The BBC History magazine for July has revealed this year’s results for the publication’s annual ‘History Hot 100’. The survey is based on the results compiled from UK readers and historians who are invited by the magazine to vote for the historical figures that most interest them at the moment.
So… who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ (so to speak)? Readers of the magazine were invited to each nominate up to three people from any historical period, as long those people died more than 30 years ago. It is the second year the survey has run, and certain interesting continuities and changes are apparent.
In terms of the percentages, Royal figures make up almost half the 2016 list (44%), followed fairly closely by those from Politics (22%); Faith and Ideas have gained 12%, Military 9%, Arts and Culture 8%, and Science 5%. And, regarding the Top Five centuries, the British public and historians place the 19th century first, followed very closely by the 15th century, and then the 18th century in third place.
In the Top Ten of the ‘Hot 100’ historical figures, King Richard III (1452-85) has come out at No. 1. As the magazine puts it, Richard is ‘loved, he’s loathed, he’s been dug up and reburied’ and, clearly, he still captures the popular imagination. Richard is followed closely by Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who comes in at No. 2. Often cited as ‘England’s best ruler’ by her fans, she evidently remains a figure of great fascination for both the UK’s public and historians.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given all the recent Shakespeare celebrations on the 400th anniversary of his death, Britain’s most famous writer has come in at No. 3. At No. 4 in the countdown is Anne Boleyn, with Henry VIII at No. 5. Interestingly, in a bit of a nod to the 20th century, Winston Churchill, along with Adolf Hitler, are the only two figures in the Top Ten to have been alive within the past century. Scholars of the 20th century do not really get another look in until No. 41 in the ‘Hot 100’, with Martin Luther King.
Revealingly, historical fascination with American Presidents appears to remain strong: Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, for example, are present, and perhaps we are about to witness some new studies of such leaders by British historians, given the impending Presidential elections in the USA?
It’s all very unscientific, of course, and should be treated with great caution (no distinction seems to have been made between the preferences of professional historians and the wider public in the survey of readers), but it’s also all good fun! What does the BBC History magazine itself have to say about the results of their 2016 survey? The editors point to some interesting patterns in their findings. The Top Five entries in their ‘Hot 100’ all have some connection to the Tudors. Moreover, as the magazine puts it: ‘Hot on their tails are Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler – reflecting our continuing fascination with the Second World War above all other conflicts, despite all the public remembrance that has accompanied the First World War’s centenary’.
However, the magazine’s editors still note that anniversaries are important, and these events have exerted an impact on the 2016 results: the centenary of the Easter Rising, for example, perhaps explains the presence of several major figures from Irish history. And, of course, the latest TV dramas can have a clear influence: Viking hero Ragnar Lodbrok is at No. 70, while a number of the wives of Henry VIII are present.
There are still a few surprises, though, names which would be good for a History pub quiz: for example, how many people (even some expert historians) could provide quick details on the following: Alcuin of York; Thomas Browne; Ada Lovelace; and Elizabeth Woodville?
For a guide to some of the lesser-known members of the magazine’s 2016 ‘Hot 100’ list, you can visit:
Full details of the BBC ‘History Hot 100’ survey can be found in BBC History magazine, July 2016.