One of the most frequently voiced myths of the England haters is that the English are a peculiarly mongrel people. The truth is that compared with most other peoples, England between the Conquest and 1945 contained a very homogeneous community.
A little thought will show the improbability of the “exceptional mongrel” claim. The simple fact that Britain is an island suggests that there will be greater racial and cultural homogeneity within her borders than in continental lands which share borders and which consequently are more vulnerable to immigration and invasion (there is not a major country in Europe which has not been invaded in the past century). England by contrast has not been successfully invaded by people from outside the British Isles since 1066, while mass immigration was a rarity until our own day.
The general facts of immigration into England are these. The English and England were of course created by the immigration of Germanic peoples. The British monk, Gildas, writing in the sixth century, attributed the bulk of the Saxon settlement to the practice of British leaders employing Saxons to protect the Britons from Barbarian attacks after Rome withdrew around 410 A.D. The English monk Bede (who was born in A.D. 673) attributed the origins of the English to the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who came to England in the century following the withdrawal of the Romans at the request of British war leaders.
Archaeological evidence suggests that substantial Germanic settlement in England had a longer history and dated from the Roman centuries, perhaps from as early as the third century. What is certain is that in her formative centuries following the exit of Rome, the various invaders and settlers were drawn from peoples with much in common. They were the same physical type, there was a considerable similarity of general culture, their languages flowed from a common linguistic well.
When the Norsemen came they too brought a Teutonic mentality and origin. Even the Normans were Vikings at one remove who,if frenchified, were not physically different from the English nor one imagines utterly without vestiges of the Norse mentality. Moreover, the numbers of Normans who settled in England immediately after the Conquest was small, perhaps as few as 5000.
After the Conquest, the only significant immigration into England for many centuries were the Jews. They were expelled from England in 1290. There was then no large scale and sudden immigration from outside the British Isles until the flight of the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which granted limited toleration to the Huguenots within France) in 1684 by Louis X1V.
There was other immigration in the period 1066-1650, but it was small and highly selective. Craftsmen of talent were encouraged particularly in the Tudor period. Italian families with trading and banking expertise (such as it was in those days) appeared after the expulsion of the Jews. Foreign merchants were permitted, but for much of the period on sufferance and subject to restrictions such as forced residence within specially designated foreign quarters.
The reintroduction of the Jews to England during the Commonwealth (a small Jewish community was in England unofficially before then) was substantial enough to cause riots in London. However, their numbers were still relatively small, thousands rather than tens of thousands. The great influx of Jews to England occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as they fled first the Tsarist pogroms and then Hitler.
For reasons of political correctness much is made today of the long history of coloured peoples in England. Pedantically this is true, but the pertinent question with immigration is always how many? I dare say that at any time during the Crusades one could have found the odd Moor in England, most probably in London. Blacks, most of them slaves or ex-slaves, were brought into England from the sixteenth century. Their numbers in London by 1600 were great enough to prompt Elizabeth to pass an Act banning further black immigration. This Act had mixed success. There is no evidence of widespread black settlement in the years afterwards, but by the eighteenth century there was a significant population. The blacks of Elizabethan times and later were generally slaves who lived with their masters. Those who did not, settled overwhelmingly in three places: London, Liverpool and Bristol. The upper estimates of their numbers in the late eighteenth century (when settlement was at its peak) suggest a black population of perhaps 10,000. Substantial numbers of these were resettled in Sierra Leone in West Africa, a colony which was established in the late eighteenth century specifically for the purpose of returning blacks to Africa. The overwhelming majority who remained in England were men and took white wives out of necessity.
The flow of blacks into England was much reduced after Lord Mansfield’s narrow and cautious judgement in 1772 on the status of a slave in England. Mansfield concluded that slavery was such an obnoxious state that only positive law enacted by Parliament could make it legal in England. In the absence of such law, slaves were effectively free once they stepped onto English soil. This had the effect of gravely reducing the number blacks coming into England. With the end of the Slave Trade in 1807, black immigration was reduced to a bare trickle. The combination of intermarriage and the ending of regular black immigration meant that by the middle of the nineteenth century they had left few descendants who identifiably black. The impact of coloured immigration on English society was negligible in terms of cultural influence before 1945. The immigration since the last war is unprecedented in its nature and numbers.
Within the British Isles the main mass movements of people prior to this century were from Scotland and Ireland after the Clearances and the Famine.