TLS: So High A Blood by Morgan Ring

So High A Blood explores in detail the life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox, a Tudor princess without whom, perhaps, there would have been no Stewart succession and no subsequent union between England and Scotland. Born in 1515, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, by her second husband... Continue Reading →

New Statesman: Heart of darkness: from the time-honoured barbarity of the Tudors in Ireland to Islamic State

The leader of a small military force – perhaps 500 strong – is determined to subdue a province, and to do so quickly. Terror is his explicit policy. Every inroad he makes into enemy territory is followed by indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. Every man, woman and child is killed. Houses, churches, crops – everything is... Continue Reading →

History Today: Shakespeare, the Blackfriars and the theatre of experience

It has always bemused me that there is so little formal – or, for that matter, informal – dialogue and collaboration between historians and literary scholars. Each are aware of the others’ work, certainly; but the intellectual, cultural and administrative inheritances that maintain the academic silos of schools and faculties surely seem increasingly outdated in... Continue Reading →

The Massacre At Paris: Kit Marlowe, the Rose Playhouse and me

As some friends may know, I spent last week acting in the final six performances of The Dolphin’s Back production of Christopher Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris at the Rose Playhouse on London’s South Bank. The offer to do so came out of the blue, so much so that - as much out of surprise... Continue Reading →

Review: God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England by Jessie Childs

The daily lives of catholics in England under Elizabeth I and James I have long been neglected by historians. True, much as been written about the various attempts against Elizabeth during her reign – most obviously the Babington ‘complotment’ which resulted in the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots – and, of course, the Gunpowder... Continue Reading →

The borders of historical fiction and non-fiction: a conversation with Nancy Bilyeau

Last year I reviewed Nancy Bilyeau's excellent début Tudor thriller, The Crown which is set during the dissolution of the monasteries. Its sequel, The Chalice, is being published in the UK by Orion on February 28; and in North America by Simon & Schuster on March 5. Nancy has kindly agreed to take part in... Continue Reading →

The Dutch Church: the dissolution and its tragic aftermath

It is convenient for historians to conceive of history in neat discrete categories, but all too often that approach both obscures continuities and suggests that events are less brutally random than they are. There are, for instance, many ways of writing about the influence of the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries on... Continue Reading →

Richard Topcliffe: the Queen’s torturer

There is no known portrait of Richard Topcliffe, the man most associated with the torture and persecution of Catholics in Elizabethan England. In some respects that is as it should be: those who break human bodies on behalf of the state are usually anonymous, ordinary figures, extraordinary only in the apparent disjunction between their personal... Continue Reading →

Richard Topcliffe and the capture and torture of Robert Southwell

The capture and torture of Southwell is a perfect example of Topcliffe’s full-service approach to persecution: it was his own handiwork through and through, and took extensive planning and thought. Southwell, a Norfolk man, had left England for the Catholic English College at Douai in the summer of 1576. He was not yet 15. Two... Continue Reading →

The Ridolfi plot

On May 16 1568 the catholic regnant Scottish queen Mary Stuart arrived in England. She had been deposed, marginalised  and effectively disowned by the protestant establishment in Scotland, where her young son James VI, aged 13 in 1569, was now a minority king. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, and therefore had... Continue Reading →

Sir Walter Ralegh and the Babington plot

I was not, truth be told, expecting to write much, if at all, about the world of espionage when I first set out to research The Favourite, my recent book about the relationship between Elizabeth I and Ralegh. After all, Ralegh’s protestant credentials in the fight against imperial Spain would appear, at first sight, unimpeachable.... Continue Reading →

The Babington plot: the capture and execution of the conspirators

On Tuesday 20th September 1586, seven Catholic men were bound to hurdles in the Tower of London – one of them, a priest named John Ballard, on a single sled, the others two-a-piece – and then dragged westward on their final slow journey through the city’s autumnal streets to a hastily erected scaffold in the... Continue Reading →

Catholic treason in Elizabethan England and the psychology of espionage and terror

London Historians have just posted online a piece I wrote for their newsletter to mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of the most notorious of Elizabethan traitors, Anthony Babington. (Update: Now available on my blog here in two parts, here and here.) However, I felt that his fate – and those of his fellow... Continue Reading →

The persecution of Edward Rookwood: a Catholic victim of Elizabethan state power

There was politics behind the choice of East Anglia for Elizabeth’s summer progress in 1578. During the course of the summer, Elizabeth stayed twice with Philip Howard, Earl of Surrey – heir of the foolish traitor Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk – just turned 21 that June. Kenninghall, Norkolk's great palace, had been shuttered... Continue Reading →

Dreams of escape – George Gifford: courtier, con-man, conspirator

Despite the notoriety which still clouds men like Anthony Babington, executed in 1586 for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth I, history's selective memory has been kind in overlooking the dubious career of other men who flirted with regicide in the same period. Indeed, one man, despite never having attempted the act, seems to have been almost... Continue Reading →

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