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27 April 2017

Book Review: A Short History of England

A Short History of EnglandA Short History of England by Simon Jenkins

One of the blurbs on the back of my paperback edition calls this a "wry gallop through English history." Gallop is the key word.

For the history I already had more intimate knowledge of, the gallop made sense; driving by Henry VIII and the Tudors and the Stuarts and Charles I and William and Mary at 90 miles an hour was easy to do because I had the background information.

But for the many, MANY, eras of English history with which I'm not so familiar, the gallop became a blur. Often I would turn my horse around, canter back, and gallop by again, just to see if I could gather any more insight the second time. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't.

But what I did gain was a better understanding of the breadth and depth of English history. I also gained several points of poignant trivia:

Parliament comes from when England was more French than English; "parlement" means "talk about it;" a discussion. A conversation.

All English monarchs are descended from the wives of a man named John of Gaunt. Ever heard of him? Me either. He was the third son of Edward III. A nobody, really. But imagine the world had he, and his seed via several wives, not existed.

If Shakespeare had been writing in any other country, we might not have his plays. Anywhere else in Europe, his work would only have been shared with the elite. In Elizabethan England, his work was shared with everyone who could get to a theater.

Roundheads (Civil War era parliamentarians) were called such because they had dumbass haircuts.

Royal Oak, the ubiquitous name of pubs and American suburbs, derives from the Civil War era when Charles II hid for a night in an oak tree in Staffordshire before escaping to France, dressed as a servant.

The word "cabal" comes from the initials of a group of high-ranking men who supported Charles II during the Restoration; Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale.

The Seven Years War (1765-1763) was the first true "world" war.

The word "jingoism" comes from the late 19th century, during the age of imperialism and colonization, at which time there was a popular music hall song with the lyrics, "We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, and we've got the money too."

In 1910, when King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria, died, his funeral was a moment in history that Barbara Tuchman, the famous historian, described as "...the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last." Soon all of those gathered would be at war with one another.

And regarding WWI, the historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote, "Great armies, accumulated to provide security and preserve peace, carried nations to war by their own weight."

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