The St Augustine Gospels

Earlier this month was the coronation of Charles III. As a historian, I was intrigued to see what the whole ceremony would be like after reading so much about medieval coronations. One of the things I wasn’t expecting to see was a large manuscript of the biblical gospels, known as the St Augustine Gospels, to be presented during the service. I clearly remember my fellow historians on Twitter being nerdily excited about their appearance and as a fellow book lover and keen fan of manuscripts, I can’t blame them. However, I hadn’t heard of this particular manuscript, so decided to do a bit of research into them and this post is a quick summary of their history.

Luke St Augustine’s Gospels Corpus Christi Cambridge MS 286, Image courtesy of The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, via Stanford University. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The gospels were made in Italy in the late sixth century and arrived in England with St Augustine, a monk sent as a missionary to England by Pope Gregory in both 597 and 601, who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The book was designed as a teaching aid as it was portable, more visual, and written in a more readable Latin style script than other examples.[1] Upon its arrival in England, it was held at St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, which was established by St Augustine himself, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.

The Ruins of St Augustine’s Monastery, Canterbury, from the tenth edition of Henry Ward’s Canterbury Guide (1847), British Library Flickr

Following the Dissolution, an untold number of books and manuscripts created and held in the monasteries were destroyed and it was thought that these gospels were one of those. However, under Elizabeth I, Matthew Parker, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, was given permission to rescue what books had been able to survive the Dissolution. He was able to collect 600 manuscripts and many printed books, including the St Augustine Gospels.[2] Considering just how much material was destroyed during this time, the St Augustine Gospels really are a miracle survivor.

Upon Parker’s death in 1575, this collection was donated to Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University, where he had studied, making the basis of what is now known as the Parker Library.[3] With this donation, it ensured the continued future for such an important manuscript, which has now been in the possession of Cambridge for the last 450 years. I really hope it can be kept just as well for the next 450 years.

Portrait of Matthew Parker, British Museum, © The Trustees of the British Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

The gospels have been used during the investitures of the last seven Archbishops of Canterbury, probably as a connection to the first Archbishop of Canterbury. They have also been shown during the Papal visits of in 1982 and 2010.[4] In 2001, the then Prince Charles was shown the manuscript and was very impressed with what he saw, which is why he requested them for his coronation. It is understandable why he found them so impressive as they are the oldest surviving illustrated Latin gospels in the world, as well as being the oldest surviving non-archaeological artefact to have survived in England.[5] These gospels have been used to continuously share the story of Jesus for 1,400 years and as they were used in the coronation, as well as this year being added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, it is hoped that they can be preserved and continue to spread the gospel for many more years to come.

[1] Corpus Christi, ‘Fit for a King: Sixth-century Augustine Gospels to be used in the Coronation of King Charles III’,

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid; Britannica, ‘Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury’,

[4] Corpus Christi, ‘Fit for a King: Sixth-century Augustine Gospels to be used in the Coronation of King Charles III’,

[5] Ibid

Anthony Woodville Biography Update

Hi everyone, apologies for the silence over the last few months. You may remember that my deadline for my Anthony Woodville biography was coming up. It was originally 1 May, but around Easter, I caught Covid and was quite poorly with it, which meant I had to ask for an extension. Thankfully my publishers gave me an extra month, which has helped so much, but it’s been a lot of hard work to get it done, but I’ve finally managed it and it’s now ready to send to the publishers.

Ludlow Castle, where Anthony Woodville was the Governor of the Prince of Wales

After nearly 8 years of researching the life of Anthony Woodville, it feels strange that the book is a step closer to being out there. Of course I will update you when I know more. I want to give a massive thank you to Amberley Publishing for the opportunity they’ve given me.

Thankfully though, I think it means that I can get back to blogging and other research. I have missed delving into lots of different things, so I hope you will enjoy some of the things that will be coming up.

Content Update

I just wanted to offer a bit of an apology for my lack of content in the last few months. As some of you might know, I am currently writing a biography of Anthony Woodville, brother-in-law to Edward IV, for Amberley Publishing. My deadline is 1 May, so as you can imagine, this is taking up all my time at the moment. I have so far written 68,000 words of the 80,000 word total, so there’s still a bit to go. Fingers crossed I can get things all sorted for the deadline.

The images have probably been the hardest thing to deal with as I have had to find copyright free images that I don’t have to pay for. As there is only one known image of Anthony (an engraved version is shown below) and many of the places he once knew are either no longer in existence, or have changed so much, photographs have also been a bit difficult. Still, I have been researching Anthony’s life now for around seven or eight years, so I can’t give up at the last hurdle.

Charles Grignion, 1717–1810, British, Earl Rivers Presenting His Book and Caxton, His Printer, to Edward IV, undated, Etching and line engraving on moderately thick, slightly textured, beige wove paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1977.14.12579.

I still have tons of ideas to share with you though, ranging from the Wild West, women’s history and architectural history. All this and more will recommence after the book has been handed in to the publishers. Thanks again for all your support with everything so far and hopefully you will continue reading once things are back on track.

250th Anniversary of the Hymn Amazing Grace

Whether or not you have a Christian faith, Amazing Grace is probably the most recognised hymn there is. It tells the tale of joy of personal salvation and has become synonymous with the fight to abolish slavery at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. On New Year’s Day, the song had its 250th anniversary and so it feels necessary to share the story behind the hymns creation by John Newton.

On New Year’s Day 1773, John Newton shared the hymn with his congregation in Olney, Buckinghamshire. It would not have necessarily been shared in the church, for the Church of England didn’t permit the sharing of new songs in church. The hymn was written to coincide with the reverend’s sermon based on 1 Chronicles 17:16: ‘Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said “who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”.[1] It was an ideal sermon to give at the start of a new year as it was scripture that reflected on both the past and the present. Little must Newton have known that what happened during that service would still be remembered to this day.

Portrait of Revd. John Newton born 1725-died 1807 from Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales under this creative commons licence

John Newton’s life before becoming a Church of England minister could not have been very different. He was born in Wapping, London, in 1725, as the son of a merchant ship’s captain. His father was frequently away from home on voyages and sadly whilst he was away, his wife died, leaving John in the care of friend’s in Kent (the daughter of which he later went on to marry). When he was grown, John followed on in his father’s footsteps and took on a life at sea, albeit not initially of his own free will. In 1744, at the age of 19, he was press ganged into the Royal Navy, a common practice then, but he was later swapped for another man who was onboard a passing merchant slave ship.[2] This moment started Newton’s association with the slave trade as he eventually rose to captain aboard a slave ship.

Throughout Newton’s life, he experienced many near death experiences, but there was one in particular that was to change the course of his life. It was whilst he was a captain that the ship he was on encountered a terrible storm in 1748, with the fear that they would sink. In that moment, he read a bible and prayed for salvation and he got it[3]. From that moment on, he saw the storm as punishment for his career and vowed to treat the slaves under his care more humanly, even though they would be passed on to slave owners who probably wouldn’t do the same. In 1753, a stroke finally stopped his career at sea and he was finally began to explore his religious beliefs more.

Nave of St Peter and St Paul, Olney (2019), Poliphilo, Wikimedia Commons

As he had had no university education, he was unable to become a minister in the traditional way. Instead the then incumbent of Olney had seen some of the Christian based letters and writing Newton had made and invited him to see town. He was impressed and agreed to help Newton become ordained in 1764, as well as offering him the parish. This was a smart move as Newton’s style of preaching was progressive for the time. He wrote weekly hymns for his congregation, and as said previously, as these were new songs, they would not have been permitted to be used in the church. Newton had to come up with a way around this and instead he held some meetings at the vicarage.

Newton was also interested in reaching a wide variety of people. In a letter written to a local landowner, Lord Dartmouth, who was also a patron of Newton’s church, Newton writes about his ideas for groups he would like to develop “one for children, another for the young and enquiring persons, and a third with the more experienced and judicious for prayer and conference’. Each of these meetings comprised of prayer, bible study and hymns for worship, something that appears familiar even today.[4] These meetings were put into place and became so popular that they couldn’t be held in the vicarage alone. Thankfully Lord Dartmouth allowed them to take place in his big house when he wasn’t in residence.[5]

William Cowper by Lemuel Francis Abbott oil on canvas, 1792, NPG 2783, © National Portrait Gallery, London

It is within this context that the hymn Amazing Grace was written. It was meant to be an almost autobiographical song based on Newton’s own experience of salvation. It has also been suggested that it was also used as an aid to help his friend, the poet William Cowper, with whom he wrote some of his hymns with, out of his reoccurring bouts of depression.[6] In that sense, it shows just how versatile the lyrics are as they can be used for all manner of people and their circumstances. In fact, following its first publication in 1779, under the name Faith’s Review and Expectation in a book called Olney Hymns, featuring songs by Cowper and Newton, that was one of the reasons for its almost immediate popularity. It was used by churches across Britain and America, no matter what denomination. However, the original tune has since been lost to us. Newton was known for keeping notebooks he used for writing his hymns in, but the one for Amazing Grace has since been lost, and the original publication didn’t have music, just the lyrics.[7] In fact the tune we now know was first created by Americans sixty years after the song was created.

William Wilberforce from The Imperial History of England, comprising the entire work of D. Hume … brought down to the present time by W. C. Stafford and H. W. Dulcken (1891), British Library

In modern times, Amazing Grace has become connected with the abolition of slavery, largely thanks to Newton’s own campaigning against slavery following his move into ministry, as well as his friendship with the famous abolitionist, William Wilberforce. This was not necessarily Newton’s thinking when composing the hymn, but I think he would have been happy with the connotation it now has, as well as it’s enduring popularity. Newton wrote an essay on the issues of slavery entitled Thoughts on the African Slave Trade, in which he admitted his past life as a slave trader. He succinctly wrote his own reflections on this in this sentence: ‘I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection for me… that I was once  an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders’.[8] That is why he was glad to share that God had saved a wretch like him and it will always be remembered for as long as his beloved hymn Amazing Grace endures, just like the video below of the then President Barack Obama spontaneously singing it during the funeral of the victims of a mass church shooting in South Carolina in 2015.

Barack Obama Singing Amazing Grace during the funeral service of victims of the South Carolina church mass shooting in 2015

[1] The Christian Institute, John Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace celebrates 250th anniversary, 4 January 2023,

[2] Library of Congress, The Creation of “Amazing Grace”,

[3] The Christian Institute, John Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace celebrates 250th anniversary

[4] Cowper and Newton Museum, Amazing Grace,

[5] Cowper and Newton Museum, Amazing Grace

[6] Ibid

[7] Library of Congress, The Dissemination of “Amazing Grace”,

[8] Library of Congress, The Creation of “Amazing Grace”

Nana Yaa Asantawaa, Queen Mother of Ghana and the Golden Stool: Guest Post by Tami Richards

In this latest guest post, I’m delighted to welcome Tami Richards.Tami Richards is a long time history enthusiast. She lives in Oregon, United States, where she thrives on day hikes and Sunday drives, and lives for a good read. Tami loves finding out about little known historical persons and bringing their lives forward into the present. Her newest historical profiles can be read on her blog.

The scramble for Africa took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Every European nation foisted itself onto the massive continent to divvy up the many resources, chief among the spoils was a tremendous amount of gold. The Ashanti (Asante; Asa means war, nte means because of) people of the area known as Ghana took advantage of this European drive by trading gold for arms and ammunition. The Ashanti used their abundance of weapons to make war against their neighbors and increase the size of their empire. They used their abundance of gold to unify their country when they mixed it with the tradition of the golden stool.

Golden Stool from The golden stool is formed from a single curved piece of wood. The seat is crescent-shaped, it has a flat base and a decorative backrest. It approximates 18 inches (46 cm) in height, 24 inches (61 cm) in width, and 12 inches (30 cm) in depth.

The legend of the golden stool begins when the supreme god, Nyame, decided to bring all the local tribes of the Ashanti regions together under one chief. Nyame sent a magician/healer, Anotchi, to the chiefs and along with him followed a dark cloud. In the midst of the cloud, all could clearly see a golden stool. When Anotchi instructed the stool to fall from the cloud and land before he who would be king, the stool landed before chief Osai Tutu, making him the first king of the unified kingdom and solidifying the stool as a sacred object to be protected at all cost. According to legend, within the golden stool was the assurance of health and prosperity. It held the souls of all the Ashanti people, living, dead, and unborn. To maintain its purity, it was to never touch the ground, no one was ever to sit on it, no one could touch it, and only a few select persons were even permitted to see it.

In 1900, King Prempeh, the thirteenth king of the Ashanti, was sent into exile in the Seychelles Islands when he refused to hand the golden stool over to the British. The governor, Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, demanded he be brought the golden stool so that he may sit upon it, but the people would not allow it. On March 28, 1900, the British governor spoke at Kumasi, the Capital. “Your King, Prempeh 1, is in exile and will not return to Ashanti.” During this speech, he continued to tell them of the Queen’s authority, his power as the queen’s representative, and the amount of taxation the Ashante will be required to pay as a colony under British rule, as per the 1874 peace treaty, which the Ashante had yet to pay one iota.

He also insisted they forfeit their Golden Stool. “What must I do to the man, whoever he is, who has failed to give to the Queen, who is the paramount power in the country, the stool to which she is entitled? Where is the Golden Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power in this country; why have you relegated me to this chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool and give it to me to sit upon?”

Kofi Tene was king of the Ashanti and his grandmother, Nana Yaa Asantawaa,was the Queen Mother. Nana was a word which indicated her high position. She became Queen Mother when her brother Afrane Panin became chief of Ejisu around 1884. With the exile of so many leaders to Seychelles, Nana Yaa Asantewaa assumed the position of Chief. She was a courageous woman with a strong sense of integrity and justice who did not take kindly to the governor’s proclamation that he should be brought the sacred stool, a golden representation of Ashanti strength.        

Yaa Asantewaa gathered the leaders together and they hid the stool away from the invaders. The governor’s demand for the stool and payment for his self proclaimed overlordship was the last straw, she wanted to fight them and send them away from her home. While the British searched everywhere for the Golden Stool, Yaa Asantewaa noticed the solemn faces and weak wills of the fellow chiefs who seemed ready to meet the demands of the British. She stood to summon their solidarity in order to keep the stool from falling into enemy hands. “How can a proud and brave people like the Ashanti sit back and watch while white men take away their king and chiefs, and humiliate them with demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the white man; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the Governor. If you, the chiefs of Ashanti, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.”


Map of Africa with Ghana to the top left, next to Cote D’Ivoire and Togo.

Encouraged to protect their very sense of self and nation by Nana Yaa Asantewaa, the Ashanti fought to save the stool. In the six month battle, more than 2,000 Ashanti perished and 1,000 British, but the Ashanti prevented the theft of their precious heritage. They safely hid the stool from would-be thieves until 1920 when it was found by African railroad builders who stripped it of the golden ornaments. The thieves were tried by the Ashanti for their heinous crime and sentenced to death, but the British Colonial authorities intervened and exiled them from the Gold Coast. The Golden Stool has been restored to its ceremonial place, and remains a cherished symbol of the Ashanti people.


“Yaa Asantewaa.” Yaa Asantewaa,

“Berlin Conference of 1884–1885.” Oxford Reference,


The Oxford Companion to British History. . 13 Aug. 2020 .”,, 27 Sept. 2020,

West, Racquel. “Yaa Asantewaa (Mid-1800s-1921).” Welcome to Blackpast •, 10 Oct. 2019,

Online Talk on Napoleonic Prisoners of War

Last year I conducted research into the conditions of Napoleonic prisoners of war held in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. I wrote about my findings in two blog posts for the archives I work at, as well as talking through my findings with a lovely local group that I was involved with at the time. That went very well and all who heard about it said it was a very interesting topic.

Since then I have looked into the parish registers at the time and found a lot of examples of the prisoners and how they married and had children with local women. The most interesting find for me is that one prisoner brought his Egyptian wife to Chesterfield, whilst another brought his Caribbean servant with him. For this reason, I added it to my list of possible talks I could be booked to do and I’m so glad that I did as I have been booked to do it twice more.

The first will be for the Be Bold History Network, a group that connects history knowledge with the classroom. I did a talk for them back in 2021, talking about my book research on Anthony Woodville and was kindly invited back any time. So I will be giving the talk on Wednesday 9th of February. Whilst it is aimed at teachers, anyone is welcome to attend.

If you would like to get hold of a ticket, then it is free to book using the following link,

St Mary and All Saints Church, St Mary’s Gate, Chesterfield, as it would have looked in 1793, from the King’s Topographical Collection, British Library

Audrey Hepburn: a Dutch Resistance Member

Happy New Year and welcome to the first blog post of 2023! As I get closer to my book deadline, I will probably be posting less over the next few months. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this post.

Recently I was having a conversation with a ninety-year-old family friend about her experiences of World War Two. She started off with explaining about Dunkirk and D-Day, including her late husband’s role in D-Day and why he would never go on a ship ever again after that. One thing came up that I had never heard of before and that was the famous actress, Audrey Hepburn, had been involved in the Dutch Resistance during the war. After doing a bit of initial digging online, I found that she was right. The whole story had been unknown until 2019, when Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II written by Robert Matzen, following extensive research and interviews with those who had known Audrey during her time in Holland.

Audrey Hepburn photographed by Bud Fraker for Modern Screen, November 1953, Wikimedia Commons

Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels in 1929 to Joseph Rushton, a British banker and Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch baroness. During the 1930s, the family spent a lot of time in London and became supporters of the Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascists. In 1935, they were invited to Munich to meet members of the Fuhrer.[1] In that same year, Joseph left the family when Audrey was six-years-old. Following the split, Audrey was initially sent to be schooled in London, but was later sent to Arnhem once her mother had settled back in Holland. Whilst there, she trained to be a ballerina at the Arnhem City theatre.[2]

Following the move back to Holland, Ella continued her support for the Nazis. In Matzen’s book, he admits that he believed this support was to help them to survive, particularly after the German’s invaded Holland in 1940.[3] However, Ella’s opinion changed after her brother-in-law, Otto, was executed for not cooperating with the Germans.[4] Perhaps that means that Matzen’s view was right but it is clear that it is neither black nor white.

HD0N6C Audrey Hepburn, right, greets her mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, as she arrives in the US, December 17, 1953, Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

The now teenage Audrey did not agree with her mother’s views and sympathised with the occupied people who had known immense hardship, violence and abject poverty they were subjected to. Instead she decided to become involved in the Resistance by becoming acquainted with the local doctor Hendrik Visser’t Hooft, who was a leader in the underground movement. Her main role was to carry messages to downed allied airmen and bring them food. It was thought that her young age would mean she could be undetected and her fluent English was also a bonus.[5] Dr Hooft was a good choice for a Resistance leader as doctors had some immunity from suspicion from the Nazis due to their much needed skills.

One instance she was sent to give a message to an airman who was hiding in woods near her village of Velp, where they had moved to following the execution of her uncle. After having delivered the message, she noticed Nazi guards who asked her what she was doing and to show her papers. She managed to cover up the truth by pretending to pick wildflowers and offer them to the men.[6] Audrey also danced in performances held to raise money for the resistance, despite the fact that she was suffering from symptoms of malnutrition.[7] This malnutrition affected her for the rest of her life as she always remained slender and had a strange relationship with food thereafter.

OPERATION ‘MARKET GARDEN’ (THE BATTLE FOR ARNHEM): 17 – 25 SEPTEMBER 1944 (MH 2233) Arnhem 17 – 25 September 1944: The shattered hull of the building which served for two days as the Headquarters of the 1st (British) Airborne Division. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

The Battle for Arnhem in 1944 helped to liberate the part of Holland that Audrey Hepburn lived in, but she would never forget the things that she saw during the four years of occupation. This was something she admitted on numerous occasions.

