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evolutionary tradition largely resistant to deconstruction. The Scottish
Enlightenment reinvigorated English Gothicism in its own image. The
modiWed Gothicism of the Scottish Enlightenment accorded with the
dominant trend in English whig historiography of the middle of the
eighteenth century, which led away from a prescriptive ancient constitu-
tionalism towards an evolutionary account of the consolidation of English
liberties culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.¦•» In the non-
radical mainstream of British political culture Scots and English histor-
ians together reconstructed a stronger whig tradition which rejected some
of the excesses of Gothicism.¦•¦
Each provincial community imparted a diVerent spin to the ethnic bias
of the British Gothicist tradition. The colonial Americans were almost
exclusively Saxonist in their identity; the Anglo-Irish understandably put
great stress on the Norman component of their political heritage; while,
outside the radical fringes of Scottish culture, North Britons had little
enthusiasm for an explicitly ethnic Saxonism, preferring instead to focus
on the institutional achievements of the Scoto-Norman era and the recent
recovery of this shared British heritage. Of course, these diVerences
sprang in part from the particular constitutional and political relation-
ships of the province to the mother country.
However, the fundamental diVerence may stem from attitudes to feu-
dalism. Was the feudal law a legitimate part of the Gothic libertarian

¦Ã” L. Colley, Britons: forging the nation 1707“1837 (New Haven and London, 1992).
¦•» I. Kramnick, ˜Augustan politics and English historiography: the debate on the English
past, 1730“1735™, H+T 6 (1967), 33“56.
¦•¦ J. G. A. Pocock, ˜The varieties of whiggism from exclusion to reform™, in Pocock, Virtue,
commerce and history (Cambridge, 1985).
286 Points of contact

heritage? In the Scottish tradition, feudalism was a fundamental part of
the liberation process, but to many American commentators it was by
deWnition antithetical to liberty. The modern whiggism of the middle and
late eighteenth century comprehended the importance of the evolution of
the Gothic system away from strict feudalism and the wider social devel-
opments which mitigated and alleviated restrictions on civil liberty. By
contrast, in the American colonies as well as in English radical circles, the
ancient Gothic constitution was prized in itself. In Britain feudalism was
regarded as part of the process of social evolution towards a better form of
civil liberty as it modiWed in response to new socioeconomic conditions,
most notably the rise of towns and commerce. The most valued liberty
was post-feudal. In America the most valued form of liberty was pre-
feudal, and feudalism was regarded as an unmitigated evil which had
corrupted a Saxon golden age.
Anglophobia was the downside of a culture of high expectations asso-
ciated with the Gothic heritage, which, except in Scotland, tended to end
in disappointment and disenchantment. Gothicism fuelled discontent
with the mundane realities and compromises of government Wnance and
trading regulations. The practicalities of empire-building could not live
up to the Gothic fantasy of an Englishman™s freedoms. A blurring of
natural rights with the historic privileges enjoyed by the Saxon peoples
suggested that the rights of Englishmen were, in a sense, natural rights.
Herein lay the force of Englishness “ an identity both ethnic and univer-
sal. Yet the obverse of this was an Englishness easily reducible to natural
rights, and, in this form, capable of sustaining a movement for self-
determination.
11 Conclusion




To be misunderstood “ at least in part “ is the inevitable fate of all
authors, a prospect which looms very large in the present case. This
project has not been about the importance of ethnic identity in the
discourse of the British world during the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries: rather, it has involved an attempt to demonstrate its secondary
place in political argument. Our real subjects have been the mainstays of
the early modern world view “ respect for the authority of the Bible, one™s
confession and the established institutions of church and state. These
have been approached obliquely through the ways in which the inescap-
able, but ill-deWned, facts of ˜ethnicity™ were shaped by the gravitational
pull of these Wrst-order determinants of public debate.
While ethnic consciousness played a relatively minor role in politics,
pedigrees “ of families, peoples, nations, institutions, church practices
and doctrines “ clearly mattered a great deal. Furthermore, given the
narrow conWnes of a 6,000“year-old world, it was far from impossible to
trace such lineages back to their ultimate origin, though few had the
assurance of the Scots antiquary Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty who
traced his family line back to Adam ˜surnamed the protoplast™.¦ There is,
however, a serious point here: provenance was the keystone of legitimacy,
whether Biblical, confessional or institutional. As we have seen, this
applied equally to the roots of racial diversity, which had to be accom-
modated to Biblical monogenesis; to the origins of ˜ethnic™ idolatry which
had to be explained in such a way as not to challenge the unique authority
of Christian revelation; to the rise of diVering Christian confessions
whose legitimacy was determined by conformity to Scripture, to the best
and purest antiquity and “ in some cases “ to the original polity of the
national church in question; and to the beginnings of states and their
prescriptive ˜ancient constitutions™. Lineage was inextricably inter-
woven into the various discourses of legitimacy which dominated the
¦ Thomas Urquhart, Pantochronochanon (1652), in Urquhart, Works (Maitland Club, Glas-
gow, 1834), p. 155. Cf. G. H. Jenkins, The foundations of modern Wales, 1642“1780 (1987:
Oxford, 1993), pp. 240“1.

287
288 Conclusion

tradition-bound world of the British ancien regime. 
´
Nevertheless, it is far from easy to tease out unambiguous conclusions
about the precise status of ˜ethnicity™ in this milieu. On the other hand, I
have tried to highlight the very ambiguities which surround the uses of
ethnic identity in various sorts of argument. Here, we see clearly how
historical contexts expose the limitations of the naked ahistorical models
proposed by social scientists. Boundary relationships and binary opposi-
tions take us only so far in understanding ethnic identities; but we should
not forget the fabric of inherited stuV out of which particular ethnic
histories were clothed. Mythmakers fashioned ethnic descents out of the
jumble of the available historical materials. These were not the arbitrary
products of free association. Rather there was a subtle interplay of accep-
ted history, political necessity and ideological resourcefulness. The past “
and distant antiquity in particular “ was supple, but could be massaged
only within the limits of historical plausibility. Having stated this caveat,
however, I believe that ethnic Wcticity was an important adjunct of the
politics of legitimacy throughout the early modern period. Just as anti-
quarians milked the past to justify the present, subordinating historiogra-
phy to ideological necessity, so they peopled their usable pasts with
equally usable ethnic groups. Far from being a rigorously entailed inherit-
ance, an ethnic origin myth had to be calibrated against other ideological
priorities.
The familiar staples of early modern political discourse “ ancient
constitutions, conquest theory, regnal status within composite states and
ecclesiastical polity “ exerted an enormous inXuence on the expression of
identity. Thus, although ethnic identities were not absent from the early
modern world, the form they took rendered them vulnerable to colonisa-
tion by other ideological types, the most common parasites being argu-
ments for the prescriptive legitimacy of institutions. Hence, ˜regnalism™, a
term used by the medievalist Susan Reynolds, seems more appropriate as
a description of pre-modern national identities than ˜ethnocentrism™.
After all, the focus of early modern political discourse was on the institu-
tions of the regnum, not upon the ˜ethnie™.À
Despite my reservations about advancing any tight deWnition of ethnic-
ity “ which would, I fear, be overly reductive “ certain patterns do emerge
from this study. Most obviously, the correspondence between ethnicity

  J. C. D. Clark, English society 1688“1832 (Cambridge, 1985); S. Connolly, Religion, law,
and power: the making of Protestant Ireland 1660“1760 (1992: Oxford pbk, 1995);
C. Leighton, Catholicism in a Protestant kingdom (Houndmills, 1994).
À S. Reynolds, Kingdoms and communities in western Europe 900“1300 (1984: Oxford, 1986),
ch. 8, ˜The community of the realm™, esp. pp. 252 n., 254. Ethnicity was of course a
dimension of regnalism: see Reynolds, ˜Medieval origines gentium and the community of
the realm™, History 68 (1983), 375“90, for the part played by myths of communal descent
in cementing regnal solidarity among hybrid populations.
Conclusion 289

and nationhood was far from straightforward. Take the case of Gothicism
which, as well as contributing towards the libertarian self-image of the
English, provided a counterweight to Francophobia, reinforced British
integration and also helped to heighten an awareness among colonial
patriots of exclusion from their inherited rights as Englishmen. Alterna-
tively, consider the Irish Protestant nation who identiWed themselves not
only with two distinct waves of colonisation, the Old English in the
twelfth century and the New English in the sixteenth and seventeenth,
but also exploited the ancient Gaelic past and even the history of the
pre-Milesian Fir-Bolg; on occasions, they also identiWed themselves as
the English nation in Ireland.
We have also gained some insight into the diVerent “ but similarly
chequered “ relationship between ethnicity and race. Here the historical
evidence failed to support current preoccupations of scholars in a variety
of disciplines with the issue of ˜otherness™.Ã First and foremost, racial,
linguistic and cultural diversity presented a series of theological problems.
How could one account for such a range of diVerences from a common
origin within the orthodox timespan of roughly 6,000 years, and without
placing too much explanatory strain on the curse of Ham or the confusion
of languages at Babel? Beneath the superWcial variety of mankind early
modern literati sought a hypothesised and Biblically authorised unity.
Westerners did, as critics have alleged, construct an exotic image of the
Orient, which tended to emphasise its noxious, alien features, as in the
cliche of ˜oriental despotism™. However, as we have seen, Britons did not
´
view the East simply as a scene of otherness, but also manufactured it in
the image of Christian Europe and its divisions. The disservice done to
Asian civilisations lay not in an uncomprehending rejection of their alien
features, but in an all-too-conWdent assumption of an underlying famili-
arity, whether derived from Platonic notions of the prisca theologia, eu-
hemerist-diVusionism or the twofold philosophy. The quest for Noachic
origins, concealed monotheism and encoded Trinitarianism hampered
appreciation of the authenticity and genuine distinctiveness of non-
Judaeo-Christian cultures.• India, in particular, was seen by several eight-
eenth-century British scholars as a civilisation of immense richness in
whose antiquities and Hindu theology decisive evidence might be found
for the underlying unity of mankind and the dispersal of the patriarchal
religion by the descendants of Noah.’ Nor was it surprising, given the
belief that northern Eurasia had been peopled by the stock of Japhet, to
à E.g. E. Said, Orientalism (1978: Harmondsworth, 1985); M. Chapman, The Celts: the
construction of a myth (Houndmills, 1992). • See above, chs. 2“3.
’ See above, ch. 3. For the traditional early modern line that wisdom and knowledge had
their origins in the East, see J. Levine, ˜Deists and Anglicans: the ancient wisdom and the
idea of progress™, in R. Lund (ed.), The margins of orthodoxy (Cambridge, 1995),
pp. 219“20.
290 Conclusion

