The True-Born Englishman

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The True-Born Englishman is a satirical poem published in 1701 by Daniel Defoe defending the then King of England William, who was Dutch-born, against xenophobic attacks by his political enemies, and ridiculing the notion of English racial purity. It quickly became popular.[1]

According to a preface Defoe supplied to an edition of 1703, the poem's declared target is not Englishness as such but English cultural xenophobia, against the cultural disturbance new immigrants caused. Defoe's argument was that the English nation as it already existed in his time was a product of various incoming European ethnic groups, from Ancient Britons to Anglo-Saxons, Normans and beyond. It was therefore nonsensical to abuse newer arrivals since the English law and customs would assure their inevitable assimilation:

"I only infer that an Englishman, of all men, ought not to despise foreigners as such, and I think the inference is just, since what they are to-day, we were yesterday, and to-morrow they will be like us. If foreigners misbehave in their several stations and employments, I have nothing to do with that; the laws are open to punish them equally with natives, and let them have no favour. But when I see the town full of lampoons and invectives against Dutchmen only because they are foreigners, and the King reproached and insulted by insolent pedants, and ballad-making poets for employing foreigners, and for being a foreigner himself, I confess myself moved by it to remind our nation of their own original, thereby to let them see what a banter is put upon ourselves in it, since, speaking of Englishmen ab origine, we are really all foreigners ourselves." [2]


Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,

That het'rogeneous thing, an Englishman:
In eager rapes, and furious lust begot
Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot.
Whose gend'ring off-spring quickly learn'd to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither name, nor nation, speech nor fame.
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infus'd betwixt a Saxon and a Dane
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,
Receiv'd all nations with promiscuous lust.
This nauseous brood directly did contain
The well-extracted blood of Englishmen.


  1. "His timely satiric poem The True-Born Englishman required fifty editions by mid-century..."Paula R. Backscheider, ‘Defoe, Daniel (1660?–1731)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004
  2. Defoe, Daniel: An Explanatory Preface, in A true collection of the writings of the author of the True Born English-man, 1703

Further reading

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