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1603 was the year that saw the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the accession of King James I. Marking the 400th anniversary of this momentous year, Christopher Lee's 1603: A Turning Point in British History tells the story, embracing kings and queens as well as the ordinary people who made up the nation at this period.
Lee's story centres on the passing of the Tudor dynasty with the death of Elizabeth, and the rise of "the often cataclysmic time of the Stuarts" in the figure of King James. Lee captures the decline and fall of the mortally ill Elizabeth, as she "hung on for grim death", while her old and tired courtiers jockeyed for political position, "a gallery of intellectual and political authority tiptoeing through the last and fading moments of Tudor history", prior to the arrival of the ambitious, bookish new Stuart King, James I.
1603 then explores the changes wrought by the new Scottish king--his attempt to unify Scotland and England, plans for a new bible, the reformation of the constitution, and the problem of what to do with Elizabeth's old favourite, Walter Raleigh. Lee concludes: "It was a trying time to become a monarch," before moving on to more popular concerns that defined 1603--witchcraft, Ireland, piracy, and religious matters. This was also a year when "the riches of India were coming back to England" and the East India Company had just begun to trade. It was also "a rich year for theatre and prose", although with surprisingly little discussion of Shakespeare.
1603 is a rich, broad survey of one year in England's history, but Lee is hampered by the fact that beyond the change in royal rule, there is little to specifically define the year, which means the book does drift into episodic stories of events from the year that don't necessarily sustain the reader's interest. --Jerry Brotton [via]