A History Of The English-Speaking Peoples: The New World

The second part of Churchill's history of England, and I am full of praise once more. I found this edition to be very easy to read, which surprised me after I read my thoughts on the first part. Perhaps it is due to the fact that this edition has a much smaller time-frame to focus upon and so Churchill can dwell upon matters in more depth. I especially wish that I had this book when I was taking A-Level History back in England, as the discussions on the cause and effects of the English Civil War were my favourite parts of the book. I found this to be a surprise, as prior to reading I was dreading this section due to having any interest in this topic slowly drained away over two years with a dull and lifeless teacher. But as usual, the writing form of Churchill made this a joy to read, and reignited my interest in this area. Thanks Winston!

My only minor complaint about this book is that sometimes Churchill throws out names without explaining who they are or why they are being mentioned. There was one part where he suddenly mentions Rupert as being a naval commander in the 1660s. Now, due to my earlier reading of this book, I had looked up Prince Rupert on Wikipedia (and discovered that in the civil war he had a white dog that the Roundheads feared as a witch's familiar) and so I knew that he was an admiral at some point following the Restoration. Otherwise, I would not have known that this was the same Rupert. But this is only a minor complaint.

And of course, it wouldn't be a Churchill book without some anecdotes. They mainly stemmed from the Henry's VII & VIII, but here are my favourites:
  • The charges against the Great Earl were serious enough apart from his suspect favour to Perkin Warbeck. Had he not burned down the cathedral of Cashel? The Earl admitted it, but excused himself in a fashion that appealed to the King. "I did it, but I thought that the Archbishop was inside."
  • Pope Julius II, who had been besieged by a French force in Rome, had excommunicated the entire French army, and now grew a beard, an adornment then out of fashion, and swore he would not shave until he was revenged upon the King of France.
  • At the Field of the Cloth of Gold, five years before, King Francis [of France] had mocked at her [Queen Catherine, Henry VIII's first wife] behind the scenes with his courtiers, saying she was "old and deformed". A typical Spanish princess, she had matured and aged rapidly.
  • A magnificent and valuable bed, which had lain in the Treasury since it had formed part of a French nobleman's ransom...
  • A dead dog was flung through the window of the Queen's [Mary I] chamber, a halter around its neck, its ears cropped, and bearing a label saying that all the priests in England should be hanged.
  • We must not be led by Victorian writers into regarding this triumph of the Ironsides and of Cromwell as a kind of victory for democracy and the Parliamentary system over Divine Right and Old World dreams. It was the triumph of some twenty thousand resolute, ruthless, disciplined military fanatics over all that England has ever willed or ever wished.
  • The English Puritans, like their brethren in Massachussetts, concerned themselves with the repression of vice. Swearing was an offence... one man was fined for saying "God is my witness," and another for saying "Upon my life." Soldiers were sent round London on Christmas Day before dinner-time to enter private houses without warrants and seize meat cooking in all kitchens and ovens. Walking abroad on the Sabbath, except to go to church, was punished, and a man was fined for going to a neighbouring parish to hear a sermon.
  • In these days, when the Catholic Church raises her immemorial authority against the secular tyranny, it is hard to realise how different was the aspect which she wore to the England of 1679, with the recollection of the fires of Smithfield, the Massacre of St Bartholomew, the Spanish Armada, and the Gunpowder Plot.
One other thing of note from this volume is the story of the Founding Fathers from the Mayflower. We all know that they left the shores of England supposedly in the search for religious freedom due to there not being toleration toward Puritans (who given their zeal and literal interpretation of the Bible, are effectively the 17th Century equivalents of the Taliban) to practice their extremism in Britain. What generally is not told is that once they had settled and established a colony, they were intent upon denying the right of toleration that they themselves sought upon others of non-Puritanical belief. So effectively a major holiday in the United States celebrates a bunch of bigots. That's not meant to be an anti-American statement, but rather something that I was struck by as the common story retold is that they sought tolerance and freedom, but not that they were a collection of bigoted extremists.


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