At one level Great Britain at the beginning of the 18th century was like the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, both three and one, and altogether something of a mystery.

— Linda Colley

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A British imperium enabled Scots to feel themselves peers of the Ebglish in a way still denied them in an island kingdom. The language bears that out very clearly. The English and the foreign are still all too inclined to refer to the island of Great Britain as 'England'. But at no time have they ever customarily referred to an English empire.

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Chilvalry's essential function, Maurice Keen has written, is always to hold up an idealised image of armed conflict in defiance of the harsh realities of actual warfare. By definition, chivalry also reaffirms the paramount importance of custom, hierarchy and inherited rank.

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Can it be entirely accidental that the most famous fictional spy of them all, James Bond, Number 007, deadly marksman, intriguer, the ultimate man behind the curtain, sexual athlete and ruthless patriot, is also a Scot, as was the author, whose wish-fulfilment he was?

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Loyal and substansial Catholic service on the battlefield undermined one of the most longstanding objections to emancipation: namely, that since Catholics owed religious allegiance to a foreign authority in the person of the Pope, their political and patriotic allegiance must necessarily be suspect.

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From the 15th century to 1688, England and Wales, like Scotland, had been peripheral kingdoms in the European power game, more often at war with each other that with Continental powers, and - except under Oliver Cromwell - scarcely very successful on those occasions when they did engage the Dutch, or the French, or the Spanish.

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In Great Britain, woman was subordinate and confined. But at least she was also safe.

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A fundamental reason why Britain was not torn apart by civil war after 1688 was that its inhabitants' aggression was channelled so regularly and so remorsely into war and imperial expansion abroad.

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In the last quarter of the 20th century, Britons have been understandably obsessed with the problem of having too little power in the world. In the third quarter of the 18th century, by contrast, their forebears were perplexed by the problem of having acquired too much power too quickly over too many people.

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An unprecedented number of uniformed males, marching, parading and engaging in mock battles in every region of Great Britain brought a pleasant frisson of excitement into many normally quiet and deeply repetitive female lives.

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Jacobitism involved much more than a debate about the merits of a particular dynasty. Men and women were well aware that its success was almost certain to involved them in civil war. And the more politically educated knew that the Stuart Pretender was a pawn in a worldwide struggle for commercial and imperial primacy between Britain and France.

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Virtually every war fought since the Act of Union had gone badly at some stage, but before 1783 none had ended in defeat. Nor would any major war in which Britain was involved after this date end in defeat. Those who are curious about this country's peculiar social and political stability probably need look no further than this for essential cause.

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Most Britons still lived and died without encountering anyone whose skin colour was different from their own. Slaves, in short, did not threaten, at least as far as the British at home were concerned. Bestowing freedom upon them seemed therefore purely an act of humanity and will, an achievement that would be to Great Britain's economic detriment, perhaps, but would have few other domestic consequences.

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About Linda Colley

Quotes 17 sayings
Profession Historian
Birthday September 13, 1949

The pre-war empire had been sufficiently informal and sufficiently cheap for Parliament to claim authority over it without having to concern itself too much about what this authority entailed. The post-war empire necessitated a much greater investment in administrative machinery and military force. This build-up of control had to be paid for, either by British taxpayers or by their colonists.

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In the past, the British had signally failed to build an effective structure of royal authority and administration in their American colonies. As a result, no possibility existed of soothing and winning over influential and talented Americans, in the way that influential and talented Scotsmen were increasingly being won over, by giving them increased access to state employment.

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Contrary to received wisdom, the British are not an insular people in the conventional sense - far from it. For most of their early modern and modern history, they have had more contact with more parts of the world than almost any other nation - it is just that this contact has regularly taken the form of aggressive military and commercial enterprise.

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These developments - a massive transfer of land by way of inheritance and purchase, an unprecedented rise in the profitability of land and increasing intermarriage between Celtic and English dynasties - helped to consolidate a new unitary ruling class in place of the more separate and specific landed establishments that had characterised England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the Tudor and Stuart eras.

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