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18 September 2014
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The Norman Yoke: Symbol or Reality?

By Michael Wood
Norman Yoke

Image of Anglo-Saxons hunting
Hunting scene in pre-Conquest England ©
The myth, however, is based loosely on historical fact. The nub of the myth of the Norman Yoke, as we have seen, is simply that Anglo-Saxon England had laws which protected people's freedom. Pre-1066, the English lived free under the law and these liberties were lost to the Normans and the succeeding rulers of England.

In their place was imposed Norman law, foreign law, French law. So - the myth goes - up until the English Civil War, the English were all, in effect, under the rule of the Normans. The 17th-century struggles then were to free England from the Norman Yoke. As they said at the time of the English Civil War, 'What are the King and his ministers but the Conqueror's colonels in another guise?'

This tradition of the cataclysm of 1066 was never lost in the common culture of England. You can trace it through the literature of the following six centuries. The common thread was that these were terrible events and that the English were deprived of their liberties.

'It was all part of the politically charged redefining of English identity ...'

This became more sophisticated in Tudor and Stuart times. After the break with Rome and later, in the time of Elizabeth, there was a lot of delving into Anglo-Saxon history to try and see what we had been like before 1066, to try to discover the character of early English law and the early English church. It was all part of the politically charged redefining of English identity, which went on after the tremendous cataclysm of the Reformation and the break with our ancient Catholic past.

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