David is a freelance writer and historian, specialising in the history of late medieval Britain. He also teaches history at the Office of Lifelong Learning, University of Edinburgh.
David is the author of "Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses", published by Pen and Sword Military (2011), described in one review as "An extremely worthy addition to any historian's bookshelves"
Q1. How did you first become interested in history?
A. I’m not exactly sure (I caught the bug early!), but my parents are both passionate about history so that must have helped. I was also very fortunate to grow up in a house full of books, and to have parents who encouraged my love of reading. By the time I was seven or eight I was a regular visitor to the local library (now sadly closed), which had an excellent children’s history section. When I was a little older I became an avid reader of a brilliant series of books by Harry T. Sutton (which used to be available in National Trust shops).
Visits to castles and other historical sites were also very important. I lived in Doncaster for most of my childhood, and I have particularly fond memories of a primary school trip to Conisbrough Castle. This inspired one of my earliest efforts at historical writing: a time-travel story that saw me and several of my friends transported to Conisbrough in the twelfth century! Having said all that, I don’t imagine I would be writing history today if I hadn’t gone on to study medieval history at the University of St Andrews. I’ll always be grateful to the people who helped and encouraged me at this time, including tutors and fellow students.
Q2. What period of history do you find the most fascinating?
A. Much of my work has been focused on fifteenth-century England. I’m the author of Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, and I’m the creator, with the photographer Rae Tan, of the website Reflections of the Yorkist Realm. I’ve always been fascinated by the politics and warfare of the Yorkist era – it was such a dramatic period – but working with Rae has encouraged me to take a broader view. Our website also provides a brief insight into other aspects of the period, such as religious life and trade.
I’ve also become increasingly interested in medieval Scottish history, with an emphasis on Anglo-Scottish relations. I’m currently writing a new book, with the working title Commanders of the Anglo-Scottish Wars.
Q3. What is the highlight of your career (so far!)?
A. The publication of my first book, although I’m also very proud of the website I’ve put together with Rae. I think Rae’s photographs are wonderful – they’re not simply illustrative – and I hope that people will agree that we’re doing something a bit different with this project.
Q4. What is the most impressive castle you have visited?
A. Stirling. The setting is remarkable, and many of the castle’s buildings have been lovingly restored over the last few years; it took my breath away when I walked into James IV’s great hall for the first time. But there are lots of other places I could mention. Kenilworth is also a beautiful castle, with its distinctive red sandstone walls (I know it particularly well because I used to work there a few years ago). It was surrounded by water for much of the medieval period, and it must have looked spectacular then. Manorbier is not such an "impressive" castle, but I’ve always found it has a very warm feeling and it also has a lovely setting. I could go on!
Q5. What is the best history book you have read recently?
A. I’ve recently enjoyed re-reading an old favourite: the novel The Heaven Tree, by Edith Pargeter, which tells the story of a medieval master mason. Edith Pargeter is better known for her Cadfael series of novels (written under the name Ellis Peters), but all of her books are worth reading. She created lots of memorable characters, and her work always has a strong sense of place; many of her novels are set in the Welsh Marches, where she lived for most of her life.
I read a lot of historical fiction. It can be a good form of escape, but when it’s done well it can also provide us with serious insights into the lives of people in the past.
Q6. Who is your favourite monarch in history?
It’s difficult to single out a "favourite", but I think Robert the Bruce was an amazing man. In the winter of 1306 he was a hunted fugitive, and he endured hardships that would have broken most people, but he ultimately went on to become one of Scotland’s greatest kings. I’ve always been especially impressed by Robert’s ability to learn from his mistakes, and to adapt his strategy when circumstances changed. Robert is going to be featured in my new book, and I hope I’ll be able to do him justice. I’m also still very interested in Edward IV. My own bookon Edward is focused on his military career – it was never intended to be a complete biography – but there are other aspects of his life that I’d like to return to in the future.
Q7. If you could witness one event in history, where and when would you go?
A. The consecration of St Andrews Cathedral, which is now a ruin, in 1318. It’s said that Robert the Bruce rode his horse into the nave, before giving thanks to Saint Andrew for the Scottish victory at Bannockburn; that would have been quite a sight. But I’d probably give you a different answer tomorrow!
Q8. Given the time and resources, what would you still like to achieve in your work?
A. In the short term I need to push on with my new book (it’s due to be published in 2014), and my project with Rae is still ongoing. In the longer term I’d be keen to write more books, but I’m very conscious that the world of publishing is changing, and that I might need to adapt and learn new skills in the future.
I don’t believe that books are going to become obsolete any time soon (and I sincerely hope they won’t), but new technology has already provided historians with other opportunities to reach interested people – especially when it comes to collaborative projects. The work you’re doing at Lost in Castles is very inspirational in this respect.
Thank you, David, for your time. We, at Lost in Castles, wish you every success in your work.