There is no Queen of England

One of my favorite movies is Megamind and this is my favorite scene from the movie.

 

The strange thing is that the statement made by Hal/Tighten, “There is no Queen of England” happens to be correct. There is, in fact, no such person as the Queen of England. She is as real as the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. If that is true than who is this woman?

Queen-Elizabeth-II-

That is Her Royal Majesty Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well various former British colonies. England is, to be sure, part of the kingdom she reigns over, but England has not been an independent, sovereign nation since the Acts of Union in 1707. The United Kingdom is made up of three kingdoms, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and one principality, Wales united into one nation with a common government and Parliament.

England is the largest of the countries that make up the United Kingdom both in area and population and so has tended to dominate the kingdom to the point that British has largely become synonymous with English. It is the English language that is spoken throughout the British Isles while the various Celtic languages are either endangered or extinct. It is understandable, then, that the Queen of Great Britain should be referred to as simply the Queen of England.

The Kingdom of England that was united into the United Kingdom is generally held to begin with the Norman Conquest of 1066, though, of course British history stretches back to the Roman province of Britannia. Since the Conquest did mark a drastic shift in English history, culture and even language and every monarch since 1066 has been a descendant of William the Conqueror, so it seems fair enough to regard it as the establishment of the English nation as we know it today. The English language and people existed for many centuries before the coming of the Normans, however. It was the Angles and the Saxons who invaded Britain after the Romans withdrew in 410 who gave England its name and language. These Anglo-Saxon invaders either drove out or assimilated the Latin or Celtic speaking Romanized Britons. For some time, England was split into many, the traditional number is seven, petty kingdoms and subject to invasions by the Norsemen, but in the century before the Norman conquest began to be unified under the rule of Wessex, the one English kingdom that managed not to be conquered by the Vikings. The Norman Conquest unified England somewhat more firmly and while the Normans brought continental feudalism to England with its potential for disunity and English kings had some trouble keeping their barons in line, England remained a more unified state than France or Germany. In time, England grew strong enough to dominate the British Isles.

The English flag

The English flag

I referred to Wales as a principality, but that is not strictly accurate. Unlike the English and Scots, the Welsh never quite succeeded in coalescing into a unified, sovereign state and the country now known as Wales was divided into many small kingdoms or principalities after the withdrawal of the Roman legions. Although divided and apt to fight among themselves, the Welsh did manage to fend off the Anglo-Saxons, thus retaining their language and separate identity. There were various Welsh lords who were able to conquer much of Wales and receive the acknowledgement as overlord by other Welsh rulers, but such Welsh kingdoms never outlasted the lives of the first rulers.

The Normans had somewhat more success in subduing the Welsh. In 1216, the Welsh lords agreed to recognize Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd as their Paramount Lord and King John of England gave him the title of Prince of Wales. This Principality of Wales only extended to about two-thirds of the modern Wales and the Princes of Wales were vassals of the English crown and while largely autonomous were not entirely independent. Even this limited independence was ended when England annexed Wales to the English crown in 1284. The custom of giving the heir apparent the title of Prince of Wales began in 1301. There were a number of rebellions by descendants of Welsh leaders but such rebellions were unsuccessful, but ultimately the Welsh descended Tudor, Henry VII, became King of England in 1485. His son Henry VIII united the governments and legal codes of England and Wales in 1542. Welsh nationalism has not played as prominent role in the politics of Wales as Scottish nationalism has had and there is little support for Welsh independence from Britain. Wales was granted a National Assembly with limited powers in 1999.

Welsh Flag

The Welsh Flag

The beginnings of the Kingdom of Scotland are somewhat obscure. The Romans conquered the southern part of Scotland, the lowlands, but were never able to extend their empire into the highlands. The Romans referred to the peoples North of their border as Caladonians, a term derived from a Celtic language, or  Picti, meaning the painted or tattooed ones in Latin. After the Romans withdrew from Britain there was a period of confusion and it seems that there were a number of kingdoms or tribal federations in Scotland. The word Scot is derived from Scoti, a name given to Gaelish raiders and invaders from Ireland. These Scoti gradually displaced and intermingled with the Picts and their many petty kingdoms were eventually united into the Kingdom of Alba by Kenneth MacAlpin in the ninth century. There followed a period of struggle against the Northmen and fighting for the crown by branches of the MacAlpin dynasty, but by the time of the Norman Conquest, Scotland had emerged as a rival kingdom to England.

Scotland was a good deal poorer and less populated than England and so was never really a serious threat to its southern neighbor. The Scots could raid and harass England’s northern borderlands, however, and the existence of an enemy on the Island of Britain always meant that England could never exert its full force against the French in their frequent wars. Indeed, France and Scotland were often allied together against England in what was often called the Auld Alliance. For their part, the English could invade Scotland and even conquer large parts of the kingdom but discovered that occupying a country is far more difficult than invading it. Scotland’s rugged terrain and stubborn people; even Scottish kings had difficulty controlling their subjects, soon induced the English to withdraw.

