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The Nation And Political Authority, 1000–1500

The Venerable Bede (673?–735), in the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation chose the name Anglii or gens Anglorum for the subjects of Christian kings. As Roman Christianity expanded and the number of kingdoms contracted, clerics following Bede fixed the name to one kingdom and its people. Something similar happened with Franks, France, and the French. Why names like French and English survived, others disappeared (Goth, Lombard, Norman), and others attached themselves to the same group (German, Deutsch) is unclear.

Name that prevailed were detached from original connotations of race and kinship. Even before the Norman conquest in 1066, "English" rulers and elites were drawn, and were conscious of being drawn, from beyond the ranks of the Anglo-Saxons. The conquest of 1066 introduced a new ruling class with a clear sense of ethnic identity. Yet the names England and English quickly reasserted themselves. Possible explanations include the facts that Anglo-Saxon institutions were taken over by the new rulers; they married English-speaking women; later rulers identified with the land of their conquest rather than with Normandy.

The political concept of nation referred to monarchy and the ruling class. When the eastern Frankish empire took the name "The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation," nation meant the princes and high nobility of the empire. The nation, in becoming political, divested itself of populist elements associated with language and customs. Insofar as descent was claimed, this was dynastic and aristocratic.

Nation was used inconsistently and descriptively in political discourse. Sustained arguments about legitimate rule were couched in terms of religion, dynasty, and privilege. The king of "England" could claim the "French" crown; indeed such a claim by Henry V was recognized in a treaty even though his premature death prevented the agreement coming into effect. Rulers invoked the nation when rejecting jurisdictional claims by the papacy or other princes but dropped it when making such claims themselves. Occasionally they drew upon older ethnographic meanings to appeal to their subjects, though we have no idea how this was received. The word also figured in conflicts between princes and elite subjects, especially when nobles defended privileges as properties of the nation.

Natio was used in many other ways. Delegations to the Council of Constance (1414–1418) and bodies of students at the University of Paris were called nations and given specific names. The word broadly referred to specific groups of foreigners but lacked stable meaning, suggesting it was not disciplined by constant deployment in political arguments. So long as arguments about legitimate political authority excluded notions of equal citizenship and popular participation, the nation remained a marginal concept. Only when natio took on attributes of populus did it become politically significant.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mysticism to Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotideNation - Prepolitical Usages, The Nation And Political Authority, 1000–1500, Making Politics National, 1500–1800, New Ways Of Thinking About The Nation