STARRED REVIEW
December 05, 2017

A city at the dawn of the modern age

By Stephen Alford
Review by

Unlike most histories of 16th-century England, which concentrate on the machinations and religious convulsions of the Tudor monarchy, London’s Triumph concerns itself with the capital city’s merchant class and what it did to launch the explorations and conquests that would ultimately result in the world-girdling British empire of the 19th century.

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Unlike most histories of 16th-century England, which concentrate on the machinations and religious convulsions of the Tudor monarchy, London’s Triumph concerns itself with the capital city’s merchant class and what it did to launch the explorations and conquests that would ultimately result in the world-girdling British empire of the 19th century.

Founded by the Romans around 43 A.D., by 1500. London had grown into a city of about 50,000 residents. It bustled with the activities of “cloth workers, drapers, goldsmiths, skinners, tallow chandlers, vintners, butchers and so on,” but it still took a very distant backseat as a trading center to Antwerp. But by 1600, London had its own thriving financial hub, a reputation for opening new markets (Russia chief among them), merchant companies dedicated to sending trading expeditions into still-unmapped regions of the globe and a population of 200,000.

Stephen Alford’s descriptions of London and its growth are vivid. Tracing the footsteps of such larger-than-life personalities as the navigator Sebastian Cabot and the geographer Richard Hakluyt, he walks the reader down colorfully named streets and alleys, strides through the deafening clamor of trading stalls and peers curiously into the chapels and tombs of ancient churches. He also witnesses the city’s agonies as it is wrenched by plague, famine and an immigration crisis.

Of course, London wasn’t all about exploration and economic boil. Whether Catholic or Protestant, the rich, lavishly costumed merchants dutifully provided alms to the poor, worried that their business dealings might cross the line into usury and convinced themselves that bringing Christianity to distant lands was the fulfillment of God’s will. As the century came to a close, many were casting their missionary eyes on the alluring shores of America.

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London’s Triumph

London’s Triumph

By Stephen Alford
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781620408216

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