In 1371,Robert II the first of the Stewart or Stuart dynasty became King of Scotland. Robert Stuart’s great-great grandson James IV married Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII, King of England in 1503, linking the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Their great grandson was King James VI of Scotland. As a descendant of Henry VII, James VI was the closest relative of Queen Elizabeth I of England and upon her death in 1603, James ascended to the English throne as King James I of England. Although the crowns of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland were united in the person of James VI and I in his person and in his heirs, the two kingdoms remained separate nations, each with its own Parliament, code of laws, and even state church.

The Scottish flag

The Scottish flag

The two kingdoms would have to wait a century before becoming united by the Acts of Union in 1707. Each kingdom had different reasons for desiring a united kingdom. The English were concerned that Scotland might choose a different monarch than England. James I’s grandson James II had been deposed the Glorious Revolution of 1685 by his daughter Mary I and her Dutch husband William III. William and Mary had no children and upon his death in 1702, Mary’s sister Anne became Queen. None of Queen Anne’s seventeen children survived to adulthood and since James II and his son James were Roman Catholic and so ineligible for the throne under English law, the next King of England after Anne would be George of Hanover, a great-grandson of James I. The Scottish parliament reserved the right to select its own King of Scotland so it was conceivable that the union of the two crowns could be ended as soon as Anne died. The English did not want that to happen. As for the Scots, union was desirable because Scotland had remained a poor and underdeveloped country compared to England. Since England and Scotland were separate nations the usual barriers to trade, like tariffs, were applied. Scottish nationals in England could be treated as aliens. Scottish merchants did not have full access to markets in England or England’s colonies in North America. Union with England was seen as a way to develop the Scottish economy and increase the standard of living to English levels.

Nevertheless, the Acts of Union were very unpopular in Scotland. It required clever parliamentary maneuvering, even outright bribery to get the Scottish Parliament to approve the Union. Scottish nationalism has continued to play an important part in Scottish politics. Jacobite pretenders from the Stuart family generally found considerable support in Scotland throughout the eighteenth century. More recently, there has been a growing Scottish National Party which is in favor of independence from the United Kingdom. Like Wales, Scotland was granted a Parliament with limited powers in 1999. The Scottish voters rejected independence from Great Britain in a referendum last year, but given that the Scottish National Party is the largest single party in the Scottish Parliament, it seems likely that the issue of independence will be revisited in the future. If Scotland were to become independent, they would probably retain the monarch, so the political situation in Britain would revert back to what it was before 1707, with Queen Elizabeth II of England becoming Elizabeth I of Scotland.

Last, there is the Kingdom of Ireland. Like the Welsh, the Irish never really cohered into a single kingdom. There was a High King of Ireland in the Early Middle Ages, but no high king really had much authority beyond his own realm. Such unity as existed in Ireland was destroyed after the tenth century by invading Vikings and later Normans from England. Henry II of England invaded Ireland in 1198 and made his son John Lord of Ireland. From that time the Kings of England also took the title of Lord of Ireland, whatever the Irish might have wanted, until 1542 when Henry VIII abolished the title of Lord of Ireland and proclaimed himself King of Ireland. Thus, the crowns of England and Ireland were united before the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, although the Crown of Ireland was an English creation. Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom by the Act of Union of 1800, making it the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Crown and Parliament of Ireland were creations of England for the Protestant English and Scottish settlers in Ireland. The native Irish were Catholics and generally played no part in the government of Ireland before and after the Union. By the end of the nineteenth century, reforms in the British government restored many basic rights to the Catholics of Britain and Ireland, but many Irish began to want independence from Britain. After a long and bloody struggle, the United Kingdom granted Ireland Home Rule in 1920. In 1922, Ireland became a dominion of the British Commonwealth under the name of the Irish Free State and in 1937 the Irish voted in a referendum to become completely independent from Britain as the Republic of Ireland. The six northern counties of Ireland with a Protestant majority opted to remain in the United Kingdom in 1920 and now form the region of Northern Ireland. This decision was controversial at the time, particularly among Northern Irish Catholics and Irish nationalist who wanted an undivided Ireland and remains controversial to the present day, although the violence has declined. The strong majority of the people of Northern Ireland prefer to stay in the United Kingdom and there is little chance of Northern Ireland gaining independence or joining with the the rest of Ireland. Like Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has a parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, with limited powers.

Northern Irland

Northern Ireland

So, there is no Queen of England because there is no Kingdom of England. Next time you happen to meet the Queen be sure to refer to her by her proper title as Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

 

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One Response to “There is no Queen of England”

  1. Brexit | David's Commonplace Book Says:

    […] voted to leave versus 49.1% opting to remain. The article I linked to breaks down the results by nation, which I thought was interesting enough to copy and paste. I wasn’t able to include the […]

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