fourteenth-century document relating the workings of the Anglo-Saxon
parliament â€“ as a foundation for his argument about the nature of Eng-
landâ€™s ancient constitution, Wake turned instead to a Frankish analogy,
noting that â€˜there was all along, in those days, a very near aYnity, between
the polity of France, and that of our own country, in its ecclesiastical as
well as in its civil establishmentâ€™.â€¦Ãƒâ€“
What were perceived to be the basic diVerences between the English
and the French nations? Were their basic national characters diVerent?
Temple argued that the Franks under Pharamond who established the
â€¦ÃƒÂ James Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae (1791: 4th edn, London, 1792), p. 18.
â€¦ÃƒÃ€ See e.g. Thomas Madox, Firma burgi (London, 1726), â€˜Prefaceâ€™ and pp. 2â€“3; George
St Amand, An historical essay on the legislative power of England (London, 1725), p. 30;
Squire, Enquiry into foundation, p. 159 n.; James Ibbetson, A dissertation on the national
assemblies under the Saxon and Norman governments (London, 1781), p. 3.
â€¦ÃƒÃƒ Rayner Heckford, A discourse on the bookland and folkland of the Saxons (Cambridge,
1775), p. 8. â€¦ÃƒÃ• Whitaker, History of Manchester, II, p. 113.
â€¦ÃƒÅ’ Adam Smith, LJ (A), p. 247. â€¦ÃƒÅ“ Dalrymple, Feudal property, pp. 10â€“12.
â€¦Ãƒâ€“ William Wake, The authority of Christian princes over their ecclesiastical synods asserted
(London, 1697), p. 154. See also Humphry Hody, A history of English councils and
convocations (London, 1701), p. 377: â€˜A form of parliament very much resembling our
ancient English parliaments, I Wnd there was among our neighbours the French.â€™
Mapping a Gothic Europe 245
kingdom of France and the Saxons of England were both branches of the
same nation of Baltic Goths, the Suevi.â€¦Ãƒâ€” Had the French missed out on
the sort of ancient mixed constitution enjoyed by the Anglo-Saxons?
Rymer thought not. He described the limited constitution established by
the Franks under Pharamond, noting that even Charlemagne had gov-
erned â€˜in the old parliamentary wayâ€™. However, the French constitution
had gone into decline with the rise of a professional standing army. The
revival of the defunct Estates-General now required â€˜a miracle like the
Resurrectionâ€™.â€¦Ã•Â» This was a widely shared view. â€˜The whole polity of the
old Franks and of our Anglo-Saxons is in every respect, as well regarding
peace as war, so exactly similarâ€™, argued Samuel Squire.â€¦Ã•â€¦ Parliament
was as much a component of the Frankish ancient constitution as it was of
Englandâ€™s; Squire remarked that there was â€˜the greatest resemblance
between the old Fields of March in France, and an Anglo-Saxon Witena-
gemotâ€™.â€¦Ã•Â Thornhaugh Gurdon subscribed to a similar view of the origins
of parliaments: â€˜The original of the English government is much after the
manner of that brought into Germany by the Saxons, by the Franks into
Gaul, the Visigoths into Spain.â€™â€¦Ã•Ã€ Oldmixon mounted the argument that
â€˜France was once as happy as we are.â€™â€¦Ã•Ãƒ Revolution principles were as
much part of the woof of French history as of English. â€˜Nor was it thus in
England onlyâ€™, conceded Oldmixon; similar revolutions might be ob-
served if one studied the historical operation of Franceâ€™s ancient constitu-
tion: â€˜Childeric was deposed by the assembly of the states in France, and
Pepin was elected. Charles Duke of Lorraine was set aside and Hugh
Even in the more markedly chauvinistic culture of the English Saxonist
radicalism which emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century
there lingered some sense of a Gothic aYliation to the French. James
Burgh, for instance, noting that there â€˜was scarce an absolute prince in
Europe, about the thirteenth centuryâ€™, found some comparisons between
the Gothic histories of England and France; in 1355, for example, the
French had â€˜made their King John sign a charter much like the Magna
Charta of Englandâ€™.â€¦Ã•Å’
â€¦Ãƒâ€” William Temple, An introduction to the history of England, in Temple, Works (4 vols.,
London, 1731), II, p. 537. â€¦Ã•Â» Rymer, General draught, pp. 15, 23, 42â€“3, 66.
â€¦Ã•â€¦ Squire, Enquiry into foundation, p. 170 n. â€¦Ã•Â Ibid., p. 190 n.
â€¦Ã•Ã€ Thornhaugh Gurdon, The history of the high court of parliament, its antiquity, preheminence
and authority (2 vols., London, 1731), I, p. 22.
â€¦Ã•Ãƒ Oldmixon, Critical history, I, p. 12. â€¦Ã•Ã• Ibid., I, p. 23.
â€¦Ã•Å’ James Burgh, Political disquisitions (3 vols., London, 1774â€“5), I, p. 21.
246 Points of contact
Just as the central Gothicist concept of â€˜the hive of nationsâ€™ bridged some
of the enmities between free-born Protestant England and the despotisms
of Catholic Europe, so it also served to counteract the sense of diVerence
between Europe and the Asiatic â€˜otherâ€™. In the eighteenth century Asia
was a byword for barbaric practices, for luxury, for despotism and slavery,
for stasis and for corruption. Its deWning metaphor was the seraglio.â€¦Ã•Å“
Nevertheless, Gothicism adds a complicating dimension to Edward
Saidâ€™s familiar thesis about the origins of orientalism. Broadly speaking,
Said has argued that orientalism was a spurious body of knowledge which
addressed not the real East but an Asiatic otherness conjured â€“ by no
means always unsympathetically â€“ out of European prejudices and geo-
Gothicism was, of course, yet another European prejudice whose
champions constructed a fantastical northern Eurasia, but not an eastern
otherness. Instead, the Eurasian focus of Gothicism implicated Asian
manners and institutions within the history of European freedoms. How-
ever, it should be stressed from the outset that there were robust excep-
tions within British historiography to this broader aYliation. Rymer, for
example, baldly contrasted the freedoms of Europe with an Eastern
â€˜otherâ€™ lacking in the parliamentary institutions â€“ â€˜the government that
always has obtained in Europeâ€™ â€“ which deWned the common European
home.â€¦Ã•â€” Not all such contrasts were quite so sharp. Although Gibbon
reported with some disdain the part played by oriental luxury in the
corruption of Roman manliness, portrayed Byzantium as a lethargic
oriental despotism and sneered at the successors of Kublai Khan who
â€˜pollutedâ€™ the court of China â€˜with a crowd of eunuchs, physicians, and
astrologers, while thirteen millions of their subjects were consumed in the
provinces by famineâ€™, he also celebrated the dynamism and vigour of
various Asiatic peoples â€“ including the Arabs, Mongols and Tartars â€“
whose manners were similar to the barbarian Goths. The Tartars had
enjoyed, he believed a Coroultai, or â€˜dietâ€™, and â€˜the rudiments of a feudal
governmentâ€™, yet such customs and institutions were but the products of a
common barbarity, which, beyond the peculiar circumstances of post-
Roman Europe had all too often â€˜terminatedâ€™ in corrupt, despotic empire.
Ultimately, Gibbon remained a champion of European civilisation, ex-
pressing conWdence that this citadel was now â€˜secure from any future
irruptionâ€™ of Asiatic barbarism.â€¦Å’Â»
â€¦Ã•Å“ For eighteenth-century British views of India as a land Wt for despotism, see
T. R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 6â€“9.
â€¦Ã•â€“ E. Said, Orientalism (1978: Harmondsworth, 1985).
â€¦Ã•â€” Rymer, General draught, p. 9.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 247
For many antiquaries, however, it was harder to separate the historical
identities of Europe and the Orient. The shadowy Scythians of antiquity
suggested a common parentage for the Goths of Europe and the peoples
of northern and central Asia. Moreover, there was Biblical authority for
such notions of Eurasian kinship. The Universal history (1736) traced the
dispersal of Japhetâ€™s descendants not only throughout Europe, but also
across northern Asia, Grand Tartary, Asia Minor, Media, Armenia and
even India and China.â€¦Å’â€¦ Thus, despite the emergence of the inXuential
myth of oriental despotism, there were several commentators who traced
profound links between the Goths of Europe and their brethren of the
Asian steppes. Englishmen were informed by A general history of the Turks,
Moguls and Tatars (1730) that â€˜we are no other than a colony of Tatarsâ€™.â€¦Å’Â
The Saxonist James Ibbetson eagerly championed a wider Eurasian
identity: â€˜The various tribes of barbarians that inhabited the northern
regions of Europe and Asia were closely connected in their manners,
customs and institutions, the circumstances in which they disagreed were
minute, the great outlines were the same.â€™ In tracing the similarities in
manners and customs of â€˜the Scythian and German nationsâ€™, Ibbetson
insisted that â€˜the Saxon on the shores of the Baltic was not to be distin-
guished from the Hun on the banks of the Araxesâ€™. There were, however,
crucial diVerences in social evolution. The emergence of the feudal
system, according to Ibbetson, had occurred among the western peoples
â€“ the Visigoths, Lombards, Franks and Saxons â€“ from the sixth to the
ninth century, but â€˜by their Asiatic brethren at a much later period in the
remotest parts of the Eastâ€™.â€¦Å’Ã€
The Scottish orientalist John Richardson, on the other hand, sub-
scribed to the view that feudalism was â€˜an exotic plantâ€™ which had been
transmitted to Europe by Tartars, in whose Asiatic homeland feudalism
was â€˜indigenous, universal and immemorialâ€™.â€¦Å’Ãƒ Richardson was not alone
in detecting the existence of feudal institutions in the Ottoman Empire,
India and Persia. A long tradition of Scottish feudalist scholars from
Thomas Craig of Riccarton through to John Millar had speculated about
the feudal nature of oriental zaims and timariots.â€¦Å’Ã• According to
â€¦Å’Â» E.g. Gibbon, DF, I, p. 1032; II, p. 514; III, p. 806; J. Burrow, Gibbon (Oxford, 1985),
pp. 49â€“50, 74â€“9.
