Friday, 8 April 2011

The Sixteenth Century

On the basis that there might be a couple called this, it's a collection of essays by various people but the name on the front/spine is Patrick Collinson.  Actually, if I'm being really exact, it's just Collinson.  Because we historians clearly don't do such vulgar things as putting our names, let alone nicknames, on the title page of a book.  (Can I count myself as a historian yet?  I'm studying... reading... it, and I do try to pick up the attributes of a historian while I write, but apparently my essays are littered with colloquialisms and end up far too vivid in parts.)  Anyway.  Long introduction cut short, The Sixteenth Century, compiled/edited by Patrick Collinson.

As I said at the start, it's a collection of essays, which cover social, political, constitutional etc history.  Not desparately integrated, but at least it's better than those surveys of social history 1500-1750 or whatever intermediate dates they pick that don't given any idea that there was a Civil War right slap bang in the middle of that, combined with plenty of religious and other upheaval.  Ah yes, there's a bit on religious history too.

Really enjoyed it, have to say.  It was odd to read about the social history with the arbitrary, in terms of social history, cut of point of 1600.  For social history, it seems to make more sense to use the Civil War as a cut off point, or simply to blather on about how nothing really changes and so it doesn't really need a cut off point.  Okay, not quite, but you get the picture :)  But in terms of political history, it makes sense to go with the 'long' sixteenth century--in other words, to cover the reign of the Tudors.

There wasn't really any overview of who was ruling when and what the differences were, which was a shame, because I only just feel like I've got them straight in my head.  Henry VIII, Edward VI (think it was VI at any rate), then Mary, and finally Elizabeth.  Please correct me if I'm wrong, preferably before I go back to uni and make a fool of myself getting them in the wrong order or with the wrong numbers.  After Edward (he might have been V, come to think of it), there was James VI / I (sixth of Scotland, first of England), Charles I, the interregnum/commonwealth/whatever you want to call it, Charles II, James II, and then the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 and William and Mary (dual monarchy, so you have to say both).  I hope I have not just given you utterly incorrect information there!

I think the religious chapter in particular suffered because it pretty much skipped over Mary (as in Mary Tudor).  Admittedly, she didn't rule that long, but I thought the changes in her reign were pretty dramatic and therefore probably worth giving more than a glancing reference too.

The book did, however, do a pretty good job of taking into account Scotland and Ireland, which was nice, as well as an interesting section on foreign policy.  But I think the strongest chapter was probably the one on 'The Limits of Power', which was particularly good at looking at the way the Tudor monarchs actually exercised power and how far they were able to do so, and took into account the differences between different regions as well as looking a bit at Scotland and Ireland.  Also, the chapter on the Renaissance was fascinating, thoroughly enjoyed reading about that.  Especially about the mixing of culture and how Shakespeare was criticised for mingling tragedy and comedy, like many English playwrites.

It's a great introductory book, none too long, and generally fascinating.  Sums things up nicely, and I particularly enjoyed the treatment of the social/economic side in the first chapter, which I thought was brilliant at summing up everything I learnt in my first term.  Or at least, a good portion of it.

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