Scenes of the Mother Country

America’s mother country is England and England has a long history that has been the topic of thousands of learned tomes, general histories and other research. And postcards.

The royal family has a following in the United States. The outpouring of sympathy for Lady Diana shows we still think of England’s rulers and they have a place in our hearts. The excellent motion picture The Queen examined the relationship between Prime Minister Tony Blair and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

England has a long history of producing famous poets such as Blake, Keats and Shelly, and also such writers as Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and John Galsworthy.


The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English speaking world. Teaching existed at Oxford in some form since 1096. The pace accelerated when Henry II banned English students from attending the University in the 12th century. In 1188, Gerald of Wales gave a public reading at the assembled Oxford Dons and in 1190, Emo of Freeland became the first known overseas student. By the 14th century Oxford had achieved eminence over every other seat of learning.

Oxford was, and still is, a center for lively controversy. The issue of whether a Bible in the vernacular should be used was debated in the 14th century. During the time of the Reformation, two Anglican churchmen were tried for heresy and burned at the stake in Oxford. By the time of the 18th century Oxford became a center for scientific development. Professor Halley predicted the return of the comet that now bears his name. During the Victorian Era the university was instrumental in determining religious matters. In 1850, there was a debate between Thomas Huxley (a champion of evolution) and Bishop Wilberforce. Women were admitted to full membership of the college in 1920. Since 1974 all but one of Oxford’s colleges have both men and women attending them.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is a church that was founded in the 6th century. During the 10th century the cathedral housed an order of Benedictine monks, which existed until King Henry VIII in 1540 ordered that the monastery be dissolved. During England’s Civil War, the cathedral suffered great damage. Much stained glass was broken. After the Restoration in 1660, several years were spent in repairing buildings.

During the Second World War, the precincts were heavily damaged by enemy action. The cathedral itself, however was not seriously damaged. A brave team of watchers patrolled the roofs and dealt with the incendiary bombs dropped by enemy bombers. At present nearly 2,000 services are held each year in the ancient cathedral. There are also rooms for private meditation.

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth was crowned on Sunday, Jan. 15, 1559. She was a woman who loved all kinds of sports – horseback riding, hunting and hawking, and she enjoyed watching jousts. She loved music and theatre. She had no patience with those theologians who deemed such things impious.

The new queen re-established the Protestant Church in England. She became the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She received many marriage proposals but committed to none. She managed to use her single status to benefit England. Since she had no children, the question of succession was unclear. Elizabeth did not like to talk about the succession and tried to have talk of it suppressed. In the eyes of English Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate and had no right to the throne. They thought Mary, Queen of Scots, was the rightful ruler.

Elizabeth led the war against Phillip of Spain in the years following 1588, showing herself as a fine military leader.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria of England was crowned on June 28, 1838, and reigned until 1901. She was born on May 24, 1819, and died Jan. 22, 1901. She was baptized in the cupola room of Kensington Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were the Prince Regent (her paternal uncle) and the Russian Tsar Alexander I, her first cousin. Her first language was German and she became trilingual at an early age when she began instruction in French and English.

Victoria was awakened by her mother on June 20, 1837, and told that her father had died from heart failure. She was the first of England’s royalty to reign from Buckingham Palace. Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert on Feb. 10, 1840.

There were a number of assassination attempts made on Victoria’s life, but fortunately they all failed. She did sustain some injuries when in 1850 an ex-army officer attacked her.

Victoria fell in love with Ireland, choosing to holiday there frequently. During the great potato famine when more than one million people starved to death, she donated 2,000 British pounds for relief efforts. The Irish, however, were soon to turn cold to the English monarchy. Victoria paid her last visit to that land in 1900.

Eighteen-sixty-one proved to be a difficult year for Victoria, as both her mother and husband passed away during that year. She withdrew from public life for a time, but she began to depend on a Scotsman, John Brown, for companionship. Some believed she secretly married him, but the general opinion is that she did not re-marry. In 1997 the movie Mrs. Brown came out; it dealt with their relationship.

In 1887 the British Empire celebrated 50 years of her reign. She was the longest reigning monarch in English history.

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