Monday , June 17 2024

The History Curriculum for Schools

The function of school history is to provide a general knowledge of the events that have shaped the nation.  The teaching of British history lost focus over the past 50 years because the majority of academics believed that the UK was going to merge with the EU and the government was happy for the emphasis to be put on international history.  Now that the UK has left the EU a new history curriculum is needed that provides a British rather than an Internationalist perspective.

This curriculum should start with the idea of The Nation.  The British Nation is a group of people who share resources such as roads, hospitals, schools, landscape and urban centres that are based on an area of land.  There are other types of Nation but the Island location and size of the UK mean that the people can, to some degree, understand the needs and capabilities of the Nation, it can be grasped as the people on this island.  The enterprise of individuals and groups within the nation creates wealth and employment that is, and has been, shared to varying degrees by the people of the Nation.

The history of the Nation is a battle for control.  There is a sweet point for control where the balance between freedom and duties of the People is optimised and British history can be seen as a gradual movement towards and around that point.

British history is the history of the competition between the Networked Groups and the People.

The Norman Conquest

In 1066 the Normans invaded Britain.  They used castles to subdue local rebellion and, at first, excluded the People from governance. They implemented the Feudal System to extract resources from the land, leaving the People as poor slaves called “serfs”.  The Normans largely intermarried among their own group and for the couple of centuries were based in Normandy, France.

The Norman conquest also explains the Yorkshire Moors (the Harrying of the North) and New Forest.

The French connection grew with the rise of the Plantagenets to power. The French regard the Norman and Plantagenet lands as parts of France that governed England. The British take the contrary view.

The Magna Carta

The birth of the concept that the law also governs those who govern.  It is the beginning of the limitation of the powers of the Government and governing classes.

The Black Death

In 1348 the death of perhaps 30% of the population of Britain led to wage rates rising and a relative relief from serfdom.


The Peasant’s Revolt 1381


Wat Tyler’s rebellion stopped a poll tax and demonstrated that rebellion was possible.  A new unity can be detected among the People which was represented by Lollardy.

Lollardy 1381

The history of Lollardy and Wycliffe’s 1382 English Bible help to explain why the Reformation happened a hundred and fifty years later.  The suppression of Lollardy and triumph of Calvinism in the Church of England means that the Lollards have been written out of history.

Despite the debate about the extent of Lollard influence there are ample records of the persecution of Lollards from just before the Reformation period. In the Diocese of London there are records of about 310 Lollards being prosecuted or forced to abjure between 1510 and 1532. In Lincoln 45 cases against Lollardy were heard in 1506–07 and in 1521 there were 50 abjurations and 5 burnings of Lollards. In 1511 Archbishop Warham presided over the abjuration of 41 Lollards from Kent and the burning of 5.

The archetypal Lollard sentiment is: “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? ” (John Ball)

The Reformation

This is often taught as an aberration of the lust of King Henry VIII.  This is hugely disrespectful of the desire of many ordinary English people to be free of Rome.  The fact that the new Church of England was widely accepted and Tyndale’s  English Bible of 1535 was the basis of the 1539 Great Bible which was read everywhere in the country show that the Protestantism was desired in England.  The Protestant lifestyle was fundamental to the later development of the Nation.


Non-Conformism, The Civil War and Restoration

The peasant’s revolt and Lollardy finally bore fruit in the non-conformist religious movements of the late sixteenth century with the Act of Uniformity 1558 when the more extreme Protestants became Puritans, Quakers, Ranters etc. refused to conform.  The non-conformists saw the King as a man subject the God’s laws like any other.  Eventually this led to the Civil War and the Putney Debates which show the extent of egalitarian belief in England.  Cromwell has been reviled by the monarchist faction in Britain and the Irish. However, the rule of Cromwell showed that the head of government could be an ordinary man and he changed the British army into a powerful force that was needed to defend the country in subsequent decades.

In 1660  Charles II was made monarch but Parliament was in control. When James II attempted to change this in 1688 William and Mary were appointed as co-sovereigns, ushering in the modern era for Britain.

The Hapsburg Empire

For reasons that are not altogether clear, those who teach British history tend to omit that Philip 1 of Castille was a Hapsburg. In 1519 his son, Charles V united much of Europe by assuming rule of the Holy Roman Empire.  The Spanish Empire involved far more than Spain. When the conquistadors were annexing South America it was a Hapsburg project.

