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Hmmm, given that Colum Cille (Columba to the Latinate) was Irish and established a church that was overthrown by the followers of Augustin, this list strikes me from the offset as rubbish history. Presumably that bit was driven by the desire to find someone from "these islands" as opposed to someone sent on a mission from Rome?

Typical for the Tories - still trying to twist history to fit in with your narrative 1500 years after the event.

What a flawed list:

1. Oliver Cromwell - brutal sectarian military dictator responsible for the massacre of thousands of Irish people. It's a bit like saying that Genghis Khan was the creator of the Mongol Army and leaving it at that.

2. Nye Bevan didn't "create" the NHS. The spadework had all been done by Neville Chamberlain, the National Government and Beveridge. Bevan's sole (regressive) contribution was to insist on a Stalinist rationing system funded solely by the taxpayer instead of what was originally proposed: universal social insurance as successfully adopted in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Trust the Tories to swallow uncritically Labour propaganda about the NHS.

Where's Henry VIII, creator of the Navy?

But more worrying on the subject of history are the new lessons, unveiled by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which are intended to give secondary school pupils an insight into the influence of British rule on the Indian subcontinent:

"History lessons for 13-year-olds blacken the name of Winston Churchill and promote the Kama Sutra, it is claimed.

Leading historians accused curriculum chiefs of adopting an "anti-British" stance and misquoting the revered former Prime Minister.

They said new teaching packs on the British Empire were grossly unsuitable for their intended audience of 13 and 14-year-olds since they directed pupils to a sexually-explicit internet edition of the Kama Sutra.

They claimed the link, and a separate reference to tantric sex, was being included to meet misguided and politically-correct doctrines to teach history from different perspectives including "gender and sexuality"."


Why oh why yet another list.
The present is of imperative, not the past and the production of a spurious list. Wasn't Colomba Irish? Wasn't de Montfort a rebel against the establishment?
Strange choices.

This is the daft sort of muddle you get into when you set out with such a contrived category as 'Greatest Institution Builders' It is meaningless and bound to be seen as a 'Great Britons' list.

Not 'Two-brains Willets's' finest hour !!

Oliver Cromwell - brutal sectarian military dictator responsible for the massacre of thousands of Irish people.

he had some minor blemishes but was allround just what the country needed and needs............

Why is Michael Faraday missing from this list ? The inventor of the electric motor and one of the greatest scientists in world history

TomTom, next you will be telling us that he made the carts run on time!

Winston Churchill?

TomTom, next you will be telling us that he made the carts run on time!

That's political trivia.

Michael Faraday was a great.......and anyone with any understanding of Physics knows just how much.

He was Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.................but Willetts omitted The Royal Institution from his list which reflects badly on literary types understanding of Scientific Discovery

Columba (the dove)was Irish but from Doire now Londonderry but he figures strongly in the history of Scotland and the North of England. You could argue St.Patrick, who was certainly born on the island of Britain but unquestionably he figures in Irish rather than British history.
Much as one admires James IV, it is his stupidity in trying to seduce Lady Elizbeth Heron led to the delay and the bloodbath at Flodden. Far more significant is his great grandather's great grandfather, Robert I (Robert the Bruce) who is far more important in British History.
As for Nye Bevan and Millicent Fawcett, their inclusions debases what in many other aspects is an excellent list

For a start, Willetts didn't include or omit anyone or anything. He did not draw up the list. It was drawn up by three historians at his request. Neil McKendrick was, until last year, Master of Caius College, Cambridge and is known as a great teacher of history. David Starkey taught history at LSE until 1998 and has broadcast on a variety of historical subjects. Michael Burleigh has also taught history at a number of universities. It is interesting that a number of people contributing to this thread think they know more about history than these eminent historians. They may be right, but they would need to do more to convince me than this.

Michael Faraday was a great scientist but he did not build any British institutions. Yes, he held a post at the Royal Institution but he did not in any sense build that institution. And, much as I admire the work of that Institution, I don't think it belongs on this list. If it did, it would be represented by Sir Thomas Bernard or Sir Benjamin Thompson who played significant roles in founding the Institute, not Faraday.

Winston Churchill was a British institution! And he was certainly a great Briton. But I would agree that he was not a great institution builder.

Yes, Columba was Irish but he reintroduced Christianity to Scotland. I didn't think his Church was "overthrown" by the followers of Augustine - he worked in England, a separate kingdom at that time. As for suggesting that Columba's inclusion is a Tory attempt to twist history, words fail me.

I too am surprised that the Royal Navy is not included on this list, although Alfred the Great also has a claim on this one.

