Neil Hanson, The Conficent Hope of a Miracle (Vintage, 2006)
By Richard Takacs
In his book, The Confident Hope of a Miracle, Neil Hanson explores the story
of, how Pope Sixtus V put it, “the emperor of half of the world should be
defied by a woman who was queen of half an island”.  The Confident Hope
of a Miracle is written as a work of popular history.  Although comprehensive
in its study of the Armada, the book lacks in-text citations, relying on a long
list of sources at the end of the book.  Additionally, Hanson spends much time
in descriptive segments that paint a picture of life in 1588.
      Hanson tells the story of the Armada chronologically, beginning with the
political and religious reasons for the conflict between England and Spain.  
He maintains throughout the early sections of the book that the execution of
Mary, Queen of Scots, was a major catalyst for the launching of the Armada.  
The privateering activities of English navies, notably under Drake, and the
Spanish annexation of Portugal were also critical factors pushing Phillip
towards the assembling the Armada.  Hanson points out that although the
combination of warships and armed merchant ships available to the Spanish
allowed for the creation of an immense fleet, this quantitative advantage
would not be decisive.  Medina-Sidonia headed a fleet that was ineffectively
stocked with supplies, overburdened with soldiers for ship to ship fighting,
and was unable to adapt to the introduction of combat centered around long
range cannon.  The Spanish would rely formations developed on land and,
shockingly, on Spanish ships, naval officers were subordinate to their army
counterparts.  Meanwhile, the English ships, while fewer in number would be
fighting in home waters, under the direction of men like Drake and Seymour,
and would be utilizing longer range cannon and culverin to stay out of the
range of the Spanish boarding tactics.   Additionally, the English quickly
understood that the overall strategy of the English would be to use the
Armada to convoy Parma’s troops to England.  A suitable defensive posture
was therefore easier for the English to develop which maximized the
effectiveness of their advantages.  As the Armada left port, a process taking
two full days, Hanson states that not everyone in the Spanish fleet was
confident of success.  This uncertainty permeated the highest levels of the
Spanish military and can be seen in the Duke of Parma’s warnings to Phillip
II that “God will tire of working miracles for us”.  
      From May to July, 1588, the Spanish fleet lumbered slowly up the coast
and towards the channel, always, as Hanson reminds the reader, subject to the
winds.  On approach to the channel, a screening action by the English fleet
began.  Always staying out of gun the shorter range of the Spanish guns,
British ships would harass and take opportunities to attack isolated ships.  
The primary defensive posture was aimed to prevent Medina-Sidonia from
securing a base on the English coast.  British knowledge of the tides and
winds were critical to the success of defensive operations as well.  As Hanson
says, “there was nothing fortuitous or mythical about the English success, and
no recourse was necessary to Drake’s legendary “crystal ball”…. All that the
English commanders had done was to use their knowledge of winds to
maximum effect”(Hanson 274).  Long before the fire-ship attack and the
eventual running aground of the Spanish fleet, the superior rate of fire, range,
and crews of the English ships had mitigated any Spanish offensive
capability.  The aftermath of the fire attack at Calais left 86 ships operational
in the Armada, ruined the chances for a rendezvous with Parma, and
eliminated any chance of success for the Armada.  The remaining ships
limped home, many wrecking of the coast of Ireland.  The Armada had
bankrupt Phillip, and while Spain grew more, not less powerful in the
decades following the failed venture, the threat to England had passed.
As a historical text, I argue that The Confident Hope of a Miracle is not of
critical value.  While offering a narrative of the subject for a reader with
limited knowledge of the subject, it fails to provide much else.  Hanson’s
interpretation of the events surrounding the Armada is fairly standard.  He
suggests a combination of good fortune, equipment, and tactics won the day
for the British.  Although the numerical odds against them were severe, the
British carried qualitative advantages in nearly every meaningful category.  
This interpretation is fairly common, and Hanson brings few new ideas with
this work.  He is successful in creating a comprehensive narrative, which
covers the wide range of topics related to the Armada, but does little in the
way of analyzing other works.  His use of primary and secondary sources is
extensive, as the bibliography suggests, but they are used to support his
thesis, not offer alternative views that he then supports or argues against.  
Another difficult factor in reading this book is the overall use of the sourcing.  
Passages are quoted but neither numbered or cited in footnotes or chapter
endnotes.  Instead, they are listed in order at the end of the book.  Therefore, a
reader must count the number of quotations in a chapter to find which source
to reference.  Needless to say, this is frustrating.  The book was written as a
popular history, with language and structure designed for the average reader.  
It is not intended and should not be viewed as a scholarly work.

Jonathan Bate,
The Genius of Shakespeare (Oxford, 1998)
By Amanda Philbrook
In his book The Genius of Shakespeare, Jonathan Bate examines the identity of
the Bard of Avon, often considered one of the most influential writers of all
time.  Bates is a gifted writer, but while his text is easy to read, it would be
wrong to place it solely in the category of popular history.  Littered with
references, it’s obvious that The Genius of Shakespeare is well researched and
making connections between Shakespeare and his body of work in a well
informed way.  The book does rely on an extensive Notes section for the
citations instead of placing them in the text.  Still, it’s obvious that Bates is
providing a new and interesting look into a legendary man of mystery.  His
continuous defense of the Bard’s identity, while amusing, can become
repetitive, but is overall effective.
Bates sections The Genius of Shakespeare into two distinct parts. The first
section, titled “Who is Shakespeare?  What is he?”, includes five chapters
which attempt to understand Shakespeare as a man.  Bates discusses
Shakespeare’s life and career, making sure to mention perspectives that may
be new to readers; for instance the idea that only an actor would have been
able to write plays with the forethought, stage direction, and use of movement
that are present in Shakespeare works. Bates covers Shakespeare’s
inspirations, unabashed to call the Bard out on plot borrowing and rewriting.  
He writes that “Nearly all Shakespeare’s plays are rewritings of one kind or
another” but also comments on how common this practice was at the time
(103).  Shakespeare’s friends and acquaintances are reviewed, particularly
with regards to stabilizing Shakespeare’s identity as a man from Stratford.  
The first half is in fact particularly obsessed with proving authorship, though
Bates does so in a fun and readable way.  The second half of Bate’s book
analyze the effect that Shakespeare’s plays have had on literature and credits
the public with keeping Shakespeare alive and popular.  Bates writes that it is
the sheer number and breadth of plays that allows Shakespeare to remain
popular, because there’s always a play the people of any time can enjoy.  He
sums his position nicely in the preface, where he writes that “Shakespeare is
not just a life which lasted from 1564 to 1616, but a body of words and stage
images which live because they were originally Shakespeare’s
modifications…of his predecessors and because they have subsequently been
modified again and again in the guts of successive generations of the living”
Jonathan Bates attempts to represent both sides of discussion in his defense of
Shakespeare’s identity, but is obviously very opinionated.  While he manages
to base his opinion in facts it’s hard to tell if one is getting a complete
historical context for Shakespeare when reading his work.  Still the sheer
number of citations and excellent use of evidence used to promote Bates point
of view means that the reader walks away feeling as if they suddenly know
the answer to all Shakespeare related questions.  His witty writing (“The
mystery is this: why should anyone doubt that he was William Shakespeare?
(65)) however, does leave the reader feeling as though there’s no alternative
interpretation.  While this is fantastic for someone who has already formed an
opinion it could be slightly finite for a newcomer to the field, and may make
them feel that Bates it attempting to force them to agree with him.  The lack of
a Bibliography is slightly daunting as well, because one has to look up each
reference based on where it’s discussed in the text.  Still the index helps with
issues of finding specific subject matter.
