To what extent can Britishness be equated with Protestantism during the long eighteenth century?

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To what extent can ‘Britishness’ be equated with Protestantism during the long eighteenth century?

The subject of the British national identity has been a subject of intense debate and scrutiny since the formation of the kingdom in the early eighteenth century, particular on the issue of Protestantism and ‘Britishness’ as overlapping identities. Historians such as Claydon and McBride see Protestantism as a constituent in national identity, rather than its entirety, whilst others such as Colley take the view that religion was the undercurrent behind all events and actions that could be construed as a step towards a common identity. Focusing upon religion itself, anti-catholic sentiment as well as relations between the Kingdoms. The dawn of the Imperial age too will be addressed. This essay seeks to evaluate and scrutinise academic opinion in order to form an individual judgement on the question in hand.

In their book ‘Protestantism and National Identity’, Claydon and McBride dismiss revisionist work on religion and British identity as merely ‘overplaying faith as a historical dynamic’. However religion is indeed a dynamic during the long eighteenth century: It is pivotal to the numerous political and social changes that created Britain, and thus should not be immediately dismissed as mere drivel. The Glorious Revolution was the first of many events that secured Protestant supremacy within Britain. Indeed the Revolution was something of a nationalist Revolution, in the sense that Protestantism defined the nations of both Scotland and England. The Hanoverian Monarchy, Germans by blood, were neutral to either Scottish or English bias due to the fact of their German heritage. However they became widely accepted and revered in the second part of the eighteenth century. The reason for this, indeed the reason why they became monarchs of Britain in the first place, was their Protestant values (admittedly a different strand of Protestantism compared to Anglicanism), akin to those of their subjects. The Phrase ‘Cuius Regio, Eius Religio’, or whose region, his religion, comes to mind- the common value that so allowed a German Monarchy to be accepted may not have been blood, but religion. On a national scale this was enough to unite the English and Scottish – Britishness was not about blood, but about the religious similarities. Yet simultaneously the sense of a superior religion, the sense of ‘chosen-ness’ on the British Public created the idea of an ‘Island Race’ defined by the values of Protestantism. By maintaining this sense of distinction throughout the period, British foreign policy on the continent could easily be defined as having religious overtones. The nine years War of the 1690s, followed soon after by the war of Spanish succession and as far as the 1750s in the seven years War were fought against Catholic enemies. Successes in these wars led to vast colonial gains such as the acquisition of Bengal in 1757 only strengthened the idea, as will be discussed, that the defeat of popery at home and abroad and the spread of Protestantism could lead to a British Utopia of Liberty at home with a vast Empire. The people were united by this aim through their common similarity in the form of Religion, despite differences in Blood and Soil.

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It was this Blood and Soil that was the noticeable difference between Scotland and England, and for centuries had been used to define one another as ‘foreign’. Presbyterianism and Anglicanism were both born out of Protestantism: Related, but different bodies altogether. The common bond served as a British Identity, but equally legitimate is the claim that the Anglophobia of the Scots, and the Scottophobia of the English, created an entire sub-strand of identity. As early as 1701, Robert Fleming argued on the basis of common Protestant values of sinking denominational differences to create a united front. As has been ...

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