To provide guiding light for our future, it is good practice to look back into the past. Our history is littered with inspirational men and women whose courage and ingenuity have dragged us forward as a society, and a species, into a new dawn. In this blog, we’ve put together a list of inspiring historical male figures for whom the consequences of their deeds and ideas have echoed down the ages. The actions of all of these men have had a profound influence upon aspects of our lives now. Be they in the fields of the arts and culture, the sciences, or even military endeavour, these men are giants. However, you may not have heard of all of them…
1. Alfred the Great
We’re sure you know the name, but you might not know the story. It is in fact, though, the story of how England came to exist as we know it. Alfred was king of Wessex from 871 – 899. Wessex was a kingdom in the south of Britain, at a time when the island was divided into several separate kingdoms – as disparate from one another as modern nations. In this Anglo-Saxon era, the word ‘England’ was essentially never used, or even considered an existent concept.
Alfred spent much of his reign defending Wessex, and latterly much of Britain, from Viking invasions. Whilst he was successful in continually repelling conquest, Alfred was not an avid militaristic leader. Rather, he was a pious and gracious individual who believed in the power of education, and advocated for basic education in English to be made available for all.
Much more than glory in battle, Alfred dreamed of, and worked tirelessly for, peace. He dreamed of an England not at war with itself, but instead standing as a single nation. He dreamed of a united Britain, united under one king and one God.
After keeping his land out of Viking hands successfully, Alfred began his work bringing his nation together. He died before this mission was complete. It was, however, achieved under the rule of his grandson, Æthelstan, whom many regard as the first King of England. The first idea of England, however, was Alfred the Great’s.
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Whilst the sheer magnificence of his name alone may have proved enough for Isambard Kingdom Brunel to make this list, he is in fact impressive, and inspirational for many more reasons. As a mechanical and civil engineer, Brunel is regarded as a genius in his field. He was a leading figure in the industrial revolution, during the early-mid 19th Century, who forever altered the land of Britain with his designs and constructions.
Brunel’s vison and ingenuity were the driving force behind the building of the first ever tunnel beneath a navigable river, and the construction of the SS Great Britain, at the time the largest ship in the world.
Other constructs for which Brunel is remembered include the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Great Western Railway network. This rail network was considered one of the wonders of Britain in Isambard’s Victorian age, and it connected London or Bristol and Exeter. Brunel’s work on the Great Western Railway included designing Paddington Station.
3. Alan Turing
Born in London, in 1912, Alan Turing grew up to become quite the polymath. His endeavours included work and study as a computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, biologist and philosopher.
Turing is perhaps best remembered for his efforts in developing theories upon the applications and possibilities of computer science. This is exemplified by the Turing machine, the name given to his mathematical model for a computing machine. This was one of the earliest hints as to what power may lay in the future of computing.
During the Second World War, Turing made himself a national hero. In this time, he worked as a codebreaker for Britain, at the Government Code and Cypher school. Turing played a major part in breaking codes that gave Allied Forces crucial intel which helped them defeat the Nazis in several major confrontations. Turing’s other contributions included the invention of a machine that allowed the cracking of the Enigma machine.
4. Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution through natural selection. Didn’t he? Well, no, not quite. In fact, Alfred Russel Wallace independently conceived of this theory, in all probability, prior to Darwin – although it was close. Wallace and Darwin actually exchanged letters expanding and expounding upon their theories together.
Wallace wasn’t driven by a desire to make his name the most prominent in the field of natural science, preferring instead to immerse himself in field work. Wallace and Darwin remained friends, and Darwin made efforts to ensure Wallace received a government pension. Wallace had financial difficulties throughout his life, having to sell his collection of specimens to fund his expeditions. Unlike Darwin, and many of his other peers, Wallace didn’t hail from a monied family.
Wallace’s relationship with the rest of the scientific community was regularly strained – often denying him much of the credit and acclaim to which he was due. The scientific establishment struggled with Wallace’s advocacy of spiritualism. Wallace was also a social activist, campaigning passionately against what he considered to be an unfair social and economic system. He was also amongst the first scientific figures to raise concerns about the impact of human activity upon the environment.
5. Christopher Marlowe
Christopher, or ‘Kit’, Marlowe, was an Elizabethan playwright, and the leading tragedian of the time. Born in the same year as William Shakespeare, Marlowe’s works were great influence upon the Bard.
Marlowe most successful plays included Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine the Great, and Dido, Queen of Carthage. Beyond his literary prowess, what little we know about Marlowe’s life is that he gained a reputation as a Hellraiser. He has been dubbed a spy, a brawler, a heretic, duellist and a “tobacco-user”. His guise as troublemaker has all fed into what has become ‘the Marlowe myth’.
Like many who go onto to have a mythic, untouchable aura about them, Marlowe’s enigma was ratified by the fact we know so little about him – probably as a direct consequence of his tragically early death. Marlowe’s demise came at the hands of the confidence trickster, Ingram Frizer, who is believed to have stabbed Marlowe. This came 10 days after Marlowe’s arrest for alleged blasphemy, though it is unclear if the events are connected.
Despite his wild side, Marlowe remains one of our inspiring historical male figures due to his immense literary contributions. So profound was his talent, without his influence Shakespeare’s works would have been almost certainly different to what we know.
These inspiring historical male figures have all had an impact upon our lives, and the way we now live, even if it isn’t always remembered that that’s the case. These inspiring historical male figures deserve to remembered and celebrated.