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Welsh History Review


Vol. 20, nos. 1-4 2000-01

The English in the twentieth century: imperialism, national identity and political values. Book review.

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circumstances' (p.231). Only when set within '"British" parameters', as Dr
Stringer says of the de Vescys, can the topics and themes of this book be fully
Political VALUES. By John Gillingham. Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2000. Pp.
xxvi, 289. £ 50.00.
First published, with one exception, in the 1990s, the fourteen essays in this
volume offer a distinctive perspective on twelfth-century England and its
relations with the rest of Britain and Ireland as well as with France. It is a
tribute to their author that many of the essays have already made a significant
impact on recent historiography, and the decision to reprint them here with
(mainly bibliographical) revisions is very welcome. Two points about John
Gillingham's approach merit emphasis. The first is its privileging of the
narratives of twelfth-century historians over administrative records on the
grounds that histories take us closer to 'the thought-world of the English
political elite' than the more routine and formulaic language of records. An
important achievement of these essays is the light they shed on the values and
mentalities of writers such as William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon,
Geoffrey of Monmouth and Geoffrey Gaimar, as well as on key aspects of
aristocratic behaviour and lifestyle. Second, while its focus is on England, there
is nothing narrowly Anglocentric about this book. Effective use is made of
comparison as an explanatory tool. Many of the essays in Parts One
('Imperialism') and Two ('National Identity'), in particular, examine England's
relations with, and differences from, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, notably in
respect of contrasting attitudes towards the conduct of warfare. Moreover, the
perspective offered here is informed by an awareness of the need to set
developments in these islands against a broader European background. Thus,
one of the main themes running through the volume is the impact of northern
French culture on England in the wake of the Norman Conquest-an aspect of
the 'Europeanization of Europe', in Robert Bartlett's by now familiar phrase—
and the ways in which this interacted with concepts of English identity, while
those familiar with his other work will not be surprised by the attention
Professor Gillingham gives to the wider context of the Angevin empire (or by
his expressions of partiality for Richard I!).
In view of the alleged crisis of identity faced by the English today as both
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