The first book in Peter Ackroyd's history of England series, which has since been followed up with two more installments, Tudors and Rebellion.
In Foundation, the chronicler of London and of its river, the Thames, takes us from the primeval forests of England's prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. He guides us from the building of Stonehenge to the founding of the two great glories of medieval England: common law and the cathedrals. He shows us glimpses of the country's most distant past--a Neolithic stirrup found in a grave, a Roman fort, a Saxon tomb, a medieval manor house--and describes in rich prose the successive waves of invaders who made England English, despite being themselves Roman, Viking, Saxon, or Norman French.
With his extraordinary skill for evoking time and place and his acute eye for the telling detail, Ackroyd recounts the story of warring kings, of civil strife, and foreign wars. But he also gives us a vivid sense of how England's early people lived: the homes they built, the clothes the wore, the food they ate, even the jokes they told. All are brought vividly to life in this history of England through the narrative mastery of one of Britain's finest writers.
This first in a projected six-volume history by ber-prolific novelist and literary biographer Ackroyd (London: The Biography) starts with the Stone Age, devotes most of its pages to the Middle Ages, and ends with the death of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, in 1509. Beginning with the earliest archeological remains dating to 900,000 years ago, Ackroyd continues from the first to the 13th centuries. when England was continually colonized and exploited by foreigners, including various Germanic tribes such as the Angles and Saxons, Vikings, and Normans. Ackroyd's parade of monarchs includes mostly ruthless abusers of England's resources, while the author also outlines gradual steps toward democracy. The first Plantagenet king, Henry II, imposed a system of national justice and destroyed Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket; King John was forced to guarantee his barons' rights through the Magna Carta; and Edward I established the Parliament, but brutalized Scots and Jews. Although the storytelling is witty, provocative, and highly readable, the history is flawed too many years are stuffed into one volume to be truly satisfying, and Ackroyd's repeated claims about deep continuity often feel forced, such as linking the Kentish uprising against Richard III to a modern-day Kentish miners' strike as a sign of the people's fierce independence. 51 illus.