Oh Those Anglo-Britons

A new book has been making the blog rounds of late:

Stuart Laycock’s All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To.

In it he takes a whirlwind tour through the 158 countries invaded by Britain through the ages (out of 193 countries currently recognized by the UN). An interesting idea, although the tone (at least of the blurb) is an odd combination of tongue-in-cheek yet slightly smug pride. First St. George’s Cross flags are proudly flying during international sporting events, now this. Is a reconstituted British Empire next? What would the First Churchill (John) think? I think we can probably guess what the Second Churchill (Winston) would think.

A nice map included at Muhlberger’s World History blog. (BTW, he’s written on late medieval laws of war, jousting, and the like).

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14 responses to “Oh Those Anglo-Britons”

  1. Gordon Bannerman says :

    Could it be English nationalism, incorporating some of the old imperial identity, which is re-asserting itself as a reaction (or perhaps as part of the process) to devolution, and possible Scottish independence? If Scotland votes for independence, where does leave English and British identity. With the dilution of ‘Britishness’ would ‘Englishness’ become more vibrant?

    • jostwald says :

      As an American (and with an early modern sensibility about Europe), I’ve always found it odd when English people insist that they are not “English” but “British.” Yea, right.

      • Ray Palmer says :

        English people don’t ‘insist’ we are not English but British; but we do sometimes insist we are English AND British. Today, Remembrance Day, being an apposite example.

      • jostwald says :

        I can’t speak to the view of the average English/Brit-on-the-street, but among historians there is a rather heated issue of whether to talk about English politics, strategy, etc. after 1707. Of course the past 20 years of analyzing English history in its archipelago context (propelled by the whole question of the EU) helps heighten one’s sensitivity to the question.

  2. Wienand Drenth says :

    ‘Englishness’: does that mean binge drinking, hooliganism and cooking that would be called poisoning elsewhere?

    Anyway, the topic of this book reminds me a bit of books I saw from before the 1940s, or whenever Queen Victoria still ruled, intended for young boys to learn about the Empire and such, about the heros of Sebastopol and the gates of Delhi, about lord Kitchener of Khartoum (and Gordon), the defense of Rorke’s Drift, and above all about the great Duke of Marlborough.

    • jostwald says :

      For those who haven’t seen it already, a book along those lines is Langford, Paul. Englishness Identified: Manners and Character 1650-1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    • Ray Palmer says :

      Englishness does not mean those things, Mr Drenth. Moreover, the ‘great’ Duke of Marlborough (after your first sentence I’m assuming you being ironic using that epithet) has not been in fashion since the 1740’s and has become largely forgotten in England, especially after Wellington. I doubt Victorian and Edwardian tales of derring-do featured Marlborough much at all.

      • Wienand Drenth says :

        Mr Palmer, my apologies. My first sentence was obviously meant ironic, with no offense intended whatsoever. I am just wondering, when people speak about ‘Englishness’, or in my situation ‘Dutchness’ what do they actually mean.

      • jostwald says :

        In the 18C, the Continental stereotype of England did indeed view the English as a violent race – it was quite easy to turn widely-hailed English victories such as Agincourt (and the massacring of prisoners of war) to this account. But then, every group sees itself as superior in comparison to its neighbors.

      • jostwald says :

        For some context, we can always look at what Google Ngram viewer has to say (with the standard caveats).
        Search on “great Duke of Marlborough”:
        https://jostwald.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=2298
        [Can’t get images to display in comments, so follow the link]
        This would suggest that they were still talking about him in that vein well into the 19C. This is also when Marlborough’s correspondence was being published by Murray, which undoubtedly brought him back in the limelight if he had ever faded.

        A search comparing “John Churchill” with “Arthur Wellesley” (not perfect because of the possibility of name duplicates, but Marlborough and Wellington have too many other conflated words, particularly with Wellington boots, beef and the like) shows the following:
        https://jostwald.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=2299

        Comparing the names are also problematic since John (and) Churchill are presumably more common names than Arthur (and) Wellesley (the search is the exact string), although it might be significant that people were given the combination, e.g. John Churchill French. Assuming some of the descendents were also named John Churchill might complicate matters further – I don’t know about Wellesley’s genealogy. Not surprisingly, the chart shows Wellington skyrocketing in the 19C.

        But it is interesting to note that the two characters (or at least those name combinations) seem to be running neck-and-neck by the second half of the 20C. We could also note that many biographies are still written of Marlborough’s life (including by the popular historian Richard Holmes, who previously biographied Wellington): more than a dozen books since c. 1900. I have no idea how many biographies of Wellington have been written in the same period, but I’d bet Marlborough is the most well-known British general before Napoleon. As general and Lord Protector, “Oliver Cromwell” blows both of them away, but Marlborough seems to have more dedicated biographies than Cromwell over the past century.

        I don’t doubt, however, that Marlborough’s cachet has dwindled among the English public at large (I recall a few web complaints after he was left off a “100 Greatest Britons” list a few years back), despite having Winston and Lady Di for descendants. I believe a preface to one of the recent Marlborough biographies bemoans this fact as well. But I’ve seen frequent complaints that the English public doesn’t even remember WW2-era history, much less from 300 years earlier (this might be among British youth specifically IIRC). So it’s probably a combination of historical ignorance plus a preference to downplay martial celebration. Blenheim Palace gets plenty of visitors in any case.

    • jostwald says :

      I recall a mid-century Marlborough biographer (Burton?) talking about how all the English schoolboys had to memorize Marlborough’s quartet of battle victories (in poetical form I believe), so it was presumably still a part of the history curriculum in the early 20C.

      • Wienand Drenth says :

        In this respect BROM is pretty easy to remember. At least, an overseas friend of mine who must have enjoyed this education in the 60s told me this.

      • Gordon Bannerman says :

        I certainly think Marlborough is a fairly well-known English figure to this day though probably less so than in the past. I do emphasise English. With the Act of Union in close proximity, the opportunity for the great Duke to be a British hero were perhaps undermined. The use of the Hanoverian army against the Jacobites probably destroyed any prospect of Scots celebrating what they perceived to be English military heroes. Then again, the anti-military strand in British politics perhaps had an influence in curbing enthusiasm for the military, at least in the eighteenth century. The Navy remained the more democratic and popular service. I think this changes in the nineteenth century though. Good discussion!

  3. Erik Lund says :

    “To all the countries we’ve invaded before….”

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