1. Ancient people on the territory of the British Isles. The Celts
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1. Ancient people on the territory of the British Isles. The Celts.
Britain has not always been an island. It became one only after the end of the last ice age. The temperature rose and the ice cap melted, flooding the lower-lying land that is now under the North Sea and the English Channel. The Ice Age was not just one long equally cold period. There were warmer times when the ice cap retreated, and colder periods when the ice cap reached as far south as the River Thames. Our first evidence of human life is a few stone tools, dating from one of the warmer periods, about 250,000 BC (Middle Pleistosene Era). There were two different kinds of inhabitant. The earlier group made their tools from flakes of flint, similar in kind to stone tools found across the north European plain as far as Russia. The other group made tools from a central core of flint, probably the earliest method of human tool making, which spread from Africa to Europe. Hand axes made in this way have been found widely, as far as Yorkshire and as far west as Wales. The most ancient open air camps are near Clacton-Sea in Essex and box grove in Sussex where human and animal bones and stone tools were found. From about 50,000 BC a new type of human being seems to have arrived, who was the ancestor of the modern British. These people looked similar to the modern British, but were probably smaller and had a life span of only about thirty years. Caves in Somerset, Devon, Derby Shiry and Kent have shown the traces of occupancy from the mid Paleolithic period some 35-40,000 BC left by Neanderthal man. The landscape was a subarctic tundra inhospitable to settlement from the upper Paleolithic period through the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods which correspond to Old, Middle and New Stone Age. Around 10,000 BC, as the Ice Age drew to a close, Britain was peopled by small groups of hunters, gatherers and fishers. They seemed to have followed the herds of deer which provided them with food and clothing. These people are usually referred to Old Stone Age Men. Britain was part of the continent, a wide plane joined England and Holland in which the Thames and the Rhine met together and flowed to the North. At the end of the second last Ice Age (6000 BC) Britain became an island. The temperature rose, the ice melted, flooded the lower line land which is now under the North Sea and the English Channel. About 3000BC Neolithic (or New Stone Age) people crossed the narrow sea from Europe in small round boats of bent wood covered with animal skins, each could carry 1-2 persons. These people kept animals and grew corn crops, and knew how to make pottery. They cultivated land, sowed the seeds of edible grasses, they constructed earthwork closures on hilltops such as Windmill Hill near Abebury into which they drove their cattle at night. They developed a means of polishing flints into perfect shape for killing thus improving their weapons. They probably came from either the Iberian (Spanish) peninsula or even the North African coast – they are called Iberians. They were small, dark, and long-headed people, and may be the forefathers of dark-haired inhabitants of Wales and Cornwall today. They settled in the western parts of Britain and Ireland, from Cornwall at the southwest end of Britain all the way to the far north.
After copper and tin were discovered the men found the way to blend them and make bronze. The infiltration of bronze tools and weapons from the continent spread for many centuries. This time is called the Bronze Age. After 2400 BC new groups of people arrived in southeast Britain from Europe. They were round-headed and strongly built, taller than Neolithic Britons. They spoke Indo-European language. It is not known whether they invaded by armed force, or whether they were invited by Neolithic Britons because of their military or metal-working skills. Their influence was soon felt and, as a result, they became leaders of British society. They accepted many of the old ways and mixed with local people. Their arrival is marked by the first individual graves, furnished with pottery beakers, from which these people get their name: the “Beaker” people. They seem to have brought a single culture to the whole of Britain. They also brought skills to make bronze tools and these began to replace stone ones.
There are monuments that remained: after 3000 BC they started building great circles of earthworks and ditches. Inside they erected wooden dwellings and stone circles – hedges. They were the centre of religious, political and economical power. Stonehenge was built in 3 stages near Salisbury in South England. It was started 2600 BC. The largest of the stones weigh 50 tons. People didn’t use metal and their tools were made of stone, bone and wood. It was finished 600 years later.
Stonehenge 1 is a rectangle surrounded by a circular ditch. Outside it stood a very big stone called the Heel stone. The builders also dug 56 little holes (Aubrey) in a circle round the rectangle. Stonehenge 2 was started 200 years later. They brought about 80 stones called “bluestones” and put them into a horseshoe in the middle of the rectangle. They weight about 5 tons each. Stonehenge 3 is what we can see today. They took down the Stonehenge 2 horseshoe and put up a circle of a new kind stone – Sarsen stone inside they built a Sarsen horseshoe. Some of them weigh 50 tons and the stones placed on top weigh 25 tons. They put some of the bluestones back between the outer circle and horseshoe. The bigger people added a new circle of 30 stone columns this time connected with stone graves or cross pieces. The richest graves of the Beaker people are found near. Stonehenge remained the most important centre until 1300 BC. From this time power shifted to the Thames valley and South-East Britain. Hill forts replaced hedges as the centres of local power and most of them were found in the South- East. Also a number of better designed bronze tools and swords were found in this region which shows that local people were more highly developed in crafts and warfare.
During 6-1 BC a people called the Celts spread across the Europe to the west, they came from central Europe or further east, from southern Russia, and had moved slowly westwards in earlier centuries. A commonly accepted theory – they came to Britain in 3 distinct waves. There were invasions, but it’s not known whether they came to conquer or as a result of trade.
