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British Identities before Nationalism

Inspired by debates among political scientists over the strength and
depth of the pre-modern roots of nationalism, this study attempts to
gauge the status of ethnic identities in an era whose dominant loyalties
and modes of political argument were confessional, institutional and
Colin Kidd™s point of departure is the widely shared orthodox belief
that the whole world had been peopled by the oVspring of Noah. In
addition, Kidd probes inconsistencies in national myths of origin and
ancient constitutional claims, and considers points of contact which
existed in the early modern era between ethnic identities that are
now viewed as antithetical, including those of Celts and Saxons. He
also argues that Gothicism qualiWed the notorious Francophobia of
eighteenth-century Britons.
A wide-ranging example of the new British history, this study draws
upon evidence from England, Scotland, Ireland and America, while
remaining alert to European comparisons and inXuences.

col i n k id d is Lecturer in History, University of Glasgow. His publica-
tions include Subverting Scotland™s Past (1993).
British Identities before
Ethnicity and Nationhood in the
Atlantic World, 1600“1800

Colin Kidd
°µ¬©¤   ° ®¤© ¦  µ®©© ¦ ©¤§
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

©¤§ µ®©© °
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA
477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia
Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa


© Colin Kidd 2004

First published in printed format 1999

ISBN 0-511-03551-9 eBook (Adobe Reader)
ISBN 0-521-62403-7 hardback

Acknowledgements page vi
Note vii
List of abbreviations viii

1 Introduction 1

Part I Theological contexts
2 Prologue: the Mosaic foundations of early modern European
identity 9
3 Ethnic theology and British identities 34

Part II The three kingdoms
4 Whose ancient constitution? Ethnicity and the English past,
1600“1800 75
5 Britons, Saxons and the Anglican quest for legitimacy 99
6 The Gaelic dilemma in early modern Scottish political culture 123
7 The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 146

Part III Points of contact
8 Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 185
9 Mapping a Gothic Europe 211
10 The varieties of Gothicism in the British Atlantic world,
1689“1800 250
11 Conclusion 287

Index 292


This project was begun and largely completed during the tenure of Prize
and Post-doctoral Fellowships at All Souls College, Oxford: I remain
conscious of an enormous debt to the Warden and Fellows. Various
friends have commented on draft chapters: I should like to thank John
Robertson, Ian McBride, Brian Young, Scott Mandelbrote, Peter Ghosh,
Mark Elliott and Ingmar Westerman. Useful suggestions also came from
two anonymous CUP readers. Krzysztof Kosela, Charles Webster and
Fiona StaVord have helped in innumerable ways. John Walsh, Prys
Morgan, John Durkan, Simon Dixon, Stuart Airlie and Colin Armstrong
drew my attention to books I would otherwise have missed. I should also
like to acknowledge the great help and kindness of Bill Davies and Karen
Anderson Howes at Cambridge University Press. Dorothy Mallon helped
with the Wnal preparation of the text.
Lucy, Susan and Adam have tolerated my obsession with this project,
as have my colleagues at 9 University Gardens, and I also owe a special
word of thanks to Tim King for sustaining morale.


Spelling and capitalisation have been modernised in quotations from
English sources. In particular, I have eschewed the unfamiliar early
modern rendering of Britons as ˜Britains™.


BJECS British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Blackstone, Commentaries William Blackstone, Commentaries on the
laws of England (1765“9: 4th edn, 4 vols.,
Oxford, 1770)
DF Edward Gibbon, The history of the decline
and fall of the Roman Empire (ed. D.
Womersley, 3 vols., Harmondsworth,
Penguin Classics, 1995)
ECI Eighteenth-Century Ireland
ECS Eighteenth-Century Studies
EHR English Historical Review
H+T History and Theory
HJ Historical Journal
IHS Irish Historical Studies
JEH Journal of Ecclesiastical History
JHI Journal of the History of Ideas
P+P Past and Present
PMLA Publications of the Modern Language
Association of America
SHR Scottish Historical Review
SVEC Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century
WMQ William and Mary Quarterly

1 Introduction

This study addresses the signiWcance of ethnic identity within the early
modern British world. What was the ideological status of ethnicity in the
centuries which immediately preceded the rise of nationalism and racial-
ism? Was ethnic identity an important constituent of seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century political and religious argument? Or was it largely
subordinated to the claims of church, confession, kingdom and constitu-
tion? A second line of investigation attempts to unravel the orientation
and nature of identity construction in this era, not least because its
intellectual leaders still subscribed to the Mosaic account of the peopling
of the whole world from the stock of Noah. On a more local level, how did
the British, the English in particular, conceive of their ethnic relationship
to the rest of Europe? Furthermore, was the familiar antithesis of Celt and
Saxon part of the early modern world view?
My initial inspiration was derived not so much from the preoccupa-
tions of the new ˜British™ historiography,¦ though these have come to
shape the eventual monograph, but from more theoretical themes which
concern students of nationalism. There is a general consensus, under-
written by a variety of scholarly approaches in history and the social
sciences, that nationalism is a modern invention. However, no single
school of modernists monopolises the Weld, in large part because of the
chasm of disagreement over the relative contributions of materialist and
idealist factors in the rise of nationalism. Ernest Gellner and others have
located nationalism within the vast social and economic upheavals of the
past two centuries. Before the advent of commercialisation and indus-
trialisation, it is argued, culture was peripheral to economic life, however

