Notes and Essays
This section of the website is for the on-line publication of various ideas, thoughts and comments. It does not include articles published in print unless they are freely available on the Internet. For printed publications, see Full Bibliography. For interviews, see this page.
12 June 2012
The text of a talk delivered to the Friends of the National Archives.
31 March 2012
The Two Elizabethan Englands
An edited version of this essay (reduced by a third) was published as 'The great queen, parts 1 and 2,' in Daily Telegraph, Lifestyle section, p. 9 (31 March 2012).
13 March 2012
How to be an (Elizabethan) Woman
A short article for 'We love this book'.
18 January 2012
Wikipedia and Politics
Wikipedia going off-line? Why is this not A Good Thing?
9 January 2012
A few thoughts on the seasonal activity of cutting out self-indulgences.
16 November 2011
Twelve hints for writing history for the general public
These notes were drawn up for a lecture I gave at the University of Nottingham earlier this year. They might be useful to other people - whether directly to help them write or to provoke debate about the differences between academic history and popular history.
13 November 2011
The Count of Hainault's Daughter
A revision of the piece that appeared as Appendix 1 of my book The Perfect King (2006) - largely rewritten and given a more expansive ending. Do such minutiae matter? Yes - because unless you can sort out the minutiae, you can't say anything more meaningful about the past.
7 July 2011
Great historical writing? It's not about the past.
A short piece for The Spectator provoked by the establishment of the Historical Writers Association, which plans to represent both historical fiction and popular history writers.
6 August 2011
The Lying Art of Historical Fiction.
A short piece for The Guardian about history and historical fiction.
1 July 2010
The Art of History
This essay appeared in volume 11/3 of the American journal Historically Speaking. It was accompanied by an interview with the editor, Donald A. Yerxa.
12 May 2010
Should we get rid of political parties?
In the run-up to this year's election I wrote a piece on banning political parties. Unfortunately for me, more politically charged, less-idealistic pieces shunted it from the comments pages of the broadsheets. But, given the hung parliament and the talk of electoral reform of both Lords and Commons, I decided to rewrite it yesterday evening and place it here. I wonder what I'll think about it on 7 May 2015 (the date of the 'next' election, optimistically set yesterday). Coincidentally, the same day as I posted this, a piece by Terry Jones appeared in The Guardian saying much the same thing.
27 April 2010
'What isn't History? The Nature and Enjoyment of History in the Twenty-First Century
Frequently I am finding myself needing to refer to this article, which was published in the journal History in 2008. It was written at the same time as my Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England and introduces the concept of 'Free History', which underpins a lot of my thinking about the role of history in our modern, everyday lives, despite the criticisms of postmodernists. It therefore underlines why we still need historians - and always will. The finished article is available to subscribers through the publisher, Wiley InterScience. This is a final draft.
31 March 2010
Wikipedia and the Ship of Fools
In the course of trying to add part of the detail in the note on 'hanging, drawing and quartering' to Wikipedia, I ran yet again into the problem of Wikipedia being a Ship of Fools. It caused me to think. What is the value of knowledge if an editor may delete it or alter it simply for the sake of exercising their own authority?Is Wikipedia not undermining the value of knowledge itself?
30 March 2010
Why do we say 'hanged, drawn and quartered?'
A minor point perhaps; but as several people have now given me the wrong explanation, which turns out to be based on an OED editor's 'presumption', it seems I should make this note available.
13 September 2009
Forty Years Hence - the Repositioning of History
In 2008 contributors to the Sixteenth Century Journal were invited to write a short essay towards a fortieth anniversary edition of the journal, to be published in 2009. It was suggested that we might try to imagine aspects of historical research forty years from now.
9 October 2008
History in Education - a further note
A record of an experience yesterday which supports my point about the dangers of making history compulsory in schools to age sixteen.
8 October 2008
'The Uncertain Death of Edward II' by JS Hamilton
A note on a piece of work answering - or trying to answer - my work on the death of Edward II.
2 October 2008
Introduction to a talk on Climate Change and the National Trust
Adrian Colston delivered an important talk to the Moretonhampstead History Society (of which I am chairman). Several people asked for my Introduction to his presentation to be made available. Here it is.
25 August 2008
The Paris Catacombs
A personal reaction to the passages beneath the streets of Paris in which the bones of six million of the city's dead now lie.
18 July 2008
Ways with Words, Dartington
I did enjoy this year's Ways with Words. And realised why it is so different from urban literary festivals.
10 July 2008
History in Education
Should history be a compulsory element of education? I don't think so. Here's why.
21 May 2008
Why I do not fly
4 April 2008
A note on the deaths of Edward II
A simplified (but still substantial) explanation of my research into the 'first death' of Edward II in 1327, with an emphasis on the methodology employed.
28 June 2007
After the Rivalry
A note drawn up the day after Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. It was not published at the time. But it's worth comparing the transitions of power in 1399 and 2007, and what happened afterwards, as recent events have shown.
28 March 2007
History as Literature
Why do history books not feature on lists of all-time favourite books? Why do they no longer feature on lists of important books? Is history still a form of literature or merely an academic exercise?
9 July 2006
The Future of the Academic Monograph
A letter to the Royal Historical Society discussing a suggestion previously made about accessible writing and the sustainability of academic history books.
23 April 2006
Why is St George our patron saint?
A note drawn up for St George's Day 2006, following my appearance on Sky News, trying to explain why St Patrick has such a following and St George does not.
9 March 2006
The Old Icon
A comment published in The Guardian about Edward III and the origins of English nationalism, The editor changed the title to 'Englishness is more about Crécy than cups of tea'. I prefer my own title. [Note: this article opens in a new window.]
19 February 2004
Do we really care about the past?
A short article which I drew up reflecting on some reactions to my book The Greatest Traitor.[Note: this article opens in a new window.]
11 April 2003
'A red-hot poker? It was just a red herring'
An article which I drew up for The Times Higher Education Supplement reflecting on Edward II's death to coincide with the publication of The Greatest Traitor.[Note: this article opens in a new window.]