WITCH HUNT: A Century of Murder

Category : Blog · (2) Comments Oct 5th, 2015

I have exciting news for UK viewers: my series on the 16th and 17thc women accused of witchcraft – “WITCH HUNT: A Century of Murder” – looks set to start on Channel 5 on 13th October. (It’s been renamed from Witches to Witch Hunt).

More details to follow (including any dates for airing in other countries as and when I get them).

Witchcraft pictures

A brief history of witches

Step into a dark chapter of Britain’s history

Did you know that one in five witches in Europe were male

Some of the common characteristics of witches

How did the authorities prove that someone was a witch?

Where do the stereotypical ideas of witches come from?

The Stuff of the Living Past

Category : Blog · No Comments Sep 24th, 2015

Historians try to produce as total a view of the past as possible. Yet does our concern with facts isolate us from how material culture influenced lived experience?

Oct Hist Today picture

Read my latest History Today post here.

How to choose a wife – sixteenth-century style

Category : Blog · (2) Comments Aug 21st, 2015

If you are a man seeking a wife, you can do worse than employ this helpful list of questions prepared by King Henry VII in 1505 when he was thinking of marrying again (to Joanna of Naples).


Ask yourself:

1. Does she speak any French or Latin?

2. How old is she?

3. Does she wear makeup?


The wisdom of Henry VII

4. Is her face fat or lean, sharp or round?

5. Is her countenance cheerful and amiable, frowning and malicious, steadfast or light, and does she blush when she speaks?

6. How clear is her skin?

7. What colour is her hair?

8. What shape is her nose?

9. Measure the height and breadth of her forehead.

10. Are her arms long or short, small or great?

11. Get a look at her bare hands: are her palms thick or thin? Are her hands fat or lean, long or short?

12. What about her fingers? Are they long or short, small or great, broad or narrow?

13. And her neck? Is it long or short, small or great?

14. Are her breasts big or small?

15. Does she have any hair about her lips?

16. Find some excuse to get her to tell a story at some length, get as close to her as possible and note: how sweet is her breath?

17. Every time you speak with her, notice: does she smell of spices, or rosewater, or musk?

18. How tall is she? And is she wearing heels? How high are the heels? Don’t be deceived into thinking she’s taller than she actually is.

19. When she takes the heels off, get a look at her feet: what shape are they?

Joanna of Naples - how did she fare under Henry VII's vigorous questionnaire?

Joanna of Naples – how did she fare under Henry VII’s vigorous questionnaire?

20. Does she have any sickness, deformities or blemishes? Is she often ill? With what?

21. Enquire about her diet. Is she a great feeder or drinker? Does she eat often? Does she drink wine or water, or both?

22. Finally, appoint a ‘cunning painter’ to produce an image of her.

This, gentlemen, is all the information you need to make your decision.


Based on:

Instructions given by King Henry the Seventh to his Embassadors, When he intended to marry the young queen of Naples: together with the answers of the embassadors ed. by T. Becket and P.A. De Hondt (1761)

Excerpts below:

  1. …whether the young queen speke any other languages thatn Spaynyshe and Italyon, and whether she can speke any Frenshe or Late
  1. Item, Specially to marke and note well the age and stature of the said yong quene, and the feturys of her bodye
  1. Item, Specially to marke favour of hir visage, whether she bee paynted or not, and whether it be fate or leene, sharpe or rounde, and whether hir countenance bee chierfuil and amiable, frowning or malinco yous, stedefast or light, or blushing in communicacion.
  1. Item, To note the clearness of hir skynne
  1. Item, To note the colours of hir here
  1. Item, To note well her ies, browes, teethe, and lippes
  1. Item, To marke well the fashion of hir nose, and heithe and brede of hir forehedde
  1. Item, Specially to note hir complexion
  1. Item, To marke hir armes, whether they bee grete or small, long or shorte
  1. Item, To see hir hands bare, and note the fascion of theym, whether the palm of hir hand bee thikke or thynne, and whether hir hands be fatte or leene, long or shorte
  1. Item, To note hir fyngers, whether they bee longe or shorte, small or grete, brode or narrowe before
  1. Item, To marke whether hir nekke be longe or shorte, small or grete
  1. Item, To marke hir brest and pappes, whether they be bigg or small
  1. Item, To marke whether ther appere any here about hir lippes or not
  1. Item, That they endevor theyme to speke with the said yong quene… and that she may tell unto them some matier at lengthe, and to approach as nere to hir mouthe as they honestly maye, to thentent that they may fele the condicion of hir brethe, whether it be swete or not, and to marke at every time when they speke with hir, if they fele any favour of spices, rose waters, or muske, by the brethe of her mouthe, or not
  1. Item, To note the height of hir stature, and to enquire whether she were any slippers, and of what height her slippers bee, to thentent they be not deceived in the veray height and stature of hir, and if they may come to the height of her slippers, then to note the fashion of hir foote
  1. Item, To enquire whether she have any sekenesse of her nativitie, deformity or blemmyshe in hir bodye, and what that shuld bee; or whether she hath been communely in health, or sometye seke, and sometime hole, and to know the specialities of such diseases and sicknesse…
  1. Item, To enquire of the manner of hir diet, and whether she bee a grete fedar or drynker, and whether she useth often to eat and drynke, and whether she drynketh wyne or water, or bothe

