Everything you ever wanted to know about how other people look at us and how we look at ourselves. Warts and all, we've put together a few thoughts, quotations, writings and sayings, from people of different backgrounds and nationalities.
There is a recurring theme, a common thread that runs through many of them, even though they span the last 1000 years of our history. This will help to show who we are and what has shaped our national character. Hopefully it will also shead a little light on the two sides of the same coin that make up the English identity and show how little it has changed.
Fair play, tolerance and freedom.
Over the last millennium all of these qualities have marked
us out as a nation and so, in the future, will continue to
do so... They also say that we're always pi***d, completely
arrogant and hate foreigners... Ah well, nobody's perfect!
"Ask any man what nationality he would prefer to be, and ninety nine out of a hundred will tell you that they would prefer to be Englishmen".
"Some people reckoned up all King Harald's (King of Norway) great achievements, and said that nothing would be too difficult for him. But there were others who said that England would be very hard to conquer. It was very populous and the warriors who were known as the king's Housecarls were so valiant, that any one of them was worth two of the best in King Harald's army".
(Referring to King Harold of Norway's forthcoming invasion of England - His Viking army was destroyed by Harold Godwinsson, King of England, at Stamford Bridge)
"I feel in regard to this aged England, that she see a little better on a cloudy day and that, in a storm of battle and calamity, she has a secret vigour and a pulse like a cannon".
"The people are bold, courageous, ardent and cruel in war. But very inconstant, rash, vainglorious, light and deceiving. And very suspicious, especially of foreigners, whom they despise".
"We must choose our friends for the future. I choose the country under which we suffered 40 to 50 years ago but who, when we were at their mercy, treated us as a Christian people".
"There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word, which means more to me than any other. That word is England".
"The inhabitants are extremely proud and overbearing. They care little for foreigners, but scoff and laugh at them".
(Describing visit to England by Frederick, Duke of Wurttemberg in 1592)
"I will give him seven feet of English ground, or as much more as he may be taller than other men".
(When asked, before the Battle of Stamford Bridge, what he would offer the invading Norwegian King)
"Someone shouted that we were all English. Why are we running? The English don't run. And so it went on. Having fled in panic, some of the supporters would then remember that they were English and this was important, and they would remind the others that they too were English, and this was important, and with renewed sense of national identity, they would come abruptly to a halt, turn around, and charge the Italian police".
(upon witnessing English football hooligans fighting a pitched battle with the Italian police, Sardinia 1990)
"The more blood they shed, the crueller and more ruthless they become. They're fiery and furious, they quickly grow angry and take a long time to calm down".
(Witnessing the character of English troops as they advanced through France in the 15th century)
"The scum of the earth. The mere scum of the earth".
(Describing his own army in the nineteenth century)
"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 stealing from a poor box".
"What is our policy?... To wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. What is our aim?... Victory... Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival".
(Extract from a speech delivered on May 13th 1940)
"All ultimately intermarried to produce a race of many strains, which may account for the paradox that a people famed for stolid, patient, practical common-sense; a nation as Napoleon said, of "shopkeepers", has produced more adventurers, explorers and poets than probably any other in history".
"Be England what she will. With all her faults, she is my country still".
"Never, since the heroic days of Greece, has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master".
"The best thing I know between England and France is the sea".
(Re: The Anglo-French Alliance)
"Fog in Channel - Continent cut off".
"There are multitudes of young rude English who have the self sufficiency and bluntness of their nation, and who, with their disdain for the rest of mankind, and with this indigestion and choler, have made the English traveller a proverb for uncomfortable and offensive manner".
"They will break panes of glass and smash the windows of coaches, and also knock you down without the slightest compunction. On the contrary, they will roar with laughter".
(Upon attending a football game in 18th century England)
"Germany will dominate Europe, and England the world outside".
"By this sacredness of individuals, the English have in seven hundred years evolved the principles of freedom".
"It is a mark of self confidence: the English have not spent a great deal of time defining themselves because they haven't needed to".
