23 Apr 2014

For England, Shakespeare and St George!

It's 23rd April, a doubly significant date England today. St George's day and the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's Birthday. An excuse for the the English and proud like me to stand up and feel jolly good about our national identity and our heritage. 
Now were not perfect (what country is?), and reading an article today that the historical George of Cappadocia may have been an a corrupt Bishop belonging to an early heretical sect which persecuted Orthodox Christians in 4th century Asia Minor was something of a disappointing blow. 
Yet I think there is still much to celebrate, so here's a list some of the good, useful, monumental or downright spiffing things which came from England, or English people invented and bequeathed to the world. 

  • Alfred the Great and family:  The King remembered for burning the cakes actually did so much more. His laws, educational and defense reforms deservedly accord him the title of 'The Great'. His daughter was the first woman in Medieval English history to rule a Kingdom in her own right - 700 years before Elizabeth I, and his grandson Athelstan the first King of England was known as 'The English Charlemagne.
  • The Clock: Indeed, the world's first Mechanical clock (or one of the first) was invented by an Englishman Richard of Wallingford, Abbot of St Albans in the early 1300s. Richard came from relatively humble stock, a blacksmith's son from an Oxfordshire Village, and his clock was unlike those we would know today, but would go on to become a time-changer....

  • Magna Carta:  "We have also granted to all the freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be enjoyed and held by them and by their heirs, from us and from our heirs...

    "No free man shall be captured, and or imprisoned, or disseised of his freehold, and or of his liberties, or of his free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against him by force or proceed against him by arms, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, and or by the law of the land.

    To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice."

    Need anymore be said?
  • Parliament & Rule of Law: These two may have existed in some form before and elsewhere, but contrary to some portrayals the rulers of England as absolute Monarchs, it was actually one of the first nations to limit the power of the monarch. This notion of limited monarchy, government by consent, and the supremacy of the rule of law- a law which even the King was not above and was supposed to uphold is an important part of our governmental system- one which Kings defied to their cost.
  • Literary Giants: Who can forget Shakespeare- regarded as one of the greatest playwrights who ever lived? Add to his number Dickens, Austen and Chaucer and this little plot has produced some of the most famous, widely read, translated and loved works of literature on earth.
Even if St George was not all he was cracked up to be, a day for the celebration of Englishness is still an occasion worthy of marking. So in the (somewhat overblown) words of the bard: 

"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,"

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