2.9 Norman Transformation


1066 and the Norman conquest undoubtedly came with dramatic change in personel and architecture. But did it extend much below the elites, did it change the depths and fundamentals of English society – or just ripple the surface?  After all many have argued that feudalism by another name was already well advanmced by 1066.

The Sermon of the Wolf, Archbishop Wulfstan




Last time we talked about how parts of lowland England reacted to the increased pressure from the newly enriched and resident elite and Thegnage for higher productivity and more income, and income in cash form if at all possible at that. We talked about the arrival of open field farming in Champion countryside, and how that encouraged common working and the pooling of resources by peasant communities, helped by the growth of nucleated villages away from the old model of widely dispersed farms and hamlets. This meant the arrival of the kind of village you can put on a box of shortbread and grow holyhocks around.

This is the last episode of this series; though I do plan a third series of occasional pieces in Anglo Saxon history, a couple of which will come from Marie Hilder. Marie runs the brilliant FB group Anglo Saxon History and Language.

Today though, we are going to talk about the life of the ordinary Ceorlisc family in the straeta of the 11th century; and consider the vexed question of whether the Norman conquest actually changed anything. For the purposes of full disclosure, my memory is that when  I wrote episode 20 back in May 2011 the thinking was largely that feudalism and serfdom was basically on its way anyway by the times the Normans arrived, and maybe daily lives further down the social scale were not much affected. Now some of the work being done suggests that possibly that’s not as true as might be. So we are going to spend a bit of time talking about the 11th century – what was going on in the Anglo Saxon state, and how far the Normans then changed things.

The 11th century saw the process of intensification continue. Thegns were constantly changing their practices to produce more income, more cash. To describe some of the ideas, let me take you back to the Benson Hundred, where 2 episodes ago I introduced you to Ordgar who had managed to get himself a chunk of the Benson Scir in the early 11th century. In common with the principle of creating coherent estates, Ordgar had been given an estate of 4 hides at Berrick in lovely arable Oxfordshire vale; and an extra hide up the hill in the Chilterns, perfect for pasture and woodland, at Gangsdown. Together they made an estate of that all important 5 hides that meant Ordgar was a Thegn – as long as he walked the walk and talked the talk. For that he needed money.

Although cracking down on your peasants was one way a lord could make more income, another potential route was not to work harder, but work smarter as the spectacularly irritating management phrase has it. Ordgar does this. He starts by cramming more ploughs onto the land than it has traditionally been able to bear. As a rule of thumb, you needed 120 acres to keep 1 plough working.  Well, we know from Domesday in 1086 that Ordgar has enough land for 4 ploughs in Berrick; and yet there are 5 ploughs on the land. Ho has he managed that?

He is making the topography of his estate work for him. That single hide at up the hill at Gangsdown meant Ordgar could move his livestock up the fielden ways for the summer, meaning he could devote more of his land in the vale to arable rather than using them for livestock.

It’s a trend you can see all across the Benson hundred; about a third of the manors in the vale are over exploited in this way. While in the less fertile Chilterns it’s completely the other way round – almost all of the manors are actually under exploited, fewer ploughs than they should have had.

Another thing you can do as a lord is find other ways of making money – putting up mills to grind corn is one way – extra income, providing a central service for tenants, biggwr better mills rather than spending all that time with your own hand mill. Both the deployment of extra ploughs and building mills requires capital; something thegns are much more likely to have available than your ordinary family of ceorls.

Another approach was to take the farming of more of their estates in hand, employing tied labour like Bordars rather than tenant ceorls; cutting out the middle man essentially. Ordgar now held something like half of his land at Berrick in demesne, so farming it directly himself, with 2 ploughs to work it, and 4 slaves.

Ordgar constituted just one tiny part of a vast nationwide movement of intensified lordship, towards the creation of more and more Inland and demesne on the new privatised estates. More and more ceorls were being pulled into the status of the unfree, tied, bordar and gebur, paying heavy service dues and rents. For these people, the halcyon days of extensive lordship of the old scirs was a distant memory.

