Friday, 13 February 2004

England under the Stuarts

Listening to:

Schubert, piano sonata in A, D959, played by Alfred Brendel. This is one of many cheap double CDs from Philips (438 703-2), and is definitely a bargain.

Just read:

G. M. Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts.

This is a substantial history of just over a hundred of England’s most significant years: the 17th century, and the start of the 18th century. In this period, the primacy of both the Church of England and Parliament was assured. England did not follow France and Spain into despotic monarchy, and laid the foundations for its powerful position in the 18th and 19th centuries.

England’s first Stuart king, James I, came to power in England after the death of Elizabeth I, in 1603. He commissioned the King James translation of the Bible, and was king when the Gunpowder Plot attempted to blow up Parliament. His son, Charles I was executed by Parliament in 1649. Charles I’s son, another Charles, was reinstated after Oliver Cromwell died and his Protectorate collapsed. Charles II’s brother, James II was deposed after a short reign, when Parliament arranged and supported an invasion by William of Orange (the Glorious Revolution of 1688).

This was an eventful century. Much of the conflict was caused by religious differences, and this is a link to the events of the previous century and the reigns of the Tudors. But even though factions tended to align themselves along religious lines (Catholics, Presbyterians, Puritans, middle-of-the-road “Anglicans”), much of the conflict stemmed from the relationship between Parliament and the monarch.

Trevelyan provides a good narrative history of the period, including what is almost a denouement describing the successes of Marlborough duing the reigns of William and Mary, and Anne. He focusses on political history, and is clearly quite sympathetic to the Whig, or Liberal cause. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone seeing much to argue for in the reigns of any of the Stuart monarchs. He’s sympathetic towards Cromwell, despite the dead-end that the Protectorate represented, claiming that Cromwell was basically thrust into an impossible position. Trevelyan is also very positive about the Quakers, who came into being in this period. Trevelyan mentions them and their leader, George Fox, positively on a number of occasions.

Ultimately, this book is good simply because it covers what is an important and interesting period in sufficient detail, and in an interesting manner. Trevelyan’s obvious partiality is not so much a problem; rather it works as an unsubtle way of keeping the reader’s attention (particularly if the reader agrees with what Trevelyan writes!)