A History Of The English-Speaking Peoples: The Birth Of Britain

The Birth of Britain is the first part in Winston Churchill's history of the English-speaking peoples of the world. This first volume deals with the Island pre-Roman times to the fall of Richard III, and includes an awful lot of information. Churchill choses to pick one or two key points from the reign of each monarch, those events that signify for better or worse the evolution of England (and ultimately Britain). This method makes for an interesting read as the narrative makes it so that the reader is not bogged down in minor tribulations. This is no ordinary history book either. Churchill's famed command of the English language makes itself apparent here, with the language often more colourful than the usual. Reading Churchill railing against certain actions as "diabolical" or "very wicked" for instance helps create a vivid picture in the mind. Churchill also is a master of using anecdotes gleamed from the past that help to add to the picture of the characters that we meet. I shall include some examples of my favourites below.

Given the topic, this is not a book that you can sit down and plough through in one setting (unlike a good novel for instance), but Churchill's work is well-researched and written, and a brilliant introduction for anyone looking for an overview of the history of Britain.

Now for those anecdotes:
  • King Offa, of the 8th Century, established a mint at Canterbury. One of the coins issued "tells its own quaint tale. It is a gold dinar, nicely copied from an Arabic die, and is stamped with the superscription Rex Offa. The Canterbury mint evidently regarded the Arabic as mere ornamentation, and all men would have been shocked had they known that it declared 'There is no God but one, and Mahomet is his prophet.'"
  • Halfdene, the Viking leader, departed. The tortured, plundered Church requited his atrocities by declaring that God punished him in the long run by madness and a smell which made his presence unendurable to his fellows.
  • When Philip of France learned that the German Emperor was to release Richard the Lionheart, he sent a message to John, Richard's brother: 'Have a care - the Devil is unloosed.'
  • A strong, capable King (Edward I)... was succeeded by a perverted weakling (Edward II).
  • Louis XI must have rubbed his hands in the same glee as when he visited his former Minister, Cardinal Jean Balue, whom he kept imprisoned in an iron cage.
  • In 1460, Warwick the King-Maker had branded Queen Margeret's son as a bastard or changeling.


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