History Today: The Matter of Song in Early Modern England by Katherine R Larson

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to hear legendary English folk singer Shirley Collins perform. One of the songs she sang was ‘Awake, Awake’, written by Thomas Deloney in 1580 but seemingly forgotten until Ralph Vaughan Williams heard it sung by an elderly Herefordshire woman in July 1909. Long dead on the... Continue Reading →

History Today: Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist by Elizabeth Goldring

It is July 1571, and Elizabeth I is sitting for a portrait in “the open ally of a goodly garden”, almost certainly at Hampton Court. The portrait is “in little” – what we would now call a watercolour miniature, although the latter term didn’t enter the English language until Sir Philip Sidney introduced it from... Continue Reading →

Renaissance Studies: Thomas Churchyard: Pen, Sword & Ego by Matthew Woodcock

If, as every self-help book will tell you, persistence really were the key to success, Thomas Churchyard would surely have been the most successful writer of the sixteenth century. Reader, he was not – but it was not for want of trying. One measure of Churchyard’s distant familiarity with fame is that Matthew Woodcock’s Thomas... 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 →

History Today: Birds in the Ancient World by Jeremy Mynott

Pity the wryneck – a species of long-tongued woodpecker – in ancient Greece: it had the great misfortune to be considered an essential part of a sex toy. The poor bird was spread-eagled and bound to the four spokes of a wheel, which, when spun, whistled in a way thought sure to arouse desire in... Continue Reading →

The Stage: Ralegh: The Treason Trial

Before its run in the Sam Wanamaker Theatre beginning 24 November, Oliver Chris’ staging of Sir Walter Ralegh’s treason trial had several performances in the Great Hall in Winchester, where the trial itself was held on 17 November 1603. Ralegh had been Elizabeth I’s favourite. But he had no standing with James I, and when... 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 →

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War at the British Library

King David composing the psalms, Vespasian Psalter, 8th century, Kent ©British Library MGM, at its zenith in the 1940s, used to boast that it had more stars than there are in heaven on its roster. It’s a phrase that came back to me walking round the current, jaw-droppingly good exhibition at the British Library, Anglo-Saxon... Continue Reading →

FT: White King: Charles I – Traitor, Murderer, Martyr by Leanda de Lisle

White King by Leanda de Lisle On New Year’s Day 1640, Charles I was in the Banqueting House participating in what would be the last court masque of his reign. Charles himself performed as King Philogenes, the lover of his people, who rescues his kingdom from a Fury named Discord. “All that are harsh, all... Continue Reading →

TLS: Summer’s Last Will and Testament by Thomas Nashe

  Saturday 30 September saw a unique staging of Thomas Nashe’s only extant whole-authored play, Summer’s Last Will and Testament, in the Great Hall of the Bishop’s Palace in Croydon, where it was first performed in the early autumn of 1592. The performance was a joint venture between the Edward’s Boys company, from the King... Continue Reading →

Mary, Countess of Pembroke: poetry, patronage and power

This is, more or less, the text of the talk I gave earlier this month at the Wilton History Festival. Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and her sons William and Philip, were the most influential patrons of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. Let’s begin with a story to illustrate that assertion. For the moment, we will... Continue Reading →

Of God and Jonson: theatre history, new things and non-events

I was fortunate to be able to attend some of the superb Before Shakespeare conference at Roehampton last week. I came away with a range of thoughts and ideas, some of which I hope to pursue in one form or another. Perhaps the thing that struck me most, however, was Bill Ingram’s opening talk. Ingram... Continue Reading →

Wilton History Festival: the Countess of Pembroke and her circle

Just a brief post to say I will be speaking at Wilton History Festival on 17 September about the literary circle around Mary Sidney and the power of patronage. For those who don't know, Mary Sidney was the younger sister Philip Sidney and is the Countess of Pembroke for whom he wrote the Arcadia. However,... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: Waterloo Road (1945)

Set contemporaneously, Waterloo Road expertly taps into the tensions between those called up for military duty and those who remained behind in civilian life. It stars John Mills as a soldier who comes home to south east London on leave to find his wife, played by Joy Shelton, apparently enamoured of local spiv, Ted Purvis.... Continue Reading →

Forgotten London films: The Happy Family (1952)

The redoubtable Stanley Holloway leads the ensemble cast in this 1952 comedy set against the opening of the Festival of Britain the previous year. I say “against” advisedly: the premise of the film is that an administrative error, discovered just weeks before the festival is set to open, means that Holloway’s family home and shop... Continue Reading →

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