Monday, 3 August 2009

The English Defined

For the confused.

From James B. Minahan, One Europe, Many Nations: A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups. (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 2000. pp. 226-233.)


POPULATION: Approximately (2000 e) 47,640,000 English in Europe, the majority in England, but with large populations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. Other large English populations live in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

THE ENGLISH HOMELAND: The English homeland lies in the south and southwestern parts of the island of Great Britain. England has some highland areas, including the Cumbrian Mountains, also called the Lake District, including the highest point in the country, Scafell Pike, 3,210 feet (978 m.), and the Pennine range in the north, but the remainder of the country is mostly fertile lowlands. The northern and western portions are generally mountainous. The coast is heavily indented, especially in the west, which has a milder climate than the rest of Northern Europe due to the Gulf Stream and ample rainfall. Most of the indentations are excellent natural harbors, easily accessible to deep-water shipping, a factor that has been decisive in the economic development and imperial expansion of the English. The major rivers are the Severn and the Thames. Moors and heathlands occur in many upland areas, in all covering about one-quarter of England.

The original vegetation in much of the English homeland was deciduous forest, with oaks as the predominant tree. But centuries ago human activity greatly reduced the forests and modified the landscape, leaving only small patches of the original woodlands. Most of the English countryside is farmed or used to pasture livestock.

The Kingdom of England forms a political unit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is separated from continental Europe by the English Channel, the Strait of Dover, and the North Sea. The English homeland forms the largest part of the territory of the island of Great Britain, and shares the island with the territories of the Northumbrians and Scots in the north and the Welsh and Cornish in the west.

Kingdom of England: 50,333 sq.mi.-130,362 (2000 e) 46,148,000—English 94% (including Northumbrians and Cornish), Pakistanis 2%, Indians 1%, West Indians 1%. The English capital and major cultural center is London, (2000 e) 6,214,000 (metropolitan area 12,843,000), the capital of England and of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

FLAG: The English national flag, the official flag of the kingdom, is a white field bearing a centered red cross, the Cross of St. George, the patron saint of England.

PEOPLE: The English are a Germanic people, the dominant nation of the British Isles and one of the major nations of Europe. The great majority of the English are descended from early Celtic and Iberian peoples and the later invaders of the islands, including the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans. The descendants of a mixture of different European nations, the English culture and language have been influenced by the many invaders of the island, and each of the invaders from continental Europe left its mark on the culture and the language of the island. The population density of the English homeland is one of the highest in the world and is highly urbanized, with an estimated 77% living in urban areas in 2000. Among the prime traditions of the English are a fierce pride in their traditional freedoms, a unity against adversity, and an ability to bring opposing factions together in compromise. Pride in being English is another strong trait, even though the English show considerable diversity in traditions, habits, manners, and speech.

The English homeland, established as an independent monarchy many centuries ago, in time achieved political control over the rest of the island, all the British Isles, and vast sections of the world, becoming the nucleus of one of the greatest empires in history, which lasted until the mid-twentieth century. Called the British Empire, the reality was almost exclusive control by the most powerful people of the British Isles, the English, with auxiliary roles played by the Scots, Irish, and Welsh.

The English language, carried to the far corners of the earth by English adventurers and colonists, is now the most important of the world's languages and is spoken as a first language by some 350 million people and as a second language by another 150 million. The language belongs to the Anglo-Frisian branch of the Low German languages of the West Germanic group. Spoken in over a dozen regional dialects and many more subdialects in England, the language is also spoken by a majority of the population of the British Islands. Standard English, as spoken in the United Kingdom, is based on the London dialect, which became predominant in the fourteenth century. It has been estimated that the present English vocabulary consists of more than 1 million words, including slang and dialect expressions and technical and scientific terms, many of which came into use after the middle of the twentieth century. The English vocabulary is the most extensive in the world, although some languages, such as the Chinese dialects, have a word-building capacity equal to that of English. Extensive, constant borrowing from every major language, particularly Latin, Greek, French, and the Scandinavian languages, accounts for the great number of words in the English vocabulary.

The Church of England, a Protestant Episcopal denomination, is the state church and the nominal church of nearly three-fifths of the population. The denomination next in importance is the Roman Catholic Church, which has about 6 million members in England. Among the numerous Protestant denominations are the Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian, Congregationalist, and Society of Friends.

