Past and Present
The Making of England...
The following extract is a good example of a Victorian view of the origins of the British nations: England is Teutonic and owes nothing to the Celts! At the time of Taswell-Langmead's early editions views such as these would have fitted the pro-German climate. The same might not have been true after the Great War. After World War II they would certainly have appeared unpleasantly racist. Today, there is considerable disagreement with this perspective.(...)"It is not unusual to speak of the English as a mixed race formed out of the fusion of the Britons, the Anglo-Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans; but this form of expression is apt to convey an erroneous idea of the facts. No modern European is, indeed, of pure unmingled race; yet in all some one element has maintained a clear and decided predominance. In the English people this predominant element is the Germanic or Teutonic. The Teutonic conquest of Britain was something more than a mere conquest of the contry; it was in all senses a national occupation, a sustained immigration of a new race, whose numbers, during a hundred and fifty years, were continually being augmented by fresh arrivals from the fatherland.' (Bizarrely, there is a reference at this point to Tacitus' Agricola).
"Before the end of the sixth century, the Teutonic invaders had established a dominion in Britain, extending from the German Ocean to the Severn and from the English Channel to the Firth of Forth. The Britons were soon driven into the western parts of the island, where they maintained themselves for a time in several small states.
"The remnant of the country which they retained was indeed at first of considerable context, including not only modern Wales but the great kingdom of Strathclyde, stretching from Dumbarton to Chester, together with Cornwall, Devon, and part of Somerset. But the eastern boundary of this territory yielded more and more to the influence of the invaders; and it was only in the mountains of Wales and Cumbria that the Britons preserved for any length of time their ever-decreasing independence. During the long-continued and peculiarly ferocious series of contests between the natives and invaders, vast numbers of the flower of the British race perished. Many Britons sought refuge in emigration to the continent. Not a few of the less warlike doubtless remained as slaves to the conquerors, and a still greater infusion of the Celtic element may have been effected by the intermarriages of the victors with the women of the vanquished. But the Germanic element has always constituted the main stream of our race, absorbing in its course and assimilating each of the other elements. It is "the paternal element in our system natural and political" (quote from Stubbs, Select Charters, Introductory Sketch, p.3). Since the first immigration, each infusion of new blood has served to add intensity to the national Teutonic element. The Danes were very closely allied in race, language, and institutions to the people whom they invaded; and the Normans, though speaking a different language, and possessing different political and social institutions, were yet descended from a branch of the same ethnic stock.
"But whatever be the proportion in which the various national elements have coalesced, it is certain that the principles of our constitution are in no wise derived from either Celt or Roman. The civilisation of the Romans, for the most part, departed with them. (...)"
Source: pp1-3, T.P. Taswell-Langmead (1919), English Constitutional History: From the Teutonic Conquest to the Present Time, Eighth Edition (ed. C. Phillipson), Sweet and Maxwell, London.
Taswell-Langmead obtained his ideas from Victorian Anglo-Saxonists such as Freeman. In an article in the English Historical Review (June 2000), Bryan Ward-Perkins comments that:
"In common with almost all thinkers of the time, he was certain that different moral and intellectual characteristics were biologically innate to different races. The shared certainty that nineteenth-century Englishmen had of their immense and self-evident superiority over their Celtic subjects (in particular the Irish), therefore had to be provided with a racial and biological explanation. Furthermore, links with Germany were fashionable at the time, as was an ideal of cultural and racial `purity'. In this intellectual climate, and given the message of the early sources, it is not surprising that, for Freeman, the English are in both culture and race pure Teutons, and not, to use his own term, a Mischvolk."
But Ward-Perkins accepts that such ideas were challenged at the time. For example, the essayist Grant Allen held a strong belief in the Celtic contribution to Englishness and the natural scientist Thomas Huxley contended that 'both historical probability and the appearance of the contemporary English population suggested racial mixture, including many Celtic ancestors.'
By Dr Miles RussellThe chapters in this volume, each written by a leading scholar of the period, analyse in turn the different nationalities and kingdoms that existed in the British Isles from the end of the Roman empire to the coming of the Vikings, the process of conversion to Christianity, the development of art and of a written culture, and the interaction between this written culture and the societies of the day. Available from: