Nine in 10 ignorant about Civil War

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The Independent Online

It is one of the key events in British history. It lasted for almost two decades, changed the course of world politics, raged the length and breadth of the country and led to a king's head being cut off and stuck on a spike. So, what is it? The English Civil War. Didn't know? You're far from alone.

It is one of the key events in British history. It lasted for almost two decades, changed the course of world politics, raged the length and breadth of the country and led to a king's head being cut off and stuck on a spike. So, what is it? The English Civil War. Didn't know? You're far from alone.

Tomorrow marks the 358th anniversary of the Battle of Edgehill, the start of the war, and a survey of 1,000 people for the Independent on Sunday reveals a startling lack of knowledge among them about this, one of the cornerstones of British national identity.

NOP found 90 per cent of the population could not name a single battle from the war. Even more surprisingly, 80 per cent could not name the king who lost his head in 1649.

"The fact that Charles I was executed at the end of the war was the most important single event in English history," said Professor Bernard Capp, a specialist in 16th- and 17th-century history at Warwick University. "But to the public today, it was just people dressed in funny clothes doing things hundreds of years ago.

"The development of Parliament was crucially determined by the events of the Civil War. In the generations that followed, the legacy of the revolution had an important impact on the continent, and the American Revolution."

Professor Capp believes that the widespread ignorance of such a significant historical area is part of a broad education problem. "There has been a very conscious attempt by the Government to marginalise history. It has explicitly been given a second ranking to science, maths and English in schools. People are arriving at university now with minimal coverage of our societies before the Industrial Revolution."

Grant Bage, a lecturer at the School of Education in Cambridge, said: "It is very worrying that children can come out of school with a fragmented knowledge of the Civil War. It is one of the turning points in English and British history."

Mr Bage, a member of the primary committee of the Historical Association, added: "It would be shocking if French kids didn't know who lost his head on the guillotine in 1793."

British children are unusual in Europe in having the option of giving up history at the age of 14. They have only one opportunity to study the Civil War, at Key Stage 3, for the ages 11 to 14. Even that is only the broad historical period between 1500 and 1750.

Martin Roberts, historian, author and headmaster of Cherwell School, Oxford, said that that time span covered "topics which are much more interesting for children, and easier to teach - Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada". He added: "It is a frantic dash through. There is so little history on the curriculum now, the Civil War is not getting the attention it deserves."

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