2016 offers a veritable cornucopia of glorious and inglorious anniversaries.  Over the next 12 months, there will be timely reminders of the people, places and events, which shaped England and the English.  They include the catastrophes which led to the nadir of our Anglo-Saxon heritage, the passing of our greatest literary treasure and the victory, which epitomizes this country’s sporting traditions.


Battle of Hastings October 1066

Battle of Hastings October 1066

Ancient and Medieval History.

On 24th February, 1400 years will have passed since the death of King Aethelbert of Kent on 24th February AD616.  He was the first of England’s Christian monarchs and he welcomed the group of missionaries, sent by Pope Gregory ‘The Great’ to Christianize this island of pagans.  Significantly it was Christianity which eventually united the disparate Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and blended them into the ‘Land of the Angles’ or Angleland.

1000 years ago on 23rd April 1016, King Ethelred ‘the unready’ died, aged approximately 50, ‘after a life of much hardship and many difficulties’ according to the ancient chronicles.  Fourteen years earlier, he was married to the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, thus sparking off the claims to the English throne, which were later taken up by William the Conqueror.

950 years ago, England witnessed the momentous events of 1066.  That infamous year started badly on 5th January when King Edward the Confessor died in Westminster.  The following day, the Anglo-Saxons’ ‘Council of Wise Men’ or ‘Witan’ appointed Harold Godwinson as the successor and that started a plethora of invasions by ambitious warlords.  On 25th September 1066, at the murderous Battle of Stamford Bridge, King Harold repelled Norwegian invaders but 3 days later, on 28th September, Duke William of Normandy landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex.  King Harold’s army completed an astonishing forced march to Sussex to confront the renewed challenge but it was defeated on 14th October 1066 at the disastrous Battle of Hastings, which brought down the curtain on 650 years of Anglo-Saxon monarchy.  950 years ago on Christmas Day 1066, 88 days after landing on English soil, Duke William was in Westminster Abbey for his coronation as King William I.

It was 800 years ago on 18th October 1216, that King John died in Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire after an unpleasant bout of dysentery; he was 49.  Ten days later, an unusual, emergency coronation was arranged in Gloucester Cathedral for the 9-year-old successor, King Henry III.  On 12th November that year, a revised and shortened version of the iconic Magna Carta was issued in the young King’s name.

550 years ago on 11th February 1466, the renowned beauty Elizabeth of York, was born in Westminster Palace.  She was destined to produce the world-renowned Tudor dynasty and in later years, gave birth to the future King Henry VIII and his 3 influential siblings, Arthur, Margaret and Mary.

Staying with the Tudors, it was 500 years ago on 18th February 1516, that Catherine of Aragon was in Greenwich Palace to give birth to the girl who became England’s first female crowned monarch, Queen Mary I.  Often dubbed ‘Bloody Mary’, she endured a stressful and damaging period as a teenager and young woman, during which time her parents separated in favour of Anne Boleyn.

King James I was England’s first Stuart monarch; the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor {elder sister of Henry VIII}, James was born 450 years ago in Edinburgh Castle on 19th June 1566.


Will Shakespeare

The Arts.

Almost certainly, 2016 will be dominated by performances and events, marking the death of England’s ‘best-known citizen’, William Shakespeare, who passed away 400 years ago on 23rd April 1616 at the age of 52, in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Widely regarded as the best poet and playwright of all time, Shakespeare is likely to be remembered and commemorated all over the world.

England’s literary traditions have been played out over many centuries.  200 years ago on 21st April 1816, the author Charlotte Bronte was born in the Yorkshire village of Thornton.  The eldest of three sisters, she is best known for her novel ‘Jane Eyre’, which was published under the pseudonym ‘Currer Bell’.

150 years ago, on 28th July 1866, the wonderfully creative, Helen Beatrix Potter, was born in Kensington.  Her beautifully crafted, anthropomorphic characters have since been transferred from her books to songs, films, ballet and theatre productions.

It will be exactly 100 years since James Alfred Wight OBE FRCVS aka ‘James Herriot’ was born in County Durham on 3rd October 1916.  He is of course renowned for his semi-autobiographical stories that are usually categorised as ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.  Likewise, it will be a century since the remarkable novelist, screenwriter and former fighter-pilot Roald Dahl was born on 13th September 1916; his books became iconic works for children and adults alike.

On 3rd January 2016, the renowned record producer, composer and musician, Sir George Henry Martin CBE will celebrate his 90th birthday.  It is appropriate that later in the year on 29th August, it will be exactly 50 years since ‘The Beatles’ were in San Francisco to perform their final live, commercial concert.


Great Fire of London

More Recent History.

400 years will have have passed since Sunday 20th March 1616, when Sir Walter Raleigh was released from the Tower of London after being confined for 13 years.  In 1603, Raleigh had been tried and convicted of treason for his alleged role in a plot against King James I.

One of the best known of all English tragedies occurred 350 years ago on Sunday 2nd September 1666; at 2am on that fateful day, a small fire started within the bakery of Thomas Farynor, in Pudding Lane near London Bridge.  The flames took hold and for the next 4 days, the ‘Great Fire of London’ gutted the medieval city, which stood inside the former Roman Wall.  It is thought that over 13,000 homes were destroyed: the social and economic consequences of that conflagration were enormous.

One of the world’s best known traders started his business 250 years ago; on 5th December 1766, James Christie, founder of the fine arts auction house, conducted his first sale in London.  Today, ‘Christie’s’ operates from around 53 offices in 32 countries.

That entrepreneurial spirit has seen England extend its influence to most parts of the world; a good example concerns the birth 150 years ago of Lord Herbert ‘Pa’ Austin KBE, on 8th November 1866.  He founded the Austin Motor Company and in 1905, Herbert took over a former print works at Longbridge in the West Midlands, which he developed into one of the most productive manufacturing sites in the world.

Without doubt, 80 years ago on 10th December 1936, England was at the centre of global attention after King Edward VIII signed instruments of abdication at Fort Belvedere in Virginia Water, Surrey.  The following day, the former King was in Windsor Castle where he delivered an emotional and difficult speech to the nation: he had reverted to the title ‘Prince’ and explained that he had abdicated in order that he could marry Wallis Simpson.

Not all history is ‘good history’ and to prove the point, it will be 50 years since 6th May 1966, when the ‘Moors Murderers’ Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were convicted of killing five children aged between 10 and 17.  After a 14-day trial, Mr. Justice Atkinson described the infamous couple as ‘two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity’.  They were undoubtedly the most hated people in Britain at that time.


Battle of the Somme

Two World Wars.

Understandably, much of the summer will be taken up with thoughts of the First World War.  On 1st July, it will be 100 years since the 7am whistles, launched soldiers into the terrible ‘Battle of the Somme’.  The futile slaughter continued until mid-November by which time the British had suffered approximately 400,000 casualties and advanced a maximum of 8 miles.

During that awful conflict, on 15th September 1916, the military tank made its debut.  The British had high hopes that their secret weapon would break the deadlock between the trenches.  Whilst the tank was impervious to barbed wire, rifle and machine gun fire, it was mechanically unreliable and prone to getting bogged down in mud.

In the same year, on 5th June 1916, the famous recruiting icon, Field Marshal Horatio Herbert ‘Lord’ Kitchener died on board HMS Hampshire, which sank after hitting a German mine. Kitchener and 643 crew members drowned or died of exposure; it is now known that prior to his death, Kitchener was on route to Russia for a secret, diplomatic mission.

Furthermore, 100 years ago on 21st November 1916, HMS ‘Britannic’, the sister ship of RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, was being used as a hospital ship to convey casualties of war, when the vessel struck a mine and sank off the Greek island of Kea.  Several people lost their lives in the tragedy.

Moving on to the Second World War, it will be 75 years since the prototype aircraft ‘BT 308’, better known as the Avro Lancaster bomber, made its maiden flight on 9th January 1941; the test pilot Bill Thorne, flew the iconic machine around Manchester’s ‘Ringway Airport’.


1966 World Cup Final

Sporting Heroics.

This country’s greatest sporting moment was watched by millions 50 years ago at Wembley stadium.  On 30th July 1966, England beat West Germany 4-2 to lift football’s ‘Jules Rimet World Cup’.  It seems unlikely that England will repeat this remarkable achievement.

Football is one sport, which we ‘gave’ to the world, another is cricket and 100 years ago on 23rd June 1916, the cricketer Sir Leonard Hutton was born at Pudsey in Yorkshire.  He played for his home county and England and is widely regarded as the greatest batsman the world has ever seen.  In 1938, Hutton set a record for the highest individual score in an innings when he struck 364 runs against Australia.


The Royals.

England and the English can truly be proud of their heritage and to round off 2016, the nation will honour the oldest and longest reigning monarch in its history, when the Queen attains yet another landmark.


On 21st April, Britain and The Commonwealth will join Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her 90th birthday.  Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21st April 1926, at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London; she succeeded to the throne at the age of 25, following the death of her father in February 1952.

Her Majesty is now the world’s most experienced Head of State, yet in some ways, this remarkable Lady’s 64-year reign has been typical of many other monarchies.  Like several of her predecessors, from the 1400 years of Anglo-Saxon and English history that will be remembered in 2016, Queen Elizabeth has overseen war, domestic conflicts, civil disasters and tragedies, and of course royal births, which offer hope for the continuation of the world’s richest and most influential culture.

Her experience will be crucial to her successor, whoever that may be, but for now, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that we are witnessing the closing years of an epoch, the likes of which, may never be seen again.

Happy and glorious, Long to Reign over us….