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76 The three kingdoms

British, Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman customs. And as our language
is so much the richer, so the laws are the more complete: neither doth this
attribute less to them, than those that would have them to have stood out
the same in all mutations; for no tree is so good Wrst set, as by transplant-
ing.™  Nevertheless, as we shall see, pride in England™s ethnic hybridity
was more than countermatched by the political argument that these
various groups had made similar contributions to the English constitu-
tion, which enjoyed a history of continuity. On the other hand, political
imperatives did occasionally dictate the opposite strategy. A notable
example is Daniel Defoe™s The true-born Englishman (1701) which cel-
ebrated England™s mongrel nationhood as a means of answering a par-
ticular polemical need “ to ward oV anti-Dutch attacks from tories who
accused the Williamite regime of betraying the English national interest:
The Romans Wrst with Julius Caesar came,
Including all the nations of that name,
Gauls, Greeks, and Lombards; and by computation,
Auxiliaries or slaves of ev™ry nation.
With Hengist, Saxons; Danes with Sueno came,
In search of plunder, not in search of fame.
Scots, Picts, and Irish from the Hibernian shore:
And conquering William brought the Normans o™re.

All these their bar™brous oVspring left behind,
The dregs of armies, they of all Mankind;
Blended with Britains, who before were here,
Of whom the Welch ha™ blest the character.
From this amphibious ill-born mob began
That vain ill-natured thing, an Englishman.À
There are, of course, other examples of this strain of panegyric. For
example, one Philopatriae, the pseudonymous author of the poem South
Britain (1731), declining to ˜cloud [his] verse with fab™lous tales / Of
Magog, Brutus, or the Root of Wales™, drew instead ˜the present martial
breed:
Sprung from the Roman, Saxon, Norman Seed,
Blended with Britains, how they all unite,
And make the English so renown™d in Fight.Ã
  Francis Bacon, ˜A proposition to his majesty . . . touching the compiling and amendment
of the laws of England™ (c. 1616), quoted in G. Burgess, The politics of the ancient
constitution (Houndmills, 1992), p. 57. A good example of pride in linguistic diversity is
Nathaniel Bailey, An universal etymological English dictionary (6th edn, London, 1733),
˜Introduction™. For the late eighteenth-century debate over the ancient British continu-
ities of the English language, a thesis championed by John Whitaker in his inXuential
History of Manchester (2 vols., London, 1771“5), see Gibbon, DF, II, p. 502 n.; Ephraim
Chambers (d. 1740), Cyclopedia (4 vols., London, 1786), IV, ˜Teutonic™.
À Daniel Defoe, The true-born Englishman (10th edn, London, 1701), p. 6.
à Philopatriae, South Britain: a poem (London, 1731), p. 15.
Whose ancient constitution? 77

Despite such eVusions, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
scarcely bear witness to any profounder sense of England as a multicul-
tural nation. Some commentators placed no value at all upon ethnic
diversity. In St Edward™s ghost: or, anti-Normanisme (1647), the radical
Saxonist John Hare produced an extraordinarily intemperate argument
for ethnic purity, not only lambasting the Normans for having befouled “
˜un-Teutonised™ “ England™s language, laws and institutions, but display-
ing little fondness either for the ancient Britons. Such were the glories of
England™s Teutonic ˜mother nation™ “ enthusiastically celebrated by Hare
“ that
our progenitors that transplanted themselves from Germany hither, did not
commix themselves with the ancient inhabitants of the country “ the Britons “ (as
other colonies did with the natives in those places where they came) but totally
expelling them, they took possession of the land to themselves, thereby preserving
their blood, laws and language incorrupted.•
Later, The queen an empress, and her three kingdoms one empire (1706), a
pamphlet in favour of British union, boasted that the sea had kept Britons
˜freer from foreign mixtures than most countries upon the Continent™.
England™s Roman, Saxon, Danish and Norman conquerors, the pam-
phleteer argued, were ˜never perhaps more than a tenth to the natives of
the whole island among whom they settled. And the last of these invasions
being now above six hundred years since, there are very few families
amongst us that can derive themselves from a Norman extraction, and
fewer that can make out their Saxon and Danish pedigree.™’
Antiquaries commonly ascribed similar manners, the same basic insti-
tutions, sometimes even a common descent, to some or all of England™s
˜diVerent™ constituent peoples. Most obviously, it was possible to em-
brace the Danes and Normans as Gothic kindred of the Saxons. Richard
Verstegan acknowledged the various invasions of England but denied
that the English were a mongrel people:
And whereas some do call us a mixed nation by reason of these Danes and
Normans coming in among us, I answer . . . that the Danes and the Normans were
once one same people with the Germans, as were also the Saxons; and we not to
be accompted mixed by having only some such joined unto us again, as sometime
had one same language, and one same original with us.“
Hare depicted the arrival of ˜Danish intruders™ in a similar fashion: ˜a
people that were our consanguineans, our ancient countrymen and breth-
ren, whose prevailing over us would have introduced scarce strange laws

