Valerie Pearl

Valerie Pearl is Professor of the History of London at University College, London.

Joint-Stock War

Valerie Pearl, 3 May 1984

Dr Palliser’s The Age of Elizabeth is the latest volume in a series which seeks to relate English and British economic and social history from the Anglo-Saxons to the Welfare State. Its initial and terminal dates as given in the title appear to follow a publisher’s or general editor’s dictum under which successive volumes will start to cover the precise date on which a previous author closed his account. Hence the ‘age of Elizabeth’ appears to begin from 1547 with the reign of Edward VI. Such concessions to historical ‘tidiness’ (or are they concessions to the continuing draw of Elizabeth’s name?) are small matters. The author does not allow himself to be too closely confined by artificial boundary posts.


Valerie Pearl, 4 February 1982

The Shell Guide to the History of London might be more accurately described as the shell of a historical guide to selected architecture and works of art in London. The terms involved in such titles have long been subject to a process of inflation, as have the volumes themselves. For nearly three centuries there have been innumerable combinations of the words ‘guide’, ‘history’ and ‘London’ together with a great variety of adjectives, each product being claimed by publisher and author alike as the indispensable vade-mecum, mentor or companion for visitors to the metropolis or students of its history. If the appearance of such works is not new, neither is the non-acceptance of their exaggerated claims. In 1851, the Athenaeum complained that ‘books of this kind are often got up in haste and from old materials thrown hurriedly together without a due attempt to ascertain what they may have lost of their value from age.’ The Shell Guide is not altogether in that category, although it is not much of a recommendation for the author to claim that he has relied in part on ‘books written by two magnificent Victorians, Edward Walford and Walter Thornbury’: their works, first published in 1875 and 1879 respectively, contain much doubtful anecdotage and often come close to deserving the Athenaeum’s strictures. Exaggeration and egregious self-praise are, alas, also still with us in the genre. The dustjacket of the Shell Guide claims that ‘none of the great many books’ on the city ‘delves as deeply into London’s historical and social background’.

New-Model History

Valerie Pearl, 7 February 1980

The ‘major reinterpretation’ of City and Crown politics, promised by Professor Ashton in his book on the English Civil Wars, and long awaited, has now been published in a slim volume covering the years from 1603 to the outbreak of the Civil War. Put briefly, his theme runs thus.

Love’s Labours

Valerie Pearl, 8 November 1979

In her first line, Antonia Fraser describes her book as ‘a labour of love’. Given her somewhat romantic view of Charles II’s many affairs of the heart and her warm sympathy for the King, it is a doubly apt admission. The book is much more, however, than an account written around the royal harem. It is a portrait drawn from the absorption of many sources. No biographer of the supposedly indolent yet Merry Monarch (rightly shown here to be more of a hyperactive melancholic) can avoid dealing in detail with his love-life, but none so far has had her skill at re-heating so many sauté’d dishes and making such an appetising meal of them. She serves up what seems to be every morsel ever written about her hero’s ‘sexual nature and exploits’ (as her meticulous index puts it, just above the item for ‘shoes, attention to’), from his initiation by his former wet-nurse when he was nearly fifteen, through his eight leading mistresses and 12 recognised bastards, down to the last relaxed years with the Duchess of Portsmouth. There is also some modern sauce. Charles may have been sexually, if unconsciously, attracted to his sister, Henriette-Anne, who was married to the sexually ambivalent brother of the French king.

Tribute to Trevor-Roper

A.J.P. Taylor, 5 November 1981

The festschrift, a collection of essays in honour of a senior professor, used to be dismissed as a rather tiresome German habit. Now, I think, it has become embedded in English academic...

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