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Historical Research

New Historical Research articles


Recent literature has explored the substantial autonomy Hong Kong enjoyed under British imperial rule in the post-war period. We are, however, left without an understanding of the precise parameters in which colonial authority could be exercised autonomously, and how and why it could be compromised. An investigation of the imprisonment in Beijing of British Reuters journalist Anthony Grey from 1967 to 1969, in retaliation for the arrest in Hong Kong of journalists for their part in the 1967 disturbances, demonstrates that the extensive autonomy of the Hong Kong authorities could be compromised if colonial policy contravened British foreign policy objectives towards China.

This article examines how political, theological and cultural factors formed confessional identity in Elizabethan England. It explores the rite of ‘reconciliation’ – usually the means by which Protestants converted to Catholicism – and its peculiar significance to English Catholics. The author argues that due to its illegal status in England, as well as the wider context of post-Reformation Catholicism, reconciliation became blurred with auricular confession and was adapted into a rite of passage for lifelong Catholics as well as converts. Reconciliation illustrates how political conflicts shaped the religious culture of English Catholics; it is also a striking example of how religious groups respond to minority status, modifying their traditions in order to create and preserve collective identity.

New Historical Research article


This article analyses rare surviving adulterous love letters alongside published epistles and trial reports to reveal the practical and emotional importance of letter-writing in conducting an affair in England c.1740–1830. While attitudes to adultery have received widespread scholarly attention, illicit letters remain largely overlooked. The article is the first to outline distinguishing features of adulterous letters, and the language of infidelity. It distinguishes missives from courtship letters as a secretive genre carefully shielded by writers. By scrutinizing the letters which sustained affairs, the article rediscovers the happiness, jealousy and desire of illicit love in the words of lovers themselves. [Open Access]

Latest issue of Historical Research, vol. 89, no. 243 (February 2016)




Neither Byzantine nor Islamic? The duke of the Thebaid and the formation of the Umayyad state. Marie Legendre

 The land market and Anglo-Saxon societ. Rory Naismith

The Engagement controversy: a victory for the English republic. Amos TubbThe ‘stormy latitude of the law’: Chancery Lane and street improvement in late Georgian London. Francis Calvert Boorman

Of crofters, Celts and claymores: the Celtic Magazine and the Highland cultural nationalist movement, 1875–88. Ian B. Stewart

Humanitarian assistance during the Rif War (Morocco, 1921–6): the International Committee of the Red Cross and ‘an unfortunate affair’. Pablo La Porte

The art of governing contingency: rethinking the colonial history of diamond mining in Sierra Leone. Lorenzo D’Angelo

Royal death and living memorials: the funerals and commemoration of George V and George VI, 1936–52. Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska

Notes and Documents

 The Guildhall Library, Robert Bale and the writing of London history. Mary C. Erler

New Historical Research articles


prison hand crank

Reformative rhetoric and the exercise of corporal power: Alexander Maconochie’s regime at Birmingham prison, 1849–51 by J. M. Moore

In March 1849 Alexander Maconochie, the former superintendent of the Norfolk Island penal settlement in colonial Australia and inventor of the ‘mark system’ of reformative penal discipline, was appointed by the Birmingham magistrates as the governor of the borough’s newly constructed prison. This article tells the story of the two years Maconochie spent at Birmingham prison, highlighting the illegal and abusive practices that he introduced there. It argues that, despite the reformative rhetoric portraying his approach to penal discipline as benevolent and humanitarian, Maconochie’s regime relied heavily on coercion and corporal punishment.


A matter of trust: the royal regulation of England’s French residents during wartime, 1294–1377 by Bart Lambert and W. Mark Ormrod

This study focuses on how the English crown identified and categorized French-born people in the kingdom during the preliminaries and first stage of the Hundred Years War. Unlike the treatment of alien priories and nobles holding lands on both sides of the Channel, the attitude to laypeople became more positive as the period progressed. In particular, the crown was prepared to grant wartime protections to French-born residents based on evidence of local integration. Analysis of the process reveals the flexibility with which the government considered national status before the emergence of denization at the end of the fourteenth century. [Open Access article]




The representation and experience of English urban fire disasters, c.1580–1640 by John E. Morgan

Fire disasters were a perennial threat to urban life in early modern England, but are yet to receive sustained attention from historians. By analysing popular literature, charitable collections and relief distribution this article reveals how urban fires were interpreted and what effect they had on individuals and specific communities in England between 1580 and 1640. Some aspects of the experience of fire disasters in early modern England are illuminated through detailed contextual readings of contemporary news reports, quantitative analyses of the collection and distribution of charitable funds, and attention to the fortunes of individual survivors of fires.


The parliamentary mind and the mutable constitution by Catherine Chou

Utilizing a handful of succession treatises from the first decade of Elizabeth I’s reign, this article analyses the multiplicity of ways in which early modern Englishmen and Scotsmen conceived of parliament’s fundamental characteristics and decision-making processes, as well as the relationship between the changeability of the law and parliamentary authority. It argues that Elizabeth’s refusal to allow her parliaments to discuss the succession opened up a discursive space in which resurrected and potential future parliaments served as logical, forward-thinking arbiters of this sensitive issue, and both pro- and anti-Stuart tract writers could identify at least one version of the Lords, Commons and crown that either had endorsed or supposedly would endorse their respective positions.


