The Story of Britain

by Roy Strong, Weidenfeld, 608pp, £30

Sir Roy Strong is known for his reigns at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. His flamboyant clothes and outspoken opinions also get a lot of press.

His talent as a writer of clear, unflashy, deeply well-informed prose takes a back seat. This history of Britain, an updated version of his 1996 book, is a perfect example of it. No meretricious opinions; no show-off expressions. Just a considered explanation of British history, from the Celts to the present day. Every history-starved schoolchild in the country should be given a copy.

Strong’s coverage varies according to the strength of the sources. So the Celtic and Roman chapters are necessarily brief – if effective. The meat of the narrative thickens as he moves into the Middle Ages, with their richer stock of primary sources.

At first sight, this is a conventional kings and queens history of our island, told from the top down. Nothing wrong in that. But Strong deepens the story with the apposite anecdote or fact.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection