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The English Rebel: One Thousand Years of Trouble-making from the Normans to the Nineties Hardcover – 6 Aug 2009
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'A fascinating theme, lucidly developed, which examines the use of physical and moral force in the pursuit of dissent - and all stages in between' -- Peter Hennessy
'A superb losers' history of England - two-thirds of the main characters end up on the scaffold or the gallows - written with narrative verve and delicious detail' -- Ferdinand Mount
'An unfailingly lucid, immensely readable and above all clear-eyed account of an indomitable strand in our national story' -- David Kynaston
'Full of wit and scholarship. Horspool's book reveals the curious fact that chance and accident play the supreme role in human affairs' Peter Ackroyd, The Times
-- The Times
'Highly impressive: here is an author who can give equally perceptive accounts of baronial politics under the Normans and of in-fighting among the suffragettes. [The book] could almost be a one-volume guide to English history, from an unusual, rebel's-eye point of view' Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph -- Sunday Telegraph
'The exciting, accessible story of the many moments in which people organized themselves to change things - and sometimes succeeded. Horspool uncovers the hearty, dangerous energy of British politics'
-- Diane Purkiss
An intelligent and provocative survey of the recurring role of rebellion and resistance in English history, and of some of the mythologies to which this has given rise - Linda Colley -- Linda Colley
`A spry account of some of history's biggest failures ... but it is also a reminder that although English rebels (even Oliver Cromwell) never succeeded in achieving lasting revolutionary changes (and rarely even wanted it), they helped make the modern British state what it is' -- The Economist
-- The Economist
`How glad I am that we live in an age of welfare, common law and antibiotics. And how grateful I am, for two out of those three privileges, to the hardnuts and schemers, martyrs and refuseniks, Machiavels and downright heid-the-ba's who populate Horspool's fine book' -- Sam Leith, The Spectator -- Sam Leith, The Spectator
`Splendid, colourful, fascinating. The love of history shines from every page. A gloriously old-fashioned work of narrative and all the better for it' -- Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph -- Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph
'A superb losers' history of England - two-thirds of the main characters end up on the scaffold or the gallows - written with narrative verve and delicious detail'See all Product description
Top customer reviews
But I am mystified. So very many thousands of people, high and low, lost their lives or their liberty as a result of rebellion. Hardly any succeeded (Cromwell and co. being the main exception). Why did they risk so much? Horspool fails to bring to life the injustice, desperation and passion which must have driven these doomed rebels, time after time.
The author is particularly strong on the context in which Magna Carta (1215) was issued, and what it meant, and the early medieval period, when kingship was more or less the first prize in a bloody contest amongst a very small clique of Norman and Plantagenet barons - until Simon de Montfort (in 1265) and then Edward I (in the next four decades) sought game-changers by bringing representatives of the knightly and then the upper merchant (burgess) classes into Parliament, thereby accidentally starting England on the very long road towards democracy. However, it took until the late nineteenth century before middling and lower class men were enfranchised. Women, meanwhile, were beyond the pale, until various fascinating female leaders brought the issue to the boil with the rebellious suffragette movement of the early twentieth century, leading to female enfranchisement in 1918 (though women under 30 could not vote until 1928).
Horspool also sheds interesting light on the conservative and xenophobic 'rebel' power of the London mob, mainly in the eighteenth century - which acted as a significant brake upon democratic progress, since the mob's rampages terrified most of the non-enfranchised middle class into supporting the status quo. Property rights were always more important than voting rights.
What is not clear is the definition of English political rebellion, beyond the simple attempt of one lot to seize power from another. Horspool says in his introduction that rebels have to risk life or liberty, but another factor must be that they must arise predominantly from within the body politic. But what is 'within'? Would that rule out the Dutch William the Third and the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, which was not a revolution and was hardly 'glorious', except for the Anglican ruling class which was entrenched in power for the next 200 years. When does rebellion become true revolution? And why did England, or more accurately, Britain, not experience any authoritarian rule after Cromwell and certainly no bloody revolution - unlike virtually every other long-established country in the world (except various ex-British colonies)? Is this something to do with geography but also the much under-discussed history of British rebellions, at the end of which the losers were eventually reconciled or conciliated in some way?
What of the July 2007 Islamist bombers, and their like? (This latest and most horrific wave of terrorist-political violence is outside the scope of Hospool's historical coverage, no doubt deliberately.) Would they 'count' as 'English rebels'? If it had succeeded, the Catholic Gunpowder Plot of 1605 would have killed very many more people, all civilians. The extreme terrorist intent of the Gunpowder Plot provoked deep and very long-lasting revulsion throughout Britain. We now look on Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes at al as incompetent fanatics, but nonetheless as rebels who are part of the island story. In two hundred years' time, might we look on the native-born Islamist terror-murderers in a similar way?
Horspool has some striking turns of phrase, and a masterful ability to cut to the chase. It is not surprising that there is little depth in a work of such breadth, though his clarity does spark rebellious thoughts.