• John Hare, St Edward™s ghost: or, anti-Normanisme (London, 1647), in Harleian miscellany
VIII (London, 1746), p. 94.
’ The queen an empress, and her three kingdoms one empire (London, 1706), p. 9.
“ Richard Verstegan, A restitution of decayed intelligence (1605: London, 1634), p. 187.
78 The three kingdoms

or language; nor other blood than Teutonic™.“ The Anglo-Irish politician
and scholar Sir William Temple (1628“99) used the common Gothic
heritage of Europe to bridge the central diYculty in the history of English
liberty “ the Norman Conquest. The Saxons and the Normans were of
the same Gothic stock: so why should we expect the Normans to under-
mine completely the Gothic institutions whose rudiments they too
cherished? ˜It is most probable™, wrote Temple of trial by jury, ˜that
neither the English received it from the Normans, nor these from the
English; but that both nations, deriving their original from those ancient
Goths, agreed in several customs or institutions, deduced from their
common ancestors, which made this trial by juries continue uninterrup-
ted in England, not only by the Normans, but by the Danes also, who
were but another swarm of that great northern hive.™ Moreover, Temple
did not ascribe the introduction of feudalism into England exclusively to
the Normans: ˜feudal laws, were all brought into Europe by the ancient
Goths, and by them settled in all the provinces which they conquered of
the Roman Empire; and, among the rest, by the Saxons in England, as
well as by the Franks in Gaul, and the Normans in Normandy; where the
use of their states, or general assemblies, were likewise of the same
original™.” Bolingbroke, a tory keen for tactical reasons to appear in whig
clothing, maintained that the Normans ˜came out of the same northern
hive™ as the Saxons whom they ˜subdued™, and ˜naturally resumed the
spirit of their ancestors, when they came into a country where it prevail-
ed™.¦»
More typically, many antiquarians did recognise that the Britons,
Saxons, Danes and Normans were diVerent peoples, notwithstanding
shared ethnic origins in the mists of antiquity. Although the history of the
peopling of England by a diversity of overseas nations raised heated
contentions among antiquarians, these disputes did not revolve around
questions of ethnicity. Rather, England™s patent ethnic diversity gener-
ated questions regarding the history of the English constitution. How had
the incursions of diVerent groups from abroad altered the institutions of
the host country? To what extent did waves of overseas settlement erode
the inherited foundations of ˜English™ liberty? In particular, did the arrival
of the Danes or Normans amount to a conquest of the Saxons, and a

