History Weekend 2014 preview: 5 minutes with… Dan Jones

Historian and journalist Dan Jones is to take festival-goers on a time travelling journey to the Tudor period at this year’s History Weekend in Malmesbury. In a talk titled ‘The Wars of the Roses: The Fall Of The Plantagenets And The Rise of the Tudors’, Jones will trace the story of the conflict, and reveal how it led to the rise of the House of Tudor. Jones is a columnist for the Evening Standard, and the author of The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England. Here, in an interview with History Extra, he talks Malmesbury, medieval history, and time travel.

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Q: How and when did you first realise you had a passion for history?

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A: I was in sixth form and I had a brilliant teacher, Robin Green. He was teaching us – inevitably – about the Tudors, and he conjured up the period as vividly as I’ve ever known it.

I later discovered his real passion was for the Stuarts, but that wasn’t on the syllabus. Still, it never showed. He was a tremendous man, and I briefly played guitar in his invitational glam rock band, The Potentials. Good times.

Q: What’s the best thing about being a historian?

A: It’s licensed nosiness. The perfect combination of journalism and time travel. Can’t think of a better job.

Q: Are you reading any exciting history books at the moment?

A: Right now I’ve Peter Ackroyd’s little biography of Charlie Chaplin on the go. Apparently in Japan, Chaplin was known as ‘Professor Alcohol’, which is probably the most important fact I’m going to retain.

Others are Alex Larman’s raucous new book about Lord Rochester and the court of Charles II, and a new history of Bannockburn.

Q: Why do you love medieval history, and are there any other periods in history that excite you?

A: The Middle Ages are the perfect point between the past being alien and familiar. You’re always having to ask yourself: are these people just like us? Or are they operating on some other plane of consciousness?

It’s also the birthplace of the familiar – our geographical and political borders, our national institutions, languages, art, literary culture and so on. And then there’s the ‘real Game of Thrones’ blood and betrayal of it all. You can never be bored.

Q: What can we expect from your talk at Malmesbury?

A: I’m going to be talking about the Wars of the Roses – not just about the battles and politics, but about the creation of the whole idea of the wars, which sucked up sophisticated propaganda techniques from France in the earlier 15th century, added a healthy dollop of Tudor self-mythologising, and was then fed through the genius of Shakespeare.

We’ll travel from Agincourt to the coronation of Elizabeth I – a much broader canvas than the Wars of the Roses are usually painted on – and we’ll have some fun, too.

To find out more about the History Weekend, and to buy tickets, visit www.historyweekend.com

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To buy tickets to Dan Jones’s talk, click here.