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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome addition to Ackroyd's series but perhaps a fraction weaker than the first volume
Ackroyd's second volume of his History of England slackens the pace of the narrative significantly. The first volume described more than a millennium from the Brythonic tribes through Roman occupation and the Middle Ages to the settlement of the Wars of the Roses in 1485. This volume, in contrast, covers less than a century; the Tudor period running from the accession of...
Published on 20 Feb. 2013 by TWBlount

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but lopsided
Ackroyd writes,"When we turn from the affairs of the great to the smaller lives of England we often find misery and discontent."
Yes, well , I am sure we do but you wouldn't know it from this book because he simply turns his back on any sort of social history whatsoever and gives us no idea of how even the middle classes might have lived let alone the...
Published 10 months ago by Adrian Rumble


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome addition to Ackroyd's series but perhaps a fraction weaker than the first volume, 20 Feb. 2013
By 
TWBlount (Leamington Spa, Warwickshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
Ackroyd's second volume of his History of England slackens the pace of the narrative significantly. The first volume described more than a millennium from the Brythonic tribes through Roman occupation and the Middle Ages to the settlement of the Wars of the Roses in 1485. This volume, in contrast, covers less than a century; the Tudor period running from the accession of Henry VIII in 1509 to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

This closer inspection reflects both the fame (infamy?) of the major figures of this period as well as the wealth of surviving sources and exhaustive historical studies. This is both a strength and a weakness. The tendency to superficially skim across major events and figures that occasionally afflicted the first volume is less evident, however, the fact that this period is so well known makes it easier to pick fault with some of Ackroyd's conclusions.

The author's decision to end the first volume with the death of Henry VII rather than include the first Tudor in this volume is illuminating. Many would argue that the shape and success of Tudor policy was set by Henry VII with the ensuing `golden' reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth built on his stable foundations. Thus he belongs alongside them in the titular Tudor volume. Ackroyd, however, has a narrative agenda that precludes this.

Not only did Henry VII's reign mark the end of the chaos of the Wars of the Roses but it also served as a period of stability in which the constancy of English society in the face of political upheaval could be illustrated - a major theme of Volume I. The narrative theme of Volume II is religion, a consideration only brought to the fore by Henry VIII's infamous marital difficulties. Religious policy is the bedrock of this volume with almost every event seen through that prism, therefore, Henry VII's uncontroversial, pre-Reformation Catholicism has no place here.

There are many historians who would criticise the focus on religion as the core feature of Tudor polity, preferring a more pragmatic reading of the Tudor reigns. Ackroyd's focus, however, allows him to continue one of his favourite themes in another guise; the relative continuity of the populace's day-today experience (as illustrated in volume 1) whatever the violent fluctuations amongst the elite. The central hypothesis of Ackroyd's work is that the sluggish pace of English cultural and social development was super-charged by the Tudor religious settlement, which was driven by political rather than spiritual concerns, ultimately breaking links to the past and disassembling the many social norms. It seems likely that he will argue the Anglican impulse made England uniquely prepared for empire and industry.

Thus, despite the apparent focus on those at the top of society, Ackroyd constantly counterbalances this with forays into the common experience of those living in the 16th Century. The relative depth with which subjects like the Pilgrimage of Grace are covered attests to this. One departure from the first volume is the incorporation of observations on society within the overall narrative rather than including them in specific chapters. This is a shame as it does skew the balance back toward the great and powerful with titbits of social history less evident. Nevertheless, Ackroyd's buccaneering prose drives the book forward and makes the account compelling, if less ambiguous than more academic works would suggest.

Despite this volume being a general synthesis of Tudor history, Ackroyd gives it a coherent spin with which purists may find fault but even those most familiar with the subject will glean moments of real insight.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Reader, 3 Mar. 2013
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The purpose of a historian is to take often conflicting and confusing events and turn them into an understandable and (hopefully) enjoyable narrative. In this case the author has succeeded.

The book takes us from the beginnings of the reign of Henry VIII through to the end of Elizabeth I. in other words, virtually the whole of the 16th century. Unlike others historians, like the book I read recently read about Caterina Sforza (Tigress of Forli: The Life of Caterina Sforza), the author is less concerned about character and more concerned about events. All the monarchs are mainly pegs around whom the many happenings of this period revolve, but that does not diminish the quality of the book. It's just another way to treat history.

