The Horrible Histories TV Series Logo.

Horrible Histories is a series of illustrated history books published in the United Kingdom by Scholastic. They are designed to get children interested in history by concentrating on the trivial, unusual, gory, or unpleasant. The series has proved exceptionally successful in commercial terms. The books are written by Terry Deary, Peter Hepplewhite and Neil Tonge and illustrated by Martin Brown, Mike Phillips and Philip Reeve.

The first books in the series, The Terrible Tudors and The Awesome Egyptians, were published in June 1993.

In May 2007, eight of the original series were relaunched with new covers and additional content. The remainder have been republished in the new format, which was completed on January 2009.[1] See Book makeover. With approximately 70 books in the series, Horrible Histories have had 10 million copies sold in the UK, 20 million worldwide, translations to 31 languages, and are offered in 37 countries.

The books have tie-ins with newspapers such as The Telegraph[2], as well as audio-book tie-ins with Kellogs breakfast cereals Cocopops, Frosties and Corn Flakes. [3]

Book categoriesEdit

Though all of the Horrible History books are part of the same series, they are split up into many sub-series. Here are some of them:

Original booksEdit

These are the original books that pioneered the Horrible phenomenon:

Aztects and incas HH old

Former cover of Two in One book The Angry Aztecs and The Incredible Incas

Horrible Histories Two in One
Aztects and incas HH new

Current cover of Two in One book Angry Aztecs and Incredible Incas


There are also the 'Two Horrible Books in One' versions

  • The Frightful First World War and The Woeful Second World War
  • The Groovy Greeks and the Rotten Romans
  • Gorgeous Georgians and Vile Victorians
  • Smashing Saxons and Stormin' Normans
  • The Terrible Tudors and The Slimy Stuarts
  • Vicious Vikings and Measly Middle Ages
  • The Barmy British Empire and The Blitzed Brits
  • Angry Aztecs and Incredible Incas
  • Horribly Huge Book of Awful Egyptians and Ruthless Romans

There has also been a book package released entitled the Blood Curdling Box Set. It includes the books: Savage Stone Age, Awesome Egyptians, Groovy Greeks, Rotten Romans, Cut-Throat Celts, Smashing Saxons, Vicious Vikings, Stormin Normans, Angry Aztecs, Incredible Incas, Measly Middle Ages, Slimy Stuarts, Terrible Tudors, Gorgeous Georgians, Vile Victorians, Villainous Victorians, Barmy British Empire, Frightful First World War, Woeful Second World War, Blitzed Brits.[7]

Novelty booksEdit

According to the Scholastics[8] website,

are considered Novelty Books, and are not classified with the ordinary books.


There are a few books in the Horrible Histories series that have a special sign on the front cover stating that they are part of the Special sub-series of Horrible Histories. They are:

Horrible Histories Gruesome Guides (previously Horrible Histories Cities)Edit

Some Horrible Histories books have been based around a particular city, rather than a nation or a specific time period. They also have a map when the front cover is folded out, and explain some structures in the city when the back cover is folded out. Therefore, many people consider them to be a sub-series as well. (Even though Loathsome London doesn't have these qualities, it was included into this sub-series during the republishing of the series from 2008-2011.[11][12]

They consist of:


The Horrible Histories Handbooks also differ from the original books. They have colour and are shaped differently. They consist of:

High Speed HistoryEdit

High Speed History is a Horrible Histories sub-series that features historical tales in a comic-strip format. The sub-series is illustrated by dave Smith.

  • High speed history: Egyptians - (May 3, 2010)[13]
  • High speed history: Tudors - (August 2, 2010)[14]
  • High speed history: Knights - (August 2011) [15]
  • High speed history: Rome - (July 2011)[16]

Horribly Huge BooksEdit

Quiz booksEdit

Sometimes, as well as the ordinary books, there is a quiz book that comes with it, testing your knowledge of that particular subject. They are:

Sticker and Activity BooksEdit

There are quite a number of Horrible Histories sticker and activity books. These include.

  • Horrible Christmas Sticker Book
  • Angry Aztecs Sticker Book Volume 1
  • Dark Knights and Dingy Castles Sticker-Activity Book
  • Cut-throat Celts Sticker-Activity Book
  • Incredible Incas Activity Book
  • Gorgeous Georgians Activity Book
  • Savage Stone Age Sticker Book
  • Measly Middle Ages Activity Book
  • Slimy Stuarts Sticker Book
  • The Groovy Greeks Activity Book
  • The Vicious Vikings Sticker Book
  • Vile Victorians Activity Book
  • Terrible Tudors Sticker Book
  • Rotten Romans Sticker Book
  • Awesome Egyptians Activity Book
  • Awesome Activity Book
  • Savage Sticker Book
  • Grisly Quiz Book and Gruesome Games Pack

Gory StoriesEdit

A new fiction-type of Horrible Histories series has recently sprouted, called Gory Stories. The first set of books to be published in July 2008 were:

  • Gory Stories - Tower of Terror (Terrible Tudors)
  • Gory Stories - Tomb of Treasure (Awful Egyptians)
  • Gory Stories - Wall of Woe - (Rotten Romans)
  • Gory Stories - Shadow of the Gallows (Vile Victorians)
  • Gory Stories - Raiders and Ruins (Vikings) - March 2009
  • Gory Stories - Blackout in the Blitz (World War II) - May 2009
  • Gory Stories - The Plague of Pain (aka Plague and Peril) (Middle Ages) - 2009
  • Gory Stories - The Trail of Treasure (aka Pirates and Plunder) (Pirates) - 2009
  • Big Book of Gory Stories (Pack of Tomb of Treasure, Wall of Woe and Tower of Terror)

Blackout in the Blitz is listed on Terry Deary's website as Bombs on Britain,[1] but on it is listed as Blackout in the Blitz, along with a cover.[2]

High-speed HistoryEdit

Beginning in 2010, a new sub-series called "High-speed History" was published. These books are written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Dave Smith. The books in the sub-series are:

  • Egypt - A High-Speed History - 3 May 2010
  • Tudors - A High-Speed History - 2 Aug 2010
  • Knights - A High-Speed History - 3 Mar 2011
  • Rome - A High-Speed History - July 2011


These are the books that don't fit into the other categories. They are:

Titles In ProgressEdit

2010 plansEdit

  • Republishing of all city, country, handbook and original series titles
  • Gory Stories: Pirates - February
  • Keyring Book 2 - April
  • High speed history: Egyptians - All new Horrible Histories sub-series that features historical tales in a comic-strip format. Published May 3, 2010.[2]
  • High speed history: Tudors - Published August 2, 2010.[3]

2011 plansEdit

  • Horrible Histories - Special - August
  • Huge Book 2 - June
  • Horrible Histories Huge Book II published - June
  • HH Britain bind-up – June
  • HH Colouring book - June
  • New Horrible Histories Handbook - July
  • Annual 2012 - August
  • High speed history: Knights - August
  • Horrible Histories High speed history 4 - August
  • Horrible Histories Xmas flexi new edition republishing - September
  • Horrible History of Britain and Ireland - September
  • Who's Horrible in History - September
  • Wicked History of Britain - September
  • 4 TV Tie-ins - October
  • Vile Villains - March 2011
  • Spies - March 2011
  • Terrible Tranches - March 2011
  • Blitz (non-handbook version)

2012 plansEdit

Horrible Histories Ebooks - May, July, and November

2013 PlansEdit


Terry Deary's background is "very much in theatre". He studied at a drama college and worked as an actor-teacher at the TIE company in Wales. He then became a theatre director and began to write plays for children. Many of his TIE plays were eventually rewritten and adapted into the Horrible Histories book series.[4]

The fifth book in the series was Blitzed Brits. This book was published in 1995, and by chance the date of publication coincided with the 50th anniversary of VE day, which is cited at being responsible for the book reaching no. 1 on the bestseller list. A couple of years later, Deary decided that the book only gave the British viewpoint during World War II, and recognised that this was a bias way of writing such a book. Therefore, Deary wrote Woeful Second World War, because he thought he owed it to his fans to give them an accurate and unbiased account of the war, by writing about it from the European viewpoint as a whole. As the British viewpoint had already been extensively described in the previous book, and as "publishers don't like you covering the same information in new books", this new book focused on the roles of France, Poland, Germany and Russia during the war. The book was published in September 1999, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II [4]

Deary eventually returned to the stage. Mad Millennium was commissioned by director Phillip Clark, who was a fellow TIE participant 25 years before. He said "your [Horrible Histories] books are very successful. Can we turn them into a large-scale theatre production?” Deary was happy to return to writing plays.[4]


Terry Deary gave the following testimony to The Guardian in 2003: "Everything I learnt [at school] after 11 was a waste of was boring, badly taught and not related to the real world...schools are nothing but a Victorian idea to get people off the street..who decided that that putting 30 kids with only their age in common in a classroom with one teacher was the best way of educating?" This outlook on the education system served as the inspiration for the Horrible Histories series, as a possible alternative.[5] Deary has also said in an interview, "If I had it my way, I wouldn't have schools at all. They don't educate, they just keep kids off the streets. But my books educate, because they prepare kids for life."[6]

Deary has said, "It's outrageous - why don't we start telling children the truth about history? I hope my books do just that."[6]

According to Consuming history: historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture by Jerome De Groot, Horrible Histories books are designed to engage and enthuse the reader about a subject while appearing subversive. QAccording to him, the books are primarily entertainment with educative purpose.[2]

Groot also suggests that Horrible Histories has a sceptical view on the accuracy and validity of history. In an introduction to one of the books in series, it states [2]

History can be horrible. Horribly hard to learn. The trouble is it keeps on changing ... In history a 'fact' is sometimes not a fact at all. Really it's just someone's 'opinion'. And opinions can be different for different people ... Teachers will try to tell you there are 'right' and 'wrong' answers even if there aren't.

Deary has many research methods when he is writing his books. He uses researchers for all Horrible Histories books, and sometimes uses researchers in specialised fields, such as a military historian for The Woeful Second War. Deary always "read[s] the most up-to-date books on the period [he's] writing about", although he also uses the internet more and more as time goes by. He also "completely absorb[s] [him]self into a period so [he]'ll know the whole historical context as well as all the events of that time". In cases when he "end[s] up with far more information than [he] need[s]", he tends to exclude all the "boring facts" such as dates because according to Deary himself, "dates don't matter. Human experience matters". [4]

Deary does not want his books to come over as preachy, saying "I'm an adult, I know this and I'm going to tell you". Instead, in his opinion the author's voice is an ignorant person exclaiming "you'll never believe what I found out when I read this book". He thinks that this series is essentially about discovering the wonders of human nature, and questioning whether we could possibly behave how those before us behaved. [4]

Deary does not consider himself "an academic...a teacher...[or] even an adult". Instead, he views himself as kid who wants to share facts with other kids. He thinks that the writer of a non-fiction series such as Horrible Histories has to "entertain first and inform second". Deary does not respect authors who follow each extreme. He believes that "readers are more important than writers and their needs have to come first". He believes that if you engage the reader, and if they are entertained by the substance, they will retain more knowledge from the work. [4]

Deary uses many generic conventions of literature to make his books more accessible to his readers. He will deliberately write his books in a prose style so they follow natural speech cadences, and are therefore more natural to speak. He also uses alliteration and assonance quite frequently. Deary considered poetry to be "just another weapon in the writer's armoury" rather than a specialised form of prose that may only be used in specific circumstances, and is "very comfortable with [using] it" in his non-fiction works. Deary thinks that the impersonal language used in textbooks alienates the reader, and feels that this is a huge drawback in engaging the reader in the work. He therefore uses the second person to talk directly to the reader, the grammatical person he would use if he were talking to the reader in real life. He views Horrible Histories as one of the few non-fiction or fiction series which utilise this "underused style of writing".[4]

How did people really behave in the Second World War? And how would you have behaved?

Deary uses the medium of a newspaper to make serious material more accessible to the reader so they approach the piece in "a more relaxed frame of mind than they would a school text", for example in an article about the Massacre at Lidice. Newspapers can also be used to illustrate "mysterious and quite lighthearted" stories, such as those which might appear in a "Sun newspaper". In these circumstances, this medium is used as its subject matter is reminiscent of the other, more recognisable medium. Newspapers extracts, along with letters and diaries are used to tell stories from the perspectives of individual people, to engage the reader into the story. he "[tries] to get away from the objective, and to get [his] readers to view history subjectively".[4]

When writing about events and historical periods that are still in living memory, such as the Second World War, a degree of "sensitivity [needs to be] involved". While the story about an executioner that requires ten hacks to chop someone's head off in Even More Terrible Tudors is comical as contemporary society is so far removed from the event, relatively recent events are controversial to write about as readers may personally know people who died in the war, or may not want to discuss the Holocaust with their children. However, Deary believes that it is important for children to know about these events, and that they cannot be deemed taboo and never spoken of.[4]

The majority of the demographic of Horrible Histories readers are "reluctant readers", who like Deary's series as they can "pick one up, read a small section, and then put it down again". Deary attributes this to the use of short chapters, the fact that one may read the book in a non-linear order, and the varying uses of media in each book, such as quizzes and comic strips.[4] Nikki Gamble writes in her book ICT and literacy that two Year 5 twins appreciated the book's non-linear structure as "you don't have to read [the books] from beginning to of us can, um, read the first chapter and the other one can be reading the last doesn't really matter about the order, does it?"

With Horrible Histories I want children to think about how people in certain moments of history felt and also for them to consider what these people were Horrible Histories I'm asking, 'Why do people do what they do?' And, ultimately, 'Why do I behave the way I do?'

The information in the books is presented in an informal way, and the tone of the books is conversational. [2]

you would be disgusted by [Ivan the Terrible's] life story. So I won't tell you. What? You still want to read it? Oh, very well. I'll tell you the story but I'll leave out the gruesome bits.

Book makeoverEdit

On 7 May 2007, the original series of the Horrible Histories books began to be republished with a new look and new content. The new books have altered information on the back cover, an index and a brighter, redesigned front cover.


See The Horrible Histories Collection

Horrible Histories' Brainiest Boffin ContestEdit

In 2003, to celebrate Horrible Histories' 10th anniversary, Scholastic held a contest to find Horrible Histories' Brainiest Boffin. Terry Deary played Quizmaster and through a series of rounds, gradually eliminated five of the six finalists to be invited to the London vaults from 500 applicants. After the sudden death final, Iain Gibbons was crowned the winner. [3]

Tours and ExhibitionsEdit

See Horrible Histories:Tours and Exhibitions

Reception and criticismEdit

The book series has been generally well received. Some reviews from CaptainD [1] gives positive feedback towards the books.

