rather than about the Reformation.

When George III came to the throne in 1760, he was in a very different position from George II before him, and from George I before that. He was young and he had been educated in Britain, whereas his predecessors had each been educated in Germany. The first two Georges had essentially been content to take the British constitution as they found it, which was to say as the Whig oligarchy explained it to them; but George III was a new kid on the block. He had his own ideas; and he had a distinct advantage in having no competitor. For the first decades of his reign, there was no adult Prince of Wales. George III determined to choose his own Prime Minister, rather than relying on a Whig nominee. He wanted to abolish `party' (which he equated with faction), along with the `corruption' (which we associate with one-party states).

The King's attempts to change the way business was done provoked intense opposition at the time. The Whigs would not give way. They elevated their downfall into a matter of principle. They accused the King of wanting to increase the scope of the royal prerogative, thereby undermining the settlement of 1688-9. They accused him of being a tyrant. Edmund Burke, secretary to Lord Rockingham, put their point of view into highly misleading but impeccable prose. This was several years before the American Revolution and long before the word `democracy' ceased to mean `mob rule'; but there was still a real issue as to the proper nature and constitution of limited government.

Subsequent historians lined up for and against the Whigs. Butterfield shows very well how many twists and turns there were in the debate, according to the prejudices and party affiliations of historians, and the sources they used. In the twentieth century, Sir Lewis Namier and his followers adopted a novel approach, by applying the techniques of prosopography. They revealed the personal and economic connections in both Houses of Parliament, and between them; and the corresponding weakness of party affiliation, in the modern sense. Namier held that it was the `structure of politics' which determined the way men voted, not principle. Burke's eloquence was no more than a smoke-screen. Men no more stood for Parliament on grounds of principle than children went to tea-parties for the same reason: they stood for the rewards which office brought. The Whigs sought power, and controlled government, in their own interest; and so did George III's new Tories. One party was no more corrupt than the other. Principles had very little part to play in any of this; and there was no great change in 1760, despite the heat which the controversy had generated.

Butterfield attacked Namier on the basis that the master had `taken the mind out of history'; and he attacked his pupils even more vigorously, showing that they had sometimes been guilty of glaring anachronism. This book is an eloquent argument for the role of personality and chance in history. It is also a plea for narrative rather than analysis and structure. It is a series of brilliant essays; but one has to say that it is too long. Was it really necessary to devote the last hundred pages to the torturing of the Namierites? And to do so in seventeen short chapters, all saying much the same thing? I wonder if the reason for the length and repetitiveness is that, by 1957, Butterfield was so eminent that he was immune from editorial control.

Stephen Cooper


The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (Warfare in History)
The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (Warfare in History)
by Anne Curry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £40.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING, 21 Oct. 2011
In addition to her many other accomplishments (see my review of 'Agincourt, A New History' (2005)), Anne Curry is a most generous scholar. She and her colleagues at Southampton have now set up a database devoted to the medieval soldier, which will enable Englishmen and women to trace ancestors who fought at Agincourt and in other medieval conflicts.

Ten years before that, she published this book, which serves several valuable functions. It brings together all the chroniclers, English, French and Burgundian, and many of the historians, who wrote about Agincourt in the fifteenth century and sixteenth centuries. It contains a fascinating discussion of the historiography between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. You may ask what happened in the seventeenth, when the history books were largely silent. Answer, the Stuart dynasty was Scottish, and Agincourt was an English victory; and in any event, historical attention was diverted by two civil wars and at least one revolution.

The book is very interesting on the origin of various myths surrounding Agincourt; but it does not deal in any detail with fiction or film, or the dozens of productions there have been of Shakespeare's play, 'Henry V'. For that, I would recommend Emma Smith's book in the series 'Shakespeare in Production.' But Anne Curry is a great facilitator. In this book, she provides the reader with a readable and accessible version of the main literary (and some archival) sources; and allows us to draw our own conclusions. What a feast it is!

