Friday, December 18, 2015

The History of England II, The Tudors - Peter Ackroyd

The title of this opus is simultaneously accurate and a bit misleading. 
It is indeed a history of England, yet of the conventional kind - no new social realism drivel here. (On the other side, if it had been, it would have been 1500 pages long instead of 500.) As a result, it depicts Tudor dealings - in detail! - and not much else.

The Tudors being what they were (a colourful bunch!), there is much to be told!
My favourite anecdote to tell students is when Henry VIII said "F*ck off" to the Pope and created his own church, to marry Anne Boleyn and have a son, helping himself to the Church's wealth and lands all the while. A sweet deal, as they say.
This is of course then followed by all his other wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived), the succeeding monarchs in rapid succession - poor Edward VI who died at 15, the queen of nine days Lady Jane Grey, and 'Bloody' Mary Tudor - to finish with the long reign of majestic Elizabeth I.
Colourful only begins to describe it!

The downside, however, to King Harry's Act of Supremacy (there always is one, isn't there?) was the subsequent religious turmoil. Not only because it was hard on the English people to reform their religion pretty much on a whim, but also because religious wars are both tedious and so goddarn stupid you want to chuck the book through a window. ("Mass in Latin or mass in English? Hm. Let's fight it out! And burn a few heretics while we're at it!")

The subject-matter was mostly fun, then, and the writing was OK, though perhaps not Nobel Prize material. But then, that is not exactly what you want from a historian, either. 
(Though if you do, and if you read Swedish, I can recommend Peter Englund!)


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