In the popular imagination, the 18th century is when Britain began being great. After emerging, battered and bruised, from the chaos of the Stuarts, the Hanoverians beckoned to power and plenty. It was the age of Beef and Liberty. Of Whigs and Tories debating the fate of an Empire and championing the causes of freedom in the Mother of Parliaments, with brave heroes sacrificed on the battlefields of Blenheim and Waterloo. In this story, Europe is only ever something to be freed from and fought against. But there is another side to this tale, one where Europeans were our neighbours and allies, whose presence helped make Britain’s fortunes. In an era of burgeoning globalisation, London began to be a hot-bed of ambitious and talented European immigrants.
As a state, Britain is only 69 years older than the USA, with uncertain beginnings. The union of Scotland and England in 1707 was risky, both nations reluctant to overlook histories of bitter and near-constant war. Old habits died hard. Scotsmen who fought for Britain in the Seven Years War could return to London and face a mob pelting them with apples and shouting at them to go home.