‘The Foulest Place of Mine Arse is Fairer than thy Face’

On Michaelmas Eve, 1544, two women came to blows in the open street in Winchester. We know who they were. We know the approximate time (two in the afternoon), and we know there were plenty of witnesses. We also know exactly where the fight took place, for when the case came to court, the brawl…

Why Society Needs Historians

‘Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’ Thus spake Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University…

Ten History Books I’d Love to See on Your UCAS Form

In schools up and down the country, budding young historians are just about to go on a quest: a quest for that perfect UCAS text. The history book you read and analyse in a couple of sentences that you hope will dazzle the admissions people at the university of your choice. Unfortunately, most will choose…

In the Shadow of the Bum Courts

Is it a footballer? Is it an MP? No… it’s a Superinjunction! Yes, the infamous writ of Shut-The-Hell-Up is back. Someone’s been bad. But because they’re rich we’re not, repeat not, allowed to talk about it. Unless we’re in Parliament, or Scotland, or anywhere in the world part from England and Wales. The superinjunction is…

Pepys’s Poops!

Ah, Samuel Pepys. Our greatest diarist, Restoration man about town, zero-times winner of Husband of the Year. He’s someone who celebrated the date of his bladder-stone removal like clockwork, but once forgot his wedding anniversary. He’s probably the first known Englishman to record in detail the time he bought pornography (from a bookshop on the…

Happy Historical 2016!

Well, the hangovers have (mostly) subsided, the words to Auld Lang Syne have been hastily reforgotten, and Jools Holland has at last returned to his cave. All that remains, then, is to have a look at some of the big historical anniversaries we hit in 2016. And it’s going to be a bumper year… Everyone will…

When was it okay to bugger a horse in 1650s Yorkshire?

I recently came across an astonishing pair of documents in the National Archives. The documents are ‘depositions’, witness statements, collected for a trial at the Yorkshire Assizes – the local court which dealt with serious crimes – from 1656. They relate to an alleged case of bestiality. William Clarke, labourer, it was alleged, had been…

An Unhelpful Guide to Wagner’s Ring

Perhaps there should be a rule that Historically Important Works of Art should be nice and short. Mozart knew this when he was writing dinky little tunes for tight-wearing Austrians with miniature attention spans. Alfred Hitchcock knew it too, famously quipping that no film should last longer than the capacity of a human bladder. Richard…

Taylor Swift… and the English Reformation!

It’s been a busy few days of discoveries. Water has been found on Mars. A large power station might’ve been discovered deep in space. Arsenal seem to have worked out what those two pointy sticks at the end of the pitch are for. But here at Oxford University, we think we’ve just made a discovery…

‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!’

Out of all of Shakespeare’s lines, we can be pretty sure that few – if any – got as big a cheer as this one. The play is Henry VI part 2, the context is the popular rebellion by Jack Cade in 1450. The line is spoken by ‘Dick the Butcher’, one of Jack’s henchmen,…

Rubbish Rebellions!

Like many of my fellow social historians, I love a good rebellion. Who wouldn’t? Most of history is about the rich and the powerful screwing the rest of us. Rebellions are the moments when ordinary people get to fight back. And let’s be honest about this: all of us, if we found ourselves in a…