Malcolm Gaskill

Malcolm Gaskill teaches early modern hist­ory at UEA. His latest book is Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans.

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill, 23 January 2020

In​ 2000 Christopher Sansom took a year off from his job as a solicitor to write a novel: it had occurred to him that the dissolution of the monasteries might make a good backdrop to a murder mystery. He finished it, sent it off and returned from holiday expecting a stack of rejections. ‘To my delight,’ he told the Guardian in 2010, ‘my email was hot with people wanting...

Magical Thinking in 1918

Malcolm Gaskill, 4 July 2019

In​ 2001 an architect called Danny Sullivan claimed to have found cine film of an angel while rooting around in a Monmouth junk shop. This was, unsurprisingly, a hoax, as were claims that Marlon Brando had paid £350,000 for the footage. But the alleged provenance was intriguing. Sullivan invented a psychical researcher called William Doidge, who had, he said, fought with the Scots...

Death of an Airman

Malcolm Gaskill, 8 November 2018

Van Dyke Fernald liked flying – ‘skylarking’, as he called it, was ‘glorious’, the ‘star stunt’ of the war. There were breathtaking views of the Alps and of the Adriatic and Dalmatian coastlines; the gloom he’d felt on the Western Front seemed magically to lift. A pilot from his squadron described Venice ‘glittering like a pink opal in the warm early sunlight’. A classical education led these young men to frame their experiences metaphysically; leaving the earth felt like separating body and soul. ‘We moved like spirits in an airy loom,’ Cecil Lewis recalled.

The Little Ice Age

Malcolm Gaskill, 19 July 2018

When​ my editor asked for dust-jacket ideas, I said I wanted something with snow. My book was about 17th-century America, and for all the sweltering, maize-shrivelling summers, it was the winters that had stuck in my mind. I’d found the perfect image: George Henry Boughton’s Pilgrims Going to Church (1867), a depiction of settlers in New Plymouth trudging through their first...

On Strike

Malcolm Gaskill, 5 April 2018

The university strikes​ reached the end of their fourth week just before the start of the Easter break. More than a million students at 65 universities had been affected and, according to the University and College Union (UCU), the body to which the strikers belong, more than half a million teaching hours lost. The casus belli is a proposed change to the operation of the pension fund held...

Seeking London’s Fortune

Malcolm Gaskill, 8 February 2018

The Tudors​ knew all about the uncertainty caused by weak leadership and isolation on the world stage. After the break with Rome, complete by 1534, England stood alone. Henry VIII’s imperial claims, couched in Thomas Cromwell’s majestic legalese, were introspective, asserting the power of the monarch freed from the constraints of papal rule. The economy was beset by inflation,...


Malcolm Gaskill, 2 November 2017

It is a semantic enclosure for variants from folklore, the Bible, product branding, Halloween parties and newspaper cartoons. In fiction and legend, witches can be white or black, good or bad: they can be heroines and healers or hexing hags. What classification can bracket such diversity? Roald Dahl offers a clue in The Witches, where he suggests that real witches don’t wear pointy hats and ride broomsticks but look normal.

Early Modern Mishaps

Malcolm Gaskill, 6 September 2017

On 15 August​ 1737 Samuel Wood was working in a windmill on the Isle of Dogs, when a rope tied around his wrist became caught in the gear wheels. The gigantic brake-wheel pulled him into the mechanism, tearing off his right arm. Wood staggered a short distance before collapsing. Bystanders staunched the wound with sugar, which was known to have antiseptic and healing properties, while they...

Kepler’s Mother

Malcolm Gaskill, 29 June 2016

In autumn​ 1937 a statue of Katharina Kepler was unveiled in Eltingen, the village near Stuttgart where she had been born three centuries earlier. Barefoot, wearing a shift, sickle in hand, she represented the ideals of rustic nobility and honest toil cherished by the Third Reich. The mayor said that Frau Kepler also stood for the determination to uphold truth in the face of persecution:...

Helen Duncan

Hilary Mantel, 10 May 2001

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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