London and the 17th Century: The Making of the World’s Greatest City, by Margarette Lincoln examines London’s most formative years; between the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the reign of King William III. This century positioned London to dominate the world.
It was a consequential period.
London had a population of 200,000 in 1600, almost tripling to about 570,000 in 1700. Yet the period was important for more than just population growth. This book covers the era of the Gunpowder Plot, the English Civil War, the Great Plague and Great Fire, the Restoration, the Dutch Wars and Glorious Revolution of 1688.
Lincoln also tells of the various ways in which London grew, and of how it changed the world. London (with a lot of arm-twisting by James I) financed much of the Protestant settlement of Ulster, including the establishment of Londonderry. It also helped establish many of the markers of the modern world.
The Royal Society molded modern science. Modern insurance was born in London. While banking and joint-stock companies predated the seventeenth century, seventeenth century London saw th birth of the forms in which they exist today. London’s printing and literary industry of that century was copied throughout the world. London became a maritime and shipbuilding powerhouse during these years, establishing commercial empires that endured for centuries.
Lincoln captures all of this. She also presents the vast array of characters present in London during that century. James I, Charles I and II, Oliver Cromwell, and William and Mary of Orange take their places on this stage. But Lincoln includes folks like Shakespeare, Bacon, Newton, and Pepys who shaped history in other ways. She brings the people who inhabited London to life, showing how conditions evolved between 1603 and 1697.
She also charts the physical growth of the city. She shows how it expanded beyond the walled city of 1600 (today’s “Square Mile” or City of London) to absorbe the independent city of Westminster, and add districts on both sides of the Thames.
London and the 17th Century is a book worth reading, not just because of the period it covers. It is also an entertaining and informative story. Lincoln provides readers with an appreciation with the contributions seventeenth century London made to the world as it exists today.
“London and the 17th Century: The Making of the World’s Greatest City,” by Margarette Lincoln, Yale University Press, 2021, 384 pages, $32.50 (Harcover) $15.10 (Ebook)
*Mark Lardas is an engineer, freelance writer, historian and model-maker living in Texas. Mark posts on Ricochet as “Seawriter,” and is well-known for his regular and much appreciated reviews of books on all subjects. Of his reviews, he says “I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review.” His website is marklardas.com.