Visions of England

Written by Roy Strong
Review by Doug Kemp

This is a short, but cogently argued book, almost a monograph, which asks the question of just what is England and what are the essential features of Englishness. Roy Strong, as former director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum, is eminently well qualified as a cultural historian, and he argues with some justification, that during these times of multiculturalism and the breaking apart of the Union, there is a requirement to examine the nature of the English and England’s arts and customs, as opposed to wider Britain.

The author argues that the essence of England can be found in the crucible of the 16th-century Tudors. This era witnessed an unprecedented artistic flowering, economic advancement and the continuation of the limitation of the limitless powers of the sovereign. But more than these, it created the myth or generally accepted perception of England, as a pastoral, bucolic society and it also initiated England’s imperial role, which for Strong, are the abiding characteristics of England and the predominant views of its history.