Political Geography of the UK (with special reference to healthcare issues)
Let’s first sort out just what is meant by the term “United Kingdom”. It isn’t the same thing as Great Britain, or the British Isles, or England. So just what is the UK?
The term “Great Britain” refers to England, Scotland (Alba
in Gaelic) and Wales (Cymru
in Welsh) inclusive of the 6,289 islands that come within their individual jurisdictions.
“Northern Ireland” is all that part of the island of Ireland that did not become wholly independent in December 1921. The province is sometimes called “The Six Counties” or Ulster, but the borders of historic Ulster differ from the borders of Northern Ireland so this can be misleading.
The United Kingdom is Great Britain plus Northern Ireland. It is important to note that it does not include...
The Republic of Ireland, also called Éire or Poblacht na hÉireann in Irish Gaelic;
but does include other islands such as the Inner and Outer Hebridies (Na h-Eileanan an Iar, which translates from Scottish Gaelic as “The Western Isles”), the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, the Isle of Wight, the Scilly Isles, Lundy and Rathlin Island (Reachlainn). It is a complex situation involving jealously guarded cultural, religious and linguistic differences that have, over many centuries, given rise to various armed conflicts, insurgencies and political assassinations.
The Isle of Man, also called Ellan Vannin in the Manx language;
The Channel Islands, also called Îles de la Manche in the local dialect of French...
A cynic might say that the term “United” is wishful thinking rather than a statement of fact. Yet, in the face of an external threat, instant unity normally results. The epithet “The Bulldog Breed” is well deserved.
The United Kingdom is currently involved in a process known as “devolution”, whereby certain governmental powers are being transferred from the UK parliament at Westminster to parliaments or assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The executive functions are being devolved in line with the transfer of legislative powers. The objective of devolution is to relieve societal stress in situations where greater self-determination is demanded, without going as far as full secession and the break-up of the United Kingdom. (For an explanation of the difference between devolution and secession, see the Report of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, linked from the foot of this page.) The forthcoming referendum on the subject of full independence for Scotland, due 18th
September 2014, should be seen as a choice between “DevoMax” (maximum devolution) on the one hand and full independence on the other, rather than a choice between full integration and full separation.
So what is the relevance of all this to circumcision?
One of the powers already devolved is the administration of healthcare. It would, for example, be entirely possible for the different administrations to adopt different policies regarding the promotion and funding of elective circumcision. Any pressure for change must, therefore, be applied in more than one forum. Even at ministerial level, there is no single point of contact applicable to the whole of the UK in respect of health issues.
Reorganisation of the structure of the NHS in England (only) introduced major administrative changes on/from 1st April 2013. Of particular relevance has been the transfer of Public Health issues (such as stop-smoking campaigns) from the NHS to Local Authorities. Nothing new here; it merely restores the situation that prevailed up until 1974. Notable past successes achieved by local government include proper sewage disposal and universal smallpox innoculation. The change has the potential to bring about local promotion of circumcision as a medical prophylaxis issue — if Councils can be persuaded of the benefits.
The UK is a member of the European Union but not a part of the Euro currency zone. An anomoly exists in as much as Gibraltar counts as part of South-West England for the purposes of elections to and representation in the EU parliament, but not otherwise.
History of circumcision in the UK in the 20th century - a UK Resident’s account.
Prior to the introduction of the National Health Service after World War 2 (ie the late 1940s) people had to pay for all their medical needs including the birth of a baby and any circumcision chosen if it was a boy. Charges for such a simple operation were not very high but these did go some way towards deterring the working classes (and hence the less well off) from having their sons circumcised.
Ever since it became particularly popular in Victorian times, circumcision was always practiced more by the middle and upper classes. This was partly because they could afford it, partly because they were more educated and hence knew better of the benefits and partly because of peer pressure arising from the previous reasons.
A well-defined pattern developed with circumcision being more likely the higher up the social scale one’s parents were at the time of birth and also with position in the family - eldest sons being more likely to be done than younger ones.
The decline in circumcision started during World War 2 when there was a shortage of local doctors - many doctors being involved with the armed forces - and hence a desire amongst doctors to reduce to the essentials the amount of work they did. Nobody can argue that the routine circumcision of baby boys is essential - highly desirable maybe, but hardly essential as a routine practice. Hence doctors started advising parents that circumcision was not necessary and some even refused point blank to circumcise. It was nothing to do initially with any change of demand from parents. I know because mine asked when I was born in 1943 and were told it "wasn’t necessary" and "not done now". (I had to be circumcised at 3 months because of severe phimosis - which I would have been spared had I been done at birth as desired by my middle class parents.) But in those days one didn’t argue with one’s doctor - they were almost like gods.
Then, in 1949, Douglas Gairdner wrote a paper in the British Medical Journal attacking the routine performance of circumcision on the grounds that (a) the foreskin was still naturally fused to the glans until about 3 years of age and hence inability to retract it was no grounds for removal before the age of 5; and (b) a small number of boys died from the procedure each year. However, what he failed to point out (and was thus less than honest about) was that (1) not all circumcisions were recorded in any sort of official statistics and hence the proportion of boys who suffered complications was only a fraction of what his paper implied; and (2) all the deaths had been from the use of general anesthetics - which are normally contra-indicated for newborn babies - and were, anyway, mostly of old fashioned types.
When the National Health Service was formed, all surgery became free of charge. There was no refusal by the NHS to pay for circumcision, but such a minor operation performed as part of the birth process didn’t attract extra fees for the doctors who were now on a form of salary from the NHS. Some lazy doctors thus decided to do no more than was necessary by way of work and discouraged circumcisions - many spurred on by Gairdner’s less than honest paper.
Over the years circumcisions have dropped in availability. It has become more and more apparent that the costs of the NHS greatly exceed the monies that government wishes to invest in it. We have seen cut after cut (no pun intended) in the services offered by the NHS - and charges added for several others which were originally intended to be free. I don’t want to indulge in politics here, but the method of centrally funding a massive health care service automatically leads to overburdening bureaucracy and lack of any incentive to trim costs whilst increasing patient care and choice. One of the inevitable results of the cuts has been a reduction in 'preventative' type medicine in favour of spending only when needed on 'cures'. This is short sighted, but almost inevitable.
Circumcision has been one of the things to suffer severely at the hands of the administrators (note these are not doctors, but clerks whose sole job is to try to save spending money on medical matters whilst keeping up the army of administrators).
Very few boys are now circumcised in the hospital after birth. The Jewish and Moslem communities still demand circumcision as a religious obligation, but this is in the main satisfied privately by Jewish and Moslem doctors.
In the last few decades there has been an increase in demand from parents for their sons to be circumcised for non-religious reasons, also from adults - often in their late teens and early twenties - for their own circumcision. That is borne out by the growing number of doctors and clinics now advertising circumcision amongst their services. These adverts have appeared online, in newspapers and magazines and even on local commercial radio. Prices, however, are generally very high because demand greatly outstrips supply.
Whilst the NHS in a small number of areas offers a form of circumcision service, primarily to meet demand from a large local Moslem population, it is very unlikely that minor surgery like circumcision will ever again be completely freely available on demand on the NHS. Private medicine has already stepped in to partially fill the vacuum and it seems to me that we will soon see an explosion in both demand and facilities for circumcision (both infant and adult) as its medical and public health benefits become more widely known.
Vernon - London, UK
Estimates of current circumcision rates in the UK
Accurate statistics regarding male circumcision in the UK are notoriously difficult to obtain. Religious, cultural and social class differences make anecdotal evidence especially unreliable, since any one casual observer is unlikely to be accessing a truly representative cross-section of the population.
In 1994 a survey was published by Penguin Books entitled “Sexual Behaviour in Britain” giving the following information. The large sample size and the standard of the fieldwork probably make this the most reliable guide to the country’s circumcision rates at that time. The fieldwork took place between May 1990 and November 1991 as part of a much wider survey of sexual matters in the UK. (This, by the way, is the survey that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to stop, the very existence of the research proposal being the subject of a Cabinet Meeting reported in The Sunday Times
10th September 1989.)
||UK Circumcision rates as
a function of age group:
||Implied Year of Birth *
||1967 to 1975
||1957 to 1966
||1947 to 1956
||1932 to 1946
* This column, added by the Circlist website editor, allows for the delay between
fieldwork and publication. Note that not all the circumcisions will necessarily
have been neonatal.
||UK Circumcision rates as
a function of religious group:
||UK Circumcision rates as
a function of ethnic group:
Religious circumcisions as a proportion of the total
It seems fair to presume that all males of the Jewish faith and all adult males raised by Muslim parents will be circumcised. According to the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics (“ONS”) the figures for religious affiliation are as follows. However, before reading them it is important to note the caveats attached:
The way in which people answer questions on religion is very sensitive to the exact question wording. This is particularly true for people who have a loose affiliation with a religion. Slight differences in question wording can produce large differences in the proportion of people who say they are Christians or have no religion, although the proportion of people from other religions tends to be more stable.
Since the Labour Force Survey asked the same question on religion across Great Britain, data from Scotland can be easily compared with data from England and Wales. The proportion of people who said they were Christian was very similar in Scotland to the proportion that answered this way in England and Wales.
The 2001 Census in Scotland asked two questions on religion: current religion and religion of upbringing. Neither of these was the same as the Census question asked in England and Wales.
The 'religion of upbringing' question produced very similar results to England and Wales 2001 Census data and therefore data from this question has been combined with England and Wales data in the Focus on Religion report to produce overall figures for Great Britain.
||Professed religious affiliation of
the population of Great Britain:
||% of total
| Any other religion
| No religion
| Religion not stated
Table KS07b of the Report of the 2001 Census of Northern Ireland states that a mere 0.39% of the population were brought up in a family professing “Other Religions or Philosophies”. In the context, “other” means non-Christian. The same census reports a total population of 1,685,267. Thus the figure of 0.39% represents about 3,300 males of all ages who, as children, were raised in non-Christian religious settings. Only some of these will have been circumcised for religious reasons.
The more recent 2011 Census
Despite widespread criticism of the wording of the questions relating to religion in the 2001 census, roughly the same format was repeated in 2011. Preliminary results emerged in 2012. As expected, there was continued (but reduced) exaggeration of the proportion of the population described as Christian as opposed to atheist or agnostic, but this should not distort the estimates of rates of circumcision arising in consequence of adherence to the Islamic or Jewish faiths. (Were the measure of Christian belief to be taken as church attendance at least once per month, only 15% of the population would be classified as Christian - Tearfund, April 2007.)
Hospital data on circumcisions
The fragmented nature of the NHS statistical record-keeping system makes it difficult to obtain national data about rates of hospital circumcision. The following figures must be regarded as very rough-&-ready:
The Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust responded to a Freedom of Information Act enquiry concerning male circumcision as follows: “In 2009 the Trust performed 108 circumcisions on patients under 16 years of age and 117 circumcisions on patients 16 years of age or older.” [Disclosure ID 21926]
On its website the same Trust reports approximately 3000 births per year in its maternity unit. Assuming 50% male births and a constant churn of the population, this suggests a non-ceremonial circumcision rate of 108 per 1500 (7.2%) done on the basis of parental consent, with a further 117 per 1500 (7.8%) circumcised at age 16+. Given that the NHS does not, as a matter of general policy, perform elective circumcisions, these figures provide a very rough guide to the rate of circumcisions attributable to medical need or expediency.
Working towards a total figure...
|“Obligatory” circumcisions as a percentage of the total male population
||Medical circumcisions, age under 16 (Parental consent)
||Medical circumcisions, age 16+ (Self-consent)
To this must be added elective circumcisions, by which is meant males of all ages whose circumcisions are arranged privately on a basis other than religious obligation or medical need. Whilst it is normal professional courtesy for a specialist circumciser to notify a patient’s family doctor that a circumcision has been performed, there are absolutely no central records of such private circumcisions. Therefore we can only guess at numbers. However, it seems likely that the grand total of UK circumcisions will be in the low twenties percent, not wildly different from the rate reported by Wellings et al in respect of fieldwork conducted nearly a generation earlier.
If these figures are correct, there are implications as regards public finance. Given that the NHS does not generally perform non-medical circumcisions, we may presume that the patients under 16 years of age were not newborn. This suggests that the NHS has funded circumcision of 15% of the male population after that point in time when the cost of each individual circumcision had (by virtue of patient age) already risen above the minimum. At a purely financial level, there would appear to be scope for studying whether Routine Infant Circumcision would be cheaper.
The uncertainties surrounding circumcision rates in the UK appear to justify further research. As with all such surveys, self-reporting of circumcision status should be avoided as unreliable.
Schoolboy slang - the meaning of “Roundheads” and “Cavaliers”
The English Civil War (1642 to 1651) was a series of armed conflicts between Parliamentarians and Royalists. Both at the time and since, the Parliamentarians have routinely been called “Roundheads” and the Royalists “Cavaliers”.
