During the past few years there has been much excitement, and some self-congratulation, among English historians over the rediscovery of what has been termed ‘the British dimension’ to England’s story. By this is usually meant the manner in which the realms of Ireland, Scotland and England reacted with each other during the early modern period and helped to shape the development of each other. More rarely, it involves an acknowledgement by an English scholar that the histories of the other two nations might be worth studying in their own right. These developments are undoubtedly both important and praiseworthy, restoring elements to the story of Tudor and Stuart England, in particular, without which it was at times gravely distorted. None the less, there is a danger that too much self-satisfaction over what has occurred may lead to other distortions and insensitivities. For one thing, there is a problem of language. The archipelago concerned consists of two main islands, the larger being Britain and the smaller Ireland. The term ‘British’, therefore, can only correctly apply to the larger island, and to stretch it to cover the latter involves a geographical error coupled with a potential political statement.
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