Lords were increasing able to gain more of their wealth in cash, rather than in kind, as thegns and peasants were increasingly integrated into the market economy of the towns. In Wallingford for example, in our Benson hundred, there were many plots and dwellings held by estates in the surrounding rural areas, as lords went there to meet, and to trade. But it’s not all about the towns; local fairs would spring up at key times during the year – we know there is a later fair at Swyncombe for 3 days in June for example. Using these opportunities to trade locally, peasants were able to convert their agricultural surplus into cash, to pay their dues and buy the tools they need.

Now, you might point out to me that there is a problem here. Anglo Saxon England, no less than later medieval England, loved its custom and traditions. It was no simple thing for a lord to increase the dues they demanded from their tenants – they would cry ‘custom! I have always paid 1s since time imemoral!’. So how did the change happen?

The answer is that it happened slowly, and possibly painfully. In some cases, maybe there was straight violence involved; but the evidence for that is slim. Short of violence, Landlords could clearly enforce every right they could, relentlessly. They could try to make those boon rights we talked about under Warland, once a matter of helping out between equals, become rigorously enforced. Over time, thegns could claim they were their customary rights. But villagers were very wary of this – later history under the Normans would show that peasants threatened with serfdom under Norman villeinage laws would specifically appeal to boon work as evidence of their freedom. That means two things; ceorls were well aware that boon work was a matter of a reciprocal custom between two freemen, not lordly rights. And secondly, that ceorls were prepared to go to law to protect that status.

But the biggest factor playing for the lord’s team was the basically precarious nature of a subsistence economy. It was hard for peasants to convert the good years into a lasting asset – you couldn’t put it into an interest bearing bank account or buy government bonds. And generally even in good years, the amount of surplus was strictly limited anyway. So when bad a year came, those close to the edge could find it difficult to ride it out, few had much by way of a nest egg. And if two bad years came together well then, that could be toast time. And if it was toast time and the family were starving, it was time to go and talk to the fat guy in the village, otherwise known as the lord. And ask for help.

When you did that, it might be that you had a good guy as a Landlord who gave you another year, credit esentially. Or it might be that you would see a gentle stream of dribble as the lord recognised an opportunity here. The process was often that they would formally take your land off you in payment for what you owed; on the promise that they would then rent those lands to you. But that would be on very different, and very much less advantageous terms. In this way, kotseltan might become cottagers or Ceorls, cottager might become gebur or Bordar, descending the social scale.





In this context, population growth also plays its part; if a lord finds it impossible to find tenants to fill the farms then that’s one thing – the free peasant is in a much better bargaining position. If there are plenty of folks looking around for a nice tenancy well, the trowel is in the other hand isn’t it? And population was growing so…it was a buyer’s market and they could charge tougher terms.

In this way, then, the growth of lordship in late Anglo Saxon England had a profound effect in changing the social structure and living conditions of the ordinary English folk, and it is generally not in a good way for the peasant. England is deeply regional; who your lord was could have a massive impact and allow islands of warland survive in a sea of inland.

Topography and landscape again played a big part. In the Domesday book there is a category called sokemen, who  are associated with the free peasants of warland. This category makes up about 15% of the individuals recorded nationally and they occur in much higher proportions in eastern England, in the Danelaw. It could be that freedoms survived due to Scandinavian customs. But an alternative fascinating theory takes us back to topography. It notes that in these areas there is generally a greater availability of water and fertile land. So it may well be that in these areas peasants fell more rarely into hard times, were therefore able to retain their independence.

The question I suppose is, how far had the process gone of the descent of a once free peasantry into serfdom by the time the Normans arrive in 1066. Domesday is really the only chance we have of quantifying it, and as I say 15% of the people are clearly free. But the largest category in Domesday is simply villanus, villager – and there’s no way of knowing if these people held land on a free or unfree basis. One estimate is that about 40% in 1087 could claim to be free, the old ceorls or Kotsetlan rather than Bodars and geburs – but it’s a guesstimate.

