Your RDA of Irony

The Worst Britons List–with commentary

By unpopular demand, here is the list of the worst Britons of the last 1000 years.

1000 to 1100: Eadric Streona
1100 to 1200: Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury
1200 to 1300: King John of England
1300 to 1400: Hugh Despenser (The Younger)
1400 to 1500: Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury
1500 to 1600: Sir Richard Rich

1600 to 1700: Titus Oates
1700 to 1800: Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
1800 to 1900: Jack the Ripper
1900 to 2000: Oswald Mosley

Bear in mind, this list was compiled by British historians–who have actually heard of Eadric Streona.

Eadric actually deserves fame as well as infamy.  He was the first of that unique and fascinating English specimen: the upper-class traitor. In the 11th century wars between the English and the Danes, Eadric managed to be on both sides. He continually betrayed everyone but managed to ingratiate himself back into his victims’ trust.  Well, King Canute finally got tired and wise. 

The inclusion of Thomas Becket is a surprise.  At least, he was a hero in the movie.  However, you might consider the perspective of Henry II.  His wife is poisoning his mistresses and trying to overthrow him.  With all that aggravation, Henry certainly doesn’t need an Archbishop who was claiming more sovereignty than the King.  If not the worst Briton of the 12th century, Thomas Becket certainly was the most tactless.

King John needs no introduction.  

And you have already met Hugh Despenser

Thomas Arundel liked burning heretics, and his idea of heresy was very extensive.  Even suggesting that the Bible be translated into English was a flammable offense.  Arundel could be an honorary Spaniard.    

You might recognize Richard Rich as the snivelling opportunist in “A Man For All Seasons.”  Thomas More was just one of his victims.  Rich was the greatest dancer of his age, making remarkable leaps from one faction to another, from one religion to another–and back, and he always landed on his feet and someone else’s neck. The scoundrel rose to be Chancellor of England, lived to be 70, and died in bed. His story reminds me of this anecdote. When Cardinal Richelieu died, the Pope mused, “If there is a God, the Cardinal will have much to answer for. If there is not God, Richelieu has had a very successful life.”  I think that we can say the same about Richard Rich. 

Titus Oates was the Joseph McCarthy of his day, claiming that there was a Catholic conspiracy lurking under every bed.  His lurid accusations incited widespread fears of treason and imminent invasion.  Factions at the Royal Court and in Parliament were only too happy to use this Anti-Papist hysteria to undermine or ruin their opponents.  Innocent people were imprisoned.  Eventually, so was Oates; someone finally asked for proof.  Yet, his supporters saw to his early release and voted him a government pension.

William, Duke of Cumberland, was a superb general against badly armed peasants and unarmed civilians.  The brother of George II was entrusted with crushing a rebellion in Scotland.  The Highland Scots had swords and were led by an alcoholic dolt.  Having cannons and muskets, the English were at a definite advantage.  Unfortunately, Cumberland was not a gracious winner.  He practiced pacification through depopulation.  The Scots were presented with this choice: hanging, starving or going to Canada.

Jack the Ripper? The British have a very genteel definition of “the worst.” Five corpses wouldn’t qualify him for a junior membership in the Mafia, Crips or NRA. For the worst Briton of the 19th century, I would nominate the right dishonorable Charles Trevelyan. He was the British administrator who let the Irish starve.

Sir Oswald Mosley was the definitive upper-class cad. Women left their husbands for him. He was equally promiscuous with politics, going from Tory to Labour to Fascist. He really was looking for a pedestal rather than a platform.  As leader of the British Fascists, he finally found his adoring cult.  His fellow aristocrats did not mind Sir Oswald’s embrace of Fascism; they somewhat agreed with ideas and rather liked the Gucci uniforms. However, they could not condone his adoption of Nazi tactics. One snubs Jews (although the Rothschilds were too rich to ignore) but you don’t try beating them up on the streets of London.  “I say, old boy. We can excuse treason but not vulgarity.”

  1. david traini says:

    Worst Briton of the 21st century:

    David Beckham who left Manchester United for Real Madrid, which made all soccer fans REAL MAD.

  2. Bob Kincaid says:

    I dunno, but Tony Blair’s got an inside track in the early parts of this century. Servile, conniving and conscienceless. Looks like a winning hand!

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