¦ See e.g. J. G. A. Pocock, ˜British history: a plea for a new subject™, Journal of Modern
History 47 (1975), 601“21; Pocock, ˜The limits and divisions of British history™, American
Historical Review 87 (1982), 311“36; H. Kearney, The British isles: a history of four nations
(Cambridge, 1989); L. Colley, Britons: forging the nation 1707“1837 (New Haven and
London, 1992); A. Grant and K. Stringer (eds.), Uniting the kingdom? The making of
British history (London, 1995); S. Ellis and S. Barber (eds.), Conquest and union: fashioning
a British state 1485“1720 (London, 1995); B. Bradshaw and J. Morrill (eds.), The British
problem, c. 1534“1707 (Houndmills, 1996).

2 Introduction

controversial it might have been in the religious sphere. Indeed, within
early modern Europe, elite and popular cultures stood at a wide remove
from one another. There was often more cultural aYnity between elites
across borders than existed within a state between elite and indigenous
folk cultures. Modernisation, according to Gellner, changed all this. The
imperatives of commercial and industrial mobilisation dictated the cre-
ation of large pools of numerate and literate employees who could facili-
tate the requisite calculations, transactions and bureaucratic regulations.
As a result, the political centres of the European state system, particularly
within the great multiethnic empires, pressured peripheral communities,
whether local, confessional or national, to conform to national norms.
Thus culture became intensely politicised, provoking the rise of self-
conscious nationalisms, a situation exacerbated by the unevenness of
economic development between regions and ethnic groups.  Although
the broad contours of the Gellner thesis are persuasive, the speciWcs carry
less conviction. In central and eastern Europe there are problematic time
lags between the advent of nationalist intelligentsias and agitations and
the later appearance of the new economic structures with their attendant
dislocations. Gellner™s is by no means the only version of the materialist
interpretation of the rise of nationalism. Eric Hobsbawm and Miroslav
Hroch have advanced more straightforwardly Marxist versions of the
phases of development of nationalist movements.À Moreover, there is
another important variant of the materialist argument, associated with
Karl Deutsch, Benedict Anderson and Eugen Weber, among others. This
body of work stresses the role of modern communications, including
developments in print media and the ever-increasing intrusion into the
peripheries of Wscal-military states, in the rise and provocation of nation-
Even within the idealist camp scholars have staked out markedly diVer-
ent positions, though their basic chronologies are similar, with the late
eighteenth century identiWed as the crucial watershed. Isaiah Berlin re-
cognised the rise of nationalism as a by-product of the Counter-
Enlightenment, a wave of particularist reaction led by Herder to the
universal liberal ideals of the Enlightenment.• A parallel explanation was
  E. Gellner, Thought and change (1964: London, 1972), pp. 147“78; Gellner, Nations and
nationalism (Oxford, 1983).
À E. Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge, 1990); M. Hroch, Social
preconditions of national revival in Europe (Cambridge, 1985); Hroch, ˜From national
movement to the fully-formed nation™, New Left Review 198 (1993), 3“20.
à K. Deutsch, Nationalism and social communication (1953: 2nd edn, Cambridge, MA,
1966); B. Anderson, Imagined communities (London, 1983); E. Weber, Peasants into
Frenchmen: the modernisation of rural France, 1870“1914 (London, 1979).
• I. Berlin, The crooked timber of humanity (London, 1991), ˜The bent twig: on the rise of
Introduction 3

advanced by Elie Kedourie, who traced the emergence of nationalist
doctrine speciWcally to late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century
German philosophy, and in particular to the evolution within Kantian
and post-Kantian circles of the values of autonomy and self-determina-
tion.’ However, other scholars, including Eugene Kamenka, have fo-
cused more predictably on the French Revolution as the spawning
ground for nationalist doctrines of popular sovereignty.“ This era has also
attracted considerable attention from scholars keen to examine the transi-
tion from a classical conception of politics, focused on the institutions of
the polis, to an obsession, both romantic and scientiWc, with ethnic and
racial categories.“
The various broad churches of modernism are opposed by primordial-
ists, led by Anthony Smith, who believe that the modernist approach has
led to a neglect of important continuities in the long-term evolution of
national consciousness. However, even the primordialists accept much of
the basic modernist case. Smith denies the contention that nations are
˜invented™, but his primordialism is qualiWed by the concession that
modern nationhood, which draws on deep ethnic roots, is nevertheless
not a direct continuation of older forms of identity, but is rather ˜recon-
structed™ out of pre-existing materials.”
Quite apart from this debate over the historic provenance of national-

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