Whilst this post has not used all the ins and outs of Audrey Hepburn’s involvement with the Resistance, I hope it has shown the immense bravery that a young teenager had in very dangerous and life threatening circumstances. It was for this reason that she spoke very little of her involvement. She also never revealed her mother’s Nazi sympathies because of the anger she felt for them, but also she wanted to distance herself from for the sake of her career.[8]

[1] Daniel Bates, ‘How Audrey Hepburn’s mother was a ‘lipstick Nazi’, dating a German officer and adored Adolf Hitler after he kissed her hand during a private meeting – leaving the actress fearful it would derail her Hollywood career’, The Daily Mail, 4 April 2019,

[2] Robert Matzen, ‘Those Are Things You Don’t Forget.’ How a Young Audrey Hepburn Helped the Dutch Resistance During World War II’, Time Magazine, 3 May 2019,

[3] Daniel Bates, ‘How Audrey Hepburn’s mother was a ‘lipstick Nazi’

[4] Ibid; Katie Rook, ‘How Young Audrey Hepburn Supported the Dutch Resistance in World War II’, Showbix Cheat Sheet, 2 January 2022,

[5] Robert Matzen, ‘Those Are Things You Don’t Forget’

[6] Daniel Bates, ‘How Audrey Hepburn’s mother was a ‘lipstick Nazi’

[7] Robert Matzen, ‘Those Are Things You Don’t Forget’

[8] Katie Rook, ‘How Young Audrey Hepburn Supported the Dutch Resistance in World War II’

End of 2022 Update

Well 2022 has been another strange year for me. The majority of this year has been disturbed thanks to building work at home. That has meant that I haven’t been able to get as much of things done as I would have liked, including not doing as much work on my Anthony Woodville biography as I would have liked. It did also mean that working from home came to an abrupt end. Whilst I miss aspects of that, it has been nice to get back into the archive building I work in. It’s meant being able to hold original documents again for the first time in a very long time, rather than looking at scanned versions on a computer screen.

Thankfully though, my blog work hasn’t been much affected and I hope that you have enjoyed the content that has been created this year. It has been the most successful year yet in terms of views since I started this blog four years ago. For that reason, I just want to take the time to thank each and every person who has read, shared, liked and followed the blog this year. It genuinely means a lot to me to see people enjoy the blog. The best post of all this year has been about William Morgan, who translated the first Welsh Bible. That can be read here.

Portrait of William Morgan (1907), Wikimedia Commons

I would also like to thank the people who have done guest posts for the blog this year. It has been a privilege to host such varied and interesting posts. The most popular of these guests posts has been Isabel and Hamelin de Warenne by historian, Sharon Bennett Connolly. It can be viewed here. There have also been a few firsts when it comes to guest posts too. One was a press release about the archaeology survey work at Greasley Castle in Nottinghamshire conducted by Triskele Heritage. James Wright of Triskele Heritage was kind enough to send the release and it can be viewed here. The other first was a book tour to celebrate the publication last month of Gemma Hollman’s latest book, The Queen and the Mistress: The Women of Edward III. If you’re interested, the post can be read here. I wish Gemma all the very best with it and I hope a few of you were given it as a Christmas present!

Me and my sister at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath

Back in September, I also returned to Bath for the Jane Austen Festival. It was our second year participating and it was a joy to be involved. This year, my parents also joined in, which was great to see. A big thank you once again to my sister for sewing our beautiful dresses! However, our holiday in Bath was also marked by the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II. It felt like a very surreal thing as it felt like one bit of stability we had in these very turbulent times was gone. We all wore black armbands and observed a minute’s silence in honour of her on the day of the promenade. I still miss the Queen in many ways but it was so interesting to witness a historical moment during her lying in state and funeral.

I also helped out at the first ever Derbyshire Georgian Festival. I helped out on a stall for work (the Derbyshire Record Office), where we showed some of the Georgian era collections. As we were at a mill, we also took some items relating to millworkers. I was also able to have my own table showcasing my research into the period that I have done for the blog. Of course I did this dressed in my Regency dress!

