The Reformation

All work and no play is dulling our senses

Free Time is an academic journey through two-and-half millennia of leisure options. The central question put by the historian Gary Cross, is: why do we not have more free time, and when we do, why do we waste it, like Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, on ‘fencing, dancing and bear-baiting’ or their modern equivalents? We start with ancient Greek philosophers, including Socrates and Aristotle, who reckoned that life was all about free time. We should work to fulfil our basic needs and then use our leisure for scholé (self-improvement): for culture and reflection. The vita contemplativa was superior to the vita activa (though Socrates was also fond of a

The firebrand preacher who put Martin Luther in the shade

‘Now tell us, you miserable wretched sack of maggots,’ wrote Thomas Müntzer, sounding like the love child of Owen Jones and Ian Paisley, ‘who made you into a prince over the people whom God redeemed with his own precious blood?’ The question Müntzer posed Count Albrecht of Mansfeld was, you’d think, rhetorical. Like his contemporary Martin Luther, if less unremittingly scatological, the radical millenarian preacher wielded a sharp pen. Don’t forget Ezekiel’s prophecy, he wrote to Count Albrecht’s brother Ernst: ‘God would command the birds of the air to feast on the flesh of the princes and command the unthinking beasts to lap up the blood of the bigwigs.’ Only

The truth one year, heresy the next: The Book of Days, by Francesca Kay, reviewed

Bad historical novelists assume that people always live at the spearhead of their age. Good ones, like Francesca Kay in her fourth book, know that even when the world spins ‘faster than a weathervane in a gale’, most hearts and minds will tarry in the past, behind events. The Book of Days unfolds in a village north of Oxford in 1546 and 1547, as the unnamed old king dies and the accession of his child heir brings another round of ‘newfanglery’ in faith. The ‘commotion time’ returns with all its frightening convulsions: now, ‘what was truth one year is heresy the next’. It would be tempting to treat this book

Ordinary women make just as thrilling history as great men

In 1348, the year the Black Death reached England and devastated the country, Matilda, the wife of Robert Comberworth, attacked someone called Magota and drew blood. She was fined 3d. Agnes, the wife of William Walker, attacked William de Pudsey and was fined four times the amount. Amica, an official watch-woman tasked with guarding a fruit crop, caught a certain Cecilia stealing. These women are among the many who star in Philippa Gregory’s latest book. Post-Conquest England is well-trodden ground, but Gregory’s history is not one of great men. It is of normal women – the women of legal battles, petitions, wills and letters. Her characters farm, pray, heal the