Volume 61 Issue 10 October 2011

Jonathan Fenby argues that the failings of China's 1911 revolution heralded decades of civil conflict, occupation and suffering for the Chinese people.

The standing of Britain’s police forces may be in decline at home, yet their insights into policing methods and practices are still sought eagerly elsewhere, according to Clive Emsley and Georgina Sinclair.

Thomas Penn examines M.J. Tucker’s article on the court of Henry VII, first published in History Today in 1969.

What was behind Colonel Thomas Blood’s failed attempt to steal the Crown Jewels during the cash-strapped reign of Charles II and how did he survive such a treasonable act? Nigel Jones questions the motives of a notorious 17th-century schemer.

Ann Natanson reports on a new scheme to restore the Roman Colosseum to its former gory glory.

A selection of readers' correspondence with the editor, Paul Lay.

The Battle of Cable Street still holds a proud place in anti-fascist memory, considered a decisive victory against the far right. In fact, the event boosted domestic fascism and antisemitism and made life far more unpleasant for its Jewish victims, explains Daniel Tilles.

Identifying those who took part in the recent riots in London and other English cities may prove easier than in past disorders, but the recent widespread introduction of surveillance technology brings its own problems, argues Edward Higgs.

Robert Bickers looks at an emerging archive of British photo albums that record both the drama of the 1911 revolution and the surprisingly untroubled daily lives of those who witnessed it.

Fifty years ago a British film challenged widespread views on homosexuality and helped to change the law. Andrew Roberts looks at the enduring impact of Basil Dearden’s Victim.

There is nothing new or exceptional about the recent English riots and they will have little long-term impact, argues Tim Stanley.

William Beckford was the model of an 18th-century progressive and aesthete. But the wealth that allowed him to live such a lifestyle came from the slaves he exploited in his Caribbean holdings. Robert J. Gemmett looks at how an apparently civilised man sought to justify his hypocrisy.

Rachel Hammersley discusses how events in the 1640s and 1680s in England established a tradition that inspired French thinkers on the path to revolution a century later.

The 264 inhabitants of the island of Tristan da Cunha were evacuated to Cape Town on October 10th, 1961.

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility was first published in London by Thomas Egerton on October 30th, 1811.

Pitt the Elder resigned on October 5th, 1761, at the age of 52.

Today, London’s Vauxhall district is an unprepossessing thoroughfare for cricket fans, train-spotters and spooks. For 200 years, however, it was a famous destination. In spring and summer evenings thousands swarmed to the south bank, crossing the Thames by boat, arriving in carriages via log-jammed roads or trekking on foot. Their pilgrimage was to Vauxhall Gardens, an exotic outdoor pleasure ground and a new type of public resort that had never been seen before.

Born into the artisan lower-middle class in grimy industrial Birmingham, Edward (‘Ned’) Burne-Jones rose to become a baronet and intimate friend of the most aristocratic families in the land.  

He believed that art and beauty sanctified the lives of the masses, yet much of his work was commissioned for a coterie of country-house patrons. Despite being horrified at the social inequalities of Victorian Britain, he recoiled from the direct political action favoured by his great friend William Morris.

Simon Wiesenthal, who died in 2003 aged 93, was credited with bringing hundreds of Nazi war criminals to justice. He was also lauded as the world’s conscience. When no one else cared, he fought to keep cases open and memories alive. He became lionised in America because he sought justice not revenge and offered redemptive lessons from a terrible past. Yet his life was dogged by controversy. Tom Segev’s candid biography gives Wiesenthal the benefit of the doubt but still does no favours to his subject’s wilting reputation.

It is April 1492. In his villa at Careggi, north of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici lies dying. In the city itself two caged lions have mauled one another to death and a thunderbolt has destroyed the lantern on top of the recently erected dome of the cathedral. Moved by these portents, Lorenzo invites Fra Girolamo Savonarola to his bedside, but the Dominican firebrand, when he finally appears, is far from disposed to comfort the stricken tyrant.

Creating a garden could enhance your political future no matter the cost. Lord Dudley (Earl of Leicester) spent the modern equivalent of £1 million on his new garden at Kenilworth Castle in an attempt to gain favour with Elizabeth l, while Lord Cecil was spending an equivalent £250,000 a year on improving Theobalds in Hertfordshire. In her new book Margaret Willes provides a welcome insight into an often-neglected period of garden history by investigating what was being read between 1560 and 1660 when gardens such as Dudley’s and Cecil’s were receiving lavish attention.

On April 15th, 1945 soldiers of the American 102nd Infantry Division happened across a scene of such horror that it surpassed even their own harrowing experiences of the ongoing war. In a field outside Gardelegen, north of Magdeburg in central Germany, they discovered a large modern barn packed with charred corpses. The victims, they established, were concentration camp inmates from the Dora-Mittelbau camp, who had been evacuated some days before. They had been herded into the barn, which had then been set on fire; those attempting to escape had been mown down with machine gun fire.

David Stafford has written many fine books on the Second World War. His Endgame (2007) is a riveting description of the last days of combat through individual case studies, with the author switching his focus from one to another with a dramatist’s skill. Mission Accomplished has echoes of the same technique and is sparked by telling vignettes of this, that or the other Special Operations Executive (SOE) action during the Italian campaign. However it is not as sleekly polished as Endgame, being overall a missed opportunity.

Zara Steiner’s Triumph of the Dark is a superbly wrought history and a major contribution to the field. It is a mammoth work filled to the brim with prodigious scholarship, a scary bibliography, many insights and a wealth of detail. Its style is detached and coolly academic, prizing documentary detail above telling anecdote. Yet there is political engagement at the core. Steiner tells a story of darkness and in her strong judgements she offers a sometimes harsh moral clarity.

The publisher’s blurb on the dust jacket of this book reads: ‘In this ground-breaking account of film history, Bettina Bildhauer shows how, from the earliest silent films to recent blockbusters, medieval topics and plots have played an important but overlooked role in the development of cinema.’ This statement is misleading in a number of respects.

Original poster for 'The Ten Commandments' (1956)Most people today learn much of what history they know from popular culture. More enduring and more influential than almost any academic history is the popular cultural memory.

Tracing the origins of Parliament is like penetrating the thickets to the centre of a wood: the trail narrows and widens, breaks up and re-forms and at the end you’re never quite sure whether you’ve reached the middle or not.

When Ezra Pound and his mates whipped up a briefly fashionable movement called Vorticism they defined it with a list of things they loved and things that they despised. Blessings were conferred upon Joyce, Shakespeare and the sugar-mummy who bankrolled the short lived Vorticist magazine. Blasts shook the architecture of Elgar, Galsworthy and the British Academy. Also on the hit-list were two members of one of the great clans of Victorian and Edwardian intellectual life, the Bensons: the family that English Modernism loved to hate.