Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

Audio from Jung Chang’s talk at Chalke Valley History Festival on Saturday, 28th June 2014.

In this talk, best-selling author of Wild Swans, Jung Chang gave a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern china and an intimate portrait of the most important woman in Chinese history. One of the emperor’s concubines, she launched a palace coup to become the Empress Dowager Cixi, the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population who overcame huge obstacles to bring a medieval empire into the modern age.

The Dreyfus Affair

Audio from Robert Harris’ talk at Chalke Valley HIstory Festival on Saturday, 28th June 2014.

In this talk, best-selling author Robert Harris turns to one of the key scandals in French history, the Dreyfus Affair. Discussing this infamous miscarriage of justice that rocked France in the years before the first world war, he brings new insights to this world of secret service dealings, cover-ups and betrayal…

The Olden Days: The Power Of The Past In Britain

Audio from Ian Hislop’s talk at Chalke Valley History Festival on 26th June 2014

Journalist, satirist, comedian and broadcaster Ian Hislop looks at the British capacity to dwell on imagined golden eras in British history. Based on his documentary series for BBC2, he explores the ways in which that national emotional attachment to a romanticised past is used by artists, writers and politicians. Ranging from Dark Age heroism to Victorian Medievalism to 20th century Pastoralism, it will be a backward look at the nature of looking backwards.


Ian HislopIan Hislop is returning to the Festival this year to talk about ‘The Satirical Magazine and the History of Private Eye’ on Saturday, 27 June. He will be discussing the importance of satire, both in the past and present, and the story behind Private Eye, from its beginnings to its ongoing role in ensuring the absurdities and pomposity in life continue to be exposed…

Darling Monster: Letters from Lady Diana Cooper

Audio from John Julius Norwich’s talk at the Chalke Valley Festival on Wednesday, 25th June 2014.

The famously beautiful Lady Diana cooper’s bracingly perceptive wartime letters to her son are a delight. She and her husband were the perfect ambassadorial couple who knew everyone from hilaire belloc to Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh and Winston Churchill. John Julius Norwich, historian, travel writer and television personality, illuminates the letters from his mother with his customary charm and wit.

John Julius Norwich returns to the Festival this year to talk about the history of Sicily. He will explain the enigma that lies at the heart of the Mediterranean’s largest island in ‘Sicily: From the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra’.