The English Rebel

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David Horspool, Viking; £25

There are several ways to look at the history of English rebellion. Many politicians will argue that England has little such history compared to other countries, and certainly nothing like a violent revolution. Another version is to see England as a nation of great characters and eccentrics rebelling in unique English ways, rather like the Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico.

David Horspool, the Times Literary Supplement history editor, certainly subscribes to several of these views in this guide to English rebellion from the Norman Conquest to the present day.

He argues, for example, that rebellions such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament have been a waste of time, and his history does veer at times towards the eccentric, and worse.

However, Horspool's reminder of some of the great English rebels and rebellions is important, even if we may wonder whether Bonnie Prince Charlie or Oswald Mosley fit within this framework. Horspool makes the reasonable point that far from all who rebelled were unequivocally on the left.

Horspool is silent on the huge impact that imperialism had on the form of English rebellion. Very often the cause was to oppose what the government was doing elsewhere rather than to pursue a positive agenda of rebellion. But the book does provide a useful reminder that the history of England has been one of rebellion.