Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Ten Greatest Englishmen?

Somehow, comments on my last post regarding Catholics riding the neo-Gnostic wave turned into a discussion of the greatest Englishmen ever (it was via Celtic spirituality, actually). So, history buffs and Anglophiles, what do you think? Here's my list of the 10 greatest Englishmen ever:
1. King Alfred the Great, 849-899, king and founder of the English nation.
(King Alfred's statue at his burial place, Winchester is pictured).
2. Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, soldier, statesman, historian and wordsmith.
3. King Athelstan of Wessex, +939, soldier, 1st truly national king of England, consolidator of laws.
4. King Edward III, 1312-1377, soldier, king for 50 years, laid foundations for English military and economic supremacy in the centuires that followed.
5. Oliver Cromwell, 1599-1658, soldier, Lord Protector, founder of the British Empire (?), a difficult one, since he can also be held responsible for regicide and attempted genocide, but the impact of his 'reign' determined much that followed.
6. Boniface, 672-754, Churchman, Apostle to the Germans, Martyr.
7. Thomas Cranmer, 1489-1556, Churchman, Primate, King's counsellor, author/editor of the Book of Common Prayer, martyr, crafter of the English language.
8. Shakespeare 1564-1616, Poet and dramatist, definitive English stylist, England's national poet, crafter of the English language.
9. Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, poet, essayist, pioneer lexicographer, crafter of the English language.
10. Bede, 672-735, churchman, monk and chronicler of early England's history, which was inseparably bound up with the church.

It might be helpful if I define 'greatness': I regard it as stature which is the result of a figure's contribution to forming or defending the English nation and character or accomplishing feats which had a defining impact on subsequent history beyond the borders of England (Boniface). It does not necessarily imply moral greatness, although strength of character is certainly a factor here.

Now, here's where it gets really interesting, who makes up the next 10? And if we included women, who would we list? (It's noy misogyny that explains their absence, I assure you, but the fact that it is a list of Englishmen). 5 women probably come to mind quite easily, but after that?

12 comments:

Melanchthon said...

Good list. I'm glad to see you included Bede (one of my favorites).

I might include Thomas Craner because if the impact of the BCP around the world and its impact on the English liturgies of other churches (including Lutheran).

Thomas Becket?
William Shakespeare?
Lord Nelson?
William Bradford?
Richard Sharpe? :-)

matthias said...

I would put :
Alfred
Oliver
Athelstan
Churchill
Bede-
Cranmer
Boniface
shakespeare
Johnson
Edward the III l-the king who began the 100 years war

acroamaticus said...

Thanks Matthias, I thought you'd be interested in this.
Now, tell me, why do you rate Cromwell higher than me?
And who would you put in the next 10? (& I think I'll post my next 10greatest Englishmen asap, btw, plus my top ten Americans and Australians down the track)
And what about 5-10 greatest Englishwomen?

acroamaticus said...

Thanks for your htoughts, Jon.
I'm pretty sure Nelson will make my list somewhere in 11-20. Who else do you think slots in at nos. 11-20, and what about Englishwomen?
I'm hoping to do 1-10 greatest Americans and Australians too (Canadians anyone? New Zealnders? Edmund Hillary would be a 'no-brainer' there :0)).

Melanchthon said...

Ah carumba! I read the list so fast I didn't see you had Cranmer and Shakespeare in it. :-( I feel stooopid.

Anyway, would the group that put together the King James Bible count as one personage? I'm currently reading "God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible." Has any book had a greater impact on the English language?

Some other nominees:
Charles Darwin
Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Victoria
Arthur Wellesley
Richard Sharpe

matthias said...

Pastor i think it is because,Oliver Cromwell sought,at times not substantially well, to rule according to Scripture and his trust in God.
Now the next 10:
John Wycliffe
William Tyndale
Francis Drake
Queen Victoria-"(She said to her chaplain "I will take off my crown and lay it at the feet of the King of Kings")
john Donne
walter raleigh
Arthur Phillip
George Lansbury-Labour leader between the Wars.
Warren Hastings
wilfred owen-his war poetry is
outstanding

acroamaticus said...

Matthias,

Drake, Tyndale, Raleigh and Wycliffe are all contenders for my second list too.

I hadn't thought of Wilfred Owen but I agree with you about his poetry. I've been sorely tempted to include a WWI front-line soldier and a WWII Battle of Britain airman, or an 'Unknown Soldier' figure. I have a another WWI soldier in contention for my second list though, somewhat eccentric and controversial but worthy, imo.

acroamaticus said...

Jon,

Don't feel 'stoopid', we're all pushed for time at this part of the year, I'm amazed I've done so many posts myself, I think it releases tension!

Wellesley almost made the list but on reflection I've banished him even from my second ten; Darwin, I must say I hadn't considered, but I see your point, even though he was an infidel!

Victoria and Elizabeth both make my Great Englishwomen list.

Yes, I thought about who could represent the Authorised Version (as we call it in British usage) translators; I almost plumped for Lancelot Andrewes but in the end it didn't sit right - too much of a 'committee work' for individuals to be singled out, but the AV/KJV would be No. 1 in my top ten of English literature.

acroamaticus said...

Matthias,

Re Cromwell, I understand your evaluation of him; I put him down the list because I think there is something almost anti-English in his iconoclasm and radicalness. But he was a great man in the historical sense.

acroamaticus said...

Matthias,

Re Cromwell, I understand your evaluation of him; I put him down the list because I think there is something almost anti-English in his iconoclasm and radicalness. But he was a great man in the historical sense.

Matthias said...

Richard Hiliary would be the WW2 flyer or even more Leonard Cheshire ,who converted to RCC and then went onto set upwith his wife the Ryder Cheshire homes. As for WW1 Siegfried Sassoon??

acroamaticus said...

Ah, actually the WWI figure I was thinking of was T.E. Lawrence, not only for his military/politcal achievements with the Arabs, which ahd a great impact, but also for writing a modern classic in 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'.
A controversial figure for many reasons, but I think a worthy one in terms of his impact as a soldier, public figure and author, and let's not forget he became an ordinary airman in the RAF rather than accept the job of chairman of the Bank of England! Extraordinary in many ways.