The English and England
Medieval writers from Bede, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Layamon to the authors of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century romances, historical writings, and religious works described England in sociological terms. This kingdom, country, or nation, as Benedict Anderson observes of a later age, is here already imagined as a community of humans that is “limited” and “sovereign” even if its inhabitants are imprecise in answering where and when the entity sometimes called England begins and ends, and even if they continually speculate about its popular, regal, and heavenly sovereignty.Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon is one of several chronicles written during Edward III’s reign that contributed to a new consciousness about England as a nation. Higden (ca. 1275–ca. 1360), a Benedictine at the abbey of St. Werburgh’s in Chester, began his universal and encyclopedic history about 1327, revising and adding to it until his death. Famous during his lifetime, his work survives in over 125 fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscripts, and its popularity is also confirmed by John Trevisa’s English translation as well as an anonymous fifteenth-century translation (both printed alongside the Latin text in the Rolls Series). Trevisa finished translating the Polychronicon in 1387, adding his own materials (see also “Friars,” p. 7, “Humors,” p. 14, and “The English Language,” p. 259).
Trevisa’s vernacular translation survives in 14 manuscripts, whereas some 118 complete or substantial manuscripts in Latin exist. Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde both printed redactions of his text with further alterations. The Great Papal Schism, which began in 1378 when Clement VII was set up as antipope in Avignon against Urban VI in Rome, had disastrous consequences not only for the Church, but also for hopes of peace between England and France (see “Battle of Agincourt,” p. 46). The Council of Constance, which met at the request of Emperor Sigismund in 1414–18, began with relative agreement, in particular that four “nations” would be able to vote: Italy, France, Germany, and England. However, in October 1416 the distinguished French cardinal, Pierre d’Ailly (1351–1420), called into question the national divisions, arguing that the Roman Church was comprised of four different divisions: French, German (which would include the English), Spanish, and Italian. He also cited another papal bull of Benedict XII that Western Christendom was divided into 36 Benedictine provinces of which only four encompassed Britain and one the sees of Canterbury and York. Despite objections from the emperor, the French kept the issue alive until March 1417, when Sigismund finally put a stop to their attempt to reduce England’s representation. At the end of the month Thomas Polton, an English notary, delivered the English response for the record even though it was never publicly read at the Council. Ranulf Higden. St. John’s College, Cambridge, MS 204. In C. Babington and J. R. Lumby (eds.) (1869) Polychronicon, vol. 2, trans. J. Trevisa. London: Longman, 165–75. Language: English (Southwestern) Manuscript date: ca. 1400 De gentibus huius moribus. Capitulum sexagesimum.1 Giraldus in Itinerario.2 For the maneres and the doynge of Walsche men and of Scottes beeth to fore honde somdel declared, now of the maneres and of the doynges of the medled3 peple of Engelond nedeth forto telle. But the Flemynges that beeth in the westside of Wales beeth now by torned4 as though they were Englische by cause of companye with Englische men, and they beeth stalworthe and stronge to fighte, and beeth the moste enemyes that Walsche men hath, and useth marchaundyse and clothynge, and beeth ful redy to putte hem self to aventures and to peril in the see and in the lond, by cause of greet wynnynge, and beeth redy for to goo somtyme to the plowgh and somtyme to dedes of armes whan tyme and place axeth. Hit semeth of this men a grete wonder that in a boon5 of a wethres right schuldre, whan the flesche is aweye i-sode6 and nought i-rosted, they knoweth what hath be do, is i-doo, and schal be doo, and as hit were by a spirit of prophecie and a wonderful craft, they telleth what me doth in fer contrayes, tokens of pees and of werre, the staat of the reeme, sleynge of men, and spouse-breche; soche they declareth certeynliche by schewynge of tokenes and of synnes7 that beeth in suche a schulder boon.Ranulf says: But the Englische men that woneth in Engelond, that beeth i-medled in the ilond, that [beth] fer i-spronge from the welles that they sprong of first, wel lightliche with oute entisynge of eny other men, by here owne assent tornen to contrary dedes.
