Observing history

I am fascinated at the moment by characters in history that witnessed so much in their own lifetime.  For instance, I am doing some background work on William Marshall, 1st earl of Pembroke.  This knight witnessed 4 different English kings rule, a civil war, the 3rd Crusade (with Richard the Lionheart), the great jousting tournaments in which he also participated, the 1st Baron’s War and the signing of the Magna Carta, to name but a few events.  He was also made a Knights Templar on his deathbed and was buried in Temple Church, London.  To say the least he lived in an eventful period!

As a period it can be looked back on now as ground breaking, the beginning of modern British politics and the foundation of what this country would become.  But what would it have meant to old William? . . . if you were waiting for an answer, I don’t have one yet!

However, a thought arises from our own times.  Times in which, in my own life, we have seen the first African-American become president – what a momentous occasion that will go down in history . . . but for what reason?  It is easy to get carried away with our own thoughts on the event, but he is not the first “first” leader of a country.

There was, of course, Thatcher, the first female PM of Britain, who smashed the glass ceiling and proved women were as valued in society as men . . . didn’t she?  What is she remembered for?  Aren’t women still victims of the glass ceiling?  Did that momentous event change the world dramatically in terms of gender divide?  Probably not, it was part of a much larger movement that is still in fruition today; but historians will point at it in a few centuries time as a vital moment – like the signing of the Magna Carta.

What I find intriguing is whether these events that we look back on as pivotal moments in history had anywhere near the impact that we want them to have had?  Perhaps best summed up in the Magna Carta, which after being signed was quickly ignored and the Baron’s War broke out as a result.  What would people like William Marshall have thought at these historic points?  Would he be shocked of what we now think of it?  Will we be shocked by how Thatcher and Obama are remembered?  Just a thought.

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