Devil-Land: England Under Siege, 1588-1688 Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Brought to you by Penguin.
A Book of the Year 2021, as chosen by The Times, New Statesman, Telegraph and Times Literary Supplement.
A groundbreaking portrait of the most turbulent century in English history.
Among foreign observers, 17th-century England was known as 'Devil-Land': a diabolical country of fallen angels, torn apart by seditious rebellion, religious extremism and royal collapse. Clare Jackson's dazzling original account of English history's most turbulent and radical era tells the story of a nation in a state of near continual crisis.
As an unmarried heretic with no heir, Elizabeth I was regarded with horror by Catholic Europe, while her Stuart successors, James I and Charles I, were seen as impecunious and incompetent. The traumatic civil wars, regicide and a republican Commonwealth were followed by the floundering foreign-leaning rule of Charles II and his brother, James II, before William of Orange invaded England with a Dutch army and a new order was imposed.
Devil-Land reveals England as, in many ways, a 'failed state': endemically unstable and rocked by devastating events from the Gunpowder Plot to the Great Fire of London. Catastrophe nevertheless bred creativity, and Jackson makes brilliant use of eyewitness accounts—many penned by stupefied foreigners—to dramatize her great story. Starting on the eve of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and concluding with a not-so 'Glorious Revolution' a hundred years later, Devil-Land is a spectacular reinterpretation of England's vexed and enthralling past.
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|Listening Length||24 hours and 10 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.co.uk Release Date||21 July 2022|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 1,212 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
2 in Stuart Britain History
9 in Great Britain History (Audible Books & Originals)
1,116 in Teen & Young Adult (Books)
Top reviews from United Kingdom
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This book deals with the history of England from the Spanish Armada to the Glorious Revolution, as well as looking at the preliminaries (the execution of Mary Stuart just before 1588) and the immediate aftermath of William and Mary's ultimately successful coup (the Battle of the Boyne etc).
The approach taken in this book is very much focussed on international relations, and England appears rather like a planet, moving in relation to others, the key players being France, Spain and the Dutch Republic, along with Scotland and Ireland closer to home, and other players such as Denmark and the Papacy. It is a history of England so Scotland remains a foreign player in spite of the fact it shared a monarch after 1603.
The author has mined the diplomatic correspondence adroitly and takes us to the heart of the action, as seen through the eyes of these sophisticated players. She shows England as something of a rogue state during the Commonwealth, as well as being a potentially or actually failing state for much of the 17th century. Other primary witness archives provide more first-hand testimony, and this is a very vivid portrayal of the period.
We can see the perspective of contemporaries who could not know that the English republic would be relatively short-lived. Charles II's reign of often stereotyped as a national party, but in fact we see here that it was a turbulent time.
The importance of religion in everyone's life in Europe at the time was such that religion pervaded all politics. Another key theme is religious diversity in the three kingdoms of the Stuarts. England was Anglican, Scotland was Calvinist and Ireland was Catholic, in a time when they shared a king who was supposed to be appointed by God. This was a recipe for turbulence, domestic conflict and foreign interference (an activity of which of course England itself guilty). Often this period is portrayed as being a conflict between catholic and protestant, but there was more than one way to be a protestant, and differing views on the shape of the reformation could also lead to conflict.
This is a turbulent period during which the English executed two crowned monarchs, one of them not even their own (and they executed the second without much reference to his subjects in his other kingdoms), lived without a monarch for over a decade and then finally deposed one king on little obvious legal precedent other than a dislike of his religion.
The final part of the book deals with the so-called Glorious Revolution and the author gives due prominence to the fact that there was a strong military aspect to this event, as William arrived with foreign soldiers, Dutch mainly but his army at the Boyne included other foreigners from protestant powers, while James has his catholic foreign allies.
This counters the more common presentation of the event as a peaceful transition of power, where the focus is on the constitutional aspects which limited the monarch's power rather than on the subsequent wars in Ireland and Scotland as well as the accession of the three kingdoms (and a place actually called "Britain" after 1707) into an international alliance system which embroiled the country in a series of major European wars of which the Nine Years' War of 1688-1697 was just the first.
Indeed, just as the Williamite-Jacobite war in the aftermath of 1688 was one aspect of the wider 9 Years' War, the final episode was the Hanoverian-Jacobite war of 1745 which was a British dimension to the wider War of the Austrian Succession of 1740-1748.
Anyway, a digression from the period 1588 to 1688 but that's history, it never ends.
The author's style is highly readable and readers should not be deterred by the length. Given the scope of the subject matter, there was a lot to fit into circa 500 pages, but there is a good balance between depth of coverage and narrative pace.
If you are looking for an update on the political and military history of seventeenth century England / Britain, this book is not for you. It does cover the key events in passing, as it needs to, but you have to be familiar with these before reading this book. The only thing I was left wondering at the end was why, if England was seen as such a rogue state / European pariah, its enemies were too disorganised to unite temporarily and arrange an uninvited, proper invasion.
It's worth noting that the title of this book Devil-Land: England Under Siege, 1588-1688 very much implies a focus on the action of outward pressures on England during this period, and how it affected the wheels within wheels of court politics and international relations. This is precisely what Clare Jackson deftly examines here, navigating through these complex times and urging you to consider the many happenings, motivations and scheming that influenced how history played out. For me, one of the most significant events of this period is the impact of Scotland changing its status from a foreign power to a front and centre 'united' partner under James I, so I found this section particularly interesting. This is something that I have been looking at in quite a different way since reading K.M Maitland's excellent, albeit fictional, Daniel Pursglove series, so it was great to read something that looks at the factual events of the time in such an easily digestible way.
Religion arguably dominates events between 1588 and 1688, and Jackson explores this in detail, but she also looks into many other aspects of what made this time so turbulent, including the never-ending machinations of the game of thrones, the attitudes of the populace, and military power - all very pertinent considering this period incorporates the English Civil War too.
I think you do need to have a good handle on the social and political happenings of the years covered by this fascinating book to get the best out of it, but it is one to treasure if you love to delve into the past. The depth of knowledge Jackson shows in her writing makes this an impressive work on an epic scale. I found myself getting lost down many a rabbit hole while absorbing what she has to say about the momentous events that mark these years as so stormy, which is exactly what I want from a book of this kind.
This is a beautiful quality book, with vivid colour illustrations, maps, and extensive family trees, all of which make me very happy indeed. There are a number of appendices, with a wealth of information and references to explore once you have finished with this book too. This is one which I will be drawn back to time and time again, which makes it a winner for me, whether or not it wins the coveted Wolfson History Prize this year or not. Highly recommended!