Twelve great Britons

A spasm of irritation at some posturing lefty in the _Independent_ made me wonder what my list of twelve great Britons would be. Here is something like it. They are chosen because they all changed the world and all are admirable in some way or other. Complete bastards are excluded, which knocks out William the conqueror:

* Alfred the Great
* Thomas Cranmer
* -Thomas More- Shakespeare (I thought I had done this)
* -Edward Gibbon- James Clerk Maxwell
* Newton
* Hume
* William Wilberforce
* Darwin
* -Elizabeth Fry- Horatio Nelson
* Churchill
* Wellington
* Milton

UPDATE: (changes on the following grounds: Without Nelson, Wilberforce would have been unable to carry through the abolition. Shakespeare has to be there. Mrs Tilton persuaded me to drop More. Rupert makes his point about Maxwell.)

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14 Responses to Twelve great Britons

  1. Mrs Tilton says:

    You regard More as admirable? The real More, that is, not Robert Bolt’s creation?

  2. Larry Moran says:

    You left out Tony Blair. Was that an oversight? 🙂

  3. Oliver says:

    Nelson. No Nelson, no pax brittanica.

  4. Oliver says:

    Oh, and did you leave shekspur off just to vex?

  5. acb says:

    I just lost count of Shakespear. Has been reinstated. Who should Nelson replace — you’re probably right. I suppose, Milton. It was a wrench to leave out Swift, Pope, Orwell. Does Wittgenstein count as English?

  6. Ditch Milton for James Cook. Gibbon for Nelson. Unless, of course, the gibbon was funky.

  7. Rupert says:

    James Clerk Maxwell can take Gibbon, easy. His footnotes aren’t as wry and he died too younng – about ten years before he’d have worked out special relativity (he was hot on the trail, and his work led to Einstein’s) – but his electromagnetic equations kick-started modern physics.

    And he’d keep Hume company.

  8. Except for Hume, they’re all English, I note. Would Adam Smith, or the Duke of Wellington, or Oscar Wilde, or James Watt (all just examples) not fit on the list? And why not Samuel Johnson?

  9. Oops. My eye passed right over Wellington. Your ratio, though was 10 English, one Scot, one Irish. Seems a bit less than complete.

  10. acb says:

    I thought about Chaucer, decided I preferred his blog to anything else he wrote. Adam Smith, yes. But in place of whom? I don’t want to lose either Cranmer or Milton.

  11. Simon says:


  12. Sean says:

    Wot, no Izaak Walton?

  13. acb says:

    Piety. If I were going to have anyone of that type, it would be Charles Cotton.

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