British author, historian and television presenter Kate Williams means what she says. Through her books, television and radio programmes, lectures, essays and journalism she is putting women, often overlooked in history, firmly back on the map, as well as making waves herself as an important female historian.
Her first two books were biographies: England’s Mistress (2006), about the intriguing life of Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress, and Becoming Queen (2008), on the passionate youth of Queen Victoria and her ‘forgotten’ cousin Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. A further book, The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings 1066-2011 was written with Alison Weir, Tracy Borman and Sarah Gristwood and published in early 2011. Williams has written many academic pieces, reviews and articles, and she appears regularly on our TV screens as a historical expert.
Williams took her BA at Somerville College, Oxford (she was a College Scholar and was awarded the Violet Vaughan Morgan University Scholarship), followed by an MA from Queen Mary, University of London. She gained a DPhil from Oxford, for which she was awarded a graduate prize. Although her doctorate was on women and seduction in 18th century fiction, it was during this time that she began researching the life of Emma Hamilton – a project that would continue for five years in libraries and archives across the globe. She took a further MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, a course which she now teaches.
The inspiration for England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton came from a letter which Williams accidentally came across in her doctoral research. In her own words: ‘I fell over one of her letters – and fell in love’. Published in 2006, the biography gives a new perspective and strong, intelligent voice to a woman who has been severely misrepresented in the course of history. The book was highly successful: a ‘Book of the Year’ in the Times and the Independent, short-listed for Marsh/English Speaking Union Prize for the Best Biography of 2005-6, and broadcast as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week. The film is currently in production with Picture Palace, with Kate as historical consultant; a stage musical is also in development.
Her second book, Becoming Queen, was published in 2008 and serialised in the same year in the Sunday Telegraph. It too was met with great acclaim, named ‘Book of the Year’ in the Spectator and Tatler, and ranked amongst the Top 50 Paperbacks of 2008 for the Times.
The Pleasures of Men (2012) is Kate’s first novel. Her next two novels will be published in 2012 and 2013, and her third biography, on the life of Josephine Bonaparte, will also be appearing in 2012.
Television and Radio
In 2008, Kate’s Timewatch special for BBC2, Young Victoria, was reviewed as ‘telly history at its best’ by The Guardian. She also presented Camilla’s Family Secrets: Edward VII and His Mistresses for Channel 5 and The History Channel in 2011, and wrote and presented the BBC Radio 4 documentary Samuel Smiles: Grandfather of Self-Help in 2009.
She is the social historian on BBC2’s Restoration Home, and in April 2011 appeared on BBC1 giving extensive commentary on the historical perspective of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
Recent appearances on television include as a panellist on Newsnight Review and discussing history on Newsnight, BBC Breakfast, the Today Programme, Channel 4 News, More4 News and Woman's Hour. She is regularly interviewed on other programmes as a history expert and is currently working on more television projects.
Throughout her career, Kate has published academic essays in journals and books. Her short story, The Weakness of Hearts, was published in issue 104 of literary magazine Litro.
She regularly writes features and comment pieces for magazines and newspapers including the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent, the Spectator, Time Out, History Today and the BBC History Magazine, and reviews history books for History Today and the BBC History Magazine and fiction for the Financial Times and Mslexia.
Kate gives regular addresses to societies, dinners and other events across Europe. Her subjects include Emma Hamilton and Queen Victoria, as well as ‘Royal Scandals’, ‘Great Queens’ and ‘Scarlet Women: Mistresses in History’. She has spoken at several literary festivals including the Hay Festival, the Times Cheltenham Festival, and Dartington Ways with Words.