In his geographically prejudiced disparagement of the Northumbrian accent and character, William of Malmesbury writes, ‘Quod propter uiciniam barbararum gentium et propter remotionem regum quondam Anglorum modo Normannorum contigit’ [‘This is the result of the barbarians being so near and the kings, once English, now Norman, so far away’]. Here, William succinctly expresses the relationship between regional identity and cultural contact; England's regions were deeply influenced by their locations, their neighbours, and those who had settled in the area; and writings about English regions were largely determined by the perspectives, ideologies, and agendas of those who put quill to parchment. While interaction with a cultural Other is often thought to strengthen national sentiment and is even associated with the construction of the nation, this is not always the case. The texts examined here, all of which depict or facilitate cultural contact, create regions of varying scales. They range from the smallest local unit to transnational and transcultural communities.
By focusing on regions that contain, and are contained within, England, these texts complicate English identity, highlighting its paradoxes and inherently imagined nature. Yet these contradictions do not negate the concept of Englishness. Rather, they suggest that Englishness is multivalent, with different meanings, nuances, and identitary strategies that depend on context, location, or ideology. We are instead left with a multitude of Englands, none more or less English than the others. They simply imagine Englishness differently. These varied identities are defined by cultural contact, but not necessarily in an oppositional sense; rather, they are intercultural, operating in constant dialogue with other identities and are perpetually in the process of being created, adapted, and performed.
These identities can be ideologically, socially, or politically powerful. More than merely telling us how those in the Middle Ages saw themselves, imagined the spaces in which they lived, or envisaged their communities, an appreciation of English identities can provide a more thorough understanding of politics in the post-Conquest period. They can help scholars to better appreciate the dynamics between countries – whether peaceful or hostile – and within England itself. An awareness of England's geographical relationships and the identities associated with its regions can elicit new readings of texts and historical events.