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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the bonds that Scottish Presbyterians made between themselves and their monarchs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to maintain their form of worship. These covenants bound James VI of Scotland to support Presbyterians yet when he became James I he was also expected to support episcopacy. That tension came to a head under Charles I who found himself on the losing side of a war with the Covenanters, who later supported Parliament before backing the future Charles II after he had pledged to support them. Once in power, Charles II failed to deliver the religious settlement the Covenanters wanted, and set about repressing them violently. Those who refused to renounce the covenants were persecuted in what became known as The Killing Times, as reflected in the image above.

    With

    Roger Mason
    Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews

    Laura Stewart
    Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of York

    And

    Scott Spurlock
    Professor of Scottish and Early Modern Christianities at the University of Glasgow

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the debate in Valladolid, Spain in 1550, over Spanish rights to enslave the native peoples in the newly conquered lands. Bartolomé de Las Casas (pictured above), the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, was trying to end the encomienda system in which those who now owned the land could also take the people in forced labour. Juan Gines Sepulveda, a philosopher, argued for the colonists' property rights over people, asserting that some native Americans were 'natural slaves' as defined by Aristotle. Valladolid became seen as the first open attempt by European colonists to discuss the ethics of slavery, and Las Casas became known as 'Saviour of the Indians' and an advocate for human rights, although for some time he argued that African slaves be imported to do the work in place of the native people, before repenting.

    With

    Caroline Dodds Pennock
    Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield

    John Edwards
    Faculty Fellow in Spanish at the University of Oxford

    And

    Julia McClure
    Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Global History at the University of Glasgow

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Roman military disaster of 9 AD when Germanic tribes under Arminius ambushed and destroyed three legions under Varus. According to Suetonius, emperor Augustus hit his head against the wall when he heard the news, calling on Varus to give him back his legions. The defeat ended Roman expansion east of the Rhine. Victory changed the development of the Germanic peoples, both in the centuries that followed and in the nineteenth century when Arminius, by then known as Herman, became a rallying point for German nationalism.

    With

    Peter Heather
    Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London

    Ellen O'Gorman
    Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol

    And

    Matthew Nicholls
    Fellow and Senior Tutor at St John’s College, Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alcuin of York, c735-804AD, who promoted education as a goal in itself, and had a fundamental role in the renaissance at Charlemagne's court. He wrote poetry and many letters, hundreds of which survive and provide insight into his life and times. He was born in or near York and spent most of his life in Northumbria before accepting an invitation to Charlemagne's court in Aachen. To this he brought Anglo-Saxon humanism, encouraging a broad liberal education for itself and the better to understand Christian doctrine. He left to be abbot at Marmoutier, Tours, where the monks were developing the Carolingian script that influenced the Roman typeface.

    The image above is Alcuin’s portrait, found in a copy of the Bible made at his monastery in Tours during the rule of his successor Abbot Adalhard (834–843). Painted in red on gold leaf, it shows Alcuin with a tonsure and a halo, signifying respect for his memory at the monastery where he had died in 804. His name and rank are spelled out alongside: Alcvinvs abba, ‘Alcuin the abbot’. It is held at the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg -Kaiser-Heinrich-Bibliothek - Msc.Bibl.1,fol.5v (photo by Gerald Raab).


    With

    Joanna Story
    Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester

    Andy Orchard
    Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Pembroke College

    And

    Mary Garrison
    Lecturer in History at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and the social unrest that followed, as the French capital was cut off from the rest of the country and food was scarce. When the French government surrendered Paris to the Prussians, power gravitated to the National Guard in the city and to radical socialists, and a Commune established in March 1871 with the red flag replacing the trilcoleur. The French government sent in the army and, after bloody fighting, the Communards were defeated by the end of May 1871.

    The image above is from an engraving of the fire in the Tuileries Palace, May 23, 1871

    With

    Karine Varley
    Lecturer in French and European History at the University of Strathclyde

    Robert Gildea
    Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford

    And

    Julia Nicholls
    Lecturer in French and European Studies at King’s College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery in 1922 of Tutankhamun's 3000 year old tomb and its impact on the understanding of ancient Egypt, both academic and popular. The riches, such as the death mask above, were spectacular and made the reputation of Howard Carter who led the excavation. And if the astonishing contents of the tomb were not enough, the drama of the find and the control of how it was reported led to a craze for 'King Tut' that has rarely subsided and has enthused and sometimes confused people around the world, seeking to understand the reality of Tutankhamun's life and times.

    With

    Elizabeth Frood
    Associate Professor of Egyptology, Director of the Griffith Institute and Fellow of St Cross at the University of Oxford

    Christina Riggs
    Professor of the History of Visual Culture at Durham University and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford

    And

    John Taylor
    Curator at the Department of Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and social impact of coffee. From its origins in Ethiopia, coffea arabica spread through the Ottoman Empire before reaching Western Europe where, in the 17th century, coffee houses were becoming established. There, caffeinated customers stayed awake for longer and were more animated, and this helped to spread ideas and influence culture. Coffee became a colonial product, grown by slaves or indentured labour, with coffea robusta replacing arabica where disease had struck, and was traded extensively by the Dutch and French empires; by the 19th century, Brazil had developed into a major coffee producer, meeting demand in the USA that had grown on the waggon trails.

    With

    Judith Hawley
    Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London

    Markman Ellis
    Professor of 18th Century Studies at Queen Mary University of London

    And

    Jonathan Morris
    Professor in Modern History at the University of Hertfordshire

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss T.E. Lawrence (1888 – 1935), better known as Lawrence of Arabia, a topic drawn from over 1200 suggestions for our Listener Week 2019. Although Lawrence started as an archaeologist in the Middle East, when World War I broke out he joined the British army and became an intelligence officer. His contact with a prominent Arab leader, Sharif Hussein, made him sympathetic to Hussein’s cause and during the Arab Revolt of 1916 he not only served the British but also the interests of Hussein. After the war he was dismayed by the peace settlement and felt that the British had broken an assurance that Sharif Hussein would lead a new Arab kingdom. Lawrence was made famous by the work of Lowell Thomas, whose film of Lawrence drew huge audiences in 1919, which led to his own book Seven Pillars of Wisdom and David Lean’s 1962 film with Peter O'Toole.

    In previous Listener Weeks, we've discussed Kafka's The Trial, The Voyages of Captain Cook, Garibaldi and the Risorgimento, Moby Dick and The Thirty Years War.

    With

    Hussein Omar
    Lecturer in Modern Global History at University College Dublin

    Catriona Pennell
    Associate Professor of Modern History and Memory Studies at the University of Exeter

    Neil Faulkner
    Director of Military History Live and Editor of the magazine Military History Matters

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Li Shizhen (1518-1593) whose compendium of natural medicines is celebrated in China as the most complete survey of natural remedies of its time. He trained as a doctor and worked at the Ming court before spending almost 30 years travelling in China, inspecting local plants and animals for their properties, trying them out on himself and then describing his findings in his Compendium of Materia Medica or Bencao Gangmu, in 53 volumes. He's been called the uncrowned king of Chinese naturalists, and became a scientific hero in the 20th century after the revolution.

    With

    Craig Clunas
    Professor Emeritus in the History of Art at the University of Oxford

    Anne Gerritsen
    Professor in History at the University of Warwick

    And

    Roel Sterckx
    Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History at the University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most powerful woman in the Crusader states in the century after the First Crusade. Melisende (1105-61) was born and raised after the mainly Frankish crusaders had taken Jerusalem from the Fatimids, and her father was King of Jerusalem. She was married to Fulk from Anjou, on the understanding they would rule together, and for 30 years she vied with him and then their son as they struggled to consolidate their Frankish state in the Holy Land.

