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Book Review: The Age of Plunder

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Have you ever wondered what everyday life was like in Tudor England? Are you the kind of person for whom statistics and data are like candy? Are you a novelist/author who wants to show actual historical fiction instead of “Hollywood” fiction? Then W.G. Hoskins “The Age of Plunder” is for you. Originally published in 1976, this re-release of Hoskins’ book is a marvelous find. I’d seen this book referenced in my college textbooks back in the 90s but was unable to read it then. I mean, inter-library loan was tough back then. I tried. No dice. I’m glad that I finally got the chance to read it now. It was absolutely fascinating. 

The Age of Plunder is a deep dive into the economics and everyday life of the common people in Tudor England as shown through a wide variety of primary sources including Mustering, Ambassadorial Reports, Diaries, Letters, Bills of Sale, Court Records, etc. This is not a light read. It is not an easy read. The author in his preface does not claim to be otherwise. This is a book that is intended for those who already have a very solid background in history and critical reasoning.

Did I mention it’s heavy on statistics? If charts and graphs and numbers aren’t your thing, then this book may not be your cup of tea. Me? I love the things. Adore charts and stats because there’s so many hidden stories there just waiting for me to make them up. Not gonna lie, I was getting plot bunnies for all sorts of historical books while reading it.

Like did you know that it took England over 200 years to recover its pre-Black Death population? That houses stood empty and derelict all over the country. That visitors from places like Italy and the German Duchies marveled at how open the country was. How empty. How few people there were. All those empty houses are just begging for a story.

Back to the book… in many places, the writing is very dry, but don’t let that stop you, Hoskins is absolutely unflinching when it comes to the realities of life in Tudor England. There are no rose-colored glasses here. He very clearly finds Henry VIII contemptible and the system he helped propagate reprehensible, and it colors the whole book. Personally, as someone who’s spent a lot of time studying Tudor History, I found Hoskins’ views refreshing. In a way, his authorial tone reminded me of Carl (the old man) from Up. You know, kinda grumpy but with a good heart. There was an understated humor in Hoskins’ tone. I kind of loved it.

As I stated, this can be a dry read. The book covers a lot. But it’s a great resource, especially if you are looking for a more well rounded view of the world. But, because this book uses a lot of statistics as its primary resource, there aren’t a lot of individual stories. It’s the story of the people as a whole. This is the kind of book I would recommend be used in upper level college courses. (I would have loved this book in my 500-level course on Tudor England, for example.) It’s also a good resource for anyone doing editing/historical advising on stories set in the time. I’d recommend this book to authors writing in the time, especially if they want to get out of Hampton Court and into the streets and the fields. Honestly, I enjoyed this book. And because it sets the expectation early that this is not going to be a light non-fiction read, I don’t feel I need to ding it for not being accessible to the average reader. So I’m happy to give this: Five stars.

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley.

If this is your jam, you can get it here.

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