With Christmas fast approaching, we asked our staff and readers an all-important question for the season: “If you could gift any person from the past with a present, who would you choose and what would you give them?”


From an air-fryer for Alfred the Great to a fitness tracker for Empress Sisi, read their answers here…

Dave Musgrove, content director at BBC History:

Everyone is buying an air fryer for Christmas this year. King Alfred the Great could surely have done with one of them in the year 878. As culinary mishaps go, Alfred’s cake-burning blunder is up there with the most famous. If he’d had an air fryer with a timer mechanism, he’d have been able to knock up some lovely doughnuts that would have cooked nicely, whether or not Alfred remembered to tend to them. A batch of fluffy and delicious doughnuts would surely have cheered him up in his lonely languish in a peasant’s hut in the Somerset Levels, though obviously he might have struggled with the electricity supply, so I guess he’d need a generator as well. Also, the recipe requires sugar, which wouldn’t have been in ready supply in 9th-century England, so suddenly this Christmas present is getting pretty expensive.

Terence Anthony, Facebook:

President William Henry Harrison a scarf and gloves set. And a hat. And a jacket. Some ear muffs?

Petra Mrduljaš, Facebook:

A horse for Richard III

More like this

Elinor Evans, digital editor at HistoryExtra:

A much-maligned monarch (with good reason), King John is surely far from the top of anyone’s Christmas gift list. But I’d gift the monarch a snorkel.

So the story goes, in October 1216 the king attempted to cross the Wash, an estuary on the east coast of England. But, after badly misjudging the tide, the king lost much of his baggage train – which included, supposedly, the Crown Jewels – to the swirling, sandy water. Perhaps the famously terrible monarch might find penance in a treasure hunt, enlisted to help solve a medieval mystery…

Adam Hillhouse, Facebook:

My wife's suggestion of lavender oil for Genghis Khan seems pretty unbeatable!

Laura Bellas, Facebook:

I think to give a the “planet earth” series to Socrates or Plato I think a genuine understanding of the diverse biological wonder of our planet would be most impactful to great thinkers who’s understanding of the natural world were limited by their geography and technology.

Wendy Johnson, Facebook:

A history professor once told a class he wished he could go back in time and be on the council that denied Adolf Hitler’s application to art school. I would gift that professor with a time machine.

Rhiannon Davies, section editor at BBC History Magazine:

If I could toss a gift into Santa’s time-travelling sack, I’d wrap up a festive dog collar and send it back to the English court of 1533. Anne Boleyn – who became England’s queen that year – had a beloved lapdog called Pourquoi, so named apparently for his inquisitive nature. She was a great lover of pets, and I’m sure a Christmassy animal accessory to adorn one of her favourite companions would have been a welcome gift for her.

Susanne Frank, art director at BBC History:

Sisi spent several hours every day in her private gym in the palace. She was also an accomplished horse rider and loved to go on long walks (up to 30 miles!). She would have loved to follow all her achievements on a fitness tracker, I'm sure.

may_55555556, Instagram

I'd give Henry VII cash because no matter what I gave him, he'd return it for the money anyway


Not sure what to gift loved ones in the present day? Have a look at our historical Christmas gift guide.


Lauren GoodDigital Content Producer, HistoryExtra

Lauren Good is the digital content producer at HistoryExtra. She joined the team in 2022 after completing an MA in Creative Writing, and she holds a first-class degree in English and Classical Studies.