Synopses & Reviews
Quarrel with the King
tells the story of the first four earls of Pembroke, their wives, children, estates, tenants, and allies, following their high and glamorous trajectory from the 1520s through 1650—the most turbulent and dramatic years of English history—across three generations of change, ambition, resistance, and war. The Pembrokes were at the heart of it all: the richest family in England, with old blood and new drive, led as much by a succession of extraordinary women as by their husbands and sons.
It is also the story of a power struggle, over a long century, between the family and the growing strength of the English Crown. For decades, questions of loyalty simmered: Was government about agreement and respect, or authority and compulsion? What status did traditional rights have in a changing world? Did a national emergency mean those rights could be ignored or overturned? These were the issues that in 1642 would lead to a brutal civil war, the bloodiest conflict England has ever experienced, in which the earl of Pembroke—who had been loyal till then—had no choice but to rebel against a king who he felt had betrayed both him and his country.
At other times, the Pembrokes both threatened the Crown and acted as its bruisingly efficient and violent agents. They were ambivalent figures: flag bearers for an ancient England and time servers in some of the most corrupt courts England has ever known; fawning courtiers and indulgent landlords; puritanical aristocrats and rebel grandees. Nicolson's book amounts to a study in all the ambiguities involved in the exercise and maintenance of power and status.
"In his typically supple and elegant prose, Nicolson author of the acclaimed God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible traces the Pembroke family's 'arc of ambition, success, failure, and collapse' between the 1520s and the 1640s, when the fourth earl of Pembroke joined the Puritan rebellion. Along the way, Nicolson highlights the ambiguous nature of this most powerful of dynasties 'one of the richest and most glamorous' of their time. Outwardly the servile courtiers of the king in London, in fact they presented a potent provincial counterweight to the monarchy's centralizing preferences with their vast Anglo-Welsh palatinate and a legion of loyal tenants. While fiercely protective of their rights, the Pembrokes were not 'liberal' by today's standards; if anything, it was the royal administration that represented the future modern state while the Pembrokes and their feudal values harked back to the Middle Ages. As Nicolson wistfully concedes, 'this story is about the end of an old world, not the making of a new one.' For fans of the Tudor and Stuart era, this will be a welcome treat. 16 pages of color photos." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“A moving account of the Elizabethan golden age, retold through the varying fortunes of the Pembroke family, and a tour de force. . . . A brilliantly imaginative and beautifully written coup of scholarship.” The Observer (London)
“A superb book, beautifully written, subtle, passionate, questioning, mind-altering and wise.” Daily Mail (London)
“Absorbing. . . . Wonderful, lyrical and contemplative.” The Guardian
“This is a rich, informative and original book.” Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph (London)
“Beautifully written and finely balanced. . . . A disarmingly readable contribution to the history of ideas. . . . An elegant, thoughtful, imaginative book about the need for dreams and the ugliness of modernisation. . . . His book will give abiding pleasure.” Sunday Times (London)
About the Author
Adam Nicols on is the author of Seamanship, God's Secretaries, and Seize the Fire. He has won both the Somerset Maugham and William Heinemann awards, and he lives with his family at Sissinghurst Castle in England.