1066 and All That

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1066 and All That, by W. C. Sellar and E. J. Yeatman, is a classic work of humor that pretends to be a history of England. It was first published in 1930 and has been so popular that it has stayed in print ever since. Its full title is:

1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates.

People who are studying English history appreciate its muddled, tongue-in-cheek humor. According to Sellar and Yeatman, for example, what they call the "Magna Charter" said

  • That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason—(except the Common People);
  • That everyone should be free—(except the Common People);
  • That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm—(except the Common People)

and concludes that "Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People)."[1]

1066 is a reference to the year the Battle of Hastings was fought, a date that all English schoolchildren memorize, like 1776 in the United States; it is one of Sellar and Yeatman's "2 Genuine Dates," the other being 55 B.C. when Julius Caesar led the first Roman invasion of Britain.

Its impact since 1930 has been enormous. It has been a successful stage show, and has also been serialised on radio; its title has passed into the language as a phrase in its own right. Sellar and Yeatman were aiming to produce a work far more complex than just a parody of history, however - they were mocking the simplistic and didactic manner in which English history was then taught to children. The title is drawn from the general observation that for all the emphasis on memorizing dates that made up so much of history teaching, few people remembered more than two: 1066 and 55 BC. (and the day and month of the Gunpowder Plot, "though not, of course, the year").[2]


References

  1. Sellar, W.C. and Yeatman, R.J., 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England London: Methuen (1930) 1998 reprint ISBN 0-4137-7270-5
  2. Sellar, Yeatman, op cit.
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