Reader questions answered!

A while ago, pressed for time, I asked people to ask me for the answers to questions about history. As they always do, they asked me about things I know nothing about. But I did my best! If you know anything about these topics, you know more than I do, but I’ll do my best.

Why did the Holy Roman Empire never properly form into a country? 

What could possibly be confusing about this?
What could possibly be confusing about this?

“Properly form into a country” presumes that there’s a certain endpoint for the development of a nation-state, which I’m not 100% convinced by, but in Europe, there is a trend toward state formation that I’m in no way smart enough to generalise about. And definitely the HRE is an exception to that trend — it doesn’t become the kind of entity that you eventually see in the 19th century. But I’m not sure that isn’t just because it gets stomped by France early on. That catalyses a lot of the trends that eventually result in the emergence of Germany as a nation, but I don’t know enough about the period and the place to know whether you would have had the same outcome in an HRE that successfully fended off the French. Maybe not, since I think you could argue that its particular form of fragmented feudalism was hostile to those trends? But certainly when you look at a lot of other countries in Europe, Germany is becoming a big nation with a flag and whatnot at the same time they are.

“Lost” countries

Lost countries are kind of interesting — obviously we are all living in some lost countries, since a variety of different English and Welsh and whatever kingdoms and principalities become first England, Scotland and Wales and then the Britain that we roughly recognise. And it’s the same all over Europe — things that we see as being distinct cultural identities originating as combinations of different now-gone countries. And those lost countries persist in some sense even after they’re gone; Northumbria as a kingdom ceases to exist in the mid-10th century, but over 100 years later stuff is going down in the wake of the Conquest and the Danish invasion that reminds you that it was once its own country.

I guess what I mean to say is that in a feudal society the nature of a “country” is a little less well-defined than we’re used to in the modern day. And some of them get subsumed into a larger identity easily (the example in the question was Burgundy, which is a pretty good example), and some don’t (Cornwall retains a really distinct identity, despite having been part of England since basically forever).

I guess what both of these questions are ultimately asking is what even are country, which is kind of an interesting thought in our country at this particular time, right?

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Reader questions answered!

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