England in Chaos during the Norman Invasion of 1066

The Normans originated as early settlers of northern France. The most valued skill was knowing one’s way around a blade. Introduction The fate of English literature was largely influenced by Frenchmen from the North, invading the rainy, wet piece of land that was England. Without this forced influence, English literature as it is known today[…]

Æthelstan: First Medieval Ruler of a United English Kingdom

Æthelstan was the first ruler of the whole kingdom of England. Æthelstan was the grandson of King Alfred of Wessex  (reigned 871–899) and the son of King Edward the Elder (reigned 899–924). Nothing is certain about his mother, but Continental and later writers suggest she was of lower social status. At some point, Æthelstan was[…]

Drawing a Blank: An Attempt to Save the Life of Charles I?

Was this an effort by Prince Charles (the future King Charles II) a last-ditch effort in exchange for his father’s life? Leafing through Harley MS 6988, it would be easy to flick past an unobtrusive empty page towards the end of the manuscript. Upon closer inspection, however, this ‘blank’ may be one of the central[…]

Pride’s Purge, 1648-1649: English History’s Only Coup d’état

The Purge cleared the way for the execution of Charles in January 1649 and the establishment of the Protectorate. Introduction Pride’s Purge is the name commonly used for an event that took place on 6 December 1648, when soldiers prevented MPs considered hostile to the New Model Army from entering the House of Commons. Despite[…]

Militia in Great Britain from the 17th to 19th Centuries

The Militia of Great Britain were the principal military reserve forces of the Kingdom of Great Britain. England Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, parliament passed several acts empowering the Lord Lieutenant of each county to appoint officers and raise men for a militia force. Although the king commanded the forces, they were[…]

Fyrd: Militia in Early Medieval England

The fyrd consisted of a nucleus of experienced soldiers that would be supplemented by ordinary villagers and farmers from the shires. A fyrd was a type of early Anglo-Saxon army that was mobilized from freemen to defend their shire, or from selected representatives to join a royal expedition. Service in the fyrd was usually of[…]

Londinium, the Proud City: A History of Rebuilding London since Late Antiquity

The resulting texture of the metropolis has a diversity of buildings unlike any other. In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, the British government published a plan for the destruction and rebuilding of whatever of London was left standing after German bombing. The ambition compared with Albert Speer’s ‘Germania’ proposal for a new[…]

Religion in Medieval England

The Church had a close relationship with the English state throughout the Middle Ages. Introduction Medieval Religion Unlike religion in the modern world, medieval religion had deep significance and central importance in the lives of most individuals and nations. There was hardly any concept of a secular nation where religion did not play any role[…]

The English Reformation: Fighting the Oppressors to Become Them

Henry VIII and his heirs became equally as oppressive as the Catholic Church whose chains they threw off. Introduction The English Reformation began with Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1547 CE) and continued in stages over the rest of the 16th century CE. The process witnessed the break away from the Catholic Church headed by[…]

The Long Parliament: England’s 17th-Century New Model Army and the Rump

The notion of the state as a commonwealth in which the ruled as well as the ruler had rights eventually resulted in the modern nation state. Introduction The Long Parliament is the name of the English Parliament called by Charles I, on November 3, 1640, following the Bishops’ Wars. It receives its name from the[…]

‘Arena Three’: Britain’s First Lesbian Magazine

Looking at at how Britain’s first lesbian magazine came about and its impact on society. Introduction In 1958 the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) was founded in the wake of the Wolfenden Report, published on 4 September 1957. The society launched with a series of high profile advertisements in national newspapers and became a beacon[…]

The Post-Plague English Peasant Revolt of 1381

With the plague decimating the ranks of laborers, surviving workers rebelled against the crown’s higher taxes and restrictive labor laws. Introduction As a professor of medieval Europe, I’ve taught the bubonic plague, and how it contributed to the English Peasant Revolt of 1381. When a deadly disease started to spread, the most vulnerable and powerless[…]

On the Trail of King John before (and after) the Signing of the Magna Carta

Plotting John’s route for all 17 years of his reign to produce digital maps of his progress as he struggled to maintain his grip. John was the most peripatetic of all English monarchs. His 17 years on the throne are often described as a reign of crisis.  In 1214 John lost his lands in France,[…]

Crime in England, 1780-1925

Many acts we would describe as crimes today were largely unprosecuted before the mid-nineteenth century. Introduction As with all periods in history, there were many illegal acts which could, if detected (and the perpetrator was prosecuted) appear as “crimes”. However, the vast majority of crimes were never prosecuted. Modern historians can sometimes study unprosecuted acts[…]

