Blair Worden

What Englishmen learnt from Europe

The pattern of foreign travel by wealthy young Englishmen that became known as the Grand Tour began in the Renaissance and matured in the 17th century. In its origins it was a training for statesmanship. The state’s takeover of the church, which had done so much of the state’s official business, enlarged the employment opportunities

The Rainborowes, by Adrian Tinniswood – review

Adrian Tinniswood, so gifted and spirited a communicator of serious history to a wide readership, here brings a number of themes from his previous books together. The Verneys recounted the individual experiences of 17th-century members of a leading Buckinghamshire family. The Rainborowes, set in the same period, applies the same technique to a less substantial

A cavalier attitude to monarchy

Historians have long been more interested in the Roundheads than in the Cavaliers. It was the parliamentarians who achieved England’s revolution, or the nearest thing the country has come to one. It was they who overthrew the monarchy, the House of Lords and the bishops, they whose insistence on parliamentary rights, and whose attainment of

Death comes for the archbishop

Posterity has always embellished Thomas Becket. After his death in Canterbury Cathedral in December 1170 the Church idealised and canonised him; his tomb inspired miracles and became the most famous shrine in Christendom; the local monks grew rich and fat on the tourist trade that would attract Chaucer’s pilgrims. The 18th century invented Henry II’s

A place in the Pantheon?

Hugh Trevor-Roper might have been a great historian, taking his place in the Pantheon alongside the great historians of the past, from Xenophon to Macaulay. But the mark of a great historian is that he writes great books, on the subject that he has made his own. By this exacting standard [Trevor-Roper] failed. Adam Sisman’s

The devil and the deep sea

The sea, the sea. Land-lubbers who write or read England’s history omit it from its heart. At least, we have done so since the aeroplane and electric communications reduced the maritime components of warfare and wealth and travel. The popular imagination banishes piracy, Adrian Tinniswood’s subject, to romance and comic-strips. So we are startled by

Playing the opportunist

In historical writing the Restoration era has been the poor relation of the Puritan one before it. It is true that we all have graphic images, many of them supplied by Samuel Pepys, of the years from the return of the monarchy in 1660: of the rakish court and the mistresses of the merry monarch;

Where statesmen and authors met

Blair Worden reviews Ophelia Field’s latest book What a wonderful subject Ophelia Field has found, and how adroitly she has handled it. In the Kit-Cat Club, the coterie of Whig writers and politicians that began in the last years of the 17th century and lasted into George I’s reign, she finds both a mirror and a source

Winner by a nose

When, after his exertions on behalf of the love-struck Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie Wooster hears himself compared to Cyrano de Bergerac, his literary knowledge rises to the occasion: ‘the chap with the nose’. It was Edmund Rostand’s play of 1897 that brought Cyrano and his protuberance their modern fame. The 17th-century soldier and writer who gave

Too much in Arcadia

The century or so before the Civil War, the era of the Tudors and early Stuarts, did not think well of itself. Contemporaries lamented the decline of social responsibility in the nobility and gentry, the erosion of honour and virtue, the spread of enclosures, the parasitism and arrivisme of wealth, and the emptiness and falsity

Man with a mission | 14 July 2007

There has not been an abler or more decent prime minister than Sir Robert Peel, and peacetime has not produced a more courageous one. Perhaps none has assembled a more gifted ministry or commanded Cabinet more effectively. Before and during his premiership he made huge choices and implemented them with skill and resolve. Like Attlee

The end of merriment

‘Political correctness’, which divides and galls our society, is a modern manifestation of an old impulse which periodically demands, in the cause of social improvement, the curtailment of pleasure and the inhibition of language and thought. It happened with the rise of Puritanism midway through the reign of Elizabeth I, when stage-plays and popular enjoyments