The Hapsburg Empire is an offspring of the Carolingan Empire founded by Charlemagne.  This idea of the rebirth of Charlemagne’s Empire has inspired European’s from Napoleon to the fathers of the EU.




Science and The Enlightenment

Isaac Newton was a genius. He took Galileo’s beginning of physics and turned it into a satisfying and simple description of laws embedded in nature.   It could be argued that without Newton and the Royal Society of scientists The Enlightenment would have happened anyway but it would have been greatly delayed and would not have captured the imagination.  Those who do not believe this might take a look at Lagrangian Physics which, although superior to Newtonian physics in many ways, cannot be easily grasped by most 15 year olds.  The Empiricists such as Locke, who maintained that all knowledge comes from experience, dramatically changed British thought. The Enlightenment took political thinking past the idea of liberty inherent in being human to that of Rights dispensed by God or government.  The British, through the Common Law, still have an attachment to liberty and recognise government as a necessary constraint on liberty.

The Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights 1688

The Netherlands was the first modern State. Dutch art and culture were blossoming.  In 1688 James II was attempting to undo the Reformation and Parliamentary Protestants asked James’ Protestant daughter, Mary and her husband Stadtholder William of Orange to take the throne.  Mary was the first Protestant in line to the throne of England.  The joint sovereignty of William and Mary was allowed by Parliament provided they adhered to the Bill of Rights.

The first line of the ancient rights and liberties in the Bill was:

“the pretended power of suspending the laws and dispensing with laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal;”

The arbitrary power of the monarch was ended.

William and Mary brought a large contingent of Dutch troops with them from Holland to guarantee their security.  They were supported by the British People. Having acquired the Dutch Stadtholder (leader of the Dutch Republic) England eclipsed Holland.

Although the monarch was limited in Britain the monarchy was allowed power overseas.  This had little effect in 1688, except in Ireland,  but became important a century later.


The parting of the ways

Britain had been moving away from European customs of government and society for a century before the rest of Europe looked westwards and saw that the new USA and the UK were prospering.  The Great Divergence was occurring and in the 18th century Britain took a clear lead.

GDP per Head over time


The British Empire


The endless wars of the eighteenth century in which Britain was engaged with Spain, France and Holland singly and in combination were the origin of the British Empire.  British sea power grew to dominate the battle between the European Empires.  It was in this period in 1740 that the words of “Rule Britannia” were written, celebrating the fact that British sea power preserved Britain from invasion.   The War of the Austrian Succession was fundamental to the rise of Prussia and eventually Germany and the security of Britain.

The early stages of the accumulation of Empire involved a mixture of private entrepreneurship and seizing the possessions of hostile European powers.

Although beneficial to the colonists the economics of the British Empire was not highly beneficial to the British (Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 (2010)).  This crucial point is often overlooked.  It was the domestic economy that largely provided the income of the British as it is today.  The wealth of Britain was related to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions in Britain itself and the security of Britain was related to the global ability to project power due to the Empire.


Almost the entire world considered slavery to be legal and morally justifiable in the eighteenth century.  The West African slaver kingdoms supplied the world with a huge supply of slaves in return for European goods.

Britain was an exception.  In Britain itself slavery was not allowed by Common Law after the last serf died in the early seventeenth century.  Lord Mansfield’s judgement in the Somersett case of 1772 made slavery in England definitively illegal although previous judgements had similar outcomes.  The abolition of slavery became a major moral belief among non-conformist and evangelical Christians in Britain.  William Wilberforce led the campaign for abolition and in 1807 secured an Act to abolish the slave trade and in 1833 Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act that made slavery illegal throughout the Empire.  In subsequent years the British established Treaties and paid large sums of money to other countries to cease slavery.

The Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron. Between 1808 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans.  It resettled many of the freed slaves in the Bahamas and Jamaica. At emancipation in 1834 there were 311,070 slaves in Jamaica.

Slavery should always be taught in the context of the appalling employment conditions in Britain and elsewhere at the time.  It is important to understand that when slavery was abolished nine year olds were still allowed by law to work for 8 hours a day in dreadful conditions in Britain.

Indenturing was a contract for work and, although involving contemporary work conditions, was not slavery.