NATION: The New Stone Age, during which the practice of agriculture was begun, was marked by the arrival of the Iberians, or Long Skulls, who came from the European mainland about 3000 B.C. The island was the site of an ancient Neolithic society called the Beaker folk, established by 2500 B.C., which left its mark in the form of mound-tombs and henge monuments, particularly the famous monument at Stonehenge. These monuments attest to their social and economic organization as well as their technical and intellectual abilities.

The first lasting influence on English culture was the Brythonic-speaking Celts, who crossed from continental Europe in several migrations in the first century B.C. The Celts spread across the island, living in autonomous communities. With their iron weapons and two-wheeled chariots, the Celts dominated and absorbed the indigenous populations. Their religious elite, the Druids, came to dominate Celtic society.

The Romans under Julius Caesar attempted to invade the island in 55 and 54 B.C. but were repulsed by the fierce Celtic warriors. Roman rule was not imposed on the Celts of Britannia until the attack by the legions of Emperor Claudius in A.D. 43. The last of the Celtic kingdoms was subdued following the uprising led by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, in A.D. 60.

The Romans built a system of roads that for the first time pulled the island's various communities together. Britannia developed as an important mining and military province. Roman culture was adopted by the urban Celts, who used the Latin language, and later some accepted the Christian religion. Magnificent cities and Romanized towns, connected by the Roman road system and protected by Roman soldiers, rivaled any in the Roman Empire. In the north the Romans eventually, in A.D. 123, built the defensive wall called Hadrian's Wall to protect the rich province from its northern neighbors, the Picts.

By the early fifth century, Roman Britannia was in considerable turmoil. Hadrian's Wall had been abandoned, and the Roman legions were being withdrawn to meet barbarian threats elsewhere in the empire. In 410 in an appeal to Rome for military aid, the Britons were refused, and Roman officials were subsequently evacuated. Without the defenses of the Roman legions, Irish and Picts attacked from the north and west, and Anglo-Saxons from the east and south.

After nearly four centuries of occupation the Romans left little that was permanent: a superb network of roads, the best England would have for 1,400 years; a number of urban centers; and Christianity.

The Anglo-Saxons and Jutes, raiding from continental Europe, invaded and colonized the area as Roman civil government collapsed, traditionally establishing their presence in England in 449. Thousands of refugees fled the Germanic onslaught, falling back on the western peninsulas, Wales and Cornwall, and crossing to Brittany in Gaul. Those Britons who remained quickly went back to their pre-Roman lifestyle. Roman towns were no longer habitable, so they moved back to the Celtic hill forts and refortified them. Christianity became a binding force, the last link to a more civilized world.

Of all the migrating Germanic peoples, those who imposed their identity most indelibly on the lands they conquered were the Anglo-Saxons. Unlike other migrating peoples who absorbed earlier populations, the Anglo-Saxons mostly displaced the native Celtic population and changed the ethnic map of the British Isles forever. Although some scholars claim that the modern English are as much Celtic as Teutonic in ancestry, English place-names and the English language show almost a complete lack of Celtic influence. The Celts driven westward were given a contemptuous name by the Anglo-Saxons—“Welsh, ” meaning simply “foreigners.” The loose alliance of Germanic tribes, called by the Romans the Anglii, Saxones, Frisii, and Jutae, collectively used the name “Englisc, ” a term that has survived almost unmodified. The term “Anglo-Saxon” was invented by the invading Normans as the name of the people they conquered.

The loose alliances of the invading Germanic tribes gradually coalesced into a number of small kingdoms, the so-called Heptarchy. Missionary efforts to Christianize the kingdoms resumed in the sixth century. Warlords, nominally Christian, ruled small, unstable kingdoms and continued some Roman traditions of government. Gradually, the kingdom of Wessex gained dominance among the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Late in the eighth century, Vikings, called Danes in English history, began raiding the coastal regions, their raids growing in violence and severity. Anglo-Saxon unity was first successfully encouraged by Wessex king Alfred the Great, who finally defeated the Danes in 878. Alfred's victory effectively confined the Viking invaders to a region in the east called the Danelaw, where the Viking leaders distributed land to soldiers for settlement. Alfred's successors finally conquered the Danelaw and united England, but new Danish invasions in the late tenth century resulted in a defeat for the English, and by 1016 the Dane Canute ruled all of England as part of his Danish kingdom. Canute's Scandinavian dynasty died out in 1042, and the Wessex line, under Edward the Confessor, regained the English throne.

The disputed succession after the death of King Edward resulted in a new invasion from continental Europe, which led to the defeat of the Saxon English in 1066. The Normans, descendants of Vikings who had settled on the northern French coast, established a centralized, feudal state. The Norman domination of England mixed elements of the Saxon and Celtic past with the Norman and French and created a new culture. The Norman conquest of England ended the Anglo-Saxon period, which had emphasized the rights of free farmers. Military feudalism, brought from Normandy, was extended to all parts of the conquered kingdom. Norman French became the state language and remained so until the fifteenth century. Latin was used as the scholarly literary language.

Under Norman rule the farmers were reduced to near serfdom and were dominated by a hierarchy of Norman nobility. The Norman nobles came to hold autonomous power over estates granted by the Norman king. The freemen of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had been responsible to their kings and were superior to the serfs; however, under Norman rule, the majority of the freemen were forced into serfdom or to dependence on the aristocracy.

The English kingdom acquired territory in France and in the late twelfth century conquered Ireland. However, the Norman homeland, Normandy, was lost to English rule in 1204. The rapid growth of towns was aided by charters sold them by the king, who needed money for conquests and religious crusades. An increasing conflict between the king and the nobles led to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 by King John. Later in the thirteenth century a parliamentary system was established, and the centralized royal courts and legal system were reformed.

The decline of feudalism, starting in the later fourteenth century, led to the rise of cities and the development of an English middle class. A national secular culture began to emerge, and the English language, a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French elements, was adopted by the educated classes. The English, however, had distinct limitations due to the size of their island homeland and the limited type and amount of natural resources available. To fill their needs they developed into a nation of traders and seamen.

The Hundred Years' War between England and France, fought from 1337 to 1453, resulted in the loss of most of England's continental territories but reinforced the English national consciousness. English, after centuries of struggle for survival, reemerged as the court language in 1413. The Black Death, which first struck in English territory in 1348, finally brought an end to feudalism and serfdom even while the growth of the English towns gave rise to new commercial and artisan classes. The dynastic wars between the Houses of Lancaster and York, which plunged England into turmoil and political anarchy, were finally ended with the accession of Henry VII of the Tudor family in 1485.

The reign of the Tudors was one of the most glorious in English history. Henry VII restored political order in the kingdom and fostered the financial solvency of the crown. Henry VIII inherited a more powerful kingdom, a strong centralized government, and a full exchequer. One measure of Tudor power was the introduction by Henry VIII of the Protestant Reformation and establishment of the Church of England in 1534 with the English monarch as head of the church. As part of the Reformation in England, the orders of monks and friars were suppressed, and their properties were secularized.

England, under the rule of Elizabeth Tudor, Elizabeth I, entered a period of great maritime and colonial expansion in the late sixteenth century. The Elizabethan era, the English Renaissance, flowered under her rule, particularly in literature. Under Elizabeth's rule England changed from indebted state divided by religious strife to become one of Europe's great nations, its power sustained by a powerful navy. Elizabeth died childless after forty-five years on the English throne.

A long conflict with Spain, partly commercial rivalry and partly religious, culminated in the Battle of the Spanish Armada in 1588, although the war continued for another fifteen years. The defeat of the Spanish Armada led to commercial advantages. Supremacy at sea not only gained the English an empire but put the insular nation in touch with peoples the world over. New ideas and inventions returned to the island with English travelers and seamen, leading to rapid changes in the island society. Limited local workforces contributed to the invention of industrial machines and the earliest manifestations of what would later be known as the Industrial Revolution.

The Stuart line came to power in 1603 at Elizabeth's death, effectively uniting the thrones of England and Scotland. The efforts of the early Stuart kings to revive feudal dues were one factor in the religious and constitutional upheaval called the Puritan Revolution. The struggle of parliament to control the monarchy led to civil war in 1642. A parliamentary victory led to the eventual execution of King Charles I in 1648. The overthrow of the Stuart monarchy was followed by the establishment of a commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell from 1649 to the restoration of the Stuart line in 1660. The restoration was a popular reaction against Puritanism. In 1688 parliamentary supremacy was confirmed by the Glorious Revolution.