Elizabeth I and the Power of Image

Elizabeth I engage in a memorable invention of herself as a legend in her own lifetime. Introduction Aware of the power of appearances, Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558-1603 CE) carefully controlled her image throughout her reign and through costume, hair, jewellery, and art, she presented herself as the great Virgin Queen. Like a goddess[…]

Sacred Street Theater in Medieval England

Doomsday, 1433. In York, after dark. A red curtain. Painted stars. Actors in hoses, wigs, and two-faced masks—some in angel wings, some with trumpets. Wooden clouds and pieces of rainbow, and an iron frame with pulleys meant to effect Christ’s movements between Heaven and Earth. a “hell mouth” billowing smoke and the smell of sulfur.[…]

Gender Roles in 19th-Century Victorian Patriarchy

From marriage and sexuality to education and rights, looking at attitudes towards gender in 19th-century Britain. Introduction During the Victorian period men and women’s roles became more sharply defined than at any time in history. In earlier centuries it had been usual for women to work alongside husbands and brothers in the family business. Living[…]

Drinking in Victorian and Edwardian Britain

People drank for many different reasons and these reasons ranged across social class, gender, and region. Introduction This offers different and sometimes contrasting perspectives on the reasons why alcohol was consumed and on the drinking cultures that emerged from the Victorian period. Alcohol played a key role in the everyday lives of men and women[…]

What a Portrait of a British Family Reveals about 18th-Century England and Tea

Exploring tea time in the portrait of John, Fourteenth Lord Willoughby de Broke, and his Family. Because I am currently spending most of my time at home, as are many of you, I’ve been thinking more and more often to the domestic setting. While most of us aren’t being served tea in 18th-century country houses, in[…]

Harnessing the Power of the Criminal Corpse in Early Modern England

A new theology that came to dominate British religion after the Reformation altering the relationship between the living and the dead. Introduction During the age of spectacular punishment, the bodies of those who threatened the State or social order were subject to highly visible symbolic justice. The executions and dead bodies of traitors in particular[…]

The ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ by Henry VIII in 1536

It was the first step of what would turn out to be a rocky and far from straightforward road to making England a Protestant state. Introduction The Dissolution of the Monasteries was a policy introduced in 1536 CE by Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1547 CE) to close down and confiscate the lands and wealth[…]

‘Hand of Glory’: Gallows Tradition and Healing in Early Modern England

It was sought after post-execution to cure a variety of swellings, wens in particular. Abstract From the eighteenth century through to the abolition of public executions in England in 1868, the touch of a freshly hanged man’s hand was sought after to cure a variety of swellings, wens in particular. While the healing properties of[…]

The Wyatt Rebellion and Nationalism in Late Medieval England

The growing sense of nationalism in England was one of the underlying causes of the Wyatt Rebellion. Introduction The Wyatt Rebellion of January-February 1554 CE saw Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger lead a group of several thousand Kent rebels in a march on London with the primary aim of preventing Mary I of England (r.[…]

Childbirth and Maternal Health in 17th-Century England

Historical material about the bodily and emotional experience of the period after birth has been relatively neglected. Summary For a month after childbirth, the authors of medical and religious prescriptive literature instructed new mothers to keep to their beds. During this time they were expected to bleed away the bodily remnants of pregnancy. At the[…]

Roundheads and Cavaliers: The English Civil Wars, 1642-1651

These wars were between supporters of the king’s right to absolute authority, and supporters of the rights of Parliament. Introduction The term English Civil War (or Wars) refers to the series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between Parliamentarians (often called the Roundheads) and Royalists (or the cavaliers) from 1642 until 1651.[…]

The History, Culture, and Religion of the Celts

Little is known about their lifestyle due to the numerous conflicts and combinations of cultures that occurred in European history. Introduction The term Celt, normally pronounced /kɛlt/ now refers primarily to a member of any of a number of peoples in Europe using the Celtic languages, which form a branch of the Indo-European languages. It[…]

An Overview of the Origins of Stonehenge

It was built in five constructional stages spanning a period from around 3000 to 1500 BCE. Stonehenge represents one of Britain’s most important and enigmatic archaeological sites. Beginning in Neolithic times and modified during the Bronze Age it currently comprises a number of incomplete stone circles and stone horseshoes, built in five constructional stages spanning[…]