“ Hare, St Edward™s ghost, p. 95.
” William Temple, An introduction to the history of England, in Temple, Works (2 vols., 1731),
II, pp. 557, 559. Temple, Works, II, p. 585, also believed that the Norman Conquest had
brought a bonus to the English “ sovereign authority over the English Channel: ˜the
dominion of narrow seas seems naturally to belong, like that of rivers, to those who
possessed the banks or coasts on both sides™.
¦» Bolingbroke, Remarks on the history of England (1730“1), in Bolingbroke, Works (5 vols.,
London, 1754), I, p. 316.
Whose ancient constitution? 79

consequent loss of liberty? The manner of arrival mattered more than
ethnic diVerence.
At the heart of English national consciousness was a pride in the
nation™s eponymous ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons, admired for their liber-
tarian ways. However, the aboriginal ancient Britons and the more prob-
lematic waves of Danes and Normans who followed the Saxons also had
to be Wtted into the story of English liberty. There were eight broad
strategies for dealing with this chequered history of settlement and in-
vasion.
(1) At one extreme was the royalist thesis, whose most uncompromising
version was formulated by Dr Robert Brady (1627“1700). Through
an emphasis upon conquest, change and discontinuity in the history
of English institutions, royalist antiquaries denied England™s unbro-
ken history of liberty, law and parliamentary government. Not only
had the Norman Conquest led to the imposition of alien feudal
tenures on the English legal system, but post-Conquest kingship had
been absolutist, with parliament in its modern form taking shape, by
royal grace, only in the thirteenth century.¦¦
The royalist position provided an ironic complement to the radical argu-
ment found at the other end of the ideological spectrum.
(2) Formulated in the 1640s, the radical interpretation of English history
involved a pessimistic reading of the Conquest. After 1066 a Norman
Yoke had fallen on England™s free-born Saxons, which continued to
blight English law and government. Therefore, the Levellers went on
to argue, the common law needed to be purged of its noxious Nor-
man“feudal elements. Nevertheless, the radicals did acknowledge
some underlying continuities from the Saxon common law.¦ 
Between these extremes lay the variegated mainstream of seventeenth
and eighteenth-century English political argument.
(3) Most obviously, there was the argument for the unbroken backbone
of English constitutional history. Some antiquaries, who emphasised
the continuity of institutions and laws at the expense of new ethnic
strains and new rulers, regarded the parliament of the middle ages as
¦¦ Robert Brady, An introduction to the old English history (London, 1684).
¦  C. Hill, ˜The Norman yoke™, in Hill, Puritanism and revolution (1958: Harmondsworth,
1986); J. H. Baker, An introduction to English legal history (2nd edn, London, 1979),
pp. 184“5. For a corrective to the ˜strong™ reading of 1066, see R. B. Seaberg, ˜The
Norman conquest and the common law: the Levellers and the argument from continu-
ity™, HJ 24 (1981), 791“806; D. Wootton, ˜Introduction, in Wootton (ed.), Divine right
and democracy (Harmondsworth, 1986), pp. 33“4; Burgess, Politics of the ancient constitu-
tion, pp. 90“3.
80 The three kingdoms

