Entitled: A Critical History of the British Aristocracy

Written by Chris Bryant
Review by Lisa Redmond

In this critical examination, Chris Bryant explores the history and legacy of the British aristocracy and explains how a group of people set out to grab and hold onto power for centuries. Like many of us, the author had an appreciation of and a fascination with the stately homes of Britain and Ireland: the architecture, the art collections and the people who had lived there. However, as he delved deeper into his research on the history of those who had built these grand houses and grand interiors, he found four recurring themes: insatiable craving for wealth and property, the politics of jealousy, pride, and ostentatious display. These themes can be traced throughout the history of the British aristocracy along with a legacy of violence and greed. The defining feature of the aristocrat, Bryant discovers, is the need for self-advancement. This is a book that will provoke reaction, undoubtedly, but it is a fascinating and a necessary book recounting the history of Britain as a series of inheritance disputes, land grabs and family feuds: the transfer of women from father to husband, the riches gained from the slave trade, and the hypocrisy of those who benefited from the system and yet broke the rules. It features a comprehensive glossary and bibliography, and I have no doubt that this will become an essential text for the student of history and an essential research tool for writers.