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CVHF 2023

Our Top Picks for Chalke Valley History Festival 2023

It’s not long to go before the veritable feast for the mind and senses that is Chalke Valley History Festival 2023. They’ve changed the way they do things this year, with day tickets required for entrance every day, but with cheaper tickets for the tented talks – all now broken down into six themes: environment, conflict, politics, sport, society and culture, and science and exploration. But regardless of the change in structure, this year’s Chalke Valley History Festival promises to have everything we’ve come to expect from the UK’s top history festival, and more. With so much on offer – with over 150 talks across five stages, as well as living history, performances and demonstrations and a wealth of activities for children – here are our top picks to help you plan your week. All tickets can be purchased here.

Monday, 26 June

Suzie Edge – Mortal Monarchs: 1000 Years of Royal DeathsSuzie Edge

Molecular cell biologist and clinical physician Suzie Edge will take a trip through 1,000 years of plots, rivalries, and ever-present death threats that faced our kings and queens. Was the arrow that killed William II fired by accident or was it murder? What is the truth about Henry IV’s cocktail of awful skin conditions? Did Edward II really meet his demise as a consequence of a red-hot poker being inserted up his… well you get the picture. All these and many more vital historical questions will be asked so that you don’t have to.

John Major – Sir John Major on Politics Past and Present

John MajorIn this hugely exciting talk, former prime minister, Sir John Major, will reflect on his more than two decades in government – including his seven years in Downing Street – as well as offering thoughts on the state of British politics today: parliament, populism, elections, Europe and global events. Sir John will be in conversation with historian Tim Bouverie.

Simon Sebag Montefiore – The World: A Family HistorySimon Sebag-Montefiore

In conversation with Tom Holland, master storyteller and international bestselling author Simon Sebag Montefiore will discuss the story of humanity from the NeanderthalsAn extinct species (or subspecies) of human who lived in Eurasia between up to 600,000 years ago (the first 'true' Neanderthals being from around 250,000 years ago) and about 40,000 years ago. They lived alongside modern humans and interbred with them. to Trump through the one thing all humans have in common: family. Beginning with footsteps along a beach 950,000 years ago, we will be taken on an enormously entertaining journey through the families that have shaped our world: the Caesars and Medicis, Ottomans and Mughals, Habsburgs and Kenyattas, Rothschilds and Rockefellers, Kennedys and Castros, Nehrus and Pahlavis, Kims and Assads. This is world history on the most grand yet intimate scale – spanning centuries, continents and cultures, linking themes of war, migrationThe movement of people (or animals) from one place to another., religion, sex and money – told through the people at the centre of the human drama.

Tuesday, 27 June

Hallie Rubenhold and Julia Laite – From Jack the Ripper to the Blackout Ripper: Women, Crime and Prostitution in London, 1888 to the Second World WarA global war that lasted from 1939 until 1945.

Julia LaiteBetween the mythologizing and the moralizing, how can weHallie Rubenhold understand women’s experiences in prostitution in history? Join award winning authors and historians Hallie Rubenhold and Julia Laite in conversation about their work finding the voices and lives of forgotten and marginalized women between the sensational cases of Jack the Ripper in 1888 and the Blackout Ripper in the 1940s.

Richard Shirreff et al – Putin’s Russia

Richard ShirreffPutin has been continuously in power as president or prime minister of Russia since 1999. He rules with an increasingly autocratic and iron grip and has made no secret of his regret at the end of the USSR. But what is it like living in Putin’s Russia? How does he control the state and the people? And what do ordinary Russians really think of him? In this discussion leading experts Richard Shirreff, Marina Litvinenko, Samuel Ramani and John Sweeney will provide a fascinating insight into a country about which most people in the UK know remarkably little.

Mark Stoyle – A Murderous Midsummer: The Western Rising of 1549

Mark StoyleThe Western Rising of 1549 was the most catastrophic event to occur in Devon and Cornwall between the Black DeathA deadly disease, also known as plague, that first raised its head in its current form in the 1340s and continued ravaging communities in Europe for the next three and a half centuries. and the Civil War. Beginning as an argument between two men and their vicar, the rebellion led to a siegeA military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender. of Exeter, savage battles with Crown forces, and the deaths of 4,000 local men and women. It represents the most determined attempt by ordinary English people to halt the religious reformation of the Tudor period. Mark Stoyle’s definitive account of the so-called ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ will bring to life the stories of the thousands of men and women who acted to defend their faith and almost subverted the course of the ReformationThe split from the Roman Catholic Church of protestants, inspired by people such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrych Zwingli.. Read our review of A Murderous Midsummer here.

Wednesday, 28 June

Tom Holland – Pax: War and Peace in Rome's Golden Age

Tom HollandAward-winning historian, author and broadcaster Tom Holland provides a dazzling portrait of the ancient world's ultimate superpower at war and peace. Eloquent and erudite, this year he will take us on a journey to Rome’s ‘golden age’, and from the gilded capital to the barbarous realms beyond the frontier. Vividly sketching the lives of Romans both ordinary and spectacular, he will celebrate the legendary episodes that marked the apogee of pax Romana: the destruction of Jerusalem and Pompeii, the building of the Colosseum and Hadrian's Wall, the conquests of Trajan, and the spread of Christianity.

Tom Holland will be giving numerous other talks throughout the week, including ‘The Wolf Girl, the Greeks and the Gods’ (also Wednesday) and ‘The Odyssey’ (Thursday, 29 June). Read our interview with him here.

Ben Kane – Napoleon's Spy

Ben KaneUsing first-hand accounts, bestselling historical fiction writer Ben Kane will bring alive the extraordinary tale of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. By 1812, France dominated much of Europe. It wasn’t enough. Leading an army of half a million men, Napoleon invaded Russia. Weather extremes and lack of supplies saw casualties mount from the outset. With no enemy to fight – the Russians simply retreated before the French – the advance continued. Battle was finally joined at Borodino, a brutal, inconclusive clash that saw tens of thousands of casualties on both sides. Finding Moscow abandoned, Napoleon was soon driven out when the city was deliberately burned to the ground. His army lived in the ruins until winter arrived, when retreat became inevitable. As temperatures plummeted, and the Russians circled, utter disaster beckoned. Read our interview with Ben Kane here.

Kate Vigurs and Robert Lyman – The Prosper Circuit: The SOESpecial Operations Executive was a secret British espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance unit working in occupied territory during the Second World War. BetrayedKate Vigurs

Robert LymanSponsored by us! The fall of SOE’s Prosper circuit in June 1943 has long been a topic of conspiracy and controversy amongst historians. Some claim a trail of betrayals, deceptions and lies led to the arrest of several prominent SOE agents, and left those who remained behind in fear for their lives. Dr Kate Vigurs and Dr Robert Lyman will investigate the collapse of this vital network and debate the numerous theories that abound, as well as examining the work and fates of the men and women involved.

Kate Vigurs will also be talking on ‘Mission France: Women of the SOE’ (Thursday, 29 June) and ‘Remarkable Women of the Second World War’ (Saturday, 1 July), as well as giving pop-up performances throughout the week. Read our review of Mission France here.

Thursday, 29 June

Keggie Carew – Beastly: A New History of Animals and Us

Keggie Carew joins James Holland to talk about her new book Beastly, throwing readers headlong into theKeggie Carew mind-blowing glittering pageant of life, and going in search of our most revealing encounters with the animal world to show where we’ve come from and where we’re going. What does it mean when a young woman befriends a boar, a gorilla tells a joke, or a fish thinks? What does a wren sing? Keggie Carew will tell the 40,000-year story of our changing kinship, reframing our understanding of what it is like to be an animal and what our role is as humans. There has never been a greater urgency to understand this foundational relationship, it has shaped our lives, our land, our civilization, our planet and – if reimagined – could save it.

James Holland et al – Second World War Morning

Bestselling historian James Holland is joined by a stellar line-up of guests to discuss both the air war and the war in 1943. Discussing the strategic bombing campaign and the destruction of Hamburg will be the award-winning historian Victoria Taylor; talking with Holland about the Dams Raid will be Robert Owen, the official historian of 617 Squadron, Richard Morris, the biographer of both Barnes Wallis and Guy Gibson, and Paul Stoddart of RAF College Cranwell; and retelling his exploits, experiences and close shaves during the Second World War will be the remarkable 102-year-old former Mosquito bomber pilot Colin Bell.

James HollandJames Holland will also be giving a number of other talks during the week, including leading the ‘Cold WarA period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, 'officially' lasting from 1947 to 1991. Morning’ (Wednesday, 28 June); talking with his brother, Tom, on ‘Tolkien and the Two World Wars’ (Friday, 30 June); and with comedian and fellow We Have Ways of Making You Talk host Al Murray on ‘Command: How the Allies Learned to Win the Second World War’ (Saturday, 1 July) as well as recording a live podcast on Friday 30 June. Read our interview with James Holland here, and read our review of his latest book, The Second World War: An Illustrated History here.

Tristan Hughes – Terror in the Teutoburg Forest: Rome's Greatest Defeat?

Just over 2,000 years ago, amongst the swamps and forests of Germania, three Roman legions wereTristan Hughes annihilated by a coalition of Germanic tribes in one of ancient Rome's worst ever defeats. Leading the Germanic force was one of the greatest enemies the Romans ever faced: Arminius, a nobleman who had been raised a Roman, and yet harboured a deep desire to drive this superpower out of Germania. It’s a story with betrayal right at its heart. The tale of one man, who’s vehement desire to liberate Germania from Roman rule literally changed history, and a battle that would permanently scar Roman imperialism for centuries.

Friday, 30 June

Peter Frankopan – The Earth Transformed: An Untold History

Peter FrankopanPeter Frankopan, author of the international bestseller The Silk Roads: A New History of the World and one of the world’s leading thinkers, argues that the natural environment is a defining factor in global history. In this magnificent and ground-breaking talk, he will examine the relationship of religion and language with the environment; how the desire to centralize agricultural surplus formed the origins of the bureaucratic state; how growing demands for harvests resulted in the increased shipment of enslaved peoples; and how efforts to understand and manipulate the weather have a long and deep history that has profound relevance to us today as rapid global warming portends a precarious future.


The festival hot ticket. The institution that is Histrionics, the Friday night comedy panel show, returns with another stellar line up. Once again Charlie Higson returns to take the chair as two teams of historians and comedians pit their historical wits in a series of gruelling rounds and challenges devised by QI’s one and only Justin Pollard. Joining team captains Ian Hislop and Al Murray will be Dan Snow and Alice Loxton.

Alice Loxton – Uproar! Satire, ScandalAn event or action that causes public outrage, or the outrage caused by that event or action. and Printmakers in Georgian London

Alice LoxtonLondon, 1772: a young artist called Thomas Rowlandson is making his way through the grimy backstreets of the capital, on his way to begin his studies at the Royal Academy Schools. Within a few years, James Gillray and Isaac Cruikshank would join him in Piccadilly, turning satire into an art form, taking on the British establishment, and forever changing the way we view power. Set against a backdrop of royal madness, political intrigue and the birth of modern celebrity, Alice Loxton, one of the UK’s most exciting young historians, will follow these three greatest satirists as they puncture those in power, profoundly altering British humour and setting the stage for everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to Private Eye and Spitting Image.

Saturday, 1 July

Charlie Higson et al - Willie, Willie, Harry, Ste - Live Special: The Best and Worst of British Monarchs

Charlie HigsonComedian, actor and historian Charlie Higson and special guests Ian Hislop, Tom Holland and Leanda de Lisle will engage in a light-hearted debate about who were the best and worst monarchs in British history. This event will be recorded live for a special episode of Higson’s new podcast, Willie, Willie, Harry, Ste, which looks at all the British monarchs in chronological order from William I to Charles III.

Other events featuring Charlie Higson, Tom Holland, and Ian Hislop are mentioned above. Leanda de Lisle will also be talking on ‘Henrietta Maria: Conspirator, Warrior, Pheonix Queen’ (also Saturday). Read our interview with her here.

Ian Hislop – Private Eye and Have I Got News for You

In 'Private Eye and Have I Got News for You', Ian Hislop will discuss with Guy Walters the importance of satire, bothIan Hislop in the past and the present. Ian Hislop has been the editor of Private Eye, which remains our best-known and best-loved satiricalCriticising something, particularly social or political, in a humorous way. magazine, for an extraordinary 37 years, while the hit television show Have I Got News for You is returning to BBC television for a record-breaking sixty-fifth series. Ian Hislop is an enduringly popular writer, broadcaster and comedian whose life’s mission is to ensure the absurdities and pomposity in life continue to be exposed. This will be an unmissable event.

Frank McDonough – The Weimar Years: The Rise and Fall 1919-1933

Frank McDonoughEstablished in the wake of Germany's catastrophic defeat in the First World War, the Weimar RepublicThe unofficial name for the German state between 1919 and 1933. ushered in widespread social reform, vibrant culture and the most democratic conditions the German people had ever lived under. Ultimately, it led to the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor. Professor Frank McDonough and actor Paul McGann will chart the rise and fall of Weimar, a tale that serves as a warning of how, under poor leadership, economic pressure and unrelenting political instability, a democracy can drift towards a form of authoritarian rule that eventually destroys it. You can read our reviews of The Hitler Years, 1933-1939 and The Hitler Years, 1940-1945 by following the links.

Sunday, 2 July

Dan Jones and Michael Livingston – The Battle of Crécy

Michael LivingstoneThe battle of Crécy in 1346 is one of the most famous andDan Jones widely studied military engagements in history. The repercussions of this battle were felt for hundreds of years, and the exploits of those fighting reached the status of legend. Festival favourite Dan Jones, who turned the battle into fiction in Essex Dogs, and the great medieval military historian Michael Livingston, whose cutting-edge research has radically transformed our understanding of the battle and relocated its site, will uncover the true story of this astonishing campaign and will discuss the way it has been handled by both historians and novelists over the years.

Dan Jones will also be discussing ‘Painted People: Humanity in 21 Tattoos’ with Matt Lodder on the same day.

Kate Mosse – Warrior Queens and Quiet Revolutionaries: How Women (Also) Built the World

Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and international bestselling authorKate Mosse Kate Mosse is passionate about honouring the unheard and under-heard women in history. In this celebration of extraordinary, brilliant trail-blazing and inspirational women, she will question why women’s achievements have been routinely neglected, overlooked, or misattributed and will examine the consequences of telling only half of our human story. But this talk will also be a deeply personal and moving account of Mosse’s efforts to put her investigative skills to the test to rediscover the forgotten life of her great-grandmother, Lily Watson, a famous and highly successful novelist in her day who has all but disappeared from the record.

Kate Mosse will also be in conversation with Leah Redmond Chang about ‘Young Queens: Three RenaissanceA European revival of learning, art and literature influenced by classical history and culture. It started in Florence, Italy in the 14th century and spread to the rest of Europe in the 14th to 16th centuries. Women and the Price of Power’ (also on Sunday).

Michael Wood – The True Story of the Trojan WarA war that may or may not have actually happened, around the twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE, between the Trojans and Greeks. It entered into mythology based on the Greek poet Homer's (C8 BCE) famous epic poem, the Iliad (and the Odyssey). Michael Wood

The Trojan War is perhaps the most famous story in all literature. But was there a real war? And if so, when and why did it take place? In the light of exciting recent discoveries, Michael Wood returns to the subject of his award-winning TV series and his number one best-selling book, In Search of the Trojan War.

Throughout the week

Wizzo’s Rip-Roaring History

Wizzo’s Rip-Roaring History is an old-time circus sideshow where the stars are the props and extraordinary stories. It’s all about TIME! Against the clock, Abs ‘Wizzo’ Wisdom brings his excitement for history front and centre to you! Think Heath Robinson meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and throw in a generous helping of audience participation and Crystal Maze eccentricityIn geological terms, this describes the Earth's egg-shaped orbit around the Sun. See 'A Brief History of Climate Change'.. Colourful? Yes. Educational? Certainly. Rip-roaring? Absolutely!

Rt. Hon. Lord Vainen Schuch-des Forges – Adventurer, Poet, Vagabond

Hear the amazing stories of how a respected Edwardian peer of the realm gambled for rubies with Maharajas, chanced his reputation as a Samurai and threw caution to his manservant. Never before has such an intrepid gentleman opened the closet of memory and bared his very soul for ordinary folk, such as you. Experience tales of big game, combat and love, from the furthest reaches of this world, as this larger-than-life adventurer tells it all and more.


The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival will take place between Monday 26 June and Sunday 2 July at Church Bottom, Broad Chalke, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5DP. For more details about the festival, please visit the recently-relaunched website at Follow all the news on Twitter at @CVHISTORYFEST and on Facebook and Instagram.

Pictures courtesy of Chalke Valley History Festival and Ash Mills

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected and Inside History, and my article for Parliaments, Estates and Representation won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019).