Sinners and a saint head 10 centuries of villains





WHEN Channel 4 recently polled its viewers to find the Britons We Love To Hate, the list was led by politicians and television personalities from Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher to Jordan and Jade Goody. The latest list of Britons we like to hiss is, however, more Blackadder than Big Brother.

Chosen by professional historians who nominated a villain from each of the past 10 centuries, the list includes a king, a serial killer, several lawyers and, more controversially, a saint.

According to Prof John Hudson, of St Andrews University, St Thomas Becket (c. 1120-1170) should be accorded a place in the roll of dishonour, published today by the BBC's History magazine.

Despite his canonisation following his murder in Canterbury Cathedral, Becket was a founder of "gesture politics with the most acute of eyes for what would now be called the photo opportunity'', said Prof Hudson.

More tellingly, he said, Becket carried over his personal greed and arrogance as Henry II's chancellor into his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, where he caused as much trouble as he could between Church and State. He was also a lawyer.

The second archbishop in the list, Thomas Arundel (1353-1414), was nominated by Prof Miri Rubin of Queen Mary, University of London, for introducing a crackdown on religious dissent in England which had otherwise escaped the Inquisition.

Another on the list of Worst Britons is Hugh Despenser (c. 1290-1326), the favourite of Edward II who took over as the apple of the king's eye after the deposition and murder of Piers Gaveston. Despenser took apparent delight in torturing noblewomen in order to get them to sign over their lands to him.

The treachery of Eadric Streona, ealdorman, or earl, of Mercia (d. 1017), earns him a place on the list. He repaid the kindness of Aethelred the Unready , who raised him from "ignoble birth'', by betraying him and his heir Edmund Ironside to Cnut (Canute) of the Danes.

King John (1167-1216) breezes into the list, of course. Described by the historian Marc Morris as "clearly one of the worst kings in English history'', he is singled out for opprobrium for his murder, possibly carried out in person, of his nephew Arthur....



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