Volume 62 Issue 4 April 2012

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

The true nature of the relationship between Henry II and his ‘turbulent priest’ Thomas Becket.

Binge drinking is seen as a British disease, but its causes are complex and politicians intrude at their peril, says Tim Stanley.

The medieval holy man was killed by the Danes on April 19th, 1012.

Patrick Bishop’s first assignment as a foreign correspondent was to accompany the British task force sent to the South Atlantic to reclaim the Falkland Islands in April 1982. Thirty years on, he recalls his experience.

The last person burned to death at the stake for heresy was executed on April 11th, 1612.

The great military institution took flight on April 13th, 1912.

In April 1782 the first of a series of revolutions that were to change the shape of Europe broke out in the republic of Geneva. It was fuelled by a long rift between advocates of the French Enlightenment and opponents of Franco-Catholic imperialism, as Richard Whatmore explains.

Mary Rose was the younger sister of Henry VIII. David Loades describes how this forgotten Tudor was something of a wild card.

For a century the sinking of the Titanic has attracted intense interest. Yet, as Andrew Wells explains, there have been many vested interests keen to prevent media attention.

The two 16th-century battles of Panipat, which took place 30 years apart, are little known in the West. But they were pivotal events in the making of the Mughal Empire as the dominant power of northern India, as Jeremy Black explains.

Roger Hudson on the vitriolic reaction to Paul Robeson's open-air concert in Peekskill, New York, 1949.

Nigel Richardson describes the impact of the Titanic disaster on Southampton, the city from which she sailed and home to more than a third of those who lost their lives when the ship went down on April 15th, 1912.

Thirty years after the Falklands War the bitter debate over the South Atlantic islands remains clouded in historical ignorance, argues Klaus Dodds

Since the 19th century, attitudes to drugs have been in constant flux, argues Victoria Harris, owing as much to fashion as to science.

Just before Christmas 2011 the Heritage Lottery Fund announced a grant of £1.8m for the restoration of Forty Hall Park, Enfield, the site of a Tudor palace and later an 18th-century pleasure garden. Thirty years before, it had been the setting for a bizarre archaeological ‘discovery’, as Richard Mawrey recounts.

Blair Worden revisits Hugh Trevor-Roper’s essay on the radicalism of the Puritan gentry, a typically stylish and ambitious contribution to a fierce controversy.

James Romm examines some intriguing new theories about a long-standing historical mystery.

France has long been the quintessential land of the political scandal. Since at least the 17th century its rulers have been repeatedly up to their necks in dirty and sometimes downright murderous deeds. The grubby record includes the Panama scandal; the murder of the editor of France’s leading newspaper, Le Figaro, by the wife of the minister of finance, Joseph Caillaux, on the eve of the First World War; and the Stavisky scandal of 1934, which brought down a government.

Taiwan, once again a site of confrontation between China and the West, was for nearly four decades the pride of the Dutch Indies. Then, two centuries before the Opium Wars, a warlord called Koxinga kicked the Dutch colonists out. The Dutch blamed the defeat on their commander, Frederick Coyet. Having been subjected to a mock execution in Batavia, Coyet in turn pointed the finger at the arrogant neglect of his government. In Lost Colony, Tonio Andrade asks if the true explanation might lie in the might of Koxinga’s 150,000-strong army.

Very early, on a raw January morning in 1943, 230 women were herded from lorries onto cattle trucks at the station of Compiègne, in the Oise valley to the north of Paris. It was a transit station for political prisoners, incarcerated by the German occupiers and in this case designated to be treated as Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog), condemned to disappear without trace. The destination was Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In 1898 British and French forces faced off at Fashoda in the Sudan, an outpost on the upper Nile. It was the high point of the European scramble for Africa and momentarily there was a threat of war, which was only averted when the French stood down. For Paris the incident was a never to be forgotten humiliation, symptomatic of an age-old rivalry for global supremacy stretching back to the 18th century, which was only partially eclipsed by the diplomatic rapprochement of 1904, the so-called Entente Cordiale.

In modern Britain not a day goes by without a new diet fad, intimate coverage of celebrity weight loss (or gain) and advice on the importance of diet and exercise to our health and wellbeing. Alongside this sits a fascination with food, as indulgent recipes fill the pages of glossy magazines and programmes presenting cookery as an art form, as an exercise in voyeurism and as a competition fill the airwaves. This contrast between our fetishisation of food and our obsession with achieving a ‘perfect’ body, however, is nothing new.

Imagine: someone tries to sell you one of the nails used to crucify Jesus. Before you part with your cash you want to establish its provenance. If you are gullible enough, you’ll buy the story and the nail. Nails, even holy ones, have no aesthetic value. But if you aim to buy a Rembrandt, the history of its provenance is not sufficient – it could have been painted in Rembrandt’s days, by one of his pupils, in his studio, using the same paint, the same brushes, on a similar canvas. One needs to establish that it could only have been painted by the master himself.

Ian Mortimer has taken L.P. Hartley to heart. If ‘the past is a foreign country’, where ‘they do things differently’, Mortimer’s Time Traveller books are our historical Lonely Planets. Using the innovative approach first seen in his wildly successful The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Mortimer has turned his attention to the first Elizabethan age (1558-1603). By using telling details to evoke the world of the past, he writes history as people want to read it.