Rebellion by Peter Ackroyd

Rebellion Rebellion, subtitled The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution, is the third volume in Peter Ackroyd’s History of England series. I haven’t read the first one, but I did read the second – which covered the Tudor period – and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to seeing how Ackroyd would tackle the Stuarts in this latest volume. Before I go any further I should point out that Rebellion is the US title, which I’m using here as this is the edition I received for review via NetGalley; the UK title is Civil War.

The book opens with the reign of the first Stuart king of England, James I, who acceded to the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. He was, of course, also James VI of Scotland and united the two countries under one crown. James was followed by his son, Charles I, and most of the book is devoted to discussing the Civil War which ended in Charles’ execution. After several years of rule by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, the Stuart monarchy was restored under Charles II and the Restoration period is also covered in this volume. Finally, Ackroyd looks at the reign of James II and finishes with the Glorious Revolution which marked the arrival of William of Orange and his wife, Mary.

I have condensed eighty-five years of history into one paragraph here, but the book itself goes into a huge amount of detail, describing the life of each Stuart monarch and the key events of their reign. It’s a fascinating read, especially if you have a particular interest in this period of English history, and like the previous volume, Tudors, it’s written in a style that is factual without being too academic for the general reader. While the lives of kings and queens are interesting to read about, I also like to know how ordinary people lived, so I was pleased to find that Ackroyd gives some attention to the social history of the period and includes some chapters on literature, science, music and drama.

The only problem I had with this book was that I felt too much time was spent on the Civil War while the reigns of Charles II and James II had been squeezed in at the end. The chapters describing the events leading to the Civil War and the religious and political reasons for it seemed to go on forever, and although I can certainly understand why Ackroyd chose to make this the focus of the book I did start to get bored and found myself looking forward to moving on to the Restoration period.

While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Tudors, I do feel that I’ve learned a lot from it. I am definitely not an expert on seventeenth century history but having finished this book, I now know much more than I did before I started. I haven’t heard anything about the fourth book in this series yet, but I expect it will continue to move forward chronologically into the eighteenth century. While I’m waiting maybe I should find a copy of the first volume, Foundation, which I still haven’t read…or I could try one of Peter Ackroyd’s other books. He has written more than thirty non-fiction books and a large number of novels too, so there would be plenty to choose from!

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5 thoughts on “Rebellion by Peter Ackroyd”

  1. Ackroyd’s written a *lot* of fiction, but I still like his first one, “Hawksmoor” best.

    1. I haven’t read any of Ackroyd’s fiction yet but I’m impressed that he has written so many novels as well as researching and writing all of his non-fiction! Hawksmoor sounds interesting – I’ll think about reading that one.

      1. I’ve read two or three of Ackiroyd'[s novels, and I have to confess I find them pretty tedious. I keep meaning to tackle some of his nonfiction, because it strikes me that this might really be his forte — that the very factors making his novels so dreary might be strengths in the context of nonfiction — but I haven’t yet, mea culpa, gotten around to it.

  2. I am 80% through this now and am currently reading about Charles II. Like you I found the Civil War section rather long and feel Charles II and James II are really going to be squeezed in at the end. I am enjoying the book though and I have learnt a lot.

    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Jessica. I can understand why so much time was spent on the Civil War but I did get a bit bored with it. I thought it was a good book overall, though, and I’ll be looking out for the next volume.

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