The first Svengali

Whenever Dominic Cummings makes the headlines, commentators reach for the same word to describe his relationship with the prime minister: he is Boris Johnson’s Svengali, they write. But who was the original Svengali? Svengali is one of those rare literary creations so seemingly archetypal his name becomes short-hand for a kind of behaviour: in this... Continue Reading →

When graduates voted twice

With support for the EU significantly higher among those with a university education, it’s interesting to recall that well into the 20th century graduates could vote twice in UK general elections: once in their local constituencies and again through their universities, which at one point held fourteen seats between them. The idea that universities should... Continue Reading →

Manuela Sáenz: the Liberator’s saviour

On the night of September 25 1828, a small group of armed men approached the presidential palace in Bogotá. Inside, Simón Bolívar lay in bed asleep beside his mistress, Manuela Sáenz. Bolívar – known as El Liberator – had led large parts of South America to freedom from imperial Spain, but his increasingly autocratic, anti-republican... Continue Reading →

The end of a European union

A decades-long union of European countries is supported by the respective national elites; but its destruction comes through the ruthless exploitation of popular nationalism by an autocratic leader. Does that sound familiar? It is, of course, the Kalmar Union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which saw the three kingdoms being governed under a single monarch... Continue Reading →

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: the film Churchill tried to kill

It’s 10 September 1942. The German army is at Stalingrad. Bomber Command is sending 479 planes to bomb Düsseldorf. And Winston Churchill is writing to Brendan Bracken, his Minister of Information, about a British film already in production. “[P]ropose to me the measures necessary to stop this foolish production before it gets any further,” he... Continue Reading →

The pioneering archaeologist Dorothy Garrod

On 6 May 1939 the pioneering archaeologist Dorothy Garrod was elected to the Disney chair of archaeology at Cambridge. She was the first woman to be a professor at either Oxford or Cambridge; women were still not admitted to full degrees at the university – despite having been educated there since 1869. Her election brought... Continue Reading →

How two monks – one Byzantine, one Libyan – remade the English church

Five of the first six archbishops of Canterbury to be consecrated were not native to this country. None came from as far afield as the seventh: Theodore, born in 602, was a Greek-speaking monk from Tarsus – the modern Turkish city of Gözlü Kule – in what was then a Byzantine province. Educated in Antioch... Continue Reading →

BBC History: Henry Fitzroy – the forgotten Tudor prince

Henry Fitzroy was born in the summer of 1519 – almost certainly in June – at the small Augustinian Priory of St Laurence at Blackmore in Essex. His mother was Elizabeth Blount, herself not yet 20, who came from minor Shropshire gentry. Elizabeth had entered service as one of Catherine of Aragon’s maids of honour... Continue Reading →

The Chap: Jack Buchanan, Britain’s biggest forgotten star

It’s February 1954 and the Sunday Express has a scoop. Sir Laurence Olivier is learning to dance. More, he is planning to dance with a partner as part of a charity event at the Palladium, organised by Noel Coward. His dancing partner - and teacher - is Jack Buchanan, who the paper finds putting Olivier... Continue Reading →

History Today: Between fact and fiction

This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of History Today. What does it mean to write history today? What claims can historians make about their work? These are just two of the questions that sprang to mind after listening to Niall Ferguson tussle with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley on Radio 4’s Start... Continue Reading →

History Today: Young academics: the great betrayal

This piece first appeared in the September 2015 issue of History Today. I discussed the issues it raised with Catherine Fletcher in a related podcast which can be heard here. Catherine wrote a THE blog in response to my article and the disagreements it aroused, which can be read here. Supporters of the status quo... Continue Reading →

Spectator: The LRB, Twitter and Craig Raine’s ‘Gatwick’

June 3rd was a strange day on Twitter. For most of it, a living poet was trending. Unfortunately for Craig Raine, the poet in question, he was trending because a long poem of his entitled ‘Gatwick’ had appeared in the LRB and Twitter didn’t like it. Most comments ranged from amused contempt to, well, just... Continue Reading →

History Today: Taking history out into the world

My eyes were caught the other week by a news story in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, which reported an interview with the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Defending his country against accusations of anti-semitism, Zarif cited, among other things, the role of Cyrus the Great, who led Persia in the mid-sixth century BC, in... Continue Reading →

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: