Don’t miss, the Royal History’s Biggest Fibs

Lucy Worsley dressed as George IVLucy Worsley dressed as George IV
Lucy Worsley dressed as George IV
Friday: Royal History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley; (BBC2, 9pm)

According to an oft-used quote, history is written by the victors, although fittingly no one seems to be able to agree on who said it.

The saying is commonly attributed to Winston Churchill, but others believe it predates him.

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It just goes to show that historical ‘facts’ often change, depending on the viewpoint of the people discussing and interpreting them – which is where Lucy Worsley comes in.

Her previous series of Royal History’s Biggest Fibs explored why we shouldn’t look to the Oscar-winning movie The Favourite for an accurate depiction of Queen Anne’s reign, and why the Reformation was about more than just Henry VIII’s desire for Anne Boleyn and a male heir.

Now, she’s back to look at more royal porkies, although this time they are linked by a theme of revolution.

Future episodes will find her exploring how the narratives surrounding the Georgian Regency and the Russian Revolution have evolved over the decades to suit the agendas of the historians and politicians of the age, and finding out why rebellions are just as prone to porkies as royals.

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However, she begins with the French Revolution. As well as giving Lucy, who is never one to avoid a trip to the dressing-up box, a chance to try on some truly extravagant wigs, it also means she can look into the origins of another oft-quoted phrase, one that has become synonymous with this period of history; “Let them eat cake.”

Most of us have been told that it was uttered by Queen Marie Antoinette after learning that the peasants had no bread, but while it makes for a good story, it seems it has little basis in fact.

Lucy finds this fib was probably the work of later historians, who were looking for an explanation for what had sparked the uprising of 1789.

However, this wasn’t the only untruth that attached itself to the Revolution, which would become a blueprint for future revolutions.

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Historian Michael Rapport explains that contrary to the popular believe, it was property owners and lawyers who sparked the revolution, rather than starving peasants.

And it wasn’t just Marie Antoinette who was unfairly maligned by history. The revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre wasn’t as bloodthirsty as his subsequent reputation suggests. In his earlier years, he had stood against the death penalty and slavery, and had fought for the rights France’s Jewish population.

Even the infamous guillotine was invented to a be more humane form of execution, rather than a brutal punishment (although to be fair, the distinction may have been lost on its victims). In fact, Lucy discovers that your take on the French Revolution is likely to be influenced by your own politics and nationality. If that leaves you wondering what the presenter’s agenda is, you’ll be glad to know that she’d actively encourage you to do your own further research.

She once told The Times: “I don’t want to be definitive or the last word on anything. I’m an entry-level historian.”

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