1603: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I, the Return of the Black Plague, the Rise of Shakespeare, Piracy, Witchcraft and the Birth of the Stuart Era

Christopher Lee, Author . St. Martin's $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-312-32139-0

Lee, author of This Sceptred Isle , a history of Britain that accompanied a BBC radio series, focuses in on one turning point in that saga. In 1603 the Elizabethan era ended with the last Tudor monarch's death, and the Stuart dynasty began with the coronation of James I (formerly James VI of Scotland). Lee gives the political background by skillfully summarizing the past intrigues of the Tudor era. Drawing on chronicles, diaries and letters, Lee paints a lively picture of the society that the new king inherited. A condensed biography of James (the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots) details his birth, his mother's political intrigues and execution, and his schooling and marriage. A meandering middle section describes James's uncertain procession south from Scotland to his coronation in London. Vivid snapshots of the plague and of witch-hunting, a dense account of the demise of Walter Raleigh, an outline of London's theater world, a glimpse of Irish revolt and tales of early empire-building voyages make absorbing reading. Yet Lee struggles to define the year's significance beyond mere regime change. He is analytic when discussing endemic government corruption, the nation's uneasy religious mood, the creation of the King James Bible and James's clampdown on the lucrative piracy industry, but these analyses never gel into an overall thesis. Yet in its rich texture and detail, 1603 will surely whet the appetite of readers interested in 17th-century English history. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/23/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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