Monday, April 4, 2016

Crown & Country: The Kings & Queens of England by David Starkey (2011)

This appears to be an omnibus of two books - two much shorter books.

I really enjoyed the earlier chapters on the Anglo-Saxon kings; and I also surprisingly enjoyed the chapters on the Georgian kings.  It made me want to read a biography of each king and queen separately.  I know I'm not going to do that though.  For one thing, I have enough reading challenges going on (Diana Wynne Jones, Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett).  And each and every biography will not be as well written as this.

I found particular interest in the story of Titus Oates. I vaguely knew this story (in my mind it's connected to Guy Fawkes, which he totally was not).  Between 1678-1681, Oates made up this rumor that there was a Catholic conspiracy to kill King Charles II. It was completely created by Oates, and everyone became hystrical and believed it.  22 men were executed.  It flew hither and yon throughout England, and there was a severe backlash against Catholics in England.  What struck me was that this hysteria took place during a time when information traveled slowly; when long distance travel was expensive, slow and dangerous.  No telephones or telegraph.  Messengers by horse was the fastest way to get news from one end of the realm to the other.  There were roads with coaches.  But compared to the instantaneous mode of information being transferred today, this was like a the deepest night and the brightest day of difference.  We're always one internet rumor away from an uprising - that's what I thought of this story.

Crown and Country: A History of England Through the MonarchyCrown and Country: A History of England Through the Monarchy by David Starkey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Apparently, at one time this was two (much smaller) books that have been published as one. It's a lot to digest, but luckily Starkey is a rapid fire scribe who can (mostly successfully) condense years of material in pithy chunks of well-written prose. Whole books could be written on each and every king and queen, not to mention the multitude of lesser figures that dance across these pages; Starkey succeeds at a daunting task. I particularly liked his chapters on the Anglo-Saxon kings, and the Georgians (not a time period I tend to enjoy reading about, actually, which as least to me shows how well-written these chapters were). The last hundred or so years of the monarchy are squeezed together; I think he's overall less impressed from Victoria onwards (he calls Albert, later George VI, "second rate") but seems to have high hopes for a new kind of monarchy that Prince Charles may usher in. Great fun for those (like myself) who like reading about kings and queens.

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