The conclusion is that well before the Conquest, there was a continual downward pressure on the status of the peasantry. However, it is worth just leavening the bread of misery a little, to point out that there was a good reason for being happy to be born in the 10th and 11th centuries despite these pressures. People were basically getting better off.  Population growth brought and reflected greater prosperity; there was still a good deal of underexploited land into which to expand. The survival of wills tells us that the well-off freeman of the warland would have a few possession to hand on to their children, and pitifully small though these seem by modern day standards, by standards they amount to a handsome hill of beans to their forebears. So, the well-off Ceorlisc family might have a wooden bed; a chest for bed linen, and clothes; one will has

A badger skin coat, best dun tunic, and the best cloak and clasp, two wooden cups ornamented with dots.

Another will gifted

My old filigree brooch, a hall tapestry and three seat coverings…and a weaving frame, little spinning chest.

The kitchen might contain a few items worth handing on, and the farm some tools as well as the stock. So it is not necessarily that the period is one of economic misery compared to previous times. But for a proportion of the peasantry, it is one of growing dependency.

Well, in 1066 William the Bastard came calling on the English, and by the time he died would have earned the name William the Conqueror. It was once the rubric that the Anglo Saxon era was one of light, truth, justice and small fury animals, to be followed by vicious oppression and the slaughter of small furry animals by the nasty Normans.

But William’s chin would have wobbled at the very suggestion. He was very keen indeed to emphasise continuity – that he was the rightful heir, that he ruled according to the laws of King Edward there’s nothing to see here – that the Norman Yoke was in fact as light as the touch of gossamer. Was he right? Was feudalism, serfdom and something that looked pretty much like the Norman social order already basically taking over under the Anglo Saxons before sand crunched under keel at Pevensey, and the conquest was just a change of personnel at the top a ripple on the surface of the sea that changed nothing significant in the depths?  or was Billy just gaslighting us all, and actually the conquest brought huge social change with it too?

There were some contemporaries who thought things had already changed for the worse well before 1066.  In her book on the Moral Economy of the Countryside, previously referenced, Rosamund Faith refers to a piece of work called the Sermon of the Wolf by one of the great figures of the late Anglo Saxon state, the Archbishop of York Wulfstan. He contributed a lot of political writings as well, and she sees his hand in things like Geþyncðo, the legal tract which defined the rights and dignities of free Anglo Saxons.  Wulfstan wrote the sermon of the Wolf in the context of the Viking invasions of the 11th century, by Svein and Cnut, which would see the house of Wessex displaced by the Danes, and he takes the line that these horrors inflicted by the invaders on the English were God’s judgement for the sins of the nation – someone’s done a version of You Tube, I’ll post the link, it’s fascinating to hear the words of someone so long ago.

Amongst all the agonising  and moral panic about people not praying enough or paying tithes to the church, that sort of thing, Wulfstan complains that things have changed from the way things used to be in the G.O.D – good – old – days. The English have lost their way, they have fallen from the old ways and how things used to be. Here’s one thing he says, on which scholars almost as venerable as Bede have commented, among them the definitely venerable Dorthy Whitelocke, as being a comment on changes in the social order:

Free men are not allowed to keep their independence nor go where they wish. Nor to deal with their own property as they wish, and slaves are not allowed to keep what they have gained by their toil in their own free time

Faith puts that together with a piece Wulfstan wrote called Institutes of Policy, where he has a go at the behaviour of the lordly gerefas – specifically the Reeves, but more broadly, the agents of Thegns and nobles.

It is right that reeves work diligently and always provide for their lords’ aright. But now it has happened since Edgar died, even as God willed, there are more robbers than righteous men; and it is a wretched thing that those who should be shepherds of the Christian people are robbers

In Geþyncðo, Wulfstan had written about his view of how society worked, a message I’ve tried to include in the last yay episodes

In the laws of England, people and law went by rank, and the councillors of the people were considered worthy of honour each according to his status whether eorl or ceorl, thegn or prince

His understanding of English society was one driven by rank, reciprocity of honour and reputation. Rank does not mean class; his society was socially mobile, a ceorl or merchant could become a Thegn through their own efforts; what was important was the reputation they held amongst their peers. And every rank was due honour and dignity. Every act – such as the giving of feorum, or commendation from a great family to one of lesser status – had an appropriate, reciprocal response which recognised the honour due. The Anglo Saxon state was therefore deeply participatory – the concept of public service in terms of military dues, maintenance of roads and bridges, and in the delivery of public order ran through every network, and was deeply embedded in land ownership. That then was Wulfstan’s view of the Moral Economy of the countryside. That was how English society worked, they were its core values.

