Beyond the Warrior Queen


Medieval women wielded spiritual and political power in subtly effective ways As a political and military leader, Æthelflæd is the kind of woman modern audiences are often surprised to find recorded in early medieval history It would be encouraging if one effect of this anniversary were an increased awareness of the many different ways in which medieval women could be influential – in roles as...

How the Press Created ‘Jack the Ripper’


Whitechapel had come to symbolise London’s criminal underworld, providing a ready backdrop for any sensational newspaper report Even 40 years earlier, in his seminal work London Labour and the London Poor (1840), the journalist Henry Mayhew conjured up a menacing vision of Whitechapel as ‘a suspicious, unhealthy locality’ He thought its inhabitants a ‘strange amalgamation of Jews, French, Germans...

The History of Council Housing


After setting out the background, he moves briskly through a chronology of council estates The Old Oak Estate in East Acton (started 1911), by contrast, used an Arts and Crafts style combined with informal planning Boughton confronts the twin forces of politics and money: ‘Labour retained its belief that council housing should serve general needs Park Hill in Sheffield attempted to replicate...

Lest We Forget


The British public are obsessed with the First World War, but know little about how it was brought to an end Countless words have been devoted to the origins of the First World War, while the churning battles of the Somme, in 1916, and Passchendaele the following year, haunt Britain’s collective memory They continue to do so, even though the last men to have experienced the realities of the...

We All Scream for Ice Cream


Often built underground and generally insulated with straw, these stone chambers were sufficiently cold to preserve ice that had been cut from frozen lakes and rivers in the winter, or snow that had been brought down from the mountains In Magia naturalis (1558), for example, the Neapolitan polymath Giambattista della Porta described how ice laced with salt could be used to freeze wine – which...

The Anglo-Zanzibar War


The shortest war in history began (and ended) on 27 August 1896 Instead of demurely backing down, Khalid bin Barghash barricaded himself in the palace with around 2,800 defenders The British response was a typical piece of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ An ultimatum was sent to Khalid to resign, while three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines and sailors and 900 Zanzibari soldiers were mustered in the...

Feminist Energy vs Vehement Opposition


One hundred years after some women in Britain won the right to vote, we are once again experiencing an extraordinary moment of feminist energy and vehement opposition The most accessible of these histories is Jane Robinson’s hugely enjoyable Hearts and Minds Her focus is on the little-known Great Pilgrimage of 1913, when thousands of women marched across the country for up to six weeks before...

The Munich Crisis: Waiting for the End of the World


Its impact was deeply felt After the annexation of Austria in March 1938, Hitler set his sights on the Sudetenland This part of the newly formed Czechoslovakia had a majority German-speaking population Hitler’s territorial ambitions threatened to propel Europe into another world war Both the democracies and the dictatorships, as well as their respective populations, were materially and...

Salazar: Portugal’s Great Dictator


A contemporary of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini, Salazar is remembered by some of his compatriots as the greatest figure in the nation’s history Fifty years have elapsed since the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar left office Unlike most of the authoritarian rulers who rose to power during the interwar years, Salazar departed peacefully, laid low by a stroke During the last quarter...

How Venice Lost Its Art


The arrival of Napoleon’s troops in Venice in 1797 instigated one of the biggest plunders in the history of art Pietro Edwards, the Venetian Delegate for the Selection of Fine Art Objects for the Crown, wrote, on 8 April 1808, to the Napoleonic administration in Venice that he had finally completed his list of over 7,000 paintings Two years before, following the entry of Emperor Napoleon I’s...

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