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The definition of being English

1. The definition of being English

I was reading this article by Ed Milliband on how England/Englishness is defined. Almost at the same time I had a discussion with a customer about their DNA results and why there was a high % of German blood in the family. It has got me thinking a lot about what it means to be English and how it is defined. I have always thought of myself as being patriotic, a lover of all things English and am proud to call myself that. Whether you think that resilience, standing firm in the face of danger, queuing, politeness, a reserved nature, eating pork pies or enjoying an ale is what defines being English but what does 'English' mean. We are, after all, a nation of people who have been invaded on numerous occasions. Most people might look to the Norman invasion under William the Conqueror as the point when we true English became diluted. Of course we had already been invaded by multiple tribes before then - Romans, Vikings, Danes, Saxons, Angles and these are just the ones we know of. No surprise that this leads to German DNA for most of us - Angles, Saxons, some Viking tribes, Danes would have mixed being so close and even the Romans. I say the latter as the majority of their armies were made up of conscripted soldiers, many from Northern Europe. So before the Norman invasion we were already of mixed heritage. Go back far enough and those tribes that lived in England migrated there looking for food and shelter, originating in Africa. The irony is that many of the characteristics that define us in modern times come from after the Norman conquest, in fact probably from the last 200 years. Resisting invasions from Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany or standing firm at Rorke's Drift against the Zulu impis. Name a leader prior to William the Conqueror, go on. You may know one or two but if asked to name our greatest monarchs, most would name Henry VIII, Elizabeth I or Victoria. In fact, we have had more foreign monarchs than English ones - French, German, Dutch and Scottish. Perhaps it is the countryside that define us, castles, buildings? Most of the castles were built by Normans and French. The rolling hills of England are thanks to deforestation, taught to us hundreds of years ago. Flora and fauna, now they are English aren't they? English gardens are part of our identity, surely. Sweet chesnut and walnut came from the Romans, and thanks to our Victorian ancestors we have rhodendrons, azelias, lilies, marigolds, fuschias, magnolia and many more besides.

So I guess that to me, Englishness is simply culture in its many forms, a diverse, exciting and amazing history and the people who have put up with countless invasions, civil war (technically seen as two), multiple royal coups, colonial expansion, colonial collapse, repression, depression, famine, sectarian slaughter, wars on every continent not to mention being at the forefront of two world wars. At the same time, we learnt from people who came to conquer, took their best ideas and even convinced many of the them (supposedly only pillagers and rapists) to settle and pass on their knowledge. We continue this today, taking cuisine from other cultures and absorbing them into our own to a point where something like curry is now a staple of English food. We are a blur of peoples, a mixing of everything that is good. This is my country, I am English and I am proud of it.

2. Royal Household Records

Records of men and women who have served the royal households from 1660 to 1924 have just been released. They can be found on This may help to confirm those family rumours of a connection to serving royalty or simply be an interesting read. Either way, its another great set of records to be found online.

3. British Newspaper Archives hits record

British Newspaper Archives has just 5 million records and continues to gain momentum. Started just last year this is a pretty impressive number to reach. Long may it continue.

4. Bomber Command Memorial

At long last the Bomber Command Memorial will be completed this summer. To be displayed in Green Park in London is commemorates the 55000 plus men who lost their lives during World War Two. Amazingly this has not been done before but at least something will be put in place. Well done.


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