The first group – the Gaels [geilz]. Later new invaders drove them to the more mountainous western and northern regions.
The second – the Prethonical Celts (Brithons) arrived between 600-500 BC and settled in the South of England in Wales, North-West England, South-West Scotland. The native tribes were not able to fight back the attacks of the Celts who were better armed with metal spears, swords, daggers and axes. Most of the local people were killed. Some of them were driven to the mountains and others mixed with the Celts.
400 BC – iron was dug and forged. The Iron Age brought the revival of the hilltop celts which have been deserted since the Neolithic Age. The Celts’ hilltop consisted of simple rampart sometimes od stone but usually an earthwork reverted with timber and surrounded with a ditch. The camps were also protected from bears and wolves that were plenty at that time. The Celts had no towers. Apart from the hilltops there were isolated farms or groups of farms sometimes mounting to villages. They were surrounded by small enclosures. Larger expanses of permanent fields, woodland and great open pastures. Among the hill forts the most well-known is Maiden Castle in Dorset made of rock and earth dug out of the ground. It has steep-sided slopes and inside there were circular thatched houses forming a small town.
The third wave of invaders – Belgae [beldgi] from Northern Gaul [gol] (France) arrived 100 BC and occupied the central part of the island. They were by far the most enlightened active invaders, easily conquering and establishing their dominion. They were people of chariots and horsemen who started to build towns in the valleys sometimes below the hilltop on which the old fort had stood.
The earliest writer who gave information about the country and its people – Julius Caesar. In his book “Commentaries on the Gaelic war” he writes about his war campaign in Gaul and in Britain. He wrote: the Celts were tall and blue-eyed, red-haired, they wore long flowing moustaches but no beards. The Celts were technically advanced. They knew how to work with iron, and could make better weapons than the people who used bronze. It is possible that they drove many of older inhabitants westwards into Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Celts began to control all the lowlands areas of Britain, and were joined by new arrivals from the European mainland.
The Celts are important in British history because they are the ancestors of many of the people in Highlands Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Cornwall today the Iberian people of Wales and Cornwall took on the new Celtic culture. Celtic languages, which have been continuously used in some areas since that time, are still spoken. The British today are often described as Anglo-Saxon. It would be better to call them Anglo-Celt. The Celts were organised into different tribes, and tribal chiefs were chosen from each family or tribe, sometimes as the result of fighting matches between individuals, and soon sometimes by election. The last Celtic arrivals from Europe were the Belgic tribes. It was natural for them to settle in the southeast of Britain, probably pushing other Celtic tribes northwards as they did so.
The Celtic tribes continued the same kind of agriculture as the Bronze Age people before them. But their use of iron technology and their introduction of more advanced ploughing methods made it possible for them to farm heavier soils. However, they continued to use, and build, hill-forts. The hill-fort remained the centre for local groups. The insides of these hill-forts were filled with houses, and they became the simple economic capitals and smaller “towns” of the different tribal areas into which Britain was now divided. Today the empty hill-forts stand on lonely hilltops.
The Celts traded across tribal borders and trade was probably important for political and social contact between the tribes. The two main trade outlets eastwards to Europe were the settlements along the Thames River in the south and on the Firth of Forth in the north. Much trade, both inside and beyond Britain, was conducted by river and sea. For money the Celts used iron bars, until they began to copy the Roman coins they saw used in Gaul (France).
Beyond these advanced tribes archaeology reveals that there were some less advanced peoples but they shared the same Celtic language and similar culture. The Celts worshiped nature. They believed that the Sky, the Sun, the Sea were ruled by beings like themselves but more powerful, in nameless spirits who lived in the rivers, lakes, forests, another life after death (their souls passed after death to another body)
The Celtic tribes were ruled over by a warrior class, of which the priests, or Druids, seem to have been particularly important members. These Druids could not read or write, but they memorized all the religious teachings, the tribal laws, history, medicine and other knowledge necessary in Celtic society. The druids met together in dark woods called sacred Groves to worship gods and spirits and to look for science of future. They practiced human sacrifice, later animals to soften the rage of gods. They had pupils who had to study for 20 years. The main heritage – languages – Welsh, Gaelic, Irish.
During the Celtic period women may have had more independence than they had again for hundreds of years. When the Romans invaded Britain two of the largest were ruled by women who fought from their chariots. The most powerful Celt to stand up to the Romans was a woman, Boadicea. She had become the queen of her tribe when her husband had died. In 61 AD she led her tribe against the Romans. She nearly drove them from Britain, and she destroyed London, the Roman capital, before she was defeated and killed.
2. The Roman Conquest
The name “ Britain ” comes from the word “ Pretani ”, the Greco-Roman word for the inhabitants of Britain. The Romans mispronounced the word and called the island “ Britannia ”.
The Romans had invaded because the Celts of Britain were working with the Celts of Gaul against them. The British Celts were giving them food, and allowing them to hide the Britain. There was another reason. The Celts used cattle to pull their ploughs and this meant that richer, heavier land could be farmed. Under the Celts Britain had become an important food producer because of its mild climate. It now exported corn and animals, as well as hunting dogs and slaves, to the European mainland. The Romans could make use of British food for their own army fighting the Gauls.
The people who used to reject Latin began to use it in speech and writing. Further instead of the national dress the toga ( the Roman cloak ) came into fashion. But Latin completely disappeared both in spoken and written forms when the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain in the fifth century AD. Britain was probably more literate under the Romans than it was to be again until the fifteenth century.
Julius Caesar first come to Britain in 55 BC. Ten thousand men crossed the channel. The Celts saw their ships approaching and attacked in the sea. The Celts made a great impression on the Romans who saw them for the first time in battle. The native tribes were ruled by kings. Society was divided into a warrior aristocracy and agricultural commons. The 3d group – Druids-priests. They were characterized as quarrelsome, having bonds within the tribes and in intertribal warfare. Only in rear cases in the face of great danger would Celtic tribes combine to choose a single leader. In the following year with the army of 25,000 people Julius Caesar landed again and penetrated to where now London stands. Then he defeated the Celtic tribesmen though he gained victory he wasn’t able to conquer the country. The Celtic chiefs promised tribute but it was never paid. The situation in Gaul was explosive and that prevented Caesar from taking advantage of the surrender of the temporary confederation of chiefs. In the immediate military terms the results of his campaigns were modest but the consequences were great. Caesar put Britain on the Roman map and set an important precedent for intervention into Britain.
But it was not until almost a century later, in 43 AD, that a Roman army actually occupied Britain.
The Roman emperor Claudius sent an army to Britain .The Romans were determined to conquer the whole island. They had little difficulty, apart from Boadicea’s revolt, because they had a better trained army and because the Celtic tribes fought among themselves. The Romans considered the Celts as war-mad, “high spirited and quick for battle”, a description some would still give the Scots, Irish and Welsh today. The Romans established a Romano-British culture across the southern half of Britain, from the river Humber to the river Severn. This part of Britain was inside the empire. Beyond were the upland areas, under Roman control but not developed. These areas were watched from the towns of York, Chester and Caerleon in the western peninsula of Britain that later became known as Wales. Each of these towns was held by a Roman legion of about 7,000 men. The total Roman army in Britain was about 40,000 men. Examples of opposition: the struggle of Caractacus (I AD). He lead resistance
The Romans could not conquer “Caledonia”, as they called Scotland, although they spent over a century trying to do so. At last they built a strong wall along the northern border, named after the Emperor Hadrian who planned it. At the time, Hadrian’s wall was simply intended to keep out raiders from the north. But it also marked the border between the two later countries, England and Scotland. Eventually, the border was established a few miles further north. Roman control of Britain came to an end as the empire began to collapse. The first signs were the attacks by Celts of Caledonia in 367 AD. The Romans legions found it more and more difficult to stop the raiders from crossing Hadrian’s wall.
In 409 AD Rome pulled it last soldiers out of Britain and the Romano-British, the Romanised Celts, were left to fight alone against the Scots, the Irish and Saxon raiders from Germany. The following year Rome itself fell to raiders. When Britain called to Rome for help against the raiders from Saxon Germany in the mid-fifth century, no answer came.
The most obvious characteristic of Roman Britain was its towns, which were the basis of Roman administration and civilisation. Many grew out of Celtic settlements, military camps or market centers. There were three different kinds of town in Roman Britain, two of which were towns established by Roman character. These were the coloniae, towns peopled by Roman settlers, and the municipia, large cities in which the whole population was given Roman citizenship. The third kind, the civitas, included the old Celtic tribal capitals, through which the Romans administered the Celtic population in the countryside. At first these towns had no walls. Then, almost every town was given walls. The Romans left about twenty large towns of about 5,000 inhabitants, and almost one hundred smaller ones. Many of these towns were at first army camps. These towns were built with stone as well as wood, and had planned streets, markets and shops. Outside the towns, the biggest change during the Roman occupation was the growth of large farms, called “villas”. These belonged to the richer Britons who were, like the townspeople, more Roman than Celt in their manners.
It is very difficult to be sure how many people were living in Britain when the Romans left. Probably it was as many as five million, partly because of the peace and the increased economic life which the Romans had brought to the country. The new wave of invaders changed all that.
3. The Anglo-Saxon Conquest.
The invaders came from three powerful Germanic tribes, the Saxons, Angles and Jutes. The Jutes settled mainly the Kent and along the south coast, and were soon considered no different from the Angles and Saxons. The Angles settled in the east, and also in the north Midlands, while the Saxons settled between the Jutes and the Angles in a band of land from the Thames Estuary westwards. The Anglo-Saxons migrations gave the larger part of Britain its new name, England, “the land of the Angles”.
The British Celts fought the raiders and settlers from Germany as well as they could. However, during the next hundred years they were slowly pushed westwards until by 570 they were forced west of Gloucester. Finally most were driven into the mountains in the far west, which the Saxons called “Weallas”, or “Wales”, meaning “the land of the foreigners”. Some Celts were driven into Cornwall, where they later accepted the rule of Saxon lords. In the north, other Celts were driven into the lowlands of the country which became known as Scotland. Some Celts stayed behind, and many became slaves of the Saxons. Hardly anything is left of Celtic language or culture in England, except of the names of some rivers, Thames, Mersey, Severn and Avon, and two large cities, London and Leeds.
