Revivals, religious tolerance and being the oldest nation state in Europe mark us out as different
Philip Quenby has compiled these historical charts to show the unique way Britain developed.
Do read this comparison carefully.
Click on the thumbnail images below to view the charts. Then click in the top right hand corner of them to enlarge them.
Is there such a thing as British exceptionalism? Over the course of 1,500 years of history, several things stand out: Firstly, England remarkably early developed into a unitary nation-state within her existing borders, whereas power in continental Europe was either diffused in city-states or regions or supra-national, like the empire of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire or Spanish Empire.
Secondly, this nation by and large avoided the large-scale religiously-motivated massacres which characterised the French Wars of Religion, say, or Germany’s Thirty Years’ War. Britain came earlier than most to the idea of accommodating a plurality of voices, whether politically through Parliament or in society at
large through religious toleration.
Thirdly, England had her revolution (the Civil War) a century or more earlier than other countries – in the 1600s, when political ideas were universally viewed through the prism of religious belief. By contrast, the French Revolution (and those which later looked to it for inspiration) was driven by an avowedly atheistic (secular humanist) outlook.
Fourthly, (Protestant) Christianity was embedded deep within the fabric of English (later British) society in ways not found elsewhere: not only in the law but also in a self-consciously Davidic notion of kingship. Religious revival (sometimes national, sometimes regional) became a recurring feature of British life from the time of Wesley and Whitefield onwards.
Fifthly, following Cromwell’s decision to allow Jews back into England in 1655, British imperial power flourished, ultimately enabling this nation to play a key role in the return of Jews to their ancestral homeland after the end of the First World War.
On these pillars England (and later Britain) built a strength and a continuity of government that were widely admired and envied.