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ClassicsOnline Home » MARSHALL: Our Island Story, Vol. 1 (Unabridged)
Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall is an Edwardian history book for younger listeners (aged six–twelve) which tells the story of England, concluding with the reign of Queen Victoria. Antonia Fraser and many other current historians declare that it was this book that opened the delights of history for them. It fell from fashion in the 1960s, but its recent re-release in hardback has seen it become a publishing surprise in the UK, with sales of some 75,000 copies in a few months. Now, Naxos AudioBooks releases it unabridged in three volumes released in March 2006, April 2006 and May 2006, divided into three clear periods of history. Though slightly edited to take account of historical changes and attitudes, it is presented unabridged.
Our Island Story
Our Island Story is a remarkable history book.
It was written at the beginning of the 20th
century by H.E. Marshall—her full name was
Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall—and she wrote a
number of books for younger readers (boys
and girls, she called them in the gracious
manner of the time). They included Scotland’s
Story: A History of Scotland for Boys and Girls
(1906), Beowulf: Translations (1908), The
Child’s English Literature (1909), A History of
France(1912), This Country of Ours (1917),
The Story of the United States (1919), and
Kings and Things (1937).
History fascinated her, and she liked
nothing better than to re-tell history through
the personalities of the people who made it.
Our Island Story for Boys and Girls to give it
the full original title, tells the story of Britain by
shining a friendly spotlight on the major
figures—the rulers, the heroes, the villains and
even the weak and the vanquished.
Addressing her readers, H.E. Marshall
‘I must tell you that this is not a history
lesson, but a story-book. There are many facts
in school histories that seem to children to belong to lessons only. Some of these you will
not find here.
But you will find some stories that are not
to be found in your school books—stories
which wise people say are only fairy tales and
not history. But it seems to me that they are
part of Our Island Story, and ought not to be
forgotten, any more than those stories about
which there is no doubt.
So, although I hope you will not put this
book beside your school books, but quite at
the other end of the shelf, beside Robinson
Crusoe and A Noah’s Ark Geography, I hope,
too, that it will help you to like your school
history books better than ever, and that, when
you grow up, you will want to read for
yourselves the beautiful big histories which
have helped me to write this little book for
Then, when you find out how much has
been left untold in this little book, do not be
cross, but remember that, when you were very
small, you would not have been able to
understand things that seem quite simple and
very interesting to you as you grow older.
Remember, too, that I was not trying to teach you, but only to tell a story.’
And the stories are fascinating.
Generations of young readers first
encountered St Alban, King Alfred, King
Harold, William the Conqueror, Thomas à
Beckett, Edward I, Robert the Bruce, Henry V,
Sir Francis Drake, and Queen Elizabeth I for the
first time in Our Island Story.
These accessible life stories stayed with
the young readers because the accounts are
well-told—in a lively and colourful fashion.
The fact that legend mixes with history doesn’t
seem to matter. Wat Tyler rebelled and was
slain—this is true. King John was forced to
sign Magna Carta, the bowman of England
won the Battle of Agincourt against
exceptional odds, and the Wars of the Roses—the red and the white—divided England and
civil war raged. All this did happen.
But the stories of Albion and Brutus, the
legendary beginnings of England, Robin
Hood, and perhaps the greatest story of them
all, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round
Table, are the stuff of myth. Does it matter that
fact and fiction interweave seamlessly? Not
really, because fiction can influence history, as
it has done so powerfully in the case of King
Arthur. Knightly chivalry has affected the
behaviour, thought and art of many following
centuries—including our own.
H. E. Marshall was writing at a time when
the British Empire cast its rule over a quarter of
the globe. Now, in the 21st century, Britain
plays a very different role in world affairs. And
within itself, it is a very different place, having
much more of a multi-ethnic populace with
broader horizons and more versatile attitudes
towards life and the way to live it than when
Our Island Story was written.
Yet there is no reason to ignore the rich
and thrilling history that made England and,
more widely still, Britain. There may be times
when H. E. Marshall speaks in a tone which
seems dated; that is inevitable. Nevertheless, it
is not surprising that many of our current
prominent historians say it was this book that
started them on the historical road, that
awoke in them a love for the past, the
characters and the events.
She takes her story to the beginning of
the 20th century, the death of Queen Victoria
and the gathering clouds of the First World
War. Since then another century has passed,
and the world has changed in ways that not
even she could have imagined. But her book
Notes by Nicolas Soames
List of kings from Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor reigned 24 years, from 1042 to 1066 A.D.
Harold II reigned a little more than nine months, from January 5th to
October 14th, 1066 A.D.
William I reigned 21 years, from 1066 to 1087 A.D.
William II reigned 13 years, from 1087 to 1100 A.D.
Henry I reigned 35 years, from 1100 to 1135 A.D.
Stephen reigned 19 years, from 1135 to 1154 A.D.
Henry II reigned 35 years, from 1154 to 1189 A.D.
Richard I reigned 10 years, from 1189 to 1199 A.D.
Our Island Story has been republished by Galore Park
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MARSHALL: Our Island Story, Vol. 1 (Unabridged)