A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire 1776-2000
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The final stage of Simon Schama's epic voyage around Britain spans centuries, crosses the breadth of the empire and covers a vast expanse of topics - from the birth of feminism to the fate of freedom.
The Fate of the Empire asks crucial questions about the nature of empire, journeying from celebrations of industrial and imperialist power at the Great Exhibition, to the catastrophic Irish potato famine and the Indian Mutiny.
Through the military and economic shocks and traumas of our past, Schama asks the question that is still with us - is the immense weight of our history a blessing or a curse, a gift or a millstone around the neck of our future?
This third and final volume in the series is a vast compelling history, made more so by the lively storytelling and big bold characters at the heart of the action. But alongside flamboyant heroes, like Nelson and Churchill, Schama recalls unsung heroines and virtually unknown enemies. Alongside the grand ideas, he exposes the grand illusions that cost untold lives.
Rule. It was at these moments that history came to Winston Churchill. In early August 1914, it was giving the first lord mixed signals. On the very brink of hostilities he went to see the fleet steam past at Portland Bill. As the great steel towers emerged from the mist, Churchill’s romantic imagination sailed all the way back to ‘that far-off line of storm-beaten ships … which in their day had stood between Napoleon and his domination of the world’. But Churchill was already a good enough.
Bought, but when the Samuel Commission reported in March 1926 its first recommendation was a cut in wages. The union response, voiced by the miners’ leader, A. J. Cook, was ‘not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’. Positions hardened. Churchill’s old friend F. E. Smith, now Lord Birkenhead, said, with his usual tact, that he thought the miners’ leaders the stupidest men he had ever met until he met the mine owners. As if to vindicate him, the owners locked union members out on 1 May.
Boon to the business was its most fantastic showman, Horatio Nelson. He may have been not much over 5 feet tall, with only one arm, blind in one eye, prematurely grey hair and no teeth, but in every way that counted Nelson was larger than life. As a naval commander he was a genius, and no one was more convinced of that than Nelson himself. He came along at precisely the moment when the Romantic cult of genius was itself being born. Conventionally, the pantheon of God-kissed talent was reserved.
People. Who could hate a rosebud? But somewhere near Birmingham, Victoria’s coach rolled through coal country and she saw something deeply un-English: black grass. She wrote in her journal: The men, women, children, country and houses are all black. But I can not by any description give an idea of its strange and extraordinary appearance. The country is very desolate every where; there are coals about and the grass is quite blasted and black. I just now see an extraordinary building flaming with.
Separated. The publicity given to the case had resulted in an act of parliament in 1839 that gave abandoned mothers custody of children under seven – but not thereafter. Since Victoria was always inclined to give Lord M the benefit of the doubt, it is likely that she accepted his insistence, when Norton named him as co-respondent in the divorce, that his relationship with Caroline had been perfectly above board; so she would have been able to see Caroline as a victim, and her battle for custody.