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The Discovery of the English Land

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 03 April 2003

Elizabethan and Renaissance expert Jonathan Bate presents a three part series examining the flowering of culture that took place under Elizabeth I and shaped our image of England forever. Famed for exploring the new world and laying the foundations of the British Empire, the Elizabethans also focused on domestic and inward discovery.

The Elizabethans invented a dream-like pastoral England that has been an English ideal ever since. The counties of England stretch back to the Anglo-Saxons. But it was the Elizabethans who made them matter, and raised their individuality to legendary status.

Jonathan Bate starts in Kent where William Lambard wrote his Perambulation of Kent in 1576: the first ever country history of its kind and one that soon became fashionable. It launched a host of literary imitators. Shakespeare was known as a "Warwickshire man", Raleigh proud of being from the West Country.

Jonathan traces the little known story of the vast and detailed mapping of England that was completed under Elizabeth for the first time in history. England now existed as a documented territorial whole - a project dreamed of by Henry VIII but only delivered by his daughter.

Behind these fascinating cultural development lay politics. The court and its advisers needed devolved power to exercise local justice. But this county power had to be based on distinct cultural identity, not real military force. Could it be that English county identity was, in essence, an artificial creation dreamed up by London? Contributors to the programme debate this question.

Producer: Matthew Dodd


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