Sunday 23 August 2009


There was already a consciousness of Englishness and England before the Danish onslaught in the ninth century; before Alfred and even before Bede. However, England, as we have come to know it, and Englishness as a given identity, was formed, it might be said, by a gradual process of cultural and historical sedimentation. A loose identity was given a definite shape and direction by adversity; by war and the threat of war; by victory, and yes, by defeat. The successive victories of Alfred, of Ethelfleda and Edward the Elder established England on a new and more lasting basis, one that could not be threatened by the fresh wave of Norse invasions in the tenth and eleventh centuries, when the country was absorbed into a Danish empire.

Even so, this England, and once Anglo-Saxon and Viking, effectively came to an end with the Norman Conquest in 1066. No longer part of a Germanic and Scandinavian world, the country was drawn into the mainstream of European feudal civilization; no more than an appange, it might be said, of a trans-continental empire. And there it might have remained, no more politically significant than Provence, but for one man: good old, bad old King John. An unusual 'hero' of Englishness, I know; but it was his loss of Normandy and the bulk of the Angevin Empire that threw England back on itself; that gave the country a new sense of its political importance, notwithstanding the fact that there was still a huge cultural divide between an English-speaking peasantry and a French-speaking aristocracy. The victory of William Marshal over the invading force of Prince Louis was also an important step in safeguarding this new political independence and sense of self-reliance.

In considering the whole question of the formation of modern England by far the most significant figure of all, as far as I am concerned, has to be Edward III. It was he who began the political and cultural transformation of the nation; he who embarked on a War that helped form a new national consciousness; a war that consolidated and defined some of the country's most enduring political institutions. It was his patronage that turned St. George into a national saint, and his policy that, in 1362, saw English recognised as the 'tongue of the nation.' It was during his time that the old divisions between Norman-French and Anglo-Saxon became less and less distinct, and Englishness, the Englishness of Chaucer and others, emerged on its modern path


  1. Whilst broadly agreeing with your assessment of Edward III, the solid foundations laid by his grandfather, Edward I, shouldn't be overlooked.

    Don't you agree?

  2. I'm not sure I do, RTK. Certainly the foundations, as you say, of a new kind of imperial monarchy should not be overlooked. But I tend to see the first Edward more as a late Norman rather than 'new English' king, if I can put it like that.

  3. Think of all our country stands for
    Books from Boots; and country lanes;
    Free speech; free passes; class distinction;
    Democracy and proper drains.

    Quoth Betjeman. No Longer.

  4. Rehan, please go to a site called I have an essay there.