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Old November 23rd, 2015, 05:09 AM   #1

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English society 410 to 1066


This is a genuine question related to a few threads on here. Hopefully one of the experts on this period can give an opinion, as it is obviously an area of 'Dark Age', with conflicting information and sources and disagreeing historians, judging by TV programmes etc.

We know that Anglo-Roman Britain post 410 was fairly swiftly the subject of mass migrations of Germanic tribes and also much later Viking invasions/immigrations. We know that there are (modern?) maps showing the evolutions of this passing through a Viking area, a 'Saxon' area and a western more anglo-Roman area. We also know that the Saxons (aka 'Germans' for this purpose) actually went far west to the point of driving some inhabitants of Cornwall and Wales to Brittany. We know that Alfred the Great studied extensively in Rome during his youth and that by 1066 this English society was quite well developed.

So my question is twofold -

Although England was Hispano-Roman many articles seem to refer to the Saxons (et al) battling the 'Celts' (or Ancient Britons). Surely this was at the very least an amalgam of the remnants of Roman rule (after 400 years) not 'Celtic'? To be 'Celtic' it would be admitting a 400-year hiatus and then picking up as if the Romans never came!

Secondly - almost without exception the Normans are referred to as fighting/oppressing/subduing in and after 1066 '.the Saxons'. Were there truly still such racial/hierarchical divides in England 500-600 years after the Germanic tribes first arrived? Or is it a modern term/idea for the make-up of the English Kingdom in 1066 - which must surely have been 'English' - a mix of the many ancestries over the previous 1000 years?

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Old November 23rd, 2015, 06:03 AM   #2
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Quote:
Although England was Hispano-Roman many articles seem to refer to the Saxons (et al) battling the 'Celts' (or Ancient Britons). Surely this was at the very least an amalgam of the remnants of Roman rule (after 400 years) not 'Celtic'? To be 'Celtic' it would be admitting a 400-year hiatus and then picking up as if the Romans never came!
Throughout Roman occupation, much of Britain was something of a 'wild west' where the impact of Roman presence was minimal. Old tribal identities - or newer ones built on the same boundaries - recovered very quickly, especially away from the south and east.

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Secondly - almost without exception the Normans are referred to as fighting/oppressing/subduing in and after 1066 '.the Saxons'. Were there truly still such racial/hierarchical divides in England 500-600 years after the Germanic tribes first arrived? Or is it a modern term/idea for the make-up of the English Kingdom in 1066 - which must surely have been 'English' - a mix of the many ancestries over the previous 1000 years?
By that late in the Saxon age, England was entirely Anglo-Saxon. Saxons called themselves, for all intents and purposes, English.

Calling the Saxons Saxons rather than English is a historiographical trope, and a very very wrong one if you ask me.
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Old November 23rd, 2015, 06:07 AM   #3
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By that late in the Saxon age, England was entirely Anglo-Saxon. Saxons called themselves, for all intents and purposes, English.
Everybody else in the British Isles that surrounded them only ever called them Saxons.
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Old November 23rd, 2015, 06:11 AM   #4
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Non-English languages in Britain still call the English 'Saxons' (Sassanach, Saesneg, etc.). Ultimately when Saxon identity evolved, their terminology didn't. It doesn't mean we shouldn't see the Saxons - especially the later ones - as English.
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Old November 23rd, 2015, 01:40 PM   #5

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In all of the conquered Roman provinces, the Romans let the natives retain their language/culture despite adopted Roman ways. So Gauls were allowed to be Gaulish, Franks Frankish, Celts Celtic, Jews Jewish, etc. All the Romans were a ruling class, similar to the Normans post-1066. after the Romans were ordered home by Caesar Honorius, the Celts had some Roman ways naturally, but were still Celtic culturally. For your second point, all European countries were hierarchical. Imho, it's a misconception to say that the Normans installed a class system and rigidity, when the Saxons were the same if not worse in some respects (like slavery, since serfs were indentured and not slaves). William I or Henry I gave land to barons, who maintained knights for war/protection, who protected serfs who grew crops, were coopers, butchers, etc. Any of the Saxon kings, even before 927 CE/Athelstan, such as Alfred, Offa, and post-Athelstan such as Eadred, Edgar, Athelred, Cnut and Edward the Confessor all did the same in return for taxes and support.
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Old November 23rd, 2015, 01:44 PM   #6

