Historical Figures

Click on an English icon, legend or historical figure below to read about their fascinating life

A

Attenborough, David

(8th May 1926 - present)

The legendary English broadcaster and naturalist has devoted over 50 years to presenting and writing ground breaking natural history programmers. He worked with the BBC to create the incredibly successful 'Life on Earth' series in 1979, which instantly became a benchmark of quality in wildlife film-making and influenced a generation of documentary film-makers. England's 'national treasure' was knighted for his outstanding accomplishments in 1985.

Austen, Jane

(16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

In has been two centuries since Jane Austin last wrote a novel on romantic fiction. But in that time, she has gone on to become one of the most widely read and discussed writers of the English literature. Austen wrote with such eloquence of realism and the social happenings of the time, that she will continue to be admired from scholars to school children for years to come. Her most famous works include Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813).

 

B

Bacon, Francis

(22 January 1561 – 9 April 1626)

A supremely intelligent man from a privileged background, Bacon put his mind to philosophy, science and politics over a his eventful lifetime. Before ending his political career in disgrace after admitting to accepting bribes, Bacon served as Lord Chancellor of England - making him the most powerful man in the country.

Bacon’s real passion lay in science and he set out to establish a scientific method, where a structured approach would be devised to investigate natural things. He argued that truth required evidence from the real world.

Bacon was knighted in 1603 and famously died of pneumonia which he contracted while studying the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat.

Becket, Thomas

 (c1118 – 29 December 1170)

An educated man from a wealthy background, Becket became an agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury. After several missions to Rome and establishing himself as a respected figure in the church, Henry II noticed Becket and employed him as the king’s chancellor. The two became close friends and when Theobald died in 1161, Henry made Becket archbishop of Canterbury.

However, when situations arose that conflicted with the king’s wishes, Becket began to take the side of the church which put a serious strain on their relationship. It got so bad that in 1164, Becket fled into exile in France for several years for fear of his life. He returned to England in 1170, but it was apparent all was not forgiven, as four knights murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

Becket was made a saint in 1173 and pilgrims still visit his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral.

Beckham, David

(2 May 1975 – present)

The school kid from London with a passion for football, who grew to become one of the world’s most famous people. After a hugely successful career at Manchester United, Beckham moved to Real Madrid, and become the highest paid footballer in the world during his time at the Los Angeles Galaxy in America. Beckham also captained the England national team for six years and holds the all-time appearance record for an outfield player (115 caps).

His lucrative sponsorship deals and entrepreneurial activities has resulted in the ‘Beckham brand’ being internationally recognised and has made him one of the richest sportsmen in the world.

He was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2003.

Bowie, David

(8 January 1947 - present)

A brilliant English musician, actor and record producer - Bowie used his distinctive voice and great talent to create advanced music for his time and produced massive international hits, selling an estimated 140 million albums in the process. His experimental work and fresh sound made him one of the most influential figures in pop history.

His best-selling album was ‘Let’s Dance’ which sold in the region of 8 million records.

Branson, Richard

(18 July 1950 - present)

The English entrepreneur who founded the globally recognised Virgin Group which now consists of over 400 different companies.

Branson began his first successful business in the early 1970s and went on to build  incredibly profitable blue chip companies such as Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

His personnel fortune is estimated to be around £2.7 billion, making him one of the richest men in England. He was knighted in 2000 at Buckingham Palace.

Brunel, Isambard

(9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859)

A truly brilliant English civil engineer responsible for the design of railway lines, tunnels, bridges, docks and ships. In his short career, Brunel introduced new practices to the civil engineering world, broke records and proved himself to be one of history’s most versatile and audacious engineers.

His accomplishments include the Great Western Railway, which revolutionised public transport, SS Great Britain, which was the first propeller-driven, steam-powered passenger liner and the construction of the first tunnel under a navigable river.

Brunel died after suffering a stroke at the young age of 53, and so tragically just missed the Great Eastern’s maiden voyage to New York.

C

Chaplin, Charlie

(16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977)

Unquestionably one of the most famous and influential celebrities of the 20th century. The English comic actor began his career during the 'silent film era'  and used slapstick and mime to entertain millions of people during the depressing times of war.

His role in 'Kid Auto Races at Venice' as 'The Tramp' in 1914 is his most famous film performance, but he continued to be successful through the era of the talkies and beyond.

Chaplin received a knighthood as a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in 1975, aged 85.

Churchill , Winston

(30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965)

Widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential Englishman, war leaders and Prime Ministers in history. The Conservative politician and statesman began his career serving his country as an officer in the British Army, fighting across the British Empire.

Churchill went on to become Prime Minister twice (1940-45 and 1951-55), but he will be most remembered for his inspiring leadership and speeches, married with his military experience, that helped Britain triumph in World War II.

