England: Not as English as it likes to think


By Russell Bruce

For millennia people have moved across continents for work, wars and invasions, for religious reasons, for education in European universities and to a large extent for trade and commerce. Craftsmen moved across Europe where work was always available to highly experienced artisans. DNA analysis of the skeletons from Henry VIII’s Mary Rose warship clearly indicates Tudor England to be a much more multicultural society than history and assumption by society and historians ever considered.

The archetypical English Rose would have mated with those from shores spanning continental Europe and beyond. English Rose herself would have come in many shades and colours of delightful variety. As James Boswell wrote in his journals: “I hate John Bull but I love his daughters.” Love them he did, and often, according to Boswell.

To rose growers, whose passion for this plant is often seen as an English pursuit, this botanical analogy is somehow fitting and appropriately connected.

As the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan notes in her review of the Channel 4 programme Skeletons of the Mary Rose“…the idea we have of Tudor England as a country with an all-white, native-born populace – gifted to us by an array of all-white, native English historians down the generations – might not be true.”

That Tudor England had such strong links across Europe is not lost on those who seek to ensure a commonality with this history now revealed. A new sense of Europeanism should endure, rising out of the ashes of Brexit. The idea of freedom of movement from the middle ages to the present day is one of continuous interaction, only changed by ease of travel and increased security of passage. Goods flowed across boundaries and money changed hands in multiple currencies, recognised by traders across Europe.

No matter the mint, quality coinage had a value traders and merchants understood. The Florence Florin was the first coin to gain international recognition and usage in the 13th century. Ducats soon became the Euro of the middle ages, surviving as late as the early 20th century. First introduced by Venice, Ducats were soon to be minted by Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, the Netherlands and many others including Scotland. The Scottish Gold Ducat was first introduced by James V in 1539 and continued into the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and beyond.

This history is very relevant during a period of discussion on the future currency choice of an independent Scotland. Money as Capital and People by individual choice move across national borders – two of the fundamental freedoms of the European Union, based on the mutual advantages of making this an easier process.

It is how Scotland thinks of itself as a people, respecting we are a mix of Celts of Indo-European origin, mixed with Viking, Norman French and many later additions, including generations from England and Ireland, that makes Scotland what it is. Poles, Italians, Lithuanians and new arrivals from the Indian sub continent during the last century have made Scotland their home with their new identity and culture infused in a diversity they bestow on modern Scotland.

England is no different but somehow finds it so much more difficult to accept that home nation identity can be combined with a strong European identity and cultural multi-ethnic diversity from further afield. The search of so many south of the Border for a push back to a mythical past is offensive to those who have come and settled and an embarrassment to many who do no relish the search for a period of time that never existed. The information uncovered from the Mary Rose should be a wake up call.

Mary Rose

The Channel 4 programme Skeletons of the Mary Rose can be found at Channel4.com for the next 27 days