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 How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Mon 13 Aug 2012, 20:46

This was a question put to me recently by a German student of history who, she claimed, has been struggling for years to find a good answer - as I immediately found myself doing too when it was put to me.

She was referring of course to the so-called Norman "invasion" which, we all know and accept, saw a relatively small number of people effectively take over the administration of an entire country in a few short years. We tend to accept also that they did this "from the top down" and that initially at least met some actual resistance in military terms which, we all have learnt, they managed to overcome without too much fuss.

But it is when one does the sums that this simplistic use of "they" suddenly appears very suspect historically. As long as "they" were "them" and the "Saxon English" were everybody else then something a bit more cogent than simply attributing it to horsemanship or better armour would seem to need application to the equation to make it work. My German friend reckons that even a generous estimation of the "invaders" in quantitative terms still places them at less than one percent of the population of England and Wales at the time, both countries which they wasted no time in apparently subduing, taking ownership of the assets and then redesigning the civic structure amazingly quickly.

When analysing more modern versions of such rapid, militaristic and ultimately successful takeovers we are trained to examine primarily the factors which make a population vulnerable or susceptible to such fundamental social change. Yet this is not a usual or indeed encouraged approach to analysing the behaviour of the native English of the day who, as the events leading up to Hastings would suggest, were on the contrary quite universally adamant in retaining their identity and power structure in the face of any attempt to compromise or disrupt it.

So what are we missing? How, in reality, did William the Bastard and Co actually manage to pull off such a fundamental coup, even after having disposed of the Saxon king? There was either a huge frailty in the English system which hitherto had never been noticed, let alone tested, or else a sufficient actual desire on the part of some critical segments of society for just such change which has never been the subject of serious historical inquiry (and indeed is almost impossible to find evidentially in any case in the historical record).

And probably most importantly - why are we so content to accept the historical record on face value when it so obviously throws up these aforementioned anomalies, ones which in the context of other historical periods or places would be the first point of inquiry and analysis?
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Mon 13 Aug 2012, 22:34

I don't find this unlikely. It doesn't take many people at all to create huge fear in a community or country. And William ran quite a strong scorched earth policy, as far as I understand. The Nazis ran through European countries very easily with their soldiers creating fear and panic, and it was really only when other countries came to their aid that they were freed of these invaders. I don't think there were any particular reasons of frailty in these countries. Many of the communities they took only had a few soldiers keeping everyone in order. We live very much dependent on these sort of things not happening but when they do, it requires someone pretty strong in leadership or a very fired-up organised community to resist.

The English (and other colonising countries) were able to take over countries when they were still much smaller in numbers. They had in force their civic structure very quickly too.

It is easier to take over a country when it is unexpected - some societies live constantly at war and that's not so easy to overcome. People get used to warfare and death and guerilla fighting, and keep coming back.
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Mon 13 Aug 2012, 23:15

The mechanics of instilling the requisite amount of fear to subdue a population over a hundred times larger than the subduer are quite complex, and especially if one makes it a condition that the subdued be forced to adhere to a completely new and radically different social order which operates to their detriment. The German occupiers in Europe, who had recourse to methods which would have made William green with envy, actually faced a constant struggle to maintain the control they initially achieved to a point where they could even just effectively administer their newly attained territories as time went on, and ironically failed most notably precisely in those territories where they had previously assumed to have had sufficient of the population already sympathetic to their aims. We are told that William did not labour under any illusion that he enjoyed such sympathy in England, true enough, but we are also told that he managed to achieve root and branch control of everything and everybody within a decade. Whether Germany could have achieved that is a moot point - the Nazis themselves (as evidenced by Himmler's correspondence with the administration in Norway shows) did not have that degree of faith in their chances of achieving such an objective, if indeed it was one that they had seriously reckoned possible at all.

The fact remains that the total subjugation of Saxon England in a short period of time - something which undeniably occurred - was contingent on factors not all of which may have been under William's direct control but which we are not invited normally to examine. How much of his successful pursuit of that aim was down to his master plan, and how much down to opportunistic exploitation of other factors which conventional history tends to ignore or gloss over? That's the real question.
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Tue 14 Aug 2012, 00:02

I've been mulling over this, not easy when my knowledge is so poor, but it seems to me that, as any army is de facto run on a day to day basis by its NCOs and most developed societies by the civil servants, the assumption of control of a population must require at least the acquiescence of these segments. Might that suggest that those around the level of thanes would, with the realism of the professional soldier, be prepared to throw in their lot with the invader once the dust began to settle in the aftermath of the invasion and the administrators, which I'm assuming amounted largely to the church, were not entirely averse to William's ambition?

