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The Peasant Farmer

The Essay, Anglo-Saxon Portraits Episode 2 of 30

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 16 October 2012

Portraits of thirty ground-breaking Anglo-Saxon men and women.

The Anglo Saxons are somewhat out of fashion, yet the half millennium between the creation of the English nation in around 550 and the Norman Conquest in 1066 was a formative one.

This major new series rediscovers the Anglo-Saxons through vivid portraits of thirty individuals.

Contributors include Nobel prize-winner Seamus Heaney on the Beowulf bard; departing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on the first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine; writer David Almond on the oldest surviving English poet, Caedmon; Michael Wood on King Alfred; Martin Carver on Raedwald; Richard Gameson on Eadfrith the Scribe; Geoffrey Robertson QC on the law-makers.

2.The peasant farmer: Helena Hamerow on the countless peasant-farmers who have left behind no words or names but who shaped the English landscape as we know it today.

During the first few Anglo-Saxon centuries, almost everyone was a farmer or the child of a farmer, yet time has rendered the voices of these men, women and children silent. They could not write and are rarely mentioned by those who could.

Yet, drawing on archaeological finds and a few later written sources, archaeologist Helena Hamerow brings these shadowy people vividly back to life, while she also reveals their permanent legacy - the villages, fields, route-ways and place-names that are woven into the fabric of the English landscape itself.

Professor of Early Medieval Archaeology and Head of the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Helena Hamerow describes the homes, diets and harsh everyday lives of the peasant farmer in vivid detail. She culminates with the astonishing fact that while some became free and prosperous, taking advantage of growing trade-routes and markets, many were forced to work entirely for their local lords - lords so demanding that they even claimed rights over the dung produced by their peasants' sheep.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.


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  • Anglo-Saxon Portraits

    A series which rediscovers the Anglo-Saxons through vivid portraits of individuals.


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