Who Wrote All The Plays?

I recently had the misfortune of watching the film ‘Anonymous’. For those who’ve not seen it, it’s a kind of weird Elizabethan conspiracy flick. There’s intrigue, there are moody scenes in darkened manor houses, there are illegitimate children, and there’s rebellion. A plot is afoot to topple Queen Bess, and to defraud posterity. It’s all…

John Millward’s Beard Brush: a Global Tale from 1623

Deep in the papers of the English East India Company, kept in the British Library in London, lies one of the most astonishing lists I’ve ever seen. It’s a particular kind of list, which will be familiar to many. It’s a list of goods held by someone at their death, just like the probate inventories used…

Did Early-Modern Men Do ‘Women’s Work’?

It’s one of the great unanswered questions of English History. The theory, at least for early-modern England, was pretty clear. Men were supposed to earn the money, women did the domestic chores and raised the children (and then also earned some money). Not for nothing did a proverb of the time have it that a…

Is Music the Key to Understanding History?

Last Saturday saw one of music history’s lesser-known anniversaries. On March 29th 1942, at the height of the ‘Great Patriotic War’, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony got its Moscow premiere. In truth, it’s not one of the composer’s best works (though it’s pretty stirring stuff), but the story of its premiering across the Soviet Union, in…