And also unesy, also ful unpacient of pees (enemy of besynesse) and wlatful8 of sleuthe (Willelmus de Pontificibus, libro tertio),9 that whan they haveth destroyed here enemyes al to the grounde, thanne they fighteth with hem self and sleeth everiche other as a voyde stomak and a clene worcheth in hit self. [Ranulf says:] Notheles, men of the South beeth esier and more mylde; and men of the North be more unstable, more cruel, and more unesy; the myddel men beeth somdele partyners with bothe; also, they woneth hem to glotonye more than other men, and beeth more costlewe10 in mete and in drynke and in clothynge. Me troweth that they took that [vyce] of Kyng Hardeknute that was a Dane,11 for he sette twyes double messe and also at soper. These men been speedful bothe on hors and on foote, able and redy to alle manere dedes of armes, and beeth i-woned to have the victorie and the maistrie in everich fight wher no treson is walkynge; and [beth] curious, and kunneth wel i-now telle dedes and wondres that thei haveth i-seie. Also they gooth in dyvers londes; unnethe beeth eny men richere in her owne londe othere more gracious in fer and in straunge londe. They konneth betre wynne and gete newe than kepe her owne heritage; therfore, it is that they beeth i-spred so wyde and weneth that everich other londe is hir owne heritage. The men beeth able to al manere sleithe12 and witte, but to fore the dede blondrynge and hasty, and more wys after the dede, and leveth ofte lightliche what they haveth bygonne. Polycraticon, libro sexto.13 Therfore, Eugenious the pope14 seide that Englisshe men were able to do what evere they wolde, and to be sette and putte to fore alle othere, nere that light with letteth.15 And as Han[nibal] saide that the Romayns myghte nought be overcome but in hir owne cuntray, so Englische men mowe not be overcome in straunge londes, but in hir own cuntray they beeth lightliche overcome.
Ranulf says: These men despiseth hir owne and preiseth other menis, and unnethe beeth apaide with hir owne estate; what byfalleth and semeth other men, they wolleth gladlyche take to hem self; therfore, hit is that a yeman arraieth hym as a squyer, a squyer as a knyght, a knight as a duke, [and] a duke as a kyng. Yit som gooth a boute to alle manere staate and beeth in noon astaat, for they that wole take everiche degree beeth of non degree, for in berynge they beeth menstralles and heraudes, in talkynge grete spekeres, in etynge and in drynkynge glotouns, in gaderynge of catel hoksters and taverners, in aray16 tormentoures, in wynnynges Argi, in travaile Tantaly, in takynge hede Dedaly, and in beddes Sardanapally, in chirches mamettes,17 in courtes thonder, onliche in privelege of clergie and in provendres they knowlecheth hem silf clerkes. Trevisa: “In wynnynge they beeth Argy, in travaile Tantaly, in takynge hede Dedaly, and in beddes Sardanapally.” For to understonde this reson aright, foure wordes [therof ] moste be declared, that beeth these foure: Argi, Tantaly, Dedaly, and Sardanapally; therfore, take hede that Argus in an herde, Argus a schippe, a schipman, and a chapman.18 But here it is more to purpos that poetes feyneth oon that was somtyme al ful of eyghen in everiche side, and heet Argus, so that this Argus myghte see to fore and byhynde, upwarde and dounward, and al aboute in everiche a side, and by a manere likenesse of this Argus, he that is war and wys, and kan see and be war in everiche side is i-cleped Argus, and ful of yghen as Argus was. Than forto speke to meny such he moste be i-cleped Argi in the plural nombre.
