A New British History?
Gabriel Glickman
Professionalisation of history
linked to rise of the nation state
• First professorships in History = government
appointments at Oxford and Cambridge.
• Irish Free State – government ministers
determine school history curriculum.
Modern meaning of ‘nationhood’
• Nation state = sovereign legal authority.
• Nationhood denotes belonging: distinguishing
element of human identity.
• But – neither of these elements so clearcut in
the nations of Early Modern Europe.
Theories of nationhood
• Anthony Smith – nations needs common
ethno-cultural core, ‘ethnie’.
• Benedict Anderson – ‘imagined communities’:
nations the product of the modern world and
changing patterns of communication.
• Eric Hobsbawm – nations the product of
power elites and state formation.
The problem of British history
• Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation
(1992) – Britain an artificial, nation, ‘forged’ by
C18th imperial state.
• ‘British history’ therefore a problematic
concept for Early Modern period.
• AJP Taylor – argues that ‘British history’ an
anachronistic concept before establishment of
United Kingdom.
The ‘New British History’
• Key historians J.G.A. Pocock, John Morrill, Brendan
• Aim to find framework for writing ‘British history’
before establishment of the British state.
• Argue that British history meaningful because of
history of interaction and movement of people
around ‘Atlantic Archipelago’.
• Events in one domain influence events in another
e.g. throne of England taken by a Welshman in 1485
and a Scotsman in 1603.
Britain as part of a ‘Europe of
composite monarchies’(J.H. Elliott)
• 1453 - French absorption of old Plantagenet
territories e.g. Guyenne, Brittany.
• 1469 – Union of Aragon and Castile
• 1500 – Holy Roman Empire divided into six
‘imperial circles’ with own parliaments.
• 1514 – Union of Denmark and Norway
• 1569 – Union of Lublin
• 1618 – Brandenburg-Prussia
Creation of a composite monarchy in
• Aristocratic dynasties rule Anglo-Scottish borders e.g.
Neville, Percy, Douglas families.
• Wales – controlled by c. 130 Anglo-Norman ‘marcher
lords’ after 1282.
• Ireland – government after 1177 centred on the
Pale, controlled by Anglo-Norman magnates esp.
Fitzgerald earls of Kildare and Desmond.
• North and West of Ireland ruled by Gaelic clans e.g.
O’Neill (Ulster), O’Brien (County Clare)
Cultural and ethnic division in
• Four separate languages still spoken in Scotland by c. 1450.
• Emerging division of Lowlands (Anglophone) and Highlands
(ruled by Gaelic-speaking clans).
• 1521 – John Mair, History of Greater Britain: ‘Among the Scots
we find two distinct tongues, so we likewise find two different
ways of life and conduct’.
• Highland power held especially by MacDonald Lords of the
Royal centralisation in England
and Scotland pre-1558
• 1496 – James IV of Scotland abolishes the
Lordship of the Isles (powerbase of Clan
• 1536-1543 – Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell
enact legal and political union of England and
Wales: abolish powers of the marcher lords.
• 1541 – Centralisation in Ireland: English army
and administration imposed in Dublin; policy
of ‘surrender and regrant’.
Anglo-Scottish rivalry
• English monarchs had claimed rights to throne
of Scotland since reign of Edward I.
• 1544-5 – ‘Rough Wooing’: Henry VIII tries to
force Scottish noblemen into accepting
marriage of (English) Prince Edward to
(Scottish) Queen Mary.
• 1559-1587 - Scottish queen Mary Stuart
claims throne of England against Elizabeth I.
External factors change relations
within British Isles
• Impact of the Reformation – division of Christian world into
rival Catholic and Protestant camps.
• Influence of Europe – rival kings and emperors impact on
British politics; people in British Isles maintain European
allegiances and identities esp. over religion.
- effect seen 1689 when William of Orange takes throne of
British kingdoms; 1714 when George I succeeds Queen Anne.
• Growth of an American Empire – need to see American
colonies as part of the British polity.

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