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At the Edge of the World is a history of the peoples of the British Isles from the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West (AD410) to the death of King William the Conqueror (1087).

 

This is an introductory episode to give an idea of the topics that will later be discussed in depth.

 

Written and presented by Robert Smith, Chairman of the Manorial Society of Great Britain - www.msgb.co.uk

 

 

 

Credits:

 

Written and presented by

Robert Smith

 

Voice over

Barney Powell

 

Music production &

Original music

Simon Roberts

(Lyric media group)

 

Original film footage

Ian Phillips

 

Picture editor

Roberto Ekholm

 

Asst picture editor

Guilfre Jordan

 

Producer

Ian Phillips

 

 

Picture sources:

 

William the Conqueror - Source: http://globallearning.pwnet.org/images/WilliamtheConqueror.jpg

Death of King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings, 1066. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century; by special permission of the City of Bayeux

 

Angles, Saxon, Jutes invasion map - Source:  http://www.thecimmerian.com/cormac-wulfhere-and-very-early-vikings/

 

King Arthur presides at the Round Table with all of his Knights.

 

Medieval leper bell. Photo taken  at the museum Ribes Vikinger, Ribe, Denmark, May 2005

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leprosy_bell.jpg Author: Wikipedia user Cnyborg

 

St. Ethelburga of Lyming, Abbess of Lyming. All Rights Reserved by Nash Ford Publishing - Source: http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/adversaries/bios/ethelburgalyming.html

 

Free Shoulder clasp (closed) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum. Wiki: Rob Roy. 27 January 2007

 

An image of a king and his witan - from the eleventh-century Old English Hexateuch [British Library] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Witan_hexateuch.jpg

 

After en:Carlo Saraceni, or his studio, imaginary portrait of en:Pope Gregory I, ca 1610. Cropped. (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome) Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome wiki

 

William the Conqueror - Source: British School, 1618-1620 Description: William the Conqueror. Painting. Oil oak panel. 57.2 x 42.5 cm. Current location: Dulwich Picture Gallery. Image location: Wikipedia Commons

 

Battle of Hastings, as portrayed by Philip James de Loutherbourg: this work of art has been engraved by W. Bromley and published in Bowyer's edition of Hume's History of England (1804). Image location: Wikipedia Commons

 

Harold Godwinson falls at Hastings. Harold was struck in the eye with an arrow (left), slain by a mounted Norman knight (right) or both. 1070s. Bayeux Tapestry. Source: Unknown, suspected to be commissioned by Matilda of Flanders, Odo of Bayeux or Edith of Wessex. Image location: Wikipedia Commons

 

King Arthur - Source: N. C. Wyeth. Title page of The Boy's King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory's History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Edited for Boys by Sidney Lanier (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922).

 

Vercingetorix jette ses armes aux pieds de Jules César, 1899. Artist: Lionel Royer (1852 - 1926) Musée CROZATIER du Puy-en-Velay. http://www.mairie-le-puy-en-velay.fr  Image location: Wikipedia Commons

 

Painting of Edward the Elder, Anon. 13th cent. Image location: Wikipedia Commons

 

St Hilda icon. Image source: http://www.allmercifulsavior.com/icons/Icons-Hilda.htm

 

Lapis lazuli with pyrite. Afghanistan. Source - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lapis-lazuli_hg.jpg Author Hannes Grobe

 

The Last Judgment, circ.1435. Artist: Stefan Lochner (1400-1451). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stefan_Lochner_006.jpg

 

Engraving (intaglio and engraving) of St. Augustine background scriptorium. Source - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Augustinus_2.jpg

 

Sculpture of King Æthelberht of Kent, an Anglo-Saxon king and saint, on Canterbury Cathedral in England.

 

Roman soldiers 70 a.C. with centurio, aquilifer, signifer, cornicen. Photo taken during a show of Legio XV from Pram, Austria. Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Roman_soldiers_with_aquilifer_signifer_centurio_70_aC.jpg Author: Wikipedia user MatthiasKabel

 

Reenactment of XXX Ulpia Victrix legion by LEGIO XXX ULPIA TRAIANA VICTRIX ONLUS, Rome, 2007 Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Legione_romana_parata.JPG Author: Marten253

 

Passion scenes from the St Augustine Gospels, possibly brought by Mellitus to England. Folio 125r of the St. Augustine Gospels (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 286), Scenes from the Passion.

NOTE: This appears to have been digitally colour-adjusted. The colours do not represent the original, Amandajm. 6th century AD. Folio 125r of the St. Augustine Gospels

 

Saint Patrick stained glass window from Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA. Photographer: Simon Carrasco.wiki

 

St Columba window, St Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh Castle. Source - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St-columba.jpg

 

The Pagan Temple in Garni, Armenia (19 May 2007) Author: MEDIACRAT, project ‘Wow! Armenia’ (http://www.wowarmenia.ru) Source - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Garni_Pagan_Temple.jpg

 

Stained glass window from the cloister of Worcester Cathedral showing the death of Penda of Mercia. Author: Wikipedia user Violetriga (photographer)

Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Penda_of_Mercia.jpg

 

Book of Lindisfarne. Carpet page Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Meister_des_Book_of_Lindisfarne_002.jpg

 

Depiction of the Venerable Bede (CLVIIIv) from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493. Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nuremberg_Chronicle_Venerable_Bede.jpg

 

St. Boniface Baptising and Martyrdom in 754. Source: Illustration from the Sacramentary of Fulda. Date: 11th century.

Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:St_Boniface_-_Baptising-Martyrdom_-_Sacramentary_of_Fulda_-_11Century.jpg

 

Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours, painting by Charles de Steuben c.1837 Source - http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Steuben_-_Bataille_de_Poitiers.png

 

Charlemagne receives the submission of Widukind at Paderborn. Author: Ary Scheffer (1840). Location: Palais de Versailles, Gallerie des Batailles.

Source - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ary_Scheffer,_Charlemagne_re%C3%A7oit_la_soumission_de_Widukind_%C3%A0_Paderborn,_%281840%29.jpg?uselang=ca

 

Offa's Dyke - the best bit. Author: Chris Heaton. Source - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Offa%27s_Dyke_near_Clun.jpg

 

Map showing the principal routes of Viking invasion of England and Europe. Note in particular the arrow that shows a primary invasion route past the Isle of Man and directly into Lancashire.

Source - http://www.grimshaworigin.org/images/England/VikingMap.jpg

 

A page from the [C] text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This entry is for 871, a year of battles between Wessex and the Vikings. British Library Cotton Tiberius B i.

 

One monk writing. Oil on wood, 21x16cm Author: Carl Schleicher Source - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carl_Schleicher_Schreibender_M%C3%B6nch.jpg

 

King Alfred. Source - http://users.moscow.com/khakimian/images/alfred.jpg

 

Statue of King Alfred in Wantage, England. Photographer: Steve Daniels

 

Ethelred the Unready, circa 968-1016. Illuminated manuscript, The Chronicle of Abindon, c.1220. MS Cott. Claude B.VI folio 87, verso, The British Library.

Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EthelUn.jpg

 

King Cnut - Source: Canute, c.995-1035. Illuminated manuscript, Liber Vitae, 1031, Stowe Ms 944, folio 6, The British Library. Scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287. Image location: Wikipedia Commons

 

Edward the Confessor, King of England 1042-1066, Bayeux Tapestry

Deutsch: Edward der Bekenner, König von England 1042-1066, Teppich von Bayeux, 1066, Städtisches Museum in Bayeux Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_der_Bekenner.jpg

 

The funeral cortege of Edward the Confessor, from the Bayeux Tapestry, Tapestry dates from sometime earlier than 1476.

From: Lucien Musset The Bayeux Tapestry, translated by Richard Rex, published by the Boydell Press, Woodbridge, UK. 2005. ISBN 1-84383-163-5. pp. 160-165

Source - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bayeux_Edward_Funeral.jpg

 

William the Conqueror. Source - http://globallearning.pwnet.org/images/WilliamtheConqueror.jpg

 

All other pictures/photography – Ian Phillips

 

 

 

Episode transcript:

 

Coming soon on this site and on You Tube is the history documentary ‘At the Edge of the World’ - the story of the British Isles from the Fall of the Roman Empire in AD410 to the death of William the Conqueror in 1087 - a span of 677 years. It’s called ‘At the Edge of the World’ because Ireland was as far west as you could go until Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.

 

This is the story of the settled tribes and invaders who now make up the nations of the island landmass, just off the continent of Europe, whose peoples would eventually found the United States and preside over the largest empire the world has yet encountered - an empire upon which the sun never set.