The strength of Anglo-Saxon culture is obvious even today. “Days of the week were named after Germanic gods: Tig (Tuesday), Wodin (Wednesday), Thor (Thursday), Frey (Friday). New place-names appeared on the map. The first of these show that the earliest Saxons Villages, like the Celtic ones, were family villages. The ending –ing meant folk or family, thus “Reading” is the place of the family of Rada. Ham means farm, ton meant settlement. Birmingham, Nottingham and Southampton, for example, are Saxon place-names. Because the Anglo-Saxon kings often established settlements, Kingston is a frequent place-name.”[ 1, 11].
The Anglo-Saxons established a number of kingdoms, some of which still exist in country or regional names to this day: Essex (East Saxons), Sussex (South Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons), East Anglia (East Angles). By the middle of the seventh century the three largest kingdoms, those of Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex, were the most powerful.
It was not until a century later that one of these kings, King Offa of Mercia (757 - 896), claimed “kingship of the English”. He had good reason to do so. He was powerful enough to employ thousands of men to build a huge dyke, or earth wall, the length of the Welsh border to keep out the troublesome Celts. But although he was the most powerful king of his time, he did not control all of England.
The power of Mercia did survive after Offa’s death. At the time, a king’s power depended on the personal loyalty of his followers. After his death the next king had to work hard to rebuild these personal feelings of loyalty. Most people still believed, as the Celts had done, that a man’s first duty was the duty to his own family. However, things were changing. The Saxon kings began to replace loyalty to family with loyalty to lord and king.
The Saxons created institutions which made the English state strong for the next 500 years. One of these instructions was the King’s Council, called the Witan. The Witan probably grew out of informal groups of senior warriors and churchmen to whom kings like Offa had turned for advice or support on difficult matters. By the tenth century the Witan was a formal body, issuing laws and charters. It was not at all democratic, and the king could decide to ignore the Witan’s advice. But he knew that it might be dangerous to do so. For the Witan’s authority was based on its right to choose kings, and to agree the use of the king’s laws.
The Saxon divided the land into new administrative areas, based on shires, or countries. These shires, established by the end of the tenth century, remained almost exactly the same for a thousand years. “Shire” is the Saxon word, “country” the Norman one, but both are still used. Over each shire was appointed “sheriff” (the king’s local administrator).
Anglo-Saxon technology changed the shape of English agriculture. The Celts had kept small, square fields which were well suited to the light plough they used, drawn either by an animal or two people. This plough could turn corners easily. The Anglo-Saxons introduced a far heavier plough which was better able to plough in long straight lines across the field. It was particularly useful for cultivating heavier soils.
The Saxons settled previously farmed areas. They cut down many forested areas in valleys to farm the richer lowland soil, and they began to drain the wet land. As a result, almost all the villages which appear on eighteenth-century maps already existed by the eleventh century.
In the last hundred years of Roman government Christianity became firmly established across Britain, both in Roman-controlled areas and beyond. However, the Anglo-Saxons belonged to an older Germanic religion, and they drove Celts into the west and north. In the Celtic areas Christianity continued to spread, building paganism to an end.
The two Christian Churches, Celtic and Roman, could hardly have been more different in character. One was most interested in the hearts of ordinary people, the other was interested in authority and organisation. Saxon kings helped the Church to grow, but the Church also increased the power of kings. Bishops gave kings their support, which made it harder for royal power to be questioned.
There were also other ways in which the Church increased the power of the English state. It established monasteries, or ministers, for example Westminster, which were places of learning and education. These monasteries trained the men who could read and write, so that they had the necessary skills for the growth of royal and Church authority.
The Anglo-Saxon kings also preferred the Roman Church to the Celtic Church for economic reasons. Villages and towns grew around the monasteries and increased local trade. Anglo-Saxon England became well known in Europe for its exports of woolen goods, cheese, hunting dogs, pottery and metal goods. It imported wine, fish, pepper, jewellery and wheel-made pottery.
Towards the end of the eighth century new raiders were tempted by Britain’s wealth. These were the Vikings, a word which probably means either “pirates” or “the people of the sea inlets”, and they came from Norway and Denmark. Like the Anglo-Saxons they only raided at first. They burnt churches and monasteries along the east, north and west coasts of Britain and Ireland. London was itself raided in 842.
In 865 the Vikings invaded Britain. It was clear that the quarrelling Anglo-Saxon kingdoms could not keep them out. This time they came to conquer and to settle. The Vikings quickly accepted Christianity and did not disturb the local population. By 875 only King Alfred in the west of Wessex held out against the Vikings, who had already taken most of England. After some serious defeats Alfred won a decisive battle in 878, and eight years later he captured London. He was strong enough to make a treaty with the Vikings. Viking rule was recognised in the east and north of England. It was called the Danelaw, the land where the law of the Danes ruled. In the rest of the country Alfred was recognised as king. During his struggle against the Danes, he had built walled settlements to keep them out. These were called burghs. They became prosperous market towns, and the word, now usually spelt borough, is one of the commonest endings to place names, as well as the name of the until of municipal or town administration today.
