It’s 2019. We’re at the absolute zenith of technology, scientific discovery, knowledge of the world around us, the human body and where to get the best burgers. We’ve never known more about anything than we do at this exact moment in time.
Granted, the geopolitical situation is a little on the precarious side and our position as a European heavyweight is in the balance, but our national football team is doing pretty well, so every cloud…
So, on the basis that we have no idea where we’re going, we thought it would be fun to tell the story of where we’ve come from so take a seat, kick off your shoes and enjoy our tongue-in-cheek history of the very great Britain!
Around 900,000 years ago, people came to what we now call Britain over a land bridge from the place we now call Europe. Human tools from around that time have been found in Norfolk and woolly mammoths, massive rhinos and giant beavers roamed free.
This went on for quite a while until around 400,000 years ago when the first Neanderthals arrived. It seems they came and went based on the climate and the scarcity of food and although the common myth is that they were massive half-witted meatheads, they were in fact very skilled toolmakers, brave hunters and considerate lovers. We made up the last bit. There’s no evidence of that.
As we said, they came and went based on the temperature (a bit like our annual pilgrimage to Tenerife) and when northern Europe was plunged into a deep Ice Age around 25,000 years ago, they went and didn’t come back for ages.
As the Ice Age subsided after about 13,000 years, eventually the sea levels rose, cut off the land bridge and Britain became a forested island.
If we fast-forward to 4,200 years ago, farming people arrived to take advantage of our verdant land and how lucky we are they did. They planted crops and domesticated animals like pigs, sheep and cattle. Wonder how long it was before bread was invented and the first bacon sandwich was eaten?
Anyway, we started to get a bit brighter. Stonehenge was built something like 3,000 years ago and the stone circles they erected still trick us. Copper was used to make tools and weapons and for the first time, they lived in enclosed homes, nothing more than small stone huts with thatched rooves but it would still have been better than paying a grand a month for a bedsit in Clapham.
The first villages and communities developed around 1,200 years ago and after another 500 years or so, iron replaced copper as the most useful metal of all.
In 43 AD, the Romans arrived (invaded) and Britain became part of the Roman Empire. Within seven years they founded Londinium and then they smashed Wales, most of the North and pretty much all of Scotland. They left as quickly as they came in 401 and London was left abandoned for something like 500 years. How no-one thought to open a Starbucks is beyond our understanding.
The Angles from Denmark and the Saxons from Germany rocked up in 450 and shook up the status quo. Notwithstanding their crazy names – ÆLFFLÆD, BEORHTSIGE, CYNEWEARD, LEOFWINE or STITHULF – they divided up the country into seven kingdoms, introduced Christianity and King Offa built his famous dyke.
Maniacal beserkers hell-bent on rape, pillage, grotesque orgies of brutal violence and wrecking up monasteries or misunderstood good guys who just wanted to be loved? A bit of both we suspect and they were here from 793 until the middle of the 11th century. They took York (Jorvik) and made it their capital city and it wasn’t until 886 that King Alfred did a deal with them whereby he essentially asked them to calm down a bit.
In 954, the accurately named Eric Bloodaxe was forced out of Jorvik and it’s around now that England started to have kings that most of us have actually heard of.
Edgar was followed by Edward who was followed by Æthelred who was followed by Canute and then in 1042, Edward the Confessor was crowned and 13 years later, Westminster Abbey was built.
When Edward died, King Harold claimed he promised him the throne but William, Duke of Normandy also claimed the same promise so they had a fight in Hastings in 1066. William won. You might say he conquered.
The Middle Ages
When William took the throne, he started building castles all over the place and introduced unprecedented rules governing law and order including the creation of the Domesday Book (which, interestingly remains a legally binding document). It was a particularly violent time and over the course of the next 400 years, there were civil wars, Crusades, attacks on the Welsh, expulsions, battles by the dozen, famines, wars with the French, revolts by the peasants and the Wars of the Roses and when Henry Tudor battered Richard III at Bosworth, it ushered in the age of the Tudors, and the most famous of them all, the fat, syphilitic, lustful, egotistical glutton we know as Henry VIII.
The Tudors, The Stuarts, The Georgians and The Victorians
Between the start of the Tudor Age in 1483 and when Queen Victoria died in 1901, Britain developed from the backwater Middle Ages marshland where fighting wars was seemingly the only thing worth doing into a thriving, wealthy nation ruled sometimes by good people and sometimes by utter nutters.
A lot happened in those 400-odd years and much of the legacy left behind is still alive and kicking today regarding architecture, music, art, culture, the sciences, the humanities and the food, well not the food.
The 20th century saw some quite phenomenal things happen including the development of the car, the aeroplane and space travel. We have made unbelievable strides in our understanding of the human world, the body, disease, space and time (but we can’t seem to master traffic jams and how many Jaffa Cakes is too many) and yet we still haven’t scratched the surface of what there is to know.
Over the last 900,000 years, what we call today Great Britain has contributed greatly to scientific discovery, manufacturing, the arts, sport, food and culture but we sail in uncharted waters. We are at a crossroads. Where are we going?
Who knows. Again, that seems to be the overriding issue…
But, wherever we end up, whatever stories are left to tell, kids a thousand years from now will still be reading our history in wide-eyed wonder and they will still be laughing at Donald Trump’s hair.
Catch you soon.