What Made the Anglo-Saxons Capable of Conquering the Britons?

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,039
#61
But it was most likely a pretty small factor, which only really influenced the language spoken by the clergy and the written language, far from being an indicator of general use. The division between Britons and Anglo-Saxon seemed to have been already defined.
The period 600 - 700 is the period when it is being defined. There are a few dozen anglo saxon kingdoms, places like Spalda, Wixna and Gyrwa and several british kingdoms such as Elmet and Dunotig possibly Lindisfarona and The Peak in what is now England at the start of the 7th century. The major anglo saxon kingdoms start to become dominant by the the start of the 8th century however and the number of british kingdoms have contracted further. But Britons continue to exist after 700 even in anglo saxon kingdoms kingdoms like Wessex. British landholders have a lower status than their anglo saxon counterparts, a british noble, ie someone who holds 5 hides has a wergeld of 600 shillings whereas his AS counterpart has a wergeld of 1200 shillings, but the british landholder is still much higher status than an AS holder of 1 hide, ie 200 shillings who in turn is of higher status than a briton with 1 hide who has a wergeld of 120 shillings. Given that all the above have duties and obligations to landowners with larger estates and that these landowners have many legal and economic ties with the church, those who identify as anglo saxon in dealings both within the church and outside the church will have a better time of it. Most britons attempted to identify as anglo saxon but as Alex Woolf points points out, if firm legal distinctions existed between Britons and Anglo-Saxons, individuals and communities will not have slipped from one identity to another with ease. Indeed, there are strong economic incentives to preserve this segregation when viewed from an English perspective. If you didn't go to church, you had no chance at all, though it still didn't guarantee them success. The stones inscribed in Brittonic now located at Lady St Mary Church in Wareham are dated between the 7th and 9th centuries. The Church was a high status church, reputedly the place of burial for King Brihtric in 802, so here is one example of britons of some status attempting to elevate their positions by becoming anglo saxons. Even though they were never accepted as such, you can imagine that the peasants who worked their lands were told, by them, to speak english. Anyone who went around saying that the church was wrong about the date of Easter was likely to get fined to such an extent that they'd probably end up backrupt.


Yes the Church was very powerful but at the same time we are not really speaking of 2 coherent competing institutions, on one side we have the Roman Catholic Church supported by a continent wide network and the strongest West European state on the other we have an array of local monasteries and churches with some shared traditions but without the institutional power to even necessarily create an identity around it.
I don't know that they did run in parallel in the 8th century. The Ionan monks at Ripon were expelled before 664 and when Oswiu decided at Whitby to follow Rome, Colmán the Bishop of Norumbria and the Ionan supporters who did not change their practices withdrew to Iona. They were allowed to take back some relics of Aidan. Wilfred, an advocate of Rome, became Bishop of Northumbria and he filled all the newly vacated positions with his men, ironically, clerics from ireland who agreed with the position of Rome. They even translated Bede's latin into english. No one was translating anything into brittonic.
 

M9Powell

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
4,385
appalacian Mtns
#62
It should be noted that in the early struggle with the Anglo Saxons the Britons had a multitude of other problems. The Picts too the North, the Gaels were making very serious incursions too the west, the Saxons were too the east. This left only the South as a viable escape route, which is why so many fled too Brittany. They were also very seldom if ever united and had constant wars amongst themselves. To be fair the Anglo Saxons were seldom if ever a United force either. Against this background it's a wonder they were able to retain Wales at all. If they had united with the Gaels the Saxons would have had a bad day. The Gaels were just as warlike as the Saxons & arguably better warriors.
 
Jan 2014
2,399
Westmorland
#63
The division between Britons and Anglo-Saxon seemed to have been already defined.
This assumes, of course, that there was only one such division which was immutable. I'm not sure that is a safe assumption. There is a tendency to back telescope the late sixth- or early seventh-century position into the fifth century and to assume that the cultural differences between Briton and Anglo-Saxon which become increasingly visible in the documentary record had always been there.

The Anglo-Saxons of Bede or the early hagiographies of Cuthbert and Wilfrid were very different to their fifth-century forebears. They were Christian, for one thing and had also developed political structures that were manifesting themselves in the early kingdoms.

