The Making of England: from Rome to Reformation

    Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review

    Abstract

    The Making of England intends to place the history of early England firmly within the European sphere of influence. It is intended for a wide but discerning audience drawing upon the latest peer-reviewed multi-disciplinary research and debates from science, archaeology, literature and documentary evidence with an eye on contemporary concerns and perceptions of English history, presented in an accessible and authoritative manner. It reinterprets the conventional narratives of Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that shaped histories of England from the 12th to 20th centuries in contrast with the literary sources such as Beowulf, Chaucer, the tales of King Arthur, Robin Hood and the lived environment that archaeological studies reveal. It is organised around key events – chiefly the political and diplomatic – rather than around the kings and queens who governed or battles. It is not a history ‘from above’ but neither is it a history ‘from below.’

    The Making of England seeks to challenge the established narrative of the inevitable rise of the unified Christian state in the following ways: by highlighting the continuity of ‘British’ society from the 5th-8th centuries; the significant influence of the Viking invasions and settlements which revealed the fragility of the English state, conquered decisively in the 11th century firstly by the Scandinavians and then devastatingly by the Normans. There was no ‘collapse’ of Roman authority after 410, rather a shift from town to country, cultivation and commerce continued to flourish and immigration was at a maximum of 30% of the native British population. The new English kingdoms shared a pan-Germanic culture and looked to Rome for authority and inspiration.

    The Making of England seeks to demonstrate the impact of the continuous continental interaction across the period c410-1534 in the shaping of England, from the early pan-Germanic to the Scandinavian, Norman-French, Angevin and Gascon. It argues that England was not exceptional, or peculiar in its governance, parliaments, religion or monarchy but closely aligned with and to, its European counterparts and all the while under the long shadow of Rome.

    There was no inevitability in the emergence of a single, unified state in the Anglo-Saxon period and after 1066 the English state was bound to the continental possessions by trade or war; baronial rebellion, not popular demand, led to devolving powers from the Crown via Magna Carta and parliament but this was not part of a manifest destiny of ‘exceptional’ English freedom. Ecclesiastical prelates and great noblemen controlled the regions, knights and esquires the local communities; weak individual monarchs were deposed or manipulated, and the Papacy exercised immense influence from Rome. Central justice and finance operated closely around the monarch and his household rather than in a grand scheme and successful government depended upon the personal health and wisdom of the king. With the singular exception of the Great Revolt of 1381, rebellions in the later medieval period were led by magnates; the commons (which referred effectively to the gentry and above) followed but only the great magnates deposed, removed or replaced kings in the years 1216-19, 1264, 1327, 1399 and 1461-1485. Class-consciousness of a sort was present in 1381, 1459 and the mid-Tudor revolts.

    Literacy and learning was exclusively Christian, to the detriment of Viking and pagan cultures and achievements, and thus the first historians wrote only from a singular perspective, that of the Christian supremacy. English culture was subsumed into the new Norman hegemony, along with attempts to rewrite or obliterate Welsh, Scottish and Irish history. Statutes of labour and dress enforced the linguistic and heredity apartheid and rebellions were brutally crushed. The franchise remained extremely limited and birth right invariably trumped intellect and merit. Only in the 15th century did English language and culture begin to emerge but not as an accepted means of expression of power and learning until after 1534.

    The break with Rome was violent and abrupt. It was not a popular movement but engineered from the very top, the monarch and a small group of advisors. Glass, sculptures and frescoes were destroyed, books burnt, entire libraries disappeared, abbots and priors hanged from their own churches. England was bankrupt, isolated and alone and had to forge a new identity without Rome.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherAmberley Publishing
    Number of pages300
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 May 2021

    Keywords

    • England
    • medieval
    • History
    • Anglo-Saxon
    • Anglo-Norman
    • Plantagenet
    • Norman Conquest
    • Bede
    • Sutton Hoo
    • Rome
    • Archaeology

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