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Anna Keay Longlist Author Interview

6 October 2022

How does it feel to be longlisted?

Just fantastic. The Baillie Gifford is the Everest of non-fiction prizes - so I am beside myself to have been nominated. I keep think I am going to wake up to discover I have dreamt it.

How did you conduct your research?

Digging through 17th-century diaries and memoirs, account books and court depositions in archives and record offices from Edinburgh to Dorset, Chester to Norwich. I wanted the book to be based entirely on first-hand material.

This book is full of these huge characters. Were there any historical figures from this period of time you were disappointed not to be able to include?

Yes - lots! I would have loved to have included William Webb, the parliamentary surveyor who assessed the royal estates, medieval castles and hunting parks for sale - alongside the crown jewels and Charles I's art collection. And I longed to find room for William Dugdale, one of Charles I's heralds who travelled the land recording every medieval tomb and monument before they were torn down. Also Oliver Cromwell's middle daughter, Elizabeth. I gathered lots of material on them, but in the end there just wasn't room.

The civil war and the subsequent republican period are often seen as aberrations in British history. Do you think this is an accurate assessment, or has it had a more long-lasting impact on the country?

The British republic was unquestionably a constitutional failure. But that has masked the fact that so much else that was pioneered at that extraordinary time would endure - and still defines us: parliamentary supremacy, newspapers and mass media, the army and armed services, modern science, opera and musical theatre, internationalism, coffee houses ... the list goes on.

What are you working on next?

A book on the relationship between England and the world before Empire.