Alex Burghart

What the Anglo-Saxons made of 1066 and all that followed

By any yardstick, the Norman Conquest was a ghastly business. Within two decades, the English aristocracy had been more than decimated, all of England’s cathedrals were being levelled and rebuilt, the north had been harried and the language of government changed. What made it worse was that it was utterly unnecessary. In 1066, Edward the

The making of a monstrous metropolis

When Bishop Guy of Amiens looked across the Channel in the 11th century he saw ‘teeming London [which] shines bright. A most spacious city, full of evil inhabitants, and richer than anywhere else in the kingdom’. Well, plus c’est la même chose. Even then those Mammonic associations were already old. Over 300 years earlier the

A heavy cross to bear

‘The Victoria Cross,’ gushed a mid-19th-century contributor to the Art Journal, ‘is thoroughly English in every particular. Given alike to the highest and the lowest in rank, but given always with a cautious and discriminating hand… the Victoria Cross is an epic poem’. Like all epic poems, the VC has its tragedies. For some that

Perfect, gentle Knight

I once asked Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, what she did to relax. Nailing me to the wall with her no-nonsense look, she said: ‘I keep sheep.’ A similar association with the animal kingdom resounds through Henry Hemming’s excellent new life of Maxwell Knight, the famous spymaster and possible archetype for Ian Fleming’s

Atlas shrugs

In his Forward Prize-winning collection of 2014, A Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, Kei Miller’s hero describes his craft thus: ‘My job is to imagine the widening/ of the unfamiliar and also/ the widening ache of it;/ to anticipate the ironic/ question: how did we find/ ourselves here.’ This bringing of the

An Oxford treasure trove

‘What distinguishes Cambridge from Oxford,’ wrote A.A. Milne in 1939, is that nobody who has been to Cambridge feels impelled to write about it… [whereas] every Oxonian has at least one book about Oxford inside him… Oxford men will say that this shows what a much more inspiring place Oxford is, and Cambridge men will

The inglorious Twelfth

Most people know more about the 12th century than they think they do. This is, as Richard Huscroft reminds us in his lively new history, because it is a story often told. Stephen and Matilda. Thomas Becket’s murder. Richard the Lionheart. Bad King John and Magna Carta. These are the familiar friends of Sellar and