I need a good book on European history
June 10, 2008 3:25 AM   Subscribe

So Mrs Mutant purchased a BBC series , The Tudors, and watching it has raised lots of questions about the real events.

I'm an American farm boy living in London. I've tried to soak up as much history as I can, especially so about the area we live in (The East End), but this Tudors series has a rich backdrop that nothing in my American education has prepared me for.

Can anyone recommend a book that would give me some background? I've perused the various Wikipedia entries, but would like something more cohesive. I'm specifically having problems with the history of the European Royal Families (were they all really that interbred?), that whole thing about marrying off six year old girls to twenty plus year old kings (for real?), the various "universal and perpetual peace treaties" that seemed to have regularly been established and then rescinded (usually with some plotting going on), and the near constant feuding these Royals engaged in with each other. And I'd also like to get some sense of what laws (if any) protecting personal rights were in place in the UK (and perhaps other nations) at that time. 'Cause even when The King wanted to off someone it seems they had to go through some type of trial.

Any background history on the various European nations would be helpful as well; for example, in one episode Henry is plotting with the King of Spain, who professes to "have an army but no ships". I guess the Spanish Armada came much later, but I'd like to have this information as well.

Multi volume ok, but perhaps capped at three, say about 1K pages max for the entire set.

Thanks for your help!!
posted by Mutant to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Simon Schama's A History of Britain.

Various books by David Starkey
several of which became television series/dvds

If you've not seen it the BBC's history website is rather good.

Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment, looking into the history of the law in Britain, is currently going out on Sunday nights on Channel4. He's not reached the Tudor period yet.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:54 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: Alison Weir, who wrote The Six Wives of Henry VIII - which would give you a lot of detailed corrective information about the biographies and personalities of the various Catherines and Annes and Jane - also wrote Henry VIII: The King and His Court which has more of the political and social history that you are looking for, and is lively reading.
posted by nicwolff at 3:55 AM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, you're in England: the Amazon UK links are The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Henry VIII: King and Court.
posted by nicwolff at 3:58 AM on June 10, 2008

Second David Starkey

Simon Schama is good too.
posted by mattoxic at 4:53 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: Regarding the protection of personal rights - British constitutional law really starts with the Magna Carta in 1215. At a time when the King was financially weak a large number of barons rebelled against the high taxes he was imposing. They forced him to agree to a wide-ranging set of concessions that basically made the King subject to the will of the people (the rich people, that is!) and restricted what the King, could do to his subjects.

The Magna Carta established many basic rights for ordinary people that are still significant today:

* Habeus Corpus - protection against illegal detention

* The right to a (for the time) fair trial in front of an independent judge - not appointed by the King

* The requirement for evidence to exist before someone could be made to stand trial

* The requirement for a court order before property can be siezed
posted by standbythree at 5:23 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: Don't forget the Charter of the Forest which guaranteed the right of peasants to estovers.
posted by jammy at 5:51 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: The short answer to most of your questions is 'yes', things worked very differently back then. From our perspective, they were quite screwed up. If you really want to get into it I think you'll need more than three books to get a handle on it all (as you've just realised, they couldn't do it in one TV series).

I did the Tudors for my history A'Level, and we used this book a lot: John Guy: Tudor England and lots of David Starkey (I'm thirding him). But that was a while ago, so there maybe more up to date books out there. I can't for the life of me remember what books we read for European history when we focused mainly on Spain and a bit about the Holy Roman Empire (same period).

More generally, I like the book This Sceptered Isle for a broad history of Britain's political institutions (it was also a Radio 4 programme, which I never listened too, and more recently they've done a series about the development of the empire with the same title).
posted by Helga-woo at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: I had a friend who was a student of European History who used to wax lyrical about a book called 'Europe: A History' by Norman Davies.

Haven't read it personally, and it might be a little larger in scope than what your after (covers from pre-history to the break up of the Soviet Union), but might be worth a read.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:21 AM on June 10, 2008

there maybe more up to date books out there

posted by tachikaze at 9:18 AM on June 10, 2008

Up-to-date, written in the last few years, taking into account current thinking, reflecting more recent research, of our time.

I was talking about the Guy book really, it's 17 years old, if nothing else, in the UK we've had a plethora of TV series, books, and not to mention 2 Elizabeth films which have encouraged interest in the period. When I studied the Tudors, David Starkey wasn't a household name. There might be more accessible, popular books out there that I don't know about.
posted by Helga-woo at 9:29 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: I'm a fan of Antonia Frazer's Lives of the Kings and Queens of England. Pictures help. Interesting writing helps as well. It's probably more pop lit than you're looking for but it's a good place to start from nothing.
She also has books about Cromwell, the Stuarts, and the wives of Henry VIII. And she writes interesting historical fiction as well, which is how I found her in the first place.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:41 AM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All I can say is that the Tudors is not based on real events at all, which was a little disappointing to me, and why I stopped watching the series.

Anyway, I read "This Realm of England" while doing my undergrad degree, and I still keep it around for reference.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:56 PM on June 10, 2008

Peter Ackroyd wrote a very good and readable biography of Thomas More which, inter very much alia, goes some way to giving you an insight into the religious culture of England at the time and why a man might choose to die rather than renounce his faith in what was later to become one of the bastions of Protestatism.
posted by Abiezer at 4:50 AM on June 11, 2008

by the way, if you're interested in reading more about the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest check out Peter Linebaugh's truly excellent Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberty and Commons for All
posted by jammy at 7:22 AM on June 11, 2008

I can second the book by Norman Davies. A great read and many fun and interesting fact boxes. But beware the 1136 pages (+ appendices and footnotes) will keep you out of reach for a while ;-)
posted by KimG at 9:32 AM on June 11, 2008

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