Jonathan Bates The Genius of Shakespeare was an interesting read.  It was
well written and humorous while still showing enough thought and analysis
to be considered scholarly.  While it’s hardly the dry interpretation of
textbooks, it’s perhaps a bit heavy for novices.  Perhaps the best audience for
this book would be those who want a detailed analysis of Shakespeare as a
man and as a body of work.  This book is very centered on proving
Shakespeare as a man from Stratford however, and does not bother humoring
other opinions unless it then immediately discredits them.  Therefore those
wishing to disprove Shakespeare’s authorship may wish to try elsewhere.  
However should anyone desire a look into how the Bard has shaped the
world since his death, this would certainly be an acceptable starting place.

Crawford Gibbon,
The Irish Puritans:  James Ussher and the Reformation of the
(EP books, 2003)
By Adrian Espinoza
In his book, The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the
, Crawford Gibben gives an account of the reformation of the Irish
Church, as it was directly affected by England’s actions both politically and
ecclesiastically during its reformation and counter-reformations. The Irish
Puritans is written as a popular history book. It is a comprehensive overview,
but gives just enough detailed information of major events and individuals
who were instrumental in both Ireland and England’s reformations,
rebellions, and civil wars. It lacks in text-citations but has them neatly
organized by chapter in the end-notes. Additionally, Gibben gives a section of
compare and contrast in the end, linking Ireland’s current political and
religious turmoil that was birthed from this earlier period.
      Gibben begins his work chronologically by giving the background of
Ireland demographically, politically, and religiously. Ireland, as was England,
was a Conservative Roman Catholic Kingdom in the 1500’s. Now an
interesting point is raised that, “Ireland’s tensions, perhaps surprisingly, pre-
date the Reformation” (Gibben 12). Ireland had three distinct groups of
inhabitants; the native Irish, the ‘Old English’, and the ‘New English’, due to
early colonists arriving as early as the eleventh century from England. When
Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome, declaring himself as its
head, he also became the head of the Irish Church. With the approval and
dissemination of the Thirty-nine Articles, reformation began to spread but at a
much slower rate in Ireland than in England. Along with this slow religious
reform, a push to “civilize” Ireland was also pursued and the native Gaelic
language was to be replaced by English. Gibben also speaks about the quality
of the Catholic priests in their lack of theological training, and how levels of
syncretism had created a “fog of superstition” that made it very difficult to
break the embedded religious traditions. With the coronation of Elizabeth I in
1558, a seedbed of change was created with the founding of Trinity College
Dublin, a training ground for Protestant ministers. Now enter James Ussher.
      Gibben writes about the family, upbringing, and theological influences
that shaped this prominent figure in the Irish Church. Born in 1581, Ussher
came from one of Ireland’s most distinguished families, having forefathers
who had served in both the political and ecclesiastical arenas in Ireland.
During his primary education, Ussher was exposed to Reformed theology by
Presbyterian refugees from England, and soon matriculated into Trinity
College. Being on track for a career in law, after his father’s death he changed
course and pursued the study of divinity. He loved debate and after earning
his BD, was appointed to a professorship of Divinity, and taught for the next
fourteen years. During this time, rebellions broke out by the Irish Catholics,
and the Irish Protestants being the minority with in-house controversies over
doctrine, Ussher was in a position to, “hold together a very diverse
community” (Gibben 29). It is this setting that Ussher becomes a prominent
figure in both Ireland and England. Revivals were springing up all around
Ireland with large amounts of conversions, but Puritan ministers had to also
contend with cases of false professions and extravagant behavior causing
distractions as was the case with Jonathon Edwards in the New World. The
divisions amongst Protestants also came to a head with some favoring the
representative or Presbyterian form of church government, while the other
side in favor of prelacy. Another major obstacle came in 1633 with the
appointment of William Laud to Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud was on the
other side of the theological divide, favoring Arminian theology which rejects
the total depravity of man, the sovereignty of God in predestination, and
many other core doctrines of Calvinism. Now having to competing theologies
compacted with a division of loyalties, the king or the church, rebellion in
Ireland and the English Civil War begin.
