Sean Mcglynn

Singeing the King of Spain’s beard was one provocation too many

In the 1964 Hammer film The Devil-Ship Pirates, a privateer of the defeated Spanish Armada escapes the English fleet and puts in for repairs at an isolated coastal village whose inhabitants have not received news of the battle’s outcome. There the Spanish convince the villagers that Spain was victorious, and so impose submission on them.

Henry VIII’s windfall from the monasteries was shockingly short-term

In 1536 there were 850 monastic houses in England and Wales; just four years later they were all gone. The romantic remains of many of them still grace our landscape, Shakespeare’s ‘bare ruin’d choirs’ receiving more visitors today than the living communities did half a millennium ago. Now these visitors are primarily tourists and heritage

Not such a hero: the tarnished legend of Robin Hood

Britain’s two most famous legendary figures, King Arthur and Robin Hood, remain enduringly and endearingly elusive, and thus ever-fascinating: Arthur slumbering in the mists of nebulous Avalon, Robin as a hardy perennial somewhere deep in Sherwood Forest. Historians, folklorists, Eng Lit academics and cranks — the list is not mutually exclusive — enter these realms

MPs have reneged on Brexit, so what’s the point of voting?

Katy Balls asks ‘Will there be an election?’ (16 March). That prompts the question: ‘To what purpose?’ Jeremy Corbyn may be ‘keen for an early election to break the deadlock’, but as the EU has repeatedly emphasised that its withdrawal deal is the only one on the table, how would Labour win a substantively better

Why are people venerating Richard III? He was a murderous tyrant

Imagine if the body of a notorious child killer was exhumed and that, during the week of its reinterment, 35,000 people thronged the streets of a major UK city to respectfully watch the passing of the specially designed coffin and, with hopeful hurls, bedeck that coffin with white roses. The funeral procession itself is led

Lady of the English

The Empress Matilda, mother of the Plantagenet dynasty, is the earliest queen of England who never was; by rights she should have been England’s first ruling queen four centuries before Mary. But she never sat on the throne. In this authoritative but accessible biography, Catherine Hanley emphasises the fortitude and steel of a woman who,

A family at war | 20 September 2018

Poor old Henry II: once fêted as one of England’s greatest kings, he has long been neglected. Accessible books on Henry were few and far between until, like the proverbial buses, three came along in fairly rapid succession. Richard Barber’s 2015 contribution to Penguin’s Monarchs series offers a concise and excellent summary of Henry’s reign;

Great balls of fire

Lionheart! Saladin! Massacre! There is no shortage of larger-than-life characters and drama in the epic, two-year siege of Acre, the great set-piece of the Third Crusade. But, as John Hosler relates in this accomplished study, there was so much more besides. Acre proved the strategic point for armies from across Europe, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and

Black prince or white knight?

We cannot know for sure how Edward the Black Prince earned his sobriquet. For some it was the volatile mixture of his aggressive temperament and brutal conduct in war; for others it derives from his armour, as displayed on his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. The cover of Michael Jones’s splendid new biography of this compelling

The Teutonic King Arthur

Hitler, ever seeking to emulate strong German hero types (especially if their Christian name was Frederick), unsurprisingly named his great invasion of Russia ‘Operation Barbarossa’. It is in this context that the name — meaning ‘Redbeard’ — is best known today. Apart from that, a rather clunky eponymous Italian film from 2011 and a presence

Pox-ridden and power-crazed

Poor old Henry IV: labelled (probably unfairly) as a leper, but accurately as a usurper, he has been one of England’s most neglected monarchs. He is best known through his Shakespearean starring roles — which little resembled the real man, according to Chris Given-Wilson — and as the father of the ultimate warrior-king, Henry V,

The hardest man of all

From the unpromising and desperately unforgiving background that forged his iron will and boundless ambition, Temujin (as Genghis Khan was named at birth) rose to build an empire that was to range from Korea and China, through Afghanistan, Persia and Iraq and eventually to Hungary and Russia, constituting the largest contiguous land imperium in history.

The forgotten flowering of the medieval mind

For those who imagine the medieval period along the lines of Monty Python and the Holy Grail — knights, castles, fair maidens, filthy peasants and buckets of blood and gore (you know, all the fun stuff) — Johannes Fried’s version may come as something of an aesthetic shock. His interests lie in the more rarefied

Britain’s own game of thrones

Thank goodness for Game of Thrones. I think. Apparently it is inspired by the Wars of the Roses, drawing inspiration from the bloody, ruthless machinations of England’s power-brokers at the waning of the Middle Ages. Anyway, plenty of readers and watchers of George R.R. Martin’s work think that it is; what with that and BBC

Revolutionary in spirit

A few years ago, a French reader congratulated me on my marvellous biography of Napoleon. Yes, I agreed, it’s a terrific read — an absolute blinder. But I had to be frank and reveal that, alas, I wasn’t Frank. I confess to being a little envious of my approximate namesake, Frank McLynn. A hugely successful

Forever waging wars

Death by buggery. Death by castration. Even death by being scared to death. Or so we are led to believe for the Plantagenets’ world. They had a lighter side, too: Henry II employed a professional flatulist with the trade-name of Roland the Farter. The longest reigning royal dynasty in English history (1154-1399), the Plantagenets offer