And Wulfstan thought that those values were already under threat, decaying everywhere he looked, and their degradation had brough the wrath of the Lord on their heads. His model of perfection was King Edgar, who you might remember as Edgar the Peaceable who reigned to 975, and Wulfstan is doing that thing of looking back to a Golden age, when the trains ran on time, sort of thing. And given Edgar’s successor Edwy was discovered in bed at his coronation with two young noblewomen with the crown chucked on the ground, the rot had clearly set in early.

Could it be then that it is the impact of intensified lordship that Wulfstan is recognising here? To be specific; for Wulfstan the Reeves should defend their lords’ right but as good citizens they must also work according to local custom and respect the rights of all ranks of society. They should not impose additional dues, they should not take away peasants right to move or do their own work, or pass on their land to their children. And that that’s what was happening to the men and women of ceorl families who had become geburs or bordars.

‘Free men are not allowed to go their own way’, thundered the Wolf in his sermon. By this, is Wulfstan referring to these new ties? That there was a new class of men who were not free to do those things considered once as a right – to go to a different lord, and seek their commendation, give their oath of manrent and accept their protection and advocacy in return? That there was a new class tied to their estate and lord – just like a villein or serf of the High middle ages? And surely he’s referring to the reeves as robbers because they are imposing heavier and heavier dues of work, rent and goods, way above and beyond the feorum due from that legacy of the custom of hospitality.

So, the argument might be that things had already changed. Although the language might be different, in effect feudalism and serfdom had already arrived. The old values of freedom and reciprocity were dying, a new style of repressive lordship had already arrived – and the Normans simply accelerated change. Well, what did change under this new alien king?




That the Normans brought change at the top is not at dispute; it is well known that barely a handful of English Thegns remained as major landowners by Domesday in 1086, certainly not as holding land direct from the king. The extent of the change in many walks of life are severe. It’s interesting that these days, when Empire and colonisation are so much under the microscope, that it is not hard to recognise the Normans as pretty brutal colonisers, a brutal land grab by a small group that constituted no more than 1% of the population. Here’s a quick list of the major changes the Normans brought.

An alien architecture was imposed from above. In the form of church architecture in particular hardly a smidge of Anglo Saxon survives, and Norman Romanesque comes into town. I mean when looking at places like Durham and Kilpeck I’m going to be the last to say it brought no benefits, but still, it is not home grown, the world looked different to the local.

England was quickly covered in castles – and gloss castles how you like as centres of administration blah blah, instruments of military control they were most certainly.

The English language is removed as the language of courts, elite and cultural writing; we celebrate its eventual survival but actually it’s been noted by some scholars that the surprising thing is not that it survives, but how long it takes to take over again. The first generations of colonisers were clearly viewing their new possessions with a view to the extraction of resources for use in their Norman homeland – it’s generally agreed dues and rents imposed by lords go up across the countryside as the new owners milk them for all they are worth. The same also happens in towns where populations even fall for a while, and the profits of trade largely go abroad – as evidence, new endowments of land in England are given over to Norman religious institutions. My parish of Swyncombe is given to the monks of Bec Abbey to prettify their Norman home. As someone wrote in better words, the Norman colonisers imposed an extractive, racially based regime, imposing their alien culture on a population they clearly and publicly despised. There is a stream of rebellions. And resistance must have been widespread and local, so much so that William imposed the murdrum fine. Murdrum was a hard penalty imposed on the English community for the death of a Norman. All these are evidence of the hatred the subjected English felt for their conquerors.

