Robert Stewart rss

Emma Hamilton, who had become very fat, is caricatured by George Cruickshank as ‘Dido in Despair’ (1801): Ah where and ah where is my gallant sailor gone? He’s gone to fight the Frenchman, for George upon the throne. He’s gone to fight the Frenchman, to lose t’other arm and eye, And left me with the old Antique to lay me down and cry’

Eager for the fight

20 October 2012
Nelson: The Sword of Albion John Sugden

Bodley Head, pp.1020, £30, ISBN: 9780224060981

Horatio Nelson is England’s most loved military hero. Marlborough is remote from our view, and the aristocratic Wellington was perhaps too stiff and unbending a Tory for popular taste. Nelson,… Read more


Patriot or traitor?

10 March 2012
Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life Peter McPhee

Yale, pp.299, 25

The mighty convulsion that was the French Revolution has stirred the blood of historians from Thomas Carlyle to Simon Schama and consideration of it still inflames opinions. At its centre… Read more

Poetic licentiousness

19 February 2011
Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War John Stubbs

Viking, pp.549, 25

Reprobates were, in the Calvinist lexicon, those unfortunates not included among God’s elect and therefore sentenced to eternal damnation. Reprobates were, in the Calvinist lexicon, those unfortunates not included among… Read more


Ride on in majesty

2 October 2010
Image Wars Kevin Sharpe

Yale, pp.665, 35

Governments in early modern England, having no standing army nor a civil service to speak of, required the consent of the governed. Authority had to be ‘culturally constructed’. That is… Read more


What’s in a date?

3 March 2010
1492: The Year Our World Began Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Bloomsbury, pp.346, 20

Felipe Fernández-Armesto has a grand idea. Felipe Fernández-Armesto has a grand idea. After the formation of separate continents about 150 million years ago, the world’s ‘cultures’ became progressively more ‘sundered’… Read more

Karl Marx got it right

14 October 2009
The American Civil War John Keegan

Hutchinson, pp.394, 25

Whether the refusal to allow the Confederate states the right to self-determination, flying as it did in the face of the Declaration of Independence, was the first overt act of… Read more

Rebels with a cause

10 June 2009
Summer of Blood Dan Jones

HarperCollins, pp.238, 20

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was a singular event in English history, not merely a food riot, but an organised outbreak of pure class warfare which, leaving aside John Ball’s… Read more

A country of ruins

30 July 2008
Children of the Revolution: The French, 1799-1914 Robert Gildea

Allen Lane, pp.540, 30

Contributers to multi-volume national histories are usually straitjacketed, expected to keep to well-trodden paths. But Robert Gildea’s subtitle is ‘the French’, not France, and in the third volume of the… Read more

Might is always right

28 May 2008
A History of Political Trials from Charles I to Saddam Hussein John Laughland

Peter Lang, pp.315, 12.99

Since the first political trial in modern history — that of Charles I in 1649 — not a single one has ended in the aquittal of the accused. That tells… Read more

Last but not least

30 April 2008
Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love Susan James

Tempus, pp.348, 20

‘Love is but a frailty of the mind when ’tis not to ambition joined.’ So Thomas Seymour, destined to be Catherine Parr’s fourth and last husband, expressed a notion taken… Read more

Power to the people

27 February 2008
God’s Fury, England’s Fire Michael Braddick

Allen Lane, pp.758, 30

In July, 1642, as the English House of Commons debated whether to raise an army against the king, a dismayed MP, Bulstrode Whitelocke, wondered how parliament had ‘insensibly slipped into… Read more


Peanuts and popcorn and crackerjack

15 August 2007
Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About The Game edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura

W.W. Norton, pp.pp. 214, £11.99

Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About The Game edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura Every American schoolboy and schoolgirl knows the mock epic, ‘Casey at… Read more

Shakespeare got it wrong

18 July 2007
The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made King Ian Mortimer

Cape, pp.pp. 478, £18.99

The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made Kingby Ian Mortimer Henry IV, in Ian Mortimer’s graceless (and sense-defying) words, is ‘the least biograph-ied English king to have… Read more

The unkindest cut

2 May 2007
Panama Fever: The Battle to Build the Canal Matthew Parker

Hutchinson, pp.444, 20

From the day in 1513 that Balboa stared at the Pacific from a peak in Darien men dreamed of cutting a path from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the… Read more

When tobacco worked wonders

15 February 2007
Savage Kingdom Benjamin Woolley

Harper Press, pp.467, 25

The British empire in North America was not founded in a fit of absence of mind, though it might be said, in its beginnings at least, to have represented the… Read more

All too minor to matter

18 January 2007
Edward VI: The Lost King of England Chris Skidmore

Weidenfeld, pp.346, 20

Monarchy, monarchy, monarchy. Are we so addicted to it that we want to read the life of a boy who came to the throne at the age of nine and… Read more

Heads that wore the crown

6 December 2006
Monarchy: From the Middle Ages to Modernity David Starkey

HarperCollins, pp.319, 20

David Starkey’s latest book has a Gibbonesque moment. Charles I was undone by ‘his unbending adherence to principle’; ‘in contrast the only rigid thing about Charles II was his male… Read more

A shortage of wine and olives

26 October 2006
The Middle Sea John Julius Norwich

Chatto, pp.667, 25

War and religion are the enduring themes of history and they, or at least war and the Church (for theology gets short shrift), are the chief matters in John Julius… Read more

The minimum of turbulence

19 July 2006
The Last Revolution: 1688 and the Creation of the Modern World by Patrick Dillon

Jonathan Cape, pp.450, 20

Glorious, bloodless, last, perhaps all of those things, but the revolution of 1688 was hardly a revolution at all. It was the neat solution to a succession crisis: how to… Read more

Elusive brothers in arms

12 November 2005
The Man in the Iron Mask Roger Macdonald

Constable, pp.348, 17.99

The Four Musketeers Kari Maund and Phil Nanson

Tempus, pp.223, 17.99

History and fiction have their differences. The most obvious and the most important is that scrupulous historians hesitate to say anything for which they cannot provide some form of documentary… Read more

The painful, birth of the nation-state

15 October 2005
Earthly Powers Michael Burleigh

HarperCollins, pp.530, 25

‘Happiness is a new idea in Europe,’ the austere, implacable revolutionary Louis de Saint-Just wrote in 1791, as events in France were moving swiftly towards the establishment of a republic… Read more

Pinning down the king

24 September 2005
The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man who sent Charles I to the Scaffold Geoffrey Robertson

Chatto, pp.429, 20

While well-heeled, self-preserving lawyers of eminence and rank fled to London to avoid a perilous undertaking, John Cooke, a low-born Puritan of great courage, submitting himself to God’s purposes and… Read more

Protecting the infant republic

6 August 2005
The Terror: Civil War in the French Revolution David Andress

Little, Brown, pp.437, 20

Ever since Edmund Burke deserted the liberalism that had distinguished him as a champion of American independence and Irish home rule and threw up his hands in horror at events… Read more

Murder made easy

14 May 2005
The Awful End of William the Silent: The First Assassination of a Head of State with a Handgun Lisa Jardine

HarperCollins, pp.175, 12.99

What is one to make of this little book? There is much that is good in it, about new handguns, their use in crime and warfare and their role as… Read more

How much of a saint?

26 February 2005
Oskar Schindler David M. Crowe

Westview Press/ Perseus, pp.766, 19.99

Most biographies are written against a sketchy background of historical events drawn with just enough broad strokes of the brush to provide context for a life. Martin Crowe’s book, apart… Read more