Peter Ackroyd has been praised as one of thegreatest living chroniclers of Britain and its people. In Rebellion, he continues his dazzling account of the history ofEngland, beginning the progress south of the Scottish king James VI, who onthe death of Elizabeth I became the first Stuart king of England, and endingwith the deposition and flight into exile of his grandson James II.
The Stuart monarchy brought together the two nationsof England and Scotland into one realm, albeit a realm still marked bypolitical divisions that echo to this day. More importantly perhaps, theStuart era was marked by the cruel depredations of civil war and the killing ofa king. Shrewd and opinionated, James I was eloquent on matters as diverse astheology, witchcraft, and the abuses of tobacco, but his attitude to theEnglish parliament sowed the seeds of the division that would split the countryduring the reign of his hapless heir, Charles I. Ackroyd offers a brilliant,warts-and-all portrayal of Charles’s nemesis, Oliver Cromwell, Parliament’sgreat military leader and England’s only dictator, who began his career as apolitical liberator but ended it as much of a despot as “that man ofblood,” the king he executed.
England’s turbulent seventeenth century is vividlylaid out before us, but so too is the cultural and social life of the period,notable for its extraordinarily rich literature, including Shakespeare’s latemasterpieces, Jacobean tragedy, the poetry of John Donne and Milton, and ThomasHobbes’s great philosophical treatise, Leviathan.Rebellion also gives us a very realsense of the lives of ordinary English men and women, lived out against abackdrop of constant disruption and uncertainty.