A History of Britain

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Ratings: 8.10/10 from 81 users.

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A History of BritainStretching from the Stone Age to the year 2000, Simon Schama's Complete History of Britain does not pretend to be a definitive chronicle of the turbulent events which buffeted and shaped the British Isles.

What Schama does do, however, is tell the story in vivid and gripping narrative terms, free of the fustiness of traditional academe, personalizing key historical events by examining the major characters at the center of them.

Not all historians would approve of the history depicted here as shaped principally by the actions of great men and women rather than by more abstract developments, but Schama's way of telling it is a good deal more enthralling as a result.

A study of the history of the British Isles, each of the 15 episodes allows Schama to examine a particular period and tell of its events in his own style.

1. Beginnings: 3100 BC – 1000 AD. Simon Schama starts his story in the stone age village of Skara Brae, Orkney. Over the next four thousand years Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Danes, and Christian missionaries arrive, fight, settle and leave their mark on what will become the nations of Britain.

2. Conquest: 1000–1087. 1066 is not the best remembered date in British history for nothing. In the space of nine hours whilst the Battle of Hastings raged, everything changed. Anglo-Saxon England became Norman and, for the next 300 years, its fate was decided by dynasties of Norman rulers.

3. Dynasty: 1087–1216. There is no saga more powerful than that of the warring dynasty – domineering father, beautiful, scheming mother and squabbling, murderous sons and daughters, (particularly the nieces). In the years that followed the Norman Conquest, this was the drama played out on the stage of British history.

4. Nations: 1216–1348, this is the epic account of how the nations of Britain emerged from under the hammer of England's "Longshanks" King Edward I, with a sense of who and what they were, which endures to this day.

5. King death: 1348–1500. It took only six years for the plague to ravage the British Isles. Its impact was to last for generations. But from the ashes of this trauma an unexpected and unique class of Englishmen emerged.

6. Burning convictions: 1500–1558. Here Simon Schama charts the upheaval caused as a country renowned for its piety, whose king styled himself Defender of the Faith, turns into one of the most aggressive proponents of the new Protestant faith.

7. The body of the Queen: 1558–1603. This is the story of two queens: Elizabeth I of England, the consummate politician, and Mary I, Queen of Scots, the Catholic mother. It is also the story of the birth of a nation.

8. The British wars: 1603–1649. The turbulent civil wars of the early seventeenth century would culminate in two events unique to British history; the public execution of a king and the creation of a republic. Schama tells of the brutal war that tore the country in half and created a new Britain – divided by politics and religion and dominated by the first truly modern army, fighting for ideology, not individual leaders.

9. Revolutions: 1649–1689. Political and religious revolutions racked Britain after Charles I's execution, when Britain was a joyless, kingless republic led by Oliver Cromwell. His rule became so unpopular that for many it was a relief when the monarchy was restored after his death, but Cromwell was also a man of vision who brought about significant reforms.

10. Britannia incorporated: 1690–1750. As the new century dawned, relations between Scotland and England had never been worse. Yet half a century later the two countries would be making a future together based on profit and interest. The new Britain was based on money, not God.

11. The wrong empire: 1750–1800. The series is the exhilarating and terrible story of how the British Empire came into being through its early settlements—the Caribbean through the sugar plantations (and helped by slavery), the land that later became the United States and India through the British East India Company - and how it eventually came to dominate the world. A story of exploration and daring, but also one of exploitation, conflict, and loss.

12. Forces of nature: 1780–1832. Britain never had the kind of revolution experienced by France in 1789, but it did come close. In the mid-1770s the country was intoxicated by a great surge of political energy. Re-discovering England's wildernesses, the intellectuals of the "romantic generation" also discovered the plight of the common man, turning nature into a revolutionary force.

13. Victoria and her sisters: 1830–1910. As the Victorian era began, the massive advance of technology and industrialisation was rapidly reshaping both the landscape and the social structure of the whole country. To a much greater extent than ever before women would take a center-stage role in shaping society.

14. The empire of good intentions: 1830–1925. This episode charts the chequered life of the liberal empire from Ireland to India – the promise of civilisation and material betterment and the delivery of coercion and famine.

15. The two Winstons": 1910–1965. In the final episode, Schama examines the overwhelming presence of the past in the British twentieth century and the struggle of leaders to find a way to make a different national future. As towering figures of the twentieth century, Churchill and Orwell (through his 1984 character Winston Smith) in their different ways exemplify lives spent brooding and acting on that imperial past, and most movingly for us, writing and shaping its history.

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32 Comments / User Reviews

  1. HHV

    Epic and awesome. Thank you Vlatko.

  2. bedew

    Very enjoyable, however, after Episode 5 part 2 there are sections missing.

  3. peter

    What is it with these documentaries... they miss the most important parts, i.e. the ancient cultures revered the feminine and the patriarchal (christian based) cultures were intent on squashing this through war... this is what our systems are all built on today and why it goes wrong. This doc made some reference to this through Boudicca but left the point unmade... dissapointingly ruining this doc as a serious attempt to uncover the past.

  4. Waldo

    I enjoyed the documentary, had never really read much aboutthe history of England. I had read about the germanic tribes but not tooo much about the invasion of Rome. Of course I knew it happened but I had no idea that there was a Britt/Roman hybrid culture invented that ;asted and influenced even the Saxxons. I must say though that I disagree with Peter, as it sounds like he wants to trade christianity in for some older pagan religion. I want to do away with all the made up fairytales and live a secular life. Spirituality should be a personal thing haveing nothing to do with the way the country is run or how soiciety is organized. But, Peter and everyone else has there right to believe as they like and maybe they out weigh folks like me. If so then let it be I say, majority should rule as always.

  5. Waldo

    Man that was some horrible spelling, sorry guys. Didn't proof read that one before posting.

  6. Chuck

    Yes! Waldo. I think the trouble with religion today is resentment. One religion resents the other for one reason or another. I see so many people becoming pseudo pagans, because they hate the distorted views that each church or religion creates in order to run with some little idea they choose from the big picture. After changing over, they tend to do the same thing that the pseudo Christians do! Now, I'll watch this and see just how bad it is, or how good it is. If I have blind faith in anything, it's Vlatko's effort to give us all sides, with no agenda.

  7. Frank Leone

    Peter is right and it has nothing to do with religion or paganism. patriarchy was not always the order of the day and we have an obligation to understand that, and how and why it changed.

  8. Frank Leone

    Read The Chalice and the Blade (I think it's called.)

  9. Frank Leone

    How did this turned into a discussion of religion is beyond me.

  10. Ozzy Lucas

    internet porn leads to talking about religon. always will be someone on either side to start a debate...

  11. ollie knowles

    majority rule... meaning 51% of a population can enforce there will on the other 49%.

  12. Leofwin

    If there is a division like that, then the two halves should just split into different countries. No one should have to force themselves on anyone else. Look at Sudan. Muslim North and Animist South. Conflict. So, they broke up into two countries. Problem solved.

  13. Leofwin

    If you believe ancient religions revered the feminine, you've swallowed a whole bunch of bullshit. Ancient cultures had male gods too. You think a culture that revered the feminine would have worshipped a god like Thor, the most masculine god ever?

  14. Anjanette Humphrey

    Men and Women were viewed to be equal, not one better than the other, but were also recognized to be valuable in very different ways. It's easy for people who don't look at the whole picture to think that pagans worshiped women or men, but the reality is they worshiped both. The Spring and Summer was the time for Women, celebrating fertility and planting and so on, and then the Fall and Winter where the harvest and hunting was required for survival, that time belonged to the men.

    It was true equality, not this half-assed bullshit "equality" where men's masculinity is practically socially unacceptable and women try to be the dominant sex. Men and Women each have their places and are good at what they do. Woman are great at baring children and raising them, working in the fields, taking care of the home, while men are good at the heavy lifting, the hunting, the providing. I think women are chatty and men are more reserved because of these differences. If men and women back then suddenly switched roles they'd have a hard time indeed! Women would be to noisy and impatient to catch any animals and wouldn't be physically strong enough to raise the structure of a house, and men certainly can't carry, give birth and breastfeed the next generation. Gee, maybe traditions exist for a reason!

  15. Christian Klinckwort Guerrero

    Isn't a belive to be born free as a cosmopolitan, MORE than beeing born free as a Britain????

  16. GreatMoel

    Thank you for sharing this doc. This was one of my favourite series.
    We learned British history at college in Hungary partially based on this documentary.

    Now I work in London and every day when I pass by Charing Cross Station, this documentary comes to my mind.
    (The area's name originates from the Eleanor cross erected in 1291–94 by King Edward I as a memorial to his wife, Eleanor of Castile.)

  17. Nathan Randall

    thanks this was a great documentary. Being from america, you don't know very much about british history because they mostly teach us about american history in school. I'm fascinated by the tousands of years of history you have compared to ours.

  18. Thomas Leo

    Men and Women were always treated as having different functions in society. Then the 19th century propaganda came and claimed that men and women are equal in all facets of life, which is factually incorrect.

  19. Golde Joy Valentine Sohn

    thor is hot. id even worship thor

  20. Rhys Maclean

    For now. Unsure Sudan should be held up as a shining light for the rest of the world.

  21. Rhys Maclean

    This stems largely (as so many things do in my opinion) from the lack of male / male interaction in the formative years. up until the end of the 19th century boys would spend all day out in the fields digging up turnips with their brothers, uncles and fathers. During the 20th century fathers ( and older role models such as brothers and uncles) roles changed in as much as they were more and more required to leave the home to obtain employment, leaving male children in the company of mothers, sisters and female teachers. As vitally important as mothers are to a young boy a woman cannot teach a boy to be a man.

  22. Lily Kal

    When was this documentary released?
    I'm writing about Elizabeth and its is important to know the year when released as well as its producer, medium of publication....

  23. S de Vere

    Schama's style detracts from the view ability of this history. Too smart & smarmy for the viewers good

  24. PJ

    And they balanced Thor with Freya and other goddesses . Let's not forget the Valkyries as well. The point is the balance of all things, each gender was worshipped for its powers and together as equals balanced the universe. FYI, at the end of the world, according to Norse legend, all the gods die and all that is left are man and woman.

  25. PJ

    And those boys left with men, like priests and at boarding schools - they sure learned things women wouldn't have taught them! All through history children grew up without mothers and fathers - it didn't necessarily lead to anything.

  26. docoman

    Hmm, Grace Hopper is archeological evidence is she? What excavation was that exactly?

    She was an important and major contributor in the early development of computer language, but by no means did it all by herself as your post infers.

    You don't think women are more chatty then men? On average it's about 20k words spoken per day by women, compared to an average of 13k words by men. Google it yourself to see. Basically a 3:2 ratio.

    Yes, in history you will find female warriors, queens ruling, scientists ect. But do your historical numbers, and see if that is the norm, or the exception.

    If you want to find the biggest load of untruths ever, go listen to some religious theology and their apologists and the BS they go on with.

    Both sexes, in general, are better suited to some things then the other. Whether you like it or not, that's a fact. I've worked jobs that 99% of women cannot physically do. And that's not because I think that, it's because I've seen multiple women try, only one came close to being physically capable (with some help from us males around her to be honest), a strong Maori lady. If you think you're as strong as a man, go do some strength testing against males. There is a reason young men have historically been sent to war, and rarely women.
    Women tend to be much better with empathy, and in my experience make much better nurses/carers on average then males because of this.

    How is it misogynistic to point out both sexes have their strengths and weaknesses? Or are you just being over-sensitive because of what seems to be your feminist agenda? Women are better then men at many things, and vice versa. Its a fact of life, not anti-female or anti-male, it's pro-reality.
    I agree with your earlier post, it's a balance, and each needs the other. It's a team effort deal, we're mutually dependent on each other.
    Frankly, in my opinion, your post this one is replying to is much more inaccurate and in your words, stupid, compared to Anjanettes.

  27. docoman

    Hmm, you think that a woman can't sexually abuse a young male too? (the point of your priest reference I take it). Although less common by the criminal stats, women abusing children by no means doesn't happen as you infer. I think you missed Rhys' point. A decent role model, for either gender, is important to help shape the adults they will become. Missing a role model doesn't automatically HAVE to lead to problems, but often does. A boy with a decent male role model is much more likely to become a decent man himself. Same for a girl. So your problem is what with his post exactly?

  28. Rhys Maclean

    Rhys Maclean

    Seriously? When I state that I subscribe to the importance of male / male role models I was not actually talking about pedophiles PJ. In all honesty, you need to talk to somebody mate.

  29. PD Calnan

    Interesting programme - shame about the intrusive music. Why do programme makers feel the need to tart up the spoken word with "background" music

  30. marty

    What a drag this documentary was. Very poor video quality, repeated sequences, and that sound - hard to take. The man has a terrible diction, I did not understand 20-30% of what he said - did he speak English? War and fight events cheaply choreographed. Inadequately and poorly relayed horror and tragedy of some important historical facts. Why all these texts in Latin and olde English? I couldn't read them anyway. Monotonous, boring, and way too long. I forced myself to view the entire parade just to have an opinion. Give us a more lively history of that great nation, it deserves better - and that from a Yankee.
    This doc sucks.

  31. Ernst Ghermann

    It's more like 15%. Maybe half of the population registers to vote and maybe half of those turn out for the election and maybe half of those plus one win the election. They then impose their will on the other 85%.

  32. Katie-Ellen

    They are of course equal, however these comments on 'what men and women are like' are obscenely generic and stereotypical. I am a girl and I am most certainly not 'chatty', I do not cry more because I am female, I am certainly not more emotional which I am sure many other women would also say about themselves. I understand many points made in this conversation as, for example, men are biologically predisposed to have bodies better built for strength than women. However this does not mean men are stronger than women, especially not in Western society today. A boy does not need to have a father in his life to grow up to be a man, and a girl does not need a mother in their life to become a woman. Problems occur as they have throughout history when too much emphasis is put on gender roles, and 'what men and women are like' - its far too broad - everyone is different! This is how the whole masculine = active, feminine = passive debate comes into play. An incorrect stereotype was created based on peoples biological reproductive organs, and people were taught how to behave accordingly, ultimately resulting in the oppression of women which is still continued today. To the earlier comment, not all women want to have children! Not all men want to hunt and go to war. In my opinion, this is far too generic and outdated.

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