History Quotations

BC/AD 1-499

On Britain from pre-Caesar Roman eyes:
"[Before,] Britain was a remote, almost fabled island across the 'Ocean', a fearsome sea to Romans as yet unaccustomed to the tidal conditions outside the Mediterranean. Britain was beyond the known world. In two brief campaigns Caesar had put Britain on the Roman map."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On population of Roman Britain:
"In Roman times Britain had as many people as at its peak in the Middle Ages. For four centuries it was an integral part of a single political system that stretched from Turkey to Portugal and from the Red Sea to the Tyne and beyond."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On written sources for Roman Britain:
""We have the very considerable remains of the once huge routine output of a literate society…Actual examples of writing found in Britain, mostly as inscriptions on stone but some in other forms, constitute a major primary source for the Romano-British period. They include trade marks on manufactured goods; a small but growing number of personal letters and other documents in a variety of materials, discovered in excavations; even graffiti—the everyday writing and reading matter of ordinary people…Roman coinage…had a peculiarly important part in the politics and economics of the Roman world. Not only was the currency itself manipulated by government as money but also the wording and images upon the coins were consistently exploited as a powerful medium for mass propaganda which possessed the insistence of a television commercial repeated over and over again. The ability to read was, admittedly, much commoner in the towns than in the Romano-British countryside but it was compulsory in the army and essential in many other walks of life. It was certainly not, as in other ages, restricted to a small or specialized class. The critical difference between Roman Britain and what went before is that its society was literate, perhaps more literate than at any other time till the end of the Middle Ages.""
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On Celts from Roman eyes:
"The Celts were characterized by quarrelsomeness, both within the tribe and in their indulgence in inter-tribal warfare…There was little or no 'national' sentiment."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On trade between Rome and Britain:
""Around 15BC…British aristocrats were enjoying the imports from the empire, while the list of exports that the Roman author thinks worthy of mention shows that the Britons were not only paying for these luxuries with supplies important to the army; by sending gold, silver, slaves, and hunting dogs they had also become a source of commodities of direct interest to the emperor himself and to the rich at Rome.""
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On Boudica and the Iceni:
"At his death, Boudica's husband, Prasutagus, the client king of the Iceni, had left half his possessions to the emperor, expecting that this would protect his kingdom and family. Agents of the procurator and of the governor, however, had treated this as if it were the unconditional surrender of an enemy. The king's property was confiscated, nobles were expelled from their estates, and taxation and conscription enforced…In answer to Boudica's protests, she was flogged and her daughters raped. Rousing her own tribe and her Trinovantian neighbours and carrying other civitates with her… she swept through southern Britain, burning Colchester, London, and Verulamium…, torturing every Roman or Roman sympathizer she could catch, and inflicting devastating defeats of the few Roman units that had been left in that part of the country. The governor only just avoided the total loss of the province."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On women and early human rights:
"That women may not be kiled by a man in any way, neither by slaughter or by any other death, not by poison, nor in water, nor in fire, nor by any beast, nor in a pit, nor by dogs, but shall die in their own lawful bed."
Adomnain, Cáin. ?. .



Norman and Plantagenet (1066-1327)

On William I's inheritance:
"Whatever William's last wishes may have been, there was a strong presumption that the eldest son should have his father's patrimony, that is those lands which the father himself had inherited. Thus, despite his rebellion, Robert succeeded to Normandy. But a man's acquisition, the land he himself had obtained whether by purchase, marriage, or conquest, could more easily be used to provide for other members of his family. Thus England, the Conqueror's vast acquisition, was used to provide for his younger son, William. Naturally, Robert objected to this and perhaps, if it had not been for his rebellion, he would have succeeded to England as well."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On landless English after Conquest:
"In 1086 there were only two surviving English lords of any account. More than 4,000 thegns had lost their lands and been replaced by a group of less than 200 barons…In 1070 [William] had some English bishops deposed and thereafter appointed no Englishman to either bishopric or abbey."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On Henry I and the Church:
""Although in the first years of his reign Henry was preoccupied with Norman affairs, he was not as free to concentrate on them as he would have liked. Traditional royal rights over the Church were threatened by the new ideas associated with the Gregorian reform movement. The reformers did not only wish to purify the moral and spiritual life of the clergy; in order to do this, they believed that it was also necessary to free the Church from secular control. The most hated symbol of this control was lay investiture, a ceremony in which a new abbot or bishop received the ring and staff of office from the hands of the secular prince who had appointed him. Although the first papal decree against lay investiture had been issued as long Ago as 1059 and more prohibitions had been published since, no one in England seems to have been aware of their existence until Anselm returned in the autumn of 1100. While in exile he had learned of the papal attitude to lay investiture. Thus although he himself had been invested by Rufus in 1093 he now refused either to do homage to Henry or to consecrate those prelates whom Henry had invested. This placed the king in a difficult position. Bishops and abbots were great landowners and key figures in central and local administration; he needed their assistance and had to be sure of their loyalty. On the other hand, unlike Rufus, he was unwilling to provoke a quarrel, so for years he found it more convenient to postpone the problem rather than try to solve it. Not until 1107 was the matter settled. Henry renounced lay investiture, but prelates were to continue to do homage for their fiefs. In practice, the king's wishes continued to be the decisive factor in the making of bishops. To some extent, it can be said that Henry gave up the form but preserved the reality of control. When Anselm died in 1109 he kept the see of Canterbury vacant for five years. Yet he had lost something and he knew it. In the fierce war of propaganda which accompanied the 'Investiture Contest' the Gregorians had insisted that the king was a layman, nothing more, and as such he was inferior to all priests, for priests were concerned with the soul and the king only with the body. The Church could no longer tolerate the old idea that anointed kings were sacred deputies of God. In giving up lay investiture Henry was acknowledging the secular nature of his office. It was an important moment in the history of kingship.""
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On Law and Justice in the Early Middle Ages:
""The new machinery of justice established by the Angevins tended to impose punishment without compensation…, it seems that in reality the old procedures survived; they were adapted and grafted on to the new. What this meant was that those who could afford it escaped punishment but paid compensation to the victim or his kin, while those who could not, suffered the consequences.""
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On the proliferation of written records in 12th-13th c. England:
""The proliferation of records involved a shift from habitually memorizing things to writing them down. It meant that the whole population was now, in a sense, 'participating in literacy'; even if they could not themselves read they became accustomed to seeing day-to-day business transacted through the reading of writing.""
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On medieval multilingualism:
""A well-educated Englishman was trilingual. English would be his mother tongue; he would have some knowledge of Latin, and he would speak fluent French. In this cosmopolitan society French was vital. It was the practical language of law and estate management as well as the language of song and verse, of chanson and romance. The Norman Conquest, in other words, ushered in a period during which England, like the kingdom of Jerusalem, can fairly be described as a part of France overseas, Outremer; in political terms, it was a French colony (though not, of course, one that belonged to the French king) until the early thirteenth century and a cultural colony thereafter.""
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

On sealing wax:
"Whereas in the reign of Edward the Confessor only the king is known to have possessed a seal, in Edward I's reign even serfs were required by statute to have them. At the centre of this development, and to some extent its motor, lay the king's government. The king possessed permanently organized writing offices, the chancery, and then the exchequer too: they were becoming busier and busier. In Henry III's reign, we can measure the amount of sealing wax which the chancery used. In the late 1220s it was getting through 3.63 lb. Per week; by the late 1260s the amount had gone up to 31.9 lb. per week. Not only was the government issuing more documents than ever before; it was also systematically making copies and keeping them."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993.

Lancaster and York (1327-1485)

Tudor (1485-1603)

On the Henrician Reformation:
"The accomplishment of Henry's dream to give the words rex imperatur literal meaning raises a key historical question. Exactly why did the English bishops and abbots, the aristocracy of the of the spirit who held a weight of votes in the House of Lords, permit the Henrician Reformation to occur? The answer is partly that Henry coerced his clerical opponents into submission by threats and punitive taxation: but some bishops actually supported the king, albeit sadly, and a vital truth lies behind this capitulation. Those clerics who were politically alert saw that it was preferable to be controlled by the Tudor monarchs personally, with whom they could bargain and haggle, than to be offered as a sacrifice instead to the anticlerical laity in the House of Commons, which was the true alternative to compliance. For as early as 1532 it was on the cards that the Tudor supremacy would be a parliamentary supremacy, not a purely royal one, and only the despotic king's dislike of representative assemblies ensured that Parliament's contribution was cut back to the mechanical, though still revolutionary, task of enacting the requisite legislation. It was plain to all but the most ultramontane papalists on the episcopal bench that a parliamentary supremacy would have exposed the clergy directly to the pent-up emotional fury and hatred of the anticlerical laity and common lawyers. The laity, furthermore, were fortified for the attack by the humanists' debunking of ritualism and superstition. In short, royal supremacy was the better of two evils: the clergy would not have to counter the approaching anticlerical backlash without the necessary filter of royal mediation."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993, p248.

