Study Guide

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples

by Winston Churchill

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The coverage of Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples begins with the year 55 b.c.e., when the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar, marched his troops westward from Germany to present-day Calais and then set sail across the English Channel to the island then known as Britannia. Britons were subjugated by the Romans for the next century, and after the defeat of Boadicea, most were reconciled to Roman rule. Rome ruled Britannia until the end of the fourth century, with the invasions of the Picts, the Scots, and Saxons. In 410, Emperor Flavius Honorius had urged the Britons to defend themselves against new invaders as the Romans withdrew.

Although Britons had already been Christianized by the second and third centuries, the faith was brought to Ireland and Scotland by Saint Patrick in the fifth century. Saint Augustine reestablished Christianity at Canterbury at the end of the sixth century. Parts of England were ruled during this period by a series of tribal leaders, including Rædwald, king of the East Angles; Edwin of Northumbria; and the Mercian kings, Æthelbald and Offa. During the eighth and ninth centuries, England was beset by Scandinavian invasions. Beginning in 865, the Danes succeeded in establishing military settlements in east and central England, occupying London for a short time.

In 871, Alfred the Great’s troops defeated the Danes in the Battle of Ashdown. This battle was followed by others in which Alfred was victorious. Instead of slaughtering his foe, however, Alfred converted them to Christianity and divided the land with them. He established a rule of law and began compiling the Saxon Chronicles. After Alfred’s death in 899, England was ruled by Saxons kings for approximately eighty years, but beginning in 980, the Danes renewed their raids. In 1016, the Danish prince, Canute, claimed the throne of England for two decades before the Saxon kings returned to rule.

In 1066, the last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, died. The throne of England was contested by the Danes, led by Harold II, and the French, led by William the Conqueror. William defeated Harold in the Battle of Hastings and established a Norman Dynasty. The Norman kings were succeeded by the Plantagenet line, beginning with Henry II and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry was succeeded by his son, Richard the Lionhearted, and Richard designated his brother, John, as his heir. John’s harsh rule led to baronial revolt and the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, binding the king to the rule of law. John’s heir, Henry III, ruled for fifty-six years and was succeeded by his son, Edward I. Edward defeated the Scottish rebel, William Wallace, and greatly influenced English common law, but, his son, Edward II, was defeated by the Scottish leader, Robert Bruce. Edward III, however, not only routed the Scots but refused to pay homage to France, thus starting the Hundred Years’ War and extending England’s conquests.

In 1377, Edward III died and was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II. During Richard II’s reign, English peasants rose in revolt and Parliament withdrew most civil liberties cherished by the people. Richard surrendered his throne to his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV when Richard’s death was announced in 1400. Henry IV died after ten years of rule and was succeeded by his son Henry V in 1413.

Henry V extended...

(The entire section is 1411 words.)

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Bucholz, Robert, and Key Newton. Early Modern England: A Narrative History. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003. While this work is not as comprehensive as Churchill’s four-volume history, it offers more scholarly interpretations of events. It begins with the Tudor-Stuart reigns and ends with England’s transformation into a constitutional monarchy. It also offers a more balanced account of women’s and gender history.

Cannon, John, ed. The Oxford Companion to British History. 1997. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. This historical dictionary, which could be used as a companion to Churchill’s volumes, contains more than one thousand pages and is arranged alphabetically. Traces British history from 55 b.c.e. to the early twenty-first century.

Fraser, Rebecca. The Story of Britain: From the Romans to the Present—A Narrative History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Like Churchill, Fraser focuses on individuals in British history from the time of the Romans and offers brief accounts of people and events. Unlike Churchill, however, she confines her narrative to one 750-page volume and she ends a century later, in 2002.

Lukacs, John. Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002. A biographical account of Churchill’s varied roles. Includes the chapter “Churchill’s Historianship,” which examines the ongoing question of whether Churchill was a historian. Also discusses his actual historical work, including A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

Roberts, Andrew. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006. Roberts offers a narrative history of the English-speaking peoples beginning where Churchill ended in 1900. His purpose is to show why those nations whose first language is English have emerged as definite political powers.