on 3 June 2008
I was not educated on this period of history at school, so I have no preconceptions; apart from of course some passing anecdotal information about the battles of the Civil War, Cromwell, Charles and his misplaced head, and - I think - a bit about William of Orange. But how that fed into the fabric of modern Britain, how this shaped our constitutional monarchy, how we ended up being governed by groups called Whigs and Tories, how we became a "United Kingdom", how we became, however accidentally, Protestant, was anything but clear. Miller attempts to cover the century or so of Stuart Dynasty rule, and in doing so covers many of these questions. Other questions, most notably how on earth did such a traditionally peaceable (at least at home) nation descend inconsolably into armed civil conflict, are also covered in depth, but even Miller has to hedge his bets on a summary of the causes - for me this remains something of a historical debate.
It started in 1603 when, without a suitable successor, the death of Queen Elizabeth saw the end of the Plantagenate rulers; the closest thing to a familial link (through Henry VIII sister Margaret's marriage to James IV of Scotland) was James VI, who then became ruler of England and Scotland, (he coined the term Great Britain) as James I of England, heralding the start of the Stuart dynasty. It was in the reign of his son, Charles I, where much of our history of the 17th century tends to be focused. Miller covers this in detail, but does not overdo it - indeed this account leaves, for me at least, several questions unanswered. The Cromwellian Republican interlude, Charles II, brother James II and his son-in-law William (who effectively deposed him) are presented thoughtfully, with insight and without losing any of the reader's interest.
Where I have to admit I rather struggled here is, in my ignorance, I wasn't clear where the Stuarts ended . As it was this was with Anne, who died without an heir in 1714, and the Prostestant-at-all-costs, George, a dyed-in-the-wool German, hurriedly ushered in. However while the ruling house changed hands then, the cultural or social history does not abruptly or conveniently end there. The continuing Jacobite dissention, which ran for a good few decades longer, creates an inextricable link that - for my money - it would have been appropriate to at least have a suitable "and beyond" chapter.
Having said that, Miller's book is nothing if not ambitious - squeezing a century of detail into a relatively short space, especially given the scope of change being described. This he achieves with a deftness of prose and lucid descriptions, and is comfortably the best account of the period I have read, and is a fantastic introduction to this important époque.
on 24 February 2011
I thought that Miller wrote this book brilliantly. The attention to detail continued to amaze me all the way through the book. He gives the reader a completely new angle from which to see England and the Stuarts. I thought it was excellent that he talked about the Stuarts and the religious issues that England faced at the time. I've read many books on Kings and Queens of this country and Miller has the two hand in hand right the way through. It is true to write this way because Church and State even today in this country go hand in hand. So I have to say this was beautifully handled by Miller. The one big major problem I had with this book is that he was a real let down when it came to talk about the two female Stuarts Mary and Anne, despite the fact that, as individuals they were very siginficant figures during their time. It disappointed me that neither of them barely got a mention in the book, the chapter on William and Mary is all about William despite the fact it was his marriage to Mary that got him on the British throne. Mary also proved to be a most effective ruler during her time as regent when William was away. Mary I believe had the most attended funeral of any monarch(by all means correct me if I'm wrong), which shows how much the people loved her. However the worst chapter by far was the chapter on Anne, her name comes up about six or seven times in the whole chapter and for the last half of it she has no mention at all because Miller talks about George I (her successor) the entire time. For me this completely ruined the book, Despite all the hardships she went through like all her miscarriages she suffered, the premature death of her only child William. Miller doesn't recognise anything that she'd done for this country and the way it shaped our future, lets not forget also that it was during her reign that The Act of Union (1707) (the act unified English and Scottish parliaments and formally united the two countries together). I'm not accussing Miller of being a mysogonist but it just so happens that the two monarchs he doesn't seem interested in at all are both female, it could be an honest mistake. It just seems so unfair that they were both amazing people and he didn't do justice by either them at all.