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To add, the Celts were assimilated into Saxon culture/society after they settled, so were culturally Saxon but genetically Celtic. It's similar to the Danes after the Heathen Army settled, as by the end of the 10th century Danes and ethnic Saxons had intermingled and merged, so Danes were essentially Saxon in culture and Saxons had learned and absorbed Danish words.
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Old November 23rd, 2015, 02:27 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnincornwall View Post
We know that Anglo-Roman Britain post 410 was fairly swiftly the subject of mass migrations of Germanic tribes
..
Not everyone knows about Anglo-Roman Britain , in pre-410 or post-410.
J Caesar presumed that he was seeing Celts. Boadicca also had that idea.
( and Boudicca so they say)

Last edited by chimera; November 23rd, 2015 at 02:29 PM.
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Old November 23rd, 2015, 11:11 PM   #8

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Originally Posted by Domhnall Balloch View Post
Throughout Roman occupation, much of Britain was something of a 'wild west' where the impact of Roman presence was minimal. Old tribal identities - or newer ones built on the same boundaries - recovered very quickly, especially away from the south and east.

By that late in the Saxon age, England was entirely Anglo-Saxon. Saxons called themselves, for all intents and purposes, English.

Calling the Saxons Saxons rather than English is a historiographical trope, and a very very wrong one if you ask me.
That's what I was sort of thinking. In 1066 we were at a stage of being the amalgam 'English' so Hollywood is wrong and we were oppressed English rather than oppressed Saxons!!

The contrast with the Goths in Spain (which I know more about) is quite striking. They never wavered from a them-and-us policy, whether intended or not. That said the Saxons did have another nearly 400 years to integrate!

Last edited by johnincornwall; November 23rd, 2015 at 11:14 PM.
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Old November 24th, 2015, 05:13 AM   #9
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I'm afraid that some of these things we think we know may not be right

Quote:
We know that Anglo-Roman Britain post 410 was fairly swiftly the subject of mass migrations of Germanic tribes
We can be reasonably sure that there was significant migration over a long period of time, but depending on what you mean by 'fairly swiftly' and 'mass migration', it might not have been quite the en masse folk movement this implies.

Quote:
We also know that the Saxons (aka 'Germans' for this purpose) actually went far west to the point of driving some inhabitants of Cornwall and Wales to Brittany
We don't know that. We know that there was significant British settlement in what had been Armorica, but the link between that settlement and refugees fleeing the Saxons is based almost entirely on a certain reading of Gildas, which talks of emigration by refugees but doesn't say a) where they were from in Britain or b) where they went. That people should flee Britain as displaced refugees and turn up a few days later in Brittany mob-handed and strong enough to take over has always seemed a bit unlikely to me.


Quote:
Although England was Hispano-Roman many articles seem to refer to the Saxons (et al) battling the 'Celts' (or Ancient Britons). Surely this was at the very least an amalgam of the remnants of Roman rule (after 400 years) not 'Celtic'? To be 'Celtic' it would be admitting a 400-year hiatus and then picking up as if the Romans never came!
A good point. There are academics who attempt to argue that impoverished Celtic aristocracies hung on within the Diocese ready to sprout again when Rome left (e.g. Alfred Smyth in Warlords and Holy Men) and many, many more who argue that Roman culture was never any more than a paper thin veneer in the north and west, meaning that tribal identities resurfaced almost immediately when the Romans left. My view - which doesn't represent mainstream thinking - is that there was no disconnect between Roman and Celtic identity. The Romans used existing tribal structures to exercise and maintain social control, meaning that Celtic tribalism became an integral part of an expression of Romanitas, not something at odds with it. So, people in Roman Britain were both Romans and Celts, in much the same way that I am both British and English. My Britishness is heavily influenced by my Englishness and is different to the Britishness felt by, for example, a Scotsman.

Quote:
Secondly - almost without exception the Normans are referred to as fighting/oppressing/subduing in and after 1066 '.the Saxons'. Were there truly still such racial/hierarchical divides in England 500-600 years after the Germanic tribes first arrived? Or is it a modern term/idea for the make-up of the English Kingdom in 1066 - which must surely have been 'English' - a mix of the many ancestries over the previous 1000 years?
'English' would be a more accurate term. I am no aware of any distinction between earlier ethonyms such as (for example) Angle or Saxon by then.

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Peter
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Old November 24th, 2015, 09:53 AM   #10
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'English' would be a more accurate term. I am no aware of any distinction between earlier ethonyms such as (for example) Angle or Saxon by then.
Offa was a good King of the Angles, in Saxonland, according to the irish annals.

I always thought this entry demonstrated the fluidity in etic identity:

"U918.4

The foreigners of Loch dá Chaech, i.e. Ragnall, king of the dark foreigners, and the two jarls, Oitir and Gragabai, forsook Ireland and proceeded afterwards against the men of Scotland. The men of Scotland, moreover, moved against them and they met on the bank of the Tyne in northern Saxonland."
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