David Starkey’s epic documentary on the monarchy, is itself destined to date rather quickly thanks to its slavish worship of contemporary style; all those reconstructions which amount to a guy in fancy dress turning to camera and saying something mundane.
It coincides with a report on when certain words and phrases came into use, that is itself a little bit of social history: ‘whizzo’ in 1905, ‘okay yah’ in 1985. Starkey will certainly be dated by his use of ‘ethnic cleansing’ (surely good old fashioned genocide is rightly making a come back) and perhaps by ‘market testing’, but it’s too early to say.
Where he comes a cropper is in his use of ‘nation state’. The England he describes begins as a stateless nation, divided between warrior kings, eventually it unites, but not behind a state consisting of a single nation, but a state including at least three: England, Scotland and Wales. His description of a unified Britain as a nation state is simply wrong. There’s no sign that any monarch would have recognised the concept, given that throughout history they’d a habit of claiming dominion over many nations.
The idea of the nation state came to life at the end of World War One, when Woodrow Wilson, an idealistic anti-colonial United States president proposed it as an equitable solution for long term peace. Each nation would have its own state and nobody would claim dominion over anybody else. Of course, it didn’t apply to the United Kingdom, where a single state continues to hold sovereignty over four nations (including part of Ireland) and numerous other bits and bobs around the world.
It might not sound it, but it’s important. We have a contemporary debate on Britain’s role in Europe and the nature of sovereignty and the state. Many anti-European Union campaigners, debate as if nation and state are the same thing and as if a federal Europe would mean the end of the British nations. So Starkey’s poor use of language helps perpetuate myths propagated by those for whom British history begins post-World War One.
Slippery words and the feeble minded……UKIP/BNP myths too quietly exposed……Feudal Creep