I bought this book when I was about to do a post-graduate history degree and specialise in periods referred to by the university as 'The Puritan Revolution' and 'The Restoration', effectively English history fromm 1649 to 1688. Apart from knowing that there was an inter-regnum followed by the restoration and the reigns of two of Charles I's sons (for all I knew then, his only two sons but I now know better) I knew very little about the period.
Before I was finished I was going to have to read books devoted in detail to events such as the Barebones parliament, the rule of the major generals, the Popish plot, the Exclusion Crisis (not quite the same but strongly connected), and the so-called Glorious Revolution. But as a starter I needed a book or books that gave me an overview of the period. This book (and the relevant book of Simon Schama's BBC series) met that requirement perfectly.
I now have my degree, but still read and re-read Kishlansky's book regularly just for the pleasure of doing so. His narrative could not be bettered, and I now have a good understanding of the whole Stuart century. Taken as a whole the book shows exactly what the title claims to show, how in one century and in one dynasty England, Scotland and Wales moved from having an absolute monarch, through a period where parliament was at least an irritant that the monarch had to take account of, to one where the monarch had to change the head of government whenever a general election gave a different party a majority in the Commons. As part of that evolution there were civil wars at the end of which a king was beheaded, an inter-regnum where we had a republic (or commonwealth), the founding of the first political parties (for greater detail study the Exclusion crisis - Professor Jones's book is excellent), and we made our first moves towards a constitutional monarch.
The characters of the various monarchs were a significant factor in how these changes came about, and Kishlansky describes the various Stuarts excellently. Why, for example, did Charles II manage to reign for well over 20 years until he suddenly died in his bed with his kingdom under total control, while his brother got kicked out after less than four years? Just reading how they judged (or in James II's case, totally failed to judge)the mood of the people that mattered makes this clear. Each chapter covers one major period or event, and Kishlansky introduces each of these chapters, not with an overview but with a detailed description of one key episode. Once the reader gets used to this unusual style it works perfectly and greatly increases the pleasure in reading the book.
I really cannot speak highly enough of this book, and when I first wanted to read about a different century my first instinct was to look for the relevant book in the same series.
I had read the period this book covers in various forms before trying out Kishlansky's book and it just blew me away. His book should be read before all others on the period in question to get a real understanding of the personalities, the rivalries and the events. It is clear, concise, and with a mellifluous narrative that simply buoys up the reader on a constant wave of information, enjoyment and wonder. His grasp of the subject matter is unparalleled and his explanations, analyses and conclusions are shrewd, sharp and incisive. I cannot remember when I have enjoyed a history book so much, and I am difficult to please in that regard.
I particularly liked the way he dispenses with the irritating numbered footnotes so that one gets the feel of reading fiction rather than fact, and the way he seamlessly weaves the events, the beginning and the ends, into a coherent whole, especially to build up suspense and anticipation for the next section. Most of all, I love his turns of phrase, his unique way of giving his own viewpoint on events in a way which is often poignantly graphical.
For example, on the Civil War, one had no difficulty appreciating - and remembering - the powerful imagery and comparison when he said: "The English Civil war heeded the rhythms of the agricultural year. In the spring new armies were planted; in the summer they fed off the land; and in the autumn they reaped victories or defeats. In the winter they rested and peace was proposed." Easy understanding of a complex war of attrition, in just a few choice words!
And again: "The Anglicized Scots were known as 'amphibians' for their ability to live in both environments, if not for the thick skins necessary to repel abuse from both sides." Priceless!
A joyous experience from beginning to end. Pity the history books were not like this one when I was at school!
My only pet peeve is the lack of immediate acknowledgement on the opening scene-setters he quoted for each chapter, which were obviously written by contemporaries of the time. The authors are listed at the back of the book but, being so interesting, I would have liked to have known there and then who was writing this first-hand account without having to look it up.It would have added to the overall enjoyment.
