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A Monarchy Transformed: Britain, 1603-1714 11.1.1997 Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0140148275
ISBN-10: 0140148272
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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A beautifully written but narrowly focused narrative of high politics in 17th-century Britain. Kishlansky (English and European History/Harvard) recognizes that history is a story and that a good historian is a storyteller. His strongly delineated point of view contributes to the flow of the narrative, and his enthusiasm for the subject sustains the reader through thickets of detail about high politics and war. Viewing 17th-century Britain through the eyes of those at the top, Kishlansky always comes down on the side of political stability. He successfully avoids uncritical power worship with judicious criticism of both the Stuart monarchs and of Cromwell. However, as a volume in the new Penguin History of Britain (see also Peter Clarke, Hope and Glory: Britain 19001990, p. 186), A Monarchy Transformed is intended to provide a definitive introductory guide for the student and general reader. Although every historian must leave things out of the story, too many important things are neglected in this one. Kishlansky mentions in passing such important matters as Britain's overseas empire, the slave trade, art and literature, science and mathematics, but doesn't weave such materials into his narrative. John Donne is identified merely as a recipient of royal patronage, and John Milton dismissed as an ``ideologue.'' The momentous religious changes of the period are discussed mainly when they influence politics or threaten social stability. What is most disappointing, though, is the treatment of women. Queen Mary is mentioned and Queen Anne gets a chapter, but beyond that women appear at the margins of history, as irrational teenage royal brides or midwives accused of kidnapping children for satanic rituals. Women should not be marginalized in any volume that aspires to the status of a general survey. Although successful as a forceful narrative of politics at the center, this volume is a disappointing general introduction to 17th-century British history. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


If some interpretations or facts are open to question, the larger narrative seems balanced and reasonable.... Also, much must be forgiven a historian who writes of the egregious Titus Oates that he "was eventually hoist on his own canard," and of Queen Anne that her pleasures were "limited to gambling and dining, losing pounds at one set of tables and gaining them at another." -- The New York Times Book Review, Paul S. Seaver --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 11.1.1997 edition (December 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140148272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140148275
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Thirty years of intense historical debate and disagreement have clouded the underlying story of seventeenth-century Britain; with this addition to the Penguin History of Britain series, Mark Kishlansky mediates the academic controversy in an introductory narrative of the Stuart era. From the ascension of James I to the death of Queen Anne, he chronicles the political events which elevated Britain from isolation to international predominance. In so doing, he vividly develops the characters who helped to spark this transformation. He hopes that this universally accessible narration will kindle his audience's interest in the period.
In pursuit of this goal, Kishlansky avoids examining the contradictory interpretations which he believes necessitate this work. His prefatory remarks fully acknowledge the limited nature of his discussion. Apologizing to his colleagues, he explains that any effort to conflate the conflicting opinions into one coherent narrative would prove futile. Therefore, he claims to have used his discretion in writing a flowing account.
Still, an author's discretion is seldom neutral. Correlating with Kishlansky's past contributions to British historiography, this book contains definite revisionist undertones. Focusing on the impact of individuals, he emphasizes the contingency of each event he describes. Accident and circumstance drive his story. This perspective does not accommodate the vital component of progressive interpretations: inevitability. Furthermore, Kishlansky's story is essentially a political narrative. He frequently dismisses the social and economic factors which progressives view as so influential in governmental development.
The work itself is a combination of three stylistic techniques.
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Format: Paperback
I can certainly appreciate the critiques of some of the earlier reviewers. No, it does not cover every aspect of English life in the period, and "Monarchy Transformed" is by no means an exhaustive exploration of the (mostly) Stuart dynasty that it covers. Kishlansky is primarily a political historian, and that somewhat shows. That being said, if any friend, family member or student asks for an overview of the period this is the book that I immediately recommend. Even though it is a narrative overview it remains on my top five list of books for the period. Why? Kishlansky is one of the top five historians (both in quality and stature) working in the field, and as far as "serious" academic history goes, it does not get better than this. His prose sparkles, and as far as "serious" academic books go, this one is a barn-burner. That might say something more about academic discourse than anything else, but this book has no equal for pure reading pleasure underlined by top-notch historical research. If you are new to Stuart history, or are looking for an overview of the "long seventeenth century", look no further. This is as good as it gets for a narrative overview, of this period or any other.
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Format: Paperback
There are no boring centuries in the history of Great Britain, but the seventeenth century has many claims to be the most eventful of them all. At the start, England and Scotland were separate countries, with England ruled by Elizabeth I. In 1707, just before the end of the Stuart era, England and Scotland were fully united under a single government, after a century including the civil war, regicide, an attempted "government of saints", the English Revolution and many lesser events such as the Great Fire of London. Science burgeoned, American colonies were planted, the nation's finances were transformed, and the roots of the industrial revolution began to grow.

Not all of this is adequately covered by Kishlansky. He eulogizes the century in his introduction, but the book focuses primarily on politics. This necessarily introduces religion too, and Kishlansky covers Arminianism, dissenters, the struggles over Presbyterianism and Catholicism, and the final restrictive Test Acts. The political background is done concisely and well, with good portraits of the key characters and clearly laid out ideologicial conflicts -- no mean achievement given the bewildering complex and contradictory positions most of the players adopted.

Kishlansky is excellent on the monarchs, their finances and rule, and their relationships with their governments. He is equally readable on the political state of the country, and the details of the conflicts in Parliament. His coverage of foreign policy is less complete, and he only provides any details when there is a clear interaction with the internal politics of Great Britain -- which, to be fair, is much of the time. He is also fairly thorough in his coverage of Ireland.
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This is what I would call a traditional narrative political history, a throwback in style to the grand, magisterial treatments of generations past, where the author provides his judicious summary of circumstances and personalities in carefully cadenced sentences, organized sequentially by a schoolboy's outline of events with salient dates. I read it quickly, while sick in bed. It was an easy, absorbing read, full of phrases, like this, part of a description Queen Anne:<blockquote>Anne was dull, taciturn, stubborn and unattractive. Her conversation was mind-numbing, her taste insipid, her pleasures limited to gambling and dining, losing pounds at one set of tables and gaining them at the other.</blockquote>

The accumulated scholarship of the last century, concerning social movements, economics and ideology, is allowed to seep in a bit around the edges, after a broadbrush survey that serves as a prefatory chapter, but the political doings of kings and ministers and generals are the main event, and the historian's well-phrased judgment the main service.

The book covers a period of 111 years -- the long Stuart century, from the accession of James I to the death of Queen Anne -- that works out to around 3 pages of narrative per year, and many are eventful, literally revolutionary years in the emergence of modern Britain. There's a bibliography, but no footnotes, and the author seems keen to shy away from scholarly controversy, but equally keen to exercise the historian's traditional prerogative to pronounce sweeping judgments in a style now obsolete, but still delightful to appreciate. The result can be intensely enjoyable, but not necessarily deeply informative reading.
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