Than in that cronyke he seith19 that they beeth Argy in wynnynge, hit is to mene that they beeth ware and seeth aboute in every side where wynnynge may arise. That other word is Tantaly; therfore, take hede that the poete20 feyneth that Tantalus was a man and slowh his owne sonne; therfore, he was i-dampned to perpetual penaunce, as the poete feyneth that Tantalus stondeth alway in a water up anon to the over brerde21 of the nether lippe and hath all way evene at his mouth ripe apples and noble fruyt, ne water cometh with ynne his mouth, he is so i-holde up; and so he stondeth in that array bytwene mete and drynke, and may nother ete ne drynke, and is an hongred and athirst that woo is hym on lyve. By a manere likeness of this Tantalus, they that dooth right nought, there moche thing is to doo in every side, beeth i-cleped Tantaly. Hit semeth that this sawe22 is to mene, in travaille they beeth Tantaly, for they dooth right nought therto. The thridde word is Dedaly; take hede that Dedalus was a wel sligh man, and by likness of hym men that beeth slighe beeth i-cleped Dedaly in the plurel noumbre, so it is to mene as hit semeth in this sawe, in takyge hede and in cry they beeth Dedaly, that is fel23 and sly. The ferthe word is [Sardanapalli; therfore, take hede that] Sardanapallus was a kyng, rex Assyriorum, and was ful unchast, and by a manere liknesse of hym they that beeth swithe24 unchast beeth i-cleped Sardanapally. Ranulf says: But among alle Englische i-medled to giders is so grete chaungynge and diversite [of clothinge and] of array [and so many manere and dyverse shappes, that wel nyghe is there ony man knowen by his clothynge and his arraye] of what degree he is. Therof prophecied an holy anker to Kyng Egilred his tyme in this manere. Henricus, libro sexto.25 Englisshe men for they woneth hem to dronkelewnesse, to tresoun, and to rechelesnesse of Goddes hous first by Danes and thanne by Normans and at the thridde tyme by Scottes, that they holdeth most wrecches and leste worth of alle, they schulleth be overcome; than the worlde schal be so unstable and so dyvers and variable that the unstabilnesse of thoughtes schal [be] bytokened by many manere dyversite of clothinge. [B]esides dukedoms, lands and islands, and dominions in great number, there are eight kingdoms, namely England, Scotland, and Wales (these three make up Great Britain), also a kingdom of the sea,26 and in Ireland, which adjoins England, four great and notable kingdoms, namely Connaught, Galway, Munster, and Meath, just as the registrars of the Roman curia, clearly and with a seal, mention them together in the catalogue of Christian kings. There is also the notable principality of John,27 prince of the Orkney and other islands, which number around sixty. These islands are equal to or larger than the previously mentioned kingdom of France. But that supplementary decree,28 we declare, limits the eight provinces for the assemblies of synods of the chapters of black monks (which, as is well known, are in, of, and under the power of the English or British nation) to four provinces, namely to the Irish for one, to Canterbury and York for the second, to the kingdom of Scotland for a third, and to Burgundy for a fourth.
Out of this supplementary decree and because they base the premise of their writing upon that decree, it is clearly proved that they are wrong to write – or rather (always saving their graces) they write less well – that the English nation has one province, in accordance with the limitation of the aforementioned supplementary decree that it is only one thirty-sixth part of obedience to the pope. Indeed, there are ten provinces in it, of which eight (as defined above) are subject to the English nation, and the king of England now peacefully possesses seven of them under temporal rule and will soon, with the grace of God, possess the rest. The aforementioned English nation also has one hundred and ten dioceses, as is discussed below. Insofar as they also write that Wales is not subject to the king of England and neither are the prelates and clergy of those parts, and they do not want to be part of the English nation, as is evident in this council: after making our protestation in advance, it is answered that they should blush to write something so contrary to the well-known truth because all Wales obeys the archbishop of Canterbury in his office of primate in spiritual matters and the most serene king of England in temporal ones, and does so peacefully and quietly, inasmuch as is evident in part even to this council since a number of venerable doctors and other graduates and clerics from Wales are here among the glorious English nation. In accordance with this also it is evident that they speak less accurately of Ireland, which contains four provinces and sixty spacious and ample dioceses, which are recognized indubitably and by common knowledge to belong to the glorious English nation. Insofar as they also suppose that suffragans of the kingdom of Scotland are not and do not want to be of the English nation: having made our protestation in advance, it is answered that the suffragans are (by common knowledge) and ought to be of the English, or British, nation, since they cannot make any denial that Scotland is part of Britain, though not so great a part as England (which is known to the entire world), and they even have the same language as the English. It is also strange that such authors want to write that Wales, Ireland, and even Scotland are not of the English nation because they are not subject to the king of England. This is a given and not a concession, which has no use with regards to the proposition because it is well known that it makes no difference whether a nation is subject only to a single ruler or to several.
Are there not many kingdoms in the Spanish nation, which are not subject to the king of Castille, the ruler of the Spanish? And even so it does not follow that they are not of the Spanish nation. Are there not Provence, Dauphiny, Savoy, Burgundy, Lorraine, and several other lands that have nothing to do with our adversary France and nevertheless are contained in the nation of France, or the Gallic nation? And thus likewise among other nations? Third, as well, having made in advance as always our protestation here repeated, it is answered: it is the truth that to make any comparison among kingdoms accords with neither law nor reason since such comparisons are odious and first devised by the prince of darkness. But inasmuch as those who write from the opposite position perceive the superiority and nobility of the kingdom of France to the kingdom of England yet speak without prejudice or making any comparison, and in order to satisfy those who write from the opposite position, we state that the renowned kingdom of England is recognized to be of no less antiquity or prestige than the aforementioned kingdom of France but rather is more truly of more ancient and greater faith, dignity, and honour, or at least equal in all things, even in royal power, and in the divine favours of the great number of its clerics and peoples, and in the richness of its possessions.
From the time of the second age of the world, the preeminent royal house of England has flourished and thus far has existed continuously and in fact. Moreover, the royal house of England has been found to bring forth, among the several holy branches it produced, which could not easily be counted, St. Helen, with her son Constantine the Great, Emperor, born in the royal city of York.29 They returned several lands of the infidels and the cross of the Lord from the peoples of the infidels to the hands of Christians and into their trust. Furthermore, that most religious man first gave permission throughout the whole world to those who lived under his rule not only to become Christians but also to build churches; he also established rewards to be given to them, bestowed enormous donations, and initiated the construction of the temple of the first seat of St. Peter so as to relinquish the imperial residence and yield it to St. Peter and his successors in the future. He also first granted permission for Christians freely to convene general councils for the destruction of heresies and schisms. In addition, he honoured the church so much that he called the clerics themselves gods. Indeed, the most powerful royal house of England never departed from obedience to the Roman church but under it has fought thus far in a most Christian manner . . . [The English writers continue by disputing France’s claim to contain more provinces, diocese, counties, and churches, as well as a greater area than England. They also claim an older Christian origin than France, citing the story that Joseph of Arimathea and twelve others made their way to England after the crucifixion and converted the English.] It is also generally agreed, according to Albertus Magnus and Bartholomeus’ On the Properties of Things,30 that the whole world is divided into three parts, namely Asia, Africa, and Europe, and that Europe is divided into four kingdoms.
These are: first that of Rome, next that of Constantinople, third that of Hibernia, which has now been transferred to the English, and the fourth kingdom is Spain. From which it is clear that the king of England and his kingdom come from those more eminent and ancient kings and kingdoms of all Europe. This prerogative is not said to obtain for the kingdom of France. Therefore, from what quarter has this unfair comparison of the kingdom of France to the kingdom of England arisen? From what quarter do those lords who write thus find the boldness to write that the kingdom of France is comprised of six or more divisions than the kingdom of England? For it is reckoned that, just as some who favour France for the sake of their individual glory depict, in the mappamundi, the city of Paris as occupying more space than the entire kingdom of England, so too, it seems, those who write about the aforementioned inequality between kingdoms in terms of the extent of their land and other qualities would like to presume. But the opposite is true, as was said earlier. In addition to this, with regard to the point they do not hesitate to write, it accords with neither law nor reason to consider the Gallic nation, as it is generally understood, as equal to the English nation, keeping in mind several points taken above on their own: we say, having made our protestation in advance, that one must wonder in no small way at the hatred of these men for the glorious English nation, who do not want it to be compared to the Gallic.
Surely, are not the two nations equal in their laws, claims, and many writings? For present are all the necessary elements of an autonomous nation with respect to the fourth or fifth part of obedience to the pope,31 just as with the Gallic nation, whether a nation be understood as a people distinguished from another by its blood relationships and habit of unity or according to the diversity of its languages, which are the strongest and truest proofs of nationhood and its essential nature according to both divine and human law (as will be said later) or whether a nation should be understood as it ought to be as a territory equal even to the French nation in that it is one of four or five nations in obedience to the pope.
The glorious English or British nation is of as great vigour and authority, if we may speak all the same without making comparison or prejudice against anyone, as the glorious Gallic nation . . . Also, whereas the Gallic nation has for the most part a single language intelligible among the people on the whole at any rate or in part through the whole extent of the nation, the glorious English or British nation has in, of, and under its power five languages, nations which cannot understand one another, namely English (which the English and Scots share), Welsh, Irish, Gascon, and Cornish. And so with every right it should be able to represent as many nations as it has distinct languages. Also, by the most powerful right it ought to represent as a single principal nation the fourth or fifth part in obedience to the pope in the general council and in other places, especially since in itself the English or British nation has equality in size and nature but also in extent of lands, kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, baronies, and other temporal dominions, and also in the excellence and size of its cathedrals, monasteries, colleges, and parochial churches, and other respects, and speaking without prejudice, just as the Gallic nation has in and of itself.