British History

If you are powerful, celebrated or heroic you may be remembered by having things named after you. Schools, airports, roads, squares and public buildings are all dedicated to politicians, royalty, celebrities and heroic figures from a nation’s past. One way to be immortalised is to have a popular food, drink or dish named after you. The only danger is that the product becomes so ubiquitous that […]

The people behind the menu – 3

In 1898, the British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury gave a speech  on foreign relations. The core message seemed simple enough; weak states become weaker whilst strong states become stronger. But, in the dying days of the European peace, it was a remarkably prescient, perhaps even self-fulfilling prophecy. . On 4 May 1898, Lord Salisbury gave a remarkable speech to the Conservative party faithful. The Prime Minister […]

The dying nations of the world

California is one of the most iconic of America’s 50 states. Its film industry has shaped world culture and ensured that one of the most enduring images of America is the golden sands and rolling waves of its Pacific coastline. But what if America had been thwarted in its westward expansion? Could California, Oregon and Washington have become the 11th Canadian province of New Albion? . […]

The State of California or the Province of New Albion?

On 23 May 1915, Italy declared war on its former ally, Austria-Hungary. The Triple Alliance was reduced to an alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary and Europe no longer seemed quite as finely balanced into two opposing camps as it had at the outbreak of war. But why did Italy abandon the Central Powers?  Italy had always been the shakiest member of the European alliance system. By […]

Why did Italy join the Allies in 1915?

What connect David Cameron, the 12th Duke of Grafton and Diana, Princess of Wales? They are all descendants of royal bastards, the illegitimate children of kings from across the centuries. Their illegitimacy barred them from succession to the Crown, but family ties ensured they would be granted titles, lands, wealth and power. And some started dynasties that thrive to this day. Over nearly a thousand years […]

Royal Bastards

The creation of the UK railway network in the nineteenth century saw the equivalent of billions, if not trillions, of pounds invested in infrastructure. In five years alone, 5,000 miles of track were laid as the nation succumbed to railway mania. As with any such boom there were winners who would walk away with immense fortunes and, in some cases, bring about big changes to society. […]

Iron Barons

One of the most enduring and awe inspiring legacies of the Normans are their castles. Located across the country, but concentrated in particularly problematic locations, the Norman castle was a manifestation of both royal power and the regime’s insecurity. As timber and mud gave way to stone and iron, castle building reached a climax in complexity and size until gunpowder and changing politics made them somewhat […]

Castle Country

On 10 February 1906 the Royal Navy’s latest battleship was launched by King Edward VII. She was christened with an Australian wine in a bottle that famously failed to break on its first brush with the ship’s impressive stem. With this ritual, HMS Dreadnought was launched into Solent, stirring up waves that would be felt around the world. . Once every so often a technology develops […]

Dreadnought and the race to war

During the Industrial Revolution, Britain was completely transformed. It was transformed through technological development: steam, locomotion and railways. It was transformed by millions of pounds of capital backing increasingly ambitious, even audacious schemes. But, more than any other factor, it was physically transformed shovel load by backbreaking shovel load by the navvies. Navvies, short for ‘navigators’, were the men who actually built the wonders of the […]

Praising the unsung heroes

In an article called the English Aristocracy, Nancy Mitford declared that: “the English aristocracy may seem to be on the verge of decadence, but it is the only real aristocracy left in the world today”. She went on to say: “in England the Queen is the fountain of honours and when she bestows a peerage upon a subject she bestows something real and unique”. This is […]

Peering into the peerage

At just over thirty miles, the railway between Liverpool and Manchester covered a relatively short distance. But, as the world’s first twin tracked and timetabled passenger railway it signalled the start of the railway age and ushered in the modern age. . At the start of the nineteenth centuries Liverpool and Manchester were fizzing with capitalist energy. Liverpool was well into its ascent as a great […]

Thirty miles to the future

If  a single event has come to represent one of the most turbulent and violent periods in British history it is the Sack of Lindisfarne. In 793, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne was attacked by Viking raiders. It was a merciless and intense attack that saw many monks put to the sword and treasures of the monastery carried away. This was only the start; the sack […]

The Sack of Lindisfarne

The audacious plan was executed with trademark Teutonic efficiency. By the time that the former King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India realised he had fallen into a trap it was too late – he was a prisoner of the Abwehr and heading for the Third Reich. Whilst the Duke of Windsor had expressed certain pro-German sympathies, this outrageous treatment had certainly soured his […]

To kidnap the King

In 1066 four knights came over from Normandy to England in William the Conqueror’s retinue. They would fight alongside their duke and would be rewarded for their loyalty with grants of land in the conquered country. Almost a millennium later, their descendants still populated England as the only existing families known to descend from knights who fought at Hastings. The Malets, Giffards, Gresleys and De Marris […]

The conquerors’ long legacies

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire has left a powerful cultural imprint across the world. Millions have read his voluminous saga with many more gripped by the television adaptation. Martin drew inspiration from many strands of history, from England’s War of the Roses to the Icelandic sagas and tales of Viking conquest. One shadowy chapter of English history receives a prominent nod. […]

The Seven Kingdoms of England

For passengers of Britain’s luxury liners, it was an unforgettable part of the ocean crossing. The behemoths of the sea glided through the glens and highlands of Scotland, taking in some of the most spectacular Caledonian countryside as they progressed from Edinburgh to Glasgow through the engineering wonder of the age – the Mid-Scotland Ship Canal. Sadly, engineering practicalities and escalating cost estimates meant that a […]

Slicing Scotland in half

Does the way you speak give away your background in an instant? Do you pop to the loo or go to the toilet? Do you live in a house or a home? Do you enjoy a sweet or pudding and do you eat it after dinner or tea? In this world of binary class linguistics, you are, quite simply, either upper class or not. So, are […]

Are you U or are you non-U?

England, land of the Angles, could easily have become Daneland. In this counterfactual history, the Viking victory against King Alfred ‘Lossland’ in 878, the ‘year of the battles’, saw the demise of the last Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. All of the Saxon kingdoms had now been swept away – Essex, Middlesex, Sussex and Wessex would never become embedded in the geography of southern England. The strong […]