Mommy Dearest

1775 - America's Historical Imprints

This poem of 1775, printed in the colonies, reflects the loyalist viewpoint of the war for independence. In the previous post, the various versions of “Yankee Doodle” hinted at the use of the mother figure as a representation of Great Britain by the loyalists and the English. The mother figure of England is exploited to its fullest extent here in “Britannia in Tears” where the language drips heavily with words for naming family members to describe the relationship between England and the colonies: the “weeping Mother” of England; “her sons” and “her dear children” the separating colonies. The play on family ties seems to be both a literal representation of the situation, as the American colonies were indeed born of English settlers, but it seems set up to work on this very fact as a way of playing on colonial sympathies: if the colonists stop thinking of England as tyrant and see it more as their mother calling them home, perhaps they will end their quest for independence/rebellious actions.

Leading up to the war, many colonists were not actually in favor of separating. Instead, they were merely angry at their misrepresentation and the many newly enacted acts of King George. In short, they were angry at the institution, but did not necessarily consider themselves to be no longer members of the English nation. The third stanza seems to make this idea clear, where, speaking from the voice of the “mother” (being England), the speaker claims that she was “a pleasant Dame” when “my children were united.” The speaker then goes on to claim both King George and the Britons that “everywhere did conquer” (being the colonists) as the children who are no longer united. From the colonists viewpoint, it always seems that they place King George in the same category as their motherland, but here the British author has removed the national identity of being English above the institution of the king and the colonies. This seems to be done to appeal to the colonists’ sense of what it means for them to be British: if the colonies and King George, both the children of England the country rather than England the monarchy, can both claim a British identity as the third stanza suggests, then the poem seems to argue that they can reconcile their differences and thereby allow the colonies to return to their loyalty to Britain.

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