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Thursday 25 July 2002, 9.02 am - 9.30 am.
Melvyn Bragg follows his long historical exploration of the Routes of English with Voices of the Powerless, in which he explores the lives of the ordinary working men and women of Britain at six critical moments across the last 1,000 years.

Our historian of the conquest is a monk known as Orderic Vitalis. Born and brought up in England, Orderic spent his adult life in a Norman monastery and wrote his chronicle some fifty years after William's victory. Yet historians agree that in most details he was both accurate and objective as well as particularly vivid.
Click here for more information on Vitalis.

Aelfric, a Wessex monk, wrote the following dialogues at the end of the tenth century. Describing the lives of ordinary working men, Aelfric wrote the colloquies as translation exercises for his pupils. For us, however, they provide a remarkable insight into life in pre-conquest England.
Click here to read the dialogues


The Battle of Hastings
"Battle was joined on 14 October at the third hour, and was bitterly contended all day long with heavy slaughter on both sides. The Duke of Normandy placed foot-soldiers armed with arrows and cross-bows in the front rank, foot-soldiers with hauberks in the second, and finally squadrons of mounted knights; he himself, surrounded by the best fighting men, took his place in the centre, so that he could be heard and seen by all as he directed operations.

The harsh bray of trumpets sounded the alarm for battle on both sides. The Normans swiftly and boldly took the initiative in the fray, for the Norman foot-soldiers closed to attack the English, and killed and wounded many under a shower of missiles. They resisted bravely by any means they could devise; and for a long time both sides fought with all their might.

But William their duke surpassed them all in courage and wisdom. For he led his army brilliantly, checking their flight and giving them courage. During the battle three horses were killed under him; thrice, undaunted, he sprang to the ground and speedily avenged the death of his steed. Shields, helmets, and hauberks were shattered by his angry blade; tirelessly his shield smote against the enemy.

So the battle raged from the third hour, and Harold the king was slain in the first assault. At last as the sun was setting the English realised that their king had perished with the chief nobles the kingdom and many of their troops; their ranks broke and they fled with all speed, to suffer divers fates.

So by the grace of God England was subdued within the space of three months, and all the bishops and nobles of the realm made their peace with William, begging him to accept the crown according to the English custom."

Norman Oppression
"The English were groaning under the Norman yoke, and suffering oppressions from the proud lords who ignored the king's injunctions. The petty lords who were guarding the castles oppressed all the native inhabitants of high and low degree and heaped shameful burdens on them.

In the regions north of the Humber violent disturbance broke out. The rebels prepared to defend themselves in woods, marshes, and creeks, and in some cities. The city of York was seething with discontent, and showed no respect for the holy office of its archbishop when he tried to appease it. Many men lived in tents disdaining to sleep in houses lest they should become soft; so that the Normans called them 'wild men'.

To meet the danger the king rode to all the remote parts of his kingdom and fortified strategic sites against enemy attacks. For the fortifications called castles by the Normans were scarcely known in the English provinces.

When the men of York heard this they were terrified, hastened to surrender lest worse befell, and sent the king hostages and the keys of the city. As he was very doubtful of their loyalty he fortified a castle in the city and left trustworthy knights to guard it.

The king built a castle at Warwick and gave it into the keeping of Henry son of Roger of Beaumont. Next the king built Nottingham castle and entrusted it to William Peverel. When this was done the king retired, building castles at Lincoln, Huntingdon and Cambridge on his way, and garrisoning them strongly."

English Resistance, Norman Cruelty and criticism of William 1.
"The English now gained confidence in resisting the Normans, whom they saw as oppressors of their friends and allies, and dared to launch an attack on the royal castle in York. The castellan there sent word to the king that he would be compelled to surrender unless his beleaguered forces were speedily relieved. Swift was the king's coming; he fell on the besiegers and spared no man. Many were captured, more killed, and the remainder put to flight.

William himself continued to comb forests and remote mountainous places, stopping at nothing to hunt out the enemy hidden there. He cut down many in his vengeance; destroyed the lairs of others; harried the land, and burned homes to ashes. Nowhere else had William shown such cruelty. Shamefully he succumbed to this vice, for he made no effort to restrain his fury and punished the innocent with the guilty.

In his anger he commanded that all crops and herds, chattels and food of every kind should be brought together and burned to ashes with consuming fire, so that the whole region north of Humber might be stripped of all means of sustenance. In consequence so serious a scarcity was felt in England, and so terrible a famine fell upon the humble and defenceless populace, that more than 100,000 Christian folk of both sexes, young and old alike, perished of hunger.

My narrative has frequently had occasion to praise William, but for this act which condemned the innocent and guilty alike to die by slow starvation I cannot commend him. For when I think of helpless children, young men in the prime of life, and hoary greybeards perishing alike of hunger I am so moved to pity that I would rather lament the griefs and suffering of the wretched people than make a vain attempt to flatter the perpetrator of such infamy."