But, but but…how deep did that go? There is much continuity. Agricultural methods barely change; the move to open farming was well advanced, we’ve seen the growth of new peasants statuses that looks indistinguishable from Medieval serfdom on Anglo Saxon Inland estates. For some, change was positive; for slaves in particular. There are still plenty of slaves in England in 1087, about 10% but under the Normans they would disappear completely. It could be that the Normans were just nice people, given to freeing slaves; and actually there is evidence that William himself abolished slavery in certain circumstances. But the more likely reason is that it was just easier to make more income from your land by making the slave a tenant on terms that were deeply, deeply advantageous to the lord; and if you are a slave you are in a uniquely poor negotiating position. So in many places, slaves were given a small plot of land on the terms of a gebur and told to get on with it.

So there’s an argument that says look firstly it’s just accelerating change, secondly, it’s mainly just at the top and doesn’t reach down much into the lower echelons of society who just get new masters doing what the old ones were already doing.

But it appears the change is more fundamental than that. Because it is about the remodelling of the  basic values that underpinned society. In stripping the Anglo Saxon elite of their land, the conqueror introduced a fundamental change that all land was now owned by the king – won by force of arms, right of conquest. The very idea of a nation still built on a free, landowning peasantry was blown away. Noone else owned anything of right anymore.

I’d like to tell you a little story from the Benson estate, the last instalment in our Ordgar mini-series. William rewarded all his followers by handing out his new colony to them. Much of the old Benson scir went to one Miles Crispin, including the estates of the Anglo Saxon thegn Ordgar. So, to his horror, Ordgar found that he was no longer the king’s Thegn, holding land directly from him; he now held his lands from Miles Crispin as a sub tenant. Ordgar was subordinated, diminished. He hated this, and we are not guessing, not projecting or be empathetic, and I will tell you why.

The Domesday entries are laconic and functional in the extreme. Barely a personal note gets through the clerks eagle eyes. But in the entry for Ordgar, this rather remarkable note remains

These 2 estates which Ordgar holds of Miles he ought to hold of the king. For he himself and his father and uncle held them freely in the time of king Edward

In this rather flat statement lives a world of pain; I visualise the desperate and furious thegn appearing before the officious clerks of the Domesday survey at the Hundred mott. Of Ordgar banging the table and forcing them to write down that statement, by force of will, overriding their protests that they are not supposed to record such things. And so this cry of pain at his loss of honour and status had been recorded, and comes down to us almost a thousand years later, played out on the slopes of the Chiltern Hills.

This is an example of a change which reaches down into every level of society. William pretended that he was the natural successor to King Edward, everything was going on as before, but he was fibbing telling whoppers, porkies. Because the new reality was that all those lands owned by the descendants of the Anglo Saxon settlers had been stolen from them. They were now landholders, not landowners.

The language of feudal land holding is about the ‘fee’. The ‘fee’ is a parcel of land held from the king in return for military service. The agreement is not about ownership as it once would have been; it is now about tenure – you hold the land, you don’t own it. It belongs to the king. You might hold it from an intermediary, a lord, but it belongs to the king.

To the Anglo Saxon, the personal relationship between lord and follower, the process of manrent, or commendation, had always purely been a matter of a personal bond. Land might be held or owned in a variety of ways, and for many therefore the question of land didn’t come into it. That’s all changed. The relationship is now very different. It is a personal relationship, but tenure of land is absolutely part of it. Without land, there IS no personal relationship.

With inheritance, this causes real problems. William is keen to reassure everyone that they’ll be able to pass their land on like before; but what does that say about the fact that supposedly they are only holding land from their lord, they don’t own it? So you get this rather convoluted process, whereby in the homage process, the newbie, son of the dead man let’s say, gives their land back to the lord. They then pledge homage, pay a fine, and get the land back. And so the circle is squared.

As I mentioned it is difficult to know by 1087 how many Anglo Saxon peasants were actually free; and one of the reasons for that is language. The Normans clerks who go round recording William’s new box of chocolates aren’t used to English terminology, and so for the vast majority they simply call them villanus, villagers. Equally they are not used to the plethora of different styles of landholding and customs; and so impose a strict structure of the Manor on the new colony, which is a terminology they do understand. So what night be a small tunscipe, or a hide farm, or an estate in a large multiple estate held free, or with some inland, or warland – these all become manors.






