For a thousand years or so churches have been at the heart of things. Traditionally, churches were places where we marked turning-points in our lives. The parish church was where your parents took you to be baptised, and you took your parents to be buried after their deaths. In between, the church was a social and spiritual focus. But not now. Last year fewer than two citizens in a hundred attended an Anglican church. Many people have never been inside one. And since the underlying meaning of ‘church’ is its people, the buildings are fast becoming husks, outwardly part of the local scene but functionally mysterious.
A similar combination of familiarity and unawareness surrounds the connection between Church and nation. The UK has no national faith, but for reasons most people have forgotten the Church is woven into its government. The Church of England passes its own laws. Bishops sit in the House of Lords. About a third of England’s state-funded schools are faith schools. New monarchs are initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The monarch is supreme governor of a Church of England. Coins in your pocket tell you (in what was once the international language of the western Church that hardly anyone now reads) that she is FIDEI DEFENSATRIX and reigns ‘by the grace of God’.
Richard Morris has spent fifty years studying churches – their imagery, why they are where they are, how they were built, how they were used, where their materials came from, the dead beneath their floors, their graffiti. EVENSONG: PLACES, PEOPLE AND THR CHURCH IN ENGLAND will use case studies from his experience involving an interplay of myth, science and faith to explore connections between churches in history and people today. Alongside encounters with saints, medieval doors that still swing on their hinges, stories of secret passages, or sounds of a Tudor organ re-voiced from bits, people loom large: archbishops, parishioners, bell-ringers, musicians, gravediggers and beggars. Spanning two thousand years, linking past and present, people and places, EVENSONG is a magnificent contribution to our understanding of the nation’s history and its current state.
Why is Italy called Italy? How old is curry? Which people from history would best pull off a casino heist? Who was the richest person of all time? When was the first Monday? What were history’s weirdest medical procedures that actually worked? How much horse manure was splattered on the streets of Tudor London? How fast was the medieval Chinese postal system? What did the Flintstones get right about the Stone Age? Who gets to name historical eras, and what will ours be called in 100 years’ time? How do we know how people sounded in the past? How old is sign language?
In Ask a Historian the author, BBC podcaster, and public historian Greg Jenner provides answers to things you always wondered about, but didn’t know who to ask. Responding to 50 genuine questions from the public, Greg whisks you off on an entertaining tour through the ages, revealing the best and most surprising stories, facts, and historical characters from the past. Bouncing through a wide range of subjects – from ancient jokebooks, African empires, and bizarre tales of medicinal cannibalism, to the invention of meringues, mirrors, and menstrual pads – Ask A Historian spans the Stone Age to the Swinging Sixties, and offers up a deliciously amusing and informative smorgasbord of historical curiosities, devoured one morsel at a time.
Out of the thrilling and tempestuous eighteenth century comes the sweeping family saga of beautiful Maria Theresa, a sovereign of extraordinary strength and vision, the only woman ever to inherit and rule the vast Habsburg empire in her own name, and three of her remarkable daughters: lovely, talented Maria Christina, governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands; spirited Maria Carolina, the resolute queen of Naples; and the youngest, Marie Antoinette, the glamorous, tragic queen of France, perhaps the most famous princess in history.
Unfolding against an irresistible backdrop of brilliant courts from Vienna to Versailles, embracing the exotic lure of Naples and Sicily, this epic history of Maria Theresa and her daughters is a tour de force of desire, adventure, ambition, treachery, sorrow, and glory.
Each of these women’s lives was packed with passion and heart-stopping suspense. Maria Theresa inherited her father’s thrones at the age of twenty-three and was immediately attacked on all sides by foreign powers confident that a woman would to be too weak to defend herself. Maria Christina, a gifted artist, who alone among her sisters succeeded in marrying for love, would face the same dangers that destroyed the monarchy in France. Resourceful Maria Carolina would usher in the golden age of Naples only to then face the deadly whirlwind of Napoleon. And, finally, Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen whose stylish excesses and captivating notoriety have masked the truth about her husband and herself for two hundred and fifty years.
The bestselling story of Britain’s most courageous and most famous flyer, the Second World War hero Sir Douglas Bader.
In 1931, at the age of 21, Douglas Bader was the golden boy of the RAF. Excelling in everything he did he represented the Royal Air Force in aerobatics displays, played rugby for Harlequins, and was tipped to be the next England fly half. But one afternoon in December all his ambitions came to an abrupt end when he crashed his plane doing a particularly difficult and illegal aerobatic trick. His injuries were so bad that surgeons were forced to amputate both his legs to save his life. Douglas Bader did not fly again until the outbreak of the Second World War, when his undoubted skill in the air was enough to convince a desperate air force to give him his own squadron.
The rest of his story is the stuff of legend. Flying Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain he led his squadron to kill after kill, keeping them all going with his unstoppable banter. Shot down in occupied France, his German captors had to confiscate his tin legs in order to stop him trying to escape. Bader faced it all, disability, leadership and capture, with the same charm, charisma and determination that was an inspiration to all around him.
The famous story of mass escape from a WWII German PoW camp that inspired the classic film.
One of the most famous true stories from the last war, The GREAT ESCAPE tells how more than six hundred men in a German prisoner-of-war camp worked together to achieve an extraordinary break-out. Every night for a year they dug tunnels, and those who weren’t digging forged passports, drew maps, faked weapons and tailored German uniforms and civilian clothes to wear once they had escaped. All of this was conducted under the very noses of their prison guards. When the right night came, the actual escape itself was timed to the split second – but of course, not everything went according to plan…
Inspired by the influential text WHAT IS HISTORY? authored by Helen Carr’s great-grandfather, E.H. Carr, and published on the 60th anniversary of that book, this is a groundbreaking new collection addressing the burning issue of how we interpret history today. What stories are told, and by whom, who should be celebrated, and what rewritten, are questions that have been asked recently not just within the history world, but by all of us. Featuring a diverse mix of writers, both bestselling names and emerging voices, this is the history book we need NOW.
WHAT IS HISTORY, NOW? covers topics such as the history of racism and anti-racism, queer history, the history of faith, the history of disability, environmental history, escaping imperial nostalgia, hearing women’s voices and ‘rewriting’ the past. The list of contributors includes:
Justin Bengry, Leila K Blackbird, Emily Brand, Caroline Bressey, Gus Casely-Hayford, Sarah Churchwell, Caroline Dodds Pennock, Peter Frankopan, Bettany Hughes, Islam Issa, Maya Jasanoff, Dan Jones, Rana Mitter, Charlotte Lydia Riley, Miri Rubin, Simon Schama, Alex von Tunzelmann and Jaipreet Virdi. The editors Helen Carr and Suzannah Lipscomb will also each contribute an essay.
“Totally riveting. I couldn’t put it down” VICTORIA HISLOP
“Masterful, original and painfully gripping” PHILIPPE SANDS
“A heart-piercingly brilliant book about a woman whose personal life put her in the cross-hairs of history” HADLEY FREEMAN
“I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has moved me more” ANTHONY HOROWITZ
“A brilliant and fresh take on a famous case” SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE
Ethel Rosenberg’s story is America’s Dreyfus Affair: a catastrophic failure of humanity and justice that continues to haunt the national conscience, and is still being played out with different actors in the lead roles today.
On 19th June 1953 Ethel Rosenberg became the first woman in the US to be executed for a crime other than murder. She was thirty-seven years old and the mother of two small children. Yet even today, at a time when the Cold War seems all too resonant, Ethel’s conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union makes her story still controversial. This is an important moment to recount not simply what FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the ‘trial of the century’, but also a timeless human story of a supportive wife, loving mother and courageous idealist who grew up during the Depression with aspirations to become an opera singer. Instead, she found herself battling the social mores of the 1950s and had her life barbarically cut short on the basis of tainted evidence for a crime she almost certainly did not commit.
Anne Sebba’s masterly biography makes full use of the dramatic prison letters Ethel exchanged with her husband, lawyer and psychotherapist over a three-year period. Sebba has also interviewed Ethel’s two sons and others who knew her, including a fellow prisoner. Ethel’s tragic story lays bare a nation deeply divided and reveals what happens when a government motivated by fear tramples on the rights of its citizens.
THE HISTORY MAKERS is an epic exploration of who writes about the past and how the biases of certain storytellers – whether Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare or Simon Schama -continue to influence our ideas about history (and about who we are) today.
In this unusually authoritative and supremely entertaining book, Richard Cohen reveals how professional historians and other equally significant witnesses (such as the writers of the Bible, major novelists, dramatists, journalists and political propagandists) influence what become the accepted records of human experience. Is there, he asks, even such a thing as “objective” history? The depth of Cohen’s inquiry and the delight he takes in his subjects includes the practitioners of what he calls “Bad History,” those thieves of history who twist reality to glorify themselves and conceal their or their country’s behaviour.
Cohen investigates the published works and private utterances of our greatest historical thinkers to discover the agendas that informed their views of the world, and which in so many ways have informed ours. From the origins of history-writing, when such an idea seemed itself revolutionary, through to television and the digital age, THE HISTORY MAKERS abounds in captivating figures brought to vivid life, from Thucydides and Tacitus to Voltaire and Gibbon, from Winston Churchill to Mary Beard. Rich in character, complex truths and surprising anecdotes, the result is a unique exploration of both the aims and craft of history-making. It will lead us to think anew about our past and ourselves.
‘A searing, brilliant investigation, an intricate and urgent book on how women’s health has constantly been misunderstood and miscast throughout history’ Kate Williams
‘One of the most important books of our generation’ Fern Riddell
‘UNWELL WOMEN is a powerful and fascinating book that takes an unsparing look at how women’s bodies have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed for centuries.‘ Lindsey Fitzharris
‘We are taught that medicine is the art of solving our body’s mysteries. And as a science, we expect medicine to uphold the principles of evidence and impartiality. We want our doctors to listen to us and care for us as people, but we also need their assessments of our pain and fevers, aches and exhaustion to be free of any prejudice about who we are, our gender, or the colour of our skin. But medicine carries the burden of its own troubling history. The history of medicine, of illness, is a history of people, of their bodies and their lives, not just physicians, surgeons, clinicians and researchers. And medical progress has always reflected the realities of a changing world, and the meanings of being human.’
In Unwell Women Elinor Cleghorn unpacks the roots of the perpetual misunderstanding, mystification and misdiagnosis of women’s bodies, and traces the journey from the ‘wandering womb’ of ancient Greece, the rise of witch trials in Medieval Europe, through the dawn of Hysteria, to modern day understandings of autoimmune diseases, the menopause and conditions like endometriosis. Packed with character studies of women who have suffered, challenged and rewritten medical orthodoxy – and drawing on her own experience of un-diagnosed Lupus disease – this is a ground-breaking and timely exposé of the medical world and woman’s place within it.
‘A tale of irresponsibility and inexperience’ THE TIMES
‘Graphically written with a sense of dramatic construction’ SCOTSMAN
On December 28th 1879, the night of the Great Storm, the Tay Bridge collapsed, along with the train that was crossing, and everyone on board…
This is the true story of that disastrous night, told from multiple viewpoints:
The station master waiting for the train to arrive – who sees the approaching lights simply vanish.
The bored young boys watching from their bedroom window who witness the disaster.
The dreamer who designed the bridge which eventually destroyed him.
The old highlanders who professed the bridge doomed from the outset.
The young woman on the ill-fated train, carrying a love letter from the man she hoped to marry…
THE HIGH GIRDERS is a vivid, dramatic reconstruction of the ill-omened man-made catastrophe of the Tay Bridge disaster – and its grim aftermath.
‘Before biography was fashionable, Antonia Fraser made the past popular’ Guardian
‘As a pure storyteller, Antonia Fraser has few equals’ Sunday Times
CAROLINE NORTON, a nineteenth-century heroine who wanted justice for women.
Poet, pamphleteer and artist’s muse, Caroline Norton dazzled nineteenth-century society with her vivacity and intelligence. After her marriage in 1828 to the MP George Norton, she continued to attract friends and admirers to her salon in Westminster, which included the young Disraeli. Most prominent among her admirers was the widowed Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. Racked with jealousy, George Norton took the Prime Minister to court, suing him for damages on account of his ‘Criminal Conversation’ (adultery) with Caroline. A dramatic trial followed. Despite the unexpected and sensational result – acquittal – Norton legally denied Caroline access to her three children under seven. He also claimed her income as an author for himself, since the copyrights of a married woman belonged to her husband.
Yet Caroline refused to despair. Beset by the personal cruelties perpetrated by her husband and a society whose rules were set against her, she chose to fight, not surrender. She channelled her energies in an area of much-needed reform: the rights of a married woman and specifically those of a mother. Over the next few years she campaigned tirelessly, achieving her first landmark victory with the Infant Custody Act of 1839. Provisions which are now taken for granted, such as the right of a mother to have access to her own children, owe much to Caroline, who was determined to secure justice for women at all levels of society from the privileged to the dispossessed.
Award-winning historian Antonia Fraser brilliantly portrays a woman, at once courageous and compassionate, who refused to be curbed by the personal and political constraints of her time.
Royal scandal, set against the background of the Jacobean court, involving love, bribery, poison, treachery and black magic – ‘a hugely enjoyable book‘ Daily Telegraph
‘A gripping detective story … Wonderfully dramatic … Probably the juiciest court scandal of the past 500 years’ Daily Mail
In the autumn of 1615 the Earl and Countess of Somerset were detained on suspicion of having murdered Sir Thomas Overbury. The arrest of these leading court figures created a sensation. The young and beautiful Countess of Somerset had already achieved notoriety when she divorced her first husband in controversial circumstances. The Earl of Somerset was one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom, having risen to prominence as the male ‘favourite’ of James I.
In a vivid, enthralling narrative, Anne Somerset unravels these extraordinary events. It is, at once, a story rich in passion, intrigue and corruption and a murder mystery – for, despite the guilty verdicts, there is much about Overbury’s death that remains enigmatic. The Overbury murder case profoundly damaged the monarchy, and constituted the greatest court scandal in English history.
‘This is a book about murder, witchcraft, adultery, lechery, intrigue and chicanery among the country’s most powerful nobility’ Time Out