Sir Winston S. Churchill has been rightfully penned as the “Last Lion” (William Manchester) and if this is the case then certainly the “First Lion” would have to be King Henry II (the “Coeur de Lion” is King Richard I). King Henry II legacy is lasting in terms of organization and of the continuance of the British Commonwealth today. The masterpiece of Sir Winston S. Churchill work lays the foundation for the persons who are interested to pursue new interest along old lines – I personally have di
Feel free to share your thoughts on your impressions of this wonderful History.
Volume I: The Birth of Britain (I rate this Volume 5 full stars)
Read: 26 March 2016 to 17 April 2016
Intentionally, I read the first volume slowly as I wanted to ensure I could learn as much as possible. I knew that in this first of four Volumes it would not only set the tone for the remainder of the other three – I wanted to ensure I was able to capture the essence of this important History of a nation that has done more good for mankind than harm when one looks at the accomplishments of structure to locations of the many that took the challenge to accomplish, work, study, and learn long before my own existence came into being. As we see the beginning of the British Nation with the foundation of Julius Caesar in the year 55 BC (699 in the Roman Calendar) we begin the journey of the same great nation that had at best auspicious beginnings. Sir WSC captures the events in prose as none other could in my opinion. This work “A History of the English Speaking Peoples” is also an abridgement to the same. Four volumes have no manner of way of encapsulating all of the history but the highlights and details to these events are placed in context to the love of one’s country. This clearly comes across in Volume I. His accounting of Battle of Hastings in 1066 was a wonderful display of poetic respect. The chapter on the Blackdeath exposes how after the plague had concluded that the upper classes were in need of serfs to work the land – the serfs attempted to negotiate their position for land, money, and in some cases both as the human race had been decimated not by war; but, by disease – an interesting history to itself when normally the economic value of human life was clearly a point lost to the times. This begins an awakening of working class peoples to see the value to what they brought (and continue to bring in the modern age to a different sort of degree.) His accounting of my favorite battle “Agincourt” with King Henry V was wonderful read for me personally. King Henry V is of course the first King after Agincourt to send correspondence in English – acknowledging this at the time was quite a dare and the English from French becomes the main language of England – the lower classes of people of the time were already speaking English regularly. My personal opinion of King Henry V was only solidified in this accounting – unfortunately for history King Henry V died earlier that what one would have hoped. Joan of Arc gets more than an honorable prose in a chapter dedicated to her, King Henry VI was merely lucky to have the strength of his Queen. Sir WSC provided a 2016 laugh from me out loud as I read his description of “old crooked back” (King Richard III) which was the last chapter of Volume I.
Volume II: The New World (I rate this Volume 5 full stars)
Read: 17 April 2016 to 25 April 2016
In brilliant fashion Sir WSC begins Chapter I (“The Round World”) of Book IV; and, within Volume II entitled “The New World”. In the first chapter (as one would hope) we read of the fact in point that though Britain was then-as-is-now an island unto herself that the world around her was not laying idle nor still. The sixteenth century is as we know the 100 years that lay in the 1500’s; it seems to historians with a global perspective that the “sixteenth century” more or less begins in 1485 – unbeknownst to the persons who lived during that time frame. The legacy of King Henry VIII continues of course here in this early part of the book. We read of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I, the torment of the peasants, the rising of the middle class and a most interesting chapter on “The Monasteries”. The consequence of the monasteries is of course one that provides revenue for a Kingdom suffering from not enough money. The chapter on the Protestant Reformation is more correctly entitled “The Protestant Struggle”. Within this layer would be the future seeds (in my opinion) of the confusion that modern day people have with genealogical studies of their ancestors. By the time we get to the 1600’s and to the years of the late 1800’s people will find (as they currently do) relatives of their past switching between Protestant and Catholic Churches in the many registers that have been maintained – the reason is simple; who ever could provide the food to middle and peasant classes could sway their faith in order that the same could be able to eat. It’s not rocket science – but is difficult at times for persons researching their ancestry. The “Spanish Armada” chapter was brilliantly described to facts of points and historical documents of previous centuries works that only a Churchillian prose could present for the masses. There are many topics in this Volume II that lays the groundwork for further reading. What one needs to keep in mind during the 21st century in reading this detail of heads being lopped off and people being disemboweled for reasons far away from our existence is that this was not the era of political parties – this would evolve much later; however, this was the time of patronage and clientage. In order to maintain order in semi-dissolved feudal societies this form of control (though brutal by today’s standards and even standards of the 18th century and beyond) was a necessary component to one’s existence as a ruler of potentially war faction nations within ones’ realm. Queen Elizabeth I was no different for her time; make no mistake this Queen was stronger than any King could have been following the death of King Henry VIII. William Shakespeare was certainly an admirer; his plays and many forms of literature prove this and have stood the test of time like no other of his era; though some may come close – no author has outlasted his popularity and he was by this American’s standard an excellent representative of his era to History. The English Civil War was devastating and Oliver Cromwell certainly maintained power – seems he “got his due” a few years after his death when his skeletal remains were dug up and treated with the most disrespect. Prior to this however was the brilliance in the plan of King James I and the creation of the full English reading bible – for the time and with no copy ability and next to nothing of a British Postal Service; the Committees located at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster (comprised of 50+ scholars and divines. Directions were clear, tendentious rendition and interpretation prevented and each committee then had to submit their section to the next committee for review. In 3 years-time the work was finished when the supervisory committee then reviewed the final draft version – 12 persons on this committee completed the task within 9 months-time. This is truly King James I lasting legacy – a thorough, complete, and unbiased edition in English of the Holy Scriptures. This volume ends with King James II as the third volume then begins with William of Orange (King William III and the grantor name of the University of William and Mary in Williamsburg Virginia – the former Capitol of the British Colonies pre-Revolutionary times.)
Volume III: The Age of Revolution (I rate this Volume 5 full stars)
Read: 25 April 2016 to 29 April 2016
This volume begins with King William III and Queen Mary II; a tumultuous left over location of the world following the removal of King James II. At this juncture it has become clear that the mixture of Church and State was a mixture that everyone knew at the time was lethal; however, the anger of Parliament attempting to create the crown as a figure head is all too apparent. Religious strife continues at this point – for most Americans this can be a confusing matter within the Volumes; however, one just need to read the words carefully – research on the side and understand fully the implications – it isn’t that difficult but one has to be committed to do such a thing. In this Volume III we read in addition to William and Mary; that of Queen Anne, the Duke of Marlborough, and the ill-fated investment/opportunists of the 1720 South Sea Company that had promised (and outbid the Bank of England) to wipe away the National Debt of the time. The National Debt of Great Britain was £30,000,000. Additionally, small time scoundrels presented investment idiocies such as improving the British jackasses by breeding them with those imported from Spain; one advantage taker had even gone so far (and succeeded) in advertising “….a company for carrying on an undertaking of such GREAT ADVANTAGE, but no one is to know what it is…” or so the advertisement read in the London Times. Sir WSC described this person as an “amiable swindler” and the scoundrel had so many investments made to him personally in advance that when he collected £2,000 (quite a some in the year 1720) he “prudently absconded.” I couldn’t stop laughing for quite some manner of time when reading this – Churchill humor is something that quietly hits you after you have read the words – this description is one of those laughing moments. When the South Sea Company fails the previous greed of 462 Members of the House of Commons and 162 of their peers are among the many ruined; greed and fear then as now knows no boundaries of moral compass directions. Others committed suicide, some were sought by pitch fork and the Post-Master General took poison. This bubble had burst in 1721; enter the financial genius of his time Sir Robert Walpole, who would become Britain’s first PM.
In Volume III we enter into the unrest to the 13 Colonies; unrest that had previously lay within embers smoldering until kindle had been placed to the stove. The Revolution of 1688 and later a war with Spain had forced a different focus upon Britain an ocean away. All the while, it was apparent that Colonists in America were learning how to thrive in a vast untamed wilderness with Native Americans or First Nation civilizations. It is a rather fascinating read to see the interpretations of Sir WSC. He gives credit where it is due of course; however, he introduces us to the concerns of the Parliament and King George III. Another fascinating point is that by the time we move from King George I who could speak no English to his grandson George III we are witness Hanoverian methodology of the throne that is never quite authentic “British”. A smugness of sorts seems to have existed – this is my American interpretation of course and is not designed to infuriate national feelings of any sort – these are after all Sir WSC’s words that I interpret.
Moving from the American Revolution the entrance of the French Revolution is no less important. The impact of the French Revolution on the European Continent was in reflection for the English the same sort of situation with their own Revolution of 1688. The differences between the two essentially were the foundations of reason and the structure within the political bodies which remained for the citizens of each nation. The French essentially ran amok of the complete political foundation of structure and there was a very dark period known as “the Terror” from the outset to the death of King Louis XVI 21 January 1793. For the likes of Robespierre there is no comparison to the English version of Cromwell. In his book “Reflections of the French Revolution” by Edmund Burke – he reflects upon the differences of the English and French Revolutions. Specifically, Burke states that the convulsion in France was not a dignified, orderly change, carried out with due regard for tradition, like the English Revolution of 1688. It was however a tail wind from the recent American Revolution – implemented much differently as well. When the storm of the Bastille Gate was crashed there were only 7 prisoners at the time and 1 deemed as a “lunatic.” Moving onto the history of Napoleon and the naval wars that ensued I came away with a new form of admiration made greater for Admiral Horatio Nelson and Sir Arthur Wellesley. This book ends with the last three chapters; one of which is entitled “Washington, Adams, and Jefferson”, “The War of 1812”; and, the last chapter of book 9, chapter 24 entitled “Elba and Waterloo.”
