From women’s suffrage to the Reformation: nine historic figures whose actions echo down the ages.
Robin Hood is a name that evokes genuine mystery but remains one of the most recognised rebel figures even to this day. Well known for his archery skills, feathered cap, and radical socialism, if he ever lived he has certainly left his mark.
Here’s a great icon of Scottish nationalism. Wallace defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and stood up for the Scottish monarchy against the designs of Edward I who wanted to become overlord of the Scots. Wallace is best known today through the heavily fictionalised film Braveheart with Mel Gibson.
The originator of the Reformation, Luther (1483-1546) believed the Roman Catholic Church had become corrupt. He proposed a different kind of theology and (according to legend) nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenberg. Protestantism and the Reformation proved one of the most transformative forces in history.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was one of the key figures of the scientific revolution. Before him, it was widely believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth, and he dared to argue the complete opposite, despite scorn from the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo still stands for the belief that scientific inquiry must be pursued even if what it reveals is uncomfortable.
One of the key figures in anti-colonial politics, Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803) was a leader during the Haitian Revolution. The insurrection by slaves eventually defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's France and secured Haiti's independence in 1804. A classic account of the Haitian revolution was written by C L R James, The Black Jacobins (1934).
Emily Davison was a prominent suffragette, best known for her radical and often militant attitude in her fight for women’s rights. During her life she was arrested on nine occasions and became a notable member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Her gravestone bears the WSPU slogan 'Deeds not words'.
Gandhi (1869-1948) brought down the British Empire with a radical strategy: non-violence. He championed the civil rights of ordinary Indian people and became a major architect of Indian independence.
After the American Civil War, the legacy of slavery in the United States took the form of segregation in which black people were condemned to inferior facilities, education and transport. Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was a civil rights activist who in 1955 refused to sit in the black section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest sparked the Civil Rights movement and the drive to combat discrimination against black Americans.
Still one of the most controversial figures in British politics, Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) entered politics in the 1950s, a time when most people believed a woman could not be prime minister. Not only did she change that, but she rebelled against the post-war drift of politics by championing the free market.
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