I am reviving my old Anglo Saxon England podcast, with a new, limited series of 9 episodes about Anglo Saxon society, and what made it tick. This episode tell you what, why, and when.
Some Resources: The All Important Slides
Here is a link to download PDF with 55 slides, to which I refer throughout the series. It contains maps and pictures and wise words and generally – fab stuff you can’t afford to miss.
Structure of the Series
No books were hurt during the making of the programme, but there was a LOT of underlineing and stuff. Here are the books I damaged beyond re-sale, and which if you are keen you might want to buy. Especially the one by Oliver Rackham. You’ll never regret it.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to the History of Anglo Saxon England podcast. I’m not going to lie to you all – I have missed you, since I last published into this series on 29th January 2017. I have missed you, although hopefully you immediately transferred across to the History of England, since I never meant this to be a permanent fixture. I was putting right the wrongs of the past, to improve my first go at early Anglo Saxon England way back in 2010 and 2011.
However, if it is true that I have missed you, I have doubly missed the Anglo Saxons. And so as I sat alone, but not lonely, in my shed, I conceived the idea of reviving the History of Anglo Saxon England podcast series for a short run, a limited edition. So this is not intended to be permanent, though I have proved spectacularly unsuccessful at predicting my future so never say never. But I have a specific project in mind which I imagine will take a few months. Let me explain, as said the pilot at the end of his shift. That by the way is what a swiftie used to be called, before Taylor came along.
You may be aware that since 2016 I have made my living by podcasting, based on some very, very generous people who are lovely enough to become Members. In return for their hospitality, and on the principle of reciprocity, I provide them with regular feasts – the universally acclaimed Shedcasts, famed throughout South east Lincolnshire. I provide about 90 minutes of fresh and, though I say so myself, frankly thrilling material every month. If you want to be a member by the way do go to thehistoryofengland.co.uk/become a member, it’s as cheap as chips and I will love you for ever. But that’s not why I am telling you this.
I’m telling you this, because one of the shedcast series I did was on Anglo Saxon England. It was called Life and Landscape in Anglo Saxon England, and I did love it so when I published it in 2017. For the first shout out of this introduction, I had started a course at the Continuing Education Department at Oxford University, a truly inspirational institution with a load of lovely courses on and offline. Look them up. The things I found out, about the lives of the Anglo Saxons and the way they shaped and were shaped by their environment wowed me, I have to say. So I did a series based on that.
It then occurred to me that my honourable members have had 6 years exclusive access; and that some new stuff has been published, and maybe now they wouldn’t mind if I both buffed the series a bit, and made it generally available now to everyone. So that’s what I am doing, re-recorded and tweaked a little.
I hope you will not mind Members, and thank you, because you basically funded this. If you are a Member, beware; there is probably not a lot here new for you, you may recognise 80% of it; I just want to manage expectations is all.
Also, for non-members, and for any one new the feed as a whole probably looks a bit odd, because there are just a few politically oriented podcasts taking you up to Aethelstan – and then stopping. Basically, the political history hop across to the History of England, Series 1 and listen to it there. If I get time I may take these down here.
This series is not all I will do in the great Podcast revival. I do have some shorter episodes in mind too; something about the later Anglo Saxon state, I am hoping a special guest will join me, and I recently did an episode on Rendlesham which I might share with you all, and maybe the seasons, and maybe things will occur to me. Don’t count on it, but although Bilbo’s Road goes ever ever on, Over rock and under tree, By caves where never sun has shone, By streams that never find the sea – this podcast series probably won’t do so, because I have to stick to the knitting which is the History of England and the Members’ shedcasts, and there’s only one of me. But there are 8 episodes, I imagine I will put them out every couple of weeks, so that’s what, 4 lunar months or so. And maybe more if I rustle up any new stuff. Anyway, when I’ve had enough, I’ll let you all know.
What then is this series? Essentially I am indulging myself by returning to the Anglo Saxons who I do love so. Due to the positive effects of civilisation, I am rising higher than the base layer of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs – food, heat, light and WiFi. And I hope you enjoy my self indulgence also.
But there are a few things. First and foremost, back in the days of the originals, even the reruns, there’s a lot of focus on kings, battles and politics in the ASE series, the great game as it were, and now I’d like to focus on how people lived, and how society worked.
Secondly, I need to do my second shout out to Marie Hilder. I met Marie through Facebook, because she runs a truly excellent site called ‘Anglo-Saxon History and Language’. Do look it up, she and her members do some excellent and thoroughly fascinating posts on the subject. And also Marie mentioned that a historian called Rosamund Faith had published a new book in 2019 called ‘The Moral Economy of the Countryside -Anglo Saxons to Anglo Norman England’. Rosamund Faith’s book on the English Peasantry and the rise of lordship is in my top 5 history books of all time, and one of the reasons I wrote the original series. So reading the new book seemed the perfect way to take a fresh look.
On the series then. It now has four themes. The two originals are these; I wanted to talk about the lives of the peasantry though the Anglo Saxon centuries, 6th to 11th centuries, how the society and economy they lived in worked, and how it changed before the Normans arrived on their booze cruise.
Second theme is the one that really floated by boat; how those centuries shaped so much of the English landscape we still see around us. And very clever people have learned how to read some of those pages; and so, connect us with the lives of our very distant ancestors, and understand their daily lives. I can imagine almost nothing more exciting, except possibly winning the world cup, or the Tigers winning the league again. These are distant prospects. A lot of what you see around you in the country side in particular was fundamentally shaped by the Anglo Saxons. So as you travel round, I hope that some of this will help you understand that world; the ridge and furrow, what an enclosure hedge looks like, simple stuff like that. And I thought I could also scratch another itch, my love of local history, by relating it all to the landscape I know live in, of South Oxfordshire.
Third then is the addition of Rosmary’s theme to how Anglo Saxon society worked. So I need then to introduce the concept of the moral economy. This is a nasty and obscure phrase, or so it has always seemed to me. It was invented by a very famous historian called E P Thompson. He was looking at 18th century grain riots, during the rise of the new ideas of political economy and the Utilitarians, that the market would produce the greatest benefit for everyone. What Thompson found was that ordinary people had a deep belief that this was not the way the world did, could or should work. They accepted the idea of ranks and in equalities in society, but believed that there was a set of rules, customs, laws effectively, which governed the way those different ranks should behave. Their social responsibilities that made society fair, despite the inequalities. He found it was this set of beliefs that generated food riots – food was not available because the gentry were not delivering their obligation to protect their dependents.
It proved a powerful concept, and applies to much more than 18th century England. It is plastered all over the Tudor commotions time and rebellions, which all produce a set of demands, well and clearly articulated, about what rules had been broken that led to rebellion, and what needed to be done to restore them.
So – if a moral economy underpins society, what were those rules for the Anglo Saxons? Do they change and, crucially – do they change substantially with the arrival of the Normans? There is a healthy debate about that one; some say that feudalism had already arrived by 1066 in Anglo Saxon England, the Normans changed little fundamental, and Norman Yoke was not Norman, it was just the yoke of lordship. So that’s theme four then – we can see what we think at the end.
I am then in the unusually privileged position of having written the entire series before I start, which means I can give you a quick flyby of what to expect.
There are 8 episodes to follow, each hanging in or around 40 minutes each. We start, for the sake of completeness, with the historiography of the Adventus Saxonum, the Germanic settlement of the 5th and 6th centuries. In episode 2, we then talk about those settlers, what they were like, and how they began to settle England – and our corner of it. Then we move broadly chronologically. In episode 33, we investigate the transition from small tribal groups to larger political, economic and social territories, called the scirs. In episodes 34 and 35, we look in more detail about the different ranks of peasant society and the lives they led, because something really interesting happens; we look in 34 at the increasingly constrained lives of peasants and slaves that worked the large, inland estates of resident lords -mainly the church. Then in 35 we contrast that to the traditional AS peasant, the ceorl, and their proud tradition of independence, freedom and public service.
In 36 and 37 come the 9th and 10th centuries and a massive shock and transformation. The Viking invasions help accelerate change and the landscape and society of the English is transformed, with impacts on the land and governance that will last for centuries and still be visible now – the world of villages and estates, fields and hundreds and public justice.
Then it comes to episode 38 where I try to tie it together a bit in the light of the Normans – what did the Normans ever do for us, and did they really change anything fundamental?
So that’s the plan. Finally could I also direct you to the website, the https://thehistoryofengland.co.uk/podcasts/anglo-saxon-england. There I have a homepage for the series, and you can see a bibliography and also the list of episodes and links to each episode page where you will find resources. Just in case you get a chance to have a look while you are ironing or running but not when you are driving. Just Don’t do it Kids.
Ok, so the Anglo Saxon England revival is a go gentle listeners. Do let me know what you think, give me ideas for topics if you like for additional episodes and strap yourself in. The first of the Revival is going to be a look once more at the settlement period, the theories that abound in what is a quite contentious period. And of course I will enjoy reading the words of the mad monk, such dramatic words. Until next time then.