By 950 England seemed rich and peaceful again after the troubles of the Viking invasion. But soon afterwards the Danish Vikings started raiding westwards. The Saxon king Ethelred decided to pay the Vikings to stay away. To find the money he set a tax on all his people, called Danegeld, or “Danish money”. It was the beginning of a regular tax system of the people which would provide the money for armies. The effects of this tax were most heavily felt by the ordinary villages, because they had to provide enough money for their village landlord to pay Danegeld.
When Ethelred died Cnut (or Canute), the leader of the Danish Vikings, controlled much of England. He became king for the simple reason that the royal council, the Witan, and everyone else, feared disorder. Rule by a Danish king was far better than rule by no one at all. Cnut died in 1035, and his son died shortly after, in 1040. The Witan (a group of senior warriors and churchmen to whom kings turned for advice or support on difficult matters) chose Edward, one of Saxon Ethelred’s sons, to be king.
Edward, known as “Confessor”, was more interested in the Church than in kingship. Church building had been going on for over a century, and he encouraged it. By the time Edward died there was a church in almost every village.
Edward only lived until 1066, when he died without an obvious heir. Edward had brought many Normans to his English court from France. One of them was Harold, whom the Witan chose to be the next king of England. Harold had already shown his bravery and ability. He had no royal blood, but he seemed a good choice for the throne of England. Harold’s right to the English throne was challenged by Duke William of Normandy. William had two claims to the English throne. His first claim was that King Edward had promised it to him. The second claim was that Harold had promised William that he, Harold, would not try to take the throne for himself. Harold was faced by two dangers, one in the south and one in the north. The Danish Vikings had not given up their claim to the English throne. In 1066 Harold had to match north into Yorkshire to defeat the Danes. No sooner had he defeated them that he learnt that William had landed in England with an army. His men marched south as fast as possible.
Harold decided not to wait for the whole Saxon army, the fyrd, to gather because the William’s army was small. But the Norman soldiers were better armed, better organised, and were mounted on horses.
William marched to London, which quickly gave in when he began to burn villages outside the city. He was crowned king of England in Edward’s new church of Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066. A new period had begun.
It should be said that Earliest times are characterised by a big number of invasions. Every conqueror was trying to spread its own national specific and order. Its influenced on economy, politics and even language of Great Britain. And during this period of time a great number of people suffered. They had to put under conquerors’ supervision and to stand laws and orders.
5. The Norman Conquest and the establishment of feudalism in England.
The Normans – people that came from Normandy. They were children of the Vikings who settled in Northern France. They soon became French in their language and Christian in their religion.
Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) – was half Norman by blood and wholly Norman by upbringing. He spent 25 years in exile in Normandy, after 1041 he returned to London, succeeded to the throne and quickly seized the property of his mother, who had plotted against his accession. He brought with him a number of clerics to be bishops and councilors. People said that he was more fitted to be a Norman monk than a king. He encouraged church building. At the time he died there were a church in every village. He spent much time on rebuilding Westminster Abbey, where he was buried in 1066. After his death the pope gave him name – Confessor. His close ties to Normandy prepared the way for the conquest of England by Normans.
For the first 11 years of his reign the real master of England was Earl Godwin of Wessex. Edward married Godwin’s daughter Edith in 1045, but by 1049 a breach had occurred between two men. In 1051, Edward outlawed the Godwin family and dismissed Edith. During this period Edward was rapidly losing popularity by giving Normans high positions in his government.
When Godwin died in 1052 his son Harold became the dominant power in the kingdom. Consequently, Edward on his deathbed named Harold as his successor even though he allegedly had already promised the crown to William.
Harold prepared to defend the coast against an attack, as William enlisted knights from Normandy and Northern France. But the king of Norway suddenly invaded northern England to claim the throne. Harold took his troops north on a forced march. His Anglo-Saxon forces defeated the Norse near York. Soon after they knew that William wanted to go to the South. His army was tired but he had to move quickly without rest. Harold didn’t gather the whole Saxon army (9000), because William’s army was small. He waited in Sussex for William, but in December he decided that William didn’t come this year, so he demobilized his people and let them go home.
But in 1066 William came to England to Hastings and 14 October the decisive battle started. The Saxon army was defeated. The forces were fairly equal in number, but the Normans were superior in quality. Harold’s army consisted only with amateur soldiers because he hurriedly gathered peasants, detachments and armed his knights and warriors. The major feudalists refused to give him their support. Normans and Frenchmen were all men to whom fighting war was their main occupation – archers, men-at-arms and knights. The English axmen turned back a Norman cavalry charge, whereupon a section of the Norman infantry turned and fled. Then some of the Harold’s personal guard left their places to pursue some stragglers, and William ordered a feigned retreat. The strategy worked – many of the English troops broke ranks to run down the hill after the Normans, who then turned and cut them down. William then resumed his attack on the hill, with his archers shooting into the air. With arrows falling about them, the English opened up, allowing the Norman foot soldiers to get among them. Harold and his two brothers were killed and his army totally destroyed. This battle was the greatest disaster in history Harold’s death left England open to Norman rule.
