In 1630, the ascension of King James IV of Scotland to the English throne, whereupon he became known as James I, finally united Britain under one rule. If that was not enough, his legacy in Western tradition was secured when he commission the standardized translation of the Holy Bible that still bears his names. his descendants, the Stuart dynasty, ruled into the next century, and their family tree includes today's British monarchy. But these accomplishment offer only half the story of King James I, who frequently indulged in same-sex liaisons. As John Macleod chronicles in Dynasty, his new account of the Stuarts, the debauchery of James and his court set an example that would color virtually every Stuart monarch to come.
Stuart Kings were stabbed in cellars, hacked to death in barns, repeatedly deposed. A common molehill spelled the end for the bold "King Billy." James II of Scotland was killed by his own cannon. Charles I enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only English monarch ever executed. The sexual voracity of Charles II brought the throne scores of illegitimate children. From the serial husbands of Mary Queen of Scots (herself beheaded on the order of her cousin, Elizabeth I) to the eccentric Stuart Cardinal with a taste for young men, Macleod takes the reader on an irreverent journey through one of the most calamitous dynasties in the history of the English throne.
But despite the farce and tumult of the Stuarts, there emerged in the United Kingdom during their reign new thoughts and institutions, including the foundations of a modern democracy. Macleod does not simply revel in the tabloid exploits of a few English kings, he weaves a tale of fascinating and flawed rulers within the context of their own politically charged times. Dynasty charts the delicate and sometimes disastrous, often hilarious, interplay between the fate of nations and that of the personalities who rule them.
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John Macleod was born in 1966. He writes a column for Glasgow's Herald newspaper and was named Scottish Journalist of the Year. John Macleod lives in Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
The Stuart, or Stewart, dynasty ruled Scotland and later also England for a very long time. The first Stuart king, Robert II, headed Scotland in the 14th century, and James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603 after the death of Elizabeth. Even after James II of England (who also was James VII of Scotland) was deposed in a parliamentary coup in 1688, one branch of the family never abandoned its claim to the throne until the last of the so-called Pretenders died in 1807. They were a fascinating crew, and, as Macleod (No Great Mischief if You Fall; Highlanders: A History of the Gaels) points out, every English monarch subsequent to James I is descended from him and, therefore, from his mother, the notorious Mary, Queen of Scots. The author is a journalist who writes for a Glasgow newspaper, and his prose has a journalist's snap and flair. Unfortunately, he commits errors that a professional historian would have been trained to avoid. For example, his claim that before the Protestant Reformation "every science had been gagged and bound by the Roman Church and the dead hold of tradition" shows a remarkable ignorance of the history of science. Likewise, Macleod's anti-Catholic stance is tiresome. Macleod certainly entertains as much as he informs, but, in the end, those interested in a history of the Stuart dynasty would be better advised to go to that fine old sprig of Scottish enlightenment, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Illus. not seen by PW. (Apr.)Forecast: The British monarchy and its history seem to be of enduring interest, but Macleod is not up to the standard of Antonia Fraser, and this won't sell like her books do.
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