Introducing the Wolfson Prize 2017 Shortlist: Part One
The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under The Tsars by Daniel Beer
Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson
I wrote Henry IV for two main reasons: because he has too often been neglected, and because the revolution of 1399 which brought him to the throne provides an opportunity to analyse more widely the fault-lines in late medieval political society. The Lancastrian affinity – the greatest power-network bar the crown in fourteenth-century England – won him the throne and remained his principal buttress, but it was also a significant handicap. Its political dominance in the shires aroused resentment leading to widespread disorder, the king’s leading supporters were seen as rapacious and overbearing, and Henry was perceived by many to be the servant as much as the master of his affinity. This book emphasises the limitations as much as the powers of kingship: the affinity, in particular, was both an underpinning and an undermining force. Henry’s character and policies also fascinated me: cultured, educated, interested in music, theological disputation and designing guns, he advocated reform of the Church but faced strong pressure to clamp down on heresy.
I am delighted to be shortlisted for the Wolfson Prize, both for myself, for I have always tried to combine scholarship with accessibility, and for my publishers, Yale University Press, for their dedication over twenty years to the English Monarchs series.
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel
Although many people have written about illuminated manuscripts, this book describes the experience of studying them, and it shows what we can learn from actually encountering the originals. It invites the reader to sit beside the author as we look at manuscripts together, in the different settings of some of the greatest rare book libraries of the world.
It is not simply a work of history (although I am an academic historian by training), but is intended to be a readable and, with luck, an encouraging and infectiously enthusiastic summons to a lifetime’s adventure among original manuscripts. I especially liked the review (by John Banville) describing the author: “we have the impression of a large Labrador dog bounding joyfully through successive summer meadows.” There are historical discoveries and revelations on nearly every page. I am therefore particularly pleased that the book has caught the attention of the judges of the Wolfson Prize, which celebrates the accessibility of historical research. Two chapters include manuscripts once owned by different members of the Rothschild family: it would please me immensely if the book travels onwards with the name of the Wolfson dynasty also attached.
The overall winner will be revealed at a reception at Claridge’s on Monday 15 May 2017. For more information about the Wolfson History Prize follow @Wolfsonfdn or visit http://www.wolfson.org.uk/history-prize
Would you like to proceed to the App store to download the Waterstones App?