Reshaping the British Greats

From the August 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

Two examples of how history is being rewritten. Notice the less authoritative approach of today’s textbooks, with phrases like “Traditional textbooks stress” or “Some historians say.”

Lord Nelson

1934

He fought bravely in many battles at sea and came through them safely. But he lost his right arm and his right eye. His one fear was, not that he would lose his life, but that his country would have no use for a one-eyed and one-armed man.

“Both as captain and admiral, he was always most thoughtful for his men and they loved and trusted him.

“Nelson said nothing about fame or reward, for this was what he

always taught:’These other things—honor, glory, fame—may come if God wills; but in the meantime, do your duty.’”

—R.K. and M.I.R. Polkinghorne, The York Histories

1992

On 21 October 1805 the British navy under Admiral Nelson defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet (Spain was an ally of France at the time) near Cape Trafalgar, off south-west Spain.

“Traditional British textbooks stress the importance of the Battle of Trafalgar in defeating Napolean.

“Some historians say that Britain’s major contribution to Napoleon’s defeat was a less dramatic and more varied one than winning battles.”

—“Why Was Napolean Defeated?” in Societies in Change, from the Schools History Project (for Year 8, 13/14-year-olds)

Queen Victoria

1923

All through her reign, but mostly during its last 20 years, she appealed to the common human heart of the plain people. When she said she was grieved by some calamity, people knew that her sorrow was sincere, and of the same nature as their own.

“There was nothing superfine about Queen Victoria in her widowhood.

“Nonetheless, she made the world recognize in her the symbol of all that was mighty and lasting in the life of England and of the races associated with England in Empire. Because she thus combined the very human and the very high, sentiment about her person became, at the end, akin to the religious.”

—G.M. Trevelyan,

British History in the 19th

Century, 1782-1901

1992

Queen Victoria was the Queen of Britain from 1837 to 1901. She had a family of nine children…. This is what two historians have written about Queen Victoria and her family:

“Historian 1:’Above all it seems clear that Victoria hated pregnancy, hated childbirth, hated babies and hated children.’

“Historian 2: ‘All the fun which Victoria had missed as a child she now had with her children: games of blind man’s buff, visits to the zoo and scenes from plays.’

“The Royal Family was one of millions of families in Britain between 1837 and 1901. This period is known as the Victorian age, but how was Victorian life different from how we live today?”

—Grant Bage,

Victorian Britain, Collins

Primary History series