York and Winchester History Weekends: 5 minutes with Chris Skidmore

In just three months in 1483 Richard III went from loyal member of the Yorkist dynasty to overthrowing his nephew and seizing the throne. What was going on in Richard’s mind? At our Winchester and York History Weekends, Chris Skidmore will investigate whether Richard had always planned to take the crown or had been forced into a situation where there was no alternative...
Ahead of his talk, ‘Richard III: Brother, Protector, King: Why did Richard Decide to Seize the Throne?’, we caught up with Chris to find out more and to learn about his passion for history…
 
Q: How and when did you first realise you had a passion for history? 
 
A: Early on at school – I discovered that I had a good memory for historical facts (unlike mathematical calculations or languages). I loved to spend my spare time learning about the Second World War, talking to my grandfather about his role in the war and listening to stories he had never been able to tell anyone else in my family. I was fascinated that there were still living people who had become part of our national history, which made me appreciate the links between the past and present.
 
Q: Your historical books focus on the 15th and 16th centuries – the late medieval and Tudor periods. Why do you love this area of history? 
 
A: Because, for me, it is the first point in British history in which documents such as letters and other papers survive in a sufficient number to give a real insight into the actual personalities of the characters who lived through the age. At the same time it’s manageable enough to study the vast majority of the source material – unlike modern history. 
 
At the same time, the changes in politics, religion and power reflect the fact that the age was one of the most significant in generations, encompassing civil war and the rise of the monarchy and other state institutions.
 
Q: Which other historical areas fascinate you and why? 
 
A: I loved studying Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Picts and the 'age of Bede' at University. I had a brilliant tutor in Patrick Wormald, who opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed beyond the myth of a 'Dark Age'. Outside of the 15th and 16th centuries, I'm also fascinated by the Great Plague of 1665.
 
Q: Which history book(s) are you reading at the moment? 
 
A: I'm currently reading Ian Arthurson's The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491–1499 and Robert A Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power
 
Q: Are there any developments in your field that are really exciting you at the moment? 
 
A: Steve Gunn's work on transcribing legal records and hopefully pioneering a catalogue is really welcome. There are so many 16th-century documents that remain unearthed – I'm passionate that we should be looking to uncover the hidden gems still in the archives.
 
Q: What are you most looking forward to about the York and Winchester History Weekends? 
 
A: They are both great historical cities that are definitely worth exploring. I'm deeply fond of York and its Minster. By walking around the city walls you can really appreciate the city’s rich history from the Roman times to the present day. York’s Richard III Experience is also an attraction the likes of which you will probably never have experienced before.
 
Q: What can we expect from your talk? 
 
A: I've spent four years writing a biography of Richard III, which will be out in April 2017, so I'm looking to give the audience a taster of some of the research that I've conducted into Richard's life, focusing in particular on why he decided to seize the throne in June 1483.
 
Chris Skidmore is a historian and author and Conservative MP for Kingswood. Chris will be speaking at both the Winchester and York History Weekends. To find out more about the events and Chris’s talk, ‘Richard III: Brother, Protector, King: Why did Richard Decide to Seize the Throne?’, click here
 
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