Historically, the term Little Englander indicated an anti-imperialist political stance dating from the time of the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and was often applied to the personal ideology of William Gladstone. The term later designated people who were against the British Empire and for "England" to extend no further than the borders of the United Kingdom – for example, Arthur Ponsonby wrote of the Liberal Party leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's reputation for his opposition to the Boer War: "The impression one got of him from the Press in those days was… that he was an unpatriotic Little Englander".
Little Englander is also, colloquially speaking, an epithet applied in criticisms of English people who are regarded as xenophobic and/or overly nationalistic and are often accused of being "ignorant" and "boorish". It is sometimes applied to opponents of globalism, multilateralism and internationalism; for instance those who are against membership of the European Union.
The term "little England" predates its political usage; the expression "this little England" was used in the Gunpowder Day sermon of the English Puritan preacher Thomas Hooker (5 November 1626). It is also used in Shakespeare's play Henry VIII (1601), when the Old Lady tells Anne Bullen,
"In faith, for little England / You'd venture an emballing: I myself would for Carnarvonshire"
- Kleindeutschland (Little Germany)
- F. W. Hirst, In The Golden Days (London: Frederick Muller, 1947), p. 253.
- p.62 of The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology, edited by Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985. 438 pages.
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