Malcolm Gaskill

Malcolm Gaskill, an emeritus professor in early modern history at UEA, wrote in the LRB about his decision to leave academia. His books include Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans and The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World; the latter was shortlisted for the 2022 Wolfson History Prize. He is writing a book about Allied POWs and partisans in wartime Italy.

Strike at the Knee: Italy, 1943

Malcolm Gaskill, 8 February 2024

Ortona,​ Christmas Eve, 1943. A thriving Adriatic port only days previously, it now lay in ruins. The population of ten thousand was gone. In their place were two battalions of elite Fallschirmjäger – German paratroopers – defending what was left of the town, and the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, who were under orders to take it. There would be no festive truce. Allied...

In June​ 1616 the Virginian princess Pocahontas arrived in Plymouth and travelled to London. With her came her husband, the English tobacco planter John Rolfe, and several members of her Native American family. Done up in embroidered silks and Flemish lace, she enjoyed – if that’s the right word – the adulation of the crowds and an audience with James I. She was not, in...

Few men wanted to fire the first shot or even pick a side, still less leave their glowing hearths to go campaigning. One can imagine the mood of the gardener who stopped writing about tulips in his notebook and began a new section headed: ‘The Postures of the Musket’. And when the gardeners and grocers, cobblers and carpenters did pick sides they couldn’t always say why.

Servants’ privileges, which could be and were defended at law, didn’t develop from a concept of individual ‘human rights’, but from a belief that patriarchy worked best when it was considerate and consensual. Anything else was domestic tyranny, and mistreatment by a master or mistress signified a larger failing of governance. Hierarchical, yet governed by mutual obligation, households should be exemplars of political order. If a servant (or a wife) needed beating, something was wrong with the patriarch wielding the stick.

This is​ what happens when you die. Electricity stops flowing through your neural circuitry and consciousness shuts down as though a switch has been flicked. Blood keeps moving for a while, ebbing without the heart’s propulsion before succumbing to gravity and pooling in the lower back where it congeals. Starved of oxygen, cells are dismantled by enzymes with nothing else to do now life is at an end.

Mary Parsons revealed that she had chosen to marry her husband because she suspected him of practising witchcraft. She was arrested, watched closely during the night and grilled about her belief that...

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April 1944. Winston Churchill sent a memo to Herbert Morrison at the Home Office: Let me have a report on why the Witchcraft Act, 1735, was used in a modern Court of Justice. What was the cost...

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