Wnd common features between the manners and customs of the Goths
and the Tartars.“ Even Islam, viewed as an imposture by the orthodox,
nevertheless had its champions among radical proponents of a unitarian
natural religion,“ and fared little worse than Roman Catholicism in a
Protestant demonology which associated the latter™s rites with pagan
superstition and its hagiolatry with polytheism.”
The undoubted practice “ and justiWcation “ of imperialism, white
colonialism, racial subordination, cultural extirpation and enslavement
should not obscure the logic of ethnic theology.¦» The orthodox scholarly
elites of the early modern British world did not think in essentialist terms
of innate ethnic diVerence, but historically in terms of processes of diVeren-
tiation from a common stock. History explained “ and diminished “ such
variations. Exposure to certain climates over a long period had, for
“ See above, chs. 2“3, 9. This idea was still respectable in 1792 when Sir William Jones
delivered his ninth anniversary discourse to the Asiatick Society in Calcutta, ˜On the
origin and families of nations™, in Jones, Discourses delivered at the Asiatick Society 1785“
1792 (reprint, with intro. by R. Harris, London, 1993), pp. 194, 201.
“ See P. Harrison, ˜Religion™ and the religions in the English Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1990),
pp. 9, 111, 166“7, 174, for the construction of ˜other™ religions through the ˜projection of
Christian disunity onto the world™; J. Champion, The pillars of priestcraft shaken (Cam-
bridge, 1992), ch. 4; R. Porter, Gibbon (London, 1988), pp. 130“1.
” For the critique of ˜pagano-papism™, see Harrison, ˜Religion™ and the religions, pp. 9, 49,
110, 144“6; M. T. Hodgen, Early anthropology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
(Philadelphia, 1964), pp. 328“9. For an anti-Christian Islam, but an identiWcation of the
papacy as the real Antichrist, see A. Milton, Catholic and Reformed: the Roman and
Protestant churches in English Protestant thought 1600“1640 (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 114“
15.
¦» I endorse the position outlined by B. Braude, ˜The sons of Noah and the construction of
ethnic and geographical identities in the medieval and early modern periods™, WMQ 3rd
ser. 54 (1997), 104“5: ˜it should be acknowledged that belief in common Noachic
descent gave no guarantee of human compassion, let alone mere indiVerent acceptance.
On the contrary, the treatment of Jews, blacks, and Indians in the early modern world
arose despite, not because of, theological acceptance of a shared genealogy. No matter
how destructive European behavior was, it would have been even worse had the many
conXicting visions of human origins “ pre-Adamic, polygenetic, diabolic, or animal
ancestry, for example “ gained general acceptance.™ Braude rightly stresses the ˜intercon-
nectedness™ of self and other within the Mosaic paradigm. This does not, however,
invalidate the argument, found in I. Hannaford, Race: the history of an idea in the west
(Baltimore, 1996), pp. 133“4, 148, that the curse of Ham and the confusion of Babel also
contributed to notions of racial diVerentiation. Nor is my position inconsistent with the
arguments found in A. Hastings, The construction of nationhood (Cambridge, 1997), esp.
chs. 1 and 8, that (1) Old Testament Israel constituted the principal model of nationhood
for medieval and early modern Europe, that (2) Christian conceptions of community,
torn between the ideal of Christendom and the paradigm of the chosen people with a
special divine mission, appear ambivalent on the subject of universalism by comparison
with the Islamic vision of the umma, and that (3) the modern nation-state owes a great
deal to Biblical culture, especially to the translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular.
Nevertheless, notions of diVerentiation were mediated through Christianity, while Bibli-
cal orthodoxy and confessional adherence also relegated ethnicity and nationhood in the
scale of collective values.
Conclusion 291

example, resulted in a measure of racial diversity. Despite unquestioned
assumptions of a normative white European dominance, ethnic theology
emphasised racial kinship, however distant the degree of cousinage,
rather than hierarchy.
Closer to home, there were also questions of institutional legitimacy to
be resolved. As we saw above, the strategies of Lowland Scots to extirpate
the Gaelic culture of the Highlands did nothing to shake the adherence of
Lowland Scots to an ancient Gaelic constitution in church and state. Nor
should we forget other points of contact. When educated Englishmen
looked across the Channel, they did not see a race of Frenchmen who
were slaves by nature, but fellow Goths who had “ through the accidents
of history and continental geopolitics “ lost liberties and institutions
broadly similar to those which the English had, by a contrasting chain of
contingencies and providences, preserved and enlarged.
These conclusions must remain tentative and provisional. Moreover,
historians can never rest complacent with the historicity of their own
analytic categories. Beneath the soft argument that ˜ethnic identities™
were of only second-order importance in the political discourse of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there lurks an “ as yet “ un-
articulated sense that in a world structured around concepts of jurisdic-
tion and allegiance, rank and order, gentility and dependence, dynasty
and church, the very notion of ˜identity™ (as opposed to loyalty, station,
degree, honour, connection, orthodoxy and conformity) might itself be
anachronistic.¦¦
¦¦ See the view that early modern national consciousness was ˜overladen with religious and
constitutional presuppositions™ in O. Ranum, ˜Introduction™, in Ranum (ed.), National

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