The Early Modern Commons

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The ax laid to the root of the corrupt tree

Author: Blanch, N., author. Title: The ax laid to the root of the corrupt tree, or, An essay on the hard case of the retail-traders, citizens, shopkeepers, &c. of the city of London : in regard to their trade, as at present invaded by hawkers and...
From: Recent Antiquarian Acquisitions on 3 Oct 2022

‘Humanity Dick’ and the founding of the RSPCA

On 16 June 1824 a small group of men met in Old Slaughter’s Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane, London. They had been brought together by Arthur Broome, animal-welfare campaigner and vicar of St Mary’s in Bow, but the leading light was Irish MP Richard...
From: Mathew Lyons on 5 Aug 2022

Victoria Claflin Woodhull: the first woman to run for the US presidency

To her enemies, she was Mrs Satan. To Walt Whitman, she was “a prophecy of the future”. To Gloria Steinem, from the vantage point of the 1970s, she was “the most controversial suffragist of them all”. But to the Equal Rights Party on 6 June 1872,...
From: Mathew Lyons on 14 Jul 2022

The Kyivan queens of medieval Europe

Ukraine has been part of European history since before the Norman Conquest. Indeed, in the middle of the 11th century, the queens of Norway, Hungary, France and Poland were all Kievan Rus’ princesses. The first three were daughters of Yaroslav, grand...
From: Mathew Lyons on 12 Jul 2022

Stravinsky, Nijinsky and the riotous premiere of The Rite of Spring

It should have been a triumph. The premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on 29 May 1913, brought together the up-and-coming composer with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe company and its star dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, who would choreograph...
From: Mathew Lyons on 20 Jun 2022

Joy undimmed: John Masefield and The Midnight Folk

John Masefield was in his last year as Poet Laureate when I was born in 1966. I remember copying out his poem ‘Cargoes’ in primary school – “Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir . . .” – and wondering what all these strange, beautiful-sounding...
From: Mathew Lyons on 25 May 2022

The Great Wine Blight

The Columbian Exchange is a much discussed phenomenon, but it can have had few more surprising consequences than the near total destruction of European wine production in the 19th century. The cause was phylloxera, a microscopic yellow aphid native to...
From: Mathew Lyons on 24 May 2022

The discovery of Parkinson’s Disease

At 10am on 7 October 1794 a 39-year-old physician named James Parkinson presented himself in Whitehall for interrogation by William Pitt and the Privy Council. They were investigating what became known as the Popgun Plot, an alleged attempt to assassinate...
From: Mathew Lyons on 29 Apr 2022

Evliya Çelebi: Ottoman traveller, writer, dreamer

Evliya Çelebi was born in Istanbul on 25 March 1611. He is best known in the Anglophone world through the translations of Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall in the 19th century and, more recently, Robert Dankoff. His ten-volume Seyahatname is perhaps the longest...
From: Mathew Lyons on 22 Apr 2022

The fall of the Knights Templar

Sometime around 1340 Ludolph of Sudheim, a German priest travelling around the Holy Land, encountered two elderly men, one from Burgundy, the other from Toulouse, in the mountains by the Dead Sea. They told him they were Knights Templar, taken prisoner...
From: Mathew Lyons on 14 Apr 2022

The origins of El Dorado

In the last days of 1835 the explorer Robert Schomburgk stood on the shores of Lake Amucu in western central Guiana. In April, the surrounding savannah would be inundated by the rising tides of two nearby river systems creating the illusion of a great...
From: Mathew Lyons on 7 Apr 2022

Englishobbes and Irishdoggs: Anglo-Norman Ireland and the Statutes of Kilkenny

In late medieval Ireland, they had customary words of abuse for one another. Englishobbe. Irishdogg. So deep was the antipathy that one parliament was forced to legislate against such language, on pain of a year in prison and an unspecified fine. But...
From: Mathew Lyons on 31 Mar 2022

Dante’s exile from Florence

Late-medieval Florence was riven by factional disputes based on support for or opposition to papal power. Dante Alighieri, for a brief time one of the city’s six governing officials, was part of the latter party. But after Charles of Valois entered...
From: Mathew Lyons on 24 Mar 2022

Camillo Agrippa and the Renaissance art of fencing

When change came, it was swift. Until the turn of the 1570s, Edmund Howes writes in his continuation of John Stow’s Annales, “the auncient English fight of sword and buckler was onely had in use”. Bucklers – small shields – were to be bought...
From: Mathew Lyons on 17 Mar 2022

Freshest Advices From Barbary: News & Information Flows between Restoration Britain & the Maghreb

These newspapers presented to British audiences a view of Maghrebi diversity, and diplomatic relations with Europe free of anti-Maghrebi rhetoric. By Nat Cutter, University of Melbourne Note: This blog post is cross-posted on Medieval & Early...
From: Richard who? on 13 Mar 2022

Charles Dickens and the origins of A Christmas Carol

“Marley was dead: to begin with.” It’s as good a first line for a ghost story as you could imagine. But where did A Christmas Carol begin for its author, Charles Dickens? The answer seems to be the second report of the Children’s Employment Commission,...
From: Mathew Lyons on 10 Mar 2022

An Oxford resurrection

It was Anne Greene’s great good fortune that, after she had been hanged in the castle yard at Oxford, her body was given to the university’s physicians for dissection. In the summer of 1650, Anne, aged 22, had been seduced by Geoffrey Read, the teenage...
From: Mathew Lyons on 3 Mar 2022

The rise and fall of the Sistine Chapel castrati

Eunuchs had sung for centuries in the Byzantine church, but it isn’t until the 1550s that records of castrati begin to appear in western Europe. The first known to enter the Sistine Chapel choir was a Spaniard in 1562; Sixtus V authorised their recruitment...
From: Mathew Lyons on 24 Feb 2022

The Quietus: Russell Hoban: Inside the mystery of language

William G, one of the two protagonists of Russell Hoban’s third novel Turtle Diary (1975), is walking home from work one evening. He notices a manhole cover for the first time. Its number is K257. At home he looks up K257 in a Mozart Companion and discovers...
From: Mathew Lyons on 17 Feb 2022

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) | Stephen Basdeo

Stephen Basdeo is a historian and lecturer based in Leeds, United Kingdom. He researches the life and works of several Victorian popular fiction authors and occasionally reads twenty-first century literature. Introduction At first glance, Cormac...

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