If I had to sum up what England means to me in one word, that word would be home. England is my home, always has been and always will be. When I fly back in to England, the feeling I get is the same I got as a child, pulling in to the drive at home in the back of my parents car. A warm, familiar feeling of a place where I will always feel welcome.
I think the comparison with family is a good one. There are those who knock patriotism as irrational, but everyone loves their family and feels nostalgia for the home they grew up in. Like my parents, my country helped make me the person I am today, and me and my ancestors helped and will help to make England. Patriotism is loving your country and wanting to do your best for it.
While obviously loving England as it is my country, it is easy to find things to love about it. From England’s origins as Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Friesians, crossing the sea to conquer what would become England. Under threat from another set of overseas raiders, the Vikings, the English state formed around the already recognised English people, thanks largely to Alfred the Great and his descendents. This kingdom, the origin of the name England is often taught in schools as some kind of dark age barbarians, there just to lose to the Normans. But they don’t explain that the Anglo-Saxons were ahead of their time in terms of things as varied as women’s rights and use of the vernacular language.
That language is now the world’s language. Taken from it’s Germanic roots and influenced by both Danish and Norman invaders, this versatile and beautiful language has spread world wide and England has provided some of the best literature in the world, from Chaucer to Shakespeare.
The English countryside, is calm and peaceful. It is decorated with the defining hedgerows of our agricultural history and scattered across the country are the cities which gave the world the industrial revolution, Blake’s “dark satanic mills” in our “green and pleasant land”. The typical English village may be changing but will remain an icon, with pleasant cottages and village greens.
Although often at war with our neighbours and cousins, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, from 1707 onwards we have been working together, many nations in one state, as Great Britain. All the countries contributed to Britain’s achievements and I feel England can rightly claim it’s part in them. There are obviously many downsides to the Empire, but looking back from todays moral high ground we can miss the many things it brought the world. Industrialisation, trade and parliamentary democracy are just some. Although Britain didn’t start the slave trade, it did do much to end it.
Through our navies under Nelson, and armies under Wellington we defeated Napolean’s attempts to conquer all Europe, and we would stand up again in both World Wars. The English and British have never shied away from war when needed. Even the Normans only won because we were under attack from two sides, King Harold rushing at amazing speed up the country with his armies to defeat the famous Norwegian Harald Hardrada, before rushing back down to his unfortunate end at Hastings. Despite the replacement of all in positions of power with French speaking Norman lords, the ordinary people would remain English, and in time it would be the ruling class who came to consider themselves English and buy into our identity, rather than vice versa.
Even England’s much underrated food is something special to me. Solid and hardy, like the English people, steak and kidney pies, fish and chips, sunday roast and of course the English breakfast. Tasty and filling, not pretentious and arty.
I must have missed so many things, but I hope I have given an impression of England’s place in the world and in history, a great legacy of which we English today can be rightly proud. And I hope others share my sense of belonging and we can work to carry on England’s proud traditions. For all the successes of the Union, the days of empire are over, and it is time for all British nations, including England to stand on their own two feet. A strong English identity can only get us all working together to continue to make England great.
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm.
You can find James over at his new blog The Secret Person