William was crowned 25 December 1066 at Westminster as William I the Conqueror. His coronation didn’t go as planned. When the people shouted “God Save the King” the nervous Norman guards at Westminster Abbey thought they were going to attack William. In their fear they set fire to nearby houses and the coronation ceremony ended in disorder.
Although William was now crowned king, his conquest had only just begun, and the fighting lasted for another five years. There was an Anglo-Saxon rebellion against the Normans every year until 1070. The small Norman army marched from village to village, destroying places it could not control, and building forts to guard the others. It was a true army of occupation for at least 20 years.
Few Saxon lords kept their lands and those who did were the very small number who had accepted William immediately. All the others lost everything. By 1086, 20 years after the arrival of the Normans, only 2 of the greater landlords and only 2 bishops were Saxon. William gave the Saxon lands to his Norman nobles. Over 4000 Saxon landlords were replaced by 200 Norman ones. Of all the farmland of England he gave half to the Norman nobles, a quarter to the Church, and kept a fifth himself. He kept the Saxon system of sheriffs, and used these as a balance to local nobles. As a result England was different from the rest of Europe because it had one powerful family, instead of a large number of powerful nobles. William, and the kings after him, thought of England as their personal property.
William organized his English kingdom according to the feudal system which had already begun to develop in England before his arrival. The basis of feudal society was the holding of land, and its main purpose was economic. The central idea was that all land was owned by the king but it was held by others, called “vassals”, in return for services and goods. The king gave large estates to his main nobles in return for a promise to serve him in war for up to forty days. The nobles also had to give him part of the produce of the land. The greater nobles gave part of their lands to lesser nobles, knights, and other “freemen”. Some freemen paid for the land by doing military service, while others paid rent. The nobles kept “serfs” to work on his own land. These were not free to leave the estate, and were often little better than slaves.
Social organization: king – barons – knights – clergy – villeins – yeomen – merchants – lawyers – craftspeople – shopkeepers – foot soldiers.
There were 2 basic principles to feudalism: every man had a lord, and every lord had land. The king was connected through this “chain” of people to the lowest man in the country. At each level a man had to promise loyalty and service to his lord (“homage”).
If the king didn’t give the nobles land they would not fight for him. Between 1066 and mid 14th century there were only 30 years of complete peace. So feudal duties were extremely important. The king had to make sure that he had enough satisfied nobles who would be willing to fight for him.
William gave out land all over England to his nobles. By 1086 he wanted to know exactly who owned which piece of land, and how much it was worth. He needed this information so that he could plan his economy, find out how much was produced and how much he could ask in tax. He therefore sent a team of people all through England to make a complete economic survey. This survey was the only one of its kind in Europe. Not surprisingly, it was most unpopular with the people, because they felt they could not escape from its findings. It so reminded them of the paintings of the day of Judgement, or “doom”, on the walls of their churches that they called it the “Doomsday” Book. The name stuck. The Doomsday Book still exists, and gives us an extraordinary amount of information.
At the end of his life William quarreled with his sons and wife and was left by his family. When William died, in 1087, he left the Duchy of Normandy to his elder son, Robert. He gave England to his second son, William, known as Rufus. When Robert went to fight the Muslims in the Holy Land, he left William II Rufus in charge of Normandy. William Rufus died in a hunting accident in1100. He had not married, and therefore had no son to take the crown. At the time of William’s death, Robert was on his way home to Normandy from the Holy Land. Their younger brother, Henry, knew that if he wanted the English crown he would have to act very quickly. He had been with William at the time of the accident. He rode to Winchester and took charge of the king’s treasury. He then rode to Westminster, where he was crowned king three days later. Robert was very angry and prepared to invade. But it took him a year to organize an army.
The Norman nobles in England had to choose between Henry and Robert. This was not easy because most of them held land in Normandy. In the end they chose Henry because he was in London, with the crown already on his head. Robert’s invasion was a failure and he accepted payment to return to Normandy. But Henry wanted more. He knew that many of his nobles would willingly follow him to Normandy so that they could win back their Norman lands. In 1106 Henry invaded Normandy and captured Robert. Normandy and England were reunited under one ruler.
Henry I's most important aim was to pass on both Normandy and England to his successor. But in 1120 Henry's only son was drowned at sea.
During the next 15 years Henry hoped for another son but finally accepted that his daughter, Matilda, would follow him. Henry had married Matilda to another great noble in France, Geoffrey Plantagenet. Geoffrey was heir to Anjou. Henry hoped that the family lands would be made larger by this marriage. He made all the nobles promise to accept Matilda when he died. But then Henry himself quarreled publicly with Matilda's husband, and died soon after. This left the succession in question. At that time Matilda was with her husband in Anjou and Henry's nephew, Stephen of Blots, was in Boulogne. Stephen raced to England to claim the crown. The nobles in England had to choose between Stephen, who was in England, and Matilda, who was in France. Most chose Stephen. Only a few nobles supported Matilda's claim.
