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Nica Mihaela-Catalina

THE NATIONS WITHIN


BRITAIN
Nica Mihaela-Catalina

The Nations within Britain


Britain is not about the English, but about the British. Inevitably history has been
written by the victors and the rulers. Britain has been ruled by the English, but
these pages are to fill in the story of the other peoples that make up the British Isles

Scotland - a separate nation


A complex series of wars and diplomatic
maneuvers in the period from 500 AD to 1000
AD resulted in Malcolm II becoming king of a
Scotland that apart from a few disputes about
the Highlands and Islands was basically in its
modern form. Border wars with the English
continued. Edward I had succeeded
conquering most of Scotland, but Robert the
Bruce had then won back most of the English
gains. Only Stirling Castle remained in
English hands

An English army arrived to relieve the Scots siege of Stirling (above). Bruce (above left)
defeated the English army under Edward II, who was lucky to escape with his life. The Scots
victory at the Battle of Bannockburn secured complete Scots independence.

Scotland stayed relatively clear of the English until the consequences of Henry VIII's sister
marrying the King of Scotland, coupled with the failure of any of Henry VIII's own children
to produce an heir, led to the installation of James VI of Scotland as James I of England.

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Even with James and his successors on both


the English and Scots thrones, the two
countries were treated as separate kingdoms.
When James II fled England into exile and
William III became king, many of the
highland Scots remained loyal to James II. In
an effort to head off open rebellion William
insisted that every clan must swear an oath of
loyalty to him, or suffer reprisals. Among the
reprisals was the massacre at Glencoe of the
MacDonalds by English soldiers who were
mainly Campbells. Williams harsh handling of
the Scots contributed to the continuing support
of the Stuart kings in exile, and to Scots
support of the 1715 and 1745 Stuart
rebellions.
Another result of the treatment of the Scots by
the English was the passing by the Scottish
parliament of an Act giving Scotland the right
to an independent army. To head off a war
between the two nations the English pushed
through a Union between the two nations,
closing the Scottish Parliament and giving
Scots representation in Westminster. Though
the Scottish legal system remained, and still
remains today. was ratified in 1707 The Act of
Union

Scotland became industrialised with the


exploitation of the Scottish coalfields and mill
like the Lanarkshire mills on the left. In recent
times coal has been replaced by oil from the
North Sea, and then there is the debate as to
whether this oil is Scottish oil or British oil. In
1997 a referendum in Scotland voted to
institute a Scottish parliament with "tax
varying powers".
It remains to be seen as to whether Scotland
will in the future drift further from the Union
or remain firmed tried to it.

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Ireland a short guide to the British in


Ireland
The Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they
landed in Ireland a century later in 1169. For
most of the Middle Ages Ireland was ruled as
a separate kingdom under the British Crown.
Although the area they controlled was not the
whole country, just the eastern part shown in
dark red on the left. Gradually they extended
their control, but it was not till 1603 that a
victory over the Irish in Ulster allowed Britain
complete control of Ireland

To ensue continuing control over the


troublesome province of Ulster, the land was
confiscated and given to small Scottish
farmers. The idea being to ensue that they
remained there and did not sell the land back
to the native Irish. The success of this policy is
the foundation of the problem of Northern
Ireland today. But it is worth remembering
that the Ulster Protestants have been there
longer than the settlers in North America.
There next major event was the Cromwellian army's campaign in Ireland immediately after
the English Civil War. Cromwell was short of cash to pay his troops at the end of the war,
and confiscated 80% of the land (coloured orange above) for his troops in lieu of money. The
dispossessed landowners were offered poor quality land in Connaught in exchange

During the 18th century the British tried to


govern an Ireland that sparked periodic unrest.
This culminated in the 1798 French invasion
of Ireland shown on the left. The next British
attempt to solve the "Irish Problem" was the
creation of the United Kingdom of Great
Britain & Ireland in 1801. A solution that
pleased nobody in Ireland, the protest ruling
class did not want to lose their independence,
and the Catholics felt betrayed when George
III refused to grant Catholic emancipation

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Within a United Kingdom, Ireland started to


struggle for reform. O'Connell and his
Catholic Association founded in 1823 led the
struggle for Catholic emancipation. Then the
Potato Famine in the years 1845 to 1848
caused enormous upheavals as the population
of Ireland fell from 9 Million to 3 million
through famine and emigration. It is clear that
a London government would not have let this
tradgedy happen in mainland Britain. Further
unrest followed the famine in Ireland, and
Gladstone became British prime minister in
1868 declaring "my mission is to pacify
Ireland", but failed to deliver safety for tenants
from high rents and eviction. The Irish were
now led by Parnell whose Irish Party held the
balance of power in the British House of
Commons.
However the Home Rule Bills of 1885 and 1893 were defeated, but the 1912 Home Rule Bill
was passed by the Commons and the delaying powers of the Lords were limited to two years.
It should have become law in 1914, but the First World War started and it never made the
statute book.

A small rebellion - the Easter Rising of 1916 - was put down quickly by the government.
Crass mishandling by the British resulted in many of the leaders of the Easter Rising being
shot by firing squad, and the extremists acquired the status of martyers. In the election in
1918 73 of the 106 Irish seats went to Sinn Fein, who refused to go to Westminster and set up
a provisional government in Ireland. There then followed 3 years of bitter guerilla war with
atrocities on both sides, before a truce was finally signed in 1921, which led to the "final
solution of the Irish Problem " with partition. The Irish Free State in the South and the
continuation of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

It is clear today that the Irish problem has not been solved - whether it ever can be is the
question. Northern Protestants feel they have a right to determine their own future
democratically on the basis of being in the majority. Northern Catholics feel they have the
right to be part of a united Ireland. Whilst both sides are suspicious of the other, it is unlikely
that a lasting solution can be found. Wherever in the world ethnic divisions exist (Bosnia,
Ruanda, Kashmir, Timor, Chetchin. Lebanon, Palestine) solutions are seldom forthcoming.

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Wales - a Celtic land of mountains and coal


The Celts had fled westwards under sustained
invasions from Romans, Vikings and Anglo-
Saxons. The Anglo Saxon English kings had
not ruled Wales, and at the Norman invasion
was a collection of small kingdoms. It took the
Normans some 200 years to gain control of the
whole of Wales. The 8 royal castles like
Harlech (left) kept a lid on rebellion in the
meantime. The last major Welsh uprising was
by Owain Glyndwr between 1400 and 1408

Finally the Act of Union in 1536


"incorporated, united and annexed" Wales to
England. Since then English law and
government has rules in Wales. A solution that
appears to have satisfied most Welsh people.
Until the middle of the 18th century Wales
remained a rural backwater. Population was
sparse, and the topography meant that farming
was not a viable proposition on any scale.Then
the exploitation of coal and iron brought the
Industrial revolution to Wales

The need for labour in the south Wales


coalfields brought an influx of English into
this area which brought about an erosion of
the Welsh language, though Welsh continued
to be spoken extensively in North Wales.
Today the mining of Welsh coal has all but
disappeared, but the language continues to be
spoken reasonably widely as a second
language.

Wales has been governed from London via the Welsh Office, under a cabinet minister.
Following the referendum on limited devolution in 1997, the Welsh were seen to be virtually
equally spilt on the subject, with the more rural "Welsh" areas being for devolution, and the
more industrial areas being against it.

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Cornish identity: why Cornwall has always been a


separate place
Recognition of the Cornish people as an official minority only confirms the
differences that become obvious the moment you cross the Tamar. This is a
separateness that runs deep

Hurlers stone circles on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall

When I first drove down to live in Cornwall more than 20 years ago, I was
met by a graffiti message on a railway bridge near Truro: "Go home,
English!" I should have taken it personally. I should have politely turned
around to head back across the Tamar. I was exactly the sort of incomer
who was swamping the last little islands of Cornishness. But in fact, I found
it heartening. Cornwall was not England that was why I'd come.