The American War of Independence 1776

The Americans call the secession of the American colonies The American Revolution.  The British restricted the growth of the American Colonies to east of the Appalachian Mountains in the Royal Proclamation of 1763  and concluded Treaties with the Native Tribes in the West.  This was unacceptable to the colonists.  The British monarchy, although greatly restricted in Britain, still had control of the Empire and philosophers such as Thomas Paine provided the philosophical underpinning for the secession of the USA from the Empire by ridiculing the concept of monarchy.  The American colonists demanded the Rights of Freeborn Englishmen.  The War of Independence occurred during the Anglo-French War of 1778-83 in which Britain was fighting the French, Dutch, Spanish and Colonists.  It was a joint Franco-American force that accomplished victory for the colonists in 1781. The colonies in Canada remained loyal.

The French Revolution 1789

Britain and Holland had had their revolutions in the seventeenth century.  The Great Divergence that resulted meant that France was unable to compete and The Enlightenment meant that educated Frenchmen knew that their country was backward.  Like almost all revolutions the French went through a cycle of exhilaration at being free followed by dictatorial power being seized by the ruthless.  In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte was made Emperor although he had been powerful since the coup of 1799.  He embarked on a project of restoring Charlemagne’s Empire, even calling his crown “The Crown of Charlemagne”.

The most important result of the French invasion of Europe was the establishment of the “Code Napoleon” as the legal framework for many European countries.  This converts liberty into a set of “rights” dispensed by government.

The Napoleonic Wars

This series of wars in which France attempted to establish a pan-European state ended with victory for the British, Prussians, Dutch and Russians.  The effects of the British victory were wide ranging because Britain defeated the French and Spanish at sea and controlled sea borne warfare for a century.

Pax Britannica

The victory of the British over Franco-Spanish forces in the Napoleonic Wars meant that the continuous warfare of the eighteenth century was ended.  Britain became the sole superpower of the nineteenth century.  It enforced peace to give precedence to trade.

Graph rel share world manuf 1750 1900 02.png

The continuance of British power during the nineteenth century was due to dominance in manufacturing.

During the nineteenth century the economic activity of the world boomed.

The European Civil War

Prussia used a system of progressive economic union (low tariffs, customs union, economic community) to unify much of the Holy Roman Empire into a new State called Germany in 1871.  The steady unification of Germany in the 1860s made the French insecure. Prussia defeated France in the resulting Franco-Prussian War of 1870. German economists oriented the economy towards global trade and the German monarchy conceived that Empire was the route to economic and political power.

The Germans built up their forces in the early twentieth century in preparation for war and the French matched this development.  The British made very little military preparation in this period.  The stage was set for yet another attempt at the Holy Roman Empire.

German WWI ambitions as viewed from Britain


The Germans lost the First World War.

Once the hyperinflation of the early 1920s and economic turmoil of the late 1920s had ended the German middle classes supported the National Socialist aspiration to restore the Empire.  The National Socialist leader, Adolf Hitler, was a great admirer of Mussolini who founded Fascism in Italy and imported this concept into Germany.  Mussolini had been an ardent Marxist before WWI.  The Italians, Germans, Japanese, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romanians, and briefly, the Yugoslavs formed an alliance called the Axis which supported the idea of Fascism.  Spain, Iraq, Thailand were sympathisers and the Russians concluded a Pact to aid Germany.  Hitler launched the Second World War by dividing Poland with Russia.  Britain was again caught unprepared.  This attempt at uniting Europe by force and re-establishing the Holy Roman Empire failed.

After WWII the victorious Allies (British Commonwealth and USA) decided that Europe would be more peaceful if the old empire of Charlemagne were allowed to re-occur.  They established a customs union in Europe and allowed the German model of peaceful unification to take place.  It now appears as if the European Empire will be accomplished.  Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, Napoleon’s Empire, German ambitions had all been directed at this end and most of the people of Continental Europe desire it.

The people of Continental Europe share a common heritage and have been allowed to re-assert this as the EU.  The British have experienced a separate development and having achieved independence from continental influence by winning the wars of the eighteenth century were able to transform their country into an Island where the needs of the People could be heard and the economy could be progressively harnessed to these needs.

British Social Development

In the early years of the Industrial Revolution working conditions became appalling.  Ill health was rife and education expensive.

Parliament passed the 1848 Health Act began the great clean up of British cities.  The 18705 Public Health Act placed public health on a more modern footing.

In 1833 the hours of work for children were limited. Children aged 9 to 13, were limited to eight hours a day; and for children between 13 and 18 it was limited to 12 hours daily. The Act also required children under 13 to receive elementary schooling for two hours each day.

Working conditions were improved by the Factories Acts in 1878, 1891 and 1895, in 1891 the minimum age for the employment of children was raised to 11 years old.

The Education Act of 1833 began the steady move towards state supported education although it was not until the Education Act of 1870 that public education was fully established.

Suffrage was extended throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  From 1265 until 1832 only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote.

  • Reform Act 1832 – extended voting rights to adult males who rented propertied land of a certain value, so allowing 1 in 7 males in the UK voting rights.
  • Reform Act 1867 – extended the franchise to men in urban areas who met a property qualification, so increasing male suffrage.
  • Representation of the People Act 1884 – addressed imbalances between the boroughs and the countryside; this brought the voting population to 5,500,000, although 40% of males were still disenfranchised because of the property qualification.
  • Between 1885 and 1918 moves were made by the women’s suffrage movement to ensure votes for women. However, the duration of the First World War stopped this reform movement.
  • Representation of the People Act 1918 – the consequences of World War I persuaded the government to expand the right to vote, not only for the many men who fought in the war who were disenfranchised, but also for the women who worked in factories, agriculture and elsewhere as part of the war effort, often substituting for enlisted men and including dangerous work such as in munitions factories. All men aged 21 and over were given the right to vote. Property restrictions for voting were lifted for men. Votes were given to 40% of women, with property restrictions and limited to those over 30 years old. This increased the electorate from 7.7 million to 21.4 million with women making up 8.5 million of the electorate. Seven percent of the electorate had more than one vote, either because they owned business property or because they were university graduates. The first election with this system was the 1918 general election.
  • Representation of the People Act 1928 – equal suffrage for women and men, with voting possible at 21 with no property restrictions.
  • Representation of the People Act 1948 – the act was passed to prevent plural voting in parliamentary elections.
  • Representation of the People Act 1969 – extension of suffrage to those 18 and older, and abolition of plural voting in local government elections.

British Economic Development

The national economy is the means by which the people acquire the money to live and, hopefully, prosper.  The national economy should provide employment and allow that employment to occur within a reasonable distance of relatives and friends. It should provide employment for all levels of skill.

The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions were pivotal to early British economic growth.  During the Industrial Revolution the “Limited Liability Company” was invented which allowed those with money to invest in shares and hence provide the money for growth of companies.

The most important feature of the British economy is that more than 50% of the economy is domestic.  Britain is far from being dependent on foreign trade.  The domestic economy provides much of employment (over 70%) and 60% of British workers work in small and medium sized businesses.


In the past the British invested some of the money accumulated from overseas ventures to provide profits and dividends to finance any deficit in the balance of trade.  In recent times these flows from overseas have not covered the deficits.

There has been a failure of British economists to appreciate that global trading has a “sweet spot”, too much global trading or too little can seriously affect British economic growth:

This failure is largely due to the dominance of multinational companies for whom ever expanding global trade means ever expanding profits.

Opening up the UK economy to EU ownership has had a particularly bad effect with 25% of the value of UK output being in the hands of EU companies that can produce goods and services outside the UK economy.

ONS: Balance of Trade with EU(L86i)

The UK currently has a Balance of Payments crisis resulting from this problem.

The effect of migration on Britain

Migration into the UK has increased economic volume because there are more people.  Ordinary British people are most interested in their own wages rather than the economic volume of the country.  Migration has had almost no effect on income levels for ordinary British workers although this is a matter of debate, some observers regarding migration as slightly positive and others as slightly negative.  The original role of immigration was to allow companies that did not wish to expand by using capital investment to expand by increasing staff levels.

The main effect of migration is that it has allowed population growth to continue.  Without migration the population would be stable.  Britain is an island and population growth is damaging our landscape.

The attraction of migration in British politics is that it diverts the population from the need to develop an economy that serves the people who live here.

This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog:

About John Sydenham

Dr John Sydenham has worked in International Pharmaceuticals and for one of the "big four" International Consultancies. He ran a successful company for 15 years and after selling the company devotes his time to travel, science, black labradors and freedom.

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