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18 September 2014
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The Normans: Monty's Proud Ancestors?

By Michael Wood
Oppressing the poor

Image of Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle, with domineering Norman keep 
Hen Domen was just one castle out of many hundreds that were built across England at that time. It was a custom-made base with prefabricated buildings from which heavily armed mounted parties could go out to terrorise, to burn and to take hostages.

Thinking of the postholes, the blackened smelting pits and the heaps of sling shots, I began to imagine what it had been like in those days when, in the laconic words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicler:

'... the French had possession of the place of slaughter, because of the nation's sins.'

No wonder they felt that. It also says in the 'Chronicle':

'... they oppressed the poor people by building castles everywhere.'

And the chronicler Simeon of Durham tells the tale of the Northumbrians reduced to selling their children into slavery:

'They were left to eat rats and grass.'

'... it was the Anglo-Saxons who created England.'

That's the world of the Norman Conquest - the dismantling of a beautiful and rather archaic older civilisation by a younger and tougher one. The conquerors were gifted too, no question, but were more brutal than those they disposessed. Politically, as Frank Stenton said, they were masters of their world. They initiated England into the mainstream of European culture. They left great monuments - gigantic cathedrals, huge castles, the Tower of London.

But we always have to remember that these are the works of the conquerors. 'What had it been without them?' Thomas Carlyle asked. Of course we don't know.

What we can say, I think, is that it was the Anglo-Saxons who created England. It was left to the Normans and their successors to create Great Britain, and they did not succeed so well. Theirs is the political legacy we are attempting to deal with at the beginning of the 21st century.

About the author

Michael Wood is the writer and presenter of many critically acclaimed television series, including In the Footsteps of...series. Born and educated in Manchester, Michael did postgraduate research on Anglo-Saxon history at Oxford. Since then he has made over 60 documentary films and written several best selling books. His films have centred on history, but have also included travel, politics and cultural history.


Published: 2004-11-09

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