When Britain was ‘England’

Edward Pearce

If the passion of David Cameron, the Saltire flying over Downing Street and the threatened departure from Scotland of major business houses do not between them dissuade Scots from their interesting proposal, what remains of the United Kingdom will require a new name. This would not have been a question a hundred years ago. Conservative politicians and journalists for sure, and many others, rarely if ever spoke of 'Britain' or 'Great Britain', still less of the 'United Kingdom' or 'UK'. It was invariably 'England'.

Look at the speeches of Lord Salisbury, Arthur Balfour or Joseph Chamberlain, or the writings of journalists like Leo Maxse and Charles Whibley. Scotland for them was an item, included but not counted, an unvoiced letter, like 'h' after 'w'. It was 'England' which, in the deluded person of Sir Edward Grey, keen fly-fisherman in Scottish streams, went in August 1914 to war.

A.V.Dicey, in his pamphlet predicting the fall of the country off a cliff edge if a scintilla of autonomy were trusted to Ireland by Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill of 1886, did not suggest a threat to the United Kingdom or Great Britain. It was a matter of 'our blind leaders, some of whom care more for radical supremacy in England than imperial supremacy in Ireland'.

George Saintsbury wrote of the United Kingdom, but only to point up the glory of an imperial England. For the Home Rulers of 1886, he said, 'the making of England is to be exchanged for the unmaking of England... They do not propose, no doubt, to disunite this United Kingdom, to alienate the English Empire out of pure wantonness. But...'

Randolph Churchill, contemplating the loss of Ireland in the Times in February 1886, wrote: 'I believe that there will be hundreds of thousands of English hearts – aye – and English hands – who when the moment comes and the Protestants of Ireland are called upon... willing to give, in the most pratical and convincing form, a demonstration and proof of their loyalty to the English throne.'

A hundred and thirty years is a long time. Humbled as we are likely to be, we must scratch around for a name if Scotland votes for the exit. With Northern Ireland and Wales not yet dispersed, what might it be? Lesser Britain? The Residual Territories? Or perhaps, in order to accommodate the Edinburgh financiers fleeing south, not to mention their all-powerful counterparts in the City of London, we will have to settle for something with a brusque, commercial ring, such as 'England Associates'.


  • 13 September 2014 at 8:45pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    On a fine, if irrelevant note, it's the "w" that's silent some of the time - as in "who" (which would be 'woo' rather than 'hoo' if the reverse were true, a nice piece of doggerel, that). Why (silent h in this one) not just "Greater England", as long as Wales and Northern Ireland remain part of the nation? "Britain" gets ruled out as part of the name, because it's ultimately derived from Roman nomenclature for the whole island, and the northern part of the island is the fugitive Scotland. By the way, while the Romans acknowledged "Briti" and "Scoti" and some other tribes, just who were the Picts? (I've heard a rumor that they were not even Gaelic/Celtic speakers.)

    • 14 September 2014 at 8:01am
      Ally says: @ Timothy Rogers
      The Wikipedia article is useful on the debates about the language spoken by the Picts:

    • 14 September 2014 at 2:38pm
      Marc Haynes says: @ Timothy Rogers
      “Greater England”: there’s a name for Welsh people to rally under! The Roman province of Britannia sounds like a precedent for a Britain without Scotland to me.

    • 14 September 2014 at 9:26pm
      rromanchuk says: @ Timothy Rogers
      The United Kingdom of Southern Britain and Northern Ireland.

    • 14 September 2014 at 10:11pm
      Simon Wood says: @ rromanchuk
      That's brilliant, chuck. At a stroke, the whole of northern England and north Wales are brought in from the cold and the north of Ireland suddenly seems nordic, sensible and attached to the warm and wonderful south.

    • 16 September 2014 at 6:31pm
      Stuart says: @ rromanchuk
      The Medium Rump State ? (It's had its chips).

    • 16 September 2014 at 6:56pm
      Stuart says: @ Stuart
      Or even The Royal Prank Of Scotland

    • 16 September 2014 at 7:37pm
      Stuart says: @ Stuart
      I am sorry to bang on, but it's obvious really, what's left should be called:
      "The Empire Leicester Square"

  • 14 September 2014 at 8:03am
    Ally says:
    Regarding a name for the residual area that funds the shenanigans at Westminster, how about the Imperial Unit?
    Or, given the extext to which they have demonstrated over the past week that the democratic should always play second to the interests of corporations, just the Corporation of Britain?

  • 15 September 2014 at 4:04am
    farthington says:
    An instructive history lesson from Edward Pearce.
    Or perhaps The City of London and Current Appendages.
    Nicholas Shaxson's Treasure Islands notes (p.258):
    'Plenty of law made in Westminster applies to the Corporation, but many acts of Parliament specifically exempt it, either fully or in part. Hence, the City is connected to the British nation but remains a constitutional elsewhere. In this the City resembles Jersey or the Cayman Islands, the offshore jurisdictions that are its satellites.'
    So 'England' is ruled by a foreign power (adding the Yanks, that makes two foreign powers)- something the Scots know already.
    And given the perfidy of RBS, and the pain that the National Australia Bank has caused its Clydesdale borrowers, their threats to move south might be well appreciated.
    No doubt, if Scotland secedes, Yorkshire etc may make common cause. Ha, ha, ha.
    But it appears the Intelligence Services have it under control. The vote will be rigged. and there will be no secession. So all the 'Big Englanders' can breathe easily.

  • 18 September 2014 at 7:28pm
    Neil Foxlee says:
    It's pretty obvious, isn't it? The Former United Kingdom. I'll leave readers to work out the acronym for themeselves.

  • 18 September 2014 at 8:33pm
    gotnotruck says:

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