On musical England:
""The Tudor age was the great age of English music and lyrical poetry, two sisters at a birth, and the impulse may in part be traced to the Court of the young Henry VIII. But the whole country was filled with men and women singing songs, composing music, and writing the verses. It was a form taken in England by the free, joyful spirit of the Renaissance; but here it was a rustic spirit, mingled with the song of birds in the greenwood, and leading up to the full chorus of Shakespeare's England.""
Trevelyan, G.M. English Social History. London: Penguin, 1986, p149.

On Henry VIII's naval policy:
"The formation of a professional navy for war purposes only was the more important because naval tactics were, after 2,000 years, entering on a new era. The placing of cannon in the broadside of a vessel transformed naval was from a mere grappling of ship with ship (the method used from the days of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks till late medieval times) into the manoeuvring of floating batteries, which first showed their strength against the Armada. By proficiency in that new game England was to attain her sea-power and Empire, and Henry VIII's naval policy first put her in a way to win it."
Trevelyan, G.M. English Social History. London: Penguin, 1986, p144.

On Elizabeth I's heart and stomach!:
"I am come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of battle, to live or die amongst you all, and lay down for my God and for my kingdom and for my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any piece of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm."
Elizabeth I. Speech to her army. 17th August, 1588.

Stuart (1603-1727)

On the Cromwellian Commonwealth:
""From 1649 to 1660 England was a republic. In some ways it was a revolutionary period indeed…Monarchy was abolished, along with the House of Lords and the Anglican Church. England had for separate constitutions between 1649 and 1659, and a chaos of expedients in 1659-60. Scotland was fully i8ntegrated into Britain, and Ireland subjugated with an arrogance unprecedented even in its troubled history. It was a period of major experiment in national government. Yet a remarkable amount was left untouched. The legal system was tinkered with but was recognisably the old arcane common law system run by an exclusive legal priesthood; local government reverted to the old pattern as quarter sessions returned to constitute veritable local parliaments. Exchequer reasserted its control over government finance. Existing rights of property were protected and reinforced, and the social order defended from its radical critics. There was a loosely structured national Church. If no one was obliged to attend this natal church, they were required to pay tithes to support its clergy and to accept the secular and moral authority of parish officers in the execution of the duties laid upon them in Tudor statutes. In practice, the very freedom allowed to each parish in matters of worship, witness, and observance, permitted Anglican services and the Anglican feasts to be quietly and widely practiced.""
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993, pp 372-3.

On the Great Fire:
"I went this morning on foot from Whitehall as far as London Bridge, through the late Fleet Street… and out to Moorfields, …with extraordinary difficulty, clambering over heaps of yet smoking rubbish, and frequently mistaking where I was. Thus lay in ashe that most venerable Church, one of the most ancient pieces of early piety in the Christian world, besides near 100 more."
Evelyn, John. Diary. Entry for Sept. 7, 1666.

On Charles II's Parliament:
"Since the Long Parliament and those of the Interregnum had abused their authority as freely as Charles I had done, it seemed pointless to build them up as a counterpoise to the Crown."
Morgan, Kenneth O. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain. Oxford: OUP, 1993, p330.

Hanover (1727-1837)

On Thomas Paine:
"... his father's Quaker faith influenced his later humanitarianism. Paine also developed a strong interest in Newtonian science, a common theme in the lives of eighteenth-century reformers, who found in the harmonious Newtonian system based on natural laws a sharp contrast to governmental structures resting simply on precedent and the obviously “irrational” principle of hereditary rule…not until he emigrated to America in 1774 did Paine find an environment capable of nourishing the seeds of his political discontent."
Foner, Eric. “Introduction” to Paine, Thomas. Rights of Man. New York: Penguin, 1985. p8.

On the English constitution:
"No such thing as a constitution exists in England."
Paine, Thomas. Rights of Man. New York: Penguin, 1985. p192.

On the rights of men:
"If governments, as Mr Burke asserts, are not founded on the Rights of MAN, and are founded on any rights at all, they consequently must be founded on the rights of something that is not man. What then is that something?"
Paine, Thomas. Rights of Man. New York: Penguin, 1985. p195.

