Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The saxons on the Manor

One of the great "what if" questions of English history relates to the Norman Conquest of 1066.  The outcome of Harold's engagement with William hung by little more than a Bayeux tapestry thread and could have gone either way. In the end William was the lucky one and with Harold dead the English lacked the leadership to withstand William's eventual triumph. Would English history have turned out differently. I suspect it would and this is apparent in the microcosm of the Wolverton Manor.
At the time of the conquest it was in the hands of three thegns Godwin, Tori and Alvric. After the conquest the whole manor was under the control of one man. And this was repeated across the country. It is estimated that in the last days of Anglo Saxon England there were about 4000 thegns. William replaced all these with fewer than 200 lords of his own.
Anglo Saxon England was in many ways a more equal society. I don't want to use the word democratic because it does not apply in any modern sense but people then did have more of a voice in community affairs. The council, witan, was a feature at all levels of society, and, as can be seen in this Wolverton example, the presence of three thegns within the manor meant that no one of them could become too powerful. The Norman centralization of power was the significant revolution of 1066 and has had its long term  impact to this day. The Normans largely married amongst themselves and held themselves a class apart from the natives they had subjugated. In my view this is the origin of our English obsession with upper and lower classes - not a feature of Anglo Saxon society.

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