In 1953, Churchill was awarded two major honours. He was invested as a Knight of the Garter (becoming Sir Winston Churchill, KG) and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his outstanding body of published works on war and politics.

In 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, proclaimed Churchill the first ever honorary citizen of the United States of America.

On his death in 1965, he was granted a state funeral by Elizabeth II which attracted one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history.

"There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word, which means more to me than any other. That word is England."                                                            
                                                                                                            Sir Winston Churchill
Cromwell, Oliver

(25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658)

Cromwell was a renegade English political and military leader who was pivotal in the overthrowing of the English monarchy during the English Civil War (1642–1651). He acted as the ‘Lord Protector’ of England, which was now a republican Commonwealth, until his death.

D

Darwin, Charles

(12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882)

The legendary English naturalist who travelled the globe, meticulously recording his findings of the natural world. After pondering his observations for two decades, Darwin rocked the world in 1859 when he published his highly controversial book 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection', which outlined his theory of evolution and conflicted with religious and scientific teachings of the time.

When Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey on his death in 1882, he was one on the most famous, respected and talked about figures in the world.

Dench, Judi

(born 9 December 1934 - present )

An outstanding English stage and film actress. Dench began her career on stage and played roles in a number of Shakespeare plays at the Old Vic Company. She continued to impress on stage and established herself as one of England's more significant theatre performers. Dench became internationally famous through her roles as 'M' in James Bond movies, which she has played since 1995.

Dench has won a number of awards for her performances both on stage and film. She became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1988.

Diana, Princess

(1 July 1961– 31 August 1997)

The aristrocrative young lady who married Charles, Prince of Wales at St Paul’s Cathedral on the 29th July 1981 and grew to become the nation's sweetheart. Their wedding was televised and watched by more than 750 million people worldwide. The royal couple had children Prince William and Prince Harry together.

The beautiful princess was hugely popular, both in England and abroad, and devoted much of her time to a number of charities and other worthwhile causes.

Diana tragically died in a car crash in Paris on the 31st August 1997. Her death shook the world and England went into mourning, lasting several weeks.

Dickens, Charles

(7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870)

This great English novelist was hugely popular during his time and this remains to be the case today. Arguably the greatest novelist of the Victorian period, Dickens wrote some iconic novels and created some legendary characters in works such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

His works have been translated into all major languages, are performed on theatre stages worldwide and have been turned into major Hollywood films.

Drake, Francis

(1540 – 27 January 1596)

The legendary sea captain's first historic achievement was leading the second successful circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580. Queen Elizabeth I knighted Drake for this great achievement a year after his return. But his most valuable contribution to Queen and Country was his role as a leading commander of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

While a celebrated hero on England shores, King Philip II of Spain put a reward of 20,000 ducats, around £4,000,000 in today's money, for Drake's life.

F

Fairfax, Thomas

(17 January 1612 – 12 November 1671)

A general and parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War.

Fairfax was knighted while serving under Charles I against the Scottish, but when the English Civil War broke out in 1642, he went against the sovereign and joined the Parliamentary forces. His involvement played an crucial role in the defeat of Royalist forces at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644.

Early in 1645, parliament decided to form a new, more professional army and Fairfax was made commander-in-chief with Oliver Cromwell in charge of the cavalry. Fairfax moulded the New Model Army into a disciplined fighting force and in June, the army inflicted a serious defeat on the Royalists at Naseby.

However, Fairfax opposed the execution of Charles I in 1640. The following year he resigned his command because he did not approve of Cromwell's war against Scotland. In 1660, Fairfax supported General Monck in his successful attempt to restore the monarchy.

Fawkes, Guy

(13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606)

Fawkes was born to a Catholic family from York, England. As he grew, so did his faith in the Catholic Church, and went to fight on the continent for Catholic Spain. On his return to England, he met Robert Catesby, and the two men secretly plotted to assassinate King James I, with the aim of restoring a Catholic monarch to the throne.

The two traitors began stockpiling gunpowder in a rented undercroft beneath the House of Lords. However, before they could execute their deadly plan, the authorities were tipped off and Fawkes was found guarding the explosives in the early hours of 5 November. Moments before his execution on 31st January 1606, Fawkes committed suicide to avoid the imminent torture.

Fawkes' ill-fated attempt to kill the King has been commemorated in England since the 5th November 1605, with his effigy often burned on a bonfire while fireworks are displayed.

"Remember remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason, should ever be forgot..."

H

Hawking, Stephen

(8 January 1942 - present)

Over the past thirty years, the highly intelligent Englishman has put forth some truly brilliant theories and provided results on the basic laws which govern the universe. The theoretical physicist and cosmologist has acclaimed academic celebrity status through his huge success as a scientific author and lecturer.

Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years and after retiring from that post, he has taken up the role of Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the same University.

The genius' most renowned contributions are in the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, particularly in the context of Black Holes. His infamous 'A Brief History of Time' remained on the British Sunday Times best-sellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

Hawking has a motor neuron disease which has left him almost completely paralysed and he is only able to communicate through a small portable computer and a speech synthesizer attached to his wheel chair.

Henry VIII

(28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547)

The King of England between 1509 and 1547, Henry VIII is one of the most famous monarchs ever.  Henry succeeded his father, Henry VII, to become the second monarch of the House of Tudor.

Henry VIII’s reign had two historic facts which have brought the king so much fame over the hundreds of years since his death. Firstly, he had a total of six wives. His other most historic contribution was his integral role in the separation of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.

Having established himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England, Henry also went on to grant the legal union of England and Wales and ruled the country with unchallengeable authority.

L

Lennon, John

(9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980)

One of the most famous singer-songwriters and musicians ever. Lennon grew up in Liverpool, England, and went on to acquire iconic status after founding The Beatles, which to date is the most successful pop band in history.

Lennon was responsible for writing, co-writing or performing some of the best-selling songs of the 20th Century. The Beatles produced a staggering 17 number one tracks in the UK and 20 in the US.

The most famous solo song he wrote was ‘Imagine’, which he released two years after marriage to Yoko Ono in 1969. Lennon was tragically murdered in New York City in 1980.

All members of The Beatles were invested as Members of the British Empire in 1965.

M

Mercury, Freddie

(5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991)

Murcury was the outstanding lead vocalist of legendary English rock band, Queen. The singer song writer was one of rock history’s greatest performers and was able to couple his on stage antics with an incredibly powerful voice which had a four-octave range.

Mercury tragically died as a result of AIDS in 1991.

Moore, Bobby

(12 April 1941 – 24 February 1993)

The football legend who captained England to World Cup glory in 1966. A player with outstanding ability, Moore was also West Ham United’s captain for over ten years. Brazil's iconic legend, Pelé, rates Moore as the greatest defender that he had ever played against.

Moore is one of the all-time most capped England players, with 108 caps, and played every minute of those caps.

He was awarded with an O.B.E in 1967.

Moore, Bobby

(12 April 1941 – 24 February 1993)

The football legend who captained England to World Cup glory in 1966. A player with outstanding ability, Moore was also West Ham United’s captain for over ten years. Brazil's iconic legend, Pelé, rates Moore as the greatest defender that he had ever played against.

Moore is one of the all-time most capped England players, with 108 caps, and played every minute of those caps.

He was awarded with an O.B.E in 1967.

N

Nelson, Admiral Horatio Lord

(29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805)

Nelson remains one of England’s most historic figures and their greatest naval commander. After joining the navy at the young age of 12, Nelson was made a captain by 20 and was given command of the Agamemnon during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793.

Nelson went on to have an incredibly successful naval career, serving across the globe and ensuring the Royal Navy reigned supreme over the French navy. However, his heroics came at the cost of the sight in his right eye and his right arm.

Nelson was a very bold commander with unconventional tactics and on occasion was known to disregard orders from his superiors. But his victories spoke for themselves and altered the course of European history. His most significant victories were the Battle of the Nile in 1786 - where Nelson defeated Napoleon’s fleet, the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 and the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 - where Nelson was shot dead. His body was preserved in brandy before being returned home to England for a state funeral.

As a national hero, Nelson was given a memorial that matched his status and success – Nelson’s Column which stands proud in the middle of Trafalgar Square.

Newton, Issac

(4th January 1643 - 31 March 1727)

Unquestionably one of history's greatest scientists and mathematicians. The English physicist and mathematician was educated at Cambridge University in the mid-1600s where he began to think about gravity after studying the subjects of mathematics, physics and astronomy.

The ingenious Newton took the Lucasian Chair of mathematics at Cambridge University in 1669 and was later elected president of the Royal Society in 1703. By 1699, he had settled in London and was made the Master of the Royal Mint, a role that he took very seriously.

His outstanding achievements include the invention of fluxions, which resulted in calculus, the discovery of the law of the composition of light, later used in the development of optics, and last but by no means least, discovering the universal force of gravity - the basis for the Principia.

The great scientist was knighted for his achievements in 1705 by Queen Anne, and upon his death, the dominant figure of World science was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Nightingale, Florence

(12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910)

The pioneering English nurse who developed a strong reputation after her dedicated efforts tending to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. As she often worked night shifts, she was dubbed "The Lady with the Lamp". Nightingale was a religious individual and believed God called her to her role as a nurse.

In 1860, Nightingale laid the foundation of nursing and a greater respect for woman in the profession, with the establishment of the Nightingale Training School for nurses at St Thomas' Hospital, London. She also went onto write influential pieces on nursing, sanitation and hospital planning - practices which are still in existence today.