But I forgive him for that. When one is dealing with a masterpiece, one can ignore the miniscule gaps. This book is a must read and I look forward to re-reading it time and time again to savour its rather unique flavour!
Kishlansky's perspective on the Stuart period of British history is a fantastic piece written with a very rich vocabulary of language, and although in my opinion is not as clear as Christopher Hill in his "The Century of Revolution", Kishlansky's book certainly is more readable, elucidating the reader on the different undercurrents surrounding the inter alia religiopolitical antagonisms and finance, whilst also explicating the foreign policy issues that placed England as a key state in Europe by the end of the seventeenth-century. Writing this from the perspective of an A-Level student I highly recommend this book (even if you just want to read out of interest, although you may find yourself having to research some events whilst reading is academic book).
Having studied the Stuart period at university, I had since moved my interest in to other periods of history. Having picked this up by chance, Mark Kishlansky has successfully rekindled my interest in this fascinating period. Well written, the author's obvious absorption in and passion for the period shines through the text.
For me, the most interesting events were James II's deposition and the usurpation of William and Mary, defeating the idea of strict hereditary succession and a possible 'absolutism' based on the French model of Louis XIV. Being sympathetic to James, I plan to study his reign and deposition in further books. The civil war and commonwealth periods also stand out - it's not everyday a king is beheaded by his own subjects.
Kishlansky does not use footnotes and most of the sources are secondary. This is to be expected as the book, I feel, is intended to be an introduction to the period rather than an in-depth study.
In summary I recommend this fairly quick read and look forward to reading more on the 'Glorious Revolution'.
This book is primarily a political and religious history of the period; British society during this period is relegated to a single chapter, while cultural history and the great scientific discoveries merit only the briefest of mention in the prologue. In a different context this might not matter so much, but for a volume in a series that purports to provide an introduction to the history of the British Isles the decision to focus on just a single aspect of that history is disappointing. Nevertheless, what this book does it does well. Kishlansky offers a clear and readable narrative of a century wracked with political and religious turmoil, something that in itself is no small achievement. It is also free of the numerous historiographical disputes, and as such is a safe book for readers wanting an introduction to the Stuarts' reign. The inclusion of Scotland and Ireland into the picture is especially welcome, as it gives a fuller understanding of the era than was available in the traditionally England-specific studies. As a result, it provides a good starting point for understanding how the government of Great Britain developed during the tumultuous decades of the seventeenth century, one that saw the permanent redefinition of the role of the crown in British political life.
Mr. Kishlansky provides a concise narrative of the events that characterized seventeenth century English history and that resulted in the modern British parliament and constitutional monarchy. His attention to detail shows his thorough knowledge of the history of Great Britain and most importantly, shows how the rise of the modern parliamentary system & constitutional monarchy at century's end provided mechanisms to many of the legal questions which gave rise to the various revolutions and civil wars that characterized the century's previous history. An excellent book for anyone interested in British history or who wishes to know where the founding fathers of the American revolution obtained so many of the ideas that characterize the American constitution and its emphasis on the paramountcy of the rule of law.
This contribution to the Penguin History of Britain has been around since 1996 and considering its age it still reads as a fresh, intelligent and detailed narrative of an amazingly busy period. Kishlansky writes with the authority gained from years of scholarship and is both balanced and enlightening in his views. Its easy for example to be prurient about James 1 but Kishlansky accentuates the positive achievements of his reign and has good words to say about characters such as the Duke of Buckingham, sometimes written off by others as a dissolute favourite. He negotiates the complexities of Civil War Britain with a masterly narrative and references an enormous amount of detail for such a relatively short book whilst still allowing the reader to delve deeper with a helpful bibliography which is still on the money despite the passage of time. Indeed, whilst the historiography has not stopped in the years since this book was published the narrative still feels fresh and reliable as do his judgements. There are also excellent chapters on the later Stuarts, though I wanted a little more on the complexities of the Glorious Revolution and Williams motivation. The device of starting most chapters with a good old story (the Gunpowder Plot; the Great Fire of London, etc) works well in both jogging the memory and providing a micro narrative within the whole text which contains some great analysis. Overall its the enthusiasm of the writer as well as the proof of his title by the age of Queen Anne that makes this one of the best one volume Histories of this period and an outstanding contribution which would suit students as well as academic historians. The idea that one could write a decent one volume history of the seventeenth century (with enough effective coverage) seems laughable considering the amount that has been written on the Civil war alone. Writers such as Tim Harris have opted for multi volume approaches but Kishlansky has pulled it off in spades and this book merits both a read and a re-read. It works a narrative history and still has integrity as an academic analysis. Great stuff. My only regret is coming to it so late.
