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            glorification of England. In fact, if there’s one message that leaps out, it’s that the

            English are a chosen people.

            “This royal throne of kings, this sceptred 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,
            This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
            Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,

            Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
            For Christian service and true chivalry,
            As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
            Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son,
            This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
            Dear for her reputation through the world.”

            This speech is fictionalised of course: it’s in a play. But it’s very well-known and has

            greatly influenced how we feel about our history. How well does it measure up to our
            actual history?

            Gaunt says the “silver sea” was a moat, protecting us from “infection and the hand of
            war”. But in early times  the sea was also a highway, bringing invaders in as often as
            keeping them out.  Our Offshore Islands were hardly a fortress: Romans, Angles and

            Saxons, Vikings and Normans all got through its defences. Our national identity was
            forged in war. Nor did it provide protection against regular outbreaks of plague, both
            in the time of Shakespeare - it closed his own theatre for a time - and of the real John
            of Gaunt two hundred years earlier.

            As for the “royal kings/Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,/Renowned for
            their deeds as far from home/For Christian service and true chivalry”, they include
            King Arthur most of whose recorded deeds were fictional, King William I who was
            born in Normandy not England, and John who was more famous for his defeats.
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