Saturday, March 7, 2009

Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms

One of my frustrations with my 17th-century British history field has been the accessibility of the writing. My professor is very focused on English politics, and it's a bit difficult to get into the field if you aren't already expert. The surveys are the size of cinder blocks and as clear as mud, while monographs are hyper-specialized. Since I am an ignorant American, I'm still figuring out basic stuff like "How is Parliament elected?" and "Why does everyone have four different names?" and can get a bit lost in the details of voting supply.

With that in mind, I recommend Tim Harris' Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms to anyone who finds herself in a similar boat. While derided by my professor as "airport reading," I found it very helpful for nailing down the chronology and the major players of the period. Harris also does a little *gasp* social history, which helped me to embed the political narrative in a richer context.

Harris has three fundamental arguments: 1) the populace was politically aware, politically literate, and engaged with issues of national politics; 2) it is necessary to put the Restoration in the context of the three kingdoms because of the problem of multiple kingdoms; 3) the real revolution in England was the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9.

Even if it is a Penguin paperback, this book is not slight. At 400+ pages, it is merely the first half of Harris' project — a second volume of similar length will cover the reign of James II and the Glorious Revolution. Still, I would rather read 400 pages of Harris than 400 pages of Woolrych or Collinson any day.

1 comment:

Rea P said...

Thanks for the rec! My knowledge of the Restoration is entirely from plays. I've studied the 16th and 18th centuries but definitely had that gap.