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Quarrel with the King: The Story of an English Family on the High Road to Civil War Hardcover – November 11, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his typically supple and elegant prose, Nicolson--author of the acclaimed God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible--traces the Pembroke family's "arc of ambition, success, failure, and collapse" between the 1520s and the 1640s, when the fourth earl of Pembroke joined the Puritan rebellion. Along the way, Nicolson highlights the ambiguous nature of this most powerful of dynasties--"one of the richest and most glamorous" of their time. Outwardly the servile courtiers of the king in London, in fact they presented a potent provincial counterweight to the monarchy's centralizing preferences with their vast Anglo-Welsh palatinate and a legion of loyal tenants. While fiercely protective of their rights, the Pembrokes were not "liberal" by today's standards; if anything, it was the royal administration that represented the future modern state while the Pembrokes and their feudal values harked back to the Middle Ages. As Nicolson wistfully concedes, "this story is about the end of an old world, not the making of a new one." For fans of the Tudor and Stuart era, this will be a welcome treat. 16 pages of color photos. (Nov. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A moving account of the Elizabethan golden age, retold through the varying fortunes of the Pembroke family, and a tour de force. . . . A brilliantly imaginative and beautifully written coup of scholarship.” (The Observer (London))

“A superb book, beautifully written, subtle, passionate, questioning, mind-altering and wise.” (Daily Mail (London))

“Absorbing. . . . Wonderful, lyrical and contemplative.” (The Guardian)

“This is a rich, informative and original book.” (Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph (London))

“Beautifully written and finely balanced. . . . A disarmingly readable contribution to the history of ideas. . . . An elegant, thoughtful, imaginative book about the need for dreams and the ugliness of modernisation. . . . His book will give abiding pleasure.” (Sunday Times (London))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1St Edition edition (November 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061154318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061154317
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,803,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Adam Nicolson found the subject for his latest book on a countryside walk through Wiltshire. Realizing that he was walking past a stately home, Wilton House, Nicolson ventures inside, walking boots and all, exploring the onetime home of the Herbert family, the earls of Pembroke. Inside, he discovers a giant group portrait circa 1634, the largest work ever painted by van Dyck. The ten family members, all slightly larger than life-size, "dominate, as they were meant to, the gilded space in front of them," Nicolson writes. "As I stood there, I wanted, above all, to hear them speak. What did they believe in? What led this family to its prominence?"

The answer to his questions form part of the book, but his research into the history of the Herberts in the 16th and 17th century ended up taking him well beyond that, to examine the family not just as notable people in their own right but as symbols of a changing time. The result is an intelligent and engaging history of a vanished world, captured in detail and with with great care; an original and important work that will be of immense interest to anyone curious about English society and politics from Elizabethan times through to the Civil War.

Nicolson chronicles a time of immense change for England by telling the stories of several generations of a single aristocratic family -- the Herberts -- as well as those of their friends, rivals, allies, their monarchs, their tenants and servants. The approach is successful and the result is a gripping story that begins with the first earl of Pembroke, one William Herbert.
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Format: Paperback
"Quarrel With The King..." was a disappointment to this reader almost from the beginning paragraphs. Expecting the title to be accurate, and expecting a substantial amount of history of the English Civil War, I found, instead, 10 % history and 90% literature of the war and the years leading up to it. What history is there feels like taking an airplane ride over a beautiful and intriguing landscape: only the surface and almost nothing of substance is presented. In regard to the literature discussed, I want to say that literature is a wonderful and interesting subject, if that is what you want and are expecting. Nothing in the title, descriptions or reviews led me anywhere near this understanding. However, while I was disappointed in what I found, I did find a few jewels of information and understanding about English history and culture. In fact, my interest was sufficiently piqued about the subject that I ordered a copy of "The Civil Wars In Britain And Ireland, 1638-1651" by Martyn Bennett. In addition, one of the more charming characteristics of "Quarrel With The King..." is the vast amount of literary quotes provided by the author, all in Elizabethan English, exactly as written by their authors.

At a loss for a way to describe what I was finding, my wife, a high school teacher of both history and literature suggested, after reading portions of the book, that it reads more as fiction, than as history. I find that a good description of my disappointment with the book. I realize that accurate history of precise events from that period may be hard to "pin down", but I have read numerous other books in which the author experienced the same limitations, without sounding like he was making up filler as a substitute for saying something like "facts are scarce here, but suggestions are...".
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Format: Hardcover
I was set to enjoy this book about the Pembroke family, how it rose to riches, fame, and power, then how it fell. However, I found it very difficult to get through. The author will tell you what happened, then provide long passages of original source material, written in Ye Olde Tudor Englyshhe. Some of these quoted paragraphs amount to little more than lists of items, so I found them very easy to skip. The vocabulary of these quoted documents is often lush and lavish...as in "...a possett, a gargarisme with syrup, a cataplasm...."

There are prose-poetic passages describing nature scenes, and they are very lovely indeed, since they are echoing Sydney's Arcadia. But the best description comes of a giant family portrait painted by Van Dyke. To me, this is the most interesting part of the book. However, we soon return to details about how this villager didn't do his share of labor to keep the village clean, and I found myself quickly turning pages to find something more interesting. The section of how Shakespeare wrote his W. H. sonnets to a family member is of questionable scholarship. ("...(P)erhaps...it can be conjectured...perhaps...." in one short passage is just too much conjecture.)

Some long passages start out very interesting, but then the author goes into minute detail about farmlife, sheep raising, the dimensions of little farmhouses, the legal complaints one villager makes against another. It's as if there is a box of old documents and the author has decided to include all of them, forcing them into some semblance of relevance to the Pembroke family. One of the most interesting things mentioned (the Grand Tour taken by two teenage scions of the family) is barely mentioned, probably because there are no original source documents to quote.
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