      Ussher pursues a middle ground, a Presbyterian polity with a limited
Episcopacy, but was rejected by both sides. Many of the Puritans also detested
his office of archbishop, but they also had a great deal in common with him,
especially on their view of the Catholic Church. Ussher kept their admiration
during the 1560’s as he taught at Oxford alongside his pastoral duties to the
faithful. Once the king was removed, he was no longer seen with enmity and
parliament continued to support him with a ministerial stipend until his
death. Ussher died suddenly on March 20, 1656, after a pastoral visit and
enjoying an evening meal. Puritan hopes were soon lowered with the
crowning of Charles II, and the re-establishment of the Anglican Church,
eclipsing any more dissent by the Puritans. These dissenters eventually
created ties with Scottish Presbyterians and soon thereafter created a separate
church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
      As a historical text, The Irish Puritans does posses much critical value. It
presupposes that its main audience has little to no in-depth knowledge of the
events that took place in England and Ireland during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries. It gives a good historical background, the upbringing
of James Ussher, and how the politics and religious contentions both engulfed
him while at the same time were influenced by him. Gibben’s interpretation
obviously favors the Reformed position, but doesn’t hide Ussher’s fidelity to
the crown that was more common with the loyalists. By not bombarding the
reader with too many details, Gibben gives good summaries on both key
individuals and events that give weight to his narrative and argument. In
conclusion, this book is an approachable read for both student and laymen,
summarizing this tumultuous time in Ireland past as it’s religious, political,
and demographical spheres were affected by the Puritans and Reformation in

Harry Kelsey, Sir Francis Drake:  the Queen's Pirate (Yale, 2000)
By Travis Parks
Sir Francis Drake: The Queen’s Pirate,
by Harry Kelsey is a scholarly book
focusing on Drake’s seafaring. The book provides a chronological look at
Drake’s life from shortly before his birth till about twenty years after his
death. Instead of following a more traditional, romanticized view of Drake’s
accomplishments, Kelsey presents the reader with a more realistic view of the
man behind the legends. Instead of a brave and honorable privateer, Kelsey
presents Drake as an opportunistic, profit focused buccaneer, whose
patriotism was merely a means to achieve his own ends. The many roles
Drake played throughout his life were nothing more than masks on the face
of a man who had climbed up from the commons into a position of genteel, a
man who became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth due to his early triumphs.
Kelsey’s book presents a strong argument that is reinforced with reliable
sources, presenting a view of Drake that is far from his legend.
      Sir Francis Drake was born either in February or March of 1540, the
earliest modern scholars allow for his date of birth. Born in the market town of
Tavistock, Drake’s father was Edmund Drake, his mother a member of a
family known as Mylwaye though her own name is unknown. Drake was the
eldest among his siblings, which some accounts number between four and
twelve siblings. Drake’s father Edmund was a devoted Catholic, and for a time
held a position as vicar over several communities that still retained their
Catholic roots in the face of Protestant Reformation. Drake was a natural
sailor, and had been raised partially by his relatives the Hawkins family, a
merchant seafaring family at the time. Drake’s first time at sea was about 1558,
when he was 18. By the time he turned twenty one, Drake had begun to serve
under his cousin, John Hawkins, on several of his business/piracy ventures to
West Africa. It was during these voyages that Drake began to manifest the
peculiarities that made him a successful pirate captain later in life. During
Hawkins’ voyage in 1567 to the Spanish Indies, Drake was given his first
recorded opportunity to command a vessel. While it is unknown exactly
which vessel Drake commanded, Kelsey states that it was either the Swallow
or the Judith. For Hawkins’ the voyage was a disaster, as he and his vessel
were abandoned by Drake during an ambush by the Spanish militia at San
Juan de Ulua. This incident caused a rift between the two, and demonstrated
for the first time Drake’s sense of self-preservation to the detriment of his
friends and family.
