The Birth of Britain

History of the English Speaking Peoples, Vol 1: The Birth of Britain
521 pages
© 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.

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Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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11 Responses to The Birth of Britain

  1. This sounds like good reading, Stephen, and I will add it my bucket list. Have your read Peter Ackroyd’s British history series? I recommend them. Begin with Foundations.

  2. CyberKitten says:

    I've read books *about* the great man but nothing *by* him. I do have a few on my Amazon Wish List including his autobiographical stuff from his time in the Boer War. If he writes as well as he speaks anything by him will be a real treat.

  3. Mudpuddle says:

    i've wondered about C… what's his writing style like?

  4. Stephen says:

    I haven't! Thank you for the recommendation.

  5. Stephen says:

    I found his pen fun even when I didn't like his style of storytelling — though that's a taste which has changed since college. Back then I liked the illusion of objectivity and went for more sterilized historical accounts. These days I don't object to the author having a distinctive voice, so long as they're honest about their convictions and don't try to shield their conceits from the reader. Churchill is a God-and-Country man to the hilt.

  6. Stephen says:

    His prose isn't florid, but it's definitely storied — more narrative than a recitation of facts. Churchhill's histories have prominent characters in them — Joan of Arc, or Edward I for instance. Although he's definitely a patriotic author, in this and other volumes I noticed his attitude toward the French or Americans or whatever was fairly measured. That may owe to WW2 — I haven't encountered his attitudes toward completely different cultures like Russia, China, etc.

  7. CyberKitten says:

    There's no mistaking where Winston is coming from. He never hides the fact that he bleeds red, white & blue.

  8. Mudpuddle says:

    “measured”, as in noncommital?

  9. Sarah says:

    I've had this one for ages but have not gotten around to reading it yet.

  10. Stephen says:

    Measured in that he didn't write them as “the enemy”, but more like sister nations of Britain who happened to be having an argument with it involving massed divisions and artillery.

  11. Stephen says:

    I would have read it eventually, but I chose it this year because there was a cheap Kindle copy and I intended to continue reading while on vacation. That didn't really happen!

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