The Myth of the Strong Leader

Michael Rowe | Published 22 September 2014
Archie Brown promises an argumentative book and he does not disappoint. The case he presents is clear: so-called ‘strong leaders’ generally prove ineffective. This is because ‘strong’ typically means an inability to accept collective decision-making. However, despite historical experience, a substantial body of contemporary opinion, including of serious political commentators, persists in equating ‘strong’ leadership with effective leadership.Read more »
More articles by Michael Rowe

Scotland's Referendum: Home Rule All Round?

William Gladstone
William Gladstone

As an historian, you can sometimes feel that history is repeating itself without it being aware of it. Watching politicians and commentators anatomise the impact of Scotland's referendum, I was struck by the realisation that we are (seemingly unknowingly) grappling with issues that were discussed long before the phrase 'West Lothian Question' was coined.

In 1886, Prime Minister William Gladstone proposed the restoration of an Irish parliament, separate from but subordinate to Westminster. His actions unleashed a debate far more acrimonious than the one we have just experienced, with one of the main bones of contention being the right of Irish MPs to sit and vote in the House of Commons. Gladstonian Home Rule came to define a political generation; will Cameron's devolution do the same?

Naomi Lloyd-Jones | Published 19 September 2014
More articles by Naomi Lloyd-Jones
Published in

A History of British Prime Ministers

Roland Quinault | Published 17 September 2014
This is an omnibus edition of Leonard’s previous three books on 18th, 19th and 20th century premiers, plus new chapters on Blair, Brown and Cameron. It contains detailed chapters on all 53 prime ministers from Robert Walpole to the present. All the entries are informative, well composed and succinct. The less well-known premiers are not neglected by comparison with the leading figures. The main focus is on politics but attention is also paid to the private life and personal character of the prime ministers.Read more »
More articles by Roland Quinault

Richard Wagner: A Life in Music

Mark Berry | Published 09 September 2014
In 1923 Richard Wagner’s son, Siegfried, appealed to Bayreuth Festival audiences to refrain from responding to Hans Sachs’ paean to ‘holy German art’ at the close of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg by singing the German national anthem. ‘Art is what matters here!’, he declared, lest increasingly boorish far-right political voices scare away Jewish patrons.Read more »
More articles by Mark Berry

Gorbachev, Reagan and the End of the Cold War

Archie Brown | Published 04 September 2014
This is one of the better books on the end of the Cold War. Unlike many American accounts, it is not – at least until its very last paragraph – triumphalist in tone. Wilson recognises that Mikhail Gorbachev was by some distance the most important political actor in the dramatic sequence of events between 1985 and 1991. On the American side he rightly identifies Ronald Reagan, George Shultz and George H.W. Bush as the people who mattered most. He is particularly good at giving Secretary of State Shultz his due.Read more »
More articles by Archie Brown

Tattooed Britannia

Ancient and Modern: tattooed Britons model contemporary fashionsJoseph Banks, patron of the natural sciences and a president of the Royal Society, did not approve of tattoos. As a young man on Captain Cook’s first great voyage into the Pacific, he was baffled by the sight of the illustrated peoples of Polynesia. Musing on the reasons for their tattoos, he observed in 1769 that:

possibly superstition may have something to do with it. Nothing else in my opinion could be a sufficient cause for so apparently absurd a custom.

Though tattoos had an aristocratic moment during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods – Jennie Churchill, Winston’s mother, had a snake etched on her wrist, which she would cover up discreetly with a diamond bracelet – they were long associated in the West with criminals and sailors. At the beginning of the 20th century around 90 per cent of men serving in the Royal Navy were tattooed, usually with symbols that marked – literally – a particular rite of passage: a turtle for having passed the Equator, an anchor for crossing the Atlantic, a dragon symbolising a posting on a China station. One could track the arc of a sailor’s service from his tattoos. Yet outside of ports and prisons the tattoo, in Britain at least, was a rare sighting.

Paul Lay | Published 03 September 2014

Paul Lay is the editor of History Today. He is the author of a book on the late Protectorate.

More articles by Paul Lay
Published in
Paul Lay | Published in