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I ham sorry

Norma Clarke: Poor Lore

1 August 2019
Writing the Lives of the English Poor, 1750s-1830s 
by Steven King.
McGill, 480 pp., £27.99, February, 978 0 7735 5649 2
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... over the past half-century have given us a rich historiography that shows the wide-ranging effects of the Old Poor Law – which isn’t the same as saying that there is scholarly consensus. StevenKing is one of a number of people who have for many years done the hard labour of trawling for and transcribing the scrappy – ‘fugitive’ is the word he uses, with its connotations of elusiveness ...

False Brought up of Nought

Thomas Penn: Henry VII’s Men on the Make

26 July 2017
Henry VII’s New Men and the Making​ of Tudor England 
by Steven​ Gunn.
Oxford, 393 pp., £60, August 2016, 978 0 19 965983 8
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... In a dawn raid​ on 24 April 1509, troops reporting to England’s new king, the 17-year-old Henry VIII, arrested two of his late father’s closest councillors and took them to the Tower of London. Three days earlier, Henry VII, the first Tudor king, had died aged 52, in ...

Under the Soles of His Feet

Stephen Alford: Henry’s Wars

4 April 2019
The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII 
by Steven​ Gunn.
Oxford, 297 pp., £35, January 2018, 978 0 19 880286 0
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... In the​ First Book of Kings (5:1-5) Hiram, King of Tyre, sends servants to Solomon, ‘for he had heard, that they had anointed him king in the room of his father,’ David: For Hiram was ever a lover of David. And Solomon sent to Hiram, saying: thou knowest how that David my father could not build an house unto the name of the Lord ...

One Cygnet Too Many

John Watts: Henry VII

26 April 2012
Winter KingThe Dawn of Tudor England 
by Thomas Penn.
Penguin, 448 pp., £8.99, March 2012, 978 0 14 104053 0
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... In a chapter on animals in his Description of England, the Elizabethan antiquary William Harrison told not one but two stories about Henry VII. ‘As the report goeth’, he wrote, the king had had all the mastiffs in England put to death because ‘they durst presume to fight against the lion, who is their king and sovereigne’. And again, ‘as some saie’, the king had beheaded one ...

How to Be Tudor

Hilary Mantel: Can a King​ Have Friends?

17 March 2016
Charles Brandon: Henry VIII’s Closest Friend 
by Steven​ Gunn.
Amberley, 304 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 1 4456 4184 3
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... to what people expect when they go in search of the past. Some guests are content to know the place was ‘used by Henry and Anne, back in the day’, while others like to believe it was where the king spent ‘one of his many honeymoons’. Guests praise ‘a brilliant, authentic experience of castle life’ and the ease of finding the place, ‘especially if you use a GPS’, but some claim a ...


Christopher Driver

6 October 1983
by Graham Swift.
Heinemann, 310 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 434 75330 0
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Perfect Happiness 
by Penelope Lively.
Heinemann, 233 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 434 42740 3
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Scenes from Later Life 
by William Cooper.
Macmillan, 258 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 333 34204 6
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Summer at The Haven 
by Katharine Moore.
Allison and Busby, 158 pp., £6.95, April 1983, 0 85031 511 5
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... Livery’s Perfect Happiness is concerned with a woman’s bereavement: ‘Frances, sitting with hands folded and face blank, recollecting not in tranquillity but in ripe howling grief her husband Steven dead now eight months two weeks one day’. It says much for her unobtrusively appealing manner and deft touch with sequence that this novel makes much easier company than widowhood usually expects ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Google’s Ngram Viewer

20 January 2011
... Some years ago Stephen King announced that he would put his new book online before publication, for anyone to read freely. His publishers were spitting dollar signs and the fans delighted. In my memory he did as he said, and ...


Peter Burke

21 May 1987
The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline 
by J.H. Elliott.
Yale, 733 pp., £19.95, August 1986, 0 300 03390 7
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Philip IV and the Decoration of the Alcazar of Madrid 
by Steven​ Orso.
Princeton, 227 pp., £36.70, July 1986, 0 691 04036 2
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... and also in the more important and longer-term sense that the power and prestige of the Spanish monarchy declined (despite his efforts, or even because of them), while France rose. The ‘planet king’, Philip IV, was eclipsed by the sun of Louis XIV. History, or the historian at any rate, has little patience with failure. The second reason for the neglect of Olivares is the loss of most of his ...