 

It is written and presented by the Chairman of the Manorial Society of Great Britain, Robert Smith. It is a narrative of the men and women who laid the building blocks of the countries known as England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. It will tell how these nations were converted to Christianity, creating the most powerful cultural interconnection with mainland Europe. In this mostly secular or agnostic 21st century, Europe is not unike deeply-veined marble: you just cannot escape the variegated streaks of the Christian cultural tradition.

 

The christianizing of the islands at the edge of the world would bind them with the even wider and civilized culture of East Rome (based on Istanbul, or Constantinople) and the vast Muslim empires that conquered even Spain and the southern French littoral.

 

This is the period known as the Dark Ages of Britons, Scots, Anglo-Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, and finally the Normans. When the Normans were conquering England in the 1060s, another branch of the Normandy leaders were conquering Sicily and Southern Italy. In fact, the Norman rulers in northern France started out from Scandinavia, and were Vikings, who also conquered east, through modern European Russia to the Black Sea.

 

Original music has been composed to accompany the documentary. Thousands of pictures of people and places have been obtained, and film footage shot around the British Isles to illustrate and enhance the narrative.

 

Weekly episodes of about 18 minutes each will build up into a story of more than 30 hours over two years. Watch this site for further information on the starting date.

 

William the Conqueror summoned all the great men of England to meet him at Salisbury, in August 1086, to swear loyalty to him in return for the lands he had given them.   These lands were recorded in the King's Book, known as Domesday book.

 

Twenty years before, William - as duke of Normandy - had invaded England, and killed its king, called Harold, and many of his men at the Battle of Hastings.   Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow and was buried at Waltham Abbey, Essex.  

That battle was fought in October.   Two months later, William was crowned king of England in London.   He had overthrown the richest monarchy in Western Europe and brought the fiercely independent southern part of island at the Edge of the World under foreign rule for the first time since the Romans 750 years before.

 

King Harold was a seasoned military leader.   A few weeks before, he had crushed a Danish invasion of Yorkshire, supported by some of the greatest Saxon lords in the North.   He had a powerful fleet that he used with success against the Danes, and killed their king.   Why did Harold not use that fleet to intercept the Norman ships crammed with 7,000 men, horses, and equipment?  

Before that, in the last years of King Edward the Confessor's reign, he had fought his way into South Wales.   He was a military leader with an experienced army of thousands of heavily armed men.   How had the disaster at Hastings happened?

 

But long before all this, who were the Anglo-Saxons who had invaded and started to settle England half a millennium before the conquering William?   They had conquered the warlike Keltic Britons and their druids.   King Arthur is said to have given them a run for their money.  

Who were the druids?   Who was King Arthur?   Julius Caesar had first come to Britain in 55BC.   What had happened to the Romans who had ruled England as the province of Britannia from Hadrian's Wall in the North to the Land's End in the South? 

 

The greatest threat to well being and life was shortage of food, closely followed by a near complete ignorance of medicine, not battle, not the depredations of warlords.   How long did people live when a small household cut, while preparing food, could prove fatal?   What kind of medicine was there?  

And don't forget that the fine line between precarious life and death from starvation or pestilence for the vast majority of people persisted in Britain until at least the 17th century.   What did people wear and what did they eat?   What were their houses like?  

 

Why was British wine prized in Rome in the 2nd century AD, and did you know that there were 24 vineyards in Domesday Book in 1986?   Why did English wine disappear?

 

The upper classes and clergy were internationally mobile.   King Alfred's sister ruled Mercia for her brother and then after his death for her brother, King Edward the Elder.   Many women ruled abbeys and monasteries.   Why had women stopped, or been stopped, from playing leading roles in Church and State by the 11th century?   The Anglo-Saxon period is known as the Dark Ages.

 

But international trade, even with the Islands at the Edge of the World, burgeoned.   Lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan and was used in manuscripts, like the Catach Psalter in Ireland, and the Lindisfarne Gospels in England, to make blue tints.   Expensive furs came from Russia.  

Gold ornaments from the Near East were found in a burial hoard at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.   Garnets from Sri Lanka were used in some of the most beautiful Anglo-Saxon jewellery.   English wool went all over western Europe.  

 

But there were no maps, remotely like the ones we use, so how did kings know where places were in their kingdoms, or in other kingdoms?   We shall find out.   And with commerce and travel came knowledge of other peoples and places, their culture, their learning, their hopes, their fears.   The southern part of Britain may even have traded with the Phoenecians in the ninth century BC.

 

Were the islands at the Edge of the World still afforested and, if so, why did the Normans plant forests, best known being the New Forest in south-west Hampshire?   Did you know that there were no rabbits in England until the Normans or that saffron was grown in East Anglia commercially?

 

Were the Anglo-Saxon witans - described as national meetings - precursors of parliamentary democracy, an idea that has recently gathered a head of political steam?   Men in the British Isles seemed to love a scrap in our period.   Is this why they go on scrapping right up to today, whether in Iraq for Queen and Country, or on Saturday nights in drunken brawls in some town centres?   Does anything fundamentally change?

 

Every human endeavour was bound up in our ancestors' time in the all-pervasive supernatural, in God and Christianity, and the End of Days that everyone thought was imminent, when Christ would come to judge the quick and the dead.   Is the hold of the Church, a thousand years ago, being replicated and enforced today by politicians and scientists, some as shrill and dismissive of other options as Professor Richard Dawkins?  

Does science have its own martyrology and its own high priests, just like the religious of years gone by?   Scientists who have dissented from the conception of Global Warming accuse the mainstream of denying them publication and jobs, paid for by corporate and tax-payer money.   Is this the modern equivalent of being burnt at the stake?  

Science, like the Church, is also a business.  

 

We can answer one of our earlier questions now.   In AD410, the last of the legions were recalled from Britannia to defend Rome, which fell soon after to barbarians under Alaric, King of the Goths.

 

A few years later, the first barbarians from north Germany - the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes - traditionally under their warlords, the brothers Hengest and Horsa, landed in Kent, to begin the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England.   They were pagans.   England was a lush land compared with the invaders' German home.   They may also have reasoned that the fine Roman villas were treasure troves of wealth.

 

These adventurers frightened off some Britons - mostly the better off - who fled to Wales, the West Country, even to Brittany, western France, which is named after them.   Some fled to the Scottish lowlands.   Most stayed put and married into the Anglo-Saxons to begin the mix of peoples who are now the English.

 

At about the same time, from an area, known as Scotia, in Northern Ireland, the Irish Kelts, known as Scots, were invading Scotland, whose ancient people were the Picts, a warlike race who kept even the Romans out of their territory.   A Roman emperor Hadrian had to build a wall to stop the Picts from invading their colony of Britannia to the south, the colony that would one day become England.

 

No island is an island, except geographically, when, at its nearest point, it is only 22 miles from France.   Trade - and with it the exchange of culture and ideas - was of long standing between Britain and what was then Gaul.   By the time the Anglo-Saxons and Scots were invading the island of Britain, the Franks were invading France from Germany.

 

A hundred years before the fall of Rome in AD410, the Roman Empire became a Christian empire, and, by some very astute footwork, the Christian Church of Rome not only survived Alaric's Goths, but began to prosper.

 

So that, by AD597, the Roman Pope, Gregory the Great, could send a mission to Christianize Anglia, as England was then known.   Gregory had apparently seen young Angel or Angle slaves from England for sale in a Roman market and wept at this sight.  

Since it was illegal to keep slaves who were Christian in Christendom, the Pope sent Augustine with about 40 other priests to England to convert the English pagans to Christianity.   They landed in Kent and were received by Aethelberht, king of Kent, who was married to a Frankish Christian princess.   The king was converted.

 

What we shall keep in the forefront of our minds in this history is the overwhelming importance of religion, pagan at first then Christian.   Everyone believed in God or gods, even truly wicked people, many of whom we shall meet along our way.

 

The Roman Church had much, besides Christian belief, to impart to warlord kings, like Aethelberht.   Roman priests were educated - they could read and write.   The Roman Empire had been built on conquest, but it was governed by written laws and imperial orders.   The Church of Rome and its popes were the successors of Roman emperors and traditions.

 

It was Augustine's priests at Canterbury who first rendered the Anglo-Saxon language - early English - into writing, using the Latin alphabet of ABC.   Barbarian kings could now write down their laws, and the first law code in Early English was written at this time, the first building block of the English nation state, of any nation state.

 

The Barbarian kings had their genealogies, deriving from their gods, that were very important to them.   Divine descent in a profoundly religious age gave legitimacy, and, by taking up Christianity, these warlords could plug into a line of popes from St Peter all the way back to the Garden of Eden, just after the Creation.  

The right to rule didn't get any better than that.   And the Roman Church was utterly practical.   It worked with the men, like Aethelberht, who were the power on the ground