Stephen Cooper


Agincourt: A New History
Agincourt: A New History
by Anne Curry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZED, 21 Oct. 2011
I am frankly amazed by this book; and amazed that I am the first reviewer, at least in England, to give it the 5 stars it so richly deserves.

Anne Curry is the doyenne of Agincourt studies. She has studied the subject for an academic lifetime and published a magisterial summary of the main literary sources as long ago as 2000. She is Professor of History at Southampton. She has walked the route of the Agincourt campaign on many occasions. She is the first to study the French archives in any detail. Her conclusions are based firmly on the evidence. Her text is packed with information and helpful illustrations. Her footnotes will take the sceptical reader to wherever he wants to go. Yet, her 'New History' is vilified by some of my fellow reviewers, who cannot know more than a fraction of what she does about the subject.

Curry does make some controversial statements. For example, that Henry V's army was overwhelmingly English, and that the Welsh played only a small part. This view is based firmly on the considerable archive evidence; but she has received hate mail as a result, since it contradicts the view held by many Welsh patriots (which is based on emotion), and that held by some French historians (which is based on a desire to belittle the English role).

The main thesis is not that the English outnumbered the French (something which only Hans Delbruck and Ferdinand Lot have tried to assert); but that the English were not so outnumbered by the French as the chroniclers and William Shakespeare would have us believe. The fact that some things have always been accepted as true, does not make them true; and Curry's argument is once again based firmly on a careful examination of the archives, particularly the French. They may be only a snapshot; but they are all we have. Yet many, including Bernard Cornwell, who does not profess to be a historian, feel 'instinctively' that she must be wrong. To which Curry, like patience on a monument, smiling at ignorant grief, is entitled to reply that she has presented the evidence.

Where I would part company with her is in her statement that Agincourt (141) has not been regarded as a decisive battle, but that it deserves to be. Granted, it was a resounding victory, whatever the odds; but on one view, its effects were short-term. The period of English military dominance which it ushered in ended in 1435 at the latest, when the Burgundians withdrew from their alliance with England; and arguably it ended with the arrival of Joan at Arc at the siege of Orleans in 1429. It was certainly not in the same league as Nicopolis (1396) or Tannenberg (1410), or for that matter Castillon (1453), when the French ejected the English from Gascony for the last time, and killed their commander.

Stephen Cooper


More What If?: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
More What If?: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
by Robert Cowley
Edition: Paperback

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars MORE NONSENSE, 21 Oct. 2011
This book was another venture into the world of 'counterfactualism'. The authors probably wish they had never embarked on the journey.

The late A.J.P.Taylor once remarked that it was not the business of the historian to ask what else would have happened, if some significant event had not occurred - in other words to ask the question 'What if?' But it is a question which appeals to the general public; and from time to time some historians in the USA and in the UK have pandered to the taste for it. Notably, Dr Christopher Andrew hosted a series of Radio programmes in 2004, dealing with such questions as 'What if D-Day had failed?' and 'What if Elizabeth I had married?' The participants included distinguished historians; and it was all good knockabout stuff; but not serious history.

This book, and at least one sequel, was published during the vogue for counterfactual history; and it is a model of its kind. A book to while away an idle hour; but it can then be discarded, for there is no point in debating the finer points of any of these argument. One man's guess is as good as another's, because the entire corpus of knowledge on the subject is based on speculation, rather than evidence.

The only point in counterfactual history is to highlight what DID happen: to show that, while we tend to take what did happen for granted, it can actually be rather bizarre. For example, it is quite surprising, that Britain emerged victorious from the Second World War; but is it really necessary to ask 'What would have happened if Hitler had won?' in order to appreciate the unexpected character of the British victory, at least from the standpoint of 1940?

The counterfactual craze seems to have come and gone. In Peter Ackroyd's 'Foundation' (2011) he writes ''If' is not a word to use in history'. Quite. A.J.P.Taylor was right all along.

Stephen Cooper


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12