Some commentators attribute the term Roundhead to the style of helmet worn by the Parliamentarians, the supporters of Oliver Cromwell, during the many battles fought as the rival armies criss-crossed England. Other sources refer to hairstyles, the Parliamentarians cutting their hair short (giving the appearance of having a round head) whilst the Royalists maintained the regal fashion of having long hair.
The earliest use of the word roundhead to describe a circumcised boy is unrecorded, but the slang was well established in the mid-twentieth century. The round ‘head’ of the circumcised penis is thus aptly described. The term ‘Cavalier’ to describe an uncircumcised boy follows naturally from the pairing of the words in the context of the Civil War, the history of which has long been firmly embedded in the syllabus of just about every school in the land.
A Pikeman’s Helmet of the
Civil War era. Image
© National Army Museum
At my local nudist beach (SE Cornwall) the cut rate is about 20%. Within the upper thirties age group the cut rate seems to be higher. My experience on the beach is that no one cares if you are cut or not.
A group of young Polish women who came to the UK in 2004 to work as assistant matrons in UK boarding schools were shocked to find so many "Roundheads" (circumcised boys). My Polish friends asked me about this as they have no experience of circumcised boys back home. I explained that financially better-off parents who could afford private school fees or who had a tradition of circumcision in their families would usually have their sons circumcised even today.
My own 1970s boarding school experiences showed that in my posh (top class/up market) prep school (8-13) nearly all the boys were done, some by the school. The circumcision rate was around 80%. At my public school (13-18) only about 50% of UK nationals were done but this is a factor of that specific school. I suspect in other UK public schools (private secondary boarding schools such as Eton, Harrow, Westminster and Winchester) the circ rate was closer to my prep school.
My Polish friends told me that in the various schools they worked in during 2004 circ rates were as high as 50%, which is quite amazing these days. The average rate of circumcised new boys was around 30-40%. Higher than the UK average, certainly.
At school in the 1960s - a public (day) school in SE England - the cut/ uncut ratio was about 50/50. In my rugby XV there were seven "Roundheads" and eight "Cavaliers" (including me) in the first year. It was rumored that the First XV were all roundheads, but we never found out! - (They would probably have been born in the late 1940s when circumcision for middle class boys was more common in SE England). I can also recall playing a team from another public school who, I think, were all circumcised - which school it was, I can’t remember.
As we moved on through the school, my final rugby XV was eleven cut and four uncut (still including me!). There was no particular policy on circumcision at the school but, without doubt, there was some peer pressure in the team and also one or two medical reasons for circumcision. It also seemed that circumcision was more popular among the rugby players than the school in general.
At university in the Midlands in the mid-1970s, where I was now playing squash rather than rugby, the cut/uncut ratio was now down to about 25/75. This probably reflected both geographic differences and those born in the mid/late 1950s, when routine circumcision in infancy/childhood had become much less common in the UK.
This seems to be the case at my present sports club on the South Coast, where Roundheads (as I am now!) are fairly rare - about 1/8 or 1/10. In my age group (40s) the ratio is nearer 1/5, but for those in their 20s or 30s it is about 1/10.
Certainly, circumcision seems to have hit its period of least popularity in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. I wonder if perhaps the tide has now turned?
Hi, I’m an 18 year old uncircumcised British guy thinking about getting circumcised, the main reason is that I’ve only just really started dating on a more serious level and I’m pretty sure that I’ve got a tight frenulum; when I pull my foreskin back the head of my penis moves sort of downward. After looking over some internet sites, I came to realize that if guys with tight frenulums - frenulum breve, I think it’s called - have sex their frenulum can actually snap, which apparently bleeds and hurts like hell.
At first I was totally put off the idea of having a circumcision because I thought they were only carried out in special cases and that a female partner would think my penis looked weird or different of something. I always knew that Jewish people got circumcised as part of their religion but thought they were on their own; however after going on the internet, I came to realise that circumcisions are actually really common and a lot of guys get circumcised at birth especially in America.
At the moment I’m really stuck, my girlfriend keeps asking for sex, but I’m afraid that It will be really painful or worse my frenulum will snap. Also my foreskin has always been pretty tight. It goes behind the head and back fine when erect, but doesn’t go back any further than that. On the other hand if I have a circumcision I’m afraid that will hurt like hell too. Plus it’s kind of embarrassing; I wish I had just been done at birth. But it’s less common in England at birth than America. I can’t keep passing up the opportunity for sex; I keep telling my girlfriend I’m waiting until the time is right, but I can’t keep that up any longer. She knows that something is wrong and recently she asked me if I really fancied her and why I don’t seem to want to have sex with her. This is annoying as hell because she’s as hot as hell and I badly want to have sex with her.
Could you tell me if a circumcision really hurts? I was reading 'Justin’s All-American circumcision at age 18' and the whole thing does not seem too bad, slightly embarrassing with the nurse but apart from that fine. Also do you reckon it will leave a scar if I get it done, which I am pretty sure I will, as something needs to happen. I’m definitely going to see my GP about it, but am trying to keep by parents out as they will just say things like ' Why didn’t you mention it before now?' and the like. Any advice you can give me would be really useful - thanks.
The above is fairly typical of correspondence received at CIRCLIST. If the current edition of our website does not answer your question, join the Inter-Circ Yahoo Discussion Group and enquire there. For other resources, follow the Resources Elsewhere link in the Navigation Panel below - Editor.
I was cut as a child in the forties when circumcision was probably at its zenith in the UK - reaching an incidence of over 50% in some areas. A study of the statistics might reveal some interesting regional social geography. Then came Gairdner with his deafening report and the advent of the NHS which suddenly required doctors to do the job for free. The up and coming generation of doctors held up the Gairdner flag and found plenty of reasons not to and the cash-starved NHS (it was ever thus) put the operation 'off limits' except where medically necessary. Advocates often fudged this in their diagnosis to obtain a circumcision for the children of persuasive parents. Meanwhile the older generation of doctors, true to their creed, continued to carry out home circumcisions and even suggested it to many parents who wouldn’t have asked. However the practice was doomed to decline.
When my wife and I became parents in the late sixties we were appreciative of all the benefits of my circumcision; easy maintenance, good hygiene, health promoting, appealing appearance and longer and better stimulation in lovemaking. Naturally we wanted our sons cut to conform and enjoy these advantages too. It proved impossible at the hospital and our doctors (a man & wife practice) were gently but firmly opposed and unwilling to refer us to a practitioner 'who did'. It was hard for us to come into conflict with these otherwise excellent pair of GPs. By the time we realised we could have paid or found a religious operator the boys were at an age when they would probably have found the procedure more painful and difficult for them to understand. So much to our frustration, they’ve remained intact. We did our best to teach the necessary cleaning procedure at bathtime but neither had achieved more than a one-third retraction by the time we ceased to to be involved in that part of their personal hygiene. Earlier visits to check this out with the doctor had only resulted in a 'wait and see' policy. They never reported any more problems.
Nevertheless a few parents around us were having no difficulty in having their wishes carried out. One mother of my acquaintance in the same town had all her three sons done in quick succession with excellent results. I asked who her GP was and discovered it was a Jewish lady who circumcised most of her young male patients on request. Other parents of our generation where the father was cut were of our mind but experienced the same obstacle with their doctor. Interestingly my Sister-in-Law had her son, my nephew, cut soon after birth by a doctor known to oppose the practice. It turned out this was because they were in a low socio-economic group and lived in a nineteenth century back-to-back terrace house with no bathroom. Washing privately was difficult and I gather he cut all his young patients in this situation for this reason. He did it without asking, right up to the time when such properties were demolished in the early seventies. Anyone in the comfortable middle classes with modern plumbing he meanwhile refused.
Some years ago the BBC 'Women’s Hour' programme did a piece on circumcision revealing that many parents wanting their sons done and finding it was no longer available on NHS were opting for a 'home circumcision' carried out by a friendly nurse or a mohel. There were even were reports of keen mothers undertaking it themselves. Some resulting complications (about 100 per year) found the way into hospital Accident & Emergency departments, especially in Asian areas where boys were being done by Muslim uncles and barbers. This has caused a rethink in some areas and in mine, the NHS Trust now runs a weekly circumcision clinic where parents can have their sons done up to the age of nine weeks for around £60 for 'religious or cultural reasons'. How far one has to substantiate one’s claim to have 'cultural reasons' is not clear as yet but a friend of mine is investigating.
Some UK statistics suggest that the circumcision rate in UK is around 15%. I think it may be well above this because a lot of parents who can afford to, by-pass the NHS and go privately. These numbers are not then officially recorded. I have heard of several in my own circle of parents and younger (in higher income groups) who are doing this. In the early nineties a BUPA report declared that an increasing number of parents were choosing to have their boys circumcised because of the perceived health benefits for both partners. Private maternity hospitals sometimes offer the option for a fee and an increasing awareness of the expertise of Jewish mohels is making gentile parents seek them out to circumcise their sons.
Given free and easy choice, I’m sure circumcision in the UK could approach US levels. Unfortunately the combined attitude of the NHS and anti-circ lobbyists in the media are countering this to a considerable extent.
A further submission by Tony confirms the Social Class Link with Circumcision:
Pre-school in the 1940s it was the boys from the posh semis across the road who were circumcised rather than their playmate neighbours in my row of terraced houses. I wasn’t done at birth either but I was cut, without hitherto any apparent need or explanation at the age of 8. It was done on the NHS whilst conveniently in hospital with an unrelated problem - pneumonia. As far as I remember, I had a local for the circumcision, but I’ve heard of boys going in for appendectomies and coming round from a general anaesthetic to find to their surprise they’d also been circumcised. A parental change of mind and belated request? Routine prophylactic 'whilst we’re there?' Who knows? It happened back then but I doubt that it would today.
At a rural primary school where the intake spanned a larger-than-average slice of lower socio-economic groups the circ rate was about 25% - 30% cut. Again those who were circumcised, with one or two exceptions, came from semi-detached homes (US English = "duplex").
At eleven years of age, in the fifties when I went to the town grammar school, the proportion of roundheads rose to 50% plus. Noticeably it correlated with the higher income parents in most cases.
My sons, born in the sixties, would have been circumcised at birth but for the opposition of the medical professionals at hospital and in the community. In the seventies, my sons went to a fee-paying independent grammar school where the intake was mostly further up the social ladder. When my youngest was twelve we came to know the parents of his best friend quite well. To my surprise one day, the mother suddenly confided to us that her son was going into hospital for a circumcision. This opened a welcome conversation on the subject in which it was disclosed that the father had been done shortly after the marriage and like us they wanted their son done at birth but met similar opposition. The determined mom had been hawking her boy around doctors for years hoping to find compliance but it was always met with refusal. Then suddenly when her husband changed jobs and picked up a family health insurance package they were able to wave money at the problem. As if by magic, this generated instant co-operation. So the boy was booked in conveniently during the school holidays and cut as a private patient.
This provided an opportunity for me to discuss the prospect with my son and offer to pay for him to accompany his friend if he wished. He declined, which he was perfectly entitled to do, but he did disclose that 'quite a few boys in his year were done'. All privately, I guess.
Circumcision and the Royal Family
At the time of the birth of Prince Charles in November 1948, it was routine for the medical circumstances of royalty to be disclosed. Such disclosure was very public; a notice would be affixed to the gates of Buckingham Palace on each occasion when the Royal Family had reason to consult a member of the medical profession. Thus it is no secret that Charles was circumcised shortly after birth by Dr.Snowman, the Queen having decided to ask a Mohel to do it as "they have more experience".
The situation regarding the next generation was, at first, less clear. By the time of Prince William’s birth in June 1982, more normal standards of privacy had been accorded to the Royals. At the time the rumour was that his mother, Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, was strongly opposed to circumcision and that, despite the objections of both the Queen and the Queen Mother, both Prince William and his younger brother Prince Harry remained intact as children.
However, the respected authoress Ingrid Seward, in her biography William & Harry : A Portrait of Two Princes
, published in June 2003 writes (about William):
There were to be no dummies, no use of ‘pacifiers’ as the Americans call them. If he cried it was his mother’s finger that would calm him and she intended, she said, ‘always to be there to provide it’.
She agreed to William, and later Harry, being circumcised in keeping with royal tradition but turned her nose up at Charles’s suggestion that the boy should be called by the ancient name of Arthur. ‘Too old-fashioned’, she said.
Should we believe Ingrid Seward’s account? Probably. She has written about the British royal family for the best part of two decades, the author of eight books on the subject as well as being editor-in-chief of Majesty
magazine. A respected source of information about the privileged lives of the royal families of the world, Ms. Seward is regarded by some as a chosen channel for deliberate leaks of nominally confidential information.
Circumcision and Britain’s colonial history
In 1757 the young Warren Hastings (later to become the first Governor-General of India) was circumcised.... forcibly! Twenty-four year old Warren, along with three hundred of his fellow English workers at the Old London Company offices in Cossimbazar, India, was stripped, sodomised, masturbated and publicly circumcised by the Moghul troops who overran the British outpost. Warren watched in fascination and horror as his prepuce was carried away in a bag containing all three hundred freshly severed foreskins.... trophies for the Moslem Moghuls. Lanky, effeminately handsome Hastings, destined to become one of Britain’s great colonial statesmen, wrote of his ordeal, "I, myself, was carved...."
Hastings’ carving was not the first time an Englishman had been circumcised at the hands of Islamic warriors and it was not to be the last. The Arabs, Turks and Afghans as well as the Moghuls have had their turns at plucking off British prepuces. In southern India, Ma'ajoon, an intoxicating combination of herbs, was employed during the forced circumcision of captives, producing stupification and causing the penis to rise. The aphrodisiac made the ceremony easier and, by being performed on an erect shaft, preserved much of the foreskin. Tippoo Sultaun, the tiger of Mysore, used this method on British troops to make certain they survived and, by incomplete circumcision, to brand them only partially cleansed; quasi-Mohammedans. At a prison in the Mysorean dungeons of Swendroog, Cl. Sir David Baird, a prominent Scottish officer, was thus mutilated along with other young subalterns. Baird and his fellow captives were seized by powerful Abyssisian slaves, stripped naked and staked to the ground, their limbs splayed wide. A white bearded old surgeon carefully pried his long, craggy fingers into each British penis, determining the extent of the doomed foreskin. Then the victims’ mouths were forced open, introducing Ma'ajoon. The wily old circumciser waited patiently. Soon, the drug had taken effect and each officer experienced masochistic stimulation; teeth gritting, fist clenching, eyes transfixed as they watched their penises rise in anticipation. When each soldier’s manhood stood at full flower, the old man announced, "Praise the lord! Thou art now to receive the ordinance of El-Knutneh, creating thee all to True Believer." The razor flashed once over each penis. The rings of flesh were offered to the fire as liberation to Allah.
As the mighty British Empire expanded and Mother England sent forth soldiers, adventurers and government clerks, more and more of her Christian sons returned home with Islamised penises. Unfortunately, many did not return but instead bled to death as a result of their foreskin amputation. Phimosis, the condition of a tight or unretractable prepuce, seemingly had a high incidence among the English, making cavalier circumcisions by Moslem swordsmen risky.
As far back as 1661, the Old London Company realised that her many phimosed employees were in mortal danger. Knowing it was impossible to protect British foreskins from zealot Moghuls, the British governor of Madras proclaimed that all applicants to the Company be "bodily examined" and if a cadet could not "strip his yard" the company surgeon was obliged to "clip ye skin entire". Thus, in 1661, the first circumcision of European Christians by European Christians was commenced, giving impetus to three hundred years of routine circumcision in the English speaking world.
The Old London Company records still exist giving explicit details about who among her illustrious empire-builders were "clipcocks" and who were "pillcocks" (or, peelcocks; uncircumcised). These terms gave rise to generations of English schoolboy humor and playful contention, not to mention curiosity, between possessors or the two styles of "cocks". For many generations the "clipcocks", in the minority, suffered great indignation. Robert Clive, the hero in the British takeover of India, was angered when his phimosed penis was circumcised by the company surgeon; "By God, had I known I was to come out here to be clipped I’d have forsaken pork and procured me a scullcap!"
When taunted by the pillcock cadets in his own company, Clive "...did menace ye offending cadets with his penknife, asking who should be the first in ye loss of his precious skin.''
By the early nineteenth century, however, the clipcock became fashion among the British aristocracy, who wore it as a badge of honor - proof of serving Throne and Empire in foreign service. Richard Burton, the illustrious anthropologist, had himself circumcised as part of the masquerade in his daring entry into forbidden Mecca. His associate, Speke, became a hero to his adventure-loving countrymen when, during an expedition searching for the source of the Nile, his camp was overrun by hostile Somalis screaming, "Circumcision or death, you Christian Dog!", and he was left on the battlefield stunned and Islamised. Many a young pillcock squire, observing how many of his peers at the all-boy English public schools sported their acorns (glans) unmuzzled, chose to be circumcised to better represent his privileged class. British royalty circumcised its male heirs using the finest Mohel (Jewish circumciser) to be found in all of London. The huge English working class, however, remained resolutely uncircumcised.
Then came Queen Victoria! Suddenly, masturbation became the number one enemy of God and the floodgates were opened for routine neonatal circumcision. Even English working class penises began to succumb to the surgeons.
