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30 August 2014
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The Norman Yoke: Symbol or Reality?

By Michael Wood
No French words

The arguments of the Levellers were not only to dissect what had happened in history and to agree on what had happened at the time of the Norman Conquest. They wanted to rectify it. One radical, John Hare, wanted not only the Lords thrown out and their lands taken away from them, but to have the laws redone in English and to have French words expunged from the English language.

'A French bastard arriving with armed banditti ... is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original ...'

Even in the 18th century we find the idea that the quest for English liberty was basically a war between the English people and the successors of William the Conqueror. It is, for example, the subject of several scintillating passages in the works of Tom Paine, one of the great English radicals. Take Paine's thumbnail of 1066:

'A French bastard arriving with armed banditti and establishing himself the King of England against the consent of the natives is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original and certainly has no divinity in it.'

In The Rights of Man Paine jeers at the idea of the succession:

'If the succession runs in the line of the conqueror the nation runs in the line of being conquered and ought to rescue itself.'


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