Behind the scenes on Danny Dyer's WDYTYA?: Q&A with Professor Mark Stoyle
Professor Mark Stoyle talks about his experiences of working on Danny Dyer’s episode and reveals how researchers can uncover the hidden history of the English Civil War
Professor Mark Stoyle met Danny Dyer in The Bear Inn, located in the centre of Oxford
In his episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, Cockney actor Danny Dyer uncovers a surprising connection to Robert Gosnold – an ardent Royalist during the English Civil War, whose unwavering support for Charles I left his family in financial ruin.
We caught up with Mark Stoyle, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Southampton, who appeared in Danny’s episode and helped the star learn about his 10x great grandfather’s involvement in the dramatic Siege of Oxford...
What was it like filming with Danny Dyer?
Filming with Danny was really interesting. I don’t really watch EastEnders and I wasn't that familiar with his work, but what was amazing was that wherever we went, people recognised him.
From the minute we stepped out of The Bear [filming location, in Oxford], people were coming up and saying hello, waving out of windows and from off the top of ladders!
I think it demonstrates the power of soap operas and just how many people EastEnders reaches.
Have you appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? before?
I have! I appeared on Alexander Armstrong’s episode in 2010. For that we filmed in Wales and I actually spent a couple of nights with Alexander and the crew on-location.
They were really interesting experiences, both with people who have a high public profile. I guess that would be true of anyone on Who Do You Think You Are?, but I think that Alexander and Danny are particularly big names.
The unusual thing is that when I filmed my 'chunks' with Alexander and Danny, I had no idea they were both going to proceed from being related to quite important Cavalier figures to royalty!
So you didn’t know how the stories were going to unfold?
You just know about the section you’re going to be working on – the producers make a point of not telling you anything else.
When I was working with Alexander, the relative we discussed was quite an important Royalist. He was a nobleman and already a ‘bigwig’, if you like.
But while Danny's ancestor was a gentleman, he wasn't an aristocrat. This made it even more of a surprise that his family tree went right back to royalty.
King Charles I managed to escape from Oxford in April 1646 (Credit: Alamy)
Had you encountered Robert Gosnold [Danny’s 10x great grandfather] before?
Robert Gosnold was an individual I knew about, because I'm interested in Oxford during the Civil War and I've come across that name during my research.
There are some people I know really well and that I’ve studied in great depth, but there are others that are on the periphery of my vision.
I suppose Gosnold had been one of those – I hadn't yet put the fragments of information together and thought about him in detail.
What did you do to help the researchers uncover Robert’s story?
There's a letter I encountered many years ago in which Gosnold and some of the other die-hard Royalists are making it clear – even when it's obvious that the King's cause is long gone – that they don't want to surrender.
When the Who Do You Think You Are? team got in touch, I was able to find a copy of the letter again, which had been published at some point during the 18th or 19th centuries.
I gave them some clues as to where the original document might be, so they went to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, talked to the archivists there, and managed to track it down. There was an element of teamwork between me and the programme researchers, which was very exciting.
Do you think Robert was reckless in his unwavering support for the Royalist cause?
Well, it depends on how you see it. If you were going to be critical, you could say he was a “fanatical” Royalist, but I suppose if you were a Royalist yourself then you would have to respect Robert and see him as someone who was absolutely determined to hang on.
I think someone who is more pragmatic and Machiavellian – and perhaps more in it for their own interests – might ask themselves, “Is there a point at which this loyalty isn't doing me any good?”
Mark told Danny about the heavy fortifications that surrounded Oxford during the English Civil War
How can we learn more about the Siege of Oxford ourselves?
We know a lot about the Siege of Oxford, but it tends to more about the more socially elevated figures. So, if like Danny, you're fortunate enough to have a Royalist gentleman amongst your ancestors, thankfully there’s a lot of information out there to explore. Sadly we don't know nearly enough about the common soldiers.
However, if you're a local historian that’s interested in the Siege of Oxford and you haven't got a particular family history angle to follow, then you're in luck, because there's a lot more material.
One of the really interesting things about the English Civil War is that it was a media war as well as a physical one, because by this stage the printing presses were really rolling – you've got quite high literacy rates amongst men and even a lot of women were beginning to read.
In London, Parliament unleashed a blizzard of propaganda, with literally thousands of copies of pamphlets being produced every week. The King had his own presses in Oxford and set up his own journal to counter this called Mercurius Aulicus.
There's a run of it covering most of the Civil War. For anyone who's interested in Oxford during this period, they should certainly look at these publications, as they show the conflict from both sides.
Where can we access these resources?
If people are interested in Mercurius Aulicus, there are copies of all of the relevant editions in the Bodleian Library. There are also copies of the Parliamentarian journals at the British Library in London.
However, most of the records have now also been digitised – if you get a subscription to Early English Books Online, you can read and browse through them at home.
Another great thing is that if you're not an expert on 17th-century history and find handwriting from that period quite tricky, the pamphlets are actually very easy to read.
Professor Mark Stoyle was speaking to Jon Bauckham