Rewriting History: Royal Conspiracies in Later Medieval England - Lecture on 7 December

Royal intrigues are by no means a modern phenomenon – medieval monarchs were involved in conspiracies and cover-ups, according to best-selling author Ian Mortimer.

Ian will be giving an open lecture on medieval conspiracies, in particular the impact of an allegation that Edward II was not murdered in 1327 but was still alive in 1330 and possibly even a decade after that.

Revisionism, on the whole, has a bad name. Historians and the public unite in scepticism when a writer questions a key 'fact' that has stood the test of time," explains Ian. "A certain level of shock therefore followed the publication of an article in the December 2005 edition of The English Historical Review, which claimed that we can be certain that Edward II was not murdered in Berkeley Castle in 1327 but was still alive in 1330 and possibly still alive a decade after that. What was significant about the article was that it did not depend on a personal interpretation of the evidence, but an information-science-based distinction between the information circulated at the time and the evidence that contemporaries and historians alike have taken at face value.

Five years later, no adequate response to the essential argument has yet appeared in print. Extraordinary new narratives have opened up through an examination of the 'afterlife' of the ex-king of England, including the possible blackmailing of Edward III in 1331-40 by the French popes Jean XXII and Benedict XII. Even more importantly, the method of distinguishing between evidence and information has permitted further questions of doubt to be answered with a greater degree of confidence than hitherto was possible. Did Richard II murder his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, in 1397? Did Henry IV authorise the starvation of Richard II in 1400? What was the legal basis for the Lancastrian succession to the throne?

Although it falls outside the scope of this talk, one can even use information-based methods to demonstrate the correctness of the traditionalist side of the Shakespearian authorship argument. Far from being an inherently revisionist methodology, it shows that much traditionalist scholarship is not just based on 'good' evidence but is demonstrably linked to the past itself through the transfer of information. This in turn has implications for those who would deny the postmodernist dictum that the gap between the past and the present is such that historians cannot bridge it with anything approaching certainty.

A qualified archivist and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Ian has been called a Bill Bryson of the past. His work The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England appeared at number six in the Sunday Times bestselling paperback list in April 2010.  He describes himself as "emphatically not an academic but a writer whose prime historical interests are research methodologies, new literary forms, and relationships between the present and the past.

The lecture is on 7 December in the Council Chamber at 17.30. It is open to all and free of charge on a 'first come, first served' basis.

For more information contact Axel Müller, Institute for Medieval Studies on 33614 or email

More details about Ian Mortimer can be found at

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