Abishag’s Revenge

Steven​ Shapin: Who wants to live for ever?

26 March 2009
Mortal Coil: A Short History of Living Longer 
by David Boyd Haycock.
Yale, 308 pp., £18.99, June 2008, 978 0 300 11778 3
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... Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. Her name was Abishag. She was of the tribe of Issachar ...

Disasters Galore

Steven​ Connor: Nostradamus

27 September 2012
Nostradamus: The Prophecies 
translated by Richard Sieburth.
Penguin, 351 pp., £20, November 2012, 978 0 14 310675 3
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... view before being hacked down, or poisoned, or incinerated, are anonymous, or generically named, as though they were cards shuffled and dealt from some unnumberable deck: ‘Bronzebeard’, ‘the king’, ‘the lady’, ‘the French brothers’, ‘the blond one’, ‘the forked nose’. What’s more, Nostradamus seems to take perverse delight in demonstrating repeatedly the relative futility ...

Good Housekeeping

Steven​ Shapin: William Petty

20 January 2011
William Petty and the Ambitions of Political Arithmetic 
by Ted McCormick.
Oxford, 347 pp., £63, September 2010, 978 0 19 954789 0
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... was at once scientific, economic and political. Shortly after the Royal Society was founded in 1660, its leaders asked Petty and Christopher Wren ‘to consider the philosophy of shipping’, and the king himself urged Petty to turn his mind to naval matters. The mix of science and statecraft was compelling: Petty got down to work straight away. He wrote to the king, saying that ‘there was no ...

Herberts & Herbertinas

Rosemary Hill: Steven​ Runciman

19 October 2016
Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven​ Runciman 
by Minoo Dinshaw.
Penguin, 767 pp., £30, September 2016, 978 0 241 00493 7
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... I met​ Steven Runciman several times towards the end of his long life. On one occasion he told me, as he told many people, that as a young man he had danced with a friend of his mother who, in her own youth, had ...

Rough Trade

Steven​ Shapin: Robert Hooke

6 March 2003
The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Strange and Inventive Life of Robert Hooke 1635-1703 
by Stephen Inwood.
Macmillan, 497 pp., £18.99, September 2002, 0 333 78286 0
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... navy and commercial trading fleet could do that, there was little question that you could rule the world. Recognising that he could have IP with world-changing possibilities, Hooke went to see the King and asked him for a patent – that’s how you could secure your rights to IP in Restoration England, though it was more customary to work through Crown officials. Hooke gave the King an early ...

Bare Bones

Steven​ Shapin: Rhinoceros v. Megatherium

8 March 2018
The Rhinoceros and the Megatherium: An Essay in Natural History 
by Juan Pimentel, translated by Peter Mason.
Harvard, 356 pp., £21.95, January 2017, 978 0 674 73712 9
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... few gifts as magnificent as a rhino. In 1515, the gift-rhino was a present from a Gujarati sultan to the Portuguese colonial governor; it was sent along with a chest-full of precious baubles to the king of Portugal. As with many gifts, there was a diffuse expectation of reciprocity – in this case, the hope that the gesture might forestall a disastrous war with the European power. The rhino was ...


John Bayley

17 September 1987
Robert Lowell: Essays on the Poetry 
edited by Steven​ Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese.
Cambridge, 377 pp., £17.50, June 1987, 0 571 14979 0
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Collected Prose 
by Robert Lowell, edited and introduced by Robert Giroux.
Faber, 269 pp., £27.50, February 1987, 0 521 30872 0
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... is an almost perfect description of something in Lowell himself, but simply makes a graffiti scribble across the simple mystery of Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. Vermeer is the reverse of a king; his art the very opposite of Lowell’s credo that ‘the artist’s existence becomes his art.’ Vermeer’s pictures are endlessly mysterious and commonplace precisely because the artist is not ...

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