In this Jubilee and Olympics year, it’s interesting to go back 400 years or so and come across this description of the English. It is from a book found by Project Gutenberg and called Travels in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth by Paul Hentzner AND Fragmenta Regalia by Sir Robert Naunton. 1892 Hentzner was writing in about 1598.
The English are serious, like the Germans; lovers of show, liking to be followed wherever they go by whole troops of servants, who wear their masters’ arms in silver, fastened to their left arms, a ridicule they deservedly lie under. They excel in dancing and music, for they are active and lively, though of a thicker make than the French; they cut their hair close on the middle of the head, letting it grow on either side; they are good sailors, and better pirates, cunning, treacherous and thievish; above three hundred are said to be hanged annually at London; beheading with them is less infamous than hanging; they give the wall as the place of honour; hawking is the general sport of the gentry; they are more polite in eating than the French, devouring less bread, but more meat, which they roast in perfection; they put a great deal of sugar in their drink; their beds are covered with tapestry, even those of farmers; they are often molested with the scurvy, said to have first crept into England with the Norman Conquest; their houses are commonly of two storeys, except in London, where they are of three and four, though but seldom of four; they are built of wood, those of the richer sort with bricks; their roofs are low, and, where the owner has money, covered with lead.
They are powerful in the field, successful against their enemies, impatient of anything like slavery; vastly fond of great noises that fill the ear, such as the firing of cannon, drums, and the ringing of bells, so that it is common for a number of them, that have got a glass in their heads, to go up into the belfry, and ring the bells for hours together for the sake of exercise. If they see a foreigner very well made, or particularly handsome, they will say, “It is a pity he is not an Englishman!”