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Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

Derek Wilson
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The voyage of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ from Plymouth, England, and their settlement in Plymouth, New England, is iconic. Unfortunately.

Why unfortunately? Because icons both simplify and glamorise. The Mayflower story is a gilded myth, a historical episode seen through the distorting lens of nationalism. Of all the accounts of New World colonisation in the 16th/17th centuries this is the one that has come to typify those qualities today’s US citizens admire and believe their nation stands for. And yet the 102 men, women and children who made that journey in the autumn of 1620 would not have recognised themselves in the heroes and heroines portrayed in films and romantic novels over the last century or so.

Derek Wilson strips away the over-painting from the icon in order to discover what motivated the Pilgrim ‘Fathers’ (a term not invented until 1840), and to explain them against the background of the age in which they lived. He does this by exploring a series of probing questions, each of which narrows the focus until the travellers on the storm-tossed Mayflower stand before us clearly delineated.

Derek Wilson is a renowned historian and the author of over fifty books, including The Plantagenets, A Brief History of Henry VIII and The Uncrowned Kings of England, as well as critically acclaimed biographies of Charlemagne and Holbein.


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