Wednesday, August 04, 2010

1066 is not all that

The prospect of a television series on The Normans reminds me of a fascinating interview with Dr David Starkey I heard a few years ago. It was on, of all unlikely places, Richard and Judy's afternoon television programme.

Starkey said the idea that 1066 is the most important date in British history is a recent one. In fact it dates from 1914 - the year when all things French became good and all things German bad. German Shepherd Dogs turned into Alsatians and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha turned into the House of Windsor.

Until then we had been very aware of our Saxon heritage and believed that the roots of our democracy lay in that era. After 1914 the Norman Conquest became almost a Year Zero and the Saxon kings were relegated to become a faintly embarrassing pre-history.

So thank you, Richard and Judy.


Tristan said...

E. P. Thompson's 'The Making of the English Working Class' hints at this - there's lots of references to the idea of the historical rights of Englishmen which derived from Saxon times. That and the settlement of 1688.
These ideas seem to have been far more prominent amongst the English than 1066.

Nicholas said...

There were two competing ideas: the Norman Yoke theory held by radicals who believed that 1066 introduced the Norman ruling class who deprived the native Englishmen of their democratic rights. The conflicting idea was that the 'ancient constitution' of England was not radically altered in 1066 and that William vowed to maintain the laws of Edward the Confessor and there was thereby a continuity which the radicals denied (implicit in this thesis was that rebellion was therefore unlawful).

I think Gladstone was one of the last of those to advocate greater suffrage on the grounds that he was therefore returning England to its Saxon constitution.