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On 15 October 1838, the body of a thirty-six-year-old woman was found in Cape Coast Castle, West Africa, a bottle of Prussic acid in her hand. She was one of the most famous English poets of her day: Letitia Elizabeth Landon, known by her initials ‘L.E.L.’
What was she doing in Africa? Was her death an accident, as the inquest claimed? Or had she committed suicide, or even been murdered?
To her contemporaries, she was an icon, hailed as the ‘female Byron’, admired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Heinrich Heine, the young Brontë sisters and Edgar Allan Poe. However, she was also a woman with secrets, the mother of three illegitimate children whose existence was subsequently wiped from the record. After her death, she became the subject of a cover-up which is only now unravelling.
Too scandalous for her reputation to survive, Letitia Landon was a brilliant woman who made a Faustian pact in a ruthless world. She embodied the post-Byronic era, the ‘strange pause’ between the Romantics and the Victorians. This new investigation into the mystery of her life, work and death excavates a whole lost literary culture, in which the legacy of Keats and Shelley turned toxic.
Published: 1 Jan 2098
The British Isles, this archipelago of islands off the north-west coast of Europe is, to Neil Oliver, the best place in the world. From north to south, east to west it cradles astonishing beauty. The human story here is a million years old, and counting. The tolerant, easy-going peace we enjoy here has been hard won. We have made and known the best and worst of times. We have been hero and villain and all else in between, and we have learned some lessons. Warts and all, the British Isles is the finest, clearest expression of civilisation the world has seen so far, and almost everyone knows it.
Neil Oliver here tells many stories of Britain. Romans and Druids, Boudicca in the south and Calgacus in the north, the last of the free; The Venerable Bede and his Anglo Saxons; Lindisfarne and the Vikings; 1066 and the Norman Conquest; Tudors and Reformation; Civil War and the killing of the king, the Restoration; Enlightenment; World Wars, broken-hearted with loss after the first, Dulce Et Decorum Est; Spitfires, the Blitz, Churchill and the Dunkirk Spirit, 'We’ll Meet Again', white cliffs and bluebirds after the second.
This is Neil Oliver's very personal guided tour of the British and Irish historical sites behind these stories, and which make these isles so very special.
In early 1461, a seventeen-year-old boy won a battle on a freezing morning in the Welsh marches, and claimed the crown of England as Edward IV, first king of the usurping house of York. It was a time when old certainties had been shredded: by popular insurgency, economic crisis, feuding and a corrupt, bankrupt government presided over by the imbecilic, Lancastrian King Henry VI. The country was in need of a new hero. Magnetic, narcissistic, Edward found himself on the throne, and alongside him his two younger brothers: the unstable, petulant George, Duke of Clarence, and the boy who would emerge from his shadow, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Charismatic, able and ambitious, the brothers would become the figureheads of a spectacular ruling dynasty, one that laid the foundations for a renewal of English royal power. Yet a web of grudges and resentments grew between them, generating a destructive sequence of conspiracy, rebellion, deposition, fratricide, usurpation and regicide. The house of York's brutal end came on 22August 1485 at Bosworth Field, with the death of the youngest brother, now Richard III, at the hands of a new usurper, Henry Tudor.
Brothers York is the story of three remarkable brothers, two of whom were crowned kings of England and the other an heir presumptive, whose antagonism was fuelled by the mistrust and vendettas of the age that brought their family to power. The house of York should have been the dynasty that the Tudors became. Its tragedy was that it devoured itself.
Published: 27 Sep 2018
From the acclaimed author of Britain's War Machine and The Shock of the Old, a bold reassessment of Britain's twentieth century.
It is usual to see the United Kingdom as an island of continuity in an otherwise convulsed and unstable Europe; its political history a smooth sequence of administrations, from building a welfare state to coping with decline. Nobody would dream of writing the history of Germany, say, or the Soviet Union in this way.
David Edgerton's major new history breaks out of the confines of traditional British national history to redefine what it was to British, and to reveal an unfamiliar place, subject to huge disruptions. This was not simply because of the world wars and global economic transformations, but in its very nature. Until the 1940s the United Kingdom was, Edgerton argues, an exceptional place: liberal, capitalist and anti-nationalist, at the heart of a European and global web of trade and influence. Then, as its global position collapsed, it became, for the first time and only briefly, a real, successful nation, with shared goals, horizons and industry, before reinventing itself again in the 1970s as part of the European Union and as the host for international capital, no longer capable of being a nation.
Packed with surprising examples and arguments, The Rise and Fall of the British Nation gives us a grown-up, unsentimental history which takes business and warfare seriously, and which is crucial at a moment of serious reconsideration for the country and its future.
The great airborne battle for the bridges in 1944 by Britain's Number One bestselling historian
On 17 September 1944, General Kurt Student, the founder of Nazi Germany's parachute forces, heard the growing roar of aeroplane engines. He went out on to his balcony above the flat landscape of southern Holland to watch the air armada of Dakotas and gliders carrying the British 1st Airborne and the American 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions. He gazed up in envy at this massive demonstration of paratroop power.
Operation Market Garden, the plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond, was a bold concept: the Americans thought it unusually bold for Field Marshal Montgomery. But could it ever have worked? The cost of failure was horrendous, above all for the Dutch, who risked everything to help. German reprisals were pitiless and cruel, and lasted until the end of the war.
The British fascination with heroic failure has clouded the story of Arnhem in myths. Antony Beevor, using often overlooked sources from Dutch, British, American, Polish and German archives, has reconstructed the terrible reality of the fighting, which General Student himself called 'The Last German Victory'. Yet this book, written in Beevor's inimitable and gripping narrative style, is about much more than a single, dramatic battle.
It looks into the very heart of war.
A concise, sharp-witted and illuminating account of the lives of Britain’s prime ministers from Walpole to May, illustrated by Martin Rowson.
For the reader who has heard of such giants as Gladstone and Disraeli, and has drunk in a pub called the Palmerston, but has only the haziest idea of who these people were, Gimson’s Prime Ministers offers a short account of them all which can be read for pleasure, and not just for edification. With Gimson’s wonderful prose once again complemented by Martin Rowson’s inimitable illustrations, this lively and entertaining aide-memoire and work of satirical genius brings our parliamentary history to life as never before.
Discover the hidden corners and forgotten crevices of Britain's landscapes, from lost rural treasures to unseen urban gems.
Landscapes reflect and shape our behaviour. They make us who we are and bear witness to the shifting patterns of human life over the generations.
Bringing to bear a lifetime's digging, archaeologist Francis Pryor delves into Britain's hidden urban and rural landscapes, from Whitby Abbey to the navvy camp at Risehill in Cumbria, from Tintagel to Tottenham's Broadwater Farm. Through fields, woods, moors, roads, tracks and towns, he reveals the stories of our physical surroundings and what they meant to the people who formed them, used them and lived in them. These landscapes, he stresses, are our common physical inheritance. If we can understand how to make them yield up their secrets, it will help us, their guardians, to maintain and shape them for future generations.
Part of the Penguin Monarchs series: short, fresh, expert accounts of England's rulers in a collectible format
Henry VII was one of England's unlikeliest monarchs. An exile and outsider with barely a claim to the throne, his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field seemed to many in 1485 like only the latest in the sequence of violent convulsions among England's nobility that would come to be known as the wars of the roses - with little to suggest that the obscure Henry would last any longer than his predecessor. To break that cycle of division, usurpation, deposition and murder, he had both to maintain a grip on power and to convince England that his rule was both rightful and effective. Here, Sean Cunningham explores how, in his ruthless, controlling and personal kingship, Henry VII did so; in the process founding the Tudor dynasty and, arguably, helping to lay the foundations for modern government.
Sean Cunningham is a Principal Records Specialist at The National Archives. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he has published widely on late medieval and early Tudor England. His books include, most recently, a historical biography of Henry VII.
Part of the Penguin Monarchs series: short, fresh, expert accounts of England's rulers in a collectible format
In the popular imagination, as in her portraits, Elizabeth I is the image of monarchical power. The Virgin Queen ruled over a Golden Age: the Spanish Armada was defeated; English explorers reached the ends of the earth; a new Church of England rose from the ashes of past conflict; the English Renaissance bloomed in the genius of Shakespeare, Spenser and Sidney. But the image is also armour.
In this illuminating new account of Elizabeth's reign, Helen Castor shows how England's iconic queen was shaped by profound and enduring insecurity-an insecurity which was both a matter of practical political reality and personal psychology. From her precarious upbringing at the whim of a brutal, capricious father and her perilous accession after his death, to the religious division that marred her state and the failure to marry that threatened her line, Elizabeth lived under constant threat. But, facing down her enemies with a compellingly inscrutable public persona, the last and greatest of the Tudor monarchs would become a timeless, fearless queen.
A short, brilliant account of the birth of the RAF for the centenary of its founding
The dizzying pace of technological change in the early 20th century meant that it took only a little over ten years from the first flight by the Wright Brothers to the clash of fighter planes in the Great War. A period of terrible, rapid experiment followed to gain a brief technological edge. By the end of the war the British had lost an extraordinary 36,000 aircraft and 16,600 airmen.
The RAF was created in 1918 as a revolutionary response to this new form of warfare - a highly contentious decision (resisted fiercely by both the army and navy, who had until then controlled all aircraft) but one which had the most profound impact, for good and ill, on the future of warfare.
Richard Overy's superb new book shows how this happened, against the backdrop of the first bombing raids against London and the constant emergency of the Western Front. The RAF's origins were as much political as military and throughout the 1920s still provoked bitter criticism.
Published to mark the centenary of its founding this is an invaluable book, filled with new and surprising material on this unique organization.
Richard I's reign is both controversial and seemingly contradictory. One of England's most famous medieval monarchs and a potent symbol of national identity, he barely spent six months on English soil during a ten-year reign and spoke French as his first language. Contemporaries dubbed him the 'Lionheart', reflecting a carefully cultivated reputation for bravery, prowess and knightly virtue, but this supposed paragon of chivalry butchered close to 3,000 prisoners in cold blood on a single day. And, though revered as Christian Europe's greatest crusader, his grand campaign to the Holy Land failed to recover the city of Jerusalem from Islam.
Seeking to reconcile this conflicting evidence, Thomas Asbridge's incisive reappraisal of Richard I's career questions whether the Lionheart really did neglect his kingdom, considers why he devoted himself to the cause of holy war and asks how the memory of his life came to be interwoven with myth. Richard emerges as a formidable warrior-king, possessed of martial genius and a cultured intellect, yet burdened by the legacy of his dysfunctional dynasty and obsessed with the pursuit of honour and renown.
Deep in a wood in the Marches of Wales, in an ancient school bus there lives an old man called Bob Rowberry.
A Hero for High Times is the story of how he ended up in this broken-down bus. It's also the story of his times, and the ideas that shaped him. It's a story of why you know your birth sign, why you have friends called Willow, why sex and drugs and rock’n’roll once mattered more than money, why dance music stopped the New-Age Travellers from travelling, and why you need to think twice before taking the brown acid.
It's the story of the hippies for those who weren't there – for Younger Readers who've never heard of the Aldermaston marches, Oz, the Angry Brigade, the Divine Light Mission, Sniffin' Glue, Operation Julie, John Seymour, John Michell, Greenham Common, the Battle of the Beanfield, but who want to understand their grandparents’ stories of turning on, tuning in and not quite dropping out before they are gone for ever. It's for Younger Readers who want to know how to build a bender, make poppy tea, and throw the I-Ching.
And it's a story of friendship between two men, one who did things, and one who thought about things, between theory and practice, between a hippie and a punk, between two gentlemen, no longer in the first flush of youth, who still believe in love.
