"Whose reign remains the most intriguing to you?"
"Without a doubt, it's Henry VIII. But that's because I know more about Henry VIII. I wrote a book on him entitled The Mask of Royalty. It was a psychological study of the man in terms of the standards of his own age, without imposing 20th-century psychology back on him.
"I spent a lot of time, for instance, on the concept of honor that pervades the culture of the period. I also focused on the importance of war at the time. Warfare throughout the medieval period was part of the culture in which you displayed your honor and courage and loyalty. It goes back to old Anglo-Saxon times and those heroic tales of Beowulf, where you displayed your true mettle. It's a warriors' code that lasted all the way down through the 16th Century. Henry VIII felt his wars were of the greatest importance."
"The relationship of king to subject has fluctuated through the ages. What do you think future generations will come to know about the present queen and her reign?"
"Elizabeth is not going to be terribly memorable except for the fact that she reigned for so long. Very little happened during her reign, excepting the decline of the empire."
"And that begs the obvious next question. Can the monarchy survive much longer?"
"Like the Dutch monarchy, the Norwegian monarchy, and the Swedish monarchy, the English monarchy is very useful. As the kings and queens of England have lost political power, they have gained stature as being kind of necessary to the political system.
"Our political system combines the head of state with the head of the political party. This causes a lot of trouble. Bush becomes both a symbol for the United States and, at the same time, he is the political power of the state. In France they have a president that is divided from the premier. In Italy they have the same thing. In England they have a queen that stands above politics, who sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil. That may be the saving grace of the monarchy. It has a thousand years of history and tradition standing behind it and at the same time is a very useful institution.
"You do hear every once in awhile that it's a very expensive institution and that perhaps it isn't worth it. There are questions, from time to time, about why they maintain this archaic system. The fact is, it attracts an immense number of tourists, and that is very important to the economy of Great Britain. We wouldn't have Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards, we wouldn't have the queen's official birthday, and we wouldn't have all the drama of the past. And that is terribly important, particularly now that Great Britain has dropped to a second-rate power. The one thing the queen has is a perfectly marvelous history, and it's very useful to them, and they are well aware of this."
"Contrary to evidence one might see in current political events, do you think we learn from history, or learn well from history?"
"I'm not sure we learn from history, but, my goodness...Take for instance what's happening in old Yugoslavia, in what is today Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. The importance of history there is terrifying, because they remember the atrocities of a thousand years ago.
"The same thing is true in Iraq, which is still essentially a tribal society. They remember...and remember the need for vengeance for atrocities that took place five or ten generations back. Historic memory is a terribly important thing.
"Whether we learn from it, I don't know. That all depends on whether you're an optimist or a pessimist."
"For a man who has been retired for a number of years, you sound very busy."
"I had time on my hands, being retired. I didn't have to prove anything. I wasn't bucking for promotion or trying to get tenure, so I could afford to write a book that had nothing to do with tenure or promotion. It's history as entertainment.
"When I was teaching English history in the survey course, I always wanted, but could never find, a short history of England. I'm one of the culprits myself. I have written a four-volume history of England -- well, I wrote one of the volumes and was general editor for the other three. All told, you're talking about 1300 or 1400 pages. It's simply too much reading.
"I was forever being asked to recommend a short history of England in preparation for going over there for the first time. If you read this book, you'll discover it is aimed at the tourist. The location of monuments and that sort of thing are all in there. In fact, one of the early titles that I played around with was something like All You Need to Know about English History while Flying between O'Hare and Heathrow. It can be read in a period of six or seven hours.
"The final reason I got interested in the book was that it just so happened that my parents collected and bound copies of Punch magazine. I inherited about 40 volumes, covering a vast amount of the 20th Century. This is where I got the idea of using Punch illustrations rather than portraits of elder statesmen and pictures of cathedrals. I thought that cartoons that showed off the idiocies of English history would be a marvelous plus."