On happier news, I have been booked for two talks in February, including my first paid one, on some research I did this year on Napoleonic prisoners of war in Chesterfield, a town in my home county of Derbyshire. The group I am doing the paid talk for have also suggested that I might be able to go back and do some more. I was able to find out about the conditions the prisoners were held in and the fate of two officers, General Joseph Exelmans and Colonel Auguste de la Grange, who managed to escape. I can’t wait to share the interesting stories this research has shown with more people. There is also the possibility of finally doing a talk I was booked for in April 2020 about my research into Anthony Woodville, for the local branch of the Richard III Society, which I have been a member of since I was nine years old. Fingers crossed for that too! If you would like to know more about the talks I can do, I have added a specific page on the blog for them.

General Exelmans changing horses at the Battle of Wertingen in October 1805, Wikimedia Commons

Following on from my research into Anthony Woodville, I have so far written 50,000 words of my 80,000 word target that my publishers set me. My deadline for it all is the 1st of May 2023. Hopefully I can get it all done by then. It does seem to have crept up on me! Sometimes I still can’t quite believe that after so many years of researching his life, I’m finally so close to having the book out. I will of course update you all after it’s been submitted about any possible publication date. Again on the Anthony theme, I was gifted an Anthony Woodville felt Christmas decoration by a friend and colleague, which he had made for me by a local shop. It’s just the best!!

All that is left now is to wish you all a healthy and wonderful 2023. Most importantly, thank you all once again for your support over the last year. Each and every view, like and share means a lot to me, so I pass on my hearty thanks and love to all of you.

Book Review of The Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann

This book has been on my to read pile for a while now and back in October, when it was Black history month, I thought there was no better time to read it. I had heard good things though, so I couldn’t wait to get started and I was definitely not disappointed!

It showcases ten very different examples of black people living in Tudor England to demonstrate that they would have been more judged by their social status than their skin colour. Each chapter is dedicated to telling the story of a different person. A few of the examples include the now fairly well known John Blanke, a trumpeter to Henry VIII, to Jacques Francis, a salvage diver who dived to the Mary Rose. All the examples chosen show the wide variety of trades available to them. They were not the slaves that we may perceive them to be, but free people who were able to chose their own path. Jacques Francis was a personal favourite and will be featured in a blog post at some point next year.

With focusing on these examples, the reader can clearly understand that Tudor and early Stuart England was not as white as we have been taught. For this reason, the book is very important as it sheds light on a little known aspect of history, which I am always a sucker for. The author not only gives a wider context to their situation, but gives smaller examples of other black people in the same situation, where we cannot find more than a fleeting glimpse of from the records. At times, this can take over a little from the people’s stories she is trying to tell, but I understand that it was necessary to do this in order to give a well-rounded picture to the times they lived in.

The writer’s style is easy to read and understand, which helps to appeal this book to a wider audience. It also helps them to ask questions about how racial attitudes and how this began to change following the introduction of the slave trade later in the seventeenth century. To do this, there are some uncomfortable moments in the book, particularly when explaining ideas of racism and slavery that were beginning to develop, and had already developed in places like Spain and Portugal, which are well explained throughout.

The main reason there has been a focus more on the contextual background is that the only sources that these black people existed in Britain are things like court and parish records. The issue with this is that it doesn’t add a wider context about how they would have been treated or viewed by those around them. It is for this reason that Kaufmann does add so much other information. This may put some people off, and there is no denying that there is some speculation amongst this, but I think the point of this book is to be expand historical thinking towards including those with different ethnical backgrounds. In this respect, it did well to answer some of the complex questions we may have about the book’s topic.

In general, I enjoyed this book and it left me wanting to know more about those black men and women who lived during this time period. I am not usually much of a fan of Tudor history, but this is certainly something I did enjoy. It brought something entirely new to the field and I hope that others authors take note of that and that there can be more research into black history during this period.

My Top 5 History Reads of 2022

As an avid reader, I usually can’t name all the books I read in a year, but as the majority of them have a history theme, I thought I would share my top five history books that I’ve read this year. It’s a mixture of different periods and some fiction and non-fiction, so hopefully there’s something for everybody there.