    The image above is of the coronation of Fulk with Melisende, from Livre d'Eracles, Guillaume de Tyr (1130?-1186)
    Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

    With

    Natasha Hodgson
    Senior Lecturer in Medieval History and Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Nottingham Trent University

    Katherine Lewis
    Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Huddersfield

    and

    Danielle Park
    Visiting Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1691 peace treaty that ended the Williamite War in Ireland, between supporters of the deposed King James II and the forces of William III and his allies. It followed the battles at Aughrim and the Boyne and sieges at Limerick, and led to the disbanding of the Jacobite army in Ireland, with troops free to follow James to France for his Irish Brigade. The Catholic landed gentry were guaranteed rights on condition of swearing loyalty to William and Mary yet, while some Protestants thought the terms too lenient, it was said the victors broke those terms before the ink was dry.

    The image above is from British Battles on Land and Sea, Vol. I, by James Grant, 1880, and is meant to show Irish troops leaving Limerick as part of The Flight of the Wild Geese - a term used for soldiers joining continental European armies from C16th-C18th.

    With

    Jane Ohlmeyer
    Chair of the Irish Research Council and Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin

    Dr Clare Jackson
    Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall, and Faculty of History, University of Cambridge

    and

    Thomas O'Connor
    Professor of History at Maynooth University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in September 1812, Napoleon captured Moscow and waited a month for the Russians to meet him, to surrender and why, to his dismay, no-one came. Soon his triumph was revealed as a great defeat; winter was coming, supplies were low; he ordered his Grande Armée of six hundred thousand to retreat and, by the time he crossed back over the border, desertion, disease, capture, Cossacks and cold had reduced that to twenty thousand. Napoleon had shown his weakness; his Prussian allies changed sides and, within eighteen months they, the Russians and Austrians had captured Paris and the Emperor was exiled to Elba.

    With

    Janet Hartley
    Professor Emeritus of International History, LSE

    Michael Rowe
    Reader in European History, King’s College London

    And

    Michael Rapport
    Reader in Modern European History, University of Glasgow

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the people, plants and animals once living on land now under the North Sea, now called Doggerland after Dogger Bank, inhabited up to c7000BC or roughly 3000 years before the beginnings of Stonehenge. There are traces of this landscape at low tide, such as the tree stumps at Redcar (above); yet more is being learned from diving and seismic surveys which are building a picture of an ideal environment for humans to hunt and gather, with rivers and wooded hills. Rising seas submerged this land as glaciers melted, and the people and animals who lived there moved to higher ground, with the coasts of modern-day Britain on one side and Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France on the other.

    With

    Vince Gaffney
    Anniversary Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bradford

    Carol Cotterill
    Marine Geoscientist at the British Geological Survey

    And

    Rachel Bynoe
    Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Southampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why Athenians decided to send a fast ship to Lesbos in 427BC, rowing through the night to catch one they sent the day before. That earlier ship had instructions to kill all adult men in Mytilene, after their unsuccessul revolt against Athens, as a warning to others. The later ship had orders to save them, as news of their killing would make others fight to the death rather than surrender. Thucydides retells this in his History of the Peloponnesian War as an example of Athenian democracy in action, emphasising the right of Athenians to change their minds in their own interests, even when a demagogue argued they were bound by their first decision.

    With

    Angela Hobbs
    Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    Lisa Irene Hau
    Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Glasgow

    And

    Paul Cartledge
    Emeritus AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge and Senior Research Fellow of Clare College

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the people of Cusco, in modern Peru, established an empire along the Andes down to the Pacific under their supreme leader Pachacuti. Before him, their control grew slowly from C13th and was at its peak after him when Pizarro arrived with his Conquistadors and captured their empire for Spain in 1533. The image, above, is of Machu Picchu which was built for emperor Pachacuti as an estate in C15th.

