Culture & History

I write regularly about cultural issues in the British press, including drawing on my work as a historian to provide context for contemporary debate.

I can be irrepressible when talking history: I recently enjoyed explaining the relative sexual virtues of Elizabeth I on Channel 5’s ‘Last Days of Mary Queen of Scots’, and leading a historians’ live-tweet of historical context for the BBC’s Wolf Hall. You’ll also find some of my book reviews, lighter pieces and broader arts writing on this page.

Lockdown Recording: ‘On Good Friday. Riding Westwards. 1613’ – John Donne

Posted on Apr 10, 2020 | 0 comments

For friends, by private request, and for anyone else who wanders along. Three years ago I wrote about this poem, and why I read it every Good Friday, here:...

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Character assassination? The theatre takes on Trump

Posted on Jun 16, 2017 | 0 comments

written for the Financial Times, 16 June 2017 “Who is it in the press that calls on me?” Amid the roar of spectators a blond, coiffed demagogue picks out a heckler in the crowd, his overlong red tie swinging below his waist as he bestrides the stage. This is Julius Caesar, Roman general and title...

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Manchester’s tears are in a long tradition of public mourning

Posted on May 27, 2017 | 0 comments

an edited version of this column appeared in The Financial Times, 27 May 2017 Only a few days on from Monday night’s atrocity in Manchester and social superiority has set in. A few days removed from the shock of death and no longer are we mourners but each an expert; on Islamist terrorism, on the mental...

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Dramas like ‘Jamestown’ do us and history a disservice

Posted on May 13, 2017 | 0 comments

an edited version of this column was published by the Financial Times on 13 May 2017. Just over a year ago, I heard the novelist Jeanette Winterson speak at the launch of her latest book. She touched briefly on the subject of historical fiction, then on the mutable nature of human psychology. “What we...

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Row over BBC royal play ignores its subtle message

Posted on May 6, 2017 | 0 comments

written for The Financial Times, 6 May 2017 For many years following the 1534 Treason Act of Henry VIII, it was a capital offence in England not merely to “compass” the death of the monarch but to predict, foretell or plan for it. This caused some consternation among the doctors ordered to give Henry a...

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‘Hamilton’ hype highlights our transatlantic differences

Posted on Jan 27, 2017 | 0 comments

written for the Financial Times, 27 January 2017 The Founding Fathers may have been American, but this week, with no apparent sense of irony, Theresa May made them British. Speaking to Republican leaders in Philadelphia, the prime minister had only praise for the signatories of the US Declaration of...

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