Battles and Hastings

The editor of the Evening Standard reflects on the romantic roots of his interest in history.

I was born in 1945, into a generation in which history and romance were still inextricably entwined. We read historical fiction avidly from the age of eight or nine; Conan Doyle’s medieval tales and his exploits of Brigadier Gerard. Rosemary Sutcliffe, D.K. Broster, G.A. Henty, and – from my teens - a lot of Scott. The description of the last hours of the condemned Jacobite rebel in Waverley still seems to me a superbly powerful piece of prose. Ivanhoe goes without saying. The Heart of Midlothian was a less predictable favourite. Kenilworth, for some reason, established a special hold over me. One school holiday, I persuaded my mother to drive me up to Warwickshire to look upon the ruins of that wonderful fortress.

The stones cast a spell of enchantment over me, as they still do, and I have revisted the place many times in the intervening years, pondering its past. My first visit at the age of fourteen was the beginning of a long love affair with castles, above all the concentric masterpieces of Edward I and his successors in Wales: Harlech, Caernarvon, Caerphilly, Rhuddlan, Raglan - I trudged happily round them all. Somehow I never got across the Menai Straits to Beaumaris, but many was the time that I doodled its sketch plan on the margin of an exercise book. I could still do so, from memory. I learned to love the Middle Ages.

In modern terms, I was wholly politically incorrect as a student of history, because my enthusiasms were almost exclusively military. I won a scholarship to Charterhouse chiefly on the basis of an essay about Winston Churchill’s My Early Life, at thirteen my favourite book.

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