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History Corner







George Macaulay Trevelyan, History of England (London: Longmans, Green and Co.; 1931; pp. 323-325).


‛For centuries past many different forces had been slowly drawing the English towards a national or patriotic conception of man’s duty to society, in place of that obedience to cosmopolitan orders and corporations which had been inculcated by the Catholic Church and the feudal obligation.

Among the forces creative of the sense of nationhood were the English Common Law; the King’s Peace and the King’s Courts; the frequent intercourse of the representatives of distant shires and boroughs in the national council of Parliament; the new clothing industry based on national rather than municipal organization; the new literature and the new language common to all England.


Finally, the action of the Tudor monarchy had abolished or depreciated all loyalties that intervened between the individual and the state, much as Protestantism purported to eliminate all that stood between the individual and God.

The Elizabethan age is at once intensely national and intensely individualistic. . . .


‛. . . Elizabeth in the first year of her reign re-established the supremacy of the national, laic State, with a national Church engaged as its servant upon honourable terms.

The rest of her long life was spent in cautiously adapting the habits of the whole people to this new settlement, and defending it against internal malcontents and foreign aggressors.

For many years the dangers seemed greater than the chances of success, until a new generation had grown up under the influence of the Bible, the Prayer Book and loyalty to the Queen.

The contest finally resolved itself into a maritime war against Spain as the head of the Catholic reaction in Europe and the monopolist of the ocean routes to the New World.

In the heat of that struggle English civilization was fused into its modern form, at once insular and oceanic, distinct from the continental civilization of which the Norman Conquest had once made it part.


‛Not only was modern England created, but the future of Great Britain was mapped out.

The exigencies of the struggle for island independence against the Catholic powers of the continent put an end to the long hostility between the peoples of Scotland and England, while the same causes dictated the ruthless and ill-fated conquest of Catholic Ireland.


‛Amongst the Elizabethan English, by land and by sea, individualism became the ally of nationalism on free and equal terms, for the national State could not afford to pay for an army and a bureaucracy to bend the individual to its will, like the France and Prussia of later days.


The poverty of the Elizabethan State explains many of its worst features and meanest shifts, and not a few also of its greatest merits and noblest attitudes.

A Queen whose revenue in war time did not reach half a million pounds a year must needs be “niggardly”; but since her subjects would not be taxed to give her adequate supply, she was fain to appeal to their free loyalty to fight her battles and to wear themselves out in her service for love.

They gave her their lives and affections more readily than their cash.


For the rest, her great object, as defined in a political poem she herself wrote, was “to teach still peace to grow,” till men treasured the life of their Queen because it meant for them peace and prosperity at home while the neighbour nations were ablaze with religious war. Many who disliked her ecclesiastical compromise as being too Protestant, or not Protestant enough, accepted it as the condition of tranquil government, which in an age of rival fanaticisms seemed, and perhaps was, a miracle of statecraft.’




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