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            book, a history of Britain by Ian Morris called Geography Is Destiny – it isn’t of course,

            but his ideas are interesting if not always conclusive.

            So now I had a theme but still no title. Britain Connected sounded too much like
            broadband, or plumbing. Geopolitical History sounded too turgid. Then, early this
            summer I read a book about prehistory proposing an exciting new theory (which was
            useful as I didn’t have one myself) and with an arresting title - The Dawn of
            Everything - which fitted the bill so well that I immediately stole it. But then I spotted
            and stole an even better title, on another new book in Waterstone’s window in

            Ringwood (in the days when you could still go to Ringwood) - English Pastoral.
            (disappointingly it turned out the content had almost nothing to do with our topic).
            Finally, Group member Sue Elve, who joined last year, rashly mentioned that she’d
            studied Anglo-Saxon poetry as part of her English degree. It seemed like fate. Sue has
            kindly agreed to do a presentation for us.

            In this convoluted way, this year’s topic, English Pastoral: the Dawn of Everything,

            was born. It will explore the dawn of our history and how it was influenced by
            geography. How did a North Sea inundation make us an offshore island? How could a
            new theory of prehistory de-mystify Stonehenge? What did it mean to be offshore
            islanders living on the edge of the world? How did we become caught up in
            geopolitical forces, Roman, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman? How did we
            become a Christian people, and, maybe even come to think of ourselves as a chosen
            people? And how did England become a “sceptred isle” ruled by one monarch rather
            than by many? These are some of the questions we’ll be discussing.


            There is of course a further question. This year’s topic takes us up to the Norman
            Conquest in 1066. But what comes after? Could geopolitics help us to make sense of
            medieval and early modern British history? Is The Dawn of Everything a thousand-
            year prelude to a two-thousand year story? This may be up to you.


            JOHN OF GAUNT’S SPEECH

            Sceptred isle - the dawn of patriotism
            How do we know about history? One of the people who has  probably influenced us
            more than we realise is Shakespeare. This is why we begin with the famous speech
            beginning “This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle” from Shakespeare’s play
            Richard II (Act 2, Scene 1). This is one of his history plays, written in the 1590’s and is
            about the fall of the Plantagenet king Richard. The speech is given by the dying John
            of Gaunt (1340-1399) and it words have become embedded in our national

            consciousness. It is usually quoted as a ringing assertion of national pride, a
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