23. Item, … diligently enqere for some conynge painter…  [to] drawe a picture of the visage and semblance of the said young quene…


Sex Changes Over Time

Category : Blog · No Comments Aug 5th, 2015

High minded allegations of prurience should not stop historians from examining the intimate lives of people in the past – My August History Today article

Behind the curtain: an illustration from Barthelemy l'Anglais' Le Livre des Proprietes des choses, c.1410. - See more at: http://www.historytoday.com/suzannah-lipscomb/sex-changes-over-time#sthash.LmoKemHn.lwzcMZx2.dpuf

Behind the curtain: an illustration from Barthelemy l’Anglais’ Le Livre des Proprietes des choses, c.1410. – See more at: http://www.historytoday.com/suzannah-lipscomb/sex-changes-over-time#sthash.LmoKemHn.lwzcMZx2.dpuf


Why Did Anne Boleyn Have to Die?

Category : Blog · No Comments Jul 29th, 2015

Was she ensnared by a conspiracy, the victim of her own loose tongue, or simply guilty as charged? In this 2013 article I tries to unearth the real reason why Henry VIII sent his second wife, Anne Boleyn, to the block.

Anne feature 2

Why Did Anne Boleyn Have to Die?

The King is Dead

Category : Blog · No Comments Jul 28th, 2015

My new book is out on 5 November!

If you pre-order on Amazon, I’ll love you forever:

 The King is Dead

You can also find it on Head of Zeus: The King is Dead

To be Published 5th November 2015

To be Published 5th November 2015

Epsom College Prizegiving

Category : Blog · No Comments Jun 26th, 2015

It was a great honour to speak and hand out the prizes at the Epsom College Prizegiving Ceremony today, especially as it’s my old school…


The Woman Who Married Herself and if you go to the end you’ll find Other You Tube Videos

Category : Blog · No Comments Jun 3rd, 2015

Here’s a little clip of a debate called ‘Vanity Fair’ at ‘How The Light Gets In’, at the Hay Festival last week on the question of whether narcissism could be a virtue, with Prof. Simon Blackburn, George Galloway and me, chaired by Ritula Shah.

Living in a Material World

Category : Blog · No Comments May 30th, 2015

My latest post in History Today in on Cultural Vandalism – take a look here.

The article features the destruction of Nonsuch Palace in Cheam – my old stamping ground.

Nowhere is there anything the like'; the arrival of Elizabeth I at Nonsuch Palace, 1598, engraving by Joris Hoefnagel.

Nowhere is there anything the like’; the arrival of Elizabeth I at Nonsuch Palace, 1598, engraving by Joris Hoefnagel.

The 22nd Swindon Festival of Literature

Category : Blog · No Comments May 15th, 2015

I’m delighted to be delivering a new talk this evening entitled ‘Public Intellectualism Today’  in which I’ll be looking at the importance of thinking deeply and carefully about things, present and past; and the role of the intellectual in society today.

In the talk I’ll pose the questions: Who and what is an intellectual, today? What does it mean to be an intellectual? Does being ‘a whole person’ include being an intellectual? What is the intellectual’s role in the world? How does an intellectual best engage with society? Has this changed significantly from the past to today? And is a ‘public intellectual’ not an oxymoron?

Wow, after all that I’ll sit back and let others do the work while I help judge the THINK SLAM!

This is how it works – Competitors have 3 minutes to present a thought-provoking idea, theory, or story. From then on, it’s a knockout! Keen but kindly judges, including me as judge-supremo, will decide who pleases the thinking parts that others cannot reach, who inspires good, great, or gruesome thoughts, and who does not.

Just as in all good sporting competitions, there will be a quarter final, semi final, and final! Though there may well be moments of seriousness, nervousness, and puzzlement, a spirit of wonder, wit, and good humour will prevail!

The sixth Swindon Think Slam Champ will receive a bubbly-filled trophy, rapturous applause, and nice words from me!

A New Princess

Category : Blog · No Comments May 3rd, 2015

I’ve enjoyed speaking about the birth of HRH The Princess of Cambridge from a historical perspective on the television and radio (Sky News, BBC Breakfast, LBC, Good Morning Britain on ITV, BBC News and BBC World) this weekend.

The birth of this little girl, fourth in line to the throne is historically interesting, because it brings equality to the sexes. For the first time, following a change in the law – the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, that only came into force a mere five weeks ago – the new Princess can’t be supplanted from her position in the line of succession by any younger brothers. Age, for the first time in history, trumps gender.

Another piece of legislation also applies to this child. The new baby will be titled HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge because of Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm issued by the Queen in December 2012. In 1917, George V restricted the title of HRH Prince or Princess to the children of the sovereign, their children, and the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales (i.e. today Prince George). So, born under that law, the new baby would have been Lady Charlotte Cambridge or possibly Lady Charlotte Mountbatten-Windsor or Lady  Charlotte Wales. But the Queen’s change to the law means she has been born a Princess. The law doesn’t extend to Prince Harry: if he has children, they will still not be titled Prince of Princess.

Finally, the last Princess of Cambridge was Princess Mary Adelaide Wilhelmina Elizabeth, born in 1833, and known for both her lavish partying and her charitable works. She was also, curiously, known as ‘The People’s Princess’, so already, before we even know her name, this little baby reminds us of her grandmother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

With Kay Burley outside the Lindo Wing for Sky News

With Kay Burley outside the Lindo Wing for Sky News

Good Morning Britain

Good Morning Britain

Sky News

Sky News

There is a Resonance About Being Where History Happened

Category : Blog · No Comments Apr 26th, 2015

I’m joining a Telegraph ‘World of Wolf Hall’ tour in July and wonder if you would like to join me?

You can find more details here if you are interested The World of Wolf Hall or call 033330 059095.

Telegraph tour ad

Who was Henry VIII?

Category : Blog · No Comments Apr 22nd, 2015

History Today have re-posted an old article of mine about Henry VIII that was first published in History Today Volume 59, Issue 4, April 2009


Quizeum – Wednesday 22nd April

Category : Blog · No Comments Apr 17th, 2015

It was a great pleasure to go on Griff Rhys Jones’s new quiz show, Quizeum, which will be shown this week in the Museum of London. My erudite team-mate, Lars Tharp, and I took on the formidable combination of historians Hallie Rubenhold and Dan Snow. The fiendish questions were set by Griff and his team at Modern TV. Do watch it to its nail-biting end!

Here’s a couple of clips:


What do these two objects reveal about Churchill and St. Pauls?



Shedding Light on Dark History

Category : Blog · No Comments Mar 24th, 2015

The increasing commercialisation of sites known for their gruesome and violent history raises troubling questions. But to ignore such events would be worse –

My article in April’s History Today magazine

Eerie: the metal sculpture of Alice Nutter in Roughlee, Lancashire

Eerie: the metal sculpture of Alice Nutter in Roughlee, Lancashire

Time Team

Category : Blog · No Comments Mar 19th, 2015

I was lucky enough to be part of this series – the last Time Team series ever! Sob. If you’re on Twitter, go and RT this to be entered into the competition (UK only).

Time Team Series 20

Time Team

Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home

Category : Blog · No Comments Mar 16th, 2015

If you missed it, Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home is playing on iPlayer for the next 24 days here.

This is what I wrote about it when it was first aired in 2013 Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

Category : Blog · No Comments Mar 15th, 2015

This programme will be repeated on Tuesday 7th April, on The Yesterday Channel. You can see what I wrote about it when it was first broadcast here.


Category : Blog · No Comments Mar 9th, 2015

Had great fun (although initially dead nervous) on Monday night recording an episode of Quizeum – a new quiz show in – guess what – a museum! It’s presented by Griff Rhys Jones. The series starts to air on 25th March on BBC 4 (at around 8.30pm) and my episode, at the Museum of London, is about six in. I was in a team with Lars Tharp (whom you’ll know from the Antiques Roadshow) and we fought historians Hallie Rubenhold and Dan Snow. But the question is: who won?

Here’s the first trailer:

Quizeum episode 1 trailer

Three Female Historians

Category : Blog · No Comments Feb 28th, 2015

On 28th February 2015, the Daily Mail featured three female historians, including me:

Daily Mail - Three female historians