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European History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village by Eamon Duffy (Yale University Press)  The Voices of Morebath, winner of the Hawthornden Prize for Literature, offers a rare glimpse of life in a remote sixteenth-century English village during the dramatic changes of the Reformation. Through vividly detailed parish records kept from 1520 to 1574 by Sir Christopher Trychay, the garrulous priest of Morebath, we see how a tiny Catholic community rebelled, was punished, and reluctantly accepted Protestantism under the demands of the Elizabethan state.
In this delightful book, Reformation historian Eamond Duffy, professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge and president of Magdalene College , takes us inside the mind and heart of Morebath, a remote and tiny sheep-farming village where 33 families worked the difficult land on the southern edge of Exmoor . The bulk of Morebath's conventional archives have long since vanished. But through nearly all the drama of the English Reformation, Morebath's only priest, Sir Christopher, kept the parish accounts on behalf of the churchwardens. Opinionated, eccentric and talkative, Sir Christopher filled these vivid scripts for parish meetings with the names and doings of his parishioners. Through his eyes we see into the life and pre-reformation piety of a 16th-century English village. The work also offers a window into a rural world in crisis as the Reformation progressed. Sir Christopher’s accounts provide direct evidence of the motives which drove hitherto law-abiding West-Country communities to participate in the doomed Prayer-Book Rebellion of 1549 – culminating in the siege of Exeter which ended in bloody defeat and a wave of executions. Its church bells confiscated and silenced, Morebath shared in the punishment imposed on all the towns and villages of Devon and Cornwall . Sir Christopher documents the changes in the community: reluctantly Protestant, no longer focused on the religious life of the parish church, and increasingly preoccupied with the secular demands of the Elizabethan state, the equipping of armies, and the payment of taxes. Morebath's priest, garrulous to the end of his days, describes a rural world irrevocably altered, and enables us to hear the voices of his villagers after 400 years of silence.

The Voices of Morebath is microhistory, absorbing, zesty, and readable for the general reader as well as the historian, a rare view into a time long gone – a real gem.

The Twilight of Britain: Cultural Nationalism, Multi-Culturalism, and the Politics of Toleration by G. Gordon Betts (Transaction) The erosion of British sovereignty, national identity and culture, the subversion of its history and traditions, and the demoralization of its institutions and public services are a source of increasing unease to many. The process began, Betts argues, with the end of the colonial empires. Since the beginning of the last decade, concern about its consequences has been heightened by global instability. The demise of the Communist empire, the rise of national independence movements, and the eruption of longstanding and bitter ethno‑national conflicts have resulted in a mass migration of economic refugees and asylum seekers to Britain and other Western nations.

In Britain, public attitudes are ambivalent. In part this is a consequence of the promotion of the myth of the multiracial Commonwealth, the regional devolution of the United Kingdom, and the transition from a European Economic Union into a politically federalized European super‑state. Britain's national interests have become secondary to those of the United Nations and an inchoate and unwilling international community. Influenced by an outmoded UN Convention on Refugees and the lack of a consistent immigration policy‑and failure of those immigration controls that do exist­gradual but major political, social, and cultural shifts have occurred without the express consent of the majority of the British electorate. Virtually all public debate by the government and politicians on these issues has been taboo, effectively silenced by fear of being accused of xenophobia, discrimination, and racism. The result is cynicism and disenchantment with the political process as a whole.

Betts's objective is to promote responsible and informed discussion of these issues. In the absence of this, he warns, we risk the twilight of a harmonious British society, diminished pride in British institutions and national identity, and competing and conflicting separatist ethnic, racial, and cultural claims. The Twilight of Britain will be of interest to general readers and those interested in modern Britain and Europe, as well as to sociologists, political scientists, and philosophers. Author’s Abstract

This is a holistic and cross‑disciplinary discussion in which the philosophical background of the issues of nationalism, culturalism, and toleration are contrasted with the contemporary evidence demonstrating the extent to which they are relevant to the world today, and to Britain in particular. A case is argued for the preservation of British cultural hegemony and sovereignty by resisting multiculturalism, regional devolution, and the political and immigration aspects of Europeanisation and its enlargement, together with global cosmopolitanism. This mode of cultural nationalism, which is both internally benign and externally irenic, is contrasted with pre‑WW2 British fascism and the adverse experience of the aggressive German political nationalism leading up to WW2. The re‑emergence of worldwide ethno­national conflicts and nationalism is seen as confirmation of the continuing need for a national identity, as well as an appeal to nationhood, kinship, patriotism and loyalty to a culturally homogenous nation‑state. The effect of the failure of the United Nations and the international community to resolve ethno‑national conflicts, along with the adverse influence of devolution and Europeanisation on the national identity, institutions, and sovereignty of the British nation­state, are discussed.

The potential threat of the toleration of separatist multiculturalism to the social cohesion and security of the British nation‑state is outlined. Multiculturalism could become so extensive that Britain's traditional culture could lose its distinctive features. Multiculturalism is being reinforced by uncontrolled and unselective migration into Britain together with the misappropriation of the outmoded 1951 (Geneva) UN Convention on Refugees as amended by the 1967 (New York) Protocol, and the universal rights claimed by economic migrants and bogus refugees. The intractable problems already apparent in societies which either are or have inherited multiculturalism are used to reinforce the case made for managing cultural diversity in Britain by voluntary gradual assimilation and quota based and selective immigration. The political and social dilemmas inherent in a separatist multiculturalism and ghettoisation are discussed together with the issues of racism, freedom of religion and speech, education, equality, discrimination, and political correct­ness. The paradigm of the demise of the institution of the Anglican Church in its liberal tolerance and ambivalent response to secular and religious cultural pluralism is considered.

The influence of human nature and psychological distancing on the tolera­tion of diversity are discussed. It is argued that toleration should not necessar­ily be seen as being a unilateral and moral virtue arising from praiseworthy motives. A case is made for toleration to be employed primarily in an instru­mental role, namely, as an enabling process for negotiation based on reci­procity and mutual trust, to resolve the differing objectives and values arising from the potential conflicts in a culturally diverse society.

After The Civil Wars: English Politics and Government in the Reign of Charles II by John Miller (Longman) The civil wars had a traumatic effect on the English people: memories of bloodshed and destruction and the ultimate horror of the execution of Charles I continued to be invoked for decades afterwards. It is often argued that the political and religious fissures created by the wars divided English society irrevocably, as demonstrated by the later bitter conflict between the Whig and Tory parties.

After the Civil Wars proposes instead that although there was political conflict, Charles II’s reign was not a continuation of the divisions of the civil wars for these reasonsz After the 1640s, Royalists and moderate Parliamentarians were often united by common dislike of political and religious extremism. Town and village communities were concerned to maintain communal harmony and reconcile disputes. Charles II was determined to conciliate his father's enemies rather than support his friends

This book presents the first study of Restoration England from the point of view of both rulers and ruled. It offers a vital reappraisal of seventeenth-century England.

John Miller is Professor of History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London.

England's Colonial Wars 1550-1688: Conflicts, Empire and National Identity by Bruce Lenman (Longman)

This hugely ambitious study explores the birth of England's sprawling colonial empire from its origins in the middle of the sixteenth century to the Glorious Revolution. The complexity of the military dimension is explored independently and in relation to the impact of colonial warfare on national identity.

Starting with Ireland and England in the Tudor period, the renewed assault of English settlers on the Irish Gaeltacht is described and analyzed. By 16000 this conflict was beyond rational control, leaving the nation fatefully fissured.

Under the (Scottish) Stuarts, England then began a dramatic expansion across the North Atlantic. In America, the 'Indian Wars', fought with minimal Crown support, helped forge an independent military capability among the colonists; while, in the West Indies, slave numbers and French intervention forced English settlers into a new dependency on the Crown.

Britain's Colonial Wars 1688-1783 by Bruce Lenman (Longman) In India, the M East India Company achieved ascendancy by sepoy armies under British control. England's Colonial Wars shows that these were very different kinds of empire achieved and sustained in divergent ways and with profoundly differing long-term consequences.

From Europe to India and America, Britain's Colonial Wars relates empire to the fortunes of war. In less than a century, between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the settlement following the War of the American Revolution, the modern British state was born. The Dutch William III tended to treat his British realms as a unit. The Act of Union of 1707 under the very English Queen Anne merged England and Scotland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain. War was the midwife at its birth.

War rather than peace was the norm between 1688 and 1783. The War of the Grand Alliance at the beginning of the period ended with a peace of exhaustion but the security of British interests remained precarious. For the next decade Britain and France fought the War of Spanish Succession, and even the general peace that followed was punctuated by Jacobite rebellion and clashes with Spain. The peacemaking Sir Robert Walpole could not prevent the War of Jenkins' Ear with Spain in 1739. Britain lost that war, and the conflict with France which grew out of it.

The 'Seven Years War' of 1756-1763 was the only war of the entire period ending with a clear British victory, with spectacular imperial gains from Quebec to Bengal. But excessive triumph proved a poisoned chalice. Within a dozen years, the global monarchy of George III and the British identities it embodied were convulsed by the War of American Independence.

This penetrating new analysis questions the centrality of the colonial enterprise to Westminster policy-makers obsessed with European issues. Nevertheless it explains how the impact of their strategies necessarily shaped the destiny of a multi-national and incoherent empire beyond the shores of Europe.

 Bruce Lenman is Professor of Modern History at the university of St. Andrews.

The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Palgrave) Edward VI, the only surviving son of Henry VIII and the last of the male Tudors, died while still a teenager. Yet his reign has a significance in English history out of all proportion to its brief six-year span. In this illustrated book, Diarmaid MacCulloch looks at the life and beliefs of the young king and the ruthless politicians around him. Although the regime collapsed in apparent failure on Edward's death in 1553, a second half-sister, Elizabeth, brought Protestantism back. MacCulloch traces the strange afterlife of Edward's reign, its surprising connections with the civil wars that convulsed the British Isles a century later, and the effect it still has on English life. The work shows how integral religious ideology was connected to power factions that set a close prelude to the reign of Elizabeth the Great.

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