Celebrating 50 years of the Wolfson History Prize

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the esteemed Wolfson History Prize, we are taking a trip down the memory lane to revisit all our prize winning and shortlisted books. You can find more details about each and read a free sample chapter from many of the books below.


Chivalry
Maurice Keen
Winner, 1984

In this eloquent and richly detailed book, a leading medieval historian discusses the complex reality of chivalry: its secular foundations, the effects of the Crusades, the literature of knighthood, and its ethos of the social and moral obligations of nobility.

“A most readable and comprehensive survey: stimulating, informative, a splendid creation of context.”—Nicholas Orme, Times Higher Education Supplement

“All historians of Western society . . . will do well to refer to this book.”—Georges Duby, Times Literary Supplement

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Introduction: The Idea of Chivalry from Chivalry below.


The Count-Duke of Olivares
The Statesman in an Age of Decline
J. H. Elliott
Winner, 1986

A masterful biography of Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count Duke of Olivares—righthand advisor to Spain’s Philip IV, archrival of Cardinal Richelieu, and a central figure in seventeenth-century Europe. 

“One of the outstanding works of Spanish historical scholarship written this century.”—Henry Kamen, Times Literary Supplement

“A perfect blend of biography and history, which brilliantly evokes both the man his milieu. The research is prodigious, the exposition is on the grandest scale, and the book is as much a delight to handle as it is to read.”—David Cannadine, New Society

Find out more about the book


The Architecture of Medieval Britain
A Social History
Colin Platt
Winner, 1991

In this book a distinguished medieval historian approaches the social history and architectural heritage of medieval Britain through an examination of its buildings.

“Originality of . . . approach in combining social history with the history with the history of architecture and archaeology. . . . Tony Kersting’s striking photographs are works of art in themselves but they make all the more impact because they have been selected, and often taken specially for this book, to illustrate and illuminate the argument of the text. The partnership of author and photographer has never been seen to greater advantage. . . . Although Professor Platt commands a formidable range of learning, he never allows it to come between himself and the reader.”—The Wolfson Foundation, London


Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair
John Bossy
Winner, 1992

This book tells a true detective story set mainly in Elizabethan London during the years of cold war just before the Armada of 1588. The mystery is the identity of a spy working in a foreign embassy to frustrate Catholic conspiracy and propaganda aimed at the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth and her government.

“A detective story told by a masterly historian.”—Diarmaid MacCulloch, New Statesman & Society

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Salisbury Court from Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair below.


Britons
Forging the Nation 1707-1837
Linda Colley
Winner, 1993

How was Great Britain made? And what does it mean to be British? This brilliant and seminal book examines how a more cohesive British nation was invented after 1707 and how this new national identity was nurtured through war, religion, trade, and empire.

“Linda Colley writes with clarity and grace…Her stimulating book will be, and deserves to be influential”—E. P. Thompson, Dissent

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Protestants from Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 below.


The Gentleman’s Daughter
Women’s Lives in Georgian England
Amanda Vickery
Winner, 1999

What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? In this lively and controversial book, Amanda Vickery invokes women’s own accounts of their intimate and their public lives to argue that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish—in fact, quite the reverse. What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? In this lively and controversial book, Amanda Vickery invokes women’s own accounts of their intimate and their public lives to argue that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the scope of female experience did not diminish—in fact, quite the reverse.

“Innovative, expertly researched and luminous in style.”—Linda Colley, London Review of Books

“This scholarly, self-assured work is both a major contribution to the study of women in eighteenth-century England and a delight to read.“—Jeremy Black, History Today

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Gentility from The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England below.


Shopping in the Renaissance
Consumer Cultures in Italy 1400-1600
Evelyn Welch
Winner, 2006

This fascinating and original book breaks new ground in the area of Renaissance material culture, focusing on the marketplace and such related topics as middle-class to courtly consumption, the provision of foodstuffs, and the acquisition of antiquities and holy relics.

“The full immersion it offers into the smell and the taste, the sound and the cries, the gestures and the clothes, as well as the stalls and the shops, leaves the reader with the feeling of having taken a delightful trip into the depths of Italian Renaissance cities.”—Dr Claire Judde de Larivière, Reviews in History


Dance in the Renaissance
European Fashion, French Obsession
Margaret McGowan
Winner, 2009

Dance was at the core of Renaissance social activity in France and had important connections with most major issues of the period. This finely illustrated book provides the first full account of the pivotal place and high status of dance in sixteenth-century French culture and society.

“A bibliographic trove, begging to be explored, and the fact that Professor McGowan has assembled it all is simply astounding.”—Katherine Tucker McGinnis, Renaissance Quarterly

Find out more about the book


Islanders
The Pacific in the Age of Empire
Nicholas Thomas
Winner, 2011

This compelling book explores the lived experience of empire in the Pacific, the last region to be contacted and colonized by Europeans following the great voyages of Captain Cook. Unlike conventional accounts that emphasize confrontation and the destruction of indigenous cultures, Islanders reveals there was gain as well as loss, survival as well as suffering, and invention as well as exploitation.

“Thomas’ description of the journey into the imperial world of the Pacific is made inclusive and companionable with lovely asides… [a] comprehensive but gripping book”—Katrina Schlunke, Times Higher Education Supplement

Islanders is not only a fine work of scholarship but also a lucid and engrossing read.”—Rod Edmond, BBC History Magazine

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. A plan of great extent and importance from Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire below.


