Category Archives: History

“History is ourselves.” – Kenneth Clark

The Mantel Paradigm

Thomas Cromwell was born in obscurity, the son of a blacksmith, sometime in the 1480s. In 1540 he was executed for treason by his master, King Henry VIII. In between, he achieved one of the most impressive feats in the history of English politics: he successfully transformed England from a Catholic kingdom into a realm where the church came under the law of the king, and the king alone. Cromwell engineered the annulment of Papal authority and the establishment of the Church of England, and he did it so well that his creation survived the next several decades of feuding and backsliding by England’s demented Tudor kings and queens. He was the father of the English Reformation, the man responsible more than any other for the form that English Protestantism would take. Strange, then, that popular histories of Cromwell’s era have for so long cast him as a villain. Continue reading

The Red Lantern Shining

China, 1899. A storm is brewing. For the past half-century, Europeans have been steadily entrenching themselves around the fringes of the country in their “treaty ports,” playing the long game of economic exploitation. As the Qing dynasty ever so slowly implodes, and as the power of Beijing seems ever more fragile, the British, the Germans and the French have all secured their footholds. China is too big and unwieldy to be colonised and carved up to enlarge the European empires (though this hasn’t stopped a few excitable commentators back in Europe from forecasting a “scramble for China”). It does offer some perfect opportunities, however, for Western businessmen to turn a profit. This is something that the British have been doing with gusto ever since 1842, when they forced the Qing to open their country to trade after a humiliating defeat in the Opium War. Where the British led, others have followed, and now China is crawling with foreigners. And after the merchants, fatefully, have come the missionaries. Continue reading


This site is called Sea Wolf because that is what my name means. Probably. It is an old name and a rare one, and despite a great deal of research, nobody in my family can be quite sure what its ultimate origins are. It seems, however, that we are named for the men whom the English of medieval times called the sea wolves: the raiders who came in longboats to the English coast, seeking to trade or to settle – or, more famously, to pillage and burn. Continue reading