From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during God save the King than of stealing from a poor box." --"England Your England", George Orwell, first published in The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941)
England is the most populous country in the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, while the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separate it from continental Europe. Most of England comprises the central and southern part of the island of Great Britain in the North Atlantic. The country also includes over 100 smaller islands such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.
The area now called England was first inhabited by modern humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, but it takes its name from the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes who settled during the 5th and 6th centuries. England became a unified state in AD 927, and since the Age of Discovery, which began during the 15th century, has had a significant cultural and legal impact on the wider world. The English language, the Anglican Church, and English law—the basis for the common law legal systems of many other countries around the world—developed in England, and the country's parliamentary system of government has been widely adopted by other nations. The Industrial Revolution began in 18th-century England, transforming its society into the world's first industrialised nation. England's Royal Society laid the foundations of modern experimental science.
England's terrain mostly comprises low hills and plains, especially in central and southern England. However, there are uplands in the north (for example, the mountainous Lake District, Pennines, and Yorkshire Dales) and in the south west (for example, Dartmoor and the Cotswolds). The former capital of England was Winchester until replaced by London in 1066. Today London is the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. England's population is about 53 million, around 84% of the population of the United Kingdom, and is largely concentrated in London, the South East and conurbations in the Midlands, the North West, the North East and Yorkshire, which each developed as major industrial regions during the 19th century. Meadowlands and pastures are found beyond the major cities.
The Kingdom of England—which after 1284 included Wales—was a sovereign state until 1 May 1707, when the Acts of Union put into effect the terms agreed in the Treaty of Union the previous year, resulting in a political union with the Kingdom of Scotland to create the new Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1801, Great Britain was united with the Kingdom of Ireland through another Act of Union to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, the Irish Free State was established as a separate dominion, but the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 reincorporated into the kingdom six Irish counties to officially create the current United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Culture of England
The culture of England refers to the idiosyncratic cultural norms of England and the English people. Because of England's dominant position within the United Kingdom in terms of population, English culture is often difficult to differentiate from the culture of the United Kingdom as a whole. However, there are some cultural practices that are associated specifically with England.
Architecture and gardens
The Neolithic peoples of what would become England constructed many impressive stone circles and earthworks; of these, the largest and most famous is Stonehenge, believed by many English people and foreigners alike to hold an iconic place in the landscape of England. Specifically English architecture begins with the architecture of the Anglo-Saxons; at least fifty surviving English churches are of Anglo-Saxon origin, although in some cases the Anglo-Saxon part is small and much-altered. All except one timber church are built of stone or brick, and in some cases show evidence of reused Roman work. The architectural character of Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical buildings ranges from Coptic-influenced architecture in the early period; Early Christian basilica influenced architecture; to, in the later Anglo-Saxon period, an architecture characterised by pilaster-strips, blank arcading, baluster shafts and triangular-headed openings. Almost no secular work remains above ground.
Other buildings such as cathedrals and parish churches are associated with a sense of traditional Englishness, as is often the palatial 'stately home'. Many people are interested in the English country house and the rural lifestyle, as evidenced by visits to properties managed by English Heritage and the National Trust.
English art was dominated by imported artists throughout much of the Renaissance, but in the 18th century a native tradition became much admired. It is often considered to be typified by landscape painting, such as the work of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. Portraitists like Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth are also significant. Hogarth also developed a distinctive style of satirical painting.
Since the early modern era, the food of England has historically been characterised by its simplicity of approach, honesty of flavour, and a reliance on the high quality of natural produce. This has resulted in a traditional cuisine which tended to veer from strong flavours, such as garlic, and an avoidance of complex sauces which were commonly associated with Catholic Continental political affiliations Traditional meals have ancient origins, such as bread and cheese, roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, and freshwater and saltwater fish. The 14th century English cookbook, the Forme of Cury, contains recipes for these, and dates from the royal court of Richard II.
English folklore is the folk tradition that has evolved in England over the centuries. England abounds with folklore, in all forms, from such obvious manifestations as semi-historical Robin Hood tales, to contemporary urban myths and facets of cryptozoology such as the Beast of Bodmin Moor. The famous Arthurian legends may not have originated in England, but variants of these tales are associated with locations in England, such as Glastonbury and Tintagel.
Examples of surviving English folk traditions include the Morris dance and related practices such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and the Mummers Plays. In many, usually rural places, people still gather for May Day festivals on the first of May to celebrate the beginning of summer. This traditionally involves local children skipping around a maypole - a large pole erected on the village green (historically a tree would have been specially cut down) - each carrying a coloured ribbon, resulting in a multi-coloured plaited pattern. The festival traditionally features Morris dancing and various festivities, culminating in the crowning of a 'May Queen'. Many regional variations of the festivals exist; the oldest still practiced today is the "'Obby 'Oss festival of Padstow, which dates back to the 14th century.
The utopian vision of a traditional England is sometimes referred to as Merry England.
English literature begins with Anglo-Saxon literature, which was written in Old English. For many years, Latin and French were the preferred literary languages of England, but in the medieval period there was a flourishing of literature in Middle English; Geoffrey Chaucer is the most famous writer of this period. The Elizabethan era is sometimes described as the golden age of English literature, as numerous great poets were writing in English, and the Elizabethan theatre produced William Shakespeare, often considered the English national poet.
Due to the expansion of English into a world language during the British Empire, literature is now written in English across the world. Writers often associated with England or for expressing Englishness include Shakespeare (who produced two tetralogies of history plays about the English kings), Jane Austen, Arnold Bennett, and Rupert Brooke (whose poem "Grantchester" is often considered quintessentially English). Other writers are associated with specific regions of England; these include Charles Dickens (London), Thomas Hardy (Wessex), A. E. Housman (Shropshire), and the Lake Poets (the Lake District). In the lighter vein, Agatha Christie's mystery novels are outsold only by Shakespeare and The Bible.
England has a long and rich musical history. The United Kingdom has, like most European countries, undergone a roots revival in the last half of the 20th century. English music has been an instrumental and leading part of this phenomenon, which peaked at the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s.
The achievements of the Anglican choral tradition following on from 16th century composers such as Thomas Tallis, John Taverner and William Byrd have tended to overshadow instrumental composition. The semi-operatic innovations of Henry Purcell did not lead to a native operatic tradition, but George Frederick Handel found important royal patrons and enthusiastic public support in England. The rapturous receptions afforded by audiences to visiting musical celebrities such as Haydn often contrasted with the lack of recognition for home-grown talent. However, the emergence of figures such as Edward Elgar and Arthur Sullivan in the 19th century showed a new vitality in English music. In the 20th century, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett emerged as internationally-recognised opera composers, and Ralph Vaughan Williams and others collected English folk tunes and adapted them to the concert hall. Cecil Sharp was a leading figure in the English folk revival.
Finally, a new trend emerged out of Liverpool in 1962. The Beatles became the most popular musicians of their time, and in the composing duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, popularized the concept of the self-contained music act. Before the Beatles, very few popular singers composed the tunes they performed. The "Fab Four" opened the doors for other English acts such as The Rolling Stones, Cream, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Who, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd to the globe.
Some of England's leading contemporary artists include Eric Clapton, Elton John, George Michael, Blur, The Spice Girls, Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Robbie Williams, Oasis, The Smiths, Radiohead, David Bowie, Coldplay and Muse.
In the 2001 Census, a little over 37 million people in England and Wales professed themselves to be Christian. Since the English Reformation of the 16th century, when England became independent from Rome, English Christians have predominantly been members of the Church of England (a branch of the Anglican Communion), a form of Christianity that is both reformed and Catholic. The Book of Common Prayer is the foundational prayer book of the Church of England, replacing the various Latin rites of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of England functions as the established church in England. Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales trace their formal history from the 597 Augustinian mission to the English. Today, most English people practising organised religion are, at least nominally, affiliated to the Church of England. Other significant Christian denominations are Roman Catholicism and Methodism (itself originally a movement within the Anglican Church). Churches that originated in England include the Methodist church, the Quakers and the Salvation Army.
English people traditionally speak the English language, a member of the West Germanic language family. The modern English language evolved from Old English, with lexical influence from Norman-French, Latin, and Old Norse. Cornish, a Celtic language originating in Cornwall, is currently spoken by about 3,500 people. Historically, another Brythonic Celtic language, Cumbric, was spoken in Cumbria in North West England, but it died out in the 11th century although traces of it can still be found in the Cumbrian dialect. Because of the 19th century geopolitical dominance of the British Empire and the post-World War II hegemony of the United States, English has become the international language of business, science, communications, aviation, and diplomacy.
The English have played a significant role in the development of the sciences. Prominent individuals have included Isaac Newton, Francis Crick, Abraham Darby, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Joseph Swan, Frank Whittle and Stephen Hawking.
The English flag is a red cross on a white background, commonly called the Cross of Saint George. It was adopted after the Crusades. Saint George, later famed as a dragon-slayer, is also the patron saint of England. The three golden lions on a red background was the banner of the kings of England derived from their status as Duke of Normandy and is now used to represent the English national football team and the English national cricket team, though in blue rather than gold. The English oak and the Tudor rose are also English symbols, the latter of which is (although more modernised) used by the England national rugby union team.