Monday, 7 January 2008

Earls of Paradise by Adam Nicolson


WHAT a disappointment Earls of Paradise is. Based on the Herberts, earls of Pembroke, the book uses them as a spyglass into their world and time.

Its writer's aim is to take the Herberts - in-laws of Henry VIII (not that that's a rare honour) and fosterers of Shakespeare, Raleigh, Johnson, Donne, Herbert and van Dyck - and see how their Arcadian vision changed England.

William Herbert founded the family's wealth - and Nicolson fails to explain how.

One minute Herbert is on the run after murder, the next, he's best pal of Henry VIII, who hands him over the dissolved abbey and lands of Wilton in Shropshire, making his family the richest in England.

Presumably he gave Henry a dig-out - but who he killed or what favour he did isn't explored.

Nicolson also fails to probe the underside of England's Protestant Renaissance in depth, pairing the words 'clarity' and 'Protestant' time after time, while never mentioning the murderous work of these Bible-thumping thugs in Ireland.

He's apt to make leaps, conjecturing that one of the various Will Herberts might perhaps be the Mr WH of Shakespeare's sonnets - then confidently terming him Shakespeare's lover.

Where he's brilliant is in the revelation of local and national documents, quoting the living language of other centuries.

You'd have to love a writer who quotes descriptions like "a knave and gorbelly [fat] knave; that droncknen Gervys, that lubber Anthony Payne & slovyn William Yong, and that dobyll knave William Chester".

xxx and a half stars

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