Ackroyd’s is another history of England, albeit from a slightly different angle than The Tribes of Britain – see link below. The earlier section on English prehistory covers much of the same ground, but later Ackroyd is more interested in the politics than the geography and ethnography. His sections on the English kings up to Henry 7th, where the volume ends, are an interesting account of their rapacious and extortionate natures, and a true boon to an anti-royalist like me.
Ackroyd sees human history as a series of random interconnected incidents, commenting on the intervention of weather or chance in various significant battles. There is nothing of Hobsbawm’s notion of progress here. For Ackroyd the major developments on the road to British democracy were haphazard, often consequences of the actions of poor, weak kings. There was no real sense of the rights of man or any theory of government.
Ackroyd sees the history of the British monarchy and constitution as the function of a series of colonising interventions – Norman, Angevin, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch and German – and their history as one of exploitation and greed. He is very strong on the weaknesses and vanities of kings, and we need to recognise this element of royal fallibility when considering the likely realm of Prince Charles: his selfish meddling in housing policies and the environment, his tendency to new age irrationalism and his vanity are all real dangers to the fabric of the country. All this along with his disingenuous approach to charity, as shown in the Highgrove shops – and his desire for secret influence – the clandestine letters to various cabinet ministers. Who can drive past new housing developments in Dorchester, Salisbury or Shepton Mallet, and not be shocked by the tasteless and arbitrary conglomeration of outdated and ugly designs? This nostalgic desecration of the landscape in honour of traditional “virtues” can stand as a metaphor for the danger we face from this interventionist prince.