Between two worlds: The British perspective on culture and patriotism on the Channel Islands in the long 18th century

James Thomas Owen, Purdue University


Studies in the early-modern period of liminal zones, between cultures and/or political entities, reveal the interplay between national and regional cultures, the evolving nation-state, and political identity; this study is designed to supplement that body of research. Its perspective is unusual, however, in that it emphasizes the view from the center, that of the state, with the intention of balancing the view from the region that is the norm. The reports written by Island governors and the directives addressed to them from central ministers in London constitute the basis of the study. The cultural transition of the Islanders from Norman French to English/British (perhaps only begun within the time period under consideration here, despite centuries of English rule) forms the backdrop; the influence of the British in this transition is the issue. The persistent political and economic competition between Britain and France, including seven major wars, proved to have a mayor impact on the relationship between Britain and the Islands. British administrators usually respected the Islands' near autonomous political position, which Islanders jealously guarded. But the imperatives of the state at war tempted the rulers to unilaterally alter the political relationship, as William III did in 1689 when he abrogated the Islands' neutrality. Internal unrest amongst the Islanders as well as dissatisfaction with British rule, starting in the 1780s, also stressed the political relationship, creating the potential for a new balance that favored the center's needs. Rather than official arms of the state dictating a change, however, British military officers on station played a crucial role through informal channels. These men, avid supporters of the state ready to sacrifice all for the “greater good,” pressured the Islanders to come around to their own attitude. They served in no official capacity as the Islanders' political overseers, a critical distinction. Yet between the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars their overt challenges to Islander “loyalty” (or what I term patriotism) prompted the Islanders to more visibly demonstrate their attachment. Interstate war and “peer pressure” worked on the Islanders' political identity, shifting it toward the central state, which paved the way for a parallel cultural identity shift in the decades thereafter. ^




Major Professor: James R. Farr, Purdue University.

Subject Area

History, European|History, Modern

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