9 British Historical Figures With an Intriguing Past


Regular readers will know how much I love history, so much so that I’m studying it at the moment.  But I’m aware that not everyone is fan, so I thought this might tempt some of you to look a little closer…

Curious to know who they are? Have a look at the exciting lives of these British historical figures.

1. Edward VI
At the age of just nine Edward VI became King of England. Unfortunately, it only lasted a few years, he died from tuberculosis when he was 15.

It’s said that he used to have a savage temper, but who wouldn’t if they were treated as the one and only child on Earth? You can imagine how growing up among all that fuss can give a child an uncontrolled, violent temper.

Edward loved to study and he enjoyed learning from his tutors. Rumour has it (blame Cardinal Reginald Pole for spreading it) he killed a falcon by tearing it into four pieces.

Perhaps, the character of Joffrey Baratheon (the unbearable child from Game of Thrones) was inspired by Edward VI, they do have a lot of similarities.

2. Mary Shelley
Imagine walking into a party and telling everyone how you’re planning to write about an ugly monster created by Dr Frankenstein who stitched together dead body parts. Charming! Only Mary Shelley could do that. Born in 1797, her stepmother denied her an education, But luckily for Mary, her father owned an extensive library that she used to educate herself, eventually becoming a writer.

Her half-sister committed suicide, and Mary’s marriage was full of adultery and loss (three of their children died). Her husband drowned in 1822 when she was only 24 years old. She did not have an easy life.

3. Guy Fawkes
Remember, remember the fifth of November. And we did. Guy Fawkes is the reason why we’ve been celebrating Bonfire Night for over 400 years. Born in 1570, Fawkes was a rebellious man of action.

He fought in the Eighty Years War, but in order to join the Catholics, Guy had to sell the lands his father left him so that he could join Spain in their fight against the Dutch Republic. He was also part of the Gunpowder Plot which led him to a painful death.

4. Henry VIII
And now the famous Henry VIII. Everyone knows that the Tudor king had six wives, not at the same time of course, but almost. It’s said that he had the same bad temper as his only male son, Edward VI. He was born in 1491 and three of his children ruled England. As a child, Henry wanted to be a famous king, and he fulfilled his dreams.

People remember him, although probably not for the reasons he wanted. As a child, he had a fool to entertain him when he was bored, and a whipping boy whom the tutor hit every time Henry was naughty, so no one ever touched the prince.

5. Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria was one of the most powerful women in history, as she ruled over a vast empire. She was born in 1818 and she was Queen for over 60 years.

Growing up, she was never left alone, not even at night. She had to follow the Kensington system, which didn’t allow her to sleep on her own. She had to share a bedroom with her mother, as they thought it would help her to become a stronger leader—and perhaps it did.

6. Mary Stuart
She was one of the most controversial monarchs of the 16th century. Mary, Queen of Scotland, had a tumultuous life. During her glorious days, she claimed the crowns of Scotland, France, Ireland and England.

She married three times and was executed in England after being held as a prisoner for 19 years. She went to England hoping she could help her cousin, Elizabeth I, but her presence was dangerous for Elizabeth as she feared a Catholic conspiracy.

7. Emmeline Pankhurst
She was born in 1858 into a family with radical political views and lead the British suffragette movement, her husband was a supporter. Emmeline was arrested several times and even went on a hunger strike. Because of the law, hunger striking prisoners were released to let them get strong, and they were incarcerated again after their recovery.

This obviously didn’t make things easy for her. But she continued fighting until women were granted parity with men—the right to vote at the age of 21.

8. Queen Elizabeth I
Now it’s the turn of Queen Elizabeth I, the Tudor queen. If ever someone had an intriguing past, it’s her. She was born in 1533, the daughter of Henry VII and his second wife. Her birth was one of the most exciting political events of the 16th century (her father had to dissolve his first marriage in order to marry her mother Anne Boleyn). And that excitement followed her throughout her life.

Elizabeth Tudor was considered an illegitimate queen by most Europeans (because of her father’s divorce) and she inherited a bankrupt kingdom. Many of her followers believed her position was dangerous and prayed for her to marry quickly. Obviously, she didn’t. Having survived a scandal, she continued her reign over England as a single woman.

9. Florence Nightingale
Imagine growing up in the 19th century as a woman in a wealthy family, with winter and summer homes, and surrounded by servants. Society would expect you to marry, have kids, provide your husband with a peaceful oasis called home, and maybe, just maybe, do some charity work. Nothing extravagant. But Florence Nightingale wasn’t like that.

Named after the city of Florence, the Italian city, she was born in 1820 in Italy and raised in England. As a religious person, she always thought God wanted her to do meaningful work (your average teenage dream). She even declined a marriage proposal from a young writer when she was 22, taking seven years to make up her mind. Today it might seem like nothing really important, but at that time her decision was huge.

She was not only refusing married life, she was also going against the accepted values of that time. Not only that, she actually followed the path she believed that God had for her and became a nurse.

Her parents were worried about her when she communicated her decision to them, as hospitals at that time were not pleasant and tranquil spaces, they were quite the opposite. But she went ahead with her decision. She went to the Crimean War where she had a huge impact, saving soldiers’ lives.

What do you think about these intriguing historical figures? Do you have a favourite?

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post

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2 thoughts on “9 British Historical Figures With an Intriguing Past

  • Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love)

    This is fascinating. I love learning a little more about historical figures and thinking about the kind of people they were and how different society was back then. I think we’re so used to hearing about Elizabeth I as the powerful “Virgin Queen” that it’s easy to overlook just how precarious her position was at times in her life.

    • Jocelyn Post author

      Absolutely, I completely agree. With the religious turmoil in the country and her position as a female from a second marriage with her mother beheaded, she had a lot to deal with!