Religious and political dissidents, unable to gain influence in England, began to emigrate to the new American colonies. There dissidence finally led to the American War of Independence and the loss of the southern American colonies in the late eighteenth century, the greatest loss of territory to the growing British Empire.

The Act of Union in 1707 united Scotland with England and Wales in the Kingdom of Great Britain. The union, ending strife on England's northern border, allowed the English to concentrate on trade, where they outstripped the Dutch, and on their growing colonial empire, which set off a long rivalry with the French. In 1801 legislative union with Ireland was enacted, changing the kingdom to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

English society from the late seventeenth century to the late eighteenth century remained remarkably stable, despite enormous economic and social changes. Wealth and power remained in the hands of the aristocracy, the landed gentry, and the commercial classes in the growing cities and towns. The majority of the English population, agricultural and industrial workers, semi-illiterate and landless, lived under a paternalistic system dominated by the wealthy classes. Parliament, dominated by the aristocrats and gentry, concerned itself primarily with foreign affairs and private legislation on behalf of the ruling classes.

After 1760 the effects of industrialization rapidly changed English society. Social unrest grew among the working classes of the new industrial cities, mostly lying in the north of England. Miserable working conditions and widespread unemployment accompanied the Industrial Revolution. A new industrial middle class began to demand rights and parliamentary representation but did not extend their newly won rights to the working class. Fear of revolutionary unrest spurred the passage of the first of a long series of labor legislation in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1846 the last barriers to free trade were repealed.

Improved and expanded educational opportunities raised the working classes from misery. Political activity by workers organized into trade unions, courted by rival political parties, resulted in the enfranchisement of the working classes in legislation passed in 1867 and 1884. Full parliamentary democracy was achieved peacefully.

In spite of great changes in the social structure of the kingdom, much of the old England remained until World War I. The aristocracy was still the bastion of social and political power, and the working classes, although enfranchised, had received only a small portion of their economic demands. From 1906 to 1914 numerous new bills were passed that expanded the economic and welfare rights of the working classes.

World War I, which pitted Great Britain and its allies against Germany and its allies, decimated a generation of aristocratic officers, which greatly diminished the hold of the aristocracy over England's wealth. At the end of the war new attitudes and more militant trade unions promised a more equal distribution of the national wealth, but the Great Depression, which began in 1929, devastated the industrial areas and made farming unprofitable. Progressive social legislation was slowed by the depression and the hegemony of the Conservative Party. In 1932 the British government abandoned the policy of free trade.

In September 1939 Great Britain declared war on Germany and its allies. Following the fall of France in 1940, England was faced with invasion. The English rallied to face the German onslaught until the German threat was eliminated by German defeat in the air war, the Battle of Britain, in 1940-41. England served as a base for the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the beginning of the end of the war.

Increased education and the leveling effects of two world wars finally broke the rigid class system and opened opportunities to people of the lower classes. Under the Labour Party, welfare legislation between 1945 and 1951 brought numerous benefits to the English public. Although the Conservative Party gained control of elections in 1951, ending the development of the welfare state, medical care, secondary education, pensions, and employment benefits were already among the services available to all English citizens.

Industrial growth continued in England in the 1960s and 1970s, but England, shorn of its former colonial empire, lost its leadership role to other states, particularly the United States. A so-called special relationship between the United Kingdom, particularly England, and the United States marked a growing coincidence of world outlook and foreign policy among the countries of the English-speaking world. At the same time, the United Kingdom moved closer to continental Europe politically with its accession to the European Community in 1972.

The growth of nationalist movements in the non-English parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland and Wales, began to have an effect on the English in the 1980s. A feeling that the English had carried the burden of the state since its inception, only to be faced with nationalism and separatism on its periphery, triggered a modest reculturation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. English nationalism, long submerged in the British nationality, began to reemerge with demands for recognition of their special position within the United Kingdom.

The decline of heavy industry has greatly exacerbated the problems of the former industrial cities, particularly in the north of England. The southern counties have mostly converted to service industries and are thriving, while the English counties in the northeast and northwest remain the poorest, with higher unemployment and fewer services. The regional disparities have spurred the growth of regionalism and demands for the decentralization of the English government.

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