To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardiner

If you are a fan of the Wild West, this one will be for you. It is a dual biography of the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid, and Pat Garrett, the sheriff that shot him dead in 1881. This book does help address some of those myths in an even and balanced way, particularly in terms of the biography of Billy the Kid, that was written by Pat Garrett himself, as it focused on Pat’s motivations behind his writing. It has a very journalistic and easy to read writing style, despite the many names, events and locations that are mentioned throughout. I would definitely recommend this as I found it very hard to put down. You can find a full review I wrote earlier this year here if you are interested in find out more.

The Earth is All that Lasts by Mark Lee Gardiner

I’ll be honest, this book was by far my most favourite read of the year. I was also lucky enough to be given a review copy of this by the author. It was shipped out to me all the way from America. A huge thank you for that too! I think, just like the book on Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, that this is one of those books you won’t forget reading. This one is another duel biography, but this time of the Lakota chiefs, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Sitting Bull is one of my favourite historical heroes, so I was very much looking forward to reading this. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest! It is a very emotive and sometimes uncomfortable read, as it tells of the gruesome reality of how settlers took over the plains. For this reason, as well as it showing the Lakota viewpoint, it is an important read. As I said in my review ‘this is the written equivalent of what Dances with Wolves was for the big screen, in that it very much shows the Lakota viewpoint, which is not shared often enough’. For that reason, I feel this is one of the most vital books to understand the final years of freedom for the Lakota. You can find my previous review of it here.

Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann

This book tells the stories of ten Africans who lived in Tudor and Stuart England. Each example shows that whilst they were in a minority, you could find Africans in a variety of different roles during this period. A personal favourite of mine was Jacques Francis, who was a salvage diver for the Mary Rose, the flagship of Henry VIII’s that sank off the coast of Portsmouth. The writing style is incredibly accessible and creates a personal narrative not only for the examples given, but also for those Africans in similar circumstances who can only briefly be discovered in documents such as parish registers. All in all, this is a very entertaining and informative book, which has quite clearly been based on meticulous research. I have written a full review of this here.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

At the beginning of the year, I was reminded of a book I haven’t read since my childhood by an author who once lived in the countryside of Derbyshire, close to where I live. Whilst this is technically a children’s fiction book, it is well suited for all ages, and is based on real life events. First published in 1939, it tells the story of teenage girl, Penelope, who is sent to live on her aunt and uncle’s farm, once owned by Anthony Babington, an important Derbyshire landowner, who became embroiled in a plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. The girl manages to move between her own time and the 1580s and even meets Anthony Babington himself. Can Penelope alter the course of history or not? It is a slow starter, but once you get into it, this book does become somewhat all consuming and certainly triggers a lot of emotion.

Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History by Janina Ramerez

This tells the story of Julian of Norwich, a medieval anchoress who shut herself away in a church in Norwich. It discusses her religious writings, as well as providing context to the times in which she lived. Once again, this is another reread, but I loved it just as much this time as I did before. I first came across this book after the author (a favourite historian of mine) did a TV documentary about trying to find the lost original manuscript version of Julian’s text. Sadly it still hasn’t been found, other than a fragment later edited. The author certainly has a special way of explaining things and making things accessible to an audience and this book is no exception. It is especially good at analysing the importance and legacy of Julian, who is now largely a forgotten figure. In the words of Julian herself, All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

I know this was meant to be a post about my must read books of the year, but as we are on the countdown to Christmas, I thought I must share my favourite historical themed film to watch in time for Christmas.

The Man Who Invented Christmas:

This film showcases how Charles Dickens really wrote A Christmas Carol, which is now synonymous with how we celebrate Christmas. As a Dickens fan of many years, I must admit I love this film and Dan Stevens plays the author very well. It shows off his eccentricities brilliantly, whilst also detailing the tragic backstory of his time in the blacking factory that Dickens himself tried to hide his whole life. I have always been fascinated by the way Dickens kept note of names and places for his books, as well as how he re-enacted his stories to audiences during readings. The film does show this wonderfully. It also has a fantastic cast, full of wonderful British actors. If you have any interest in A Christmas Carol, or Dickens himself, this is a must watch. I have watched this many times and never seem to bore of it!