Henry the Young King, 1155-1183
Matthew Strickland
Shortlisted, 2017

This first modern study of Henry the Young King, eldest son of Henry II but the least known Plantagenet monarch, explores the brief but eventful life of the only English ruler after the Norman Conquest to be created co-ruler in his father’s lifetime. 

“Strickland has provided readers with a fresh picture of an important Medieval figure who has long been deserving of such an excellent biography.”—Thomas Chadwick, Royal Studies

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. A plan of great extent and importance from Henry the Young King, 1155-1183 below.


Sleep in Early Modern England
Sasha Handley
Shortlisted, 2017

A riveting look at how the early modern world revolutionized sleep and its relation to body, mind, soul, and society.

“A book of sheer originality and novelty… Handley tackles an almost completely neglected subject with disarming modesty”—Judges, Wolfson History Prize 

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Sleep, Medicine and the Body from Sleep in Early Modern England below.


Henry IV
Chris Given-Wilson
Shortlisted, 2017

This definitive biography of England’s Henry IV reassesses the adversities of his reign, his ruthlessness and extravagance, and his previously unrecognized successes.

“Combines excellent scholarship with brilliant storytelling, relishing the detail of blood-splattered drama equal to any episodes of Game of Thrones.”—Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Week

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. The House of Lancaster and the Crown from Henry IV below.


A Deadly Legacy
German Jews and the Great War
Tim Grady
Shortlisted, 2018

This book is the first to offer a full account of the varied contributions of German Jews to Imperial Germany’s endeavours during the Great War.

“A brave and brilliant history that presents a new view of the German Jewish community during the First World War. Measured in style and magisterial in quality, this accomplished account sheds light on the enormous diversity of Jewish experience.” —Wolfson Prize Judges

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Precedents from A Deadly Legacy: German Jews and the Great War below.


Heretics and Believers
A History of the English Reformation
Peter Marshall
Winner, 2018

Peter Marshall’s sweeping new history—the first major overview for general readers in a generation—argues that sixteenth-century England was a society neither desperate for nor allergic to change, but one open to ideas of “reform” in various competing guises. King Henry VIII wanted an orderly, uniform Reformation, but his actions opened a Pandora’s Box from which pluralism and diversity flowed and rooted themselves in English life.

“A beautifully judged account of the English Reformation. Marshall weaves a single narrative through a contentious century without loss of detail or depth of understanding. Full of wise and humane analysis, this is ambitious in scope and brilliant in execution.”—Wolfson Prize Judges

“With pleasing dispatch Peter Marshall’s compelling new history of England’s Reformation sweeps all the historians down into the footnotes and just tells the story as he sees it. . . . This is the human story within the grand narrative, written with fluidity and warmth, its scholarship providing a firm foundation without being intrusive, its analysis thoughtful, not polemical.”—Lucy Wooding, Literary Review

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. The Imitation of Christ from Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation below.


Empress
Queen Victoria and India
Miles Taylor
Shortlisted, 2019

An entirely original account of Victoria’s relationship with the Raj, which shows how India was central to the Victorian monarchy from as early as 1837.

“Miles Taylor’s Empress: Queen Victoria and India is a highly original study of the impact of the queen on India, and that country’s impact on her. much greater in both cases than most of us had ever realised” —Jonathan Sumption, Spectator (Books Of The Year)

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Crown and Company from Empress: Queen Victoria and India below.


Trading in War
London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson
Margarette Lincoln
Shortlisted, 2019

A vivid account of the forgotten citizens of maritime London who sustained Britain during the Revolutionary Wars.

“Those of us who love south-east London will enjoy Margarette Lincoln’s Trading in War: London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson, which uncovers the lost world of the London docks in the period when Britain first became a world empire based on maritime trade”— Jonathan Sumption, Spectator (Books Of The Year)

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. London’s Riverside from Trading in War: London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson below.


Survivors
Children’s Lives after the Holocaust
Rebecca Clifford
Shortlisted, 2021

Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust—named a best history book of 2020 by the Daily Telegraph .

“In this major contribution to the history of the Holocaust, Clifford has written a highly original, deeply moving and perceptive study of the way child survivors struggled to come to terms with their personal tragedies.”—Saul David, Sunday Telegraph

Find out more about the book

Read the Introduction and Chapter 1. Another War Begins from Survivors: Children’s Lives after the Holocaust below.


Going to Church in Medieval England
Nicholas Orme
Shortlisted, 2022

An engaging, richly illustrated account of parish churches and churchgoers in England, from the Anglo-Saxons to the mid-sixteenth century.

“Orme’s book, a vast intricate mosaic resting atop a mountain of research, is often funny, often moving, and always fascinating. You finish it with a real feeling for the lives of normal people (so often absent from history books) in a world of great contrasts…a world of humour, and of sadness; a world not entirely unlike our own.”—Duncan Morrison, The Daily Telegraph

“Yale has served Orme especially well, with superb colour illustrations integrated straight into this text…His subject is inherently visual in all its aspects, from the architecture of church buildings to the teeming daily activity that went on inside and around them.”—Diarmaid MacCulloch, London Review of Books

Find out more about the book

Read Chapter 1. Origins and the Parish from Going to Church in Medieval England below.





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Celebrating 50 years of the Wolfson History Prize