Why was England so different from other countries in its political, social and economic development? How was it that only in England did parliamentary government evolve and the one and only bootstrapped industrial revolution arise? Perhaps much of the answer lies in the fact that the English, in comparison with any other large nation, have long been wonderfully adept in dealing with the central problem of human life – how to live together peaceably. A Canadian academic, Elliott Leyton, has made a study of English murder through the centuries in his book Men of Blood. Leyton finds that the rate of English (as opposed to British murder) is phenomenally low for a country of her size and industrial development, both now and for centuries past. This strikes Elliott as so singular that he said in a recent interview “The English have an antipathy to murder which borders on eccentricity; it is one of the great cultural oddities of the modern age.” (Sunday Telegraph 4 12 1994).
This restraint extends to warfare and social disorder. That is not to say England has been without violence, but rather that at any point in her history the level of violence was substantially lower than in any other comparable society. For example, the English Civil War in the 17th Century was, apart from the odd inhumane blemish, startlingly free of the gross violence common on the continent of the time during the 30 Years War, where the sacking and pillage of towns and cities was the norm. A particularly notable thing, for civil wars are notorious for their brutality.
The way that England responded to the Reformation is instructive. She did not suffer the savage wars of religion which traumatised the continent and brought human calamities such as the St Bartholomew Day’s Massacre in France in 1572, when thousands of French protestants were massacred at the instigation of the French king.
It was not that the English did not care deeply about their religion, rather that they have been, when left to their own devices, generally loth to fight their fellow countrymen over anything. English civil wars have always been essentially political affairs in which the ordinary person has little say, for the struggles were either dynastic or a clash between Parliamentary ambition and the monarch. Even the persecution of the Lollards in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the persecution of Protestants under Mary I had a highly political aspect. The former was a vastly disturbing challenge to the established social order with men being told, in so many words, that they could find their own way to salvation and the latter an attempt to re-establish not merely the Catholic order in England, which had been overturned since the time of Henry VIII’s breach with Rome, but also what amounted to a new royal dynasty with Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain.
Even the prohibitions on Catholics and non-Conformists after the Reformation had a fundamental political basis to them, namely, they were predicated on the question of whether such people be trusted to give their first loyalty to the crown.
The treatment of foreigners
Compared with other peoples, the English have been noticeably restrained in their treatment of other peoples residing within their country. A few massacres of Jews occurred before their expulsion from England in 1290, but from that time there has not been great slaughter of a minority living within England. Since 1290 there have been occasional outbreaks of anti-foreigner violence. During the Peasants’ Revolt London-based Flemings were murdered. In later times an anti-Spanish “No Popery” mob was frequently got up in London and he influx of Jews and Huguenots in the 17th and 18th centuries caused riots, one so serious in 1753 that it caused the repeal of a law naturalising Jews and Huguenots. But these riots did not result in great numbers of dead, let alone in systematic genocidal persecutions of any particular group. Most notably, the English fonts of authority, whether the crown, church or parliament, have not incited let alone ordered the persecution of a particular racial or ethnic group since the expulsion of the Jews. They have persecuted Christian groups, but that was a matter of religion not ethnicity, the Christians persecuted being English in the main. The only discrimination the English elite have formally sanctioned against an ethnic group for more than half a millennium was the inclusion of Jews within the general prohibitions passed in the half century or so after the Restoration in 1660 which banned those who were not members of the Church of England from holding a crown appointment such as an MP or election to public offices such as that of MP.
This comparative lack of violence can plausibly be seen as the ground for England’s maintenance and unique development of a Parliament and the development of the rule of law a consequence of England’s political arrangements. From that sprung the gradual erosion of monarchical authority. Put those three developments together and there is arguably the ground upon which first a great commercial edeifice was built followed by industrialisation.
But even if that is the immediate cause of English development it does not explain why the English become exceptionally peaceable within their own territory. One could argue that being an island helped, not least because England has not been subject to a forced foreign conquest from the continent for the better part of a millennium. However, England has suffered a good deal of inter-nation warfare within the British Isles, especially with Scotland. She has also fought many a campaign around the world, both as England and later under the banner of Great Britain. It is not that the English are or have been naturally timid.
Perhaps the fundamental answer to English peaceableness lies in the fact that the English enjoyed a level of racial and cultural homogeneity from very early on. Long before the English kingdom existed Bede wrote of the English as a single people. The English have never killed one another in any great quantity simply because one part of the population thought another part was in some way not English. That is the best possible starting point for the establishment of a coherent community.
The favoured liberal view of England is that it is the mongrel nation par excellence. In fact, this is the exact opposite of the truth. 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 number 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 really 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 upshot of all this is that for six centuries after the Conquest England was an unusually homogeneous country, both racially and culturally. This is reflected in the absence since the Norman Conquest of any serious regional separatist movement within the heart of English territory. There has been meaningful resistance at the periphery – Cornwall, the Welsh marches and the far north, but even that has been effectively dead since the sixteenth century. Englishmen have fought but not to create separate nations.
The unusual restraint of the English is also shown in their dealings with foreigners abroad. England did not routinely go in for sack and pillage as was common on the continent and occasional massacres often occurred in special circumstances, for example, Cromwell’s in Ireland happened in aftermath of a massacre of Protestants in Ulster in 1641 and the fear that Ireland would be used as a springboard for a Royalist invasion of England.
Nowhere was the restraint seen more emphatically than in the Empire. If a people were forced to become part of an empire, the British Empire was indubitably the one to join. There were of course outrages committed in the Empire’s name, but there was no general policy of cruelty and, for the final century of the Empire’s existence, official British policy towards the colonies was that the interests of the natives should come first.
If the theory that a homogeneous population long occupying a territory without suffering foreign conquest results in greater social restraint is correct, this may have a profound implication. Assuming that personality is substantially innate, natural selection will act upon the type of personality which is best suited to the environment. It could be that the native English are, on average, genetically better suited to live in a society in which politics are decided by peaceful transfer of power and business and personal disputes are mediated through the law. On top of any genetic propensity is added the culture of restraint which has developed from the genetic propensity over the centuries.
Should it be true that the English have a unique genetic national shape and a culture which uniquely plays to that genetic national shape, then mass immigration will weaken both by introducing both different genetic types an competing cultures.