History and Name-Calling -- a Dinner

Katherine Longshore 2 Tuesday, November 22, 2011
We’re planning dream dinner parties this week, and Donna kicked us off yesterday with a table full of thoughtful, intelligent, well-spoken people who would grace any table.  But, I have a confession to make.  Dinner parties make me nervous.  I’m always afraid that the person sitting next to me would rather be sitting elsewhere, like talking to the more intelligent/famous/funny person at the other end.  And all that silverware.  And I never know which glass is for whom.  And on and on.

That said, I would love to sit at a table with the following people.  And just listen.  Most are historians.  Most are writers.  And all of them are British.  So if they disagree, there’s sure to be name-calling.  Makes for a lively conversation, no? 

David Starkey writes intelligent, well-researched history and seems to have the same sort of obsession with Henry VIII that I do.  He is a charming speaker, is enthusiastic about architecture and details and proposes interesting theories with which perhaps not all other historians agree.  Not only that, but he is a bit of a persona non grata at the moment for making what were interpreted to be racist remarks on the British TV show “Newsnight” back in August.  Good to have controversy at the table. 

Alison Weir writes fiction as well as history.  I don’t always agree with her historical analysis (particularly about Richard III).  And she proposes interesting ideas in her fiction about the mysterious gaps in we know to be true.  For instance, Princess Elizabeth left the house of Queen Dowager Catherine Parr and her husband Thomas Seymour.  Weir, in her novel, suggests this was because Elizabeth was pregnant.  Cue ominous music here.

David Loades I have to invite because I’m currently reading his biography of the Boleyns -- from Thomas, Earl of Wiltshire through Elizabeth 1 (who was Anne Boleyn's daughter).  The recorded facts are few and far between on some of them, so it makes for an interesting read.  I have a feeling he would be the voice of reason at the table.

Antonia Fraser was the writer who first introduced me to Henry and his six wives. The breadth of her historical writings is vast, and often focuses on the role of women (not just queens) in society.  She is intelligent, well-spoken and was married to playwright Harold Pinter, so probably knows how to cope with long pauses in conversation. 

Philippa Gregory brought Tudor history to the general populace with THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL.  Her fiction is meticulously researched and also proposes controversial ideas about what really happened.  I’d be interested to witness a conversation about Anne Boleyn between Gregory and the others at the table.

Hilary Mantel.  I would totally fangirl if Mantel were at the table.  Her book, WOLF HALL changed the way I view historical fiction.  And the way I think of Thomas Cromwell.  Anyone who can make Cromwell sympathetic is a star of intense magnitude in my book.  And she’s publishing another one next year.  I’d love to get the inside scoop.

Tony Robinson is an actor, but also an historian.  Yes, he played Baldrick in Blackadder.  But he also hosts the brilliant UK Channel 4 program Time Team, in which he takes a group of archaeologists to an un-explored but possibly history-rich site and they do a three-day dig.  The program they did on Beaulieu castle was absolutely incredible.  He’s also written a very clever history of the monarchs of Britain (TONY ROBINSON’S KINGS AND QUEENS).  It’s aimed at kids, but so informative.

Continuing Donna’s desire from yesterday to place a handsome man at her side, I’d have to invite Clive Owen.  I’d probably swoon just to hear him say, “Pass the salt, please.”  Plus, he’s acted in historical dramas (Walter Raleigh, anyone?)  Our hands could touch, reaching for the same glass...

The rule was no family.  So my husband won’t be there.  He would make a good addition, being British, though his historical knowledge is almost entirely 20th century, so he’d feel a little left out. 

Am I just making excuses?  Shhh.  It’s a fantasy, remember.  Clive Owen would really be down at the other end of the table, talking to someone more intelligent/famous/funny than me.  But that would leave me to pick Hilary Mantel’s brain, so it’s all good.


Such an interesting video--I didn't know that Henry was so smitten with building castles. I've been to Hampton Court and was blown away. But the real star of the video is Mr. Harding, no? Love his passion and hair!

You're right, PB! I'd love to go "down the pub" with Phil Harding and talk about blacksmithing and flint-knapping with him!

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