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Two-minute tales from history, myth and fiction, accompanied by word games, grammar games and writing practice, all based on traditional school textbooks.

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‘Thy Necessity is Yet Greater than Mine’
Music: William Byrd
Elizabethan courtier and soldier Sir Philip Sidney shows that a nobleman can also be a gentleman.
By Fulke Greville, Baron Brooke
(1554-1628)

THE weather being misty, their troops fell fatally within shot of their [the Spanish Army’s] muskets, which were laid in ambush within their own trenches. An unfortunate hand out of those trenches brake the bone of Sir Philip’s thigh with a musket-shot. The horse he rode upon, was rather furiously choleric, than bravely proud, and so forced him to forsake the field.

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Six Posts
The Tale of Beggar’s Bridge
Music: Sir William Sterndale Bennett
The proof of Thomas Ferres’s rags-to-riches tale is quite literally written in stone, but popular lore adds some tantalising and romantic detail.

A GRACEFUL bridge over the Esk at Glaisdale bears the date 1619, and the initials T.F., for Thomas Ferres, Mayor of Hull. Thomas amassed a fortune plying the east coast as master of a trading-ship called the Francis, which he poured into housing, education and apprenticeships for the poor.

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Ranji
two-part story
Music: Frank Bridge
A young Indian student from Cambridge was selected for England’s cricket team after public pressure.

IN June 1896, the British cricketing public were grumbling about the omission of a gifted Sussex batsmen from the first Test against Australia. The issue was eligibility, as he was an Indian national, K.S. Ranjitsinhji.

But George Trott, Australia’s big-hearted captain, rubber-stamped Ranjitsinhji’s appearance in the second Test, where ‘Ranji’ repaid him by battering his bowlers around Old Trafford.

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Hyder Ali and Tipu
two-part story
Music: Johann Christian Bach
The British encountered no stouter resistance in India than Mysore’s gifted commmander Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu.

IN 1778, King Louis XVI of France declared war on Britain, and London responded by driving the colonial French out of the port of Mahé in Mysore, a kingdom in southwest India dating back to the turn of the fifteenth century.

This trespass incensed Hyder Ali, Mysore’s brilliant military commander whose hero status had already relegated King Krishnaraja Wodeyar II to a mere figurehead.

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Jemima Fawr and the Last Invasion of Britain
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams
French revolutionaries in a fleet of four ships attempted to spark a revolution in Britain.

ON 22nd February 1797, French warships landed on British soil. Flushed with recent triumphs, the French revolutionaries had dispatched a ragbag of ex-convicts and poorly trained soldiers in just four ships to liberate the British from George III’s tyranny.

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Wassail and Twelfth-Cake
Music: John Playford
When England’s Christians absorbed the pagan traditions of ‘wassailing’, they kept the fun and cast out the fear.

IN Anglo-Saxon times, the New Year greeting ‘wæs hāl’ (‘Be well!’) was followed by ‘wassail’, spiced mead or cider, and wassail-songs.

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The Return of Plum Pudding
Music: John Playford
The Puritans said it was unfit for God-fearing men, but George I thought it fit for a King.

RICH and luxurious plum pudding was banned as “unfit for God-fearing people” by the republican Puritans in 1647, prompting riots in Kent.

Christmas celebrations returned with Charles II in 1660, and in 1714 King George I requested plum pudding for his first Christmas in England, making it fashionable once again.

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All Posts
Tagged Modern History (125 posts)
page 1
1 ‘Thy Necessity is Yet Greater than Mine’
By Fulke Greville, Baron Brooke
(1554-1628)
Elizabethan courtier and soldier Sir Philip Sidney shows that a nobleman can also be a gentleman.
2 Michaelmas
A celebration of St Michael, captain of heaven’s angel host, courteous warrior, and healer.
3 An Exceptional Nation
By William Ewart Gladstone
(1808-1898)
William Gladstone explains that a truly ‘exceptional nation’ respects the equality and rights of all nations.
4 The Din of Diplomacy
By William Ewart Gladstone
(1808-1898)
William Gladstone warns voters not to leave foreign policy in the hands of interventionist politicians.
5 The Winter Queen
Conspiracies and dynastic expectations swirled around James I’s daughter from the age of nine.
6 The Outbreak of the Second World War
The only truly global conflict in history began when German troops crossed into Poland in September 1939.
page 2
7 The War of the Spanish Succession
After Louis XIV’s grandson Philip inherited the throne of Spain, the ‘Sun King’ began to entertain dreams of Europe-wide dominion.
8 Germany’s Secret Weapon
By Sir Winston S. Churchill
(1874-1965)
As a last, desperate throw of the dice in the Great War, the Germans detonated an unusual kind of weapon in St Petersburg.
9 Hooked
By Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji of Nawanagar
(1872-1933)
The great British public leaves a German tourist speechless during a county match at the Oval in London.
10 A Many-Chorded Lyre
By Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji of Nawanagar
(1872-1933)
Stylish batting in cricket is about variety, invention and frankly anything that works, and we have Dr W.G. Grace to thank for it.
11 Mir Kasim
The East India Company installed Mir Kasim as Nawab of Bengal, only to find that he had a mind of his own.
12 The Sneeze of History
By Leo Tolstoy
(1828-1910)
It was the opinion of Leo Tolstoy that even Napoleon was never master of his own destiny.
page 3
13 The Glorious First of June
Admiral Lord Howe battered a French fleet far out in the Atlantic, and helped prevent the spread of bloody revolution.
14 Kanguru!
James Cook describes his first sight of a beloved Australian icon.
15 Arthur MacPherson
MacPherson’s tireless afforts to promote Russian sport earned him a unique Imperial honour, and the enmity of the Communists.
16 The Aspden Cup
British factory workers started a historic three-cornered league in the Russian city of St Petersburg.
17 The Lion of Piraeus
A marble statue in Venice bears witness to Europe’s long history of brave defeats and fruitless victories.
18 Bede and the Paschal Controversy
The earliest Christians longed to celebrate the resurrection together at Passover, but that was not as easy as it sounds.
page 4
19 The Price of Treachery
Based on an account by Charlotte Yonge
(1823-1901)
A Danish soldier in the seventeenth century imposes the severest sentence he can think of.
20 Rebel Rugby
The Nazi-collaborating Vichy government in France paid Rugby League the supreme compliment: they banned it.
21 Rugby League
The less glamorous code of Rugby football, but the best for sheer speed and strength.
22 Hyder Ali and Tipu
The British encountered no stouter resistance in India than Mysore’s gifted commmander Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu.
23 Mothering Sunday
Mothering Sunday is a peculiarly British celebration of Christian faith, close family and responsible freedom.
24 The Reform Acts
Nineteenth-century Britain had busy industrial cities and a prosperous middle class, but no MPs to represent them.
page 5
25 Mysore’s Golden Age
The Princely State of Mysore (today in Karnataka) was hailed as an example of good governance to all the world.
26 Charles I and his Parliament
Charles took his rights and duties as a King with religious seriousness, but Parliament’s sense of both right and duty was just as strong.
27 Interregnum
When Parliament overthrew the capricious tyranny of Charles I, it discovered an uncomfortable truth about power.
28 The United States of the Ionian Islands
The British liberated the Ionian islands from Napoleon, then gave them fifty happy years and the game of cricket.
29 Captain Charles Fryatt
A civilian ferry captain was court-martialled by the Germans for thumbing his nose at their U-Boats.
30 The Battle of Flamborough Head
An American revolutionary harassed British commercial shipping off the Yorkshire coast, with mixed results.
page 6
31 St Ahmed
A Turkish official was itching to know the secret behind a Russian slave girl’s personal charm.
32 Ranji
A young Indian student from Cambridge was selected for England’s cricket team after public pressure.
33 A Selfish Liberty
By Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)
American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass contrasts two kinds of ‘nationalist’.
34 Max Woosnam
Max fully deserves his reputation as England’s greatest all-round sportsman.
35 The Grand Embassy
A young Peter the Great of Russia toured Europe seeking help for his diplomatic, military and architectural plans.
36 Douglass in Britain
Frederick Douglass, the American runaway slave turned Abolitionist, spent some of his happiest days in Britain.
page 7
37 Douglass’s Debt
By Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)
British statesmen were among those who inspired the career of one of America’s greatest men, Frederick Douglass.
38 The School of Difficulty
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
It is not educational institutions and methods that advance science or the arts, but people.
39 On Equal Terms
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
An aristocratic statesman was choked with emotion as he reflected on Britain’s creative social mobility.
40 As Good as his Word
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Benjamin Disraeli did not make a promising start to his Parliamentary career - but he did start with a promise.
41 How Britain Brought Football to Chile
British expats in Valparaíso kicked off the Chilean passion for soccer.
42 Demetrius the Diver
Based on an article by Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
A survivor of the infamous massacre of Chios in 1821 goes to Marseilles, but discovers he has not entirely left the Turks behind.
page 8
43 The Outbreak of the Great War
Germany felt she had a right to an empire like Britain’s, and she was willing to get it at the expense of her neighbours.
44 How Britain Abolished Slavery
The Church’s campaigns against slavery were boosted by competition for labour after the Black Death.
45 The Obstinacy of Fowell Buxton
Fatherless teenage tearaway Fowell Buxton was not a promising boy, but the Gurney family changed all that.
46 The Battle of Jutland
Preventing the German fleet from breaking out into the Atlantic in 1916 should have felt like victory, but it felt like defeat.
47 The Boer Wars
South African settlers of Dutch descent could not escape the march of the British Empire.
48 Wellington’s Secret
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
The future hero of Waterloo dealt with political ambush as comfortably as he dealt with the military kind.
page 9
49 The Greeks, the Governor and the Potatoes
John Kapodistrias had an instinct for how a long-oppressed people might think.
50 Richard Church
The headstrong Irish boy became part of the Greek resistance movement that won independence in 1832.
51 The Founding of Australia
Within little more than half a century a British penal colony turned into a prosperous, free-trade democracy.
52 The Battle of Britain
Britain’s desperate defence against a much larger, better-prepared military machine was a costly victory.
53 Wilfrid Israel
Wilfrid Israel used his Berlin department store as cover for smuggling thousands of Jewish children to safety in Britain.
54 Pirates at Penzance
The people of Penzance in Cornwall did not think an Algerian corsair much better than a French warship.
page 10
55 For Valour
The Victoria Cross is the highest award made to our Armed Forces.
56 ‘Really, I do not see the signal!’
Sometimes it is right to ‘turn a blind eye’.
57 The Battle of Plassey
A year after the infamous ‘Black hole of Calcutta’, Robert Clive was sent to exact retribution.
58 The Last Days of Charles II
James calls Fr Huddleston to his brother’s deathbed, ready for a most delicate task.
59 The Evacuation of Dunkirk
The fate of the British army hung by a thread in May 1940, but ships large and small, military and civilian, came to the rescue.
60 The Great Fire of London
A four-day fire in September 1666 swept the capital, and King Charles II played a heroic part as a firefighter.
page 11
61 The Jacobite Rebellions
Loyal subjects of King James II continued to fight his corner after he, and any real hope of success, had gone.
62 Victoria and the Munshi
Abdul Karim’s rapid rise in Victoria’s household made him enemies.
63 The Battle of Glen Shiel
King Philip V of Spain sent a second Spanish Armada against Britain, but it suffered much the same fate as the first.
64 David Livingstone
The Scottish missionary and medic believed that slavery could better be eradicated by trade than by force.
65 Leslie Howard
Howard gave his life to saving the ‘great gifts and strange inconsistencies’ of Britain’s unique democracy.
66 Britain’s Destiny
By Leslie Howard
(1893-1943)
In a Christmas broadcast in 1940, actor Leslie Howard explained why British sovereignty was worth fighting for.
page 12
67 Florence Nightingale
Florence used her logical mind and society connections to save thousands of lives in the Crimean War.
68 The Battle of the Somme
A British victory at tragic cost, in which both sides had to learn a new way of fighting.
69 The Normandy Landings
‘D-Day’ on 6th June, 1944, kicked off the Allied invasion of Europe and raised hopes of an end to the Second World War.
70 The Bishop’s Gambit
The mayor and bishop of Zakynthos went to extraordinary lengths to protect the most vulnerable people of their island.
71 The Falkland Islands
A proudly British group of islands far off in the South Atlantic.
72 The Ashes of English Cricket
How the cricketing rivalry between England and Australia got its name.
page 13
73 The Battle of Trafalgar
At the cost of his own life, Lord Nelson showed Napoleon that he could rule neither Britain nor the waves.
74 The Peninsular War
Napoleon’s six-year-long campaign to bring Spain and Portugal into his united Europe was frustrated by Arthur Wellesley.
75 British Mandatory Palestine
The British had some difficulty fulfilling all the promises made to their wartime Allies.
76 Lawrence of Arabia
TE Lawrence persuaded Arab rebels to help overthrow the Ottoman Empire, but could not give them the independent Kingdom they craved.
77 The Yom Kippur War
An unexpected act of war on a Jewish holy-day failed to hurt Israel, but marked a shift in British and American policy.
78 The Six-Day War
The USSR tried to draw Israel into the Cold War with the West, but Israel proved it could take care of itself.
page 14
79 The Arab-Israeli War of 1948
The newly-minted state of Israel’s Arab neighbours tried to prevent it taking shape, but ended up defining it.
80 The Suez Crisis
An Egypt independent of British rule humiliated her old colonial mistress, but began to slide into despotism.
81 The Bombardment of Algiers
For two centuries, human traffickers had stolen English men, women and children for the slave-markets of the Arab world.
82 The ‘Black Hole’ of Calcutta
The inhuman cruelty of the Nawab of Bengal’s men brought swift retribution on their master.
83 Courage Under Fire
Robert Clive turned seven hundred frightened recruits into crack troops by sheer force of personality.
84 The Case of Jonathan Strong
Granville Sharp and his surgeon brother William rescued a young African man from the streets of London.
page 15
85 Kipling and ‘Agamemnon’
Both Rudyard Kipling and the Royal Navy saw Greek sovereignty as a universal symbol of freedom.