This is most probably nonsense so please do destroy it.

As to why the issue is not more rigorously examined, I'd suggest that it doesn't fit with the national narrative in some way. The Scottish variation doesn't get much exploration here either: there's a nod to Bruce's Norman origins and Queen Margaret and so forth but it's not exactly flagged up that most of the great old families here are Norman in origin or that William himself may have munched an Abernethy biscuit or two while getting Malcolm to crawl. We do have a tendency to pick and choose who we want for our heroes and villains and amongst the assorted monomaniacs, psychopaths, nut cases and general thugs that battled for the top job over the years, William seems to be doomed to never acquire any legitimacy, even retrospectively.
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Tue 14 Aug 2012, 03:55

There was quite a bit of English resistance though, which continued for a good few years after the conquest. But with each rebellion William confiscated more land, placed his cronies in charge and continued the policy of castle building to further subdue and control local populations. William also exercised tight control over property inheritance by women, and encouraged (forced?) marriages to Normans.

Some Anglo/Saxon nobles also fled the country, to Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire who were in need of mercenaries. Wiki also gives this

A direct consequence of the invasion was the near-total elimination
of the old English aristocracy and the loss of English control over the Catholic Church
in England. William systematically dispossessed English landowners and
conferred their property on his continental followers. The
Domesday Book
meticulously documents the impact of this colossal programme of
expropriation, revealing that by 1086 only about 5% of land in England
south of the Tees
was left in English hands. Even this tiny residue was further
diminished in the decades that followed, the elimination of native
landholding being most complete in southern parts of the country.[53][54]


Natives were also removed from high governmental and ecclesiastical
office. After 1075 all earldoms were held by Normans, while Englishmen
were only occasionally appointed as sheriffs. Likewise in the Church
senior English office-holders were either expelled from their positions
or kept in place for their lifetimes but replaced by foreigners when
they died. By 1096 no bishopric was held by any Englishman, while
English abbots became uncommon, especially in the larger monasteries.[55]


Last edited by Islanddawn on Tue 14 Aug 2012, 05:29; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Spelling)
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Tue 14 Aug 2012, 09:15

The wikipedia extract, ID, is a perfect example of the potted history I mentioned above and attempts to enumerate methods whereby a "top-down" strategy was successful. This is fine in so far as it goes but it still does not answer the question why such a strategy was possible at all when one compares William's victory and strength in numbers to, for example, previous victories and comparatively greater strength in numbers on repeated occasions which Norse invaders had nevertheless failed to utilise with anything like the same success. The rapidity of William's success (within a decade) when compared to two centuries of ultimately unsuccessful Norse agitation towards the same end simply compounds the puzzle which the historical record fails to explain. Your other cited elements of his strategy (taking over of key positions, inheritance rules and enforced emigration of nobles) are also ones found in abundance in earlier Norse strategies - so I would suggest they are insufficient in explaining their success in the former instance. As I said before, there is something else we require to map the strategy's sudden efficaciousness but which we do not immediately find in the historical record, or at least the potted version.

Collaboration is, I imagine Ferval, a hugely important element in all this. We are acquainted even in the potted history of such collaboration with regard to the attempted Norse takeover in 1066. We know that it existed at the very top level of the Saxon hierarchy in the form of Tostig and at all other levels in the areas geopolitically predisposed to accepting Norse overlordship. However William's dependence on collaboration is, it seems, purposefully understated or even ignored.
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Tue 14 Aug 2012, 11:53

Have many invasions succeeded without some prior sympathy on the part of some of the invaded? Even when overwhelming force is deployed, a population which resists at all levels is pretty near impossible to subdue indefinitely. With an invasion force at 10 or even 20% of the indigenous population, it's hard to see how their methods of suppression could have been carried out without some fairly enthusiastic collaboration, they just couldn't have been everywhere and done everything without help.

I suspect that the aristocracy and the magnates were not too keen on a change at the top that would dispossess them and the serfs and slaves wouldn't care too much who oppressed them so it's that middle layer, who really get things done militarily and commercially, that might have been quick to see an opportunity to benefit from the takeover.
'T was ever thus.

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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Fri 17 Aug 2012, 18:29

In terms of numbers I have read, a long time ago, of the size of the 'Norman' population (including Bretons, Flemish, Picards etc) being around 50,000 (including non-combatants) in a population of 1.5M English reducing to about 1.2%M as a result of the conquest.


It is a mistake to think that the battle of Sandlake alone won England for William. There was considerable English resistance after Sandlake but it was disjointed and lacked leadership (the Godwins were all dead and the other English earls were young and inexperienced as was Edgar Atheling). But a lesser leader than William would even then probably have lost control of the country.

The critical error that the remaining English leadership made was to accept William as king; they probably expected him to be another Cnut. They should have supported Edgar as king and retired on York if necessary. Once William was king he could raise taxes and men with ease and without that legitimacy he would just have been another pillaging viking.

The earliest English resistance after Sandlake was in December 1066 when William’s forces tried to enter London but the English ‘had driven back the advanced guard with heavy losses on the Norman side, which failed to take London Bridge.’ In the summer of 1067, after William had been accepted as king of the English, Edric the Wild with Welsh support attacked Hereford castle and Herefordshire. Also in September Eustace of Boulogne, who had fought at Sandlake on William’s side, attacked Dover supported by the English. His attack was a complete failure. In December Exeter defies William ‘he … besieged Exeter stronghold for 18 days - and a great part of his raiding army perished.’ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Exeter settled on very lenient terms.

In 1068 there was an insurrection by Edwin and Morcar and the sons of Harold Godwinson raided the Avonmouth area and Somerset; in 1069 they also raided Devon. The most serious uprising though was in the North and the Norman leader Robert of Commines was trapped within his bishop’s house in Durham by the English and, when the house was set on fir, Commines and all his men, between 500 and 900 were killed. The English then attacked York and when Richard fitzRichard sallied out of the Norman castle, he and all his soldiers were wiped out. William, however, retaliated with a surprise attack on York which was successful but an attack on Durham by Gilbert de Ghent failed. The English then tried to retake York but failed and a Danish fleet arrived in August or September, it was driven off but destroyed all of William’s ships. An Anglo-Danish attack was now made on York capturing the two Norman Castles at York. All the Normans are either killed or taken prisoner, it was the Normans worst defeat. During the attack York was burnt to the ground. Following this Norman defeat there were risings from Cheshire to Cornwall. William, however, again reacted with vigour and total ruthlessness. He paid off the Danes and devastated the North of England with tens if not hundreds of thousand of English dying as a result.

In 1070 Hereward took Ely and was reinforced by the arrival of the Danish fleet. Hereward then ambushed and killed the brother in law of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey and one of the richest men in the land. Following this victory Edwin and Morcar joined Hereward at Ely and Hereward and the Danes attacked Peterborough. It took William until 1071 to take Ely. In 1072 William invaded Scotland and forced Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish king to give homage to him.

Surely England is not the only case of a country being held down by a relatively small force. What about the Mongol Empire and in particular their conquest of China?

I would put the conquest down to a superior military technology (cavalry plus castle); the leadership of William; the lack of effective leadership on the English side; and the control of the church, Papal support, and probably related to this the idea that God had decided that William should be king as witnessed by his victory at Sandlake and the death of Harold, his brothers and much of the English elite.

Tim
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Fri 17 Aug 2012, 19:09

In my haste, and I realise this is getting a bit like the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch, but in my summary I should have also pointed towards the importance of William being crowned king and controlling the very advanced taxation system. William was able, by raising gelds, to get the English to pay the cost of the forces necessary to hold them down.

Tim
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Wed 05 Sep 2012, 17:29

To my mind, the fact that a small number of folk were able to assume control a) probably had historical precedent and b) is indicative less of a weak system and more of a general ambivalence to both nationality and the men at the top. In a world increasingly obsessed with nationality and the concept of the nation state, b) can appear as something akin to heresy.

The history of both English Northumbria and English Wessex suggests that relatively small warrior aristocracies took over at the top and everyone else pretty much stayed as they were. There was fairly constant strife from the late 4th through to 1066 in all of the kingdoms - be they Celtic, English or Viking - and, for the most part, it appears that kingdoms could change hands on the outcome fo a single battle.

This suggests to me that warfare and feuding were endemic in the system, but were the preserve of a small number of wealthy fighting men, who maintained their wealth by robbing each other or taxing those who were obliged to look to them for protection. Whilst the court poets might reinvent these men as great heroes, I suspect that they were unpopular, aggressive thugs and that it mattered very little to the average Joe in the fields if he was being oppressed by Penda, Cadwallon or William.

If it had mattered, one might have expected to see baby nations coalescing under arms to kick out the invader. But there is little evidence of that. I suspect that this is why Wiliam was able to do so well - he was the last hurrah of centuries of feuding and strife. Most folk probably didn't care that the existing landowners had been replaced by jug eared Frenchmen. All they wanted was an end to the fighting and the man who could give them that was OK by them.

Godwinsson might have been a great man, but he was unlikely to have been a particularly nice man. We like to single William out as being a particular problem, but I'd wager that he was really no worse than anyone else. In trying to project our own modern notions of identity onto these people, we run the risk of mythmaking.

Regards,

AR


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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Wed 05 Sep 2012, 19:12

Nice post AR, and well said.
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Sun 09 Sep 2012, 08:51

‘To my mind, the fact that a small number of folk were able to assume control a) probably had historical precedent and b) is indicative less of a weak system and more of a general ambivalence to both nationality and the men at the top. In a world increasingly obsessed with nationality and the concept of the nation state, b) can appear as something akin to heresy.’

In terms of English history, the numbers involved, except perhaps for the Norman conquest still seems to be a matter of debate.

‘The history of both English Northumbria and English Wessex suggests that relatively small warrior aristocracies took over at the top and everyone else pretty much stayed as they were. There was fairly constant strife from the late 4th through to 1066 in all of the kingdoms - be they Celtic, English or Viking - and, for the most part, it appears that kingdoms could change hands on the outcome fo a single battle.’

I not sure that there ever was a non-English Wessex. Northumbria appears to have changed hands on the basis of the battle of York in 867AD but even then an ‘English Northumbria’ continued further north of York centred on Bamburgh. It cannot be said that any one battle led to a change from a British to an English kingdom in the period following the ending of Roman Britain. For example there were many battles between the English kingdom of Wessex and the Brythonic kingdom of Dumnonia.

‘This suggests to me that warfare and feuding were endemic in the system, but were the preserve of a small number of wealthy fighting men, who maintained their wealth by robbing each other or taxing those who were obliged to look to them for protection. Whilst the court poets might reinvent these men as great heroes, I suspect that they were unpopular, aggressive thugs and that it mattered very little to the average Joe in the fields if he was being oppressed by Penda, Cadwallon or William.’

Unfortunately we have little if any record of what Joe in the fields thought. Gildas, who cannot really be considered a ‘Joe in the fields’ complained about the oppression of his own Brythonic rules as well as Picts and Scots ‘like throngs of worms who wriggle out of narrow fissures in the rock’ as well as Saxons ‘hated by man and God’

‘If it had mattered, one might have expected to see baby nations coalescing under arms to kick out the invader. But there is little evidence of that. I suspect that this is why Wiliam was able to do so well - he was the last hurrah of centuries of feuding and strife. Most folk probably didn't care that the existing landowners had been replaced by jug eared Frenchmen. All they wanted was an end to the fighting and the man who could give them that was OK by them.’

One cause of concern for Joe in the fields would have been that that ‘jug eared Frenchman’ spoke Norman-French [if he was a jug eared Norman at least] and not English and probably did not learn English until the reign of Henry III. That same jug eared Frenchman also viewed the English inferior in the way that his previous English overlord would not have. Judging by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [the last written word of Old English is the last entry in the ASC] the concerns of Joe in the fields did continue. For example the entry for 1116 records that ‘this land and nation were regularly sorely oppressed through the taxes which the king [Henry I] took’.

I am not sure that William can be considered the ‘last hurrah of conflict and strife’. As well as the conflict up to 1072 including the devastation of the north, there was the revolt of the earls 1075, Northumbrian revolt in 1080, the rebellion of 1088, Scottish invasions of 1091 and 1093, rebellion of 1095, not to mention and jumping forward the ‘anarchy’ of 1135 to 1153 which, as well as its effects on England, eventually resulted in the replacement of the house of Normandy by the Angevins.

‘Godwinsson might have been a great man, but he was unlikely to have been a particularly nice man. We like to single William out as being a particular problem, but I'd wager that he was really no worse than anyone else. In trying to project our own modern notions of identity onto these people, we run the risk of mythmaking.’

I certainly would not consider Godwinson to have been a great man, after all he lost Sandlake, a battle he should not have fought. I have no idea where or not he was nice. One author of a book on 1066 commented that he felt he would have liked Harold, disliked Edward the Confessor, felt sorry for Tostig and been scared stiff of William.

regards

Tim
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Sun 09 Sep 2012, 18:23

Quote :
One cause of concern for Joe in the fields would have been that that ‘jug eared Frenchman’ spoke Norman-French [if he was a jug eared Norman at least] and not English and probably did not learn English until the reign of Henry III. That same jug eared Frenchman also viewed the English inferior in the way that his previous English overlord would not have.

Indeed - and it is this aspect to events that appears to be counter-intuitive when one is assessing the apparent rapidity and thoroughness of the takeover, which after all far exceeded mere political control but radically altered the nature of society and the very culture of its members, all within a few short decades. Yet this was also apparently achieved by a group who remained socially and culturally distant from the huge majority. That's what I've always struggled with myself, and have found no good parallels in other cultures. When the majority rapidly assimilates the values, language and mindset of a powerful minority it has almost always been a fragile affair and driven by short-term dynamics which prove to be just that, but not apparently however in the English case. The ASC (and the history of civil unrest in the immediate aftermath of the 1066 seizure of power) would suggest an antagonistic, not a compliant, population who defined their Englishness all the more against the contrast provided by this perceived alien intrusion. Yet within a generation those "aliens" have redefined the term to a huge degree and, moreover, everyone has subscribed to it.
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Mon 10 Sep 2012, 10:59

Quote :
In terms of English history, the numbers involved, except perhaps for the Norman conquest still seems to be a matter of debate.

Agreed, but I am firmly on the Nick Higham side of the debate.

Quote :
I not sure that there ever was a non-English Wessex.

I accept that it is no more than a hint and may be the product of myth rather than history, but the names of the first three Wessex kings are arguably Brythonic. The names of the constiruent kingdoms of Northumbria are both also Brythonic (Deur became Deira and Bryneich Bernicia). In both cases, one might argue that existing political structures were Anglicized or taken over by the Saxons.

Quote :
It cannot be said that any one battle led to a change from a British to an English kingdom in the period following the ending of Roman Britain.

I think it can. Or. at least, it led to a change in control from British rule to English rule, irrepsective of the actual ethnicity of those involved. We don't know what happened to Lindsey or a number of the other pre-English statelets, but there are hints about the explusion of Ceretic from Elmet (a single event), the loss of York following the deaths of Gwrgi and Peredur (a single event) and the collapse of Rheged following the death of Urien (a single event). As I say, I fully accept that these tales may be as much myth as history, but it does appear that the entire north of England collapsed like a stack of dominoes in the very early 7th and from then on was largely part of the English world. The speed of change and the areas involved is suggestive of small warbands decapitating one another. Now, these were times of shifting alliance and allegiance and I very much doubt that many of the early kings exercised much direct control. What I suspect they did instead was sit at the centre of webs of patronage like big spiders. But with the possible exception of Rheged, there is no evidence that any of the other kingdoms of the Hen Ogledd were ever independently British again.


Quote :
Unfortunately we have little if any record of what Joe in the fields thought. Gildas, who cannot really be considered a ‘Joe in the fields’ complained about the oppression of his own Brythonic rules as well as Picts and Scots ‘like throngs of worms who wriggle out of narrow fissures in the rock’ as well as Saxons ‘hated by man and God’

Gildas was writing polemic and is a fairly shaky witness in many ways - look at his account of the building of Hadrian's Wall. But I agree - we rarely know what the Joe in the fields thinks. But if actions speak louder than words, we can tentatively argue that for the most part, they accepted the frequent changes of the men at the top.


Quote :
One cause of concern for Joe in the fields would have been that that ‘jug eared Frenchman’ spoke Norman-French [if he was a jug eared Norman at least] and not English and probably did not learn English until the reign of Henry III.

I agree, although that might have been less of a concern - or no different a concern - to those parts of the country where folk weren't speaking English anyway. And for the rest, the disconnect that comes about as a result of the men at the top speaking a different language didn't change the fact that the men at the bottom were not stakeholders in the political system, even when the men at the top were speaking English.

Quote :

That same jug eared Frenchman also viewed the English inferior in the way that his previous English overlord would not have.

This, I suspect, is where we disagree. Is this an assumption, or do we actually know it? Were the chroniclers of the ASC speaking for the ordinary Joes, or for the displaced political elite? And did not the English overlord consider his Welsh subjects inferior (see Ine's law codes)? What is the difference? Was there genuinely a national sense of "Englishness" prior to William?


Quote :
Judging by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [the last written word of Old English is the last entry in the ASC] the concerns of Joe in the fields did continue. For example the entry for 1116 records that ‘this land and nation were regularly sorely oppressed through the taxes which the king [Henry I] took’.

I suppose folk have never liked paying tax, but we don't know that this comment signified a changed state of affairs regarding atttitudes to taxation, do we?

Quote :
I am not sure that William can be considered the ‘last hurrah of conflict and strife’. As well as the conflict up to 1072 including the devastation of the north, there was the revolt of the earls 1075, Northumbrian revolt in 1080, the rebellion of 1088, Scottish invasions of 1091 and 1093, rebellion of 1095, not to mention and jumping forward the ‘anarchy’ of 1135 to 1153 which, as well as its effects on England, eventually resulted in the replacement of the house of Normandy by the Angevins.

Point taken! I concede on this particular issue!

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Wed 12 Sep 2012, 10:02

How much can one say about the English population post 1066? There was no organised revolt after 1072 and even those prior to 1072 were not that well organised. Virtually all of the English leadership was either killed in 1066, in subsequent revolts or went into exile. People stopped calling themselves by Anglo-Saxon names and instead took on Norman and French names but the land remained England and did not become Greater Normandy and the people remained England. The identity of the English as a distinct people survived the Norman Conquest. The same cannot be said of the British population of ‘England’, the Picts or the Strathclyde Britons.

William of Malmesbury, despite his father being Norman, writing around 1125 tells the grotesque story of Siamese twins, one of whom has died, which for William symbolised the living England sustaining with her taxes and tributes the moribund Normandy. ‘England is become the residence of foreigners and the property of strangers; at the present time there is no Englishman who is either earl, bishop or abbot; strangers all, they prey upon the vitals of England, nor is their any hope of ending this misery.’ He does not seem to have positively accepted the conquest but just considers resistance futile, in fact I seem to remember him condemning the resistance after Sandlake as similarly futile. One hundred year later monastic chroniclers are just as condemnatory of the king and his foreign favourites, in this case Henry III and the Poitevins. But unlike with William of Malmesbury, they have some hope because there is support from the English born lords. The Song of Lewes celebrating the battle of Lewes in 1264AD declares ‘Now England breathes again hoping for liberty; the English were despised likes dogs but now they have raised their heads over their vanquished foes’. Slightly ironic that the baron’s leader was French, but it perhaps could be said that it was the English who eventually ‘anglicised’ the Normans and not the other way around.

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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Wed 12 Sep 2012, 10:03

AR

Agree that the first 3 credited kings of Wessex in the ASC have Brythonic names but how reliable is that. If Cerdic landed with an adult son in 495AD how old would he have been in 534AD when he was supposed to have died? If one goes to the genealogy list then it is even worst as Creoda is Cerdic’s son and Cynric is his grandson. Also the ASC entry for 514AD seems to be a repeat of 495 but this time with Stuf and Wihtgar. One is on slightly safer grounds with Caewlin, who is at least referred to by Bede. But Bede also seems to have a totally different account of the origins of Wessex not from the south coast but in the upper Thames valley under Gewis.

I commented that ‘It cannot be said that any one battle led to a change from a British to an English kingdom in the period following the ending of Roman Britain.’

You replied ‘I think it can’ but then give a list of ‘single events’ and that just in the north rather than one battle. I therefore contend that my statement that ‘It cannot be said that any one battle led to a change from a British to an English kingdom in the period following the ending of Roman Britain’ is correct. The fact is that there was still a northern British kingdom fighting at Brunanburh in 937AD even then after several hundred years suggests that they had not completely collapsed.

On the subject of the English being viewed as inferior, ‘England is become the residence of foreigners and the property of strangers; at the present time there is no Englishman who is either earl, bishop or abbot; strangers all, they prey upon the vitals of England, nor is their any hope of ending this misery.’ William of Malmesbury. The use of a word such as churlish would point that way as would ‘the English were despised likes dogs’ from the Song of Lewes. There was the statement by one Frenchman to the effect that the French should rule the English rather than the other way round – not something I could see the Sun or the Daily Express agreeing with.

The comments about taxation are most notable after the conquest compared to before and not surprising as the Normans needed a large standing army, abet at a local level, plus castles to hold the country down. William also needed to bring in laws because of Normans being murdered to punish the whole community for any such murder. There is in addition the matter of the wealth of England pouring into Normandy – that clearly never happened before. There is the image that William of Malmesbury has of the Siamese twins which symbolised the living England sustaining the moribund Normandy with her taxes and tributes.

Peter Rex - The English Resistance ‘the larger part, and the most valuable, he used for the benefit of Norman monasteries’

Brian Golding Conquest and Colonisation The Normans in Britain 1066 - 1100 “monastic chroniclers are in general agreement that the conquest was a complete disaster” “seizure of lands and treasure, extortionate taxes” “treasures of all sorts were shipped to Normandy” p168

Brian Golding Conquest and Colonisation The Normans in Britain 1066 - 1100 “the Anglo-Norman kings’ war efforts in northern France were largely sustained by English wealth”

Brian Golding Conquest and Colonisation The Normans in Britain 1066 - 1100 “Contemporaries stressed the greed of William I and William II”

Brian Golding Conquest and Colonisation The Normans in Britain 1066 - 1100 “the landed and cash resources of England were largely diverted to the advantage of Normandy.”

Would agree with you on the English and their attitude towards the British. Bede clearly loathed them and Athelstan expelled them from Exeter. But it is clear from Armes Prydein Vawr and from ‘Nennius’ that the feeling was mutual.

I would say that there was a sense of Englishness prior to 1066 after all the West Saxons used to describe themselves as English. Bede certainly seemed to believe in an English nation ‘gens Anglorum’. Athelweard’s chronicle writing of Brunanburh c980AD says ‘No fleet has moved against these shores or remained without the consent of the English.’ Certainly was not to remain that way! Alfric of Eynsham in his epilogue to Judges refers ‘the English nation’ in 998AD.

Regards

Tim


PS Some years ago I gave a somewhat light-hearted talk to a group on Anglo-Scottish conflicts entitled ‘The Auld Enemies’. I did discuss Anglo-Saxon migrating into Southern Britain and painted this initial picture

‘I have this image of this Saxon family arriving on a wet and miserable day and the wife saying “you told me this place was going to be warm and sunny” and the husband replying “but it says in the estate agents brochure ‘warm , sunny outlook with sea views, nice neighbours”’ and the wife replying. “I told you we should have gone to the Riviera like our neighbours the Franks, but would you listen to me.”
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Wed 12 Sep 2012, 10:17

There is much talk about the A/S migration, but does anyone know why they arrived and in such numbers, spread over quite a few years?

There must have been something quite catastrophic happening in Europe to cause the migration, that amount of people wouldn't normally move, and risk the English Chanel, unless they had to.
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Arwe Rheged
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Wed 12 Sep 2012, 13:53

Hi Tim,

Quote :
Agree that the first 3 credited kings of Wessex in the ASC have Brythonic names but how reliable is that.

Not very. King lists - both British and Saxon - serve many other purposes than the straight historical. But what we can say is that the ASC captured a tradition. The Chroniclers appear unaware that they might be talking about British people, but nevertheless one might be able to point at a grain of sand in the oyster. I freely admit it is no more than a hint, but for those early Dark Ages, hints are pretty much all we have.


Quote :
Also the ASC entry for 514AD seems to be a repeat of 495 but this time with Stuf and Wihtgar.

Agreed. But Wihtgar - like his pal Port - appears to be there to explain the etymology of the name of a place - in his case, the Isle of Wight. That is doubtless another tradition, but one which we can feel slightly safer raising an eyebrow about.


Quote :
I therefore contend that my statement that ‘It cannot be said that any one battle led to a change from a British to an English kingdom in the period following the ending of Roman Britain’ is correct.

I've never disputed that Strathclyde remained Brythonic and independent for a good long time, but my apologies if I gave that impression. I talked about York, Elmet and Rheged. We are told that York falls when Gwrgi and Peredur get their chips and that Ceretic is "expelled" from Elmet. Something did for Din Eidyn too, and one is tempted to make a possibly unwise connection to Catreath. Expulsion may not mean battle, of course, but the death of the York kings is certainly suggestive of a fight. Over and above that, the swift collapse of the entire north of what is now England is suggestive of very, very quick gains being made by the Bernicians and the Deirans.

