Into the History
"Kinkering Congs their Titles Take." - William Spooner He was referring to a hymn titled "Conquering Kings their Titles Take." His students started attributing all sorts of such phrases (called spoonerisms) to him.
England shares the island of Britain with Wales and Scotland, and is amazingly diverse. Some stories from England go way back, to the times of Celts, and to Romans who won and stayed in the country for centuries. Stories about Celts and Romans both mingle with legends. Other stories related to Angles and Saxons who came and settled and drove the Celts farther west, away from the flat plains. Danes came and took over north-east of England. And at one time the Danish King Canute ruled over England, Denmark and Norway. Harald Hardrada ("Harsh-ruler"], a Norwegian king, tried to take England in 1066 with a large Viking army, but failed. Normans led by the cruel and greedy William the Conqueror came to the island right afterwards, conquered and tyrannised Anglosaxons. Barons and knights that had fought for William, became lords with vast tracts of lands. Castles were built, first in wood and later in stone. Norman barons, knights and bishops replaced Anglo-Saxon earls and thanes and clergy. Twenty years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which William won, there was left only two major English landowners, one English bishop and three English abbots. Normans went on to give England taxes and tax records.
Improvements. In 1215, a conflict between the barons and the king led to the writing of "the Great Charter (Magna Carta)". It granted several rights to people, and the king was made to promise that he would not sell, deny or delay rights or justice to anyone. The Charter sought to limit how much the king could tax the population, and showed that the king should answer to his subjects.
Life for the conquered beneath the Normans and their descendants was tough, and the poor had few rights and few opportunities. Punishments were savage and cruel. However, towns grew, and some prospered until a plague arrived in 1348. There were three outbreaks over a 21 years span. During the first outbreak one third of the population died. Many who survived the disease, starved to death in the aftermath, when crops could not be harvested and goods could not be sold.
Commoners gathered and realised that under these new conditions they should kill tax collectors across the country. Peasants marched to London to protest, and the people of London joined the protest. Two meetings were held with the king, and the revolt abated. Tenant farming and paid labour replaced serfdom in fifty years from then.
A king wanted to divorce his wife; much untoward was to follow. By wily or strategic marriages the kingdom grew until England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were included under the crown. In the first half of the 1500s the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, for King Henry VIII wanted to be free to divorce a queen after about eighteen years of marriage, and the Church would not allow divorce . . . This triggered a series of events that led to a break between the Church of England and the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the events were associated with the wider process of the European Protestant Reformation and the religious climate at the time. Still, the English Reformation, which also included Wales and Ireland, was largely driven by a changed government policy: Based on Henry VIII's desire to annul his first marriage, the English Reformation was at the start more political than theological. [Wikipedia, s.v. "English Reformation"]
In 1642, civil war broke out. The king at the time lost, was beheaded, but the civil war continued without him. At last Great Britain had a dictator, Oliver Cromwell. Regional militias were set up to maintain order, suppress vice and encourage virtue. Drinking, gambling and horse-racing were banned. The militia interfered with free speech and liberty.
When Cromwell died in 1659, the people wanted a king again. When the new king had reigned for fifty years, a new plague hit England. A chant and game reflects it:
A ring a ring of roses. A pocket full of posies.
The "roses" were scarlet sores, and the posies were herbs and flowers to keep the disease away. The sneezing was a symptom too, and falling down stood for dying.
In September 1666, London burned for three days and nights. Much had to be rebuilt.
Much German blood on the throne of England. Kings succeeded one another. One of them lost America and went cuckoo. Then, in 1837, an eighteen-year-old of 3/4 German descent became queen. She chose her cousin Albert from German to be her man, and they got many "7/8 German children". During her very long reign, lots of stories that circulated among commoners far from court and its cares were recorded by folklorists, and published.
During her reign England found itself ruled by a woman - but women had no right to vote, not yet. However, in the 1900s the power of ruling the country was placed on the shoulders of common voters more than on gentlemen who had inherited their rights.
[A source: The introduction in Keding and Douglas, 2005, passim]
Wars and worse and words by a US philosopher
Some wars reflect mentalities, others hardly, and some not. The wars fought by England are so many that they seem to reflect something else than vital, pressing needs toward neighbours. What could it be, if so? It stands to reason to keep utterly polite with a "stiff upper lip" like P. G. Wodehouses' butler Jeeves among latently very violent and quarrelsome people. Civil British manners have a background, suffice to say. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Military history of England", "Military history of the United Kingdom", "List of wars involving England", "List of wars involving Great Britain" and much else.]
The New England philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) found, "The nearer we look, the more artificial is their social system." "Heavy fellows, steeped in beer and fleshpots, they are hard of hearing and dim of sight. Their drowsy minds need to be flagellated by war." And, "When they [the English] have pounded each other to a poultice, they will shake hands and be friends for the remainder of their lives." He does not say how long such lives will be. And I for one don't think Emerson advocates (prescribes) that the English need to be sent to war for their "drowsy minds"; at least I hope not.
We find such characteristics and many others in Emerson's essay collection English Traits (1856), where he gave a character analysis of a people he himself stemmed from, after he had visited the country a couple of times. There are nineteen essays in all.
A look behind the scenes: Mistreating the Irish harshly and for long - how decent is that? Exploitations of many colonised parts of the world and suppressions of folks there reflect haughty tyrannical attitudes. In fact, English sold a lot of Irish people as slaves, as Vikings had done many centuries earlier. A people that sets out to make others slaves, is hardly kind-hearted, but ill-bred. In fact, King James II and Charles I led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the Caribbean. At that time, seventy percent of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves. Most of the early slaves to the New World were actually white. John Martin goes on to inform that hundreds of thousands of Irish people were transported on British ships bound for the Americas. The slaves included men, women and even the youngest of children. Whenever they rebelled or disobeyed an order, they were punished severly - and rather often to death. 
Oliver Cromwell was not kind to the Irish either. He is still a hated figure in Ireland. [Cromwellian conquest of Ireland]
Clothed in wool
The English carry their history with them and are surprisingly attached to many old customs, old institutions and dwellings. Weather changes have not worked for their good lately.
I for my part have noticed that sheep are clothed in wool, whereas British gentlemen are dressed in tweed, which is wool, and live in houses, awkward houses.
Anyway, England has traditionally been quite a place for sheep, with only thieves, foxes and poachers to worry about until the killing season.
As for what tales the English tell, German tales got the upper hand in England to a large extent for a century or less, but some English tales have been saved (Jacobs 1890, 1894), And the stories they like, reveal them, or some of them.
I once spent a long summer travelling in a little car through England and Cornwal. There are nice people among those I have met, and good places to stay for long too. They are not in London, but far away from it, for example where sheep, other animals and children thrive a lot.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. English Traits. New, rev. ed. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1876 (1856).
Jacobs, Joseph, coll, ed. English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1890.
Jacobs, Joseph, coll, ed. More English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1894.
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