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quantdave t1_jcptyuy wrote

England was long attractive to conquerors or raiders for a variety of reasons, from its resources (notably its productive agricultural land and minerals, attractive to Romans, Anglo-Saxons, vikings and Normans) to its strategic importance as a large offshore island with extensive Continental interactions and close to its southern neighbour (and potentially too close for comfort, a particular concern for Caesar after his conquest of Gaul, with which southern Britain had substantial affinities - though it was left to Claudius to expand the Empire beyond the Channel): Norse raiders were conversely drawn to its proximity and extensive irregular island coastline, a vulnerability in the face of seaborne attackers ( and btw for them it was across or sometimes down rather than up, so climatically less unappealing than for Roman soldiers with the misfortune to be posted there.)

The country's economic condition in this millennium is somewhat puzzling: that it exported grain under Roman rule and provided viking raiders with enormous treasure suggests that it had productive capacity to spare even with the limited technology of the time, yet was at least by the later period already a place of notable wealth. That it seems simultaneously to have been under-exploitated yet capable of yielding a surplus may offer a clue to its subsequent ascent as well as its attractiveness to invaders.

The country passed through various forms of administration - from a patchwork of local kingdoms or chiefdoms and then a Roman province under successive governors and occupied by 40-50,000 Roman troops and again a patchwork of post-Roman and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, to a unified realm from the 9th-10th centuries (for a time in the 11th under Danish rule) to a Norman kingdom notable for its centralisation under the crown, another source of its later power even as royal fiat gave way to parliamentary government, most notably from the 17th century when a king ignored his legislature and rather lost his head. Regional identities (and accents!) persist, but with none of the political continuity that characterises Continental provinces and regions.

The big facts though in modern England are industry and Empire, both mostly or wholly gone but casting a vast shadow. Early factory mechanisation made Britain (as the state now was) the world's economic frontrunner from the 1780s until the emergence of more dynamic rivals from the mid-19th century, and while its economy is today (like most of the developed world) essentially a post-industrial one reliant mainly on services, the abruptness of the earlier break transformed society and disrupted its traditions more thoroughly than probably anywhere else. A "deep" England survives in some more rural parts but for most persists only in period TV drama. This is a modern nation, for all its nominal adherence to (largely likewise re-imagined) pageantry invoking earlier times.

The other thing that hasn't gone away is the phantom of colonial empire in which Britain used its industrial might and wealth to impose its rule over at one time a quarter of the world. The loss of bygone power and prestige still provokes bewilderment and sometimes resentment among a (mostly but not exclusively older) segment of the population and hangs over political life: it's not omnipresent, but you'll encounter it. Race is reassuringly less of an issue than in some societies, England's insularity and innate conservatism being tempered by its modern reality and centuries of global exchange. But Acheson's observation that "Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role" remains relevant.

For a good place to begin the story I still recommend PH Sawyer, From Roman Britain to Norman England, after which it's probably best to trace developments thematically (society, economy, political evolution) unless you want to tackle the multi-volume Oxford History of England (two series, the old now being replaced apart from its first volumes of which the updated two-part vol 1 and Stenton's revised vol 2 remain important for the first millennium).

Crochet's an interesting one, to my surprise only emerging as a discrete form in the early 19th century but with antecedents in 18th-century Scottish knitting and French embroidery. So that's something I learned today!


ThePinkKraken t1_jcq2jd0 wrote

So many long replies, I'm loving you all! It's also interesting to see that even in this small comment chain people are already having different opinions on how valuable England was. I'll dig into your comment a bit later, it's a long one and my brain functions with 5% capacity right now.

Shame that nobody has any sources on crochet, but I'm aware it's a very niche topic.