Spartacus Blog

100 Greatest Britons

John Simkin

In 2002 BBC television carried out a poll to discover whom the United Kingdom public considered the 100 Greatest Britons in history. When the result was published it included only 13 women. Three of the women were current members of the royal family. It also included two other strange choices, the actress Julie Andrews (59th) and the author J. K. Rowling (83rd).

Emmeline Pankhurst did make the top 100 but there was no place for other more important figures in the struggle for women's suffrage such as Millicent Fawcett, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Lydia Becker, Charlotte Despard and Teresa Billington-Greig. One wonders if this is a class issue. Mrs. Pankhurst gave up the struggle after middle-class women over 30 got the vote with the passing of the Qualification of Women Act. Why was Eleanor Rathbone not on the list? She was the leader of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) who carried on the fight for getting the vote for women on the same terms as men.

The 87 men on the list were helped by the emphasis placed on certain areas such as military leaders (12) and politicians (10). In an area where women tend to do well, social reformers, there were only two women named, Florence Nightingale (52nd) and Marie Stopes (100th). Other great social reformers such as Dorothea Beale, Annie Besant, Catherine Booth, Josephine Butler, Elizabeth Fry, Emily Hobhouse, Sophia Jex-Blake and Caroline Norton, are all missing.

It is not only women who suffer if they are considered to be social reformers. Apart from Tom Paine (34th) those who struggled to win the vote for men are also ignored. This includes Jeremy Bentham, William Blake, Lord Byron, Richard Carlile, William Cobbett, Erasmus Darwin, William Hazlitt, Henry Hetherington, John Stuart Mill, Joseph Priestley, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Richard Sheridan, who also achieved great things in other areas such as philosophy, science and the arts.

The Conservative politician, William Wilberforce (28th) is on the list to represent those who campaigned against the slave-trade. However, those women who opposed slavery such as Elizabeth Heyrick, Anne Knight, Mary Lloyd, Hannah More, Sophia Sturge, Amelia Opie, Elizabeth Pease, Mary Anne Rawson, Jane Smeal, Lucy Townsend and Annabella Byron, are not there. Those men who were more important than Wilberforce in the struggle to end the trade, for example, Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp, do not appear.

Entrepreneurs also do badly. Only Richard Branson (85th) appears on the list. None of those early businessmen who were at the forefront of the industrial revolution are included. What is more, most of those who should have been included, were also social reformers. This includes Matthew Boulton, John Fielden, Robert Owen, Titus Salt, Josiah Wedgwood and John Wilkinson.

Over the next few months I will be compiling an alternative 100 Greatest Britons. The list will be made up of 50 men and 50 women. My main objective will be to select people who made an important contribution to making life better for the majority of our citizens. I have collected together the names of 100 women that I will be choosing from.

Previous Posts

The Death of Liberalism: Charles and George Trevelyan (19th December, 2016)

Donald Trump and the Crisis in Capitalism (18th November, 2016)

Victor Grayson and the most surprising by-election result in British history (8th October, 2016)

Left-wing pressure groups in the Labour Party (25th September, 2016)

The Peasant's Revolt and the end of Feudalism (3rd September, 2016)

Leon Trotsky and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party (15th August, 2016)

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England (7th August, 2016)

The Media and Jeremy Corbyn (25th July, 2016)

Rupert Murdoch appoints a new prime minister (12th July, 2016)

George Orwell would have voted to leave the European Union (22nd June, 2016)

Is the European Union like the Roman Empire? (11th June, 2016)

Is it possible to be an objective history teacher? (18th May, 2016)

Women Levellers: The Campaign for Equality in the 1640s (12th May, 2016)

The Reichstag Fire was not a Nazi Conspiracy: Historians Interpreting the Past (12th April, 2016)

Why did Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst join the Conservative Party? (23rd March, 2016)

Mikhail Koltsov and Boris Efimov - Political Idealism and Survival (3rd March, 2016)

Why the name Spartacus Educational? (23rd February, 2016)

Right-wing infiltration of the BBC (1st February, 2016)

Bert Trautmann, a committed Nazi who became a British hero (13th January, 2016)

Frank Foley, a Christian worth remembering at Christmas (24th December, 2015)

How did governments react to the Jewish Migration Crisis in December, 1938? (17th December, 2015)

Does going to war help the careers of politicians? (2nd December, 2015)

Art and Politics: The Work of John Heartfield (18th November, 2015)

The People we should be remembering on Remembrance Sunday (7th November, 2015)

Why Suffragette is a reactionary movie (21st October, 2015)

Volkswagen and Nazi Germany (1st October, 2015)

David Cameron's Trade Union Act and fascism in Europe (23rd September, 2015)

The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary (17th September, 2015)

Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England (12th September, 2015)

Jeremy Corbyn, the new Harold Wilson? (5th September, 2015)

Anne Boleyn in the history classroom (29th August, 2015)

Why the BBC and the Daily Mail ran a false story on anti-fascist campaigner, Cedric Belfrage (22nd August, 2015)

Women and Politics during the Reign of Henry VIII (14th July, 2015)

The Politics of Austerity (16th June, 2015)

Was Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, murdered? (31st May, 2015)

The long history of the Daily Mail campaigning against the interests of working people (7th May, 2015)

Nigel Farage would have been hung, drawn and quartered if he lived during the reign of Henry VIII (5th May, 2015)

Was social mobility greater under Henry VIII than it is under David Cameron? (29th April, 2015)

Why it is important to study the life and death of Margaret Cheyney in the history classroom (15th April, 2015)

Is Sir Thomas More one of the 10 worst Britons in History? (6th March, 2015)

Was Henry VIII as bad as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin? (12th February, 2015)

The History of Freedom of Speech (13th January, 2015)

The Christmas Truce Football Game in 1914 (24th December, 2014)

The Anglocentric and Sexist misrepresentation of historical facts in The Imitation Game (2nd December, 2014)

The Secret Files of James Jesus Angleton (12th November, 2014)

Ben Bradlee and the Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer (29th October, 2014)

Yuri Nosenko and the Warren Report (15th October, 2014)

The KGB and Martin Luther King (2nd October, 2014)

The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)

Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)

The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)

West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)

The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)

Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)

Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)

The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)

Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)

Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)

Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)

Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)

The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)

Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)