86 Grace Darling
Mild-mannered Grace Darling persuaded her father to let her help him rescue the survivors of a shipwreck.
87 Sharp’s Castle
At Bamburgh, John Sharp organised free healthcare and education, bargain groceries, and the world’s first coastguard service.
88 The Man who Made the Headlines
William Stead conceived modern print journalism in the belief that newspapers could change the world.
89 The Crimean War
It was the first war to be covered by embedded correspondents, and the public did not like what they read.
90 Mathieu Martinel and the Drowning Soldier
Based on an account by Charlotte Yonge
(1823-1901)
A young French cavalry soldier took a tremendous risk to rescue a drowning man.
page 16
91 The Pig-and-Potato War
In 1859, peaceful co-existence on the Canadian border was severely tested by a marauding pig.
92 West Auckland, European Champions
A team of amateurs gave Europe’s finest a drubbing.
93 The Battle of Waterloo
Napoleon’s idea of government was so oppressive that Wellington’s victory is one of the most important events in European history.
94 The Balfour Declaration of 1917
The former Prime Minister threw his weight behind a national home for Jewish people in their historic lands.
95 Winston Churchill’s Final Journey
The heroic and charismatic statesman’s last journey was replete with echoes of his extraordinary life.
96 Captain Moorsom’s ‘Revenge’
The Whitby man held his nerve to keep five enemy ships busy at Trafalgar, and subsequently led Nelson’s funeral procession.
page 17
97 Wassail and Twelfth-Cake
When England’s Christians absorbed the pagan traditions of ‘wassailing’, they kept the fun and cast out the fear.
98 The Love of the Lindseys
Based on an account by Charlotte Yonge
(1823-1901)
Young Montague Bertie, Lord Willougby, tended his dying father behind enemy lines.
99 The Character of Horatio Lord Nelson
By The Revd Alexander Scott
(1768-1840)
High praise from someone who knew him better than most.
100 The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688
King James II was forced off the throne in favour of his daughter Mary, and a new English constitution was born.
101 The Repeal of the Corn Laws
The rest of Britain was paying dearly for job security and high wages in Britain’s agriculture industry.
102 Jemima Fawr and the Last Invasion of Britain
French revolutionaries in a fleet of four ships attempted to spark a revolution in Britain.
page 18
103 Queen Charlotte’s Christmas Tree
Cromwell’s killjoys almost silenced the English Christmas, but thanks to a royal family tradition the message is still being proclaimed.
104 The Return of Plum Pudding
The Puritans said it was unfit for God-fearing men, but George I thought it fit for a King.
105 The Third Siege of Missolonghi
The cruelty of the Ottoman Turks so shocked Europe that the tide of opinion turned against them.
106 Byron and Hercules
Lord Byron could not have hoped for a better omen in his support for the oppressed people of Greece.
107 Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
Only an anonymous tip-off prevented England losing her sovereignty as well as her King.
108 Armistice Day
Armistice Day is the anniversary of the end of the First World War on the 11th of November, 1918.
page 19
109 The Calendar ‘English Style’
An English monk warned of a flaw in the world’s most widely-used calendar.
110 The Indian Mutiny
Army unrest spread throughout northeast India, and brought direct rule from London.
111 The Massacre at Amritsar
After one of the worst outrages in modern British history, Winston Churchill made sure there was no cover-up.
112 The Siege of Khartoum
General Gordon’s death was a sensation and a scandal in its day.
113 Clive of India
Robert Clive helped to establish a lasting bond between India and Britain, laying the foundations of modern India.
114 The Anglo-Zanzibar War
It lasted barely forty minutes, but it brought slavery to an end in the little island territory.
page 20
115 Cecil Rhodes
The ruthless diamond magnate who donated his fortune to the education and empowerment of Africans.
116 The Boston Tea Party
In the time of King George III, Parliament forgot that its job was not to regulate the people, but to represent them.
117 The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
When Parliament sent the Army against American colonists, people still calling themselves ‘British’ had to decide very quickly what that meant to them.
118 The ‘Jay Treaty’
The Jay Treaty can be seen as the start of the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America.
119 The Siege of Arcot
By Thomas Babington Macaulay
(1800-1859)
A young Robert Clive’s extraordinary daring helped to prevent India falling into the hands of the French King.
120 In the Nick of Time
Thomas Lewis was rescued from slavery with only minutes to spare.
page 21
121 The Persistence of Thomas Clarkson
Today, the slave trade is a £150bn global business. Back in the late 18th century, it was making a lot of influential people very rich too, but some in England were determined to stop it.
122 Somersett’s Case
James Somersett’s new Christian family used every available means to keep him from slavery.
123 Heads I Win, Tails You Lose!
By Charles H. Ross
(1835-1897)
(That’s cat-tails, obviously.) And who ever said cats were unpredictable?
124 An Agent of the Crown
Rascally republican Thomas Blood was usually to be found in any conspiracy against the King, but even when he stole the Crown Jewels the King never seemed to mind...
125 The Tale of Beggar’s Bridge
The proof of Thomas Ferres’s rags-to-riches tale is quite literally written in stone, but popular lore adds some tantalising and romantic detail.
Authors
1 post
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
2 posts
2 posts
1 post
Leslie Howard (1893-1943)
1 post
Charles H. Ross (1835-1897)
1 post
1 post
Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)
4 posts
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
1 post
which is ‘English Style’ ?

