Medieval History in Schools

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 4th July 2022.

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Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley 9:41 pm, 4th July 2022

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the beauty of architecture. We can look at some of the finest medieval buildings across this land. Westminster Hall itself was built under William Rufus, which shows the longevity of medieval architecture. How many buildings nowadays could last 1,000 years, as Westminster Hall has done, or 1,500 years, as Hagia Sophia has done, which Justinian himself rose up in praise of God?

But Justinian did not just raise up the Hagia Sophia, and many other buildings across the empire. He also did other great works, such as introduce the institutes of Justinian—the great codification and rationalisation of Roman law that, to this day, influences legal systems across the world. Perhaps above all, Emperor Justinian is rightly celebrated for his tenacious nature in refusing to accept decline, and successfully reconquering large parts of the western Roman empire: north Africa, Italy, Spain—not only was his reconquest vast, but it lasted for hundreds of years. The Byzantine empire, the East Roman empire, did not lose parts of Italy until well into the late 11th century. That shows the longevity of his conquests. Some historians claim that they were ephemeral —they were not; they were long lasting.

Throughout his reign Justinian was supported by his wife Theodora, who is one of the most inspirational female figures in all history, from whom we can all learn. Under his reign, there was the first recorded outbreak of bubonic plague, which is estimated to have killed about 40% of the population of Constantinople. The reign of Justinian clearly had it all, yet like so many other hugely important moments in medieval history, it is being forgotten and is not taught in our schools. Indeed, I think the lack of teaching about Justinian in our schools is an absolute travesty.

There is clearly an appetite for this history, as we have seen with the recent runaway successes of “The Last Kingdom” on Netflix, and “Game of Thrones”, which some say is inspired by the war of the roses. History bestows on us an understanding of the society, country and world that we live in. It explains why things are as they are today and provides a guide for where we are going. History is also wonderful for inculcating transferable skills, including the ability to reason critically, analyse, cross-reference, absorb and remember large amounts of complex information, and to write coherently.