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The Strange Case of Britain

In Britain, the formation of the nation-state was the result of a long-drawn-out process. Prior to the eighteenth century there was no British nation.

In 1707 the Act of Union between England and Scotland led to the formation of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’ . Its effect was that England was able to impose its influence on Scotland.

  • The English members dominated the British parliament.
  • The growth of a British identity led to Scotland’s suppression.
  • Ireland, a country deeply divided between Catholics and Protestants, suffered a similar fate.
  • The Protestants of Ireland were helped by the English to establish their dominance over a largely Catholic country.
  • Catholic revolts against British dominance were suppressed.
  • In 1801,Ireland was forcibly incorporated into the United Kingdom, after a failed revolt led by Wolfe Tone and his United Irishmen.
  • A new ‘British nation’ was formed with a dominant English culture, the British flag (Union Jack), the national anthem (God Save Our Noble King) and the English language.

Union Jack

Visualising the Nation

A way out by personifying a nation was found by artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Nations were portrayed as female figures. The female form that was chosen to personify the nation did not stand for any particular woman in real life; rather it sought to give the abstract idea of the nation a concrete form. That is, the female figure became an allegory of the nation. During the French Revolution artists used the female allegory to portray ideas such as Liberty, Justice and the Republic.

  • Liberty was personified with a red cap or the broken chain

  • Justice was personified as a blindfolded woman carrying a pair of weighing scales.

Artists in the nineteenth century invented similar female allegories to represent the nation. In France, the idea of a people’s nation was underlined by a popular Christian name, Marianne. To remind the public of the national symbol of unity and to persuade them to identify with it, Statues of Marianne were erected in public squares. coins and stamps contained images of Marianne. Similarly, the allegory of the German nation was Germania. Germania is visualized as wearing a crown of oak leaves, as the German oak stands for heroism.

Marianne on the Place de la République

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