The  manor brings with it certain assumptions, alien assumptions, about the rights a lord has over everyone within each manor. One of these is about private justice. In the Anglo Saxon state, there is no right of private justice. In the new world, any local disputes are dealt with in the lords manor court now; and indeed if you have not managed to prove that you are free, then that’s the only court to which you have access.

Now it’s not that peasants don’t like manorial courts; they are actually jolly useful for managing disputes about practical things like fences and cattle between neighbours. But they remove a whole swathe of people from participation in the public services that had underpinned the moral economy of the state. For many the public courts of hundred and Shire are simply no longer accessible. Hundred courts are now dominated by the greater men of the area, who are increasingly giving witness on behalf of their tenants, rather than the individual peasant giving witness on their own account, as free citizens.

The very nature of witness changes. Before the new world, multiple witnesses of all types of people were called, from all ranks of society. In the new world that was changed. Witness was now only called from those with the same tenure as the parties involved. This puts the defendant of low stature in a great disadvantage against a higher ranked individual – previously they would have been able to call on potentially very influential lords to whom they had given their commendation. Now if they are a gebur, they can call only on their fellow geburs. So there it is again – tenure is part of the conversation, as well as the person. Reputation counts for far less. It doesn’t count for nothing – tithings survive, now called frankpledges; but reputation counts for far less. Effectively what we are seeing is the introduction of class into society.

That is re-inforced by law and by the process that follows the conquest. William claims that he rules according to the laws of Good King Edward. He does this to both emphasise continuity – I am legitimate – but also to expunge king Harold II from the official record. However, as noted – he also fibs. In the laws of William, there are 4 new laws, and they basically deal with the lack of anything in the AS lawcodes that deal with the lord’s rights to control their peasants. Can’t have that, not with a Norman Yoke to maintain – so those get added by William. For example, the right of a lord to get back a runaway serf, because peasants were now not allowed to leave their manors. In addition, you were now born into your estate; the idea of social mobility inherent in Wulfstan’s promotions Law is dead. Once a gebur, always a gebur. That’s a big thing. Also the language used is deeply racial – the word used is naif, native born, different rules for Normans and English. There’s a famous quote by a jurist in the 1170s called FitzNigel. He says that

It can scarcely be decided who is of English birth and who Norman

Which sounds good – except it is then followed by the kicker

Except of course those who are called villani for whom it is not allowed to depart from their condition if their lords object

So, no social mobility there then. There has been some melding – but only at the elite level of Norman invaders talking English wives. Not further down. No Norman likes a peasant. Essentially, it’s been noted that the new French elite brought their customs and legal understandings with them; this will eventually lead to the Law of Villeinage, where all of this becomes codified.

We have moved from rank to class. In AS England there had been no concept of a coherent group of people who see themselves as peasant, irrespective of their sub divisions. Soon there will be – the idea of rusticus. Think peasant revolt in 1381, and Richard II’s contemptuous remark, ‘peasants you were born and peasants you will remain’. The move from rank to class starts here.

All of this then is not small stuff or just elite stuff. This is a fundamental change in the way that people view the world and will be treated, this is cultural change at all levels. You might wonder why there is less collective action against it; I am told that collective rebellion and riot was becoming common by peasants against intensified lordship in France and Catalonia. That kind of collective action is rare, until the new peasantry prove rather effective at using Norman law to defend their free status on the 13th century. So why not?

The usual answer has been the threat of violence and the castle. But it seems more complicated than that. The legal jurist Bracton in the 13th century described his view of what the process had been way back when

Free men who held their holdings by free services or free customs …when they were thrown out by more powerful people, on returning afterwards took the same holdings up again in villeinage, doing work for them which was servile, but set and applied

This is obviously a pretty brutal but straightforward description of the takeover, and the way by which rights across England were lost and reduced in the new world.

