My latest book, Royalty Inc.: Britain's Best-Known Brand, was published on 3 September 2015. It is partly the outcome of my twelve years as the Guardian's royal correspondent, 2000-2012, but it contains much new information and the outcome of interviews with many current and former palace officials and members of staff.
The book is about how the institution has evolved to maintain its popularity at a time when many other bodies have seen marked declines in esteem and popularity.
Robert Lacey, the distinguished royal historian said the book is 'Totally engrossing, winningly affectionate. What a wise and cheeky way to explore the secrets of our gracious Queen.'
Sarah Bradford wrote in the Literary Review, February 2016: ‘Stephen Bates tells it like it is, covering every aspect with rare humour and intelligence. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.’
Sarah Bradford is a distinguished and well-known biographer and royal historian. I was so pleased that she recommends the book and was thrilled to receive her review. You can read Sarah's review in this PDF
The Queen's 90th birthday in April has witnessed worldwide interest in the book: interviews for Queensland and Ottawa radio stations and references in the The New York Times, Nouvel Observateur, Les Echos and Folha de S.Paulo.
Penny Loaves and Butter Cheap: Britain in 1846
What was 1846 all about? Well, it was the year that Britain took major steps towards an economic policy of Free Trade, with the abolition of the Corn Laws – a policy which would endure for most of the following century. In the process there was a major realignment of political parties. The Conservative Party split and was out of power for nearly a third of a century while the Whigs and Peelite Tories eventually merged.
There was also a catastrophic famine in Ireland, the British Empire took another step towards annexing India and Britain nearly went to war one last time against the US, over the Canadian border. And Charles Dickens wrote Dombey and Son, Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert Browning, Felix Mendelssohn conducted the first performance of Elijah - and the first English professional cricket team took the field in Sheffield. Quite a lot going on…
The paperback version of this book, is published by Head of Zeus and appears under a different title: Two Nations: Britain in 1846
Here’s the Head of Zeus catalogue on Penny Loaves and Butter Cheap:
"A kaleidoscopic picture of Britian in 1846, a nation on the brink of economic and social change as the Industrial Revolution deepend its impact. 1846 was a pivotal moment in British history. This was the year in which Parliament repealed the Corn Laws, chipping away at the power of landowners and ushering in an era of free trade. It was also a time of social tension: child labour and slum housing would provide a seed-bed for political discontents that would intensify as the century progressed. In ireland the human tragedy of the Great Famine was entering its second year.
Stephen Bates describes the events of an extraordinary year for a society in the grip of the Industrial Revolution but also on the cusp of modernity.
The first review was published on The Bookbag website on 3 March 2014. The reviewer, John Van der Kiste says: "This is a fascinating book, an overview of an important year in a very interesting age. Bates has done his research well and this is exactly the kind of book to stimulate the appetite for further reading on different aspects of the subject".
Here's the link: http://bit.ly/MarchBookbag
The Tablet's review on 5 July 2014 said: "In a fast-moving, descriptive narrative covering all aspects of Victorian life, Bates evokes slums and ragged schools and also the rising middle classes whose values and attitudes were becoming increasingly dominant. He has a flair for adept one-liners and vivid pen portraits and makes the links between the past and the present...a fascinating reminder of how much Britain has changed in 168 years...also how the writing of history itself has changed: gone are the dry pedantic texts of the past. Thank goodness."
The Catholic Herald's review (11 July 2014) said: "The book is a splendid achievement...the author has an eye for the big picture."
The Guardian's reviewer (28 June 2014) said: "Bates does a sturdy job of providing an introduction to the key personalities and positions of the day."
The BBC History Magazine (June 2014) described "Penny Loaves" as a "graceful, well-researched book".
The Poisoner: the Life and Crimes of Victorian Britain’s Most Notorious Doctor
This is a re-examination of a notorious Victorian murder case, which thrilled the world in 1856.
William Palmer, seemingly a respectable Midlands doctor, was accused of poisoning his relatives and friends wholesale as he embezzled their money to pay his gambling debts. He was, said Dickens, who attended his trial “the greatest villain ever to stand in the Old Bailey dock”, Queen Victoria wrote of “that horrible Palmer” and even the New York Times devoted five articles to the case of a devil “in patent leather boots,” benefitting from the advances of the Industrial Revolution and the new railway system to cross the country.