Published: 15 Feb 2018
The Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller on India's experience of British colonialism, by the internationally-acclaimed author and diplomat Shashi Tharoor
'Tharoor's impassioned polemic slices straight to the heart of the darkness that drives all empires ... laying bare the grim, and high, cost of the British Empire for its former subjects. An essential read' Financial Times
In the eighteenth century, India's share of the world economy was as large as Europe's. By 1947, after two centuries of British rule, it had decreased six-fold. The Empire blew rebels from cannon, massacred unarmed protesters, entrenched institutionalised racism, and caused millions to die from starvation.
British imperialism justified itself as enlightened despotism for the benefit of the governed, but Shashi Tharoor takes demolishes this position, demonstrating how every supposed imperial 'gift' - from the railways to the rule of law - was designed in Britain's interests alone. He goes on to show how Britain's Industrial Revolution was founded on India's deindustrialisation, and the destruction of its textile industry.
In this bold and incisive reassessment of colonialism, Tharoor exposes to devastating effect the inglorious reality of Britain's stained Indian legacy.
Where are you really from?
You’re British. Your parents are British. You were raised in Britain. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British.
So why do people keep asking you where you are from?
Brit(ish) is about a search for identity. It is about the everyday racism that plagues British society. It is about our awkward, troubled relationship with our history. It is about why liberal attempts to be ‘colour-blind’ have caused more problems than they have solved. It is about why we continue to avoid talking about race.
In this personal and provocative investigation, Afua Hirsch explores a very British crisis of identity. We are a nation in denial about our past and our present. We believe we are the nation of abolition, but forget we are the nation of slavery. We are convinced that fairness is one of our values, but that immigration is one of our problems. Brit(ish) is the story of how and why this came to be, and an urgent call for change.
Less than forty years after the golden age of Elizabeth I, England was at war with itself. The bloody, devastating civil wars set family against family, friend against friend. At the head of this disintegrating kingdom was Charles I. His rule would change the face of the monarchy for ever.
Charles I’s reign is one of the most dramatic in history, yet Charles the man remains elusive. Too often he is recalled as weak and stupid, his wife, Henrietta Maria, as spoilt and silly: the cause of his ruin. In this portrait -- informed by newly disclosed manuscripts, including letters between the king and his queen -- Leanda de Lisle uncovers a Charles I who was principled and brave, but also fatally blinkered. He is revealed as a complex man who pays the price for bringing radical change; Henrietta Maria as a warrior queen and political player as impressive as any Tudor. Here too are the cousins who befriended and betrayed them: the peacocking Henry Holland, whose brother engineered the king’s fall; and the magnetic ‘last Boleyn girl’, Lucy Carlisle.
This is a tragic story for our times, of populist politicians and religious war, of a new media and the reshaping of nations, in which women vied with men for power. For Charles it ended on the scaffold. Condemned as a traitor and murderer, he was also heralded as a martyr: his reign destined to sow the seeds of democracy across Britain and the New World.
James's reign marked one of the rare breaks in England's monarchy. Already James VI of Scotland, he rode south on Elizabeth I's death to become James I of England and Ireland, uniting the British Isles for the first time and founding the Stuart dynasty which would, with several lurches, reign for over a century. His descendant still occupies the throne.
Thomas Cogswell's dramatic new biography brings James to life as a complex, learned, curious man and great survivor, one who drastically changed court life in London and presided over the Authorized Version of the Bible and the establishment of English settlements across the globe. Although he failed to unite England and Scotland, he insisted that ambassadors acknowledge him as King of Great Britain, and that vessels from both countries display a version of the current Union Flag.
Cogswell tells the story of James's personal life and private passions as much as his public achievements. James was often accused of being too informal and insufficiently regal - but when his son, Charles I, decided to redress these criticisms in his own reign he was destroyed. This is a vivid portrait of an often underappreciated monarch.
Cnut, or Canute, is one of the great 'what ifs' of English history. The Dane who became King of England after a long period of Viking attacks and settlement, his reign could have permanently shifted eleventh-century England's rule to Scandinavia. Stretching his authority across the North Sea to become king of Denmark and Norway, and with close links to Ireland and an overlordship of Scotland, this formidable figure created a Viking Empire at least as plausible as the Anglo-Norman Empire that would emerge in 1066.
