No two historians would agree on what should be included in a Companion to British History, nor perhaps is it desirable that they should. Much 'history' was partisan and contentious when taking place: Saxons killed Danes, Jacobites despised Hanoverians, methodists mistrusted Anglicans, chartists hated whigs; Gladstone was admired as a man of stern moral purpose and denounced as a fraud and humbug. We should not drain away controversy in order to try for some agreed verdict. It may be of some consolation to readers provoked by an omission or questionable inclusion that certain entries have been included, excised, and reinstated. I do not know of any infallible or purely objective test for inclusion and have often wished that I did.
Some features certainly call for explanation. We have devoted considerable space to 'local history', with a general article on the subject and shorter entries on all the English and Welsh counties, the Scottish provinces, ancient kingdoms, modern regions, and on most important towns, together with entries on a number of castles, cathedrals, and country houses. This reflects not only the interest felt by many people in their immediate surroundings, but also that the distinction commonly made between national and local history is, in practice, difficult to sustain. The one-hour skirmish at Newburn, five miles west of Newcastle, on 28 August 1640, when the Scottish army crossed the Tyne with little trouble, helped to bring about the execution of Charles I and the abolition of the monarchy. National events must take place somewhere, and not necessarily in London, while local events can cast long shadows. The industrial revolution -- if the phrase is still permissible -- was in practice an agglomeration of forges and furnaces, mills and mines, shipyards and turnpikes, all over the British Isles.
This raises a further difficulty. The term 'national' begs the question 'which nation and whose nation?' -- not in the sense beloved by Marxist historians (for whom nation was a tedious distraction from the class struggle) -- but because though there was a British state, there was never a British nation, unless the term is used to describe the seventh-century Welsh. Packed into these small islands are four nations, and within each nation are further divisions and differences. Welsh and English, Irish and Scots differ, but so do north and south Wales, Portnaguran and Motherwell, Belfast and Dingle, Wolverhampton and Wisbech. The book attempts, within severe limits, to do justice to each nation, with articles on the kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland and on the principality of Wales. What is difficult, in a book of this nature, is to register the changing relationships between the component nations, though the entry on nationalism suggests some lines of enquiry. Other relationships are discussed in the entries on foreign policy, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the European Economic Community.
There is no way of avoiding the question 'what is history?' In the course of preparing this volume, I was told by many kind friends that I did not know what history was about. I fear they may be right. But, in my less submissive moments, I think a broad and eclectic 'seamless web' approach may be defended. It allows the readers to decide -- even if they decide merely that a particular entry should have been omitted. We have, for example, included an article on the development of sport and brief references to individual sports. They will not be enough to please enthusiasts. But they make the point that most sports, as we know them, developed in the later nineteenth century and were in response to mass urbanization. They had an important political and national role. Indeed, post-Marxists, if conceding that religion is no longer the opiate of the masses, might wonder whether sport has taken its place, judging from the attention paid to it by