â€¦Å’â€¦ An universal history, from the earliest account of time to the present (7 vols., London,
1736â€“44), I, pp. 117â€“18.
â€¦Å’Â Quoted in P. J. Marshall and G. Williams, The great map of mankind: British perceptions of
the world in the age of Enlightenment (London, 1982), p. 88. See also R. J. Smith, Gothic
bequest, p. 40 n.
â€¦Å’Ã€ James Ibbetson, A dissertation on the folclande and boclande of the Saxons (London, 1777),
â€¦Å’Ãƒ John Richardson, A dissertation on the languages, literature, and manners of eastern nations
(1777: 2nd edn, Oxford, 1778), p. 153.
248 Points of contact
Richardson, Temujin, the leader of the Mongols who would win renown
and notoriety as Genghis Khan, had been a feudal monarch, limited in his
powers by a parliamentary institution, the Kouriltai (Gibbonâ€™s Coroul-
tai): â€˜Those general meetings, called Kouriltai, bear so near a resem-
blance to the diets of the Gothic nations, that a strong additional argu-
ment may thence be drawn to support the hypothesis of the early Tartar
establishments in Germany and Scandinavia.â€™â€¦Å’Å’ He also detected mili-
tary vassalage, juries and other familiar aspects of the Gothicâ€“feudal
heritage in the history of the Tartars. Indeed, the succession to Genghis
Khan of his youngest son, Olug Nuvin, in preference to the latterâ€™s elder
brothers, reminded Richardson of feudal forms found much nearer to
home: â€˜the situation of Olug Nuvin is a curious instance of a singular
custom, long prevalent in Tartary, as well as among the northern nations;
and even to be found in our old Saxon tenures, under the description of
Borough Englishâ€™.â€¦Å’Å“ However outrageous Richardsonâ€™s comparison, his
Eurasianism was not as eccentric as it seems. Adam Smith, for instance,
argued that the constitutions of Gothic Europe took their â€˜rise from the
same Tartarian species of governmentâ€™. There were only minor diVer-
ences between the Tartar and Gothic systems, and these were largely the
result of the Gothsâ€™ â€˜knowledge of agriculture and of property in landâ€™,
which were unknown to the nomadic Tartars.â€¦Å’â€“
At the turn of the nineteenth century, despite the advent of a more
strident Anglo-Saxonism, some historians still adhered to the wider Euro-
pean perspectives of traditional Gothicist antiquarianism. Henry Hallam
(1777â€“1859), for example, in his View of the state of Europe (1818)
recognised the ancient Gothic constitutions of France and Spain.â€¦Å’â€”
Institutional divergence remained the keynote of Anglo-French contrast.
Archibald Alison began his History of Europe during the French Revolution
with an exploration of the common Gothic institutions of Europe, fol-
lowed by a survey of the â€˜Comparative progress of freedom in France and
Englandâ€™.â€¦Å“Â» Even Thomas Macaulay, who believed that, â€˜from a very
â€¦Å’Ã• John Millar, The origins of the distinction of ranks (1771: Basel, 1793 edn), pp. 206â€“10;
P. Burke, â€˜Scottish historians and the feudal system: the conceptualisation of social
changeâ€™, SVEC 191 (1980), 537â€“9; Kidd, Subverting, p. 112 n. Russia was something of
an exception to this picture; see the work of the Scot William Richardson outlined in
Venturi, â€˜From Scotland to Russiaâ€™, pp. 16â€“20.
â€¦Å’Å’ Richardson, Dissertation on eastern nations, pp. 159â€“61. â€¦Å’Å“ Ibid., p. 162.