The fifth-century Britons were essentially Roman provincials who, for nearly four centuries, had been integrated into imperial institutions and structures. By the late sixth century, they had also coalesced into small kingdoms, which presumably switched allegiances during a succession of wobbly hegemonies. They had been profoundly affected by their Roman military past (in the north) and with their experiences with Germanic migrants in much of the south and east and Irish migrants in much of the west.

The Briton of (say) 600 AD was no longer the bewildered Roman citizen of the early fifth century any more than the Anglo-Saxon of 600 AD was the unwelcome pagan invader or the displaced farmer of the early fifth century. Things had changed radically for both groups (if we are even correct in thinking in terms of two groups) and we should be slow to conclude, as many do, that Anglo-British enmity was some unchangeable constant, reverberating through the centuries like the eternal champions of Highlander.

I was not minimizing the impact of the Church in general but it's clear that the fact latin was a clerical language for centuries did not really stop neither Germanization of, say, Moselle Romance speakers or Romance Swiss people during the middle ages
Indeed, but this is mainly because Latin was, for many of the Germanic peoples, not a spoken language.

and the problem here is the Celtic church even lacked a relatively united political institution backing it, so its identitarian feature is also questionable.
I agree with you, but I don't think anyone has suggested the contrary have they? As one commentator so eloquently put it, the early medieval Irish had no concept of such a thing as the Irish Church, and still less any notion that they belonged to it. The British church was different again, presumably rooted in the metropolitan episcopal structures of the late Roman period and impacted by the various doctrinal quirks and heresies that eventualy gave it a (slightly) different favour to the Roman church.
 
Jan 2014
2,399
Westmorland
#64
Most britons attempted to identify as anglo saxon but as Alex Woolf points points out, if firm legal distinctions existed between Britons and Anglo-Saxons, individuals and communities will not have slipped from one identity to another with ease.
This is undeniably a possibility, but the notion of social and cultural apartheid has never really gained traction. As I understand it, Alex Woolf flirted with it and proposed it as a way of explaining certain data, but he doesn't really appear to have argued it subsequently since that one article.

The problem with the theory is that for it to work and still be visible at the time of Ine's law code (the single documentary reference used to support the hypothesis), we'd have to accept that for a lengthy period of time measured in centuries, generations of Anglo-Saxon kings across different polities all wished to meticulously enforce apartheid and always had the means to do so. It's not impossible, I suppose, but it would be entirely singular behaviour for the post-Roman west and for that reason alone, seems highly unlikely. We see the odd law code outlining apartheid elsewhere in western Europe, but there is no suggestion that these things were ever that long-lasting or especially effective.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,039
#65
The problem with the theory is that for it to work and still be visible at the time of Ine's law code (the single documentary reference used to support the hypothesis), we'd have to accept that for a lengthy period of time measured in centuries, generations of Anglo-Saxon kings across different polities all wished to meticulously enforce apartheid and always had the means to do so.
There are differential wergeld values for britons in the 10th century Northleoda Laga. Wormald argues that these were copied from Ine by someone in York. Woolf refers to them too in his notes. Differential status always exists.
 
Jan 2014
2,399
Westmorland
#66
There are differential wergeld values for britons in the 10th century Northleoda Laga. Wormald argues that these were copied from Ine by someone in York. Woolf refers to them too in his notes. Differential status always exists.
Fair enough, but the existence of groups of different status isn't the same thing as rigidly enforced apartheid. There is little doubt that culturally British groups survived for a very long time in Northumbria, but that doesn't mean that Britons were legally prevented from displaying anything other than British culture. By way of one example, you will no doubt be aware of the passage from the Life of Wilfrid in which a British boy is obliged to enter the church after Wilfrid intercedes on mother's behalf to cure him. The text explicitly states that the boy in question was given a new name as part of his induction into his new way of life. The name was an English name. Whatever else that story may tell us about life in seventh-century Northumbria, if Britons were prevented from becoming English, what on earth was Wilfrid playing at?

We also need to bear in mind that Northumbria was a huge kingdom with an extremely rudimentary bureaucracy. Alliances, tribute and clientship (rather than direct, top-down control) are likely to have formed the basis on which at least some of the constituent parts of the Northumbrian hegemony were held together. I believe that there were British client kingdoms who were subject to Northumbrian rule and/or owed tribute to Northumbrian masters, but who had never been invaded or colonised per se. This would certainly explain Bede's comments about how some Britons of his day had partly become their own masters again. It would also explain why the Northumbrian kings of Bede's day and before appear to have made so few land grants west of the Pennines. That these junior British clients were seen as an 'other' which attracted lower weregild does not seem in any way unusual, but that does not necessarily mean that everyone in Deira or Bernicia who had British ancestry was still culturally distinct from their Anglo-Saxon neighbours. Indeed, I'd be amazed if most of them were. Halsall's comment in relation to post-Roman Gaul that anyone who was anyone made sure they were a Frank has, to me at least, a certain resonance.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,039
#67
Fair enough, but the existence of groups of different status isn't the same thing as rigidly enforced apartheid. There is little doubt that culturally British groups survived for a very long time in Northumbria, but that doesn't mean that Britons were legally prevented from displaying anything other than British culture.

Woolf doesn't claim rigid enforcement just lower status than anglo saxon equivalents. The lines I posted earlier are from Woolf's Apartheid and Economics paper; "Most britons attempted to identify as anglo saxon but as Alex Woolf points points out, if firm legal distinctions existed between Britons and Anglo-Saxons, individuals and communities will not have slipped from one identity to another with ease. Indeed, there are strong economic incentives to preserve this segregation when viewed from an English perspective." Britons could have a higher status than some anglo saxons but were not regarded as equals with their equivalents. "Although the Welsh noble’s wergeld is only half that of the English nobleman’s it is, nevertheless, three times as high as that of the English ceorl. This should immediately alert us to the fact that we are not looking at a society in which the Britons are uniformly regarded as lower status than the Anglo-Saxons."

When Thomas refers to Woolf, he too does not claim 'rigidly enforced'. That is a media interpolation. Thomas terms it 'elevated social and economic status'.
 
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Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,674
Dispargum
#68
Frankish law also established different wergeld values for Franks and Romans, but in Gaul and everywhere else the barbarians learned to speak Latin. In Britain, the Romano-British abandoned Latin (outside of the Church) and learned to speak English. This thread and others keep nibling around the edges of the question, but I've yet to see a clear explanation of why Britain was different than the continent. I suspect there is no answer, at least not a consensus answer.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,039
#69
Frankish law also established different wergeld values for Franks and Romans, but in Gaul and everywhere else the barbarians learned to speak Latin. In Britain, the Romano-British abandoned Latin (outside of the Church) and learned to speak English. This thread and others keep nibling around the edges of the question, but I've yet to see a clear explanation of why Britain was different than the continent. I suspect there is no answer, at least not a consensus answer.
The Franks took over post roman Gaul with its institutions almost intact and still functioning, especially the christian church which followed Rome. The Franks were converted to christianity at an early stage, Silvanus in the 4th century and Clovis in 496AD. The church in Britain was not intact and the anglo saxons remained pagan, even in the 7th century. Clovis chose a functioning city as hi captital, Paris. Britain didn't even have one of those.
 
Nov 2008
1,286
England
#70
I've yet to see a clear explanation of why Britain was different than the continent.
I have explained this elsewhere on this forum. When the Goths, Vandals, and Lombards invaded the Western Roman Empire, they did so in effect to take it over as a going concern, but under new management. The western part of the empire, even the dry husk of it, still glittered . The towns and cities together with civic life still functioned, although on a reduced scale. And there were still rich and functioning country, villa estates. There was none of this in post Roman Britain. The villas had virtually gone, and the towns were decayed and desolate, so there was no "Rome" in Britain for the Anglo-Saxons to covet. They invaded for land, and they took the rich productive pastures. If there were any Britons left in what was to become eastern England, then they would have been confined to marginal land, and that is why, probably, they are not seen in the archaeological record.