I was asked to write a piece for The Guardian about historical ‘facts’ we often get wrong. Obviously, any list is always going to be highly subjective, but here are the ones that popped into my head:


Some extra bits:

  • I have been dying to get the story of Elizabeth Mallet in print for years. Women had a significant presence in the print industry during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The usual way this happened was that they would inherit printing businesses after their husbands’ died. Before printing the Daily Courant, Mallet made her money printing the trials and final testimony of criminals awaiting execution. Not much is known of her life after the Daily Courant.
  • What I was most surprised to discover was that military hot air balloons were used during the French Revolutionary Wars and the American Civil War (on both sides) to observe battles and transport intelligence. It is an astonishing fact that completely changes the way I imagine pre-20th century warfare.
  • My piece covers the evidence of a European presence in the Americas –  tracing it as far back as 1000AD in Canada. Of course, humans had been living in the Americas for several millennia preceding this point – evidence pushes human occupation back to as far at 15,000 years. There’s a useful guide on the Smithsonian website.
  • Alongside warfare and conquest, the other thing Genghis Khan is renowned for is being the ancestor of a sizable chunk of the world’s human population. Research from 2015 suggests that Khan is actually one of several men to have made a significant impact on the genetic makeup of the world’s population. These include a member of the Chinese Qing Dynasty and a member of the Irish Uí Néill dynasty.

Finally, to find out a little more about the three stories that triggered the article, do read the following: