AN INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN SUMPTION
Exclusively for Substack, here is the full transcript of my recent conversation with one of Britain’s greatest living historians
A few weeks ago I went to France to interview Jonathan Sumption. I stayed overnight in his home: the beautiful Chateau de Berbiguières. While we were there we had several long conversations about medieval history, modern history, the big political issues of today and much else besides.
I wrote the interview up as a profile for the Sunday Times. You can read it here, if you have a subscription to that excellent newspaper. Or you can squint and try to read it in this picture.
The interview profile ran to about 1,800 words. I tried to cram a lot in. But there was so, so much that had to be left on the cutting room floor. That was normal. It’s called journalism. But I also felt it was a pity, because Sumption is an utterly mesmerising speaker and the world’s greatest authority on the Hundred Years’ War. He said so much I wish you could all have heard.
But you know what… you can.
Or rather, you can read it. Because here, for my Substack subscribers, is a full transcription of the first hour of our conversation. This is the part where we focus on medieval history and particularly the events covered in Sumption’s latest book, Triumph & Illusion, the fifth and final volume of The Hundred Years War.
It’s a brilliant book. Sumption is an extraordinary speaker. A former QC and judge, he speaks in perfectly crafted sentences. I tidied this transcription up a tiny bit for sense, and to correct names that the AI transcribing app didn’t quite understand. Mostly, though, I just edited it to make my own questions coherent. Otherwise, this is exactly what Sumption said, as he said it. No umms, aahs, mumbles, stumbles or anything.
So here you go. I hope you like it. I hope you learn something. I know I did. There’s another hour of conversation on my iPhone in which we get into the big political stuff of the world today.
If anyone is keen, I might post that at a later date. For now… enjoy.
DJ: I'd like to talk about your process for writing. I'd like to talk about the legacy of The Hundred Years' War. How long did this volume 5 take to write?
JS: I started writing it in 2015, the year in which volume 4 was published, and I finished writing it on New Year's Eve of 2021. So it took six years and a bit. That was slightly less than previous ones, but then I retired from the Supreme Court in December 2018 when I hit the statutory retirement age. So suddenly what had been a part-time activity became a full-time one.
Did you find that made a difference to the way that you approached the task?
No, it just meant I did it faster. I mean you learn a lot however experienced you might have been before by the sheer process of writing. When I wrote volume one, I went down lots of dead ends, particularly in archival research.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to History, Etc to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.