English people

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This article is about the English as an ethnic group. For information about residents or nationals of England, see demographics of England.

The English people are an indigenous European ethnic group originating in the lowlands of Great Britain and are drawn from a composite population descended from a combination of Romano-Celts and Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

Total population: 105-110 million
Significant populations in: United Kingdom1:

United States2:
   30,000,000 (est)
   15,000,000 (est)
   12,000,000 (est)
Rest of the world:
   5,000,000 (est)

Language: English
Religion: Christianity
Related ethnic groups: Germans, Dutch, Flemings, Frisians; and other Germanic peoples



The English as an ethnic group can trace their heritage back to the Anglo-Saxons (or Old English), who between the 5th and 7th centuries, after the withdrawal of the Roman Empire, came to occupy most of lowland Britain (although a lack of documentation from the Dark Ages means few individuals can prove such descent). The name of the area known as England derives from this settlement. The tribes participating in this conquest of Britain include the Angles, the Jutes, the Saxons, the Franks, and the Friesians. At one time it was widely believed that the Anglo-Saxons supplanted the Celtic populations. Some recent genetic studies disagree, suggesting the Anglo-Saxons may have established political and cultural dominance over the Celts and intermarried with them. In particular, analyses performed upon the mitochondrial DNA of modern day English suggest that any continental admixture from the period of Germanic invasions would have been almost exclusively derived from the male line, suggesting a process of intermarriage between male invaders and female indigenous Celts.

A further settlement of Danes occurred during the 9th century in northern and eastern England.

Some British ethnic groups, notably the Cornish and the Cumbrians have a noticeably less diluted connection to the pre-Anglo-Saxon Celtic Britons; As a result of this, some Cornish claim not to be English but Cornish. A further influence on the English language is from Scandinavian culture, particularly in the north of England. This is most pronounced in York, formerly the Danish settlement of Jorvik. These groups had a noticeable impact on the English language, for example the modern meaning of the word dream is of Scandinavian origin. Additionally place names that include thwaite and by are Scandinavian in origin.

England in AD 600 after the Saxon invasion
England in AD 600 after the Saxon invasion

The Anglo-Saxons established several kingdoms, commonly referred to as the Heptarchy. These were united in the early 9th century under the overlordship of Wessex, forming what would eventually become the modern nation state of England.

These kingdoms were then subjected to a series of raids, conquest and settlement by Vikings originating from Denmark from the 9th century onwards. The Treaty of Wedmore gave the Danes dominion over territory north and east of a line between London and Chester called the Danelaw and represented the beginning of a of period of acceptance and assimilation of the Danes.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought English and Danish rule to an end, and began a diminished period, both culturally and socially for the native inhabitants. The new Norman French elite began a scorched earth policy against the rebellious Anglo-Danish population north of the Humber during the winter of 1069-70, which became known as The Harrying of the North. The English existed as a subject class for about 300 years with the aristocracy speaking French until a full assimilation was made by the time of Chaucer , in the late 1300s. By this time a large number of French words had been added to the English language.

During Britain's centuries as a major colonial power, people migrated from all over Britain's sphere of influence to England, leaving a small, but noticeable mark on English culture. Also, and sporadically for much of its history as a recognisable political entity England has had a significant Jewish population.


Contribution to humanity

The English have played a significant role in the development of the arts and sciences. Prominent individuals have included the scientists and inventors Isaac Newton, Francis Crick, Abraham Darby, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Frank Whittle and Tim Berners-Lee; the poet and playwright William Shakespeare, the novelist George Orwell,the composer Gustav Holst, and the explorer James Cook (for a complete list of famous English people see List of English people). English philosophers include Francis Bacon, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, Michael Oakeshott and Roger Scruton.

The English language is now the world's unofficial lingua franca, and the jury system (used in a few not anglo-saxon countries in the world) is an English innovation. English common law is also the foundation of legal systems throughout the English speaking countries of the world, and the English Parliament had an influence on the operation of most democratic governments created after 1651 (partly through the incorporation of aspects of the English democratic system into the United States Constitution).