Nye Bevan was certainly responsible for setting up the NHS. The groundwork was laid by many others such as William Beveridge. Some may not approve of the NHS as implemented (or even at all) but that is a separate question. A list like this has to be politically neutral if it is to be taken seriously (at least, as seriously as any such list can be taken).

Similarly Millicent Fawcett - she is acknowledged as instrumental in women gaining the vote. How does her inclusion debase this list?

I think the main purpose of lists like this is to get people thinking and talking. I hope this one succeeds.

Perhaps the list drawn-up for Mr Willetts could at least be footnoted to point out that -
(a) King William III and Queen Mary II accepted the Bill of Rights 1689, which arguably laid the foundations of modern parliamentary supremacy and constitutional monarchy.
(b) Sir Winston Churchill demonstrated extraordinary resolve in leading the successful fight of the British people to prevent the destruction of our institutions and values by the Germans.

Speaking as someone who loves history, this whole list business is rubbish. It just leads to silly sniping and point scoring, and seems to have no political benefit whatsoever.

I have always had my doubts about Mr Willett's contributions to political debate, and this latest gimmick does nothing to ameliorate my views.

Surely Peter Harrison is missing the point? This list doesn't involve any particularly original or detailed research and to a large extent is a matter of perception and opinion, not "knowledge". So people on this thread are perfectly entitled to take issue with the perceptions and opinions of "eminent" historians. The last century has thrown up a number of "eminent" historians (E.H. Carr, A.J.P. Taylor to name but two) whose opinions I would disagree with as well.

Treating Nye Bevan as "responsible" for the creation of the NHS is either a political statement or a quibble bearing in mind that 90% of the work had been done by others. A national health service was effectively running from 1939 to 1945 on foundations laid by Neville Chamberlain. Bevan largely took the credit for the efforts of others.

The Elder Pitt has a much better claim than Clive to have "created" the British Empire. Clive was a regional player in the Seven Years' War orchestrated by Pitt which not only yielded India but French Canada and the Thirteen Colonies as well.

Re Suffragetes
I was always taught we taught in SCE Higher History that it was the Pankhursts who were instrumental in the achievement of women's sufferage- all Ms Fawcett did was to introduce the word "Militant" into the English language

What is all this about Alfred having created England? England is considered by mediaeval historians to have been created by Athelstan (Alfred's grandson,cerca 930. I think that they put it at his victory at The Battle of Five Kings, but I can't really remember). All Willets had to do was look it up on the BBC website."http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/athelstan.shtml" That's also what happens when you let modern historians loose on mediaeval history. Honestly we have some of the best mediaeval departments in Europe: USE THEM!
I'm not sure that mediaevalists would agree with William the Conqueror being left out as an institution builder either.
As for the Cromwell and the British Army, I thought that his only contribution was to agree that military commanders should be separated from political power. As far as I am aware the New Model Army was equal to or inferior in quality(though not numbers) to the royalist forces. If you want a real revolution in military organisation, that would go to the king that switched us from a
feudal levy system to a Company system (was it Edward I or EdwardIII, I can't remember), which led, along with the longbow, to some of the most crushing military victories we've ever had (ie Crecy and Poitiers).

I love history and read a bit of it at university and quite a bit since. I would not describe my interest as "passionate" because that is a vulgar term over used and favoured by the insincere.

I do however tend to agree with sjm. Lists are a bit silly. And I guess I am not the only one who has begun to wonder about TwoBrains; but then again the same applies pretty much to the whole shadow cabinet.

Peter Harrison, you clearly know little of history and less of the Church. Columba was a leading figure of the Celtic Church which was indeed overthrown by the universal or Catholic Church of Rome. Columba didn't work "in Scotland" - as no such place existed at the time - any more than there was an "England" beyond the geographical expression we'd use today.

The Catholic Church of course incorporated Colum Cille as part of its hegemonic strategy but Colum Cille's church bore scant relationship to that we know today. The Catholic and Anglican churches in these islands should properly chase their roots to Augustine. As this is meant to be history and not propaganda so should any remotely credible historian.

The point is, this was a cheap attempt at some "talking point" politics on a quiet news day. In reality it reveals that = as most of us have long known - the Tories remain the "stupid party" of Millsian description: prepared even to twist history in pursuit of a few headlines.

A worry that we are seeing, yet again, the inability of so called intelectuals to see through political correctness when reviewing history. I accept that Churchill did not "shape the nation" he just made sure there was a nation left to shape. But Bevan's contribution was more negative than positive. He took the Beverage proposals, produced during the war time Tory dominated government, and added a load of socialism that resulted in the shambles called the NHS which every government since the war has desparatetly tried to sort out. If you include Bevan you should include George 3rd!

As for shapeing the nation Margaret Thatcher could be said to have shaped the nation we see to-day, and for that matter a large part of the the world. But she is a Tory and Bevan was Labour, can't have Tories being proposed as doing anything positive, it'l ruin the image the BBC and academics have built up. Willets and Co. seem the usual inadequates who you wouldn't want on your side in a fight.

A worrying collection of hardcore statists there: Nye Bevan for example [putter-in-place of the Command Economy in healthcare]. And the suggestion that John Reith [of BBC infamy - who fired Eckersley as chief BBC engineer because he was implicated in an adultery trial] should be in the list is profoundly worrying.

I'd far rather see modern-day entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch, Martha Lane-Fox, James Dyson, Ivan Massow [who realised that us gays were a valuable and profitable market to sell insurance to] included in such a list.

Cromwell 'had a few minor blemishes'-TomTom.What an unbelievable quote. Murderer,despot, religous bigot (even by 17th Century standards).I wonder what you would consider major blemishes TomTom?
This arbitary list really does not add much to the debate and like most aspects of history is open to interpretation and debate. For example it is not clear to me why James IV was in any way a greater king of Scots than David I, the Bruce,or James VI?

As another who professes to love History (I'm lucky enough to hold a degree in the Discipline), making a list of merely 12 for a Country with the past as Glorious, Convuluted and Complicated as a Country as Britain is to miss out the impact of so many great individuals as to render it almost facile.


Sorry - I should have said that Nye Bevan was the Minister responsible for setting up the NHS. I hope that's a bit clearer.

With regards to knowledge, I agree that such lists are largely subjective. I was objecting to some people parading their "superior" knowledge and condemning David Willetts' lack of knowledge, or so it seemed to me.


Where to begin. Your anti-Conservative bias combined with your religious bias shines through your contributions.

Yes, I simplified a little in that Scotland and England did not exist as entities. Columba based himself in Iona and worked among the Picts in places such as Inverness, the Hebrides and the Kintyre province - all now part of Scotland. Augustine worked among the Anglo-Saxons in the south east of what is now England.

I am well aware of the version of Columba's life that has him in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic church. However, every such account I have seen includes the belief that Jesus was raised in the British Isles, that the Virgin Mary was a member of the English royal family and so on. I'm sorry but I don't accept this and nor do most historians.

Columba and Augustine clearly came from different traditions. Columba was from from the Celtic Church but the evidence available indicates that this was not a cohesive body and its members did not regard themselves as being in opposition to the Catholic establishment. Indeed, the Celtic Church grew out of the Catholic Church. Many of the differences between Celtic Christianity and the Catholic Church arose simply because the Celtic peoples lost contact with Rome.

The Celtic Church DID see themselves as separate from the Anglo-Saxons. It is true that, eventually, the Anglo-Saxons became dominant and the Celtic Churches agreed to follow the ways of the Catholic Church, so in a sense you are right but I think you are over-egging the case. The differences between the Churches were quite small (the method of calculating the date of Easter, for example, although this was seen as very important at the time) and some Celtic practises were adopted by the Roman Catholic Church (the Marian doctrines and private confession). Saying that the Catholic Church "overthrew" the Celtic Church is far too strong in my view.

I fail to see how any of this is a "Tory" narrative of history. I really don't think we Tories care whether the Church in Britain was established by Columba or Augustine. I also fail to see how getting 3 eminent historians to draw up this list makes us the "stupid" party and means that we twist history.

And Conga - Michael Burleigh, one of the historians who drew up this list, holds a PhD in Medieval History, although admittedly he has spent most of his life since then working on modern history.

re St Columba - faintly interesting but cannot see why he should be included in a list of central figs. in British history - Irish history perhaps but not British

re Cromwell - a very central figure in English and British history - has been much maligned by celtic fanatics over the years -whatever he did in Ireland was peripheral and small beer by comparison with continental wars at the time - his one fault was not to be radical enough - he should have gone whole hog for the content of the Putney Debates of 1647 and set up a modern country right then - in the end he did do it partly but still did not embed parliament deeply enough and eliminate royal power .

Nye Bevan - er no . He set up a nationalised medical economy under which we still labour . Working in fortress NHS I am well aware of its virtues ( many ) and drawbacks ( many also ) . If the Conservatives want to do one thing it must be to transform the health economy from an NHS siege economy into a mixed public private economy . This would have major benefits for the entire British economy - as health is circa 8% of it and should be higher . Do this with English NHS ONLY and ignore the pampered parasites of the Scottish and Welsh NHS's where English money enables them to remain in stasis
( that needs to be sorted out too ! )

-quite apart from anything else , the result should be another few % on overall economic growth .

I found this list quite interesting, although it's a combination of actual "doers" (eg the relatively little-known Fawcett) and "icons" of which the Marxist loudmouth Nye Bevan is the most obvious example.

I agree very much with the inclusion of arch-welfarist Bevan as a reminder of so much that is still wrong with this country and needs to be changed. Likewise Cromwell, as a reminder of the bastard and frequently tyrannical origins of today's British state.

Jake comes back in with his "Anglocentric" views. With regard to comments I made some days ago concerning one of his posts I do now concede that the Norman v Saxon "racial" myth - idiotic as it may be -has had a greater grip on the public imagination over many more centuries than I previously allowed.

This list - with all its faults - is the work of academics, NOT of Willetts, whose comments are purely fatuous.

I have yet to see any evidence that this modern Vicar of Bray possesses one brain, let alone the fabled pair.

I'd far rather see modern-day entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch, Martha Lane-Fox, James Dyson, Ivan Massow

The inclusion of the ghastly Murdoch (Aussie turned US citizen)and the ludicrous Ivan Massow proves that this post is intended as a joke. As for Ms.Lane-Fox, I was unfortunate enough to subscribe to her share issue...

If you want a real revolution in military organisation, that would go to the king that switched us from a feudal levy system to a Company system (was it Edward I or Edward III, I can't remember), which led, along with the longbow, to some of the most crushing military victories we've ever had (ie Crecy and Poitiers).

A very interesting point, but it was Cromwell who pioneered the introduction of state-of-the-art Swedish methods of warfare in England (already applied in the Scots army) and thus secured victory over the King.

Two present-day regiments, the Blues and the Coldstream Guards, date their origins to Cromwell's army and whether we like it or not (and I don't care much for the fact) that is where the British Army as we know it had its birth.

Gosh. I wonder if Mr Willetts thought the following when he started this endeavour:

I'm sure I'll get a list of such absolute finality that all argument will cease

or, just possibly, something like

Let's do something that will engage the media with the concept of institutions and encourage people to take part in the essentially conservative concept of thinking about how past events form our current state.

Just an idea. My list would include Francis Galton, because the impact of biometrical thinking has ultimately changed the very way that we perceive ourselves. What did people think about Britain before we had the concept of a "population" or its - by definition - pathological extremes. This holiday I am enjoying reading the works of Ian Hacking, v good philosopher. I had thought the "problem" of inference had been solved but Hacking is convincing me that we only have "evasions" to Hume's (another one for my list) problem of induction.

Norman v Saxon "racial" myth

Galton would be a most interesting choice, given the fact that the "Father of Eugenics" once opined that Africans were "childish, stupid, and simpleton-like, as frequently to make me ashamed of my own species."

I love to watch Mr Willetts attempting to argue his way out of Galton's inclusion in what they invariably interpret as a Tory pantheon.

Going back to the Celtic Church- bearing in mind that it owes its origins to Saint Patrick (who was either from what is now Wales or from the West of Scotland), there was little to connect that Church with Rome. We know little of it although it seems to be monastic in organisation and it has been opined that its origins may be Coptic or Byzantine.
Nevertheless its demise started with the Synod of Whitby in 660AD which indictes that Colomba's Church did not only dominate in the provinces of Dalriada, the lands of the Picts and Strathclyde but also Northumbria (which at that time includes Lothian)and I am aware that there are a few Anglican parishes named after hom.
The Celtic Chuch is fatally wounded by Queen (Saint)Margaret who married Malcolm III after he murdered his first wife,Ingeborg and by her sons (the Margaretsons) particulary King David I although it has been suggested that it was in a position just to help the Bruce in the years after his coronation at Scone in 1306 until his victory at Bannockburn. Colomba's influence in British history lasts for 700 years.

British history only starts in 1707 . Prior to that there were only England and Scotland as two very different countries with completely different histories . This is not being pedantic - it is a key and dominating point which Willetts and Ian
Mckellar appear to be unaware of .

I occurrs to me that Willetts' attempt to blur over these separate histories might not be simply an example of sloppy and ignorant thinking but rather yet another installment of the endless and rather sinister effort to enforce Britishness on us all at the expense of our own national histories . As one who still - just about - answers to the description " British " but who is also very concerned that English history , ie my own history , is not being sufficiently recognised .

Can I defend Beveridge from the slur that he was somehow associated with the marxist nationalisation of healthcare in the UK by Bevan.

His recommendation was for a mixed public/private system based on compulsory insurance for those in work and state support for those not.

His system was implimented by British civil servants in West Germany after WW2 and is now extended to the whole of the reunited Germany. I wish we had the courage to do the same here.

Cromwell was the best King we (sort of) never had. If he had been a King he would be fondly remembered; he achieved a lot. And very conservative too. I would love to see Samuel Pepys on the list; I attribute the modern navy to him.

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