Can You Get Full Marks on This British History Quiz?


By: Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: GoranQ / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Britain stands in the center of the world history for much of the modern age. Britain was the driving force behind much of the Industrial Revolution. The British Empire left its mark on former colonies, even influencing the cultures of specific industries. The form of democracy evolved within the British Isles influenced the American government, and even now is the reason that Hong Kong remains nominally democratic.

British history can be divided into periods, each with its own relative problems and successes. No period of British history is without its horrors, nor is any entirely devoid of hope or light. Physically separated from Europe, Britain has had the space to grow, mostly unmolested by the constant warring that defines much of European history. 

When British historians looked for a term for the time before the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror, the expression they coined was "time immemorial."  This suggests that all events before the arrival of the Duke of Normandy were of an age unimportant and out of memory. In truth, this was a canny effort by the Normans to put their stamp on British culture, expunging the importance of all history before 1066. This doesn't make the events prior to the Norman conquest any less important. Can you even recall the past century, though? Now is the time to find out.

What material constituted the bulk of the building materials used in Anglo-Saxon castles?

It was not until the arrival of William the Conqueror that Britain would see stone castles. Prior to this, castles were predominantly made of wood, relying on earthworks for the bulk of their protection, and wood as an easy material with which to build, and repair.


What is the name of the foundational document of the British form of government?

Signed by King John in 1215, Magna Carta, the "Great Charter," established the basics of the British representational government, including the bicameral houses (Lords and Commons). Not initially considered a "constitution" in the modern sense, it became the de facto British constitution as legal scholars began citing it as such in the 16th century.


When did Britain become an island?

Before 6000 BC, the topography of Europe was very different. The Ice Age eroded the land connecting Britain to Europe, but the melting of the ice also buried the exposed ground under what would come to be called the English Channel. Prior to this, Britain was not only part of Europe, but it was also home to prehistoric giant beavers, mammoths and Neanderthals.


What was the name of the first locomotive?

The Rocket may be the most famous of early locomotives, but that is largely due to being an early example of successful marketing and a bit of accidental success. The Rocket featured many of the technologies we now associate with locomotives, but its demonstration, which led to the first railway death as it hit someone on the tracks, came long after Richard Trevithick's much earlier, unnamed locomotives hauled heavy cargo.


From where did Boudica come?

Boudica, the famous British warrior who fought the Romans in 60 and 61 AD, came from a tribe in Norfolk. She and her husband were members of a Celtic tribe called the Iceni, and when Rome ignored their will and seized their lands, Boudica was inspired to lead a rebellion.


Can you recall which king was the first King of England?

While many kingdoms existed in England before his reign, it was not until the time of King Athelstan that there was a Kingdom of England. Before this, his predecessors were simply Kings of Wessex, etc. This would include King Aethelred of Wessex, often called Aethelred I, despite not being a King of England. In truth, Aethelred the Unready should be considered Aethelred I.


Who was the first Briton in space?

Though Helen Sharman could technically be considered a cosmonaut, not an astronaut, because it was Russia who put her in space, Helen Sharman can lay claim to being the first Briton in space and the first woman to visit the Mir Space Station. A chemist by training, her work with chocolate led to her being dubbed "The Girl from Mars" in the press.


What is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry?

The Bayeux Tapestry is the famous visual record of the Battle of Hastings, the event that began the reign of William the Conqueror. While hardly a photographic record, it gives a sense of the scope of the invasion, the people involved, and the way they saw things in victory.


When was Queen Elizabeth II's coronation?

Princess Elizabeth formally became Queen Elizabeth II on the second of June, 1953, at the tender age of 25. The longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth has been the monarch for so long, it is hard to imagine any other arrangement. Previously, the longest-reigning British monarch was Queen Victoria.


Can you recall which city is the home of The Beatles?

Perhaps it was fate that meant The Beatles would come into existence in Liverpool. Liverpool was a place where, thanks to the presence of trade, many American jazz records would find purchase in England, meaning that young musicians could listen to them and be inspired by them. As a result, it was four musicians from Liverpool who became The Beatles.


Who was King of England before William the Conqueror?

