It was only a year ago that the BBC was running its poll to find the greatest Briton of all time. But chauvinistic celebration and praise without a bit lamenting and complaining to even things up is not the British way. So last month the BBC History magazine asked the country's historians to pick the worst Britons of all time. Specifically, they asked for nominations for one villain from each century of the last millennium.
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It was only a year ago that the BBC was running its poll to find the greatest Briton of all time. But chauvinistic celebration and praise without a bit lamenting and complaining to even things up is not the British way. So last month the BBC History magazine asked the country's historians to pick the worst Britons of all time. Specifically, they asked for nominations for one villain from each century of the last millennium. Some of the choices were predictable. Jack-the-Ripper remains the most infamous serial killer of British folklore more than 100 years after his foul deeds and therefore gets the vote for the 19th century; King John of England, hugely unpopular at the time and having got a bad press ever since (especially from Shakespeare), has been installed as the 13th century's most villainous Briton. Others choices are more surprising. Thomas Becket has been named as the 12-century villain, presumably because of his deeply divisive politics - and yet his murder in Canterbury Cathedral by the soldiers of the king immediately turned him into a popular martyr (for which the traders of Canterbury have been grateful ever since). The truth is that deciding on the greatest villains in history is even harder than deciding on the greatest benefactors. It is perfectly possible to argue, for instance, that King John was one of England's better medieval rulers in an impossible situation, actually much better than his glamorous and much-celebrated brother Richard the Lionheart (Richard I). The latter almost bankrupted the kingdom for the sake of the crusades, where, by the way, he indulged in mass murder on a colossal scale. n Thomas Becket (1117-1170): aartsbisschop van Canterbury. Protesteerde tegen koning Hendrik II die in 1164 de kerk aan zijn macht onderwierp. Becket vluchtte naar het vasteland waar hij steun zocht bij Frankrijk en de paus. Hij werd in 1170 in de kathedraal van Canterbury vermoord. divisive: verdelend. to even something up: iets in evenwicht brengen. foul: smerig. to indulge: zich uitleven. Jack-the-Ripper: naam gegeven aan een seriemoordenaar die in 1888 minstens vijf prostituees in Londen vermoordde en verminkte. De dader is nooit gevonden. John Lackland (1167-1216): jongste zoon van Hendrik II. Hij werd koning terwijl de oudste zoon, Richard, op kruistocht was. Koning Jan werd zeer onpopulair. In 1215 ondertekende hij de Magna Charta, het eerste document waarin een koning een deel van zijn macht afstaat. to lament: jammeren en klagen. latter: de laatste. Richard I, the Lionheart (1157-1199): oudste zoon van Hendrik II. Een vrolijke avonturier die in 1189 aan de derde kruistocht deelnam. Bij zijn terugkeer werd hij gevangengenomen in Oostenrijk. Hij werd later door zijn broer John vrijgekocht. for the sake of: in het belang van. villain: schurk.