If you are a frequent reader of my literary rants, then you will know that I read and review a decent number of Oxford’s Very Short Introduction (VSI) titles. Short and accessible works, they are ideal for the unversed Undergraduate. This time, my curiosity—or more accurately my research—has taken me to Tudor Britain and the tumultuous post-medieval world struggling to exist between the early modern and religious wars. John Guy’s text, a substantially revised version of the 1984 The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, provides the novice with the “most authoritative [and] concise introduction to the Tudor period”, at least according to the cover blurb.
In all, I would say that it does its job as an introduction well. While it may not be the most perfect concise guide there is—I would hardly know since I do not exactly read many such guides to Tudor Britain—it is superb nonetheless. Starting from the post-medieval period all the way through Elizabeth the First’s reign and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, though like many Very Short Introduction titles, this installment does not linger very long on details, it does provide the reader with a reliable academic guide to the subject matter. If you want the easy reading of a Wikipedia article but with formal research and solid expertise, then you cannot do better than this handy series of titles. So, this is to say that this title is like all of the others that I have read.
This is not to say that I did not find anything noteworthy about this title, however.
As the jacket blurb remarks, this title has been substantially revised. I can say this without having read the original text which this text is adapted from; how can I know this, you say? Good question. I would say that it is because The Tudors has a voice markedly different from the previous installments which I have read in this cycle of books concerning British history; whereas such titles like Anglo-Saxon England and Medieval Britain had stiff tones and a stuffy sort of minimalist atmosphere, The Tudors has a more relaxed authorial method. It conveys excitement, danger, and political thrills; it sets the scene, in other words, and indulges in a thematic style which previous installments would outright ignore. I found this a refreshing change of pace and made me feel less like I was listening to a ninety-year-old professor droning on about historical minutia. Perhaps some would find the shift disconcerting after spending time with the previous installments, but I found it pleasant.
Other than that I really have nothing more to say. At the end of the book, there is still the customary further reading section in addition to a chronology and index, but nothing more has been added. Each chapter still features a selection of images from the source text and there is a handy family graph or two demystifying the bloodlines; so the text remains invaluable as a handbook for newcomers to check and double-check facts. But, aside from those expected inclusions, nothing much has changed from this title from the previous. It is still everything you would expect from an Oxford VSI title and for better or worse, that is what you get—a dense but accessible introduction to a topic whose only weakness is the brevity of the title and possible bias of the author.
149 pages. Published by Oxford U.P. $11.95 (Paperback). 2013.