March 7, 2017

A Short History of England: The Glorious Story of a Rowdy by Simon Jenkins

By Simon Jenkins

The heroes and villains, triumphs and mess ups of English historical past are immediately familiar—from the Norman Conquest to Henry VIII, Queen Victoria to the 2 global Wars. yet to appreciate their complete value we have to be aware of the entire story.

A brief historical past of England sheds new gentle on all of the key members and occasions in English heritage by way of bringing them jointly in an enlightening account of the country’s beginning, upward thrust to international prominence, after which partial eclipse. Written with aptitude and authority by way of Guardian columnist and London Times former editor Simon Jenkins, this is often the definitive narrative of ways today’s England got here to be. Concise yet entire, with greater than 100 colour illustrations, this pretty single-volume historical past would be the usual paintings for years to come.

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It was the early stirrings of a concept of consent to rule, to which later generations of lawyers frequently referred. After Alfred died in 899 he was succeeded by his son Edward (‘the Elder’) and grandson Athelstan (924 – 39). Learned, pious, ‘golden-haired’, Athelstan ‘the Glorious’ was the first English king known to have remained unmarried. He secured his throne by marrying his sisters to the kings of the Saxons, Franks and Burgundians. In return he received the sword of Constantine and the lance of Charlemagne as gifts.

A Saxon official from Dorchester rode to greet them and ask their business. They killed him on the spot. Three years later Northumbria was appalled by the sacking of Lindisfarne, with the loss of hundreds of manuscripts and illuminated books. The chronicles reported that ‘the heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God like dung in the streets’. Monks who escaped the sword were taken as slaves. In 806 came a similar horror, the destruction of St Columba’s 200-year-old monastery on Iona, mother church of Celtic Christianity and burial place of Scottish kings.

But while they had obliterated their British predecessors, they kept their Anglo-Saxon culture and language through all subsequent incursions. They were astonishingly resilient, aided by the security of an insular geography and the seafaring enterprise often shown by island peoples. They quickly evolved a common language, common laws and a common system of government, rooted in a tension between the Saxon autonomy of ‘kith and kin’ and the Norman tradition of central authority. That tension is a leitmotif of my story.

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