Heroes in British History

David Hipshon regrets the degree to which our history syllabuses have censored the roles of British heroes.

Where have all our heroes gone? A generation ago history lessons in Britain would have reverberated with stirring tales of native heroes: Boudicca, Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Francis Drake, Clive of India, Wolfe of Quebec, Nelson and Wellington. Their stories are now untold, their deeds largely forgotten, their memory passed over in silence. If we were to walk in to any history lesson in Britain today we would more likely find ourselves confronted by the Vikings, Black Death, Medicine in the Middle Ages, Elizabethan Costume, Victorian Factories or The Nazis. (Plenty of Nazis!) So effective has the eradication of traditional national heroes been that an 18- year-old in modern Britain, if he or she had not given up history at the age of 14, might well have spent the best part of five years studying Hitler, perhaps with Stalin thrown in for good measure, rather than any iconic figure from Britain’s past.

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