Word Play: Verb or Noun?

Use each of the words below once as a noun and once as a verb:

Visit. Cause. Fear.

JB Cramer was one of the finest pianists of his day, though his reverence for Mozart made his own music more popular in the drawing room than the concert hall.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley says that the pinnacle of political achievement is the government not of others, but of ourselves.
By John Keats
(1795-1821)
Poet John Keats speaks of the beauties of Autumn, her colours, her sounds and her rich harvest.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Shelley calls on November’s sister months to watch by the graveside of the dead Year.
Cut
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Polyword ‘Otter’
Make as many words as you can with the letters below. All your words must be at least four letters long, and must also include the highlighted letter. What’s the nine-letter word?

SEE how many words you can make using the letters below. All your words must be at least 4 letters long, and must include the letter (change).

We found commonly used words, plus one 9-letter word. Can you do better?

Use each letter only once. But if there are e.g. two As, you can used them both.

Don’t count proper nouns such as April, Zeus, or Newcastle (pretty much anything that has to be spelled with a capital letter at the start), or acronyms like HMRC.

Don’t just add -S for plurals or third person singular verbs, e.g. CAT → CATS or SPEAK → SPEAKS.

Note: You can find more Polywords and other games on our Nine Lives puzzle page, and most of our stories are accompanied by games with words, grammar and numbers.

More Puzzles
An arithmetical puzzle combining addition, subtraction, division, multiplication and fractions.
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with LESS and finish with MORE.
Find the magic letter that can change three words into three different ones.
For each of these things, select the most apposite word of praise.
Changing one letter at a time, see if you can start with TOWN and finish with CITY.
See if you can guess these words letter-by-letter.
A word-making and word-searching game with a dash of strategy to it.
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letters game

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