When King William I arrived in England and fought the Battle of Hastings, he faced King Harold Godwinson, who died in that battle. Before Harold being King of England, Edward the Confessor was King, preceded by Harthacnut, who was the son of Cnut, who was the son of Sweyn Forkbeard. Edgar Ætheling had been selected as King by the Witenagemot but never crowned; thus he isn't counted as King of England.


What vehicle was prized in the 1970s and 1980s because it had very low insurance costs?

The Reliant Robin was not reliable. It was not powerful. It was not attractive. It was not even safe. It was, however, only a three-wheeled car, which meant that as far as insurance companies were concerned, it was a motorcycle, and did not require the higher rates charged to the owners of other cars.


What other nation was once part of the kingdom that included England?

For a brief time, England, Norway and Denmark were three lands held by one monarch. This happened when the King of Denmark, Sweyn Forkbeard, took England from King Aethelred, and later, when his son, King Cnut, was King. Cnut lost Norway.


What was the name of much of the north of England for a period of the dark ages?

The ninth century saw the expansion of the Danes into England. Previously content to raid and return to Denmark, this time, the Danes settled in the north, founding towns such as Jorvik (York). As Danish law prevailed in these lands, rather than Mercian or West Saxon law, it was named The Danelaw.


Which monarch is responsible for the most popular English translation of the Bible?

King James VI and I was the monarch who reigned when the English translation of the Bible known as the King James Bible was completed. Previous English translations had been commissioned under King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.


How did Pitt the Younger ensure the vote to cripple the trans-Atlantic slave trade would go his way?

Facing powerful opposition to his efforts to end the slave trade, Pitt the Younger persuaded many of his fellow MPs to vote for the measure that effectively ended the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Sadly, this wasn't enough to pass the bill, so on the day of the otherwise unannounced vote, he had an ally distribute free tickets to a horse race among his opponents. They did not appear for the vote.


What was the final instruction given to all students by WW2 commando instructor William E. Fairbairn?

William E. Fairbairn was a tough-as-nails policeman who had learnt his trade in Asia, where knowing how to fight with knives was particularly useful. When the Allies needed someone to run their commando school, he was selected. Students of his often recall that after instructing them on how to respond to any attack, the engagement should end with a blow to the crotch.


Which famous inventor was actually born in Edinburgh?

Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and innovator in other areas of science, was born in Edinburgh to a family including both deaf people and academics whose work was in elocution. He would later move to America and Canada, which is where he passed away.


What king succeeded King Aethelred of England the first time?

Sweyn Forkbeard was a very ambitious man. He overthrew his father, the Danish King Harald Bluetooth (yes, that Bluetooth) to become King of Denmark and Norway, and later invaded England, burning London and seizing power. He didn't last long, though, dying a few weeks later.


What major change to agriculture transformed the societal infrastructure of England in the tenth century?

Before hay, livestock had to be grazed in water meadows. By being able to cultivate hay, land could be used more flexibly. This lead to the stripping of the land owned by churls (landowning peasants) and the creation of the Commons. It also meant forcing peasants to live in towns to keep watch over them and ensure they paid their significant taxes.


Do you know which British film about Olympic runners won the Best Picture Oscar in 1982?

"Chariots of Fire" was a groundbreaking film and made to an excellent standard. It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Costume Design. It also won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and was nominated for 11 BAFTAs, of which it won three.


Which British carmaker had the most recent dalliance with Mercedes-Benz?

While McLaren was part of the team behind the legendary Mercedes-Benz SLR supercar 20 years ago, Aston Martin lays claim to the most recent collaboration with the German automaker. Right now, Aston Martin sources engines for all its new, petrol-powered vehicles from the German tuning company AMG, a division of Mercedes-Benz.


What was the original name of the London Eye?

While the London Eye has been forced to endure all these names as it has become the site of major corporate branding, it was originally called the Millennium Wheel, as it was intended as a temporary attraction for the colloquial turn of the millennium from 1999 to 2000 (the actual millennium changed in 2001). It was supposed to open on New Year's Eve, 1999, but technical problems kept it from working for several months.


What King of England was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth?

Much maligned King Richard III's reputation has suffered greatly as a result of the biographical play by William Shakespeare. Accused of being behind the deaths of the Princes of The Tower, he was defeated by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. His play was written during the reign of one of Henry Tudor's descendants.


Of what geographic origin is the stone used to build the original portions of The Tower of London?

When William the Conqueror took England, he wanted to build an exceptional castle in his new capital. As his predecessor had completed Westminster Abbey, after making a deal with the people of London so that they would allow him to enter peacefully, he put his architects to work in 1078. To ensure his new stone castle would stand out, he imported stone from France with which its central structures were built.


What was the first stone castle built in Britain?

Completed in 1070, Chepstow Castle is the first stone castle built in Britain by William the Conqueror. Building began in 1067, and the castle would become an essential part of the Norman conquest of Wales, though it would later fall into disuse and disrepair.


In which town is the site of the Battle of Hastings located?

While the town of Hastings is the namesake of the Battle of Hastings, the name of the contemporary municipality that is the location of the actual battlefield is the town of Battle, just outside of Hastings. Similarly, the Battle of Waterloo was fought in the towns of Braine-l'Alleud and Lasne, not Waterloo, and the Woodstock Music Festival of 1969 was held in Saugerties, New York, not Woodstock, New York.


What was the name of the WW2 spy agency operating outside of the auspices of MI-6?

The Special Operations Executive was a branch of the Ministry of Economic Warfare conducting top-secret operations against the Axis Powers in WW2. Comprised of the castoffs and misfits who would never even be interviewed by MI-6, the SOE sent its agents to teach insurgent groups like the French Resistance how to make bombs and what to attack for the greatest strategic effect.


What year was William Wallace executed?

Scottish rebel William Wallace, who led a rebellion that succeeded in defeating an English army at the Battle of Sterling Bridge, was captured and executed by the King of England. After his execution, his remains were publicly displayed. Seven years later, Robert the Bruce would lead Scotland to victory against England at The Battle of Bannockburn.


Do you remember the name of the type of monument erected to commemorate the end of WW1?

1919 saw the erection of Sir Edwin Lutyens's monument to the dead of WW1 whose remains could not be found, and who were left somewhere in the theatre of war where they fell. The name "cenotaph" derives from the Greek for "tomb," and the design of Lutyens's monument at Whitehall became the inspiration for cenotaphs the world over.


What was the name given to the life peers appointed during the years Tony Blair was PM?

Indeed, when Tony Blair saw to the elevation of political allies during his time as PM and head of "New Labour," this was seen as a cynical power grab. One result was the name given to his appointed Lords, Tony's Cronies. This name was not limited to his friends who received life peerages, but anyone who was given power under the suspicion of being nothing more than the recipient of nepotism.


Do you know the given name of Queen Victoria?

Named for her godfather, Czar Alexander of Russia, Queen Victoria's given name was Alexandrina, or "Drina" for short when she was young. Upon ascending to the throne, she decided to forego Alexandrina for her middle name, Victoria. Had she not done this, Victorians would be known as Alexandrinians.


Which of the following Prime Ministers had a speech impediment?

Sir Winston Churchill is remembered for his accomplishments, and occasionally his failures, but one thing that is not widely known about him is that he had a speech impediment. While it's not entirely clear which modern term would be applied to his speech disability, it is thought he had lateral or "side discharge" lisp, garbling "s" sounds. With his affected manner of speaking, Churchill overcame this gracefully.


What athletic facility at Hampton Court once used by Henry VIII remains in use to this day?

Henry VIII was a keen athlete, a quality which ultimately led to his horrific fall from a horse and a broken leg that would never quite heal for the rest of his days. Tennis was a sport he particularly enjoyed, but at the time, it was an indoor sport, and the tennis courts at Hampton Court were built indoors. Today, it is a club where anyone can play, provided they become members.


What was the name of the leader of the engineer who built the Great Western Railway?

The Industrial Revolution saw the rise of many great British inventors and civil engineers. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was not only one of the finest minds, but also one of the most accomplished of all. The architect of much of the new, Victorian infrastructure, he designed the Box Tunnel, steamships, The Clifton Suspension Bridge and other engineering marvels.


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