Ryan Lavelle's illuminating book cuts through myths and misconceptions to explore this fascinating and powerful man in detail. Cnut is most popularly known now for the story of the king who tried to command the waves, relegated to a bit part in the medieval story, but as this biography shows, he was a conqueror, political player, law maker and empire builder on the grandest scale, one whose reign tells us much about the contingent nature of history.
George I was not the most charismatic of the Hanoverian monarchs to have reigned in England but he was probably the most important. He was certainly the luckiest.
Born the youngest son of a landless German duke, he was taken by repeated strokes of good fortune to become, first the ruler of a major state in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and then the sovereign of three kingdoms (England, Ireland and Scotland).
Tim Blanning's incisive short biography examines George's life and career as a German prince, and as King. Fifty-four years old when he arrived in London in 1714, he was a battle-hardened veteran, who put his long experience and deep knowledge of international affairs to good use in promoting the interests of both Hanover and Great Britain. When he died, his legacy was order and prosperity at home and power and prestige abroad. Disagreeable he may have been to many, but he was also tough, determined and effective, at a time when other European thrones had started to crumble.
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
As former Prime Minister and our longest-serving Chancellor, Gordon Brown has been a guiding force for Britain and the world over three decades. This is his candid, poignant and deeply relevant story.
In describing his upbringing in Scotland as the son of a minister, the near loss of his eyesight as a student and the death of his daughter within days of her birth, he shares the passionately held principles that have shaped and driven him, reminding us that politics can and should be a calling to serve. Reflecting on the personal and ideological tensions within Labour and its achievements – the minimum wage, tax credits, Bank of England independence and the refinancing of the National Health Service – he describes how to meet the challenge of pursuing a radical agenda within a credible party of government.
He explains how as Chancellor he equipped Britain for a globalised economy while swimming against the neoliberal tide and shows what more must be done to halt rising inequality. In his behind-the-scenes account of the financial crisis and his leading role in saving the world economy from collapse, he addresses the question of who was to blame for the crash and why its causes and consequences still beset us.
From the invasion of Iraq to the tragedy of Afghanistan, from the coalition negotiations of 2010 to the referendums on Scottish independence and Europe, Gordon Brown draws on his unique experiences to explain Britain’s current fractured condition. And by showing us what progressive politics has achieved in recent decades, he inspires us with a vision of what it might yet achieve today.
Riveting, expert and highly personal, this historic memoir is an invaluable insight into our times.
BBC RADIO 4 'BOOK OF THE WEEK'
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British institution unlike any other, and its story during the Second World War is also our story. This was Britain’s first total war, engaging the whole nation, and the wireless played a crucial role in it. For the first time, news of the conflict reached every living room – sometimes almost as it happened; and at key moments – Chamberlain’s announcement of war, the Blitz, the D-Day landings – the BBC was there, defining how these events would pass into our collective memory.
Auntie’s War is a love letter to radio. While these were the years when 'Auntie' – the BBC's enduring nickname - earnt her reputation for bossiness, they were also a period of truly remarkable voices: Churchill’s fighting speeches, de Gaulle’s broadcasts from exile, J. B. Priestley, Ed Murrow, George Orwell, Richard Dimbleby and Vera Lynn. Radio offered an incomparable tool for propaganda; it was how coded messages, both political and personal, were sent across Europe, and it was a means of sending less than truthful information to the enemy. At the same time, eyewitness testimonies gave a voice to everyone, securing the BBC’s reputation as reliable purveyor of the truth.
Edward Stourton is a sharp-eyed, wry and affectionate companion on the BBC’s wartime journey, investigating archives, diaries, letters and memoirs to examine what the BBC was and what it stood for. Full of astonishing, little-known incidents, battles with Whitehall warriors and Churchill himself, and with a cast of brilliant characters, Auntie’s War is much more than a portrait of a beloved institution at a critical time. It is also a unique portrayal of the British in wartime and an incomparable insight into why we have the broadcast culture we do today.