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 →

The women’s army of Dahomey

Founded in the early 17th century, the west African kingdom of Dahomey was a bellicose, expansionist state. It is said the king’s primary duty was to ‘make Dahomey always larger’; one 18th-century king, Agaju, boasted that – whereas his grandfather had conquered two countries, his father 18, and his brother, who took the throne before... Continue Reading →

Hannibal’s triumph at Cannae

By 216BC, Hannibal’s Carthaginian army in the Second Punic War had already won victories against the Romans at Trebia and Lake Trasimene. But then came Cannae. According to Polybius, the Senate, terrified by Hannibal’s successes, sent eight legions against him. It was an unprecedentedly large force: some 80,000 foot soldiers and 6,000 cavalry. It’s possible... Continue Reading →

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