A historical classic – 1066 and all that

The beauty of this book is that you can reread this numerous times.  It is so clever, Sellars and Yeatman were obviously fantastic historians, and I imagine, had a great laugh writing this.  According to Wikipedia the book is a parody of the Whiggish style of history teaching in English schools at the time, in particular of Our Island Story, which David Cameron claims to have loved, which says it all really.  Whig history basically tried to retell the history of the British as the history of a nation which inevitably progressed towards individual liberties and enlightenment, so 1066 and all that helpfully sums it up as.    ” A memorable history of England comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates”. This is a hilarious nationalistic view of history, with history coming to a full stop once the Americans becoming top power. Their analysis of people and events is largely confined to this was a Good or Bad thing. The more you know about  British history, the funnier you will find it, but I would like to think that everyone could like it.

Some of the highlights for me include;

Richard I always leaving England to travel to the Mediterranean so he became known as Richard Gare de Lyon.

When Henry IV part 1 realises he is not memorable , ” he very patriotically abdicated in favour of Henry IV Part II”.

Noticing that the Middle Ages were coming to an end, the Barons now made a stupendous effort to revive the old Feudal amenities of Sackage, Carnage and Wreckage and so stave off the Tudors for a time.  They achieved this by a very clever plan, known as the Wars of the Roses.

James I was always repeating, ‘No Bishop, No King'” to himself, and one day a certain loyal citizen called Sir Guyfawkes, a very active and conscientious man, overheard him, and thought it was the slogan of James’s new policy. So he decided to carry it out at once and made a very loyal plan to blow up the King and the bishops and everybody else in Parliament assembled, with gun-powder.* Although the plan failed, attempts are made every year on St Guyfawkes’ Day to remind the Parliament that it would have been a Good Thing.

*Recently invented by Francis Bacon, author of Shakespeare, etc.

How’s your father?

The Commonwealth – Nothing sickened the people of the rule of the Serjeant-Majors so much as their cruel habit of examining little boys viva-voce. For this purpose the unfortunate children were dressed in their most uncomfortable satins and placed on a stool. The Serjeant-Major would then ask such difficult questions as ‘How’s your Father ?’ or ‘Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral ?’ and those who could not answer were given a cruel medicine called Pride’s Purge. All this was called the Crommonwealth and was right but repulsive.

A great deal of excitement was caused in this (Charles II’s) reign by Titus Oates, the memorable Quaker, who said that a Roman Catholic plot had been made with the objects  (a) of murdering the King, (b) of blowing up the people, (c) of restoring the Roman Catholic religion instead.These would probably have been a Bad Thing, if they had been achieved, and the King was so enraged that he immediately introduced a Disabling Act which said that everyone except the heir to the throne was to be disabled. Later when he had relented, he had another Habeas Corpus Act passed, saying that the disabled people might keep their bodies.

During these (Napoleonic) Wars many very remarkable discoveries and inventions were made. Most memorable among these was the discovery (made by all the rich men in England at once) that women and children could work for twenty-five hours a day in factories without many of them dying or becoming excessively deformed. This was known as the Industrial Revelation and completely changed the face of the North of England.

The exams at the end of each section contain classics such as;

Contract, Expand, and Explode

(a) The Charters and Garters of the Realm,

(b) The Old Suspender.

‘ Know ye not Agincourt ?’ (Confess.)

‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a Throne.’

(a) Suggest remedies, or

(b) Imitate the action of a Tiger.

Do not draw a sketch-map of the Battle of Bannockburn, but write not more than three lines on the advantages and disadvantages of the inductive historical method with special relation to ecclesiastical litigation in the earlier Lancastrian epochs.

Why do you picture John of Gaunt as a rather emaciated grandee?

In what ways was Queen Elizabeth a Bad Man but a Good Queen ?

Examine the state of mind of

(1) Charles I, half an hour after his head was cut off

(2) Charles II, half a moment after first sighting Nell Gwyn.

Why on earth was William of Orange? (Seriously,


Do not on any account attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once


1 Comment

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One response to “A historical classic – 1066 and all that

  1. Carol Jepson

    I’d forgotten how funny this book is – must read it again

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