History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol 1: The Birth of Britain
© 1956 Sir Winston Churchill
I’ve been reading from Sir Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples the last few Read of Englands, but didn’t previously have access to the first volume in the series. The Birth of Britain covers the most storied aspect of British and English history, beginning with the invasion of the island by Rome and continuing to the end of the Hundred Years War. We begin, then, with an island at the “end of the world” being invaded and connected to continental civilization, and developing through until at the end of the long conflict with France, England is again its own sceptered isle, left to chart its own course. Although Celtic, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon Britain all receive full attention here, most of the really memorable characters appear after the arrival of William the Bastard, the Duke of Normandy whose conquest of England would create a loosely bound cross-channel empire — later made greater by one of the Bastard’s progeny marrying a French princess and creating the Angevin Empire. More than once, however, Churchhill comments that the Angevin realm was not a coherent state at all, but a loose collection of several with their own laws. The evolution of English law, and particularly the common law and the conviction that no one was above the law — not tven the king — is an important theme of Churchill’s work, and along with it is the rise of Parliament. Not surprising given that Churchhill researched and wrote this amid the anticipation and then memory of World War 2, antagonism toward England’s favorite enemy, France, is minimal, and Joan of Arc is celebrated just as Boudica is. Churchill’s skillful oratory still translates into historic narrative here.