Through a glass darkly

Richard 1

History is a funny thing.

It is often proclaimed that history will be the final arbiter and have the ultimate say in the actions taken by individuals today.  But there are famous figures from the past that still seem to be remembered for obscure and inaccurate reasons.

Take Alfred the Great.

He was a great administrator, religious reformer and sponsor of literacy.  He was also instrumental in starting a process that led to the unification of the many kingdoms into a single entity that later became England.

But how were we as school kids taught to remember him?   For burning a batch of scones in some peasant hut in the Somerset Levels.

Hardly fair.

How about King Richard I, aka the Lion Heart, regaled by some as England’s greatest king because of his exploits during the bloody Third Crusade.

Don’t believe it, because throughout his ten year reign he spent just six months in England and probably didn’t even speak the language.

Moreover after failing to secure Jerusalem, he fell out with his European pals (sound’s familiar) and got himself captured and ransomed off for 150,000 marks.  A staggering £2.3 billion in today’s money, taking into account inflation.

Here’s a good one: Wat Tyler, the leader of The Peasants Revolt and no doubt Diane Abbott’s pin up boy.  No guesses what Wat did for a living by the way.

Trains were thin on the ground in 1381, so Wat marched his peasant army from Canterbury to London to demand better working conditions, a limit on overtime and a new productivity deal.

Having slaughtered a few conservatives on the way and scaring the living daylights out of the boy king Richard II when London itself was threatened, all of Wat’s demands were met.

But then he get’s cocky, swears at the King and spits water over his feet, at which point London’s Lord Mayor – a sort of Sadiq Khan with tights – draws his dagger and ends Wat’s tiling days forever.

The result? All bets were called off, and amid much muttering and flatulence, the peasants about turned and went back to seurfing, empty handed.

History is littered with other examples.  Take Jethro Tull: recognised as a great hero of the Agricultural Revolution with his famous seed drill.  But what about his prowess at playing the flute whilst standing on one leg?  Hardly ever mentioned.

It makes me wonder how history will judge Anthony Blair Esq., but I am not optimistic.

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