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Key British History for Levelling Up Your Literature Grades or Preparing to Move to the UK

When students are preparing to move to the UK for school or university, they dedicate lots of effort to preparing academically in English, Maths and any other required subjects. However, an area often neglected is History! Whilst it is unlikely a school will set a history-based entrance test, having a basic understanding of key historical events and periods will help students in three key ways:

  • Understanding the historical context of literature (important for English entrance exams);
  • ‘Hitting the ground running’ with History at their new UK school;
  • Understanding more about the place they are moving to, and being more able to pick up on references to historical events that may come up in conversation in the classroom or with their new friends.

Here are my recommendations for the 3 most significant periods of British history to familiarise yourself with before you move, along with some reading recommendations:

The Tudor Era (1485 – 1603)

The Tudors were a family of English kings and queens who ruled England (and sometimes other parts of the world) through some significant moments in history. Henry VIII is perhaps the most famous, remembered for having six wives (some he even had beheaded!) and creating the Church of England. There is lots of complicated religious history connected to the Tudors, but the important part to know is that divisions were between Catholics and Protestants (two types of Christians). Elizabeth I was the final Tudor monarch. Under her reign, Britain expanded its empire (took control of countries overseas) and William Shakespeare began writing and performing plays.

Reading recommendations: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Leon Garfield adaptation of Shakespeare’s play; or The Tudor Queen from the My Story series for younger readers.

The Victorian Era (1820s – 1900s)

Mostly based around the reign of Queen Victoria (queen 1837-1901), this period in history is mostly known for the advances in industry, technology, art, literature, and education that meant that the differences between rich and poor people in Britain grew larger and larger. This is a time when the poor were very poor (think of children cleaning chimneys and terrible living conditions), and the rich became richer and more educated.

Reading recommendations: Anything by Charles Dickens (including adapted readers); or Street Child by Berlie Doherty.

The World Wars

Technically this is two periods of history quite close together.

World War I (1914-1918) involved many European countries like Britain, Germany, France and Russia. Most of the fighting took place in either France or Russia and soldiers used trenches in the ground to protect themselves from the opposing side.

Reading recommendation: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

World War II (1939-1945) didn’t happen too long afterwards, but the fighting happened in quite a different way due to new inventions and developing technology. Normal people in cities experienced air raids (bombs dropped by aeroplanes) and rationing (limits on food they could buy). Terrible things happened to ordinary people across the world during this war, and almost every place was affected, including Hong Kong.

There are many monuments to the soldiers and civilians who died during these wars across Britain and Europe, and you can often see poppies (red and black flowers) laid there.

Reading recommendation: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr; or Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian.