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English Liberties

The sum total of the other categories adds up to a sentiment which has earnt the epithet 'English liberties'. It is usually expressed as a historico-political statement, such as in the 1703 tract by Henry Care, English liberties, or the free-born subject's inheritance. Being a help to justicies as well as a guide to constables (London, 1703) detailing legal safeguards of individual rights, starting with the iconic Magna Charta, and running to several editions, which grew in size with each republication; or later in the same century, The true Briton's catechism; on the principles of government, the rights of man, and the liberties of Englishmen (London, 1793). Guaranteeing the rights of the English people was usually a self-contained expression, and should be if it is to meet the criteria of folk society, but it could express xenophobic and insular nationalism, as it did in Thomas Wagstaffe, The Rights and Liberties of Englishmen asserted. With a Collection of Statutes and Records of Parliament against Foreigners (London, 1701), which maintained that the 'Constitution of England' barred 'outlandish men' from government office, the episcopacy, brokerage and any employment unless they were employees of English men.

This research, however, mantains that the phrase 'English liberties' retains is emotive power because it applies more widely than a cumulative reiteration of statutes. It is rather a means to capture the folk society connection between a people and their community of fellows, their environment and landscape, their access to that environment and movement through it, the value of their labour and expertise, and their political expression.

Example - liberty and libertinism

Almost exclusively the preserve of men, liberty was often expressed as sexual liberty, meaning the freedom to move from one woman (most often) to another without commitment or conscience. Women, on the other hand, were usually praised for their chastity, loyalty and single-hearted devotion.

The sexual libertine was a frequent stand-in for the freedom of the English everyman, and often teamed with other images of mobility: the rogue, the rake, the pirate, the journeyman, as the following examples, some printed in Ireland, show: the work of Edward Ward,The reformer. Exposing the vices of the age in several characters ... To which is added, The rambling rakes: or, London libertines (4th.edn., London, 1701(?)); The rambling fuddle-caps: or, a tavern-struggle for a kiss (London, 1709); The merry milkmaid of Islington:, or, the rambling gallants defeated (London, 1735); The answer to Shawn ouge a Glanea. To which are added ii. The Yorkshire conflict iii. the phoenix of Ulster iv. The Rambling Journeyman (Monaghan, 1790(?)).

A good example of many of the images of English liberties wrapped up in one expression, is the traditional song, The Rambling Sailor. Mobility on both land and sea is referenced by 'ploughing', seafaring and 'rambling travel'; the landscape referenced in this case is the river Thames, but the place names are variable and inland places could be used if the rambler was a soldier, such that the audience is tied into the performance of the song; the sailor has been bound by authority, but now chooses to eschew it and expresses his freedom in his ability to make and break promises to any woman he encounters, the romance of his existence being a lure; and his univeralisation, as 'young Johnson' identifying him with any man.


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