Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

30 April 2011

Royal wedding – ‘what Britain does best’ or what Britain is: a union of unequals?

I’m beginning to write this an hour before the service commences: the royal wedding. So I’m starting blind, before the start of the spectacle that I’ll be going round to a neighbour’s to watch – which will provide the necessary flesh to this cultural commentary.

Apart from being a ceremony in which a man and a woman commit their lives to one another, we are told that the royal wedding is an example of ‘what Britain does best’. More precisely, it is the ceremony and the celebration themselves that are ‘what Britain does best’: ceremonial performed with military precision, coupled with joyful but dignified, restrained popular celebration. In other words, the wedding symbolises Britain itself: a hierarchical, orderly society to which the people – like the commoner Kate Middleton – give their joyous but equally solemn assent.

Britain, like a traditional Christian marriage, is indeed a union. And as this particular wedding solemnises the union of the future head of the British state (who in that sense personifies the state and the established order) with a ‘girl of the people’, it symbolises in a particularly apt and condensed way the organic union that is meant to turn a kingdom into a nation: rulers and subjects united, like the married couple, in one flesh.

But is this union – Britain, that is – truly a marriage of equals, or does this wedding in fact symbolise the unequal nature of society and power across the Union, including in the relationship between the different nations (plural) of the kingdom? After all, the wedding takes place in the sacred burial place of the English kings, at the heart of the historic capital of England and centre of English government. It is conducted in a Church of England abbey, with some of the service being led by the pastoral head of the Anglican Communion (its future temporal head being Prince William himself, of course) using the hallowed English rite that is the Book of Common Prayer. This marriage and the union it symbolises are English in all but name, or English but not in name: the United Kingdom of whose perpetuation this wedding is a celebration being in essence a continuation of the ancient English kingdom, with William and Catherine being the future King and Queen of England. No one calls the British monarch the ‘King of Britain’ or the ‘King of the UK’: they’re the King of England – though not explicitly referred to as such in politically correct society – and at the same time head of the United Kingdom state.

This dual function and nomenclature reveals the fact that the UK is not a true and full union whereby the two – England and Scotland – could be said to have come together to form a new entity (Britain); the English crown united with the people (English and non-English) of the realm in an organic, integral British nation. Instead, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall remain as semi-distinct adjuncts to the English crown: like jewels within it but not integral to its English design and manufacture. And a great divide continues to separate the exalted class of the rulers from the people: the crown is not in fact one with the people; and England is not one with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall in a united British nation.

Perhaps this is where a distinct identity for the English people was lost, along with any concept of popular English sovereignty; and where, instead of seeing each other as being oppressed by the same social inequalities and absence of true democracy, the non-English people of these isles have viewed ‘the English’, rather than the British state, as the oppressors. And this is because the English have never divorced their identity as a people and as a nation from the ancient English kingdom that has been subsumed within the British state, which has inherited its powers, prerogatives and mystique. As a consequence, the English have been identified by others with the British oppressor because they have identified themselves as subjects of the English kingdom / British state: not just willingly subjecting themselves to English-monarchical rule as it is continued within the British state, but framing their own subjectivity (their consciousness of themselves as a people) as British subjects: loyal servants and agents of the now British realm.

This is what, for me, is symbolised by the royal wedding: not the true union of a people with its rulers in an integral British nation but the identification of the English with their oppressor, the British state – a ‘commoner’ being ‘elevated’ to royal status, but not in a way that expresses or brings about the equality of the two, but rather in a way that confirms and perpetuates the separate status of those two worlds. But it’s not so much the future king or the present queen that is responsible for this continuing and only exceptionally bridgeable gap between the ruler and the subject. It is the British state – represented by those insipid ministerial faces seated in the row behind the glorious Westminster Abbey choir during the wedding service – that has inherited the privileges and aura of monarchical rule and exercises a power over the English (and non-English) people that is as much subjective as objectively subjecting: a power over our minds – leading us to willingly embrace, indeed celebrate, our subservient Britishness in fawning adoration – as much as it is objective, practical disempowerment and absence of democratic self-determination.

Today, ‘the nation’ may have celebrated a union that in turn symbolised the nation. But this unity of the ‘British nation’ is defined quintessentially in this very act of celebration and of marriage through which the English subject – as personified by Kate Middleton – is subsumed within and identified with the personification of the British state. So this is not a real, mature nation at all but merely a powerful, eloquent enactment of subjection to Britain. And until we break the spell through which the British state charms us into submitting to its ‘majesty’, the English nation will continue to be absent from the party.



  1. “And until we break the spell through which the British state charms us into submitting to its ‘majesty’, the English nation will continue to be absent from the party”

    Yes but as you said it’s all but an English affair in nature if not in name. The Crown is an English one with Cornish, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and others jewels embedded in it. It is an English government, state, Monarchy in all but name (and even then when we think Queen of England, Bank of England, Church of England etc). That’s exactly how the English see it. They see it as their government, monarchy, state country (island?). Even if there are small and ignorable Celtic jewels here and there to trouble that image from time to time the nation/state/country/island is England as it were. The English have a state that has spilled over to engulf other peoples but this has happened without wrenching away from the English their sense of having a state. This is not surprising as the jewel encrusted crown you describe is 99% English.

    Perhaps then a better and more realistic way to regain a truly English state and government would be to prise out the Celtic jewels from your original English crown as opposed to trying to forge a new one. Either that or as with the case of Cornwall ratchet up the assimilation machine.

    Comment by Philip R Hosking — 30 April 2011 @ 2.37 pm | Reply

    • Yes, Philip; but you’ve responded in the way that I described in the post: other nations in the Union seeing the British state and the English as the same thing, partly because the national identity of the English has traditionally been caught up in Britishness. But the British state and its institutions aren’t in fact the same thing as England and the English (although I understand how they’ve come to be perceived as the same in Cornwall). But I suppose my point is that a true, distinct English nation can define and affirm itself only when it divorces itself from its marriage with Britain, which yesterday’s ceremonial once again re-expressed.

      Comment by David — 30 April 2011 @ 5.54 pm | Reply

  2. But Cornwall is part of England, isn’t it? And until a referendum indicates otherwise (hopefully uninfluenced by Celtic myth and anti-English racism), that will will remain so? How long has Cornwall been regarded as a county of England, by the way?

    Comment by Maria — 30 April 2011 @ 4.52 pm | Reply

    • Not sure, Maria; you’ll have to ask our Cornish-constitutional expert. (Please keep it reasonably brief, Philip!)

      Comment by David — 30 April 2011 @ 5.55 pm | Reply

  3. England needs to rid itself of the Scottish, Welsh and N Irish EU Regions as soon as possible.

    English Parliament and Government NOW!.

    Comment by Ste — 30 April 2011 @ 6.20 pm | Reply

    • Sounds like Celtophobia to me!

      Comment by Englander — 2 May 2011 @ 7.39 am | Reply

  4. For two different approaches to the Cornish question (answering Maria’s question) try:

    The Duchy of Cornwall Human Rights Association website for a legal constitutional POV: Heavy reading but all fully referenced.

    For a more cultural POV try this document from Tyr Gwyr Gweryn:

    An extract from Did the Cornish become English – a response from Bernard Deacon to Oliver Padel’s RIC lectures: If Cornwall really became English in the tenth century, then why is it that Cornwall ‘remains the one part of England where not all indigenous inhabitants automatically describe themselves as “English”‘(Ward-Perkins 2000, 521)? Why, if Cornwall was English 200 years before Cumbria, does Cornwall, alone among ‘English’counties, have a nationalist movement and Cumbria does not?

    Comment by Philip R Hosking — 30 April 2011 @ 7.33 pm | Reply

  5. Philip: In answer to your two final questions, Celtic myth and Anglophobia? I think Cornwall should have a referendum on whether it’s a country or a county, but quite a lot of what I’ve read on the Cornish nationalist movement is based on highly dubious “history” and a desire to demonise and separate from the rest of England.

    Comment by Maria — 1 May 2011 @ 6.28 pm | Reply

  6. Here’s a few of them, Philip – first, Celtic nation, and a symbol of the English flag on fire:

    Surely “Celts” is inaccurate? Quite a recent invention in UK ethnicities? Not here –

    More Celticness –

    Cornwall – one of seven CEltic nations? A recent invention, surely?

    What Orwell thought…

    The evil oppression of England –

    English pig dog (comments –

    Mixed bag of comments…

    “Burn thir Butcher’s Aprons, burn their George’s Flags and Burn them too until our freedom is gained. The Imperial English understand only the cleansing power of fire, the colonial bastards ! The picture below shows a brave Cornish Patriot buring a Butcher’s Apron on An Gof day – 27th June annually when the Cornish Army rose against the English in 1497 but were defeated by their whore German mercenaries” –

    There’s just a few there, Philip, gathered this evening. There has always seemed to be a strong undercurrent (and sometimes overcurrent) of anti-English bile in Cornish nationalism as far as I can see. British Imperialism becomes ENGLISH Imperliasm, for example. Explaining the UK away in terms of Celts on the fringes and Anglo Saxons in England doesn’t seem to accommodate the Cheddar Man and his descendents, either, and also seems woefully out of date in the modern day UK, IMHO. I do believe Cornwall should have a referendum, and I believe it could stand on its two feet as a country in its own right. I just hope that the referendum isn’t too influenced by recently invented romantic myth (the Celtic notion) and anti-English bigotry.

    Comment by Maria — 1 May 2011 @ 11.02 pm | Reply

    • What about all the anti-Scottish, anti-Welsh, anti-Irish, anti-Cornish, anti-immigrant, anti-Polish, anti-European bile in English nationalsim, Maria? English Imperialism becomes British Imperialism just so that English nationalists can claim anything good as English, and anything bad as British. And yet the Empire wasn’t dreamt up in Cardiff or Edinburgh or Dublin, they were often on the receiving end of English Imperialism if you have ever heard of the Irish Famine or the Highland Clearances.

      I am not sure what you have against it the Celtic word, it sounds like Celtophobia to me, the denial of Celtic culture and language, a type of cultural cleansing. Unlike English nationalism, Celts have never associated themselves with race but only with language and culture. Anyone can be a Celt who loves Celtic culture, in the same way I hope that we in England can do something similar.

      Let’s not be hypocrites, and instead concentrate on what is happening in England. It isn’t Celtic nationalism that is associating itself with the BNP, the only party that is is the English Democrats who are enlisting as many BNP as possible whilst the English Defence League rampages through the streets on a wave of English anti-immigration and hatred of Europe. It is only England that seems to be obsessed with immigration, as if they want to keep their country racially pure.

      He who is without sin, cast the first stone. So let us deal with the massive problems in England, Maria, and then maybe we can live in a better England that can live with her Celtic neighbours.

      Comment by Englander — 2 May 2011 @ 7.46 am | Reply

      • True up to a point, Englander. But England has borne a disproportional share of mass immigration. And anti-immigration sentiment is exacerbated by the British establishment’s determination to deny England any sort of political voice and its insistence that incomers are to be viewed / view themselves as British only, not English.

        Comment by David — 3 May 2011 @ 8.21 am

  7. Maria,

    You’ve managed to scrape together quotes of various blogs and websites that could come from the same person who may be pro or anti-Cornish.

    Maria, try using something a little more concrete than such Internet nonsense. Compare, for example, the various Cornish nationalist and autonomist groups and parties with their English equivalents. We have Mebyon Kernow and you have the English Democrats, England First and EDL.

    Those in glass houses….

    Comment by Philip R Hosking — 3 May 2011 @ 2.02 pm | Reply

  8. Those in glass houses? What does that mean, Philip? Also, I’m speaking as somebody who began taking an interest in Cornwall and Cornish nationalism and who immediately encountered the sort of thing outlined above on-line.

    Comment by Maria — 5 May 2011 @ 5.49 pm | Reply

  9. Goodness, Englander, what a torrent of anger! Hardly anything there which actually relates to anything I’ve said! Celtic nationalism? That implies pure ancient white tribe nationalism, quite different from Scottish, Welsh or Cornish nationalism, and horribly racist surely? The BNP does have supporters in Scotland, Cornwall and Wales, and there are other problems too.

    You must try and get rid of this anger and relax a bit more. Enjoy life. As you told several of us on a different site a little while ago. Choosing a more appropriate name to post under may just help, too.

    Comment by Maria — 5 May 2011 @ 5.53 pm | Reply

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