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18 September 2014
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Birth of England: The Wessex Kings

By Michael Wood
Under one law

Wulfstan was a leading member of what we might call the royal think-tank: the great and good who advised the king, the big landowners, earls, royal kinsman and prominent churchmen.

Archbishops were often the main motivators in policy: they told the kings what to do and Wulfstan did just that. We still have one of his notebooks where we can read for ourselves his thoughts, written in his own hand.

'... Wulfstan ... talks about the English as "one people under one law".'

As with the speeches of any modern politician, however, Wulfstan's sermon has to be taken with a pinch of salt. (Even in his own day, some of his audience may not have followed his line that the Day of Judgement was nigh.) But even when read with a pinch of salt to hand, this short extract tells us a lot about Anglo-Saxon England. It tells us that the English themselves had been invaders of Britain, many centuries before; that they were Christian; and that they lived under the rule of Christian law.

What is very interesting is that even with the government tottering and the social order cracking, Wulfstan also talks about the English as 'one people under one law'. He takes it as read that we can refer to the English nation, so we can see that an allegiance between the people, the king and the law is already in existence.

This allegiance is an essential foundation upon which the identity of England rests.

Published: 2004-11-12

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