  • A review by Tammy McQuoid at [2] states that "While the book is quite irreverent at times, it does have plenty of historical information in it." citing an example as "the fact that they say the Normans brought the feudal system to England and that Henry II of England said that he wished he could be rid of Thomas a Becket. And then some of Henry's knights took it upon themselves to kill Thomas a Becket, an archbishop." She however does state some positive remarks including "There's plenty more of good, factual history included...I think it's a good idea to mix up unit studies a bit with some educational fun and games."
  • Carole Green of the BBC did a review on the Terrible Tudors play at the Grand Opera House, 2006 [3].She gave a very positive review stating "It was a wonderful evening, very funny and educational without realising it."
  • The Guardian gave a review about the series as a whole [4], also stating comments from a variety of distinguished people. Angela Marks, the history co-ordinator and teacher at St Luke's Church of England Primary School said that the books "...are very cleverly done...children feel that they shouldn't be reading them, that there is something slightly naughty about them. That immediately engages them." Julian Pooley, an archivist said "I wish there had been books like this around when I was at school, when history was all facts and no life. I made do with Ladybird guides."
  • yummy87 at [5] stated that the series " interesting, and is written in such an amusing way, that it will keep children and adults enthralled for hours. I believe that the magazine represents wonderful value for money, as the magazines will be used continually."
  • Joseph Allen McCullough Of Suite101 offered a review on the city-themed book Oxford: Not only is this new little book a great read for anyone (child or adult) with a passing interest in history, it is also a necessary book for any tourist to the city of Dreaming Spires. Any tourist guide will likely tell you who got killed where in Oxford, but Deary's book will do the same thing and entertain you at the same time." ( m/article.cfm/horrible_histories_oxford_review)
  • However, the series causes trouble in some parts of the world.

The book Bloody Scotland drew the ire of the tiny Scottish Separatist Group, who claimed it promoted a "UK centric, anti-Scottish viewpoint of Scottish history", using comments like "Cook the haggis until it looks like a hedgehog after the fifteenth lorry has run over it". They reported the book to the Commission for Racial Equality, who rejected their claim.[4]

The National Trust was unhappy with Cruel Kings and Mean Queens because it made jokes about Prince Charles's ears (the prince is the trust's patron) and Queen Elizabeth II.[4][5]

The book "Slimy Stuarts" has been accused of Anti-Catholic views.

According to Terry Deary's homepage, "Several of the books have been banned in some places."[4]

In the Horrible Histories series, there are two books titled The Horrible History of the World and The Wicked History of the World; however, they are the same book, only with different headings. To confuse things further, compact and mini editions are planned for release at the end of 2007. The same incident occurred with The Horribly Huge Quiz Book and Massive Millennium Quiz Book, and The Mad Millennium and Mad Millennium Play. Also, there are two different covers for Horrible Christmas, as well as new paperback, compact and mini editions soon to be published.

In an article called "Scholastic's Horrible Histories Book Series: Promoting Hate", posted on October 10, 2006 on Literanista,[6] a comment was made on the use of violent imagery in the book Angry Aztecs: "Now I understand trying to promote reading through the use of gross graphics and cartoonish depictions in an attempt to engage kids, but honestly do Latinos and other foreign groups really need children having these depictions encrypted into their little heads at school." A user named Anonymous rebutted this comment by stating the book/s historical accuracy, and hence the images being justified: "The Aztecs DID engage in human sacrifice in the manner depicted on the front cover of The Angry Aztecs. There is nothing inaccurate there. If you read the book you will see it covers other aspects of Aztec culture, not just the brutal parts, although the Horrible Histories series does tend to focus on the sensational."


  • Best Book with Facts in the Blue Peter Book Awards 2000
  • Best Book for Knowledge Award at the Blue Peter Book Awards 2001
  • Terry Deary tops the list of most-borrowed non-fiction children’s authors every year. (Figures based on the Library Survey)
  • Terry Deary was voted the fifth most popular living children’s author in a 2005 Guardian survey. Narins [16]
  • Winner of British Comedy Awards 2011(TV series)

Other languagesEdit


This is a sub-series of Horrible Histories books describing various aspects of Polish history and society (written by Małgorzata Fabianowska and Małgorzata Nesteruk, illustrated by Jędrzej Łaniecki)

These books have not yet been published in English.

Dynamiczna Dynastia Jagiellonow cover.


The Czech translations of the Pollish sub-series are:

  • Mazaní Slované (The Clever Slavs) - (Slavs)


The first Horrible Histories Videogame has also been published in Germany, translating the series' title as Schauderhafte Geschichten.


The Dutch series Waanzinnig om te weten is a translation and an adaptation of the English series Horrible Histories, Horrible Science and Horrible Geography, but not all parts are in the Dutch translation.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.