Matilda invaded England four years later. Her fight with Stephen led to a terrible civil war in which villages were destroyed and many people were killed. Neither side could win, and finally in 1153 Matilda and Stephen agreed that Stephen could keep the throne but only if Matilda's son, Henry, could succeed him. Fortunately for England, Stephen died the following year, and the family possessions of England and the lands in France were united under a king accepted by everyone. It took years for England to recover from the civil war. Henry II was the first unquestioned ruler of the English throne for a hundred years.
6. Henry II and his reign. Richard the Lionhearted.
In the 20th century a new dynasty has established in England – the dynasty of Plantagenet. Henry II became king of England when he was 25.
Henry II was ruler of far more land than any previous king. As lord of Anjou he added his father's lands to the family empire. After his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine he also ruled the lands south of Anjou. Henry Il's empire stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees.
England provided most of Henry's wealth, but the heart of his empire lay in Anjou. And although Henry recognised the king of France as the overlord of all his French lands, he actually controlled a greater area than the king of France. Many of Henry's nobles held land on both sides of the English channel.
Henry II was the first unquestioned ruler of the English throne for a hundred years. He destroyed the castles which many nobles had built without royal permission during Stephen's reign, and made sure that they lived in manor houses that were undefended. The manor again became the centre of local life and administration.
At his administration Henry was supported by his chancellor Thomas Becket. In 1155, King Henry II appointed him chancellor of England. Becket adopted a luxurious life style and became Henry's favourite companion. In 1162, Henry made Becket Archbishop of Canterbury apparently against his will and without taking into consideration that Becket wasn’t even a priest. It was done in order to weaken the church and to consolidate the state, because Henry decided that the church is becoming too powerful. Becket took his new position seriously and changed the whole manner of his life. He turned off all his brilliant companions, drink only water, eat plane food, lived in a small cell and took as a habit to wash the feet of 13 people every day. People began to talk about it as a saint. He became even more popular. He lived more simply and became a champion of the church against royal power. A series of bitter conflicts followed between Becket and Henry over the king's attempts to gain control of the church in England. Becket resisted Henry's efforts to collect taxes from landowners and on church lands, and to try church officials accused of serious crimes. Becket opposed Henry's attempt to regulate the relations between church and state. In 1164, fearing for his safety, Becket fled to France, but he returned to England in 1170 and quickly renewed his opposition to royal authority. He condemned the archbishop of York and six other bishops, who had, in Becket's absence, crowned Prince Henry, the heir apparent, at Henry II's request. The Archbishop of York and the six bishops fled to Henry in Normandy and told him of Becket's actions. Becket's new defiance irritated the king. In the hearing of his knights, Henry asked if anyone was brave enough to rid him of a single troublesome priest. Four knights took Henry's remark as a royal request. The knights murdered Becket while he was at evening prayers in Canterbury Cathedral. His struggle to keep the English church free from royal control led to his dramatic death. The murder of Becket shook the whole of Christendom. His body was placed in the crypt, and two days later that series of miracles began which in 1173 was to warrant Thomas a Becket's canonisation. Pope Alexander III declared Becket a saint.
Henry II was the strongest and most able king of England since Alfred, and during his reign England prospered. Henry II established strong royal rule over his empire and reformed the operation of the law with the new jury system, among other important legal procedures. All his life Henry had to rule an immense territory, he rode from one port of his empire to another giving an impression of being everywhere at once. But the size of the kingdom stimulated the creating of local governments. He organized local body to deal with the matters of justice and finance. The government was becoming increasingly bureaucratic.
However, Henry quarreled with his beautiful and powerful wife, and his sons, Richard and John, took Eleanor's side. It may seem surprising that Richard and John fought against their own father. But in fact they were doing their duty to the king of France, their feudal overlord, in payment for the lands they held from him. In 1189 Henry died a broken man, disappointed and defeated by his sons and by the French king.
Henry was followed by his rebellious son, Richard. Richard 1 has always been one of England's most popular kings, although he spent hardly any time in England. He was brave, and a good soldier, but his nickname Coeur de Lion, "lionheart", shows that his culture, like that of the kings before him, was French. He spent most of his youth at his mother's court famous for its troubadours and their songs of chivalry and courtly love. He was sufficiently well educated to be able to speak Latin and to write verse in French and Provencal. But above all he was educated in the art of war. To this end he took an active part in tournaments and knightly exercises. He was crowned on 3 September, 1189, at Westminster.
Richard I was a great soldier. Almost immediately on becoming king he set off for the Holy Land to join the third Crusade against the Moslems (1189-92).
Richard was everything expected from the king; tall, powerful, well-educated, musical, and immensely courageous. He spoke little English, which did not matter much because during his reign he spent no more than seven months in England. The rest of the time he was fighting abroad.
Richard financed his Crusade by selling offices, lands, estates or rights. He even contemplated selling London, but could not find anyone rich enough to buy it. The Crusade was financed by heavy taxes, which were bitterly resented.
Richard was everyone's idea of the perfect feudal king. He went to the Holy Land to make war on the Muslims and he fought with skill, courage and honour.
On his way back from the Holy Land Richard was captured by the duke of Austria, with whom he had quarreled in Jerusalem. The duke demanded money before he would let him go, and it took two years for England to pay. Shortly after, in 1199, Richard was killed in France. He had spent no more than four or five years in the country of which he was king. When he died the French king took over parts of Richard's French lands to rule himself. He gained nothing.