New Historical Research articles


liberalsThe decline of the Liberal party in the heart of England: the Liberals in Leicestershire, 1914–24 by Gavin J. Freeman

This article uses the county of Leicestershire to examine the decline of the Liberal party from the outbreak of the First World War to the debacle of 1924, when they were reduced to forty M.P.s. It argues that while the crisis of December 1916 was the beginning of the split within the party, this was not inevitably permanent. It was the ‘Coupon’ election of 1918 that widened the division and brought about a political realignment which changed the electoral landscape. The article shows that at the crucial formative period of the greatly enlarged electorate, Liberalism was divided at the grass-roots, enabling the success of the Conservative and Labour parties.


The end of the ‘dual possession’ of Sakhalin as multilateral diplomacy, 1867–73 by Takahiro Yamamoto

This article revisits the history of Russo-Japanese ‘dual possession’ of Sakhalin in the late nineteenth century from a multilateral perspective. Using unpublished sources from Japanese and British archives, and benefiting from recent research on Russian materials, it argues that Russia’s attempt at the exclusive control of Sakhalin was aimed primarily at keeping out the Americans and the British, not the Japanese. It also reveals that Japanese and British officers in the region falsely believed that Russia was preparing the occupation of Hokkaido. The findings challenge the existing historiography, which has treated the island’s history solely in the context of Russo-Japanese relations.

New Historical Research article


Front view of Guildhall, looking north and Guildhall Yard c1814

Treason, felony and Lollardy: a common petition in the hand of Richard Osbarn, clerk of the chamber of the Guildhall, 1400–c.143 by Helen Killick

This article examines a common petition presented in the English parliament of 1425 requesting that those imprisoned for long periods for the crimes of treason, felony and Lollardy might be brought to trial. On the basis of palaeographical and orthographical evidence, this petition is demonstrated to be written by Richard Osbarn, clerk of the chamber of the London Guildhall between 1400 and 1437. The implications of this discovery throw new light on the way petitions were formulated, suggesting that the scribes of petitions played a greater role than previously thought, and in some cases identified with the complaint itself.

New Historical Research article


Using newspapers, plans, London guides and parish records, this article describes the arguments concerning improvement of the street environment in Chancery Lane, from around 1760 to 1815. This area of London was marginal to the great centres of Westminster and the City and, therefore, analysing its development challenges the standard binary model of the metropolis, generally used by historians of the late eighteenth century. The importance of local political conditions to the success of street improvement is examined, including the fragmented jurisdictions of local parishes and the popular association of Chancery Lane with the legal profession.

Latest issue of Historical Research published: vol. 88, no. 242 (November 2015)




Tenure and property in medieval England 

Susan Reynolds

The Bari charter of privileges of 1132: articulating the culture of a new Norman monarchy

Paul Oldfield

Donald Balloch, the ‘Treaty of Ardtornish-Westminster’ and the MacDonald raids of 1461–3

James Petre

Recovering Charles I’s art collection: some implications of the 1660 Act of Indemnity and Oblivion

Andrew Barclay

Obstinate juries, impudent barristers and scandalous verdicts? Compensating the victims of the Gordon Riots of 1780 and the Priestley Riots of 1791

Jonathan Atherton

The ‘blood of the martyrs’ and the growth of Catholicism in late Chosŏn Korea

Andrew Finch

Notable protests: respectable resistance in occupied northern France, 1914–18

James E. Connolly

 Sterilization and the British Conservative party: rethinking the failure of the Eugenics Society’s political strategy in the nineteen-thirties

Bradley W. Hart and Richard Carr

Beyond co-operation and competition: Anglo-French relations, connected histories of decolonization and Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, 1965–80

Joanna Warson

New Historical Research article



Sometimes somnolent, sometimes seething: British imperial Africa and its home fronts by Bill Nasson

This article considers the domestic impact of the First World War upon Africa, a continent pulled into the hostilities of 1914–18 because of its place in the world of European imperialism. Africa experienced some patchy fighting fronts in western parts, and endured the heavy costs of prolonged military campaigning across its eastern and some of its central regions. Equally, the experience of wartime for those at home was highly uneven, depending on locality. While the lives of some inhabitants were hit hard by the violence, brutality and other costs of the war, others were relatively insulated from the direct effects of the conflict by remoteness. Theirs became a war of the mind in which a distant European conflagration inhabited the imagination, stimulating hope, rumour and even millennial aspirations.


This article is a revised version of a plenary lecture delivered at the 83rd Anglo-American Conference of Historians on the theme of ‘The Great War at home’, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 3–4 July 2014

New Historical Research articles


thebaid-2Neither Byzantine nor Islamic? The duke of the Thebaid and the formation of the Umayyad state by Marie Legendre

This article investigates how the early Islamic state developed out of pre-Islamic administrative structures. Taking the example of the Byzantine provincial structure in Egypt, the governor (duke) of the Thebaid clearly appears in papyri written in Greek, Coptic and Arabic as an agent of the Medinan and early Umayyad administration. The progressive redistribution of his responsibilities to new offices developed within the Islamic state shows how the Byzantine system contributed to the formation of Islamic administration, casting light on a pre-Islamic heritage which is often neglected in the narrative.

The Engagement controversy: a victory for the English republic by Amos Tubb

In the fall of 1649, the newly created English commonwealth required that all men over the age of eighteen take an Engagement to demonstrate loyalty to the regime that had executed King Charles I. Historians have long argued that the Engagement was a political disaster for the commonwealth, as it provided its opponents with an opportunity to reveal the illegal and hypocritical nature of the new government. However, this article argues that the Engagement was actually a political success. Not only did people throughout England take the Engagement, but the royalists themselves acknowledged its achievement during the winter and spring of 1650.


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