We caught up with historian George Goodwin to find out what we can expect from his talk, Towton 1461: The First War of the Roses and England’s Bloodiest Battle, at our Winchester History Weekend 2018…
Q: What can audiences look forward to in your talk at our Winchester History Weekend 2018?
Lots of colour slides, a bit of humour (some of it on the ‘black’ side) and some pathos as we move from the triumphs of Henry V to the tragic reign of Henry VI. It takes in the loss of the English kingdom of France and the first War of the Roses, with a climax in the Armageddon of Towton – when the armies of two kings of England fought the bloodiest battle on English soil in the most appalling wintry conditions.
Q: Why are you so interested in this period of history?
The sheer drama of its constant and completely unpredictable changes of fortune, plus the wealth of extraordinary characters involved – warrior queen, vengeful nobles, cunning churchmen (and even the Pope).
Q: Tell us something that might surprise or shock us about this area of history…
Henry VI was kneeling in private prayer when he was murdered through a savage blow to the back of his head.
Q: What is your favourite ‘little-known fact’ from history?
The course of the French Revolution would have been completely different if the French royal family, in their flight to the frontier, had not stopped for a breakfast picnic to add to other delays. Through a whole chapter of accidents, the plan unravelled and they were arrested just a few miles from the border.
Q: Which three historical figures would you invite to a dinner party and why?
Nell Gwynne, Benjamin Franklin and Oscar Wilde. That they came from three different centuries would be interesting, but I also think that they might get on very well. They would certainly have subjects in common: Nell and Oscar through the stage; Ben and Oscar through printing and publishing; Nell and Ben through court gossip and politics – not to mention that the latter’s love of the theatre would enable him to tell Nell and Oscar about what it was like in the age of playwright David Garrick. I would act as host and listen, but I would ensure that they were kept in good humour by getting the Prince Regent (George IV) to provide the booze and lend us his French chef, Marie-Antoine Carême, for the evening. Would it be cheating for Carême to leave the kitchen for a few minutes, just to check that we were enjoying the meal and also to give us a few anecdotes about the prince, as well as French diplomat Talleyrand and Napoleon?
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Q: If you had to live in any historical time period, which would you choose and why?
I rather like my present lifetime. Aside from that – and assuming health, reasonable wealth and security – a nice estate, located a day’s journey from Rome in the 2nd century AD and run by happy freed men and women, would be a pretty good place to be sitting down and writing history books.
Q: Which history book(s) would you recommend (excluding your own)?
Andrew O’Shaughnessy’s multi-prize-winner on the War of Independence, The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (2014). Without wanting to reveal my own views on Brexit, I do believe every current MP should have a copy of Professor O’Shaughnessy’s book. Historical comparisons are always fascinating!
George Goodwin will be speaking about the battle of Towton at BBC History Magazine’s Winchester History Weekend on Sunday 7 October. To find out more about his talk and to book tickets, click here.