With all the panoramic sweep of his bestselling study The Victorians, A. N. Wilson relates the exhilarating story of the Elizabethan Age. It was a time of exceptional creativity, wealth creation and political expansion.
It was also a period of English history more remarkable than any other for the technicolour personalities of its leading participants.
Apart from the complex character of the Virgin Queen herself, we follow the story of Francis Drake and political intriguers like William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, so important to a monarch who often made a key strategy out of her indecisiveness. Favourites like Leicester and Essex skated very close to the edge as far as Elizabeth's affections were concerned, and Essex made a big mistake when he led a rebellion against the crown.
There was a Renaissance during this period in the world of words, which included the all-round hero and literary genius, Sir Philip Sidney, playwright-spy Christopher Marlowe and that 'myriad-minded man', William Shakespeare.
Life in Elizabethan England could be very harsh. Plague swept the land. And the poor received little assistance from the State. Thumbscrews and the rack could be the grim prelude to the executioner's block. But crucially, this was the age when modern Britain was born, and established independence from mainland Europe. After Sir Walter Raleigh established the colony of Virginia, English was destined to become the language of the great globe itself, and the the foundations were laid not only of later British imperial power but also of American domination of the world.
With The Elizabethans, Wilson reveals himself again as the master of the definitive, single-volume study.
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"With The Elizabethans, AN Wilson returns to his winning formula of a single-volume work in which he aims to paint 'a portrait of an age.' Like The Victorians, it’s not exactly narrative history but still includes all the best anecdotes, while the gaps are filled with some broad-brush social background. Wilson retains his eye for amusing detail and at the same time skate impressively over swathes of intellectual history. It’s easy to digest and it’s stirring stuff."-- Evening Standard
"Wilson’s one volume histories--such as The Victorians and Our Times--have a very adept facility in limning both the continuities and the dramatic changes over an era… Wilson brings a novelist’s skill with detail in rendering the large cast human (for example, Elizabeth’s ring had to be cut from her finger on her death). Much attention is paid to the literary figures of the period , and Wilson makes a wonderful defence of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, a poem too often overlooked as dreamy allegory while scholars pore over the colonial implications of his View of The Present State of Ireland. And for such an English book, there is a curious homage to Scotland. Elizabeth, Wilson argues, was more influenced by John Knox then we might have thought."-- Scotland on Sunday
"As with his superb Victorians, AN Wilson’s new history of the Elizabethans is really an attempted portrait of the Elizabethan soul... the armada of 1588 was a 'stupendous enterprise', and one of the most exciting summers of English history, equalled only by 1940... Francis Drake was a genuine hero, as well as a ruthlessly acquisitive pirate... Wilson’s literary enthusiasms are so infectious, you vow to read Spenser’s The Faerie Queene from start to finish... Here as elsewhere, literature and religion constantly intertwine. Wilson vividly presents the religious passions of the time, but also suggests the dawn of a new religious scepticism."-- The Sunday Times
"His witty, conversational style and eye for period detail bring the brilliance and spectacle of the Elizabethan age to life... The vast array of subjects covered in the book justify its description as 'panoramic'. Theatre, pageantry and literature jostle for position alongside plague, rebellion, astrology and the occult."-- Sunday Express
"Wilson collects his material from impressively diverse sources... Read it to understand why, despite ‘the Difficulty’, Queen Elizabeth and her subjects still do matter."-- Literary Review
"The author, well known for his magisterial overview of the Victorian period, works steadily through Elizabeth’s reign... the England Wilson describes is one of perennial fascination to readers of both history and fiction. It continues to draw scholars because this is where modern Britain was forged; we can see ourselves in the past. Wilson captures this particularly well in his description of the doomed struggle to dominate Ireland and in his understanding of the progress of the Reformation in England... There is much to treasure."-- Financial Times
"The Elizabethans is much more than a reanimation of some of the most vigorous personalities of that, or any, age. It is a largely successful attempt to recapture the energy and spirit of a time of burgeoning self-confidence in a variety of fields--statecraft, pageantry, exploration, poetry, drama--which nonetheless does not pass over the more 'difficult' aspects of the reign, including the plight of the majority of women, the poor, the Irish, Catholics and those whose systematic enslavement provided the blood-money for an incipient British Empire... At times Wilson’s perceptions of his subject are more than a match for the professionals, and twice as well-expressed... The Elizabethans is itself a fitting monument to an expansive epoch."-- Daily Telegraph
"The prolific AN Wilson has produced a new survey of the age of the first Elizabeth. It is written with all the verve of the young Rowse... He looks through the eyes of some of the most colourful and celebrated characters in English history and culture... Readers will take delight."-- The Spectator
The acknowledged master of the all-encompassing single volume of history demonstrates the profound impact the Elizabethan age has had on contemporary Britain
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