Catreath is instructive in some regards, as even though it is clearly an idealised account, it gives us an idea of the numbers and social status of the fighting men of those days. Big changes appear to turn on small numbers of people.

Quote :

The use of a word such as churlish

I might be wrong here, but does not "churl" come from "ceorl", a word which did not originally have such perjorative overtones? But fair enough - there is evidence that the Normans looked down their noses at the English. That is perhaps inevitable. I suppose what I'm arguing is that it wasn't just the wicked Normans who treated conquered peoples in this way. What I find hard to accept is this oft-quoted-to-the-point-of-just-being-accepted-fact that the Normans were a bunch of b**tards who destroyed the progressive, pre-Fall neverland of the brave English cheers cheers. Similar arguments are propounded by lovers of the misty Celtic twilight to berate the wicked English for the sins of Hengist and Horsa. To me, it doesn't wash either way.


Quote :

The comments about taxation are most notable after the conquest compared to before and not surprising as the Normans needed a large standing army, abet at a local level, plus castles to hold the country down

Also perhaps because paying taxes to foreigners is rarely celebrated!


Quote :
Would agree with you on the English and their attitude towards the British. Bede clearly loathed them and Athelstan expelled them from Exeter. But it is clear from Armes Prydein Vawr and from ‘Nennius’ that the feeling was mutual.

Yes, but both APV (even if we allow for the early date) and Nennius were written down much, much later than the early years of the adventus. My view is that a highly complex and geographically varied picture of conquest, co-existence, assimilation and displacement was remembered in later times - when things had settled down a bit and established nations were starting to emerge - as conquest and displacement only. Most folk of British mainland descent probably have relatives on both sides at Brunanburh, Catreath, Deorham, Chester, Badon, Hastings et al.

On the later identification point - was it not the case that due to the French wars, it became politic for the descendanst of the Norman
kings to identify themselves as English and to actively seek to encourage the English language? I'd always been told this, but it isn't my period, so I refrain from commenting further.

On me hols now, so no doubt catch up in a couple of weeks......

Best regards,

AR

Quote :
‘I have this image of this Saxon family arriving on a wet and miserable day and the wife saying “you told me this place was going to be warm and sunny” and the husband replying “but it says in the estate agents brochure ‘warm , sunny outlook with sea views, nice neighbours”’ and the wife replying. “I told you we should have gone to the Riviera like our neighbours the Franks, but would you listen to me.”

"Yes, dear. But look at the size of those marrows....."
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PostSubject: Re: How did England get owned by a small gang of thugs?   Mon 17 Sep 2012, 20:27

Hi AR

Hope you enjoyed your holiday.

King lists are sometime considered more reliable than some of the chronicles that may have been constructed to flesh them out and, as I said, there are clear problems with the ASC chronology even without the king list. However, as I connected earlier there is slightly better historical grounds for accepting the existence of Caewlin with his Brythonic name.

There is a world of difference between one small area of south Britain falling to the English as a result of one event, if it happened, and Britain becoming England as a result of one battle.

The Gallic Chronicle records that Britain came under Saxon rule in 441/2AD but by the time Gildas is writing the Saxons do not appear to be a threat. I agree that Gildas is writing a polemic and has no idea about the origins of Hadrian’s wall [most people seem to have no idea of the truth concerning the PLUTO pipelines from only 65 years ago and so it is not surprising that Gildas got the wall wrong – I have a copy of Gildas] but that does not show that what he writes about concerning Scottish Pictish and Saxon attacks on Britain is incorrect.

On the battle of Catreath, again from my talk

‘I have the image of the British commander declaring as the battle was going badly “right lads one of us has got to escape and right a suitably heroic epic about our defeat, are there any volunteers.”’

My attitude towards the Norman Conquest is not shaped by ‘the progressive, pre-Fall neverland of the brave English cheers cheers’ but by a reaction to what I was taught at school concerning the Norman Conquest and the view that history started in 1066AD hence Edward I not being Edward IV.

You are correct about the original use of Cheorl which was precisely why I pointed out how it had become churlish.

‘On the later identification point - was it not the case that due to the French wars, it became politic for the descendanst of the Norman kings to identify themselves as English.’

The monarchy ceased being Norman with Henry II who was not from Normandy but from Le Mans in Anjou and clearly French. How much Norman blood did Edward Longshanks have? Not a lot and Normandy had been lost a long time before he became king. William the B died fighting the king of France without feeling any need to consider himself as being English, which he did not.

Regards

Tim

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