What do you say ploughman? How do you carry out your work?

Oh, I work very hard, dear lord. I go out at daybreak driving the oxen to the field, and yoke them to the plough; for fear of my lord, there is no winter so severe that I dare hide at home; but the oxen having been yoked and the share and coulter fastened to the plough, I must plough a full acre or more every day.

Have you any companion?

I have a lad driving the oxen with a goad, who is now also hoarse because of the cold and shouting.

What else do you do in the day?

I do more than that. certainly. I have to fill the oxen's bins with hay, and water them, and carry their muck outside.

Oh, Oh! It's hard work.

It's hard work, sir, because I am not free.

What do you say SHEPHERD? Do you have any work?

I have indeed, sir. In the early morning I drive my sheep to their pasture, and in the heat and in cold, stand over them with dogs, lest wolves devour them; and I lead them back to their folds and milk them twice a day, and move their folds; and in addition I make cheese and butter; and I am loyal to my lord.

Oh, OXHERD, what do you work at?

Oh, I work hard, my lord. When the ploughman unyokes the oxen, I lead them to pasture, and I stand over them all night watching for thieves; and then in the early morning I hand them over to the ploughman well fed and watered.

You, SHOEMAKER, what do you work at for our use?

My trade is certainly very useful and necessary to you.

How so?

I buy hides and skins. And by my craft prepare them and make them into various kinds of footwear, slippers and shoes, leggings and leather bottles, reins and trappings, flasks and leather vessels, spur-straps and halters, bags and purses. And not one of your would want to pass the winter without my craft.

SALTER, what good is your craft to us?

My craft is very useful to all of you. Not one of you enjoys satisfaction in a meal or food, unless he entertain my craft.

How so?

What man enjoys pleasant foods to the full without the flavour of salt? Who fills his pantry or storeroom without my craft? Indeed you will lose all butter and cheese-curd unless I am present with you as a preservative; you couldn't even use your herbs without me.

What do you say BAKER? What is the use of your trade; or can we survive without you?

You might live without my trade for a while, but neither for long nor very well. Truly, without my craft every table would seem empty; and without bread all food would turn distasteful. I make people's hearts strong; I am the stamina of men, and even the little ones are unwilling to pass me by.

I work very hard, dear lord. I go out at daybreak driving the oxen to the field, and yoke them to the plough; for fear of my lord, there is no winter so severe that I dare hide at home; but the oxen having been yoked and the share and coulter fastened to the plough, I must plough a full acre or more every day. I have a lad driving the oxen with a goad, who is now also hoarse because of the cold and shouting. I have to fill the oxen's bins with hay, and water them, and carry their muck outside. It's hard work, sir, because I am not free."
Listen Live
Audio Help
l - Castles and Cruelty - extracts on programme page.
2 - The Peasants' Revolt - extracts on programme page.
-3 - The Reformation - extracts on programme page
4 - The Plantation of Ulster - extracts on programme page
5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester - - extracts on programme page
Listen to Melvyn Bragg talk about Voices of the Powerless
Listen to Simon Elmes, executive producer, give an unigue insight into the programme.
Listen to the signature music
Go to - Homepage.
Go to Prog l - Castles and Cruelty
Go to Prog 1 - Biography of Orderic Vitalis
Go to Prog 2 - The Peasants' Revolt
Go to Prog 3 - The Reformation
Go to Prog 3 - The Reformation - Key Events
Go to Prog 4 - The Plantation of Ireland in the Counties of Armagh and Tyrone.
Go to Prog 5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester
Read The Sources
Go to Prog 1 - Castles and Cruelty
Go to Prog 2 - The Peasants' Revolt
Go to Prog 3 - the Reformation
Go to Prog 4 - the Plantation of Ulster
Go to Prog 5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester

In Our Time
Thursday 9.00-9.45am, rpt 9.30-10.00pm. Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas. Listen again online or download the latest programme as an mp3 file.
This Sceptred Isle
Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg presents In Our Time for BBC Radio 4, a series where he and his guests discuss the "Big Ideas" of cultural or scientific significance.

He also presented The Routes of English, his millennial series celebrating 1,000 years of the English language.

Melvyn Bragg was born in 1939 in Wigton, Cumbria - where many of his books are set. He won a scholarship to Oxford to read history, and in 1961 he gained a coveted traineeship with the BBC.

He has presented a number of television series including: Read All about It, Two Thousand Years, and Who's Afraid of the Ten Commandments? and createdThe South Bank Show.

Melvyn presented Start the Week between 1988 and 1998. In his 1998 series On Giant's Shoulders he interviewed scientists about their eminent predecessors.

As well as presenting for Radio 4, he is Controller of Arts for London Weekend Television. In 1998 he was made a life peer. He's written 17 novels, the latest of which, The Soldier's Return, won the WH Smith Literary Award.

Melvyn Bragg was made a Life Peer in 1998 and he took the title of Baron Bragg of Wigton in the County of Cumbria.

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