the descendant of the Saxon gemot, itself the successor of the con-
cilium favoured by the ancient Britons.¦À
(4) Some antiquarians conceded that the irruption of Romans, Saxons,
Danes and Normans had inevitably wrought changes in England™s
institutions and laws; however, these alterations were superWcial.
Underlying a surface history of arrival, settlement and change was a
deeper-laid pattern of common institutional forms, whether through
limitations on monarchy, or through legal continuity within a shared
framework of custom and precedent. The blending of peoples did not
disturb the basic principles of English government.¦Ã
(5) However, it was possible to read this story the other way round:
several early Stuart antiquaries already saw the common law as ˜a
Norman tree with a few scattered roots in the Anglo-Saxon, Danish
and British earth.™¦•
(6) An alternative version involved a recognition that there had been
some discontinuity in English history, whose hallmark was a story of
struggle, conXict and the survival of liberty against the odds. Accord-
ing to R. B. Seaberg, breaches in the saga of continuity were not
necessarily ˜fatal™, but served to emphasise the ˜recurrent drama™ of
English constitutional history. Restoration followed innovation; tem-
porary abrogations of liberty were followed by reconWrmations of the
ancient constitution.¦’ For several historians the English libertarian
tradition was not simply a complacent story of survivals, it was
foremost an ongoing battle against tyrannical kings and the forces of
popery. Patriotic antiquaries who operated within these strains of
constitutionalism rarely extrapolated beyond this story of ethnic
variation to glorify England as a melting pot. What concerned them
was primarily the preservation of England™s ancient constitution of
liberties and laws.
(7) Logically, the Gothicist interpretation of English history which
gained inXuence during the seventeenth century ran right against the
grain of these ˜national™ stories. For Gothicists considered Anglo-
Saxon institutions and freedoms to be the common ˜Germanic™
inheritance of post-Roman Europe. Just as the Anglo-Saxons, who
¦À E.g. Algernon Sidney, Discourses concerning government (ed. T. G. West, Indianapolis,
1990), ch. 3, sect. 28.
¦Ã E.g. Richard Hurd, Moral and political dialogues (London, 1759), pp. 243“4.
¦• D. Woolf, The idea of history in early Stuart England (Toronto, 1990), p. 97.
¦’ Seaberg, ˜Norman conquest™, 793, 801. For example, Thomas Rymer, A general draught
and prospect of government in Europe (London, 1681), pp. 31“2, conceded that at the
Norman Conquest ˜the old laws and policy ran a dangerous risk from the inundation of
arbitrary power™. However, ˜the cockatrice™ was ˜crushed in the egg™: within a century and
a half, King John had signed Magna Carta which recognised the customs of Saxon
England. Cf. Blackstone, Commentaries, IV, p. 425.
Whose ancient constitution? 81

brought Germanic customs to England, had established gemots or
parliaments, so the Franks, Vandals, Visigoths and Lombards had
founded similar constitutions elsewhere in Europe with parliamen-
tary diets, such as the cortes or the Champs de Mars. Whatever the
logic of Gothicism, this ethnic story of Germanic transplants never,
over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, fully
occluded the idea of the immemorial constitution or the relevance of
the ancient Britons.¦“
(8) In the 1730s another version of English history emerged which was
largely indiVerent to the country™s early experience of invasion and
settlement. Pioneered by Walpolean whig pamphleteers, set out at
length by the sceptical North Briton David Hume in his History of
England and exploited by defensive administrations during the
1760s, the modern whig interpretation of history ran as follows. The
English past was very diVerent from the reWned and commercial
post-feudal, post-Revolutionary present. The civil liberties of eight-
eenth-century Englishmen were not the bequest of their Anglo-
Saxon ancestors; rather they were part of England™s benign process of
modernisation, inaugurated in Henry VII™s attempts to control his
overmighty magnates and culminating in the whig Revolution of
1688. Nevertheless, even the modern whigs who championed this
argument and noted the defectiveness of England™s much-vaunted
pre-modern liberties acknowledged the signiWcance of the longer
course of English constitutional development.¦“
Antiquarian writing, even where it touched on the question of ethnic
origins, generally focused on an institutional agenda. This meant that
precision in the discussion of ethnic categories yielded to political impera-
tives. Indeed, W. H. Greenleaf notes in his discussion of seventeenth-
century political theory that ˜often where it suited the polemical purpose
in mind, the Goths came to be confused with the Britons they sup-
planted™, though ˜on the whole the speciWc political point was not blur-
red™. For most of the eighteenth century it remained common to celebrate
the shared libertarian virtues of all the non-Roman septentrional peoples,
Celtic as well as Gothic, as an antithesis to the corruption and luxury of
imperial Rome. Nevertheless, because the ancient Britons had experi-
enced the Roman yoke, unlike the Anglo-Saxons, the latter tended to

¦“ R. J. Smith, The Gothic bequest (Cambridge, 1987), p. 41; S. Kliger, The Goths in England
(Cambridge, MA, 1952).
¦“ I. Kramnick, ˜Augustan politics and English historiography: the debate on the English

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