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Birds in a gilded cage

George III freely acknowledged he was in no hurry to see his daughters married: ‘I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation.’ As a consequence, three of them (Augusta, Sophia and Amelia) never married; the others did so late: Charlotte at 31, Mary at 40 and Elizabeth at

The pilgrims’ progress

A hundred million years ago, our ancestors were nocturnal mouse-like creatures, living in the shadows of the dinosaurs. Five hundred million years ago, our ancestors were fish, living near (or even in) the sea bottom. Two thousand million years ago, they were single-celled microbes, floating in the sea. Almost 4,000 million years ago, they were

Losing your heart — or your nose

If a car is travelling behind a tractor for five miles on a narrow road, and at last the tractor turns off down a side street, often you will see that car, from its driver’s pent-up frustration, suddenly shoot forward, trashing the speed limit. Something similar happened to writing about sex after the Lady Chatterley

It really was a knockout

On 25 June 2003, the day on which Alastair Campbell declar- ed all-out war against the BBC in his evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), the BBC’s Director-General, Greg Dyke, was engaged in country dancing in Surrey. He and other top BBC executives were attending one of their regular strategy conferences

The Admiral’s men

It is tempting to conclude that a subject is fished out when strange titles appear, presumably with the intention of suggesting something novel. This is Dot Wordsworth’s territory, but can there really be such a thing as ‘the biography of a battle’? Last year, Macmillan published David Cordingly’s excellent history of HMS Bellerophon — Billy

An ornamental period piece

By the Grand Canal takes place, not wholly unexpectedly, in the Venice of the immediately post-Great War era. To this idyllic if decaying refuge comes dapper Sir Hugh Thurne, a fortysomething career diplomat, bruised by the turmoil of the past four years (in particular the death of his fast friend Philip Mancroft) but keen to

Far beyond the call of duty

On the 150th anniversary of the first deed for which a Victoria Cross was awarded, this admirable book recounts some of the tales of those who have won it. The earliest, a young naval officer called Charles Lucas, ran forward instead of taking cover when a bomb landed, sizzling, on the deck of HMS Hecla