The Siege of Loyalty House by Jessie Childs

“There is nothing that doth more advance and sour a man’s misery”, the eulogist said at the funeral of Sir Marmaduke Rawdon in April 1646, “than this one thought and apprehension: that he was once happy.” Before the outbreak of the English civil war, Rawdon had been a highly successful merchant in London; his unofficial... Continue Reading →

The Great Wine Blight

The Columbian Exchange is a much discussed phenomenon, but it can have had few more surprising consequences than the near total destruction of European wine production in the 19th century. The cause was phylloxera, a microscopic yellow aphid native to the eastern coast of the United States, that feeds exclusively on the roots of grapevines.... Continue Reading →

News: New Humanist

I have a review of David George Haskell's Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution's Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction in the summer issue of New Humanist.

Wayward: Just Another Life to Live by Vashti Bunyan

Pop music doesn’t go in much for redemption as a rule, but Bunyan’s life is – characteristically – resolutely atypical. She seems like Hermione, Leontes’ wife in The Winters’ Tale, turned to stone for twenty years and then returned, movingly, to life. If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’re familiar with the outlines... Continue Reading →

The House of Dudley by Joanne Paul

As the nine-year-old Edward VI rode through London on the way to his coronation in Westminster Abbey in February 1547, he paused for a while to watch a man perform on a tightrope strung from the steeple of St Paul’s. He might have been advised to study the man who rode ahead of him too.... Continue Reading →

News: Not Just The Tudors

I'm delighted to have recorded another episode for Suzannah Lipscomb's brilliant podcast, Not Just the Tudors, this time on Sir Walter Ralegh and the tragic fantasy of El Dorado. It's available to listen to here. My previous episode, in which we discussed the Dissolution of the Monasteries, is available to listen to here. Not Just... Continue Reading →

The discovery of Parkinson’s Disease

At 10am on 7 October 1794 a 39-year-old physician named James Parkinson presented himself in Whitehall for interrogation by William Pitt and the Privy Council. They were investigating what became known as the Popgun Plot, an alleged attempt to assassinate George III. Parkinson, a member of the radical London Corresponding Society, knew some of those... Continue Reading →

The fall of the Knights Templar

Sometime around 1340 Ludolph of Sudheim, a German priest travelling around the Holy Land, encountered two elderly men, one from Burgundy, the other from Toulouse, in the mountains by the Dead Sea. They told him they were Knights Templar, taken prisoner by the Mamluks after the fall of Acre in May 1291 – the last,... Continue Reading →

The origins of El Dorado

In the last days of 1835 the explorer Robert Schomburgk stood on the shores of Lake Amucu in western central Guiana. In April, the surrounding savannah would be inundated by the rising tides of two nearby river systems creating the illusion of a great body of water; but now, in December, the waters were low.... Continue Reading →

Dante’s exile from Florence

Late-medieval Florence was riven by factional disputes based on support for or opposition to papal power. Dante Alighieri, for a brief time one of the city’s six governing officials, was part of the latter party. But after Charles of Valois entered the city in November 1301, Dante’s allies were overthrown; and on 27 January 1301,... Continue Reading →

An Oxford resurrection

It was Anne Greene’s great good fortune that, after she had been hanged in the castle yard at Oxford, her body was given to the university’s physicians for dissection. In the summer of 1650, Anne, aged 22, had been seduced by Geoffrey Read, the teenage grandson of her employer Sir Thomas Read at the manor... Continue Reading →

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