Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

“The lover”– an extract from Love, Madness, and Scandal

The high society of Stuart England found Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck (1602-1645) an exasperating woman. She lived at a time when women were expected to be obedient, silent, and chaste, but Frances displayed none of these qualities. The following extract looks Frances’ affair with Sir Robert Howard.

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Bastards and Game of Thrones

Watching Game of Thrones, and devouring the novels, made me a better medievalist. As fans of the show and novels know well, George R. R. Martin’s imaginary world offers a vibrant account of life and death, of royal power and magic, of political infighting, arranged marriages, sex, love, and despair. It is not an accurate depiction of medieval Europe, but why should it be?

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The life and times of Clement Attlee, the man who created modern Britain [Timeline]

The Labour Party of Great Britain was formed in 1900 and during the early decades of the century struggled as the opposition to Conservative Party, forming minority governments, under Ramsay McDonald, for only brief periods. Clement Attlee, representing London’s East End in Parliament, was there through those early struggles, a witness to Labour’s near annihilation […]

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What is to be done with Harriet Martineau?

“She says nothing that is not obvious,” claimed Alice Meynell of Harriet Martineau (1802-76), “and nothing that is not peevishly and intentionally misunderstood.” (Pall Mall Gazette, 11 October 1895). If this seemed the case in 1895, how does her reputation stand in the twenty-first century, given that so much of her writing and campaigning was […]

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Punishing Peccadilloes? Illicit sex at the early Stuart courts

At the Tudor and early Stuart royal courts, the careers of influential politicians and courtiers often depended on the preferences of the monarchs: being in the king’s good graces often mattered as much or more for advancements than ability and training. The personality and quirks of the rulers affected many aspects of a courtier’s life, including what today might be considered the most private: their sex lives.

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Fielding and fake news

Fake news is not only a phenomenon of post-truth politics in the Trump era. It’s as old as newspapers themselves—or as old, Robert Darnton suggests, as the scurrilous Anecdota of Procopius in sixth-century Byzantium. In England, the first great age of alternative facts was the later seventeenth century, when they clustered especially around crises of dynastic succession.

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Tradesmen and women during the Industrial Revolution

An eclectic mix of small manufacturers, shopkeepers and service providers dominated the streetscape of towns across north-west England during early industrial revolution. Yet although these tradesmen and women constituted anything from 20–60% of the urban population, our view of the commercial world in this period tends to be dominated by narratives of particularly big and successful businesses, and those involved in new and large-scale modes of production.

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What Orwell and Snowden overlooked

In response to the Fake News and Alternative Facts doctrine twittered so incoherently from the Trump White House, people have remembered George Orwell’s Doublethink and Newspeak, and sales of 1984 have boomed in the USA. No doubt we shall soon appreciate anew the Orwellian warning that Big Brother is Watching You. The revelations by Edward Snowden still linger in our consciousness as a reminder of the caution.

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10 things you may not know about the making of the OED (Part 1)

The Oxford English Dictionary is recognized the world over, but much of its history isn’t so widely known: as with a respected professor or an admired parent, it’s all too easy simply to make use of its wisdom and authority without giving much thought to how it was acquired. Read on for some interesting nuggets of information about the history of this extraordinary project that you may not have encountered elsewhere.

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Anglo-Saxon law, social networks, and terrorism

How would the Anglo-Saxons react to the threat of terrorism if they had access to Facebook? It’s a bizarre question, I admit, but I’ve been immersed in England’s pre-Norman Conquest legal system for over a decade now, and it’s been playing on my mind. The answer makes me uncomfortable. Supposing the brutal persecution of minority groups was impractical (which it actually wasn’t), how would the Anglo-Saxons have reacted if they knew that there were among their number people who secretly rejected their core values and plotted to cause them harm?

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Bastards and thrones in Medieval Europe

Today we use the term “bastard” as an insult, or to describe children born to non-marital unions. Being born to unmarried parents is largely free of the kind of stigma and legal incapacities once attached to it in Western cultures. Nevertheless, it still has associations of shame and sin. This disparagement of children born outside of marriage is widely assumed to be a legacy of Medieval Christian Europe, with its emphasis on compliance with Catholic marriage law.

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New frontiers in international law: The Asian paradox

Just over three hundred years ago, William Pitt Amherst arrived in China as Britain’s putative ambassador. The new frontier that China presented remained closed until it was opened by force of arms, solemnized in treaties denounced by China as unequal and marking the beginning of a century of humiliation. In other parts of Asia, international law facilitated and legitimized the colonial enterprise to expand international law and commerce to other frontiers.

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The many voices of Dickens

Charles Dickens’s reputation as a novelist and as the creator of Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the most globally recognized Christmas miser figures, has secured him what looks to be a permanent place in the established literary canon. Students, scholars, and fans of Dickens may be surprised to learn that the voice many Victorians knew as “Dickens,” especially at Christmastime, was also the voice of nearly forty other people.

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