cover image Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors

Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors

Peter Ackroyd. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $29.99 (496p) ISBN 978-1-250-00361-4

This first in a projected six-volume history by über-prolific novelist and literary biographer Ackroyd (London: The Biography) starts with the Stone Age, devotes most of its pages to the Middle Ages, and ends with the death of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, in 1509. Beginning with the earliest archeological remains dating to 900,000 years ago, Ackroyd continues from the first to the 13th centuries. when England was continually colonized and exploited by foreigners, including various Germanic tribes such as the Angles and Saxons, Vikings, and Normans. Ackroyd’s parade of monarchs includes mostly ruthless abusers of England’s resources, while the author also outlines gradual steps toward democracy. The first Plantagenet king, Henry II, imposed a system of national justice and destroyed Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket; King John was forced to guarantee his barons’ rights through the Magna Carta; and Edward I established the Parliament, but brutalized Scots and Jews. Although the storytelling is witty, provocative, and highly readable, the history is flawed—too many years are stuffed into one volume to be truly satisfying, and Ackroyd’s repeated claims about deep continuity often feel forced, such as linking the Kentish uprising against Richard III to a modern-day Kentish miners’ strike as a sign of the people’s fierce independence. 51 illus. (Oct.)