The people of England

One of the most frequently voiced myths of the England haters  is  that  the English are a peculiarly  mongrel  people.  The  truth  is  that  compared with most  other  peoples,  England  between  the Conquest and 1945 contained  a very  homogeneous  community.

A   little  thought  will  show  the  improbability  of   the “exceptional mongrel”  claim. The simple fact that Britain is an  island  suggests that there will be  greater  racial  and  cultural homogeneity  within her borders  than in continental  lands  which  share borders and which consequently are more vulnerable to immigration and invasion (there is not a  major  country  in  Europe which has not been invaded  in  the  past century).  England  by contrast   has not  been  successfully invaded by people from outside the British Isles since  1066,  while mass immigration was a rarity until our own day.

The general facts of immigration into England are these.  The English and England were of course created by the immigration of Germanic peoples. The British monk, Gildas, writing in the sixth century, attributed the bulk of the Saxon settlement to the  practice of British leaders employing Saxons to  protect  the Britons from Barbarian attacks after Rome withdrew around  410  A.D.  The English monk Bede (who was born in  A.D.  673)   attributed  the origins of the English to the Angles,  Saxons  and  Jutes who came to England in the century  following  the  withdrawal  of  the  Romans at the  request  of  British  war leaders.

Archaeological  evidence suggests that  substantial  Germanic  settlement   in England had a longer history and  dated  from  the  Roman  centuries,  perhaps from as early  as  the  third century.  What is certain is that in her formative  centuries  following  the  exit  of  Rome,   the  various  invaders  and  settlers  were drawn from peoples with much in  common.  They were  the  same  physical type,   there  was  a  considerable similarity of general culture, their languages  flowed from a  common linguistic well.

When the Norsemen came they too brought a Teutonic  mentality  and origin.  Even the Normans were Vikings at one remove who,if  frenchified,  were  not  physically  different  from  the  English  nor  one imagines utterly without  vestiges  of  the  Norse mentality. Moreover, the numbers of Normans who settled  in England immediately after the Conquest was small,  perhaps  as few as 5000.

After  the Conquest,  the only significant  immigration  into England for many centuries were the Jews.  They were expelled  from England in 1290.   There was then no large scale and  sudden immigration from outside the British Isles  until the flight of the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which granted limited toleration to the  Huguenots  within France) in 1684 by Louis X1V.

There was other immigration in the period 1066-1650,   but it was  small and highly selective.   Craftsmen of  talent  were encouraged particularly in the Tudor period. Italian families with  trading and banking expertise (such as it was in  those  days)   appeared  after the expulsion of  the  Jews.  Foreign merchants  were  permitted,  but for much of  the  period  on  sufferance  and  subject  to  restrictions  such  as   forced  residence within specially designated  foreign quarters.

The  reintroduction  of  the  Jews  to  England  during   the Commonwealth  (a  small  Jewish  community  was  in   England unofficially  before then) was substantial enough   to  cause  riots in London. However, their numbers were still relatively small, thousands rather than tens of thousands.  The  great  influx  of  Jews to England occurred in  the  nineteenth  and  twentieth  centuries as they fled first the  Tsarist  pogroms and then Hitler.

For  reasons of political correctness much is made  today  of  the long history of coloured peoples in England. Pedantically this is true,  but the pertinent question with immigration is always  how many?   I dare say that at any time  during   the Crusades  one could have found the odd Moor in England,  most  probably in London. Blacks, most of them slaves or ex-slaves, were brought into England from the sixteenth century.   Their numbers  in  London  by 1600 were  great  enough   to  prompt  Elizabeth to  pass an Act banning further black immigration. This Act had mixed success. There is no evidence of  widespread  black  settlement in the years  afterwards, but by the eighteenth century there was a significant population.  The blacks  of Elizabethan times and later were generally  slaves who  lived  with their masters. Those who  did  not,  settled  overwhelmingly  in  three  places:   London,   Liverpool  and Bristol.   The upper estimates of their numbers in  the  late eighteenth century (when settlement was at its peak)  suggest   a black population of perhaps  10,000. Substantial numbers of  these were resettled in Sierra Leone in West Africa, a colony which   was  established  in  the  late  eighteenth   century  specifically  for the purpose of returning blacks to  Africa. The  overwhelming majority who remained in England  were  men and  took white wives out of necessity.

The  flow of blacks into England was much reduced after  Lord Mansfield’s  narrow  and cautious judgement in  1772  on  the  status  of  a  slave in  England.  Mansfield  concluded  that  slavery  was such an obnoxious state that only  positive  law enacted by Parliament could make it legal in England.  In the  absence of such law,  slaves were  effectively free once they stepped  onto English soil.  This had the effect  of  gravely reducing  the  number blacks coming into  England.  With  the end of the Slave Trade in 1807, black immigration was reduced          to a bare trickle.   The combination of intermarriage and the ending of regular black immigration  meant that by the middle of  the nineteenth century they had left few descendants  who identifiably  black.  The impact of coloured immigration on  English   society  was   negligible  in  terms  of   cultural  influence before 1945.  The immigration since the last war is unprecedented in its nature and numbers.

Within the British Isles  the main mass movements of  people prior to this century were from Scotland and  Ireland  after the Clearances and the Famine.


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