When he was executed outside Stafford prison, 30,000 people came to watch him swing and the authorities laid on special excursion trains to enable them to do so. But did he do all he was accused of and did he get a fair trial? It’s a fascinating story of mid-Victorian life...
The historian Judith Flanders, author of The Invention of Murder, has written: "The Poisoner is meticulously researched, clerverly written and, even better, a wonderfully entertaining read."
Peter Moore, author of Damn His Blood: "A fascinating retelling, Stephen Bates returns to a crime that shocked the Victorian nation and created the blackest of myths."
Rupert Matthews, author of a book on Jack the Ripper: "One of the most insightful accounts of murder I have ever read."
Catharine Arnold, author of Necropolis: Palmer the Poisoner - mass murderer or victim of a gross miscarriage of justice? Stephen Bates is to be congratulated for this enthralling account of one of the great Victorian murder trials. Compulsively readable, replete with gruesome detail and Dickensian characters, The Poisoner is required reading for anyone interested in Victorian true crime and the history of the criminal bar. I couldn't put it down!"
Literary Review May 2014: "This vivid and dramatic account....an enormous amount of research."
The Bookbag.co.uk website described The Poisoner as "a fascinating and atmospheric look at Victorian England."
The New York Post named The Poisoner as one of its "Must-Read Books of the Week" on 18 May 2014.
The Mail on Sunday review on 29 June 2014 was headlined "A Great read Whatever Your Poison" and the reviewer, historian Kathryn Hughes, said: "Bates manages to keep the reader gripped until the very last page,"
The BBC History Magazine's review in September 2014 stated: "This rollercoaster read really stands out...the book is fabulously readable."
The Poisoner was shortlisted for an Agatha award as true crime book of the year in the US at the Malice Domestic Convention in Washington DC in May 2015.
I attended but, alas, did not win, not least because my American publisher, the appropriately-named Overlook Press, neglected to send any copies of the book to the convention despite having three months notice that it was taking place and that the voting for awards was by those attending. Not that I am bitter. Overlook has not apologised for the oversight and took umbrage that I mentioned it in a column I wrote for the Times Literary Supplement about the convention on 5 June 2015.
The paperback version was published in the UK in March 2015 and in the US in April.
1815: REGENCY BRITAIN IN THE YEAR OF WATERLOO
'1815: Regency Britain in the year of Waterloo' is being published by Head of Zeus as part of its A Year in History series in January 2015, to take advantage of the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo. The book will be a much more general picture of Britain in that year and only incidentally about the battle (though that has to feature, of course). There were lots of other things happening that year: Jane Austen busy on Mansfield Park, Walter Scott embarking on the Waverley novels - and one of Britain's worst ever military defeats half a world away from Belgian cornfields.
David Kynaston, author of Modernity Britain: "A capacious, illuminating and thickly populated portrait of Britain in a year of drama that marked the end of one era and the start of another."
Robert Lacey: "Battles, balls, Byron and the birth of modern history - Stephen Bates chronicles them all with insight, wit and grace."
Lucy Lethbridge, author of Servants: "1815 is both panoramic in scope and wonderfully readable. It brings an entire age triumphantly to life."
David McKie, author of Bright Particular Star: "The story powerfully told of a year that left behind it a sense that the world had changed and changed irrevocably,"
Catherine Arnold, author of Necropolis: "As well as a masterly retelling of the campaign itself, we meet the fascinating characters who populated the world of letters, fashion and style at the time and gain an insight into conditions in London at this most historic of moments. From Byron to Bonaparte, George IV to Jane Austen, this is an entertaining companion to a crticial year in English history."
David Andress, professor of modern history, University of Portsmouth: "I have read Stephen Bates's book with pleasure. A confident sweep through a remarkable historical moment, when stunning victory and global domination outshone the daily realities of rumbustious disorder, squalor and turmoil, from the bedrooms of the aristocracy to the mines and mills of burgeoning industry."
The Sunday Telegraph: "Refreshingly kaleidoscopic...many fascinating nuggets of information."
TheBookbag: "An absorbing read. The author writes very well and readably and paints a lively, sometimes amusing, sometimes sad and very authoritative picture of Britain at a tumultuous time...Any general history reader who is fascinated by the early 19th Century will love it."
