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1603: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I, the Return of the Black Plague, the Rise of Shakespeare, Piracy, Witchcraft, and the Birth of the Stuart Era Hardcover – April 19, 2004


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Hardcover, April 19, 2004
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (April 19, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312321392
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312321390
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,929,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lee, author of This Sceptred Isle, a history of Britain that accompanied a BBC radio series, focuses in on one turning point in that saga. In 1603 the Elizabethan era ended with the last Tudor monarch's death, and the Stuart dynasty began with the coronation of James I (formerly James VI of Scotland). Lee gives the political background by skillfully summarizing the past intrigues of the Tudor era. Drawing on chronicles, diaries and letters, Lee paints a lively picture of the society that the new king inherited. A condensed biography of James (the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots) details his birth, his mother's political intrigues and execution, and his schooling and marriage. A meandering middle section describes James's uncertain procession south from Scotland to his coronation in London. Vivid snapshots of the plague and of witch-hunting, a dense account of the demise of Walter Raleigh, an outline of London's theater world, a glimpse of Irish revolt and tales of early empire-building voyages make absorbing reading. Yet Lee struggles to define the year's significance beyond mere regime change. He is analytic when discussing endemic government corruption, the nation's uneasy religious mood, the creation of the King James Bible and James's clampdown on the lucrative piracy industry, but these analyses never gel into an overall thesis. Yet in its rich texture and detail, 1603 will surely whet the appetite of readers interested in 17th-century English history. 8 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

The author of This Sceptr'd Isle focuses on a crucial year in English history, 1603, the year that Queen Elizabeth I died and the monarchy passed from the Tudors to the Stuarts - from the house of Henry VIII to James VI of Scotland who ruled as James I of England. It was also the year the Black Death returned, killing some 30,000 out of a population of four million. This is the story of the history makers - Elizabeth, James, Robert Cecil, Shakespeare, Galileo - and of the common people; of turmoil in the Church, State-sponsored piracy and the establishment of new trade routes. Lee's work always finds a ready audience, and his trademark accessibility is well to the fore here. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

In a book like this, such errors cannot be excused.
Emmanuel Gustin
The author appears to throw them in without much explanations as if he wishes to showed off his primary sources.
lordhoot
If your background is like mine, you may want to read it, but not purchase it.
Bill Emblom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Emmanuel Gustin on January 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is what the title says: A book about the year 1603. A reader who expects an in-depth explanation of the machinations surrounding the succession of Elizabeth I by James I will be disappointed. Any discussion of this interesting subject remains extremely superficial.

The strength of Lee's work is his attempt to convey to his public what it must have been to live in 1603. This is supported by long quotations from publications of the period, and these are both enlightening and amusing. His rather rambling style of writing is well suited to conveying a period atmosphere.

The big weakness is in the careless way in which the author swims through the surrounding history. At times he throws in references to people and events without bothering to explain who and what to the reader, as if he wants to show off his erudition by being impenetrable. At other times he demonstrates rather crass ignorance for a historian of the period, by messing up the titles of the Cecil family, uncritically repeating gratuitous slander about the Earl of Bothwell, or echoing tyhe schoolboy's book version of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. In a book like this, such errors cannot be excused.

The result is the written equivalent of a custome drama with an unitelligible plot. It is a series of scenes, each conveying a certain atmosphere, but not integrated together in a story. The book fails to convince the reader that is a coherent unit, and in fact it also fails to convince the reader that the author has a good understanding of his own chosen subject.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Steven Hargrave on June 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Popular history dedicated to a single year often proves a very successful approach. It allows the author to make complementary explorations of developments in various areas, be those geographies, cultures, and/or ideas. (John Wills' "1688: A Global History" was a particularly successful example of the genre.) Christopher Lee's book about 1603 - limited mostly to Great Britain - is not so successful.
The audience for this book will be largely those already familiar with British history, geography, and current idiom. I thought I had a reasonably good grasp of the genealogy of the British kings and queens leading up to 1603; my grasp loosened considerably after reading Lee's attempt to clarify the lineages. My alienation was reinforced by the frequency of phrases such as "as we know" and "of course" when the author deals with facts that non-British readers are unlikely to know or to treat as a matter of course. ("Lady Jane Grey ... was, of course, Warwick's own daughter-in-law.") And isn't the author overly fond of the rhetorical question? (Examples abound, such as: "The Jesuits?" and "What of James in all this?")
Lee's main organizing principle is that of proving that 1603 was an important year in history. Although he cites one historian with an opposing view, the question strikes me as neither controversial nor deep. And without that, the text, like the subtitle, proves to be just a stringing together of topics. Some of these topics are compelling, but too many aren't. A chapter on piracy works. One on King James' coronation is interminably dull.
There are numerous historical nuggets and oddities to be mined here. But the excavation effort proved too strenuous for this reader.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By lordhoot on April 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found Christopher Lee's 1603 to be a somewhat of an interesting if not misguided effort to present what life and events were like back in 1603. There's a lot of information in this book which proves to be interesting but they are poorly organized and presented. The author appears to throw them in without much explanations as if he wishes to showed off his primary sources.

As the previous reviewer mentioned, there were also many childish errors in this book. Errors that a book published in 2003 should not be making because of new information that came out during the past 40 years. But what strike me the most was Chapter 17 when the author - who for some strange reason, switched over to Japanese history of 1603 and started to write about the struggles there. I don't see the relationship but what I read were host of errors and misunderstanding of Japanese history that was almost insulting to read. (For example: "Shogun Hideyoshi"?? What Japanese child of 10 would make such an error? That is like some one writing "President Elizabeth I"!!) Its pretty clear that neither the author or the editor of this book knows little about Japanese history. But that chapter alone proves to be the reflection of the book itself, sloppy, ill-written and poorly researched.

I would recommended the book After Elizabeth by Leanda de Lisle which covers the same period and does it with a more professional flair.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By B. Walsh on August 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Lee scatters material across the pages with little regard for the book he's writing and its title, and no thought whatsoever for the supposed structure of the book. At any point, he is likely to digress into a confused and confusing family history of a minor player in the saga for no detectable reason. Not the slightest attempt has been made to edit his rambling style or apply rules of grammar, punctuation, or consistency. The result is a book that is actually unreadable, with its only saving grace being the generous quoting of contemporary sources.

At times, Lee patronizes his readers: carefully explaining to us that mobile telephones didn't exist in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, for example, and repeatedly emphasising this sort of nonsense. At other times, he breezily assumes we possess arcane knowledge about the tangled family histories of English political dynasties that no lay reader of any nationality or background would be casually acquainted with.

Despite the powerful simplicity of its title and the seeming clarity of its purported subject, "1603" has no raison d'etre, no sense of itself or what Lee is trying to achieve. "This is not the place for a biography of James I", Lee tells us a quarter-way through, after discussing James's childhood, education and upbringing at some discursive length and before continuing through his young adulthood, marriage and accession to the English throne. What the book *is* the place for, Lee has no idea.
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