On Franco-American Relations:
"I do not believe that a more cordial and confidential intercourse exists between any two countries than between America and France."
Paine, Thomas. Rights of Man. New York: Penguin, 1985. (1790-1) p36.

On Beau Brummel and Dandies:
"While Napoleon was ramping over Europe, the extravagance and eccentricity of our dandies reached their highest point in the days of Beau Brummel, and English poetry and landscape painting enjoyed their great age."
Trevelyan, G. M.. English Social History. London: Penguin, 1986.

Victorian and Edwardinan (1837-1910)

On 19th-c. bondage:
"Altogether, the social importance of 1848 is as complex and escapes easy generalization as much as its political content. It was probably in the countryside of eastern and central Europe that the revolutions changed society most. There, liberal principles and the fear of popular revolt went hand in hand to impose change on the landlords. Wherever outside Russia obligatory peasant labour and bondage to the soil survived, it was abolished as a result of 1848."
Roberts, J.M. History of the World. London: BCA, 1993. p600.

Queen Victoria on women's rights:
""The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of 'Women's Rights', with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety. Lady—ought to get a good whipping. It is a subject which makes the Queen so furious that she cannot contain herself. God created men and women different—then let them remain each in their own position.""
Queen Victoria. Letter to Sir Theodore Martin. 29th May, 1870.

On sex in the Victorian period:
"Leaving on one side questions of social circumstance, a moralizing attitude to sex was inevitable in an age when there was a moral colouring to all social argument. Yet as the nineteenth century went by, sexuality, even when repressed, emerged from a conspiracy of silence and became a part of social consciousness. The late Victorian revolt concerned itself with sex as well as with class (and with the relation between the two). It also seemed bound up with the national destiny."
Briggs, Asa. A Social History of England. London: Penguin, 1991. p284.

On Victorian marriage, a wife's property, and divorce:
""In marriage, the dominating position of the husband was still buttressed by the law, and it was not until 1870 and 1882 that Married Women's Property Acts were passed, granting women rights to property whether secured before marriage or after. (Political rights were not to come until after the suffragette agitation.) The first chain of divorce acts, the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which set up secular divorce courts, had authorized divorce on different terms for those few men and women who could afford it. A husband needed only to show evidence of his wife's adultery; a wife had to show evidence of other marital failings too, like cruelty or desertion. For social and economic reasons, as well as religious ones, the number of divorces remained low throughout the Victorian years, affecting only 0.2 per cent of all marriages at the end of the century.""
Briggs, Asa. A Social History of England. London: Penguin, 1991. p285.


On the months before World War II:
"How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."
Chamberlain, Neville. Radio broadcast, 27 September 1938. .

On the months before World War II:
"I believe it is a peace for our time... peace with honour."
Chamberlain, Neville. Radio broadcast, 30 September 1938. Statement after Munich agreement 1938.

On the Liberal Party:
"General elections provided agonising disappointments for the Liberal Party. Ever since the Lloyd George coalition had lost power in 1922, Liberals had been eclipsed by the new Labour Party with its solid working-class base, but they still looked forward to a future in a less class-ridden Britain."
Sampson, Anthony. The Changing Anatomy of Britain. Sevenoaks: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983. p99.

On Russia at the beginning of World War II:
"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
Churchill, Winston. Radio broadcast talk. 1 Oct. 1939.

On determination of British towards the end of the first year of the Second World War:
""We shall go on to the end, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.""
Churchill, Winston. Radio broadcast. 4th June 1940.


On Democracy:
"Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
House of Commons. . 11th November 1947.

On the function of Parliament:
"In all their policies, my Government will be concerned to safeguard the liberties of my subjects. In so doing they will be acting in the spirit which has always animated Parliament, whose seven hundredth anniversary will be recorded in this session."
Elizabeth II. The Queen's Speech. 3 November, 1964.

On Public Spending:
"The policy of 'rolling back the frontiers of the state' has led to a paradox. While the numbers directly employed in the public sector have indeed shrunk, by nearly 50 per cent since 1979, the amount of money spent by the state has not. Public spending as a proportion of national income (GDP) was 44.1 per cent in 1979, and is 44.3 per cent today. The reduction in the numbers employed directly by the state has not therefore led to a corresponding reduction in the functions of the state. Instead, these functions, previously provided by the state, are now provided by government contractors, through the process of privatization, compulsory competitive tendering, and market testing. This has led to a great increase in the number of private firms and individuals wholly or largely dependent upon the state for their profit and their livelihood."
Straw, Jack. in Marr. p255.