The Brave Men of Kent

"The dome at Knole, by fame enrolled . . ."

James Lloyd remembers the free will of the Kentish people, whose refusal to accept laws handed down from a haughty conqueror provides an example that Britons everywhere should imitate and which is commemorated to chest-thumping effect in the county song.

(Disclaimer: The political views expressed below are those of the author of this article, who does not claim to speak for The Rural Voice or for any of its other contributors.)

One of the chief virtues of the United Kingdom’s national anthem is its lack of official status. No Act of Parliament, Order-in-Council, Royal Proclamation or other legal device has ever spoilt God Save the Queen by making it obligatory. This mercifully simple, easily memorized and eminently singable two-fingers to the Jacobites has assumed the status of national and royal anthem solely by virtue of popular usage, which is exactly how it should be.

It also means that the status of any sub-national, comital, burghal, hundredal or parochial anthems is also free from the direction of the state. A disgusting bill that threatens this liberty is currently before Parliament, intending to designate an official anthem for England. How absurd, how vain and how arrogant of Parliamentarians as to presume that such things are for them to decide. England’s anthem is whatever the English think it is, not whatever they are told.

What next? Will the Local Government Department go about appointing anthems to encourage a sense of regional identity? Oh, how the author’s heart will soon swell pride as he joins in song with his brethren from Thanet to Oxford in celebrating our common belonging to the ancient and venerable South-East Region. Or will county councils assume the prerogative of telling their oblivious electorates what their county anthems are? In Kent, at least, they need not bother.

Tom D’Urfey, operettist, poet, wit and (ironically) Devonian, wrote The Brave Men of Kent in 1690, in the wake of the Revolution that had expelled absolutism for ever (one hopes – the current Parliament seems to be unaware of this). Set to music by Richard Leveridge, it celebrates Kent’s own mini-revolution in 1067, when William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy and unlawful pseudo-King of the English, was forced to come to terms with the shire, allowing it, in exchange for recognition of his kingship (to which he had no right), the continuance of Kent’s peculiar laws and liberties. Later verses celebrate other aspects of Kent’s history and culture, such as its trenchant Protestantism (balanced with a dig at the kill-joys of the Interregnum and their retro ‘nineties haircuts), the comparative wealth of its freeholders and its hop-picking industry (and the auburn-hued product thereof).

The song remained hugely popular for over two hundred years, being passed down orally from father to son. If Parliamentarians, civil servants, county councillors or any other minions of the state should dare to delude themselves into thinking that the Kentish anthem might be theirs to determine, may the Men of Kent roundly and resoundingly drown out their arrogance to the following strain:

When Harold was invaded and falling lost his crown;
And Norman William waded through gore to pull him down:
When counties round with fear profound, to mend their sad condition;
And lands to save, base homage gave, bold Kent made no submission.

CHORUS: Sing, sing in praise of Men of Kent;
So loyal, brave and free;
‘Mongst Britain’s race, if one surpass,
A Man of Kent is he.

The hardy stout freeholders that knew the tyrant near:
In girdles and on shoulders a grove of oaks did bear,
Whom when he saw, in battle draw, and thought how he might need ‘em;
He turned his arms, allowed their terms, complete with noble freedom.

CHORUS: Then sing in praise of Men of Kent …

And when by barons wrangling, hot faction did increase,
And vile intestine jangling had banished England’s peace,
The Men of Kent to battle went, they feared no wild confusion;
But joined with York, soon did the work, and made a blest conclusion;

CHORUS

At hunting, or the race too, they sprightly vigour show,
And at a female chase too, none like a Kentish beau:
All blest with health, and as for wealth, by fortune’s kind embraces;
A yeoman grey shall oft outweigh a knight in other places.

CHORUS

The generous, brave, and hearty, all oe’r the shire we find;
And for the Low-Church party, they’re of the brightest kind:
For King and laws they prop the cause, which High Church has confounded;
They love with height the Moderate right but hate the crop-eared Roundhead:

CHORUS

The promised land of blessing, for our forefathers meant,
Is now in right possessing, for Canaan sure was Kent:
The dome at Knole, by fame enrolled, the church at Canterbury;
The hops, the beer, the cherries here, may fill a famous story.

CHORUS: Then sing in praise of Men of Kent;
So loyal, brave and free;
‘Mongst Britain’s race, if one surpass,
A Man of Kent is he.

Photo credit: Knole House (John Salmon) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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