Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Newsletter, 7 February 2013

Welcome to the Forum newsletter, where we give a round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

One of the biggest news stories this week was a historical one, the confirmation by University of Leicester archaeologists that the skeleton found underneath a car park in Leicester was “beyond reasonable doubt” that of Richard III. Here is their press release which received so much coverage.

It was also recently 200 years since Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published, and the Guardian invited some of its writers and authors including PD James and Sebastian Faulks to look at it afresh, with some interesting interpretations from a modern standpoint. In the Daily Telegraph, Joan Bakewell imagined how it might be updated now.

A Georgian tower may have a new life after being bought for £1 by a homeless charity. Perrott’s Folly in Edgbaston, Birmingham, has one room on each of its seven floors and was built by John Perrott in 1758, either as a hunting lodge, status symbol or to look over his wife’s grave 15 miles away. It was also an inspiration for a tower in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The charity is hoping to restore the tower and re-open it permanently.

Researchers at the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library have identified 350 engraved plates by poet and artist William Blake among the large Tcollection in the library, which already held some works by Blake, The Independent reported. he etchings will go on show there soon.

Anticipating the revelations from the University of Leicester, an article in the Daily Telegraph looked at why the public vision of Richard III as a villain exists as it does, examining literary and artistic portraits of him.

Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies has won the Costa book of the year award, after already winning the Man Booker. The book is the second instalment of her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, which has divided historian readers. Mantel is apparently now working on the final instalment leading to Cromwell’s demise in 1540.

There was bad news for researchers in Italy with two more men arrested for alleged involvement in premeditated theft from the Girolamini library in Naples, where thousands of books have been found to have disappeared from the 16th century collection.


A topical release was The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne which was described by the Observer as a series of essays that show how household objects turn into emblems of Austen’s character and demonstrate her concerns. The Daily Telegraph found it a well-written and amusing addition to the books about the author, and said it also brought to life Regency England as well as the East and West Indies.

Other recent book reviews include:

The Late Medieval English Church: Vitality and vulnerability Before the Break with Rome by George W Bernard, reviewed by Dr Martin Heale, who wrote that in a highly-readable study the author finds a number of potential shortcomings in the late medieval church which left it vulnerable to the king and to criticism from idealistic reformers and satirists.

History of England, Volume II: The Tudors by Peter Ackroyd, reviewed by Dr Susan Doran, who wrote that a good story is told with pace and lively detail, but without endnotes or an index.

Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest by Susan Brigden, reviewed by Professor George Bernard looks at the life of the courtier and poet who was locked in the Tower under suspicion of being Anne Boleyn’s lover and for not being loyal to Henry VIII. The reviewer wrote that there is evidence of a lot of work in the archives and reading of current literature, though the reader is not told why she takes the view she does on certain events.

Shareholder Democracies? Corporate Governance in Britain and Ireland before 1850 by Mark Freeman, Robin Pearson and James Taylor, is reviewed by Professor James B McSwain of Tuskegee University in a very long essay. He wrote that the book describes the evolution of corporate governance from 1720-1844 and also its convergence with broad social and cultural developments, and that the book rests on ‘an impressive empirical foundation enriched by the authors’ extensive acquaintance with business historiography’.

The Meeting Place: Māori and Pākehā Encounters, 1642-1840 by Vincent O'Malley, is reviewed by Therese Crocker of the Victoria University of Wellington. O’Malley has already published widely on Crown-Maori interactions, and Crocker wrote in this book he presents a period of New Zealand history when the balance of power was about to change irreconcilably, and the strength of the book is in drawing may sources and threads together, to present a lively view of early encounter history.

The Business of War. Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe by David Parrott. In his review Dr Neil Younger of the University of Essex found this analysis of the role of private enterprise in early modern warfare, removing the role of the state from the centre of the picture, a “very welcome and stimulating addition to our knowledge”. The book examines how private enterprise filled many gaps in state weakness in meeting the demands of warfare, and Younger wrote that it is an important contribution to the literature of European warfare.

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, and a trustee of the British Shakespeare Association, reviews Shakespeare’s Education: Schools, Lawsuits, Theater and the Tudor Miracle by Robin Fox which aims to support the controversial case for Edward de Vere as the writer of the Bard’s works. Smith finds the book “abounds in the usual inane, prejudiced, historically unsound and unfeasible suggestions”. The review has attracted several comments.


The Royal Academy has opened its latest blockbuster exhibition, Manet: Portraying Life, the first retrospective devoted purely to the artist’s portraiture, which has had mixed reviews. The Independent found it sparingly hung, with some poor works among the good, and the Guardian that even great artists have their off days. The Daily Telegraph found it able but a bit dry.

A current discussion about contemporary cartoonists being offensive inspired an article in the Guardian looking back at the work of William Hogarth in the 18th century and argued that surely it was the job of cartoonists to offend humanity, and that was what made them great.

The National Portrait Gallery has reunited Henry VIII and Catherine Aragon, the Guardian reported, after it found a portrait of devoutly Catholic Catherine hanging in Lambeth Palace, the official home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It had been believed the portrait was of his sixth wife Catherine Parr, but now correctly identified they are together in Room 1 of the gallery.

Academics have also identified another painting, La Bella Principessa, which was painted by da Vinci before his Mona Lisa, but also has a smile which seems to change depending on the viewpoint of the onlooker. The Independent reported that the painting is thought to show 13-year-old Bianca Sforza before her marriage to a commander of the Milanese forces. Academics from the Sheffield Hallam department of psychology and the University of Sunderland have studied the technique and effect of the gaze.

At the V&A in London, 'Masterpieces of Italian Renaissance Maiolica', which is on until May 6, looks at works produced from what was considered an affordable alternative to Chinese porcelain. The exhibition draws on items from its own collection and includes 15th century family arms decorating items, and 16th century mythological and biblical scenes.

The Ikon gallery in Birmingham usually shows contemporary artists, but from 13 February – 21 April is staging Line to Contour, an exhibition of works by John Flaxman (1755 – 1826), a leading British Neoclassicist, who was known in his lifetime for his illustrations of stories from ancient Greece. The exhibition shows drawings and plaster models for sculpture almost entirely from the UCL Art Museum at University College London. Flaxman worked as a designer for Wedgwood’s pottery, and created the monument to Birmingham industrialist Matthew Boulton in Handsworth church. He also spent seven years in Rome where he created his most famous works.


On stage, a new version of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo, translated by Mark Ravenhill, has just opened at the Swan Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, featuring his trial looking at religious faith versus scientific fact. Astronomy journalist Stuart Clark has written about working with the cast on bringing 17th century science to life. The play runs until March 30.

The Opera North production of Verdi’s Otello in Leeds has seen the tragedy transposed to a Second World War naval base, but the Independent review finds the issue of race comes secondary to the orchestra, which steals the show. The production is on until February 17 then tours.

We would also welcome news of your recently-published journal articles or books, and forthcoming conferences. You can email Newsletter Author Julie Chamberlain at with details.