Since then, Cornwall's distinctiveness has, rather than being smothered,


become resurgent. In those days, the monochrome simplicity of St Piran's
flag was an unusual sight, confined to places of nationalist fervour like
Hellfire Corner at Redruth rugby ground. Now it is everywhere in the
logos of Cornish companies, on car stickers (usually with some jokey tag
like "Pasty on Board"), or fluttering importantly from Cornwall council
buildings. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Cornish language was
likewise invisible, a barbarous and long-vanished practice, like piracy and
smuggling. Now it receives government funding to be taught in schools and
appears on the bilingual signs at the Cornish "border" on the A30, and on
street signs for every new housing development.

It is tempting to regard such reinventions as quaint, like Morris


dancing or beating the bounds; some of the most vigorous St Piran's flag-
waving comes from English, or even American, settlers. But Cornwall's
separateness runs deeper than that.

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It is less folksy and more physical, something from the soil itself, like the
radon gas that seeps out of the granite of Carnmenellis or West Penwith.

The survival of Cornish identity can be traced, on one level, to the quirk of
geomorphology and tectonics that placed the sea on three sides and made
most of the fourth out of the river Tamar. The shape is reflected in the
name: the "Corn-" comes from the Cornish "kern", or "horn" ( the Cornish
name for Cornwall, Kernow, is now as ubiquitous as St Piran's flag, and has
the same root). Trying to identify Cornwall's appeal, Jacquetta Hawkes
reached for its shape: "Cornwall is England's horn, its point thrust out into
the sea."

Such a position has always made Cornwall tricky to administer. The


Romans didn't bother trying, as long as their supply of tin was secure.
Saxon villagisation did not extend far into Cornwall. When the Tudors tried
to unite the realm, the Cornish proved unbiddable. Two of the fiercest
rebellions of the time came from the far south-west. In 1497, a revolt
against taxation began in the village of St Keverne on the Lizard; within
months, 15,000 restive Cornishmen had reached London, where they were
soundly routed. In 1997, the Keskerdh Kernow 500 commemorated the
revolt tracing the original route from St Keverne to Blackheath. The
smaller, more benign band of flag-waving Cornish that wound through the
market towns of southern England helped to re-establish the sense of
Cornish identity, at least for those who took part.

The second Tudor revolt is no less keenly remembered. The Prayer book
rebellion of 1549 was a reaction against the introduction of a vernacular
prayer book in English. Although the liturgy had been said in Latin until
then, everyone knew it and the Creed was uttered in Cornish. The Cornish
were right to feel threatened by Cranmer's innovation, that it would
undermine the survival of their own language. The rebels marched east
again, "lusty and fresh, and fully bent to fight out the matter". They
besieged Exeter but, in the end they too were defeated, several thousand
were killed and the leaders taken to prominent places and hanged.

Examples of medieval plays survive in Cornish, and it was certainly spoken


throughout Cornwall and into Devon. Queen Elizabeth I was said to have
had a little Cornish, enough to greet her favoured West Country courtiers.
But 200 years later, by the end of the 18th century, the last monoglot
speakers were dead.

The language continued to be spoken in isolated communities for several


generations, brought out to baffle the growing number of visitors from "up-
country". In the 19th century, little was done to preserve the last traces of
the language, and it became extinct just in time for the Celtic revival

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movement to champion it. In 1901, a group of Cornish worthies set up the


Cowethas Kelto-Kernuak (he Celtic-Cornish Society), suggesting that young
men strip off to pursue the traditional Cornish sports of wrestling and
hurling, while they themselves dressed in druidic robes to celebrate
Cornishness, in Cornish, at the annual Cornish Gorsedd.

Apart from the few scraps of literature, there is one everyday reminder of
the Cornish language, a faint but constant echo of the county's non-
Englishness: its place names. They have proved a vital part of the
revivalists' attempts to reassemble the vocabulary and structure of Cornish.
For the rest of us, the names are a spicy addition to the ceaselessly
rewarding pursuit of walking or driving through the county's back roads.

All those Zs, for instance from the far west, Penzance ("holy headland"),
Nanjizal ("low valley"), and Zennor (from St Senara). The saints themselves
offer another dimension to Cornwall's otherness, making many road signs
look as though they've been swiped from a hagiographic theme park.
Although in fact the 80% of Cornish parishes named Saint-something do
not reflect the region's innate holiness merely the lack of villages when
parish boundaries were drawn.

More than anything, Cornwall's particularity lies in its abiding and diverse
sense of place. No other region of England offers such a range of dramatic
landscapes, nor carries such a freight of mythology and projection. Many
archaeologists now explain the vast numbers of Neolithic and early bronze
age monuments, both on mainland Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, in terms
of ritual or sacred landscape. Areas such as Bodmin Moor and West
Penwith, rich in standing stones and stone circles, are believed to have been
vast arenas for visual alignments, focusing on certain hills.

Whatever your chosen interpretation of such prehistoric features, and there


is no shortage of colourful options, their profusion in Cornwall adds to its
mystique. And not just for outsiders. At a meeting of west Cornwall's
pagans, a Cornish speaker told me a story to illustrate the complex web of
belief and identity. When he was a boy, his grandfather had taken him to
the top of Carn Brea, one of the hills believed to have been significant in
prehistory.

The old man grabbed his hand and thrust it into the soil. "Feel that, boy,"
he said, "that's the beating heart of Cornwall. But don't you go telling
Grandma she thinks I'm a good Methodist."

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'Englands horn' Perranporth beach in Cornwall

Retaining a sense of being Cornish has been made more challenging by the
growing influx of visitors, many with their own strong ideas of what
Cornwall represents. The artists who gathered in St Ives in the 1930s were
drawn in part by west Cornwall's freedom from the Englishness that
pervaded the rest of the country. Being a modernist or abstract
expressionist was a lot easier when you could contemplate the raw intensity
of rock and cliff and sea without any regard for local tradition.

Only one of the more prominent artists was Cornish. Peter Lanyon wrestled
with the abstractions his peers practised. The landscape to him was his own
past, the presence of his own ancestors: "How they natter at my feet, these
fellows!" he wrote. If he saw anyone painting the view out along the coast
path, he would stride up to them and say: "You do realise, don't you, that
there are miners working in those cliffs."

At the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, a more figurative exhibition has


just opened, presenting working Cornwall in the late 19th century and early
20th centuries. The paintings show an extraordinary mixture of miners and
fishermen, farmers and seamstresses, quarry workers and smiths. Henry
Scott Tuke's maritime portraits of Falmouth's seamen hang alongside
workers from mining districts, including Dicky Nine Lives, a miner who
miraculously survived falling down a shaft.

Cornwall is not big a tapering sliver of land no more than 80 miles long.
But within it, you can travel a short distance and be in a different world.

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Go inland from the glitzy coastal surf and sailing resorts, and you reach
empty moorland, or tidal creeks fringed with oakwoods, or the weird, white
landscape of the China-clay country, or the deprived, thickly populated
districts around Redruth and Camborne. The traditions of the Cornish are
likewise hidden from those who visit only the coast.

To many Cornish nationalists, this week's recognition of the Cornish people


as a minority, alongside the Welsh and Scots, is merely a step on the path to
a devolved assembly, the re-establishment of the old Stannary Parliament,
whose legislative powers were never officially revoked. To David Cameron,
quick to point out that his daughter Florence was born in Cornwall, it
allows a dig at Scottish independence by celebrating the diverse family over
which Westminster so happily presides.

There is some scepticism west of the Tamar about what their new status
will really mean. But it can do no harm to remind those unfamiliar with the
south-west that the Cornish are not really English, and that Cornwall is
not really England.

Philip Marsden's book on Cornwall, Rising Ground: A Search for the


Spirit of Place, will be published by Granta in October

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