“The king is in his counting house, counting his money.”
Written as a parody, those old nursery rhymes didn’t mean much to you back then, and they probably still don’t. The queen in this particular rhyme might have had bread with honey, but a blackbird pecking at her nose? Wouldn’t you really prefer to get your British story in “Innovation: The History of England Volume VI” by Peter Ackroyd?
At the end of the Boer War in 1902, British citizens were “shocked”, not by the war itself, but by the “miserable state of the British troops” as they struggled to return home. It will take time for Britain to recover.
Part of this recovery would be happening outside London, as upper and middle class citizens migrated from the city to the suburbs, motivated at least in part by longing for an imaginary country life that most did not have. never really known. Leaving London meant that many now had to go to work, and the English became, as Ackroyd puts it, ‘car freaks’.
Life took a bit of a hectic turn when King Edward VII passed away and his son George V ascended to the throne. Women had lobbied for the vote and some were jailed, where they went on hunger strike and then force-fed, sparking outrage around the world.
George also struggled politically elsewhere, as the growing power of Germany led Britain towards WWI.
At the end of Wars, British women finally got their votes, but with limitations; and the valves changed social mores in the room and the bar. This, the unrest in Ireland and general politics have led to “confusion, pessimism and worry”, but also “vitality and euphoria”. Homes became cheaper and more available, incomes rose, and new owners took advantage of mass-produced and chain stores.
“And then,” Ackroyd says, “came the crash.”
It was followed alarmingly by Hitler’s rise to power and World War II. George V died in 1936; his son Edward VIII reigned for a few months before abdicating for the woman he loved, George VI ascended to the throne and died in 1952.
And just like that, Britain entered a new Elizabethan era …
Don’t even try to call “Innovation” a “peek” at history.
No, author Peter Ackroyd offers a very broad and in-depth review of a century of great change for the citizens of Britain, both private and public, spanning change for the world as a whole. The story sweeps and dives, plunging into every nook and cranny of 20th century life, from cobblestones and posh palaces to Parliament, with an emphasis on politics, culture, war and various state affairs, deposing readers at the door of the twenty-first century. Surprisingly, this signifies a relative rarity of the presence of royalty in this tale which might make royal watchers slightly offended; yet Ackroyd’s work is alive enough without it to remain pleasant enough.
âInnovationâ is the final installment of Ackroyd’s âThe History of England,â but you can read it first, if you prefer. For fans or scholars of British history this book is awesome.
You can count on it.