King and Country
A mate of mine, an ex-patriot Scot living in Paris, complains that the French seem to be incapable of distinguishing between the concepts of ‘English’ and ‘British’. Of all aspects of the French that we ‘Brits’ find most infuriating (and there is, no doubt, an equally if not longer reciprocal list), their apparent confusion between England, Britain, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is entirely forgivable, not the least reason for which is that many people in this country would be equally confused if called upon to explain.
The present loose and shouty association between England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland is, surprisingly, only just over 100 years old—just three years older than the late lamented Queen—having been established in 1921 on the partition of Ireland. The ‘Union’ first dates from the time of Henry VIII, when Wales was made part of the Kingdom of England; the Act of Union of 1707 united the Scottish and English parliaments to become Great Britain—even though the first Scottish King on the English throne was as early as 1603 (a measure of the difficulty of getting the Scots and the English to agree about anything, which situation continues to the present day). The Act of Union of 1801 united the parliaments of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) and (the whole of) Ireland. So ‘English’ implies England and Wales—good luck with that definition in Wales... ‘British’ is England, Wales, and Scotland, and ‘Citizen of the United Kingdom’ is the best I can think of for the four nations; many people in Northern Ireland call themselves ‘Irish’, which of course, they are.
‘Britain’ as opposed to ‘Great Britain’, seems to be a geographical term that refers to the main island.
It is interesting to reflect that the late Queen presided as monarch over this current version of the United Kingdom for seventy years—more than two-thirds of the time it has existed. Will the new King be able to hold it together against moves for Scottish Separation, republicanism in Northern Ireland, and bitter, divisive, and rancorous anger everywhere over the European question? I really do hope so, although I fear that the concept of ‘inclusiveness’ does not appear to exist in the new Prime Minister’s dictionary, or if it does, she does not understand it. It was said that Johnson was the best recruiting sergeant the Scottish Nationalists had; the new PM, with her arrogant dismissal of the Scottish First Minister as an irrelevance, just added fuel to a fire that was already well alight.
Charles I is famous for losing his head, Charles II was forced to hide in a tree to avoid arrest by the soldiers of Parliament. He also fathered—and acknowledged—at least twelve illegitimate children; he was not known as the Merry Monarch for nothing... King Charles III is well known for his climate-change advocacy and being a fan of the Goon Shows, in both of which I share his enthusiasm. I wish him well, although I do not envy him the task ahead.
The Queen is dead, and to quote my daughter who is far more republican than I am, I shall miss her.
The Queen has always been there. Early memories are of the Coronation—being taken on the back of my mother’s bicycle to see the celebratory decorations on the factories along the Great West Road in west London, a special colour souvenir we were given at school with pictures of the royals and the crown jewels, and my model of the Golden Coronation Coach.
In 1952 when Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne, the country was bankrupt and facing a very uncertain future. King Charles finds himself in a similar position, and monarch not of a fading empire, but a decidedly Disunited Kingdom. Whatever else it will be, the new Carolingian Age is unlikely to be boring.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs