Rebellion: The History of England Vol. III (aka Civil War) by Peter Ackroyd

rebellionA plague on all their houses…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The time of the doomed Stuart dynasty (in England) has always been one of those periods where I felt I knew the basics but didn’t really understand the ins-and-outs of it all. Peter Ackroyd’s history takes us from the accession of James I (VI of Scotland) to the throne of England on the death of Elizabeth in 1603, through to the flight of James II (VII) to France and the arrival of William of Orange and Mary in 1688. Since this is the third book in what I understand is to be a six-book series, Ackroyd doesn’t delve much into the pre-Stuart era, nor does he say much about what happened after the events he is describing, but that doesn’t present problems because he thoroughly explains the main players and factions as he goes along.

And what a bunch they were! I don’t think I’ve ever read about a war where I so emphatically felt that I didn’t want to support either side. While the Stuarts seem to have been a particularly inept, corrupt and often depraved crowd of absolutist monarchs, the Parliamentarians come across as a bunch of deeply unpleasant, power-hungry, money-grubbing, squabbling incompetents (the start of a proud Parliamentary tradition we carry on to this day). When Cromwell’s military dictatorship begins to look like the good times, then it gives an indication of the awfulness of the alternatives. What a pity M. Guillotin hadn’t been born yet…

Charles I by van Dyck
Charles I by van Dyck

Ackroyd’s style is very accessible and he incorporates quotes from many contemporaneous sources – not just the people in power, but many fairly ordinary onlookers who give a flavour of the despair that must have been felt by the pawns in this bloody chess-game. Of course, we still can’t hear the voices of the illiterate poor, but Ackroyd shows the impact on them of the various machinations of both sides, and the manipulation of them, usually via the various religious factions. Ackroyd also looks at the plays and writings that were produced at the time, showing how they were influenced by events, and how they would have been understood by the audiences of the day. And he discusses the impact of plague and fire, both as physical events and as how they would have been perceived symbolically.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper
Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

As well as this clear picture of events in England, Ackroyd also sets the story well into the international context. He manages to keep the reader on top of all the shifting treaties and loyalties, showing how dependant international affairs were on personal relationships at that time. We get a feel for the beginnings of the various European empires and how important that was becoming in determining alliances and enmities. And he reminds the reader that both Scotland and Ireland, now linked to England by a shared monarchy, played important roles in providing support or distraction to the English factions.

Overall, this is a very readable and interesting account of the period, written in a way that makes it easy for the non-academic reader to follow. It’s certainly left me feeling much clearer about the reasons behind the events and the personalities of the people involved. I appreciated that he didn’t romanticise either side – his treatment felt very even-handed to me. But I’m afraid the question of whether I’d have wanted to be a Roundhead or a Cavalier remains unresolved – Cavalier probably, but only on the grounds that their hairdos were more fun…

Charles II (eat your heart out, Kenny G...)
Charles II

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, St Martin’s Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

67 thoughts on “Rebellion: The History of England Vol. III (aka Civil War) by Peter Ackroyd

  1. FictionFan – This does sound like a well-researched look at that time in history. An interesting case too of neither side being ‘the good guys.’ Oh, and you’re right; it’s hard to choose which side one would want to be on, but… better hairdos on the Cavaliers and they dressed better too. 😉


      • I never dance on Sundays, anyway; the hangover’s usually too bad! And now – as accidie re-asserts itself – I must take leave of your blog for the time being. One final thought, nay exhortation – let none of us indulge in floccinaucinihilipilification. Au revoir!


  2. Roundhead! I’ve always sorta like their helmets. And that hair is a good reasons against them, I say. Who would follow a king who had mice in his hair? Or maybe even a rat’s nest?

    Changing the topic completely…what think thou of William the Conquerer?


    • No, no – you can’t be a Roundhead if I’m going to be a Cavalier! Anyway I’d have thought you’d like the hair – you could just buy a Kenny G wig and you’d look the part straightaway… (but keep your own kiss-curl…) I wonder if Kenny has any concealed rodents…

      Well, he probably had a French accent so obviously that would work in his favour. *doesn’t swoon but only because he’s dead* And he built some jolly nice castles and stuff. But unfortunately I always get confused and call him Norman the Conqueror… Is there a particular reason behind this question?


      • That’s true. Well…I’ll just be a Trojan, then. Okay, I admit: Kenny’s hair is ugly, but no one cares about his hair. It’s the tone of the sax that matters! (Don’t have one…) Ew! Too thin…maybe a cockroach, though.

        *laughing lots* Norman…that works. I mean, the chap was a Norman. No, not really. I just thought I’d ask. Sometimes I can be a bit off topic, you know. (I am glad that you don’t swoon for dead guys.)


        • There was one major disappointment about the video, you know – I was really hoping the Professor would be wearing his Trojan outfit. Knees are such fun!

          OK, OK – have another go at convincing me about Kenny – pick one track that you think shows his greatness… (Do! So c&a!) Yeuch!

          You off topic? Never!!! But somehow Norman doesn’t sound like the name for a great hero, does it? More like an IT guy… (Well, I find they don’t swoon for me either much…)


  3. That does sound like a fairly balanced report. I grew up being taught that the Roundheads were the good guys, but have since decided that both sides could be pretty shady upon request. I never knew much about European history and all of the ins and outs among the royal families etc,until I finished school and had time to read historical fiction, actually. They were eye openers.


  4. Hmm You have reminded me there is an Ackroyd TBR which is Book ONE in his ‘of 6’ in my TBR Kindle pile. I like Ackroyd, so i really ought to embark.

    Incidentally, here is a neat trick to reduce the TBR (though it is quite expensive) You replace your Kindle Keyboard with a lovely Kindle Voyage. This gives you the possibility to organise your collection invisibly In The Cloud and hide things in very complicated new folders which you create In The Cloud and you leave them there, hidden, and then create so many folders that the new TBR folders which you have created are hard to find. In fact you have created 2 TBR folders, one for the ARCs and another for the stuff you couldn’t help buying, courtesy of wicked bloggers who forced you, under protest, to buy things.

    I suddenly seem only to have around 7 TBR, instead of well over 100. I’m just hoping it doesn’t rain though, as all the rest are ‘In The Cloud’ so no doubt if it does rain, it will rain books and books


    • I thought I might go back and read number 1. No.2 is probably the Tudors and I feel they’ve been done to death (in more ways than one!) but I don’t know too much about English history before them. And I might read 4 too, when it comes out.

      Yay! You’ve got it then? Isn’t a new gadget fun?? But it always takes ages to get it all set up properly and then it just becomes second nature. How’s the reading screen? The one downside of the Fire is a lack of folders – I keep hoping they’ll update it to add them so maybe now they’ve done it for the Voyage it’ll come onstream for the Fire too. There’re apps, but I tried a couple and they’re pretty useless – apart from anything else you have to keep all your books downloaded to make them work, and though I’ve never had space issues, I’m sure it would happen if I downloaded everything at the same time.


      • Oh I spent a merry day yesterday creating folders in the Cloud, (on the lovely little Voyage) and any books which are downloaded on the Kindle (very very few at the moment, just some select TBRs and a handful of very recently read ones) are in the same little folders (I think I made 40 odd folders, partly inspired by having done so many categories on the blog! And, inspired by my recent organisation of the real bookshelves, only more so, there are alphabetical folders for author, and also for title, and then the wild proliferation of categories!

        I have to say ‘getting it growing was an absolute breeze. There was a BRILLIANT first spotlight review (still is, till some spiteful maggots decide to drive it down and out, in which the reviewer explains all the updates from KK to Paperwhite 1 + 2 to Voyage, thus instructing the new Kindler and those with other Kindle versions. Then he has been most helpful and generous in answering comments, so whilst waiting for it to arrive I read all comments and replies, and felt pretty clued on instant Voyage mastery.

        The reading screen is brilliant, I never went for the Fire because i wanted book like, as much as possible. Its very sharp, the text, and of course there are a choice of fonts and sizes. I love the adaptive light, and the choices offered so you can have it turned on or off (adaptive) and you can set your own defaults for it to adapt FROM, rather than the factory settings. It even has a setting where if you wake up in the middle of the night and want to read, you can get it to slowly dim the screen as your eyes adjust to lower levels of lighting. ie this is more restful, and seems to me to lead to a greater likelihood of getting a bit readier to go back to sleep.

        And of course, the decider, which kept me away from the Paperwhite, is I prefer press page rather than swipe, easier for one handed reading whilst stuffing face with food. And you can turn that on and off as well

        As I ONLY use it for reading, and never used the audio facility on the KK, I don’t miss the lack of that at all, and have no space issues even if I downloaded everything – which is about 300-400 books, as the capacity is much more than that

        That’s it, from today’s edition of Tech Talk!


        • Well! I’m glad you’re enjoying it! That’s the thing – Amazon are undoubtedly great at having a range of these things all of which work brilliantly with Az content – of course, it hooks us all to shopping with them, but honestly it’s all so easy and convenient that I can’t imagine getting any other make of e-reader. And really I use the Fire more than the iPod for MP3s now too – especially since Vine gave me a little Bluetooth adaptor a while back that has converted my ancient but fairly good quality speakers into Bluetooth receivers. There’s no doubt Az have revolutionised the technology in the FF household one way and another. And they’re sending me a shiny new juicer as we speak so that might be fun – though probably won’t play music…


  5. Another book I should read. What I enjoy about your blog is that you do the reading for me, and write about it so well.It is interesting how many events there are in history where it’s hard to determine which side is “good”…


    • Haha! I love reading other book blogs for the same reason – it almost makes me feel I’ve read the books! Yes, this was a particularly good example – I really disliked both sides equally. Nobody came out looking good – not even the Scots! 😉


    • Yes, though the Parliamentarians did remind me very much of the current crop – though at least they don’t normally execute the opposition these days…

      I think you may be safe for a while – I haven’t got anything very tempting coming up, I think…

      Liked by 1 person

    • They were indeed! Imagine banning dancing! 😉

      But seriously, this does give quite a good picture of the whole period and what it was all about and, as history books go, it’s not too long thankfully.


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