Rowse, Elizabeth and England

Christopher Haigh considers the man behind the mesmerising image of Elizabethan England, and his relevance today.

A. L. Rowse (1903-1997) was a complex and contradictory character. He was a hugely successful historian, but he constantly complained that his talents were unappreciated. He was a friend of poets and novelists, politicians and socialites, he was a guest at the great houses of the nobility, but he thought of himself as a neglected outsider. He sailed through scholarships and examinations, a plum post fell into his lap, he lived in congenial comfort and made a fortune from his books – but whined that he had always had to struggle against adversity and never had any luck. He was a Labour Party activist and parliamentary candidate, who soon came to despise ‘the idiot people’ and to prefer the country-house set. He was a Marxist internationalist who turned Tory nationalist, and an English patriot who insisted he was Cornish and not English at all.

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