    With

    Frank Meddens
    Visiting Scholar at the University of Reading

    Helen Cowie
    Senior Lecturer in History at the University of York

    And

    Bill Sillar
    Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of Grant's presidency on Americans in the years after the Civil War in which he, with Lincoln, had led the Union Army to victory. His predecessor, Andrew Johnson, was prepared to let the Southern States decide for themselves which rights to allow freed slaves; Grant supported equal rights, and he used troops and Enforcement Acts to defeat the Ku klux Klan which was violently suppressing African Americans. In later years Grant was remembered mainly for the corruption scandals under his terms of office, and for his failure to support or protect Native Americans, but in more recent decades his support for reconstruction has prompted a reassessement.

    With

    Erik Mathisen
    Lecturer in US History at the University of Kent

    Susan-Mary Grant
    Professor of American History at Newcastle University

    and

    Robert Cook
    Professor of American History at the University of Sussex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most destructive riots in London's history, which reached their peak on 7th June 1780 as troops fired on the crowd outside the Bank of England. The leader was Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, who objected to the relaxing of laws against Catholics. At first the protest outside Parliament was peaceful but, when Gordon's petition failed to persuade the Commons, rioting continued for days until the military started to shoot suspects in the street. It came as Britain was losing the war to hold on to colonies in North America.

    The image above shows a crowd setting fire to Newgate Prison and freeing prisoners by the authority of 'His Majesty, King Mob.'

    With

    Ian Haywood
    Professor of English at the University of Roehampton

    Catriona Kennedy
    Senior Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History and Director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York

    and

    Mark Knights
    Professor of History at the University of Warwick

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life of Nero (37-68 AD) who became Emperor at the age of 16. At first he was largely praised for his generosity yet became known for his debauched lifestyle, with allegations he started the Fire of Rome, watching the flames as he played the lyre. Christians saw him as their persecutor, an anti-Christ, and the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation was thought to indicate Nero. He had confidence in his own artistry, took up acting (which then had a very low status) and, as revolts in the empire grew, killed himself after the Senate condemned him to die as a slave, on a cross.

    With

    Maria Wyke
    Professor of Latin at University College London

    Matthew Nicholls
    Fellow and Senior Tutor at St John’s College, University of Oxford

    And

    Shushma Malik
    Lecturer in Classics at the University of Roehampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why the potato crop failures in the 1840s had such a catastrophic impact in Ireland. It is estimated that one million people died from disease or starvation after the blight and another two million left the country within the decade. There had been famines before, but not on this scale. What was it about the laws, attitudes and responses that made this one so devastating?

    The image above is from The Illustrated London News, Dec. 29, 1849, showing a scalp or shelter, "a hole, surrounded by pools, and three sides of the scalp were dripping with water, which ran in small streams over the floor and out by the entrance. The poor inhabitants said they would be thankful if the landlord would leave them there, and the Almighty would spare their lives. Its principal tenant is Margaret Vaughan."

    With

    Cormac O'Grada
    Professor Emeritus in the School of Economics at University College Dublin

    Niamh Gallagher
    University Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History at the University of Cambridge

    And

    Enda Delaney
    Professor of Modern History and School Director of Research at the University of Edinburgh

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the effective partition of England in the 880s after a century of Viking raids, invasions and settlements. Alfred of Wessex, the surviving Anglo-Saxon king and Guthrum, a Danish ruler, had fought each other to a stalemate and came to terms, with Guthrum controlling the land to the east (once he had agreed to convert to Christianity). The key strategic advantage the invaders had was the Viking ships which were far superior and enabled them to raid from the sea and up rivers very rapidly. Their Great Army had arrived in the 870s, conquering the kingdom of Northumbria and occupying York. They defeated the king of Mercia and seized part of his land. They killed the Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia and gained control of his territory. It was only when a smaller force failed to defeat Wessex that the Danelaw came into being, leaving a lasting impact on the people and customs of that area.

    With

    Judith Jesch
    Professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham

    John Hines
    Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University

    And

    Jane Kershaw
    ERC Principal Investigator in Archaeology at the University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson