John Guy is recognised as one of Britain’s most exciting and scholarly historians, bringing the past to life with the written word and on the broadcast media with accomplished ease. He’s a very modern face of history.
His ability for first class story-telling and books that read as thrillingly as a detective story makes John Guy a Chandleresque writer of the history world. Guy hunts down facts with forensic skill, he doesn’t just recite historical moments as they stand; he brings names and faces to life in all their human achievements and weaknesses. He looks for the killer clues so we can see how history unfolded. Like a detective on the trail of a crime, he teases out what makes his subjects tick. With his intimate knowledge of the archives, his speciality is uncovering completely fresh lines of enquiry. He’s never content to repeat what we already know but rather, he goes that extra step to solve history’s riddles. He takes you on a journey to the heart of the matter. Forget notions of musty academics, when Guy takes hold of history the case he states is always utterly compelling. Whether it’s Thomas More or Mary Queen of Scots, Guy makes these people so real you suddenly realize you are hearing them speak to you. You enter into their world. You feel you can almost reach out and touch them.
Born in Australia in 1949, John Guy grew up in England and by the age of 16 he knew he wanted to be a historian. In 2001 he made an accomplished debut as a presenter for the television programme Timewatch, on the life of Thomas More. Today he’s turning history books on their head as he wins universal praise and the 2004 Whitbread Prize for biography for his thrilling account of the life of Mary Queen of Scots.
As well as presenting five documentaries for BBC 2 television, including the Timewatch film The King’s Servant and the four-part Renaissance Secrets (Series 2), he has contributed to Meet the Ancestors (BBC 2), and to Channel 4’s Time Team and Royal Deaths and Diseases. Wolsey’s Lost Palace of Hampton Court was a short-listed finalist for the 2002 Channel 4 television awards.
John Guy also appears regularly on BBC Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, BBC World Service and BBC Scotland. In print he currently writes or reviews for The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Economist, the Times Literary Supplement, BBC History Magazine and History Today.
His broadcast and journalism experience builds upon his impeccable CV as an academic and author.
Having read History under the supervision of Professor Sir Geoffrey Elton, the pre-eminent Tudor scholar of the late-twentieth century, John Guy took a First and became a Research Fellow of Selwyn College in 1970. Awarded a Greene Cup by Clare College in 1970, he completed his PhD on Cardinal Wolsey in 1973 and won the Yorke Prize of the University of Cambridge in 1976.
John Guy has lectured extensively on Early Modern British History and Renaissance Political Thought in both Britain and the United States. He has published 16 books and numerous academic articles.
His book My Heart is My Own: the life of Mary Queen of Scots (Harper Perennial, 2004) won the 2004 Whitbread Biography Award, the Marsh Biography Award, was a finalist in the USA for the 2004 Biography/Autobiography of the Year Award (National Books Critics’ Circle), and has been translated into Spanish and Czech. Tudor England (Oxford University Press) has sold over 250,000 copies world-wide. Other books include Thomas More (Hodder Arnold, 2000), translated also into Japanese, and The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1990). For over twenty years he was co-editor of the acclaimed academic series Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History; and co-author of The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and contributed to The Oxford History of Britain, The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor and Stuart Britain, and The Oxford History of the British Isles: the Sixteenth Century.
John Guy lives in North London. He is a Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge, where he teaches part-time, so he can devote more time to his writing and broadcasting career.
John Guy explains why he became a historian
“I always knew, even at school, that I wanted to be a Tudor historian, so I applied to Clare College, Cambridge, which was G. R. Elton’s college. He was the preeminent Tudor historian of the later 20th century and eventually became my supervisor. I got into Cambridge even though I’d done very little work for my “A”-levels because I’d spent most of my time in the sixth-form studying baroque composers and giving organ recitals. Since I’d decided to make Tudor history my career, I decided to avoid studying it as an undergraduate, as I hoped to do it for the rest of my life. I read mostly Medieval History and the History of Political Thought in my first and second years. This stood me in tremendous good stead later, when I finally did my Special Subject on the Henrician Reformation and my PhD on Cardinal Wolsey, since it was possible to make connections that otherwise I’d have missed. Once I’d started on the Tudors, I never looked back. It never occurred to me to do anything different. It’s so exciting going ito the archives and finding something new, especially in an area of History that is supposedly so well known and has such a wide public audience. Reassessing reputations and retelling seemingly familiar stories from a new standpoint is a truly invigorating experience and also tremendous fun. So many people have said to me how boring History was at school, and how inspirational it is when approached in a different way – this is where television can make a real difference and encourage people to go back and start afresh….”