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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  1. I would have liked to have done more medieval history in general during our course, to be honest. I don't think we've studied a single thing before about 1480.

    I should have done the Medieval World with Humphrey in the first year.

    Would have been interesting to see how the Catholic Church developed into such a powerful institution, how people saw themselves relative to their social group, how the economy developed, etc etc. Also, they had some really cool helmets.

    Never mind, you can't have everything.

    28 Dec 2005, 21:24

  2. I think that Jack the Ripper is a particularly unimaginative and uninspired choice for a list like that (although I'm somewhat dubious about the concept in general). They could at least have chosen someone like Cecil Rhodes for the nineteenth century though (or even that nice Joe Chamberlain for helping to worsen the fucked up situation in Ireland with which the government has had to grapple on and off for the past eight hundred years). And for the seventeenth century I'm surprised they didn't go with someone like James II and VII or 'hanging' Judge Jeffreys.

    28 Dec 2005, 22:38

  3. You forgot that bastard, the King of Wales.

    28 Dec 2005, 22:39

  4. I don't think James II/VII is a bad Briton, just one to be filed under "crap monarchs" (woo, another entry idea), but Jeffreys was a git. And one who got his comeuppance.

    Also Ed is right, the earlier in time you go, the cooler the helmets.

    And The King Of Wales is clearly a 21st century villian. Fear his fangs.

    28 Dec 2005, 22:56

  5. It seems that all these Britons have committed their crimes within our borders. What about on the international level?

    Horatio Herbert Kitchener use of concentration camps; is that not worse then a man (oswald) with warped ideologies (but apparently a great economic plan)?

    The bloody kashmir and israel/palestine conflict have their roots in British powerplay, but I guess they would go under "worst mistakes ever by Britons" list as no one could have forseen what would happen.

    29 Dec 2005, 09:09

  6. Daisy

    Oswald Mosley is a completely soft choice for worst briton of the 20th century because he didn't actually DO anything – he is a cartoon character evil guy, like Roderick Spode in PG Wodehouse. He also continues the whole Nazi-fascination thing which so distorts history in schools and on TV. Also picking a guy who was never elected to any major position of power reassures the British public that it can see through evil, which is not necessarily the case – as you said, what about Kitchener, who invented the idea of concentration camps? If we have to go with a Nazi theme, why not Viscount Rothermere, who held exactly the same views as Mosley but had far more influence and power and a greater opportunity to disseminate those ideas through his newspaper empire?

    29 Dec 2005, 20:12

  7. Daisy, Mosely was a government minister for a while.

    29 Dec 2005, 20:15

  8. He was quite well plugged into the establishment though.

    29 Dec 2005, 21:59

  9. I'd have Oliver Cromwell in there for sure.

    29 Dec 2005, 22:31

  10. Cromwell made it into the top-10 best…

    29 Dec 2005, 23:28

  11. So did Diana. I'm not a rabid anti-Diana-ist but I really don't think she should have been on there. Even the inclusion of John Lennon was a bit suspect to my mind. Not as bad as the 100 as a whole which had Bono (Irish), Enoch Powell (Moseley-lite) and Boy George (um…).

    Cromwell should not have been in the top ten. He has a smattering of good points but his bad should knock him out of the top ten.

    Also I think Moseley does have some justificiation for being there. After all the bit I wrote about the street fighting his men caused is not an exaggeration on my part, nor I reckon merely confined to the streets my (English) ancestors lived in – mostly those of Liverpool.

    29 Dec 2005, 23:50

  12. Daisy

    It also occurs to me that there are no women on this list! What! You would have thought in our politically correct times this couldn't happen. Are men to have a monopoly on evilitude? Clearly, from a feminist perspective this will not do. Substitute Oswald Mosley for his wife Diana – she was just as bad and deserted her first husband as well. An adulteress AND a fascist. Kill her!

    01 Jan 2006, 20:05

  13. Hamid Sirhan

    What the hell? Oswald Mosley… As the worst Briton of the 20th Century… Just off the top of my head:

    David Lloyd George
    Anthony Eden
    Enoch Powell
    Arthur Balfour
    Simon Schama (hehehe)

    But serious, a panel of Historians judging on the basis of how 'evil' the people were? Bah.

    01 Jan 2006, 21:31

  14. Where is Cliff Richard on this list?

    02 Jan 2006, 11:23

  15. I know he was in top 10 dude. Doesn't mean a thing.

    03 Jan 2006, 17:54


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