This is an enjoyable book to read. Kishlansky's depth of knowledge is evidenced in the comprehensive annotated reading list he provides, a practice I wish more historians would emulate. This is a general history of a century and his sources are secondary as you would expect, but at times there is a lack of depth of analysis, in particular at the time of the 1688 revolution. When parliament and the English people had bent so far backwards to accommodate Charles II in his skilful efforts to prepare the country for the succession of his Catholic brother, why exactly did they turn on James so abruptly? OK, James tried to push Catholicism down everyone's throat in the last year or so, but Kishlansky tells us nothing about how the English people reacted to this, other than the broad facts of William's invasion. He has of course earlier in the book alluded to the English strength of feeling about Protestantism, but that is about all we get. In general Kishlansky you feel slightly disapproves of chaps that rock the boat. But then he's an American and no doubt has his own perspective.
What I really like about this book is the clarity of it's exposition of a series of immensely complex situations, ie the accession of a Scottish monarch, James I to a country which has just found a coherent and stable English identity; the principled and conscientiousness defense of the divine right of kings by Charles I, the brilliance of Cromwell, the incredible successions of shifts and changes under Charles II as he tries to make the best of what with hindsight was a hopeless problem. He also puts the heroics of William and in some ways the unsung brilliance of Anne's adaptability into good perspective. As I say I am less convinced by his portrayal of James II, or more perhaps the reaction of the English to him.
But Kishlansky in general does a great job of bringing all the different factors in situations into balance, religion, finance, ancestry and so on.
I also feel he does more than justice to very complex situations over the century in Scotland and Ireland. In many histories of Britain you feel the historian is saying `Oh, I guess we better put in a bit about Ireland (or Scotland)'. However here I do not feel (contrary to one reviewer on Amazon.com) that they are given short shrift. If there is a sense in which they are treated with contempt that is down to the Stuarts, not Kishlansky, and as he points out, at least in Scotland that was to some extent put right.
I didn't find this the easiest book to read I have to say. I struggled with its flow at times. However, there is no doubting the author's knowledge of the subject or period. He does though stick to the political and religious themes in the main. This does give one a lot of the facts of course, but leave one a little short on some of the characters' real lives, and perhaps lacks a slightly more interesting and amusing view point? The lives of the rank & file for instance, the inventions and goings on in the 1600's - the plague, some of the more interesting characters (Pepys etc.) - The whole thing came across on one level - of `high society.' That's not being critical in any way, but perhaps it could have been a bit more interesting and fun if expanded away from the main subject matter at times? There is very little about actual `life' in this period? The book is very comprehensive regarding its subject matter but surely a few pictures & portraits would not have gone a miss, instead, just a few very dull maps? Nor does Kishlansky court controversy; he plays it very safe In terms of the monarchs' sexuality. He is very defensive and rather protective, compared to other writers. James 1 being a classic example. I would also suggest that religion was a complicated subject during this period and that some tuition on the `basic theology' of the period would be helpful before reading this, as the writer clearly believes that the reader will have a good knowledge of the many different faiths? Again, a Glossary would have been a helpful aid? Overall it was very interesting. I do not recall smiling much during the read? A few `light entertainment' moments would have been nice! However, I accept that's just his style! If you want the facts, then yes, they're all here concerning the basic history And most important aspects of this period - job well done and very professionally to boot.