In Wilson's rereading of Elizabethan history, only Catholic historians are revisionists. The "vehemently anti-Catholic" historian J.A. Froude is singled out for particular praise and admiration. This would be bad practice in a scholarly context but The Elizabethans aims to capture the popular imagination. Swashbuckling, panache, ceremony and swagger are in; impartial analysis is out, replaced by moral relativism.
Wilson begins his narrative with a discussion on what he calls "The Difficulty" (something academic historians have always called "history"). "The Difficulty is really a moral one: things which they, the Elizabethans, regarded as a cause for pride, we — the great majority of educated, liberal Western opinion — consider shameful." The reader is meant to understand that it is very big of Wilson to face "The Difficulty", and even bigger of him to ignore it: "I do not want this book to be a tedious and anachronistic exercise in judging one age by the standards of another." The answer is to dispense with judgment altogether, and thus it is that Wilson happily indulges abuse, rapine and murder so long as it was perpetrated with a certain amount of style and ironical humour.
At one point he describes how Sir Francis Drake "marooned a black woman who was heavily pregnant": "How the woman came to be pregnant — she was ‘gotten with child between the captain and his men pirates' — does not indeed reflect well upon Drake, if you choose to judge a 16th-century privateer who was at sea for nearly three years by the enlightened standards of a land-bound historian." Oh, so men were at sea for a long time; that makes gang rape OK then — silly me for daring to judge Drake by the standards of my own time.
When Wilson starts waxing lyrical about "Drake's Dial", a brass compass made in 1589 and now on display at the National Maritime Museum, it's easy to wonder whether in writing his narrative of Elizabethan England he didn't swap his moral compass for that of Sir Francis Drake.