â€¦Å’â€“ Adam Smith, LJ (A), p. 244. See also LJ (B), p. 416. However, the Scottish Enlighten-
ment had no immunity from stereotypes of oriental despotism: see John Logan, Disserta-
tion on the government, manners and spirit of Asia (1787), in Logan, Elements of the
philosophy of history (1781: ed. R. Sher, Bristol, 1995).
â€¦Å’â€” R. J. Smith, Gothic bequest, pp. 141â€“2.
â€¦Å“Â» Archibald Alison, History of Europe during the French Revolution (10 vols., London,
1833â€“42), I, ch. 1.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 249
early age, the English had enjoyed a far larger share of liberty than had
fallen to the lot of any neighbouring peopleâ€™, upheld a traditional Gothi-
cist line on the recent early modern crisis of parliaments:
The constitution of England was only one of a large family. In all the monarchies
of Western Europe, during the middle ages, there existed restraints on the royal
authority, fundamental laws, and representative assemblies. In the Wfteenth cen-
tury, the government of Castile seems to have been as free as that of our own
country. That of Aragon was beyond all question more so.â€¦Å“â€¦
In France, where the monarch was â€˜more absoluteâ€™, the Estates-General
and later the parlement of Paris had exercised constitutional functions.
Early modern England had avoided the sorry fate of the nationâ€™s conti-
nental kin: â€˜but she escaped very narrowlyâ€™.â€¦Å“Â In the next generation
Bishop Stubbs (1825â€“1901) relocated the decline of the French constitu-
tion to the seventh century, making the bulk of French history a saga of
authoritarianism arising from the illiberal nature of the original Frankish
conquest: from its origins the Frankish polity had been a perversion of
Gothic liberties, and the French character was burdened with an unfortu-
nate legacy of centralised autocracy.â€¦Å“Ã€
Racial categories were also shifting. John Stuart Mill regarded the
French as â€˜essentially a southern peopleâ€™ who lacked the vigorous charac-
teristics of the â€˜self-helping and struggling Anglo-Saxonsâ€™.â€¦Å“Ãƒ The broad
continental vision of traditional Gothicism was narrowing into a Nordic
Teutonism, which, while never exclusively drawn from physical anthro-
pology, tended to exclude the southern peoples of Europe.â€¦Å“Ã• Given the
obvious caveat that nineteenth-century English racialism was no mono-
lith of prejudice or single-issue determinism, its eVect was nevertheless to
vulgarise an older form of Gothicism organised around a history of
institutional variations. A long-standing awareness of a common Euro-
pean home vanished from national consciousness, displaced by Teuton-
ism and the saga of an island race.
â€¦Å“â€¦ Thomas Babington Macaulay, Essays and lays of ancient Rome (London, 1886), â€˜Hallamâ€™
(1828), pp. 69â€“71; â€˜Hampdenâ€™ (1831), p. 193; â€˜Mahonâ€™ (1833), p. 240.
â€¦Å“Â Ibid., â€˜Hallamâ€™, pp. 69, 71; J. Burrow, â€˜Political science and the lessons of historyâ€™, in
S. Collini, D. Winch and Burrow, That noble science of politics (Cambridge, 1983),
â€¦Å“Ã€ J. Burrow, A liberal descent (Cambridge, 1981), p. 142; Burrow, â€˜Political scienceâ€™,
pp. 200â€“1; S. Collini, Public moralists (Oxford, 1991), p. 351.
â€¦Å“Ãƒ Quoted in Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, p. 32. See Collini, Public moralists, pp. 107â€“8.
â€¦Å“Ã• B. Melman, â€˜Claiming the nationâ€™s past: the invention of the Anglo-Saxon traditionâ€™,
Journal of Contemporary History 26 (1991), 575â€“95; G. Stocking, Victorian anthropology
(1987: New York pbk, 1991), p. 62; C. Parker, â€˜The failure of liberal racialism: the racial
ideas of E. A. Freemanâ€™, HJ 24 (1981), 825â€“46. However, note the limits of English
racialism. See E. Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge, 1990),
10 The varieties of Gothicism in the British
Atlantic world, 1689â€“1800
The familiar association of Gothicism with English nationhood tends to
obscure the importance of Gothic identities for other political communi-
ties in the British world. Although absorption in the Saxon past con-
stituted one of the principal foundations of an assertive English nation-
hood, the signiWcance of Gothicism was polymorphous and far from
straightforward, especially in the eighteenth century. As well as deWning
the English core-nation, the rhetoric of Gothicism was also a salient
feature of political culture in the various dominions of the eighteenth-
century British monarchy. The Anglo-Irish political nation, the British
colonists in North America and, from the middle of the eighteenth
century, the people of Scotland celebrated a Gothic heritage of liberty,