O

Owen, Wilfred

(18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918)

Believed by many to be the greatest English war poet. The First World War soldier from Shropshire used moving poetry to describe his shocking experiences of life in the trenches. Owen carefully crafted words to vividly describe the horrors of gas warfare and death. Among his most famous works are: ‘Insensibility’, ‘Futility’ and ‘Strange Meeting’.

P

Peel, John

(30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004)

The talented English disc jockey who became the longest-serving BBC Radio 1 broadcaster. Peel’s warm personality and vast knowledge of music made him a hugely popular and well respected figure in the industry. He was not afraid to be the first broadcaster to play new music genres and promoted talented artists from the extremes of the music industry; from pop to death metal, reggae to punk, Peel played it all.

During his long and distinguished career, Peel was also a record producer and journalist and frequently appeared on television. He was appointed an OBE in 1998 for his services to British music.

R

Richard, Cliff

(14 October 1940 - present)

One of the most successful, best-selling English rock & pop stars ever. Richard had sold approximately 250 million records worldwide and has acting in a number of films.

The multi award winning singer can boast many records and achievements during a career that spans over half a century. Richard holds the record for the most number of singles or albums to have reached the UK Top 20 and has produced 14 number one singles in the UK. He is the biggest selling singles artist of all time in the UK, with total sales of over 27 million.

Richard became the first rock star to be knighted in 1995.

Rowling, J. K.

(31 July 1965 - present)

The English novelist responsible for writing the outstanding fantasy series ‘Harry Potter’. The epic 7 book series can only be described as a worldwide phenomenon – having sold over 400 million copies. It is the best-selling book series of all time. Rowling has picked up numerous awards and the novels are the basis for an extremely popular series of films.

In 2011, Forbes estimated Rowling's net worth to be US$1 billion, and she has dedicated a good proportion of her fortune to a number of worthwhile charities.

Rowling was awarded with the OBE in 2000.

S

Shakespeare, William

(23rd April 1564 – 23rd April 1616)

The legendary William Shakespeare is not only England’s most famous playwright and poet, but is widely regarded as history’s finest writer of the English language.

Shakespeare was believed to have been born on St George’s Day, 23rd April 1564, as it was recorded that he was baptised on the 26th April. He grew up, married and raised a family in Warwickshire, England, before deciding to move south to the capital. By 1592 he was enjoying a successful career in London as an actor and writer at a playing company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which was later renamed the King’s Company in 1603.

Shakespeare rose to fame and fortune and between 1589 and 1613 he produced the majority of his most famous works. Comedies and histories dominated the themes of his early plays, before he began to write tragedies until around 1608.

Brilliant tragedies such as Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear and considered some of the finest pieces ever written in the English language. Shakespeare wrote approximately 38 plays and 154 sonnets in his extraordinary career, before retiring to Stratford around 1613.

Shakespeare died on St George’s Day, 23rd April 1616, and was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

In 1623, the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s work was published by two of his former theatrical colleagues. They named it ‘the First Folio’. Over 300 years later, Shakespeare’s plays have gone on to be translated into every major living language and are studied, performed and enjoyed across the globe.

T

Thatcher, Margaret

(13 October 1925 - present)

An outstanding English politician who became the Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and went on to become the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979. Thatcher was re-elected three times, holding the position until 1990. During her years in power, she enforced strict conservative policies in the UK, some of which were aimed at the volatile trade unions.

She also led a strong opposition to the Soviet Union and sanctioned the Falkland's War against the Argentinians. Her resolute leadership earned her the nickname the 'Iron Lady'.

W

Walpole, Robert

(26 August 1676 - 18 March 1745)

A British Whig statesman who is considered to be Great Britain’s first Prime Minister. Although the position of PM was not officially recognised at the time, Walpole’s influence within the Cabinet resulted in a general acknowledged that he held the office.

Walpole was a dominant figure in politics during the reigns of George I and George II. When he was appointed the first lord of the treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, he effectively became PM and help this position until 1742.

Wren, Christopher

(20 October 1632 – 25 February 1723)

One of the most highly acclaimed architects in English history. A scientist and mathematician, the Oxford educated academic was one of the founding members of the Royal Society. But it was Wren's study of engineering and physics which resulted in his strong interest in architecture.

After the Great Fire in 1666, Wren was responsible for rebuilding over 50 churches in London. Other notable buildings of his include: the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, the south front of Hampton Court Palace, Trinity College Library in Cambridge and his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral - which was completed in 1710 and stands as one of the most impressive buildings in Britain.

Wren was knighted in 1673. On his death in 1723, his body was lay to rest in St Paul's Cathedral. His gravestone has a Latin inscription which translates: 'If you seek his memorial, look about you.'

 

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