I also like the fact that the chapters are fairly short; there are over forty (in just over 350 pages). This means that it is possible to put the book down easily or read it in short bursts without losing the plot, or getting overwhelmed by the details.

Although familiar with the Tudor period, I am no way an expert. In fact I read the book to remind myself of the events. The book is not overly academic. There are many quotes, but they are not referenced (one of the minor flaws) but this does did not hinder my enjoyment.

Perfect as a paperback, or as I read it, on an e-reader.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but lopsided, 6 July 2014
By 
Adrian Rumble (Valencia, Spain) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tudors: A History of England Volume II (History of England Vol 2) (Paperback)
Ackroyd writes,"When we turn from the affairs of the great to the smaller lives of England we often find misery and discontent."
Yes, well , I am sure we do but you wouldn't know it from this book because he simply turns his back on any sort of social history whatsoever and gives us no idea of how even the middle classes might have lived let alone the humble.
And while he purports to be narrating a synthesis of the latest research and findings of this period there are many serious omissions as, for example,of the intimate life of Elizabeth which have been common knowledge since the late sixties and which go a long way to explain why she never married.
He writes well and is easy to read but in the end you leave his book with the feeling of being bashed about the head too many times such is the relentlessness of his account of executions and betrayals.
There's much more to history than this.
What about the other possible view of history as summed up so succinctly by Don DeLillo: "History is longing on a large scale."?
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Mighty Dramos, 5 Oct. 2012
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Ackroyd continues to startle and sparkle with his erudition and wit. I bought this almost as a penance, inspired by a sense of needing to improve my understanding of this critical period in the history of England. But, as ever with Ackroyd, you quickly get caught up in the energy of his storytelling - and with a plot that would defy belief were it not true (never did Carlyle's epigram better apply:'History is a mighty dramos, enacted upon the theatre of times, with suns for lamps and eternity for a background'.
Compelling, insightful, and not without humour.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood, guts, plotting and people - what more do you want!, 16 Nov. 2012
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A superb read. Informative but not daunting, I couldn't put it down! The paintings and other art work give another interesting dimension.
This book really shows the iron grip of religion over the people during the reformation and beyond and how it was used to increase power at home and abroad.
A fascinating read and I am no historian!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, clear interpretation of our history - as always, 11 Mar. 2013
By 
EleanorB - See all my reviews
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I tend to alternate my historical reading evenly between fact and fiction. Right now, it's the turn of fact and this is a good choice. Peter Ackroyd is nothing if not consistent. His work is methodical, well researched, and well presented with a good narrative pace along with a placing of events clearly in their timeline. He deals less with the people per se, and more with the events in which they were the key players. His last volume ended with the death of Henry the Seventh and I find that quite logical even though this book is concerned with The Tudors. The death of the first Tudor king marked the end of the Wars of the Roses (as we call them in retrospect) and to an extent the beginning of the end of medieval England. Henry the Eighth clearly represented the future and that included tentative (albeit very tentative) moves to a more technocratic society. So, Ackroyd is correct in defining his work this way.

This is serious history. The book is erudite, well informed, well illustrated (although many of the images have been used before)and covers a century of religious upheaval, dynastic problems, and much bloodshed, culminating in the reign of Elizabeth the First and her idiosyncratic use of her own image to represent not just herself, but her country as well - effectively the birth of PR. Ackroyd does not spare us the litany of casualties along the way and the sheer brutality of religious suppression, on both sides of the debate, is breathtaking. The cruellest of executions were meted out to people who merely expressed opinions which differed from the prevailing orthodoxy, in a way that makes you seriously question contemporary understanding of the concept of a "God of Love". It almost tipped into the realms of human sacrifice and is one of the least appealing episodes of our island's long history. Following Henry's break with Rome and papal authority, religion and politics became inextricably linked, and Elizabeth the First faced lifelong threats of war from the Catholic powers overseas, such as Spain, and more domestically from Mary Queen of Scots, a blood relative, whose claim to be the Virgin Queen's rightful heir was highly plausible. The author presents all this in a logical and informed way, which demonstrates his forensic understanding of the power struggles of the times.

Thoroughly good work, and I will continue on this journey through our history in Ackroyd's excellent company.
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5.0 out of 5 stars History as it should be told, 10 July 2013
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 - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tudors: A History of England Volume II (History of England Vol 2) (Paperback)
Having read the first volume in this series, and enjoyed it, I thought I would read this one too. The narrative is somehow different in this one, perhaps because fewer kings and queens are covered. It is more relaxed and leisurely, like reading a novel. Unlike the first volume, there is no interleaving of chronological and social history chapters.

Just when you think you have seen the worst of kings/queens/lords, another comes along and dispels that assumption. What a self-serving load of parasites they all were! Still, it makes for interesting reading! Volume 1 was a long catalogue of people trying to rid themselves of the royals. There is less of that here, but it is clear that they are still not approved of, especially in their religious machinations. The twin evils of this age, royalty and religion, are in more evidence than ever before in this period. We have the despot Henry VIII trying to justify divorcing/murdering the odd wife by setting up his own religion, his son and first daughter then going into fundamentalist modes in opposite directions, and finally the dithering, indecisive Elizabeth who can't quite make up her mind who to support in the Netherlands, France and Spain. Only the recklessness of Drake, and our inclement seas, save her from a disastrous invasion. Meanwhile, her refusal to aid the Netherlands leads to the blossoming of our reputation as a financial centre and trade port, at the expense of places like Antwerp.

Meanwhile, the Scots are trying to cope with Queen Mary, who was once queen of France, whose husband manages to kill her best friend and then gets killed by her, leading to her fleeing to custody in England, where she conspires with all and sundry to oust Elizabeth from the throne.

Book 3, if it ever gets written, will start with the strange character of James VI travelling South from Scotland to become James I of England. I trust we will be treated to his romps with Buckingham before his successor plunges us into yet another civil war! I can hardly wait! Meanwhile, I will have to make do with Schama's A History of Britain - Volume 2: The British Wars 1603-1776. I am not so keen on Schama. Occasionally he assumes the reader knows things that he hasn't mentioned, dangerous in a history book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Politics and religion, 13 Jun. 2013
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Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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It was a pleasure reading Foundation: The History of England Volume 1 (History of England Vol 1) so I eagerly began this second volume of Ackroyd's history of England immediately afterwards. Without a doubt, the Tudor family in itself (by the way, why is Henry VII discussed in volume I and not here? Doesn't seem logical to me) provide plenty of colourful subject matter, but nonetheless their story is expertly told here. It may be (it is!) a 'history' but it reads as fluently as a 'story' thanks to Ackroyd's easy style. What helps too is that Ackroyd is not out to prove a point, but doesn't hesitate to say that some things (such as the precise circumstances of the death of Darnley) we simply don't know and probably never will.

There's less information on the 'commoners' than in volume I which I personally found slightly disappointing, but still this book gives a splendid overview from the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII until the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, and eminently chronicles how England evolved from a Catholic country into a Protestant kingdom.

All in all, another very satisfying read so I for one am eagerly awaiting volume III.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as 'Foundation', 9 Jun. 2013
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I do like Ackroyd's casual style; he's easy to read without being patronising.

Nevertheless this book did focus on the big issues affecting the monarchy with hardly any thought given to social culture and everyday life.

I was particularly surprised that there was nothing about the flourishing of art at the time for instance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Ackroyd's style is engaging, informative, and candid ..., 1 Nov. 2014
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Peter Ackroyd's style is engaging, informative, and candid. Rather than telling you what he might favour as the "official" interpretation of events with scant evidence, he gives us the uncertainty. We know that a letter was sent, and we know it had a profound effect, but we do not know its contents. You and I might speculate, but Ackroyd does not. I value this.

The Tudor dynasty started at Bosworth Field in 1485 with Henry VII's victory to end the protracted Wars of the Roses. It ended 118 years later with the death of the childless Queen Elizabeth. In that time the turmoil of religious allegiance, the clamour for power within the court, and the giant sized egos created a continual turbulence, with always the sovereign at its epicentre.

Do not be daunted by the sheer number of pages, it is a captivating book that is hard to put down once started.
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Tudors: A History of England Volume II (History of England Vol 2)
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