Tuesday, 19 June 2012

1066: Beginning Of The Class War?

Watching "The Great British Story: A People's History, episode 3. The Norman Yoke"
Broadcast on the 8th June, 21:00 on BBC2, I took note of what one lady interviewed, during a reenactment of the Battle of Hastings, at around 08:40 minutes into the program.
It was the reference she made twice to "the working class" being the Anglo-Saxons whilst the Normans were the "upper class".
Here is a transcript of it:

Stephanie Paul - "William brought over his aristocracy, but for working class people like us, as an Anglo-Saxon, so much was, seemed to have been ripped away from us. Our connection with that leadership was replaced with a foreign language, um, our aristocracy wiped out in the battles and I don't know, sort of working class people you feel somehow you feel that today the, the position was usurped , I don't know."
Michael Wood - "I love the fact that you use this term the working class people because in 1066 and long after it was virtually all of us were the working people of England, weren't we, you know their..."
Neil Paul (Anglo-Saxonist) - "Yeah that's what we basically ended up doing, av us doing the stuff for them."
Michael Wood - "Yeah, well it was a brutal occupation, the English remembered it"
Stephanie Paul - "The end of the world as we know it."

On the victory of Duke William's army over the army of King Harold, there began the ruthless occupation of England, no doubt about it. The Harrying of the North is testament to it.

However, history is often an assortment of processed, selected viewpoints.

When the Anglo-Saxon confederation took over Britannia from the Britons, those Britons who had not fled into exile in Gaul had to accept the overlordship of the Anglo-Saxons, and other allied Germans, who had taken over much of Britannia.
The Britons became an under-class, never mind a "working class".
British men were forbidden to bear arms.

It was to the descendants of the exiled Britons in Gaul that Duke William looked towards, on his campaign to defeat King Harold and take over England.

William told the British nobility that they would be liberating their lost lands from their ancient foe.
After the defeat of King Harold, William, now King, resettled the British nobility in what had become the heartland of the Anglo-Saxons, East Anglia.

How many Britons re-established themselves is unknown, they comprised at least one-third of Duke William's invasion force, and so, could have been as little as 1,000 or up to 10,000 in number.

Almost ten years ago I visited Battle Abbey and took the Audio Guide tour around the site, choosing to only listen to the Anglo-Saxon viewpoint. In my mind, the Normans were an evil, foreign force, and would only lie about their reasons for invading, etc.

It was only years later I learnt about what the Anglo-Saxons did when they took over Britannia, and the treatment of Britons that I changed my narrow-minded viewpoint.

For sure, German federates of the Roman empire had been settled in southern Britannia from at least the third century AD, long before the empire gave up Britannia in 410 AD.
However, it is unlikely that by 1066 AD any Anglo-Saxon would have been aware that their ancestors came to rule that part of the island by skullduggery and ethnic-cleansing, they certainy wouldn't have given a thought to the poor British serfs of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

I think it is wrong to mix modern ideas of "Class War" with what happened to the Anglo-Saxons in 1066 AD.
Certainly, the Britons in Wales would have laughed at the idea that the Anglo-Saxons were ever "working class" since as long as they had known, it was the enslaved British who had done all the menial tasks for the Anglo-Saxons, until 1066.

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