Saturday 17 December 2011

The Elizabethans

This is the second guest post done by J/first one here

via wikipedia
Elizabeth I of England, The Armada Portrait. This portrait was painted in approximately 1588 to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada which is depicted in the background. The location of the portrait is Woburn Abbey, home of the Duke of Bedford.
courtesy Bill Ingalls via wikipedia
Elizabeth II - picture taken in 2007 on a visit to USA
History provides innumerable insights into the English psyche. The declaration of war in 1939 in response to German nationalism amply illustrates doggedness in the pursuit of deep-felt conviction - obstinacy in the face of overwhelming odds. How well Prime-minister Churchill personified the national spirit.
More recently, Britain's decision to exercise its veto at the European Council meeting in Brussels on 9th December, is pertinent to the above characterisation of the nation. By blocking an attempt to bring the Euro-zone crisis within the EU's remit, Britain has inevitably been castigated by mainland Europe as beyond all reason. This should have come as no surprise! 
Because of its island status, Britain’s outlook has always been close, but not part of, that of mainland Europe. That twenty-two mile channel, even when spanned by a rail tunnel, has fostered an individuality and separateness of an infinitely greater dimension. This spirit is magnificently exemplified by A.N.Wilson’s recent book “The Elizabethans”. While ostensibly telling the story of the reign of Elizabeth I, the obvious parallels between the events of that time and those of today’s Elizabeth II, in terms of the “Englishness” that underlies these contrasting periods, is readily apparent.
The politics of Elizabeth I was driven by the split of her father – King Henry VIII – with the Church of Rome. At the time, religion in Europe was in turmoil. Nations following the religious reformers Luther and Calvin in the north were in conflict with Roman Catholic southern nations. England was also riven by the split between these two religious streams, but maintained a line between the two that satisfied (for the moment anyway) both sides of the divide. The Church of England, although reformed and separate from Rome, remained catholic in character and thus largely placated the die-hard Papists. At the same time the State’s brutal repression of extreme puritanism enabled a middle course to be steered, so largely avoiding civil disorder. England was under enormous pressure from counter-reformation forces in Europe to revert to Roman Catholicism, the failure of the Spanish armada being a turning point in this.
We see in this period the intellectual adeptness of Elizabeth the First’s reign to turn religious ambiguity into a national asset. Diplomatic relations with Spain were maintained while pretending that the pirating of Spanish treasure ships was not our business. Meanwhile, the perpetrators were showered with wealth and honours on their return home, thus rubbing salt into the wound. England turned from its squabbling neighbours in Europe to building a maritime capability, spreading its tentacles into the undeveloped world, leading eventually to a colonial empire.
Four hundred years on we have a Britain that wishes to be part of Europe, but not bound to it in every sense – the maintenance of the national currency being the principal divide. As we saw in the recent Brussels meeting, Britain was willing to be part of an EU pact to save the Euro-zone providing an exception was made for the City of London to remain outside of any new financial controls.
This should have come as no surprise to other members of the EU. The English believe that the country’s national interest (while remaining part of the EU Single Market) is best served by it not being part of a federal Europe, but free to pursue its international ambitions wherever this should take it.
This is the English character - the way we are – it is our roots. Nothing has changed! This is my personal view point.
A Happy Christmas to readers, wherever you may be - J      


  1. Rosemary beautiful post.
    tradition and strength

  2. Antonio: Many thanks for your comment. Of course, four hundred years ago Elizabeth I, as monarch, would have exercised enormous personal power whereas Elizabeth II today is a titular head, the power being exercised by the Prime Minister - H - Rosemary's husband.

  3. Dear Rosemary and H - Thanks for a post that very nicely ties together current events with the character of the nation.

    I've always been intrigued by Elizabeth I's masterful and deft use of power, and by the people who surrounded her. I especially enjoy the story of Sir Francis Drake finishing a game of lawn bowls as the Spanish Armada sailed into view. Talk about "Stay Calm and Carry On!"

  4. Dear Mark - Yes. Because of the religious divide, Elizabeth I walked a tightrope for the whole of her reign, which restricted the commitment she could make to those closest to her. Thus, she never had a husband to share the burden of responsibility, and was jealous when a close member of her court entered into matrimony. Drake knew that it is an asset in a military leader to convey a sense of calm control, even when the odds are dire.
    Unlike Corporal Jones in Dad's Army (Do you get recordings of this BBC Home Guard series in the US?). In any crisis Jones becomes a shivering wreck shouting - Don't Panic.

  5. I am not familiar with the Home Guard series, but I do listen daily to the BBC news on National Public Radio. Corporal Jones reminds me a little of a carpenter my family employed on a regular basis. He began every single job by shaking his head and muttering, "This could be dicey!"

  6. Hello Rosemary and H:
    We have enjoyed this most interesting post and the clever way in which events of the past have been tied to recent skirmishes in Brussels.

    Whilst we agree that the position adopted by Cameron 'on behalf' of Britain was most probably to be expected, we personally grow weary of British posturing against Europe and just wish that a more comprehensively European standpoint could be adopted. Times change and Britain is now fighting well beyond her weight now in our view.

  7. Dear Jane and Lance, many thanks for your positive response to the basic premise re: the bloody-mindedness of the Brits. The actuality is that I'm also a supporter of greater European integration - being only too conscious of the human toll in past conflicts - H.

  8. Hi Mark - I like that. How did the carpenter expect you to respond eg. This could cost me more than I expected? or Is this guy really up to the Job, I should perhaps have tried someone else?
    In reality he had probably just got used to using the expression - H.

  9. Really interesting "H". Your comments are always thoughtful & contain a deep understanding of the facts.

  10. Carolyn - I'm grateful for the supportive response. Occasionally some pivotal event focusses the mind on what it is in the national character that led us into it, or out of it, as the case may be. Neville Chamberlain's return from Munich in 1938 is a case in point - a yearning for peace taking priority over perhaps more creditable instincts. Does this example discount my thesis that Britishness predicates the stance taken in such instances?
    Probably, yes! What dictates the national mood - such as a country's commitment to measures aimed at halting climate change?

  11. A wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thanks. Your comment much appreciated - H

  13. belated thanks for this fascinating post. You've put your finger on a never to be underestimated element of Englishness. Not so much a parting of the ways as the waves!

  14. Dear Laura, many thanks for your comment. We should never cease to be aware of the differences in the nations making up the EU, while at the same time striving to come together in a common cause. My wife reminds me from time to time that there are far greater obstacles to a United States of Europe than were encountered in the creation of the USA. - H (Rosemary's husband - guest blogger).


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