Leanda de Lisle

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The common phrase is that history is written by the victors. Do you think this is true?

Yes it is true, and it is one reason why a subject is worth returning to again and again. Each generation brings new insights to the past – or at least they should! It amazes me how often you see old lies repeated because they appeal to particular, long standing, prejudices.

If you could meet any figure from history, who would it be and why? Also, if you could witness any event throughout history, what would it be?

I would want to meet Jesus Christ (a not very modest choice I know!). No single figure has shaped modern European civilisation to anything like the same degree (as Tom Holland describes) and therefore shaped all of us who live in Europe. This is not to mention the influence Christianity has had across the rest of the globe. The Goans were Christian long before the British!  We tend to forget that. The event I would like to witness would be the Sermon on the Mount. 

If you could add any period or subject to the history curriculum, what would it be?

The travel writer Colin Thurbon once told me that to understand a people you must first understand what they believe. The same is true if you study people in the past. The lack of religious education makes it more difficult to understand our ancestors – and ourselves as their prejudices still shape our own.  I would add the study of belief.

If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, either as a student or when you first started out as a writer, what would it be?

Keep notes. Plough On. If you are going to write honest book reviews know you will make vindictive and powerful enemies.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the project you are currently working on?

I am writing a biography of Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I and who is a prime example of a reputation that has been shaped by the victors – her enemies. I have to say I am really enjoying writing it and hope readers will one day enjoy reading it!