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 →

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 →

Evensong by Richard Morris

If you stand outside the former Augustinian priory of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London before evensong, twice a month, you can hear the sound of late medieval London. It is the only active church in the country to have a ring of five bells cast before the Reformation – in this... Continue Reading →

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn

Cloud islands, they are called. The peaks of the Usumbara Mountains in Tanzania rise so high that fogs form on their slopes where the cool mountain air meets warmer currents rising off the sea. The climate has created a unique ecosystem, as real islands do, and much of the wildlife is unique to the area.... Continue Reading →

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

It is like a scene from a Hayao Miyazaki anime: a French WWI pilot, gliding down at twilight over enemy lines, finds himself surrounded by a flock of swifts seemingly motionless in the air. They are asleep on the wing, so close by he might reach out and touch them. The phenomenon was largely unknown... Continue Reading →

The History of Magic by Chris Gosden

"Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality," TS Eliot wrote in the Four Quartets, the fruit of his own long struggle with spiritual torment. Eliot ultimately found solace in the late-medieval Christian mysticism of Julian of Norwich, but his point still stands: what reality is and how we learn to bear it has been... Continue Reading →

The Light Ages by Seb Falk

There are few easier ways to enrage a medievalist than to refer to the era they study as ‘the Dark Ages’. But those who think of the medieval world – and medieval Catholicism in particular – as the antithesis of reason and progress, might be surprised to learn that the great Benedictine abbey at St... Continue Reading →

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

In ‘The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’, one of the stories that make up Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s best-known work, the eponymous narrator is in a taxi when he hears a song on the radio "about how everything that dies some day comes back". (The song isn’t named, but it’s Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City.) Popular... Continue Reading →

An Indifference of Birds by Richard Smyth

Every winter, white storks – so elegant in the air, so rickety on land – make the long flight south from Europe to what we assume to be ancestral wetlands in sub-Saharan Africa. At least, that’s what most of them do. These days there’s one who disdains the long-haul option, preferring to hop across from... Continue Reading →

Sons of the Waves by Stephen Taylor

At their peak, early in the 19th century, there were some 262,427 of them across Britain’s naval and merchant fleets. People called them Jacks, but they are nameless mostly. Or nameless to history. Even on surviving musters, their identities can be hidden behind pseudonyms. Some of these – George Million or Jacob Blackbeard, say –... Continue Reading →

A New Day Yesterday by Mike Barnes

It’s early 1974, British band Henry Cow is in the studio recording its second album, Unrest. One track features a 40-foot tape loop. Another is based on the Fibonacci sequence, a structural device borrowed from Karlheinz Stockhausen. The track is in 55/8 time. Henry Cow’s ethos is based on creating music it isn’t yet competent... Continue Reading →

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