The English have, through overseas colonization in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, created several major world nations. These include what are now called the United States of America, Canada (the English part), Australia, and New Zealand, and also the language and institutions of such diverse nations as Jamacia, South Africa, Belize, and a number more.


All English people traditionally speak the English language, a member of the West Germanic language family. The only other language traditionally spoken is Cornish, a Celtic language originating in Cornwall spoken by about 3500 people. More recently immigrants from the British Commonwealth and elsewhere have brought other languages to England which are used privately as a home language. Such languages include Bengali, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic and Chinese.


Ever since the break with the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, the English have been predominantly a Protestant people, a historical legacy that many scholars have argued resulted in the development of a relatively liberal political culture. Today, most English people practicing organized religion are affiliated to the Church of England or other Christian denominations such as Roman Catholicism and Methodism. At the 2001 Census, a little over 37 million people in England & Wales professed themselves to be Christian.

Jewish immigration since the seventeenth century means that there is a fully assimilated Jewish English minority mostly in urban areas. 252,000 Jews were recorded in England & Wales in the 2001 Census; however this represents a decline of about 50% over the previous 50 years, caused by emigration and intermarriage, and the long-term future of the community is a matter of some concern to community leaders.

The gradual assimilation of migrants from India and Pakistan since the 1950s means that there is a growing group of people who are culturally English and practise Islam (818,000), Hinduism (467,000), or Sikhism (301,000).

The 2001 census also revealed that 15% of the population claim no religion.


England, like the other nations of the United Kingdom, competes as a separate nation in many international sporting events. The English Football (soccer), Cricket and Rugby teams have contributed to an increasing sense of English identity. Supporters today (2005) carry the cross of St George, whereas twenty years ago only the British Union Jack would be seen.


English flag
English flag

The English flag is a red cross on a white background, commonly called the Cross of St George adopted after the crusades. Saint George, famed as a dragon-slayer, is also the patron saint of England. The three golden lions or leopards on a red background was the banner of the kings of England derived from their status as Duke of Normandy and is now used to represent the English national football team and the English national cricket team. The Tudor rose and the English oak are also English symbols. "God Save The Queen" is widely regarded as England's unofficial national anthem; however, other songs are sometimes used, including "Land of hope and glory" (used as England's anthem in the Commonwealth Games), "Jerusalem" and "I Vow to Thee, My Country."


With the Acts of Union in 1536, 1542, 1707 and 1800, England was joined with Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in the United Kingdom; and a new 'British' identity was conceived. Most of Ireland achieved its independence in 1922. The English, along with the other peoples of the British Isles found their old identities undermined somewhat in favour of a new British national identity. The 1990s saw the beginning of a gradual reclamation and reformation of English identity. For several decades nationalist movements had existed in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Cornwall but England had no counterpart. Partly in response to devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the rise in general of nationalism in the Celtic fringe many English people have been led to question what it is to be English and its relationship with being British. Some English nationalist parties have been created, their following however remains small, see English nationalism.


  • 1 The CIA World Factbook reports that in the 2001 UK census 92.1% of the UK population were in the White ethnic group, and that 83.6% of this group are in the English ethnic group. The UK Office for National Statistics[1] reports a total resident population in the UK census of 58,789,194. A quick calculation shows this is equivalent to 45,265,093 people in the English ethnic group. However this number may not represent self-defined ethnic group. The number who described their ethnic group as English in the 2001 UK census has not been published to date.
  • 2 EuroAmericans.net gives official statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census showing 24,515,138 persons claiming English ancestry. This figure is likely to be an underestimate of the true number with English ancestry as some people will not have been aware of their English ancestry, or will have choosen not to mention it. The greatest population in a single state was 2,521,355 in California, and the highest percentage was 29.0% in Utah.
  • 3 2001 Canadian Census gives 1,479,520 respondents stating their ethnic origin as English as a single response, and 4,499,355 including multiple responses, giving a combined total of 5,978,875.
  • 4 The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports 6.4 million people of English ancestry in the 2001 Census. Up to two ancestries could be chosen. Recent increases in the number who identify as Australian suggest that this number is an underestimate of the true number with English ancestry. [2].

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