In Volume Two of Churchill's classic, the weight of historical documentation starts to tell on the ability of a narrative history like this to encompass its scope, such that even with a much narrowed focus (covering just two centuries) Churchill is also forced to narrow his scope even further, to basically a history of the rulers; even Shakespeare fails to earn a mention in the index and the text. As modern readers, we accept as fact that history now encompasses not just great people and great events (so ably covered in Volume One) but the lives and events of the great mass of people as well. We expect more of our modern histories and research into original sources, which Churchill in his classical style is unable to give. So I downrate this one volume star down for "What a Classic!" level, but it misses only by that one caveat.
The story of these 200 years of Renaissance and Reformation as told (and as in Volume one, very well) is the establishment of English government and monarchy on modern political bases. To get there, England, Scotland and Ireland had to fight through the multi-sided wars of religious certitude. While our post-modern minds may boil the Reformation down to Catholic vs. Protestant, without respecting the differences of doctrine as anything more than cultic or inconsequential, Churchill's history reminds that doctrine drove politics drove wars drove reprisals drove cold-blooded executions. So in the context of the Continental wars of Reformation and Counter-, in England the Catholics, already displaced by the established church of England (the Episcopals) with minor differences on theology but in church governance beholden to no state save Mother England, also faced the Scottish-dominated Presbyters and their focus on caring for the flock, and the Nonconformist Puritans and Anabaptists and their unmanageable focus on individual enlightenment and liberty. In the name of Christ these factions, armed with steel and certitude, fought flesh and blood battles, that only by the end of this era were transmuted into political battles between the Whigs and Tories, still driven by doctrinal differences with real life and death consequences, but on a smaller scale.
Also by the end of this era, on p. 342 of the 1956 Dodd, Mead edition I read, to be precise, another concern about Churchill's history makes its first appearance in the form of the first mention of his ancestral namesake. Churchill is no disinterested historian. He is writing his history from the position of Prime Minister of his subject, during and just after the time of its greatest emergency, and his family has not just been a subject part of the history, but helped to shape it. So, while his writing is superb, and the narrative history the perfect introduction to the time-line of English history, the reader must read with context and perspective in mind. This unique Churchillian position will become even more interesting in Volume Three when he tells the story of the American Revolution--as the offspring of that English-speaking family feud was at the time of his writing England's greatest ally in the time of her direst need. Stay tuned!