Unruly: The Ridiculous History of England’s Kings and Queens


Unruly: A rollicking history of England’s kings and queens from Arthur to Elizabeth I, a tale of power, glory, and excessive beheadings by award-winning British actor and comedian David Mitchell

“David brings a delightfully contrary and hilariously cantankerous eye to the history of the English monarchy.”—Jesse Armstrong, writer and creator of Succession

Think you know the kings and queens of England? Think again.

In Unruly, David Mitchell explores how early England’s monarchs, while acting as feared rulers firmly guiding their subjects’ destinies, were in reality a bunch of lucky bastards who were mostly as silly and weird in real life as they appear today in their portraits.

Taking us back to King Arthur (spoiler: he didn’t exist), Mitchell tells the founding story of post-Roman England up to the reign of Elizabeth I (spoiler: she dies). It’s a tale of narcissists, inadequate self-control, middle-management insurrection, uncivil wars, and a few Cnuts, as the English evolved from having their crops stolen by the thug with the largest armed gang to bowing and paying taxes to a divinely anointed king.

How this happened, who it happened to, and why the hell it matters are all questions that Mitchell answers with brilliance, wit, and the full erudition of a man who once studied history—and won’t let it off the hook for the mess it’s made.

A funny book that takes history seriously, Unruly is for anyone who has ever wondered how the British monarchy came to be—and who is to blame.

Editorial Review

David Mitchell’s latest book, “UNRULY,” is a rollicking rollercoaster through the annals of English history, and it’s nothing short of a riotous romp. In this irreverently captivating narrative, Mitchell peels back the layers of historical grandeur to reveal the eccentricities, foibles, and absurdities of England’s early monarchs, painting a picture that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

From the outset, Mitchell sets the stage by dispelling the myths surrounding King Arthur, laying bare the truth that Arthur might just have been a legendary figure. With a dose of humor and a touch of skepticism, he embarks on a journey that takes us from the murky days of post-Roman England to the reign of Elizabeth I, when the monarchy’s grip on power began to wane.

One of the standout qualities of “UNRULY” is Mitchell’s ability to infuse historical events with his unique brand of wit. He deftly navigates the tales of narcissistic rulers, their staggering lack of self-control, and their penchant for excessive beheadings with a comedic flair that keeps readers chuckling while turning pages. You’ll find yourself chortling at the antics of monarchs who were, in reality, “lucky sods” far removed from the dignified portraits that now define them.

The book delves into the intricacies of middle-management insurrection, uncivil wars, and the unforgettable “total Cnut,” shedding light on how the English transitioned from a land of marauding thugs to a realm where they bowed before divinely anointed monarchs and paid their taxes with grumbling acceptance. Mitchell’s storytelling prowess shines as he explores how this transformation unfolded, who it happened to, and why it remains relevant in twenty-first-century Britain.

What truly sets “UNRULY” apart is Mitchell’s unabashed love for history, evident in his razor-sharp insights and erudite commentary. He doesn’t merely recount events; he dissects them, questioning the very essence of history and its impact on the present day. His passion for the subject matter is palpable, and he refuses to let history off the hook for the havoc it has wreaked throughout the ages.

In a world where history can often be portrayed as a dry, lifeless subject, “UNRULY” injects it with a much-needed dose of vivacity. Mitchell’s writing is a breath of fresh air, making history approachable, entertaining, and relevant to the modern reader. It’s a testament to his skill that he can balance the absurdity of the past with the weight of its consequences, all while keeping readers engaged and amused.

In conclusion, “UNRULY” is a brilliant tour de force that invites us to laugh, question, and reflect on the quirks of history. David Mitchell’s witty and insightful exploration of England’s early monarchs is a must-read for history buffs and casual readers alike. With its clever humor and compelling narrative, “UNRULY” proves that the past is anything but dull – it’s a riotous, uproarious adventure waiting to be rediscovered. Mitchell’s book is a triumphant reminder that history is an unruly and endlessly fascinating story.

Unruly The Ridiculous History of England's Kings and Queens by David Mitchell
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Start Rating: 4.3 stars
Publication Date: 3rd October 2023

Author: David Mitchell

David Mitchell

David Mitchell

Born on July 14, 1974, David James Stuart Mitchell is a versatile English entertainer, encompassing the roles of comedian, actor, and writer. His comedy is notably distinguished by its fiery and incisive humor, and he catapulted into the limelight as one-half of the dynamic comedic duo alongside Robert Webb, collectively known as Mitchell and Webb.

Mitchell and Webb took center stage in the Channel 4 sitcom “Peep Show,” where Mitchell expertly portrayed the character of Mark Corrigan. His performance in the series was awarded the prestigious British Academy Television Award for Best Comedy Performance in 2009. This dynamic duo has left an indelible mark on the comedy scene, having penned and starred in numerous sketch shows, including “Bruiser,” “The Mitchell and Webb Situation,” “That Mitchell and Webb Sound,” and “That Mitchell and Webb Look.” They even ventured into the world of advertising, starring in the British rendition of Apple’s “Get a Mac” advertising campaign. In 2007, they ventured into film with their debut feature, “Magicians.” Their collaborative efforts continued with the short-lived TV series “Ambassadors” in 2013 and have graced the Channel 4 comedy-drama “Back” since 2017.

Mitchell also showcased his acting prowess as Owen in “Think the Unthinkable” and took on the role of William Shakespeare in the BBC Two historical comedy “Upstart Crow,” penned by Ben Elton, a role he has embodied since 2016. His presence on British panel shows is nothing short of ubiquitous, with notable appearances as a team captain on “Would I Lie to You?” and as the host of BBC Radio 4’s “The Unbelievable Truth.” He previously helmed “The Bubble” and “Was It Something I Said?” and made guest appearances on other esteemed panel shows, including “QI,” “The Big Fat Quiz of the Year,” “Mock the Week,” “8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown,” and “Have I Got News for You.” He co-hosted the comedy news program “10 O’clock Live.”

David Mitchell’s talents extend to the realm of writing, where he shares his perspectives through opinion pieces in prominent British newspapers, namely The Observer and The Guardian. His multifaceted career has solidified his position as a quintessential figure in the British entertainment and literary landscape.

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