In short, anecdotal chapters, this conversational work profiles mostly lesser-known English separatists from the early 17th century.
Marshall (Tuck, 2016) focuses on new religious factions gaining power in Europe at the time, and especially on would-be passengers of the Mayflower. The book proper opens at Lincolnshire’s Gainsborough Hall in England, a recurring location. Henry VIII stayed here with his wife, Catherine Howard, who was later accused of adultery. After Henry came Edward VI’s short time in power, followed by Mary’s bloody reign. During all this upheaval, Gainsborough Hall came under the ownership of merchant William Hickman. He and his wife, Rose, were separatists and attended Robert Browne’s secret prayer meetings in London, at which they read Tyndale’s contraband English Bible. Rose remained a separatist into old age and widowhood, when she moved into Gainsborough Hall with her son, who had taken over his father’s business. An underground tunnel from the river to the hall allowed them to aid in transporting guest speakers, while postman William Brewster distributed religious pamphlets. The book also considers John Smith’s involvement with Jamestown, smallpox epidemics, the new Bourbon dynasty in France, and the Huguenots’ conflicts. A particular highlight is the chapter about navigator William Adams’ tumultuous journey to Japan, where he became a guest of the shogun. This little-known historical incident provides a welcome change of scene. By contrast, Smith’s experiences in the New World and relationship with Pocahontas feel like well-trodden territory. Luckily, Marshall’s passion for history comes through clearly in his relaxed style. Italicized archaic vocabulary words, some teasingly sexual language, and an (over)abundance of exclamation points reinforce this enthusiasm. His skilled portraits of more obscure figures like Rose Hickman and his eye for telling details help to bring history to life. Unfortunately, the writing quality generally fails to live up to the subject matter. Faulty punctuation, typos, problems with subject–verb agreement, and inconsistent use of tenses render the book choppy, hindering comprehension. For example: “Facts that’s hard to come by simply because, by necessity, they’re secretive! Meaning it’s tough to cross-reference local knowledge, concerning who’s who?” and “Apiece believing, they’re sharing fond solicitous memories? Whereas their multiple, albeit tender reminisces, wound Smith, like a knife!” Readers will likely need determination and a keen interest in the period to persist.
Diverting historical stories hampered by garbled prose.