7. King John Lackland and the historical significance of Magna Carta.
Richard had no son, and he was followed by his brother, John, who ruled from 1199 to1216. John is known in English history as Lackland. He got this nickname, because he lost almost all possessions in France. Until December 1203 John spent most of his reign on his Continental possessions.
He married Isabella of Angouleme who had had a fiancé before, whom she had promised to get married. This fiancé demanded compensation, but John refused to pay this money and this man complained to the king of France. The king used his chance to declare all John’s estates in France confiscated. In the atmosphere of suspicion and fear John had to return to England. He was not able to organize any defend or opposition to French king. Since 1203 he became an English king.
John had already made himself unpopular with the three most important groups of people, the nobles, the merchants and the Church.
John was unpopular mainly because he was greedy. The feudal lords in England had always run their own law-courts and profited from the fines paid by those brought to court. But John took many cases out of their courts and tried them in the king's courts, taking the money for himself.
It was normal for a feudal lord to make a payment to the king when his daughter was married, but John asked for more than was the custom. In the same way, when a noble died, his son had to pay money before he could inherit his father's land. In order to enlarge his own income, John increased the amount they had to pay. In other cases when the noble died without a son, it was normal for the land to be passed on to-another noble family. John kept the land for a long time, to benefit from its wealth. He did the same with the bishoprics. As for the merchants and towns, he taxed them at a higher level than ever before.
In 1204 King John became even more unpopular with his nobles. The French king invaded Normandy and the English nobles lost their lands there. John had failed to carry out his duty to them as duke of Normandy. He had taken their money but he had not protected their land.
In 1209 John quarreled with the pope over who should be Archbishop of Canterbury. John was in a weak position in England and the pope knew it. The pope called on the king of France to invade England, and closed every church in the country. At a time when most people believed that without the Church they would go to hell, this was a very serious matter. In 1214 John gave in, and accepted the pope's choice of archbishop.
In 1215 John hoped to recapture Normandy. He called on his lords to fight for him, but they no longer trusted him. They marched to London, where they were joined by angry merchants. Outside London at Runnymede, a few miles up the river, John was forced to sign a new agreement.
This new agreement was known as "Magna Carta", the Great Charter, and was an important symbol of political freedom. The king promised all "freemen" protection from his officers, and the right to a fair and legal trial. At the time perhaps less than one quarter of the English were "freemen". Most were not free, and were serfs or little better. Hundreds of years later, Magna Carta was used by Parliament to protect itself from a powerful king. In fact Magna Carta gave no real freedom to the majority of people in England. The nobles who wrote it and forced King John to sign it had no such thing in mind. They had one main aim: to make sure John did not go beyond his rights as feudal lord.
Magna Carta marks a clear stage in the collapse of English feudalism. Feudal society was based on links between lord and vassal. At Runnymede the nobles were not acting as vassals but as a class. They established a committee of twenty-four lords to make sure John kept his promises. That was not a "feudal" thing to do. In addition, the nobles were acting in co-operation with the merchant class of towns.
The nobles did not allow John's successors to forget this charter and its promises. Every king recognised Magna Carta, until the Middle Ages ended in disorder and a new kind of monarchy came into being in the sixteenth century.
There were other small signs that feudalism was changing. When the king went to war he had the right to forty days' fighting service from each of his lords. But forty days were not long enough for fighting a war in France. The nobles refused to fight for longer, so the king was forced to pay soldiers to fight for him. At the same time many lords preferred their vassals to pay them in money rather than in services. Vassals were gradually beginning to change into tenants. Feudalism, the use of land in return for service, was beginning to weaken. But it took another three hundred years before it disappeared completely.
8. The peasants’ uprising of Wat Tyler.
It is surprising that the English never rebelled against Edward III. He was an expensive king at a time when many people were miserably poor and sick with plagues. At the time of the Black Death he was busy with expensive wars against France and Scotland. The demands he made on merchants and peasants were enormous, but Edward III handled these people with skill.
Edward's grandson, Richard, was less fortunate. He became king on his grandfather's death in 1377 because his father, the Black Prince, had died a few months earlier. Richard II inherited the problems of discontent but had neither the diplomatic skill of , his grandfather, nor the popularity of his father. Added to this he became king when he was only eleven, and so others governed for him. In the year he became king, these advisers introduced a tax payment for every person over the age of fifteen. Two years later, this tax was enforced again. The people paid.
But in 1381 this tax was enforced for a third time and also increased to three times the previous amount. There was an immediate revolt in East Anglia and in Kent, two of the richer parts of the country. The poorer parts of the country, the north and northwest, did not rebel. This suggests that in the richer areas ordinary people had become more aware and confident of their rights and their power.
The new tax had led to revolt, but there were also other reasons for discontent. The landlords had been trying for some time to force the peasants bad into serfdom, because serf labour was cheaper than paid labour. The leader of the revolt, Wat Tyler, was the first to call for fair treatment of England's poor people: "We are men formed in Christ's likeness," he claimed, "and we are kept like animals." The people sang a revolutionary rhyme suggesting that when God created man he had not made one man master over another:
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