The Herald, Scotland: "This very entertaining portrait of Britain exactly 200 years ago is made especially enjoyable bu the author's persistent penchant for picking out entertaining and unlikely detail...Bates writes in a most beguiling way...Away back in 1954 the Cambridge historian Reginald White produced an excellent and much loved book giving a vivid picture of English social and political life in the aftermatch of Waterloo. It is high but justified praise to note that Bates is White's worthy successor."
God’s Own Country: Religion and Politics in the US
This book arose out of the success of A Church at War, but was very different from it: a history of American religion which attempted to explain to baffled Europeans how, despite the US Constitution’s separation of church and state, religion plays such a major part in American life and politics and always has done.
I spent a sabbatical in the US, driving from Washington DC down through the Deep South to Texas, researching and interviewing church leaders and their congregations about religion in the American psyche. I spoke to presiding bishops, the heads of mega-churches, lobbyists, Southern Baptists, Creationists and even a snake-wrestler. There were weird days at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Patrick Henry College, Virginia and the Eternal Word Catholic Television Network in Alabama and I had a great time.
I am a huge fan of America and its history and I just loved writing about people such as William Jennings Bryan. Billy Sunday, Bishop Fulton Sheen and Joel Osteen and in attempt to explain to a British readership why Americans get religion and we don’t.
The book was made one of the Observer’s paperbacks of the year that Christmas. Here’s a more recent article on the subject.
Asquith, biography of the Edwardian Prime Minister
Poor Herbert Henry Asquith: a prime minister almost written out of history, overshadowed by flashier rivals, but a man who was at the head of government for eight years: longer than any prime minister between the administrations of Lord Liverpool in the 1820s and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
I have a soft spot for him: intellectually brilliant, heading an administration that was the most radical and innovative of the 20th Century, before the Attlee government: a government which tackled deep social problems and introduced - in the teeth of Tory opposition - the first old age pensions; it also came close to resolving the Irish crisis (and might have done so had the First World War not intervened) and geared up, reluctantly, for the devastating First World War.
The book - which was really only a quickie biography as part of a series - got good reviews, not least from Max Hastings in the Sunday Times. I’d like to return to writing about the period one day…
A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality
I wrote this in four months while I was the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, as the result of a commission from Tauris at the height of the controversy over the appointment of a gay bishop – Gene Robinson – in the US and the appointment and then withdrawal of Jeffrey John in England. I became incensed at how the supposedly Christian churches and their lobby groups behaved towards gay clergy and that has shaped my view of the issue ever since.
This is a partisan study - unashamedly - and unlike any I had ever reported about before. But it had brilliant reviews, including by the former Archbishop of York, John Habgood, who wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that it was: “an impressive piece of journalism, well-informed, anecdotal, highly readable, sharp, sometimes unfair, gently mocking where mockery is deserved and, as far as I can judge, mostly accurate…adds much illuminating detail to the history of the crisis.”
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the church at Oxford University, wrote: “An engrossing and exciting narrative. He takes a pitiless scalpel to the poverty of conservative evangelical thinking on sexuality and reveals plenty of evidence of a determined bid to seize power in worldwide Anglicanism.”
Christopher Rowland, Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exigesis of Holy Scripture at Oxford University, added: “Stephen Bates has left us in his debt with his gripping account of recent events…It is a sorry tale but one that needs urgently to be told and Bates tells it brilliantly.”
Martyn Percy, Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon and adjunct professor of theology at Hartford Seminary, Connecticut added: “Bates’s insightful book does an admirable job of revealing the fissures and faultlines of the current debate in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion,,,a sure-footed guide and essential companion for all those who want to understand the competing convictions that have contributed to the discussion so far.”
The Sunday Times called it: “required reading…compelling and accessible” and the Melbourne Age: “Eminently readable as well as carefully researched and finely nuanced..the best of journalistic writing…A reader…is drawn effortlessly into the narrative buoyed by Bates’s crisp, uncluttered writing style.”
Even better, from my point of view, 10 years on the book has never been controverted for its facts or analysis and has not been contradicted by even the most committed opponents of homosexuals in the Church. It had big sales in the US and Canada and I am still very proud of it.
The Bedside Guardian
In 2012 I edited the Guardian’s annual anthology of its best writing: The Bedside Guardian, a publication now in its 61st year. It’s a great paper with some fabulous writers (as well as quite a lot of dross - but then, which paper doesn’t have?)
I’ve been reading it since I was a child in the 1960s which means 50 years…almost a quarter of its span, since its foundation in 1821. Gulp.