Marcus Nevitt

The farming year in 18th-century Sussex

You may (or may not) already know this, but researching the long 18th century in 2023 is rarely a life-affirming, paradigm-shifting conversation over wine with Plato in the groves of academe. It is seldom, even, a couple of tins of warm lager on the train home after guesting on an episode of Start the Week.

Rocked by rebellion: the short, unhappy reign of Edward VI

As Tory writers reflected on the safe passage of the Stuart dynasty through the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81, an anonymous author urged contemporaries to learn the lessons of English history. The Rebels Doom (1684) offered some thumbnail sketches of various unsuccessful rebellions and attempted revolutions that had threatened the monarchy since the reign of Edward

A botched coup: the desperate Cato Street conspiracy

Almost half of the terrorists hadn’t even turned up. Still, on the night of 23 February 1820, 25 men, including a butcher, several shoemakers and a cabinet maker, met in a hayloft on Cato Street, just off the Edgware Road in central London. Led by the semi-respectable son of a tenant farmer, Arthur Thistlewood, their

Oliver Cromwell: ruthless in battle – but nice to his men

One of the first retrospective accounts of Oliver Cromwell’s early career, Andrew Marvell’s ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ (1650), maintained that its subject was difficult to capture. Perhaps the finest political poem in the English language, it was written shortly after Cromwell’s return from a brutally successful military campaign overseas, which witnessed

When sedition was rife in 18th-century London

Researching the seditious literature of earlier periods is seldom suspenseful, pulse-quickening work. For every thrill of archival discovery, there are countless hours of slow, methodical, sometimes crushingly unproductive labour aimed at uncovering the individuals and agencies behind books that, as clandestine productions, were primarily designed not to surrender such secrets. The underground networks behind dissident

The man who invented modernity Marcus Nevitt

The final moments of Hilary Mantel’s magnificent Wolf Hall see its central protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, trying to banish ghosts. Assailed by memories of his orchestration of the execution of his rival Thomas More, the sight of his head on a block, the ‘sickening sound of the axe on flesh’, Cromwell turns to two sources of

Another Eden

In December 1996 Martin Amis told listeners of the BBC’s Desert Island Discs what would relieve his solitude were he to end up cast away in paradise with one piece of music, a luxury and a book for company. He chose Coleman Hawkins’s version of the jazz standard ‘Yesterdays’ as his only record — seduction

Restoration man

Given that he wrote and published some of the most stunningly handsome books of the 17th century, John Ogilby has not been served well by literary history. The Fables of Aesop (1651), the first complete English translation of Virgil (1654), a two-volume edition of the Authorised Version of the Bible (1660) plus vernacular versions of

One scorching summer long ago

It was the brightest of futures; it was the End of Days. Three hundred and fifty years before Brexit, England experienced a series of epochal events which forced subjects to rethink their relationships with each other, their political leaders and their European neighbours. In the space of a tumultuous 12 months England endured the devastation

Courting Sultana Isabel

The idea for a mechanical cock was never going to work. In 1595 the English ambassador to Constantinople, Edward Barton, advised Queen Elizabeth I that the surest way for her to impress Sultan Mehmed III, the new leader of the formidable Ottoman empire, was to send him a ‘clock in the form of a cock’.

O this white powder!

Beware hedonists bearing white powder. This, in part, was the message pressed in a short book about the excesses of the Jacobean court written by a Scottish Catholic physician and occasional counterfeiter, George Eglisham. The Forerunner of Revenge, published in Antwerp in 1626 in English and Latin, quickly gained notoriety across Europe for its particular