Volume IV: The Great Democracies (I rate this Volume 5 full stars)
Read: 29 April 2016 to 2 May 2016
This volume begins with the end of hostilities of the war of 1812 and the resulting effects of the close of the Napoleonic Wars. Whigs and Tory’s are continuously at each other throats and we read of many good intentions of the British Empire with Prime Ministers all who forget to update the Army following the battle of Waterloo. We enter the Crimean War; a war with the French and the goal of one day taking the Russian Frontier. For their part, the Cossacks themselves and the Tsar forget the methodology employed that helped to kick Napoleon out of Moscow and so there are many sad stories that ensue – only the French seem to have updated their weaponry in the between years of war and Army in these years that followed Waterloo. Enter Queen Victoria, a woman one can tell by the words of Sir WSC that are held in high respect and regard for the Queen that did so much for her Empire.
Sir WSC breaks for a spell – but maintains a link to the History of English Speaking Peoples by providing occasional references to what other matters are going on globally at the time. First, he describes the vast amount of immigrants that left the British Empire for Canada, to include the 100,00+ Loyalists that did not wish to live under the new Republic of the United States. Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Québec, Ontario, the Canadian Pacific Railroad development and the desire of Canadians to ensure the encroachment of Americans to the locations of modern day Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan (the Canadian bread basket for oil, wheat, oats, and corn) were prevented from being overtaken. This matter gets resolved peacefully and the 49th Parallel is assured – America wanted the 54th. The establishment of British Columbia is the Province connected by railway that assists this international agreement. Churchill then goes on to describe the South African immigration and frontier, and from here he pays respectful history of fact to the foundation of Australia, New Zealand, and the island state of Tasmania. At this point reading through this fascinating history – we move back to the American frontier. The Gold Rush of 1849 in California drew one interesting Australian to the California coast. He notices that the rock formations of where gold is mined and discovered is similar to the formations in Australia. Ironically, and with great knowledge – the man returns to Australia with this knowledge and discovers gold in the State of Western Australia in 1851.
Enter the American Civil War – a whole book inside of Volume IV is dedicated to this important part of history. One can tell by reading Sir WSC’s words that he held a deep respect for the ruggedness of Andrew Jackson and that of Sam Houston. From his very experienced position at this stage in life to which he writes of the American Civil War – he ties in historical events in a very balanced fashion; incorporating history of John Quincy Adams, the Monroe Doctrine, the burning embers of North vs. South in business, and he incorporates the considerations of the American Western Frontier where politically (following the Mexican/American war of 1846-48) the impact of concerns as to whether the war that looms within the nation will be West and North vs. South or West and South vs. North. This was a very real prospect for the time and one that Sir WSC is neutral in his very British form of writing. I can only speculate that this Volume IV and specifically Book XI entitled “The Great Republic” is one that most Americans will have likely enjoyed the most. For me personally it was a re-introduction of many American Civil War books I have read over the years; however, I must admit in terms of the big picture view (and with some form of prejudice) Sir WSC’s work on this topic is the best I have read to date. The British and European view of our internal hostility for the time during the reign of Queen Victoria was in fact refreshing and unbiased.
Following the descriptions of the War Between the American States – Sir WSC moves back into the European realm. The Franco-Prussian War takes center stage – what was the missing link in the Prussian success was the quiet advancements of Krupp Armaments – made during a time where Prussian and German interests were rather scant from the scene. This has a profound effect in the later hatred of the First World War where the Economic Consequences of the Peace were forever entwined with what had occurred in 1871. This said, it was later that the Treaty of Stefano would prevent war in Europe for some 36 years; however, this too led the path down the road to the Great War. What entails from within are quiet developments of alliances following this treaty; it was also the result of the same. As I read this section near the end of Volume IV I acknowledge that I possess the benefit of arm chair leisure reading; these events occurred 140+ years ago those of us interested in History for the mere fact that it “exists” know the outcome. Disraeli and Gladstone as PM’s had their moments in the sun; Disraeli of course attempted to get to the spot of the sun much longer in my opinion. They both had their good points; but, Disraeli was the more preferred between the two when it came to Queen Victoria.
Sir WSC then moves briefly from this period of time in Europe back to America – he writes of “Reconstruction”. American schools can take a note from the history as provided as in depth and as knowledgeable as he was on our internal affairs.
Moving from American Reconstruction – we read of the Boer War; the first event that brought Churchill to the forefront of activity – it is this same chapter (and final chapter) to which we learn of the love the United Kingdom had for her majestic Queen Victoria – an era concluded with her death and as Sir WSC is compiling these words in the late 1950s he is clearly attempting to write for future generations the era to which he became a man and to which the British Empire had struggled to gain throughout all of her existence. Interested parties such as myself and for others who take keen interest to History must be able going forward to reflect upon these words, this History, this love of one’s nation, and in particular this extraordinary man and show to future generations what the struggles of others before us have achieved so that we may move forward.
In the closing paragraph of Volume IV, Book XII, Chapter XXI Sir Winston Churchill writes:
“Here is set out a long story of the English-speaking peoples. They are now to become Allies in terrible but victorious wars. And that is not the end. Another phase looms before us, in which alliance will once more be tested and in which it formidable virtues may be to preserve the Peace and Freedom. The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope. Nor should we seek to define precisely the exact terms of ultimate union.”