(Extract from his book "The English")
"Those countries which do best in the world - the ones that are safe and prosperous - have a coherent sense of their own culture".
(Extract from his book "The English")
"Five times by her mastery of the sea she has prevented a continental military conqueror from imposing a despotic authoritarian rule on Europe and the rest of the world".
"The value set by her people on the freedom and sanctity of the individual, on justice and fair play, on mercy and tenderness towards the weak, and their dislike of lawless violence and their capacity to tolerate, forget and forgive have been, for all England's past mistakes and faults, a very real factor in human evolution".
"Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live".
"When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles - but never England".
(From his book "How To Be An Alien)
"God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in his Church, even to the reforming of Reformation itself. What does he then but reveal Himself to his servants, and as is his manner, first to his Englishmen".
"First, you must implicitly obey orders… Secondly, you must consider every man as your enemy who speaks ill of your King... And thirdly, you must hate a Frenchman as you do the devil".
(Giving advice to a new recruit on how to survive in the Royal Navy)
"England expects that every man will do his duty".
(Message to his men before the Battle of Trafalgar)
"Let us pause to consider the English. Who when they pause to consider themselves they get all reticently thrilled and tinglish, because every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz; that to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club there is".
"The people of England are never as happy as when you tell them they are ruined".
(From "The Upholsterer" - 1758)
"This blessed plot, this earth, this realm. This England, this nurse, this teaming womb of royal kings".
(John of Gaunts speech in Richard II)
"We few. We happy few. We band of brothers...".
(King Henry's call to arms of the English army before the battle of Agincourt)
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard favoured rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.
On, on you noblest English!
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof;
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought,
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
And you, good yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here the mettle of your pasture.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge
Cry "God for Harry! England and Saint George".
(Henry V - Henry urges his men into the attack at the Siege of Harfleur)
"When I warned them (the French Government) that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, "In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." Some chicken! Some neck!".
(Speech to Canadian Parliament 1941)
"Let no one sneer at the bruisers of England - What were the gladiators of Rome or the bull fighters of Spain, in its palmist days, compared to England's bruisers?".
"If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven".
("The Soldier" - 1914)
"I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too; and think foal scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm".
(Speech to the troops at Tilbury on the approach of the Armada 1588)
"The English never smash in a face. They merely refrain from asking it to dinner".
"We shall go on till the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island what ever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches and we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We will never surrender".
(Extract from speech delivered on 13th May 1940)
"the Battle of Britain is about to begin... Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth should last a thousand years, men will still say: This was their finest hour".
(Extract from speech delivered on 18th June 1940)
"There is nothing so bad or so good that you will not find Englishmen doing it; but you will never find an Englishman in the wrong. He does everything on principle. He fights you on patriotic principles; he robs you on business principles; he enslaves you on imperial principles; he bullies you on manly principles; he supports his King on loyal principles and cuts off his King's head on republican principles".
"The English winter - ending in July, to recommence in August".
"The initiation of a series of events which would lead a revitalized Anglo-Saxon-Norman people to a world leadership more extensive than that of ancient Rome".
(Regarding the Battle of Hastings)
"I don't like England very much, but the English do seem a rather lovable people. They have such a great gentleness".
"The gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the moment you set foot on English soil. It is a land where conductors are good tempered and policemen carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement".
"But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet. Smile at us, pay us, pass us by. But never forget".
"He that wishes to see his country robbed of its rights can not be a patriot".
"We must be free or die, who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spoke, the faith and morals which Milton held..."
"English Catholics are just Protestants, protesting against Protestantism".
"It is not that the Englishman can't feel…it is that he is afraid to feel. He has been taught at his public school that feeling is bad form. He must not express great joy or sorrow, or even open his mouth too wide when he talks… his pipe might fall out if he did".
"England is a nation of shopkeepers!".
"In England there are sixty different religions, and only one sauce".
"On the continent people have good food; in England people have good manners".
"Many continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a game".
"An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one".
"Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first place in the lottery of life".
"American politicians do anything for money... English politicians take the money and won't do anything ".
"A smooth sea never made a skilful mariner."
"Children are a poor man's riches."
"What good is running if one is on the wrong road."
“The English are so filled with their own greatness and have won so many big victories that they have come to believe they cannot lose. In battle they are the most confident nation in the world”.
"The English are great lovers of themselves and of everything belonging to them. They think that there are no other men than themselves, and no other world but England; and when a handsome foreigner walks by they say “he looks like an Englishman."
"The English have an antipathy to foreigners, and imagine that they never come into their island but to make themselves master of it and to usurp their goods."
"There is a need that each of us should understand where they came from, what they are and what will become of them"
"No forreigne prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence within this realm."
"We'll drink off the liquor while we can stand, and hey for the honour of old England! old England! old England! and hey for the honour of old England! old England! old England!"
"they [the English] amuse themselves sadly as in the custom of their country."
"England! my country, great and free! Heart of the world, I leap to thee!"
"England! awake! awake! awake! Jerusalem thy sister calls! Why wilt thou sleep the sleep of death, and close her from thy ancient walls?"
"It is ten weary years since I left England's shore, in a far distant country to roam. How i long to return to my own native land, to my friends and the old folks at home! Last night, as I slumbered, I had a strange dream, one that seemed to bring distant friends near, -I dreamt of old England, the land of my birth, to the heart of her sons ever dear! Refrain: I saw the old homestead and faces I love -I saw England's valleys and dells; I listened with joy, as I did when a boy, to the sound of the old village bells. The log was burning brightly, 'twas a night that should banish all sin, for the bells were ringing the old year out, and the new year in! While the joyous bells rang, swift i wended my way to the cot where i lived when a boy; and I look’d in the window - yes! There by the fire, sat my parents! - my heart filled with joy. The tears trickled fast down my bronzed, furrowed cheek as I gazed on my mother so dear, I knew in my heart she was raising a pray'r for the boy whom she dreamt not was near! At the door of the cottage we met face to face -'twas the first time for ten weary years; soon the past was forgotten - we stood hand in hand -father, mother, and wand'rer in tears. Once more in the fireplace the oak log burns bright, and I promised no more would I roam; as I sat in the old vacant chair by the hearth, and i sang the dear song "home, sweet home!""
"Oh England is a pleasant place for them that's rich and high, but England is a cruel place for such poor folks as I."
"I was glad to be home, but already I knew that before too long - next spring, summer, or perhaps the spring after that - I would need to return to England. Perhaps more than anything else, I would want to set foot on an English path. I would long for those suggestive signposts, those disappearing meandering lines, those hints of detour and surprise. When I first read Tolkien's the hobbit as a young girl, I knew that I wanted to follow its winding roads among misty green hills, clear brooks, and distant mountains. Like me, Tolkien clearly loved English paths. In the lord of the rings, which I read much later, he captured their seductive music. "Still round the corner there may wait / a new road or secret gate," sings Frodo. And on every footpath I take for the first time, I hear Bilbo's mysterious refrain: "the road goes ever on and on / down from the door where it began. How far ahead the road has gone, / and I must follow, if I can….and whither then? I cannot say."
"England is nothing but the last ward of the European madhouse, and quite possibly it will prove to be the ward for particularly violent cases. "
"It is too maddening. I've got to fly off, right now, to some devilish navy yard, three hours in a seasick steamer, and after being heartily sick, I'll have to speak three times, and then I'll be sick coming home. Still, who would not be sick for England?"
"O England! Model to thy inward greatness, like little body with a mighty heart, what mightst thou do that honour would thee do, were all thy children kind and natural!"
"the whole [english] nation, beyond all other mortal men is most given to banquetting and feasts."
"look! lord burghley, you have your wish at last.i am married; married to england."
"it would be better that England should be free than that England should be compulsory sober. "
"In England every man ought to own a garden. It's meant to be that way, you feel it immediately."
"England is not the best possible world but it is the best actual country, and a great rest after America."
"England and the English as a rule, they will refuse even to sample a foreign dish, they regard such things as garlic and olive oil with disgust, life is unlivable to them unless they have tea and puddings."
"Sot comme un Anglois. [drunk as an englishman]"
"Here are a couple of generalisations about England that would be accepted by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted artistically. They are not as musical as the Germans or Italians, painting and sculpture have never flourished in England as they have in France. Another is that, as Europeans go, the English are not intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic "world view." Nor is this because they are "practical," as they are so fond of claiming for themselves. One has only to look at their methods of town-planning and water-supply, their obstinate clinging to everything that is out-of-date and a nuisance, a spelling system that defies analysis and a system of weights and measures that is intelligible only to compilers of arithmetic books, to see how little they care about mere efficiency."
"The reason the English disband their forces with reckless haste after wars, why they won’t allow their soldiers to walk around in uniform, why there is so little state-sponsored glorification of battle, is because they know where it leads. Far better to do the business as brutally and efficiently as possible and then get back to whatever you were doing before, as fast as is decent."
"The instincts of merry England lingered on here with exceptional vitality, and the symbolic customs which tradition has attached to each season of the year were yet a reality on egdon. Indeed, the impulses of all such outlandish hamlets are pagan still: in these spots homage to nature, self-adoration, frantic gaieties, fragments of Teutonic rites to divinities whose names are forgotten, seem in some way or other to have survived mediaeval doctrine."
"At the oval and in Trafalgar Square, there was only one flag, and it was England's. There was only one song, Blake's. If you can't be a nation until you have your own national anthem, this is a hurdle the English have now cleared. So England stirs, with implications beyond the borders of the green and pleasant land, perhaps most importantly for Scotland. That's fitting, because Scotland has unwittingly played a part in the stirring. A sense of fairness is embedded deep in the English soul … the fairness of not jumping the queue, of tutting disapprovingly of those who do. We don't mind waiting, you see, just as long as everybody is made to wait the same way. So the constitutional imbalance of Scotland's parliament and Wales's assembly plays an important part in the English story. Most English people remain ignorant of the details of devolution, and of the arguments over the Barnett formula, Scotland's oil and the rest. But since 1999 there has been a vague, nagging feeling that, politically, the Celts have jumped the queue."
"He was inordinately proud of England and he abused her incessantly."
"A nation which has forgotten its past can have no future."
"Ever the faith endures, England, my England."
"…but it was most hateful to all to fight against their own race’s men, for there was little else who could achieve anything much on either side except for the English."
“A greater slaughter was not ever yet in this island slain by an army before this with swords blades – as books tell us, ancient scribe, since here from the east the Angles and Saxons came over across the broad sea, they sought Britain, the paid war makers overcame the Welsh… the keen heroes won a homeland."
"Should the French dare invade us, thus armed with our poles, We’ll bang their bare ribs, make their lantern jaws ring: For your beef-eating, beer-drinking Britons are souls Who will shed their last blood for their country and King."
"If one could only teach the English how to talk and the Irish how to listen, society would be quite civilized."
"...I am American bred. I have seen much to hate here, much to forgive. But in a world where England is finished and dead, I do not wish to live."
The White Cliffs (1940)
"The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm."
"Other nations use “force” - we Britons alone use “Might”.
"There is in the Englishman a combination of qualities, a modesty, an independence, a responsibility, a repose, combined with an absence of anything calculated to call a blush into the cheek of a young person, which one would seek in vain among the Nations of the Earth."
Our Mutual Friend
"They are poised, flags at the ready, to cheer their boy home. Button's barmy army, first spotted in Barcelona two months ago, will be in residence at Silverstone this weekend for the British grand prix. In their honour, button has introduced a new helmet. The cross of St George will adorn his head, replacing his usual union jack, an increasingly outmoded expression of nationhood."
"not angles but angels"
"In the eyes of the Englishman, the Frenchman is a dog, the Spaniard a fool, the German a drunkard, the Italian a bandit. Only the Englishman is the pinnacle of perfection and nature’s masterpiece."
"England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example."
"We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not combined. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed. And Should European statesman address us in the words which were used of old – “Shall I speak for thee to the King or the Lord of the Host?” – we should reply with the words of the Shunamite woman: “Nay sir, for we dwell among our own people.”
"The world still consists of two clearly divided groups; the English and the foreigners. One group consists of less than 50 million people; the other of 3,950 million people. The latter group does not really count."
"The Englishman who visits Mount Etna will carry his tea-kettle to the top."
"A demon took a monkey for a wife – the result, by the grace of God, was the English."
"The English think soap is civilization".
"The English instinctively admire any man who has no talent and is modest about it".
"What a pity it is that we have no amusements in England but vice and religion."
"England: a good land and a bad people."
"An Englishman will burn his bed to catch a flea."
"The perfidious, haughty, savage, disdainful, stupid, slothful, inhospitable, inhuman English."
"You must look out in England that you are not cheated by the charioteers."
“The English are, I think, the most obtuse and barbarous people in the world".
"In all four corners of the earth, one of these three names is given to him who steals from his neighbour... Brigand, Robber or Englishman."
"I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire: God would never trust an Englishman in the dark."
"The English people are surely the nicest people in the world, and everyone makes everything so easy for everybody else, that there is almost nothing to resist at all."
"Mortar fire is to be preferred, of course, to British sports fans."
"Only Englishmen and dogs walk in the sun”.
"But Lord! To see the absurd nature of Englishmen, that cannot forbear laughing and jeering at everything that looks strange."
"He is a typical Englishman, always dull and usually violent."
"I like the English. They have the most rigid code if immorality in the world."
"There are three things to be aware of: the hoof of a horse, the horn of a bull, and the smile of an Englishman."
“We do not regard Englishman as foreigners. We look on them only as rather mad Norwegians."
"If an Englishman gets run down by a truck, he apologizes to the truck."
"I see the damage done by the enemy....but I also see the spirit of an unconquerable people."
“For Allah created the English mad – the maddest of all mankind!”
“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.”
Norman and Saxon
“And still when Mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!”
The Reeds at Runnymede
“Greater the deed, greater the need
Lightly to laugh it away,
Shall be the mark of the English breed
Until the Judgement Day!”
The English Way
"The French cannot forgive us because they owe us so much"
Refering to French animosity towards the British.
"We’re a nation too you know, not just a bunch of regions."
Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, St George’s Day, 1998
"Since Mr Blair has decided to let Scotland go its own way we in England have said 'sod you, we’ll go our own way too, we’ll look after ourselves'. I think England is discovering a sense of itself."
“Britain is insular, bound up by its trade, its markets….with the most varied and often the most distant countries. Her activity is essentially industrial, commercial, not agricultural. She has, in all her work, very special, very original habits and traditions. In short, the nature, structure, circumstances, peculiar to Britain are different from those of the other continentals… How can Britain, being what she is, come into our system?
“The extraordinary consensus of opinion [in Scotland] against the English on the score of their greed, stupidity, their cruelty, their snobbery…is thoroughly well-founded and arises basically from the fact that the English, like their cousins, the Germans, have a “herren volk” tradition and are intolerably arrogant and overbearing.
There is a silly disposition in many quarters to attribute and such complaint to an inferiority complex…I believe the English are finished as a world power and must be forced back upon their own right little, tight little island, or rather that part of it which is their own…Surely there is no need to slobber kisses on the feet that are trampling us down. We have nothing to be grateful for to the English…The leopard does not change his spots. The English are as they have always been."
“The English….are lazy, constitutionally indolent. They are always being caught lagging behind, unprepared – again and again in their history it has been the same; and then, when up against it – they more than make up for lost time by their resourcefulness, their inventiveness, their ability to extemporise, their self-reliance.”
Taken from his book "The English Spirit"
“Our true Patron Saint is not St George but Sir John Falstaff….we are the most civilised people in the world, the reason being that we are the most humorous people in the world”
The English Genius, 1939
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