Routine circumcision of English boys remained rampant until the start of World War I when, according to British author Dr. Douglas Baker MD, 85% of upper class males were circumcised as were nearly 50% of their working class peers. During the first decade of this century anti-masturbation was excuse enough for the mass destruction of British prepuces. During the second decade the medical justification for circumcision veered towards the theory that circumcision helped to prevent Venereal Disease. So, with British boys now mired in the trenches and back-alleys of France, VD replaced masturbation as the favored reason to cut off foreskins. Military doctors went to work! That was WWI...then came WWII, the blitz, the loss of empire and the coming of socialised medicine. After a debate in which a surprisingly large number of medical professionals (said to be the most highly circumcised group in the British Isles) spoke out against routine circumcision, it was decided that the National Health Plan would not include payments for routine neonatal circumcision. Thus the curtains came down on the British clipcock. Today, England once again has a generation of mostly pillcocks.
Mother England, benevolently sharing her high civilization with her colonies, exported circumcision along with jurisprudence, etc. The English-speaking nations became the only Christian nations (besides the Philippines and the Christian Coasts of East Africa) ever to practice routine circumcision. In the post-colonial era, both Australia and New Zealand at one time exceeded the UK circumcision rate. The Canadians of Ontario are supposedly up to 80% trimmed, while western Canadians are less so and the French Canadians have largely resisted altering their penises. The South Africans of British ancestry have remained almost entirely intact to match their Boer fellow-countrymen. But, the Americans - that is a different story!
The “Official NHS View” - and a comment on it.
The official view of male circumcision in the UK is to be found on the NHS website
. It is hard to imagine a more biased presentation. What parent, arriving with an open mind, is going to delve into the detail when the opening statement reads:
Circumcision may be performed for:
- religious reasons - circumcision is a common practice in the Jewish and Islamic faiths
- medical reasons, although alternative treatments are usually preferred to circumcision
It begs the question: Why is there such an entrenched attitude amongst the UK medical profession? The following suggested answer appeared in the Yahoo Group Inter-Circ
on 30th September 2010:
We are used to knowing that our Doctor knows best. It is only very recently that people have started standing up for themselves against the medics.
Add to that, the fact that the medics who flocked to Gairdner’s view in 1948 have set about training all the more recent medics in that view (see Gramsci’s methods of changing society!), and there should surely be no surprise at all. They all know that male circumcision is pointless mutilating surgery, because that is what they have been taught, that is what their peers think, and that is what their NHS bosses want. Therefore it is so.
-- Jeff, UK
There should be no place in healthcare for political correctness. The circumcision debate is overdue for review in the UK; that review needs to take place in an atmosphere free from the sort of dismissive prejudice currently being displayed in official channels of communication.
Message 12,942 in the archive of the Yahoo Group Inter-Circ
debates the excellent suggestion that the way forward is "inform and offer". Add information about circumcision and its benefits to sex education lessons for both boys and girls, then offer the procedure to mothers of newborn boys as part of the state’s maternity package of ante-natal classes, midwifery and health visitor service. No compulsion or coercion, just informed choice and ready availability.
A local NHS Perspective - Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster.
In July 2009, the Westminster Primary Care Trust (the frontline healthcare provider for the London Boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster) published a report on the provision and uptake of circumcision services in their area. Whilst making the usual UK error of stating that circumcision confers no medical benefits, it nevertheless acknowledges the existence of a culturally-driven demand for circumcision services that needs to be catered for in a safe and effective manner. It goes on to argue that there may exist a legal obligation for Primary Care Trusts to make such provision for children, albeit with the parents making a financial contribution to the total cost. The document can be read here:http://www.westminster-pct.nhs.uk/docs/Shared%20Documents/Circumcision_InWhoseCare.pdf
The legality of circumcision in the UK
This information now appears in our Legal section. Please follow the link 'Circumcision and the Law' in the Navigation Panel at the foot of the page.
The following resources were used in the preparation of this web page:
||Correspondence by members of the INTER-CIRC and CIRCLIST discussion groups.
||Gairdner, D.M.T., The Fate of the Foreskin. British Medical Journal, Vol.2, p.1433-1437. (24.December.1949).
||Photo library of the National Army Museum.
||K. Wellings et al, Sexual Behaviour in Britain, Penguin Books:London, 1994.
||2001 Census of Northern Ireland.
||Seward, I. William & Harry : A Portrait of Two Princes. New York : Arcade Publishing, 2003, p.33.
||The NHS Website (link above, accessed 01.Oct.2010).
||Maps courtesy of www.youreuropemap.com and mapsof.net.
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