All entries for Wednesday 28 December 2005

December 28, 2005

The Worst Britons Ever

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4560716.stm

Sod those boring lists that appear in their droves at this time of year, here's a proper list. The Ten Worst Britons Ever!

One per century and chosen for a variety of reasons, I think this is one of the few genuinely interesting lists published recently. I would. I'm a historian and a waste of space. But it is a fascinating set of characters and reasoning.

I wil point out now that I'm an early modern/modern historian and haven't really got much indepth knowledge about anything predating 1600. Hence the first few get the benefit (ahem) of my opinions but the others don't (barring one). I am recognising my limits before I shoot my mouth off and make a fool of myself. This is a novelty as we are all aware.

1900 to 2000: Oswald Mosley (1896-1980)
He wanted to sell us to Hitler, was a racist, a fascist and an all round nasty guy. He was also good at one thing which appears to be a major criteria on this list – he divided the country. I know that members of my own family were on opposing sides over him, some were in the fascist party and some would go out and pick fights with the fascists.

It's quite a political choice. It's certainly very "right-on", picking someone who we, as enlightened 21st century types and all that, should be opposed to. He didn't do anything personally which was as bad as some of the others on this list, but he stood for something pretty bad.

Of course this asks whether we should have put the likes of Edward VIII on the list for being the potential fascist monarch had Germany won WWII?

1800 to 1900: Jack the Ripper
We don't even know who he was and he didn't kill as many people as a lot of later killers (though they were pretty gross killings). He might not even have been one person. But he's a symbol. A proper 'bad' Briton because we can attach any number of beliefs to him, he's an utterly unknown entity and therefore can be held up to represent what we like.

The century had other villians. The exploitative nameless hordes who Dickens was fighting through his literature, the slave owners of the start of the century, the men (including Kitchener) who invented the concentration camps of the Boer War. But none hold the power of the Ripper despite the lessons to be learned from them being greater. If Mosely is a good political choice, then the Ripper is a folklore choice.

1700 to 1800: Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765)
A regional villian. The English (and to an extent the Welsh and Irish) have few reasons to dislike Cumblerland but for the Scottish he was a symbol of all that was done to wrong them. In a millennium in which the two biggest of Britain's countries were often to be found slaughtering each other (and stealing each other's sheep), Cumberland is arguably one of the cruellest of the oppressors, especially as he was acting in a supposed period of Enlightenment.

4. 1600 to 1700: Titus Oates (1649-1705)
A little unfair I think. Oates started a rumour which lead to Catholic persecution but he was a drunk and a lot of important people (including the king, Charles II) didn't believe him. But he fulfills the divisiveness category that is a feature of the list.

This century is in fact a tricky one to deal with. A lot of people (including the never-normally-united hardcore Royalists and Irish) would probably name Cromwell as a bad Briton for his overthrow of the monarchy and his oppressions in Ireland. But some (British) Republicans praise him as a good example and he gets a statue outside parliament in London so it might be bad form to condemn him. Equally his opponebnt Charles I was a quite spectacularly rubbish monarch – he was useless, arrogant and borderline despotic at times. The Irish could equally name William III as a villian though that's a borderline case as he was Dutch despite being king of England and Scotland.

1500 to 1600: Sir Richard Rich (Lord Rich of Leighs) (1496/7-1567)
An interesting and somewhat obscure choice, Rich was a constant self promoter and turncoat who was operating at a time of turbulence and chaos. He probably deserves the title for his repeated treacherousness and general nastiness.

And he has a silly name.

1400 to 1500: Thomas Arundel (1353-1414)
Persecuted the Lollards who turned out to be quite sensible religious reformers. Religious persecution = bad.

1300 to 1400: Hugh Despenser (The Younger) (died 1326)
Played the fourteenth century politics game by having enemies killed and acquiring land unfairly. Got his comeuppance.

1200 to 1300: King John (1167-1216)
A very trad villian though possibly not much worse than other monarchs who killed rivals or ruled badly. I'd like to know more about him because I feel his century might have other villians beyond this one which we (to be honest) are most famillar with from the stories of Robin Hood.

1100 to 1200: Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (c.1120-1170)
Bad bishop? Often seen as a wronged man, his murder apparently brought Henry II out in fits of remorse despite the survey chosing Becket for causing divisions by arguing with Henry. This is the first time I've heard a negative overview of him although (as I've said) I'm no medevialist.

1000 to 1100: Eadric Streona (died 1017)
Betrayed Britain to the monarch with the funniest name ever (if you're immature), Cnut. Wonder if he wore FCUK?

I think, as with a lot of things about history, this says a lot more about the present than the past. Would these have been the villians a century ago? Will they be the villans in a century's time? The verdict appears to be racism and stirring division (especially religious division) is bad, with dishonest (or rather unsporting) self advancement another bad sin. So in the end, have a stiff upper lip, don't argue in public and stop being overtly in it for yourself to avoid the list. That's the most British thing I've heard in ages.

bq.They say the next big thing is here/That the revolution's near/But to me it seems quite clear/That it's all just a little bit of history repeating

It's my blog and I can quote Shirley Bassey if I want!


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