What is patriotism?

Stowe Landscape Gardens

Love of homeland was a virtue celebrated by the ancient Greeks and Romans and had a big impact on English art and design. The meaning of patriotism has never been fixed, but the core idea is a virtuous adherence to the ideas of liberty, justice and a commitment to the perceived best interests of one’s country.

Protestantism and patriotism

Patriotic ideas continually recur from Bede’s eighth century 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People' onwards. But the theme of patriotism became particularly important in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which saw James II overthrown in favour of William III and Mary II.
This new political settlement raised big questions about who was the true patriot: those who supported the English but Catholic James or those who advocated the Protestant but Dutch William. 

Politics and patriotism

The 1730s saw this language become still more politically charged, as opponents of the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, became known as the ‘Patriot Opposition’.
This group used certain moments in the English past as the ideal against which the debased reality of eighteenth century political life could be compared.
At Stowe, for example, Lord Cobham, a member of this Patriot group, created the Temple of British Worthies, including famous historical figures from Queen Elizabeth I to King Alfred the Great.

Patriotism and subversion

Patriotism could be politically subversive, allowing groups to believe that they, rather than the ruling powers, actually had the best interests of the country at heart. This was true for Jacobites opposed to William III and his successors.
It was also true of the ‘patriots’ who fought the British in the American War of Independence (1776-1783).
By the twentieth century George Orwell felt that the major difference between nationalism and patriotism was that while nationalism was by its very nature tied to an aggressive military policy, patriotism was largely passive.
Today, the question of who is the true patriot remains politically charged.

Places with patriotic connections:


Our collection items with patriotic connections: