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Five Surprising Things About UK History (For Foreigners)

Five Surprising Things About UK History (For Foreigners)

A picture of a castle by a lake.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m British, but I’m also an expat – meaning that I don’t currently live in the UK, and I spend a lot of time with people from a variety of nationalities.

I’m really enjoying this stage of my life where I’m seeing what life is like beyond my comfort zone, but one situation that it does create, is the rather funny feeling you get when you see your culture reflected back at you through the eyes of people who know about it from films, TV shows, or (in some cases) really bad history classes at school.

So, this blog post is about the things that blow people’s minds when I tell them about UK history.


We Tried The Whole Being A Republic Thing Before It Was Cool


From talking to people from different countries, it’s clear that the royal family is one of the first things that come to mind when people think about my country, which is fair enough – as they’re pretty famous.

What many people are shocked to learn, is that the UK has actually been a republic. In fact, we tried the whole killing off our king thing long before France made it cool.

We got royally fed up with King Charles I and actually ended up chopping his head off. Oliver Cromwell replaced him as a kind of military dictator, but many people weren’t much of a fan of him either. So much so, that when they got the chance, they brought King Charles I’s son back to the UK from exile in Europe (including France – which, ironically, was apparently a safe haven for royalty at the time) to crown him king.


Our Class System Has Evolved Since Downton Abbey


So, this one is kind of sweet, honestly. I get a lot of people who come up and talk to me about the UK and seem to think that the UK still has a really rigid class system as well as the really rigid social rules that go along with that.

In fact, I had a conversation with someone recently who even thought that there was still no intermarriage between people of different classes in the UK.

This is definitely not true.

Just take Prince William as an example. He will be king when his dad King Charles dies and his wife – Kate – did not come from an aristocratic family. Some of her ancestors include coal miners and builders and I don’t know anybody in the UK who isn’t okay with that.

Now I love Downton Abbey – apart from when Sybil died (wasn’t a fan of that) – but I’m definitely grateful that British people are not living like that today and I think pretty much every British person I know would agree with me that judging somebody based on their socioeconomic background is not okay.

That being said, I’m not saying that the UK is perfect and has totally eliminated the bad parts of this particular inheritance – but it’s definitely evolved since Downton Abbey.


Margaret Thatcher Is Not The Beloved Figure Many People Think She Is


So, this one isn’t actually one that I’ve particularly picked up from people, but it’s definitely one I’ve picked up from films and TV shows. Specifically, the TV show Suits. I don’t know if you’ve seen this show about lawyers in New York, but there’s a moment where a British lawyer begins to develop feelings for a redheaded American female character called Donna. When asked about her he admits that he likes her and, apparently to illustrate this, draws a comparison between her and (of all people) the first female prime minister of the UK – Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher.

I mean, there’s not a single British man I could think of or imagine who would admit to being attracted to Margaret Thatcher.

I’m not saying that she’s universally disliked – although there is a fairly large proportion of the population who actively hate her – but she’s definitely not liked nearly enough for anybody in the UK to want to openly admit to having a crush on her.

That being said, the British character in Suits turns out to be a bad guy – so maybe that was meant to be the first clue that he was well … a bit odd.


Margaret Thatcher Was Not The First Fiery Redheaded Female Leader The UK Has Seen


Most people I meet from other countries, as we’ve established, know about Margaret Thatcher.

What surprises many is that she’s not all that unique in the course of British history.

Yes, she was the first female British prime minister. That being said, she certainly wasn’t the first female British leader – not even the first female British leader with red hair (although, technically, she was a natural blonde earlier in life).

The UK has had many strong female leaders and amongst the most notable are a fair number who are thought to have been redheads.

Some of them have gone down in history as great leaders, whilst others are remembered with far more controversy.


English Is Not The Only Language To Have Been Born On The British Isles


Once upon a time many years ago, nobody spoke English on the British Isles.

Before the Anglo-Saxons arrived on the British Isles (who would speak an early form of English referred to as Old English), England did not exist nor the language that would come from it. Instead, this area was mainly inhabited by Celtic Britons who had their own language and culture.

Nowadays, there are several official native languages of the UK, some of which grew from the language of the Celtic Britons (Welsh and Cornish), while others (such as Gaelic and Irish) came from another Celtic people group known as the Gaels. These languages are most likely to be heard in rural areas. There are also many efforts in schools to revive them among young people.


What Do You Think?


Which was the most surprising fact in this post?

Are there are facts you know about UK history that usually surprise people?

What facts do you know about your country that people don’t usually know about?

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