Great Historical Britons

A nationwide survey resulted in this series that celebrates the lives of the historical elite in Britain. Needless to say, Jim Davidson didn't make the list.

Great Historical Britons


Anyway, first out of the blocks was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was championed by motormouth car fanatic Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson surprised us all with a heartfelt, inspired and considered argument for Brunel being the best Brit. The engineer and architect revolutionised the construction industry during the Industrial Revolution with his designs for bridges, railways, boats and buildings, repeatedly risking his life in the process.


This guy was always a popular favourite: Mo Mowlam put the case for Winston Churchill, who is known throughout the world as the inspirational British leader that stood up to and defeated the Nazi threat, after a lifetime in domestic politics. He may have been a truly great man, but he never seemed to be the kind of chap you'd want to go out for a drink and a laugh with.


Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the parliamentary army in the Civil War in England, may seem to many a surprise entry. He emerged during one of the most interesting times in recorded British history, the one and only time when we had no monarchy. Instead, Cromwell ruled over his people with an iron will and an iron fist. It was the determination and brilliant efficiency of his methods that make Cromwell a unique and great Briton.


Now, you can't deny the importance of this man. Charles Darwin, whose groundbreaking thesis The Origin of Species changed scientists' views on the development and evolution of the human race forever. Basically, the notion that we didn't come from the Garden of Eden but from some slime in a pool of water rocked the world and challenged all religious teaching. Interestingly, this discovery did not weaken Darwin's religious faith; he remained a devout Christian throughout his life.


Tory MP Michael Portillo proposes Elizabeth I as Britain's most brilliant leader. She successfully defeated religious fanaticism, founded our tradition of tolerance and defeated the Spanish Armada, making England one of the most powerful countries in the world.


Nelson was one of the most dazzling and successful naval leaders in British history and he won more battles than any other admiral before or since. His bold style of attack revolutionised naval warfare, and he died to save Britain from French invasion. If you ever visit his tomb in St Paul's in London, you'll see that it's enormous. This is because his crew preserved his body in a large barrel of alcohol to get him back to Blightey in one piece and when they opened the barrel they found his body had swelled up to double its size.


Newton was one of the foremost scientific intellects of all time. His greatness comes from, most notably, defining the rules of gravity (surely we all knew it was there anyway?). His work also improved our understanding of colour and light, as well as providing the basis for calculus. So those of you who struggled in Maths now know who to thank.


You may recognise him as Britain's (and the world's) most famous playwright and poet. Although there has been a lot of arguing over whether or not he actually wrote some of the works he's been credited to, one thing's certain, his ability with the English language showed he had great intelligence and extraordinary insight into the human mind, heart and soul.