But there is evidence that the English were not entirely without agency in this process. After all, the Normans would have a happier future with a workforce not actively in revolt; and they had no workforce to import to replace the locals. So they had to have half an eye on keeping their new subjects happy

A text by Richard FitzNigel again described this  slightly more nuanced situation

Whatever they had been able to obtain from their lords by due renders and by a lawful agreement having taken place, should be granted to them in inviolable right

This suggests that a process of negotiation took place. And it makes sense; no doubt the result was always unfair given the disparity of power, and no doubt there were examples of violence. But the use of negotiation might be one reason why the English came to accept the new world, and why riot was so rare. Another reason may reflect that there was no coherent sense of class, of a combined peasantry with an identity of itself as peasantry, and maybe some solidarity as such. There were just individuals with their wergild and woerd, owing public service and holding land according to their own and local custom.

Well good golly miss Molly we appear to have reached the end of my rather partial social history of Anglo Saxon England. It is one of the tragedies of colonialism generally in any century or country, or maybe one of the tragedies of history, that you are left wondering what the colonised country might have been if left to its own devices. What might England have been like had the Normans not changed English society so madly, truly and deeply? Which, by the way, is what I am firmly convinced did happen after 1066.

Just to wallow shamelessly in a bit of English exceptionalism – and after all it’s my podcast so I’ll wallow as I want to – Anglo Saxon England was exceptional; it was extraordinarily centralised, coherently manged, with an extraordinary degree of public participation in its management. I am sure every society is exceptional in its own way of course, something to be celebrated and explored. England’s local parish government in the future, say Tudor time, will be also be exceptional – the world of self government at the King’s command, as it has been called. ASE was the opposite – every person felt themselves to have a stake in national government, and were its agent.

Despite the Norman vandalism, something else exceptional arrived so that’s fine. But I hope you have seen that much survives still in our landscape in particular, and of course in our language. And it is rather nice to know that when future generations will appeal to the Anglo Saxon age as being one of exceptional freedom – they are at least partially right. Edward Coke and John Lillburne might have been wrong about there being a free parliament and elective monarchy but in a deeper sense they were right, about a less class bound society with reciprocal recognition of mutual obligation irrespective of rank, where public participation in national affairs was a duty and a living part of the fabric and culture of society.

Ok that is the end of series two Land lordship and People. I hope you have enjoyed it; I felt going through that it was a little dense sorry if so. Now as I said I thought I would do a series Three, the sort of thing I can come back to as the move takes me – A sort of occasional topics thing. I have two short items written by Marie Hilder of Anglo Saxon History and Language; they are on the Fenlands and on Sutton Hoo. Then I did an episode on the Anglo Saxons and their seasons which I thought I would give a whirl for you. And how knows what else may come up.



2 thoughts on “2.9 Norman Transformation

  1. Greatly enjoyed the updated series and looking forward to the additional updates you said my follow. Regarding your discussion of the changes after 1066, as I listened I thought about British rule in India under the Raj. The percentages (ie, Normans/Anglo-Saxons, British colonials/Indians) were about the same and the separation between conquerors and indigenous (at least over the first two or three post-conquest generations in England) seems very clearly defined. But although you used the term racism in the podcast, I’m not sure that is the right term in England in the 11th century. In England the distinctions between Norman and Anglo-Saxon were beginning to fade (if not disappear) by 13th century, fostered by intermarriage between Normans and indigenous English that would have been impossible between British and Indian under the Raj (absent a few exceptions and absent the cohabitation that occurred under the rule of the “Nabobs” in the 18th century). The absence of that “modern” type of racism in post-Conquest England ultimately led to the creation of an English identity by at least the time of Edward I and the reemergence of English as a national language. Whereas the presence of that race-based racism under the Raj prevented the amalgamation of a true Anglo-Indian, if indigenous dominated, society in India.

    1. I agree with your analysis of how things unfolded; the reason I used the term though is that in the 11th century in the immediate aftermath of the conquest there was racism without doubt; the Normans looked down on the local population, and imposed a new elite culture. I agree that, as you say, a new hybrid culture slowly emerges. Also worth noting by the way that this coiuld have happened in India too; it’s only with the establishment of the Raj that a strict policy of separation was imposed. Although I’m interested at the scale; I do not know enough, but surely the percentage of Brits in India was always a much smaller proportion of tghe total population? Indoia was so vast!

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