Peter Ackroyd is a fantastic author and, having previously read his ‘Albion’, I was keen to embark on this first of a new series of general English history. I wanted further detail on existing knowledge and the fact that this series is broken into separate volumes for each period of English history, makes it a compulsive part of my reading list. The first volume covers history from ancient times up until the start of the Tudor age. The book weaves the important political events and well documents the history of Kings yet at the same time, chapters are interspersed with more general elements of the history, covering the areas of history which affected more the general population. The range of sources compliment the narrative well and these sources are not always the more general ones associated with more standard histories. We hear tales of the common populace and these little anecdotes really help the reader to empathise more exactly with what life was actually like at the time. I was struck by the general violence of our more distant history, how it has shaped our culture, from the top down. The focus on Roman history wasn’t as pronounced as I have seen in comparative volumes of British history. In fact, through the series of conquests of England by various tribes and peoples, Ackroyd tells a story not of bast change but of an undulating continuity whereby newcomers integrate into the status quo of the island inhabitants of the realm. As a slight criticism, perhaps I expected more detail on the distant history. The time period covered by this book could have been divided into perhaps two or three or even four volumes though I’d imagine that, perhaps, a lack of sources would preclude the author from extending his ideas of history for my proposed extensions. The Plantagenets are a most amazing dynasty, full of beautiful romantic tales. The detail on the War of Roses is a more complete version of this 30 year period than I have ever read and as I headed up towards the reign of Henry VII and the initiation of the Tudors, I was turning the pages at a frantic rate. the book concludes with the first chapter of the next volume which I have already purchased and I will continue onwards with the series without pause for breath. A good book and a nice introduction to the new series of a most talented and dynamic historian.
As an inhabitant of South Wales with a fascination of local history, I found this book truly enlightening. I was aware of the links King Arthur had with local places such as Caerleon and I found that this book built well on the histories I had already heard. To learn about the suppression of British history at various times and how our Roman-centric history is currently favoured was truly a shock. It was nice to see how Gilbert linked up with two serious scholars of early British history and the story that was presented is quite believable and realistic, if at times it sometimes could be found guilty of over-reaching conclusions, perhaps being over-dramatic. I’ve read other books by Adrian Gilbert and enjoy his style and he always covers interesting topics. The whole story of Arthur is fascinating and has intrigued me to study the legends more. I think the conclusions were a little weak, and find the Joseph of Arimethea links with Britain a little too speculative. It’s a great book and is one that I will be sharing with other friends interested in Welsh history.