      During his previous voyage Drake decided that it would be best to use his
new wealth to fund his own escapades, seeing as he had escaped with the
majority of wealth collected by Hawkins in their previous journey. Beginning
in 1569, Drake began a campaign against the Spanish Main that eventually
would earn him the ear of Queen Elizabeth, as well as the ire of King Philip of
Spain. Drake was not above slavery, and often captured Spanish slavers in
order to commandeer vessel, crew, and the slaves themselves. For those
individuals who were particularly skilled Drake pressed into service on in his
ships to fulfill a variety of roles, from navigator to pilot depending on his
need at the time.  During this voyage Drake began to use religion on board his
vessels to increase morality and punish disobedience. Upon his return to
England in 1575 had lost his brothers John and Joseph, who often
accompanied him on his travels to infected wounds, had gained a vast wealth,
and most importantly the attention of the Crown.
      It was thanks to this new found wealth and popularity that Drake was
able to achieve his greatest triumphs, which began in 1577, with his
navigation of the globe. On his flagship the Pelican (renamed the Golden
Hind after Drake’s death); Drake used this tour to do what he did best, sack
and loot Spanish ships and ports. By his return to England in 1580 Drake had
stolen booty believed to be worth 600,000 ducats, and had become a problem
to Spain. This was Drake’s greatest triumph which earned him fame
throughout Europe, though the exact details of his journey remained secret
under a decree by Queen Elizabeth. Of his later accomplishments Kelsey
describes as being merely exaggerated failures used to keep Drake’s legend
strong after his death. According to Kelsey, Drake had little influence during
the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and is only mentioned as being
Vice-admiral of the Navy due to his own insistence. Kelsey also presents
strong evidence that Drake was a terrible strategist, unable to cope with the
demands of real warfare. The later years of Drake’s life were interspersed with
mild victories and many defeats.
      Kelsey’s book is extremely well written, providing constant evidence to
prove key points about Drake’s character and actions, and always stating
when a particular issue does not have true or strong evidence to back an
argument. The text presents Drake as a particularly gifted man, a scoundrel
and pirate who was able to convince his country to ignore his crimes on the
basis of national pride and glory. By no means perfect, the Drake described
by Kelsey is no less an astounding individual of English history, though it
becomes hard to view Drake in a heroic light. The author includes an
extensive bibliography that contains great numbers of both primary and
secondary sources. Kelsey identifies and responds to other historiographical
conclusions on Drake with strong evidence to back his claims.
      Overall, I feel that Kelsey’s book is an excellent addition to historical
study, presenting a clear and full context of Drake’s life, presenting the reader
with numerous facts that at times may become overwhelming to the less
mathematically or economically inclined. The text is a wonderful tool for any
undergraduate or higher student who wishes to delve deeper into the life of
Sir Francis Drake, or wishes to learn more about pirating in Elizabethan
England in general. Kelsey fully explains and provides strong support for his
claim that Drake was less the hero, and more the pirate.

Steven G. Ellis,
Ireland in the Age of the Tudors (Longman, 1999)  
By Samantha Morgan   
In the book Ireland in the Age of the Tudors, 1447-1603: English expansion
and the end of Gaelic rule Steven G. Ellis covers the history of Ireland during
the age of the Tudors. Ireland in the Age of Tudors is a work of scholarly
history that provides substantial information on the subject of Tudor Ireland.
The book also has an easy readability as compared to other scholarly works,
which may allow even general readers to comprehend. Ireland in the Age of
Tudors builds upon Ellis’s earlier work Tudor Ireland: Crown, Community,
and the Conflict of Cultures, 1470-1603 and is part of a multi volume Longman
series on the History of Ireland. Ellis’s work is a valuable addition to the study
of Tudor Ireland.
      Ellis’s book follows a chronological history of events in Tudor Ireland to
explain the transition from a two-nation Ireland (pale and Gaelic regions) to
that of a centralized kingdom at the end of Tudor rule. The narration of events
actually begins in 1447, thirty-eight years before Henry the seventh takes the
throne. Ellis organizes the book into chapters such as “The Government of
Tudor Ireland,” which discusses Irish government under the various Tudor
monarchs. While the chapter “New Problems. 1520 – 1547” discusses the
problems that emerged under Henry the Eighth’s rule. Chapters eight and
nine of the book are dedicated to matters of religion. Chapter eight discusses
the late medieval Irish church and the origins of the Henrician reformation.
Chapter Nine Covers the progress of Tudor religious reforms under the
remaining Tudor monarchs, and the state of religion at the end of Tudor rule.
Ellis’s book is a general survey of Ireland under Tudor rule. During Tudor
rule the governance of Ireland went from indirect rule through lordships to
direct rule by the monarch. Governmental reforms like that of England under
King Henry the eighth and Cromwell began to take place in Ireland. However
Ireland received no additional financial support from the crown to fully
implement the reforms, and rebellions against the haphazardly applied
reforms ensued, thus forcing the King to take further political interest in
Ireland. The king then took further military occupation to combat resistance
and rebellion. The book takes the reader through to the end of Elizabeth the
first’s reign were increased military operation, plantations, and force brings
the whole of Ireland under English control. The conclusion offers Ellis’s
insight on why the Tudor endeavors in Ireland was a failure. His insight is
that England controlled Ireland with little political input from London and
this caused serious and continuing instability on the island and instability of
the developing British state.
      While the basic information in Ellis’s work matches that presented in the
textbook Early Modern England by Robert Bucholz and Newton Key, one
would gather from reading the Bucholz and Key text that Ireland played a
nominal role at best within the Tudor government. Ellis is successful in
creating a historical context that encompasses Ireland before Tudor rule,
during, and after. In his survey Ellis includes Gaelic perspectives on Irish
Identity and Gaelic response to Tudor expansion. Also, the growing
awareness of the Irish problem that the crown possessed, the Tudor response
to the Irish problem, the efforts to deal with the Irish, the outcomes of Tudor
endeavors in Ireland, and the changing role of Ireland within Tudor England.
Ireland in The age of the Tudors discusses in depth in many different parts of
the book the Historiography of Tudor Ireland and discusses the
developments in the field to make the topic more comprehensible to non-
specialists, and general readers. In the preface Ellis discusses the struggles one
might face when composing a general survey on Tudor Ireland, “The
historian who attempts a general survey of Tudor Ireland must necessarily
lean heavily on the specialized works of others”  (Ellis xxvii). Meaning, for
most of the construction of Ireland in the Age of the Tudors Ellis is dependent
upon the work and research of other historians in the field, such as: Dr. Ciaran
Brady, Professor Nicholas Canny, and Dr. Brendon Bradshaw. The author’s
dependence upon secondary sources can be seen in the footnotes. The book
includes tables, charts, maps, and a complete bibliography. For those who are
interested in pursuing more knowledge of Tudor Ireland the author includes
a guide to further reading.
      As a historical text Ireland in the Age of the Tudors is a significant
contribution to the history of Ireland from the years 1447-1603 and to the field
of Tudor History. Ellis offers a general narrative that encompasses all aspects
of Tudor Ireland. By beginning the general narrative of the book in 1447,
during what is still considered medieval Ireland, Ellis allows the reader
background information of events that would come to affect the Tudor regime
in Ireland, and help to explain some of the actions taken there. He then takes
the reader through the whole Tudor Monarchy and their political endeavors
in Ireland. Ellis’s extensive bibliography, numerous footnotes, and guide to
further reading enable the interested reader to access resent scholarship on the
subject of Tudor Ireland. Ireland in the Age of Tudors presents extensive
research on Tudor Ireland that may not be found in a regular textbook of
Tudor history, Early Modern Europe, or Early Modern England.
In the spring of 2012, I taught the class Hst. 3000, Introduction to History.  
Because I am a Tudor historian, the class focused on learning how to become a
Tudor historian.  One of the assignments was to write a publishable book
review, and I promised the class that i would post the top five to my website.