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An Examination of the Sixteenth Century

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Book Critique #1: An Examination of The Sixteenth Century

Sixteenth century Britain was a time of transformation on many levels; contributing factors included: the many Dynastic shifts that were in constant flux; outside influences (enemies, and at times, allies) on an internal and external level - both commanding change, and on occasion, stagnation upon Britain; the Reformation and the Counter Reformation; and lastly, the Renaissance. Generally speaking, when one imagines sixteenth century Britain, England often comes to mind exclusively, leaving behind the other major areas of the British Isles. Often depicted are the Dynastic families that maintained a stronghold over the crown, and the shifts in power that greatly affected the land and people - however, many often fail to consider the remainder of the British Isles: Ireland, Scotland and Wales - areas that were also driven by not only the dramas in England, but also the events and relationships within their own cultural areas.

Patrick Collinson (August 8, 1929-September 28, 2011) was a very highly regarded historian, diversely educated, but focused mainly on British history during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; Elizabethan Puritanism in particular. The son of two Christian missionaries, Collinson was born in Ipswich, England, the perfect setting for a young man enamored with Elizabethan Britain. He studied at King's College, and eventually obtained his PhD in Elizabethan Puritanism. Collinson went on to teach modern history at several prestigious universities including: Cambridge, King's College, University of Sydney, and University of Kent. He held positions as head of the history department for four universities over the course of his career, and while he distrusted major institutions, he felt that he should use his extensive knowledge for the positive gain of young students hungry to study and dissect the histories that he so loved.

As previously mentioned, Collinson was not a believer in large, centralized powers and considered himself to be a man of an anti-establishment perspective on politics. He did maintain a certain level of spirituality throughout his lifetime, and even toyed with the idea of joining the priesthood in his youth; however, his life took a more academic route checkered with religious and spiritual ideas and influences which reflect in his mastered area of focus - religion and politics. Collinson wrote many academic books on topics of Elizabethan culture and religion, Puritanism, the Reformation, as well as several over-all examinations of sixteenth and seventeenth century Britain, including "The Sixteenth Century", which will be the topic of discussion today.

In Collinson's editorial work, "The Sixteenth Century", several academic historians are selected to cover chapters that highlight their areas of expertise which proves to be beneficial to the reader, as the same period of time and set of events are examined from several different perspectives, thus allowing for the recognition and comparison of differing viewpoints on the same issues. With multiple perspectives and methods of delivery, the text remains fresh and continues to spike interest with each new voice and historical contribution. Collinson himself states in the introduction that he wanted the work to remain as objective as possible, ensuring that all contributing historians utilize primary and secondary sources to guide the direction of each chapter. This remains fairly apparent, with very few personal opinions interjected into the work.

Collinson made it quite clear that often times when sixteenth century "Britain" is examined, individuals frequently jump straight to England and often overlook the other major areas and cultures of the British Isles during this time. This particular work outlines each individual area and culture, while also examining how the relationships between said cultures affected each other. It is made very clear how mutually important the rest of the Isles and affiliated cultures were, presenting the profound impacts that each culture had on Britain, England, British culture, politics, religion, and Europe as a whole. Many scholars considered the barbaric Scottish, Irish and Welsh as mere bi-products of history, always primarily focused on England, and Collinson's work goes into extensive detail to demonstrate just how equally important said areas were.

In the first chapter, the author J.A. Sharpe explores the economy and society. Sharp looks at the underlying theme of no centralized control over the many geographical regions and separate cultures existing simultaneously in a small cluster of islands. Also touched upon, is population distribution and it's effect on economy and inflation, as well as the growing separation between a ruling elite and the masses of "barbarians" which cover basically everyone else. The elite find favorable circumstances in the hardships that the peasant class must endure: thus allowing them to further acquire and build financial security, which continued to fund and support strong dynastic families; ultimately, this greatly extended the gap between classes and eventually lead to a "Great Rebuilding" (p. 35) in England and Wales.

In chapter 2, Steven G. Ellis explores the English crown and it's power (p. 48) under the blanket of a "multiple monarchy" (p. 47) and through the examination of dynastic marriage. Ellis outlines the affect of dynastic marriage on said power, and how each union of cultures was perfectly constructed to ensure that the power remain within the hands of the Tudor dynasty. Also noted, was the relationship between geography and culture; Ellis made it very clear that the highlands were considered barbaric lands - areas that nobility did not want to occupy - these areas were often poorly monitored by the gentry or yeoman farmers - and often susceptible to corruption, violence, and small battles over borders and land as a whole. The Tudors desired to maintain their



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