A History of the English-Speaking Peoples

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First editions of the four volumes published 1956–58 by Cassell

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is a four-volume history of Britain and its former colonies and possessions throughout the world, written by Winston Churchill, covering the period from Caesar's invasions of Britain (55 BC) to the beginning of the First World War (1914).[1] It was started in 1937 and finally published 1956–58, delayed several times by war and his work on other texts. The volumes have been abridged into a single-volume, concise edition.

Writing and publishing[edit]

Churchill, who excelled in history as a child and whose mother was American, had a firm belief in a so-called "special relationship" between the people of Britain with the Commonwealth of Nations united under the Crown (New Zealand, Canada, Australia, South Africa etc.) and the people of the United States who had broken with the Crown and gone their own way. His book thus dealt with the resulting two divisions of the "English-speaking peoples".

At the suggestion of publisher Newman Flower,[2] Churchill began the history during the 1930s, during the period that his official biographer Martin Gilbert termed the "wilderness years" when he was not in government. Work was interrupted in 1939 when the Second World War broke out and then when Churchill was appointed Prime Minister. After the war finished in 1945, Churchill was busy, first writing his history of that conflict and then as Prime Minister again between 1951 and 1955, and so it was not until the late 1950s, when Churchill was in his early eighties, that he was able to finish the work.

The later volumes were completed when Churchill was over eighty. A full one-third of the last volume was devoted to the military minutiae of the American Civil War. Social history, the agricultural revolution, and the industrial revolution hardly get a mention.[3] Political opponent Clement Attlee suggested the work should have been titled "Things in history that interested me."[4]

Despite these criticisms, the books were bestsellers and reviewed favourably on both sides of the Atlantic. In the Daily Telegraph, J.H. Plumb wrote: "This history will endure; not only because Sir Winston has written it, but also because of its own inherent virtues — its narrative power, its fine judgment of war and politics, of soldiers and statesmen, and even more because it reflects a tradition of what Englishmen in the hey-day of their empire thought and felt about their country's past." [5][3] The work was one of Churchill's writings mentioned in his Nobel Prize in literature citation.[6]

The four volumes are:

  • The Birth of Britain
  • The New World
  • The Age of Revolution
  • The Great Democracies

The BBC produced a series of twenty-six fifty-minute plays loosely based around Churchill's work and entitled Churchill's People which were broadcast in 1974 and 1975. However, the quality of the productions was judged to be poor and the series received low ratings. Also in the early 1970s, the work was published in magazine format in 112 weekly issues with articles by other historians in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

A sequel to Churchill's work, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, by Andrew Roberts, was published in 2006.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Barrett, Buckley Barry (2000). Churchill: A Concise Bibliography. Westport CT: Greenwood. p. 32. ISBN 0-313-31450-0. 
  2. ^ The Times obituary of Newman Flower, 13 March 1964, p. 19.
  3. ^ a b Messenger, Robert (October 2006). "Last of the Whigs: Churchill as Historian". New Criterion 25 (2): 16–24. 
  4. ^ Smith, David (2005-02-27). "Churchill sequel provides epic task for author". The Guardian (London). 
  5. ^ Roberts, Andrew (May 2002). "A history of the English-speaking peoples (review)". History Today (London) 52 (5): 53–56. 
  6. ^ Frenz, Horst (1953). "Winston Churchill: the Nobel Prize in Literature 1953". Stockholm: Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  7. ^ Roberts, Andrew (2006). A history of the English-speaking peoples since 1900. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-85076-8. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Peter Clarke. Mr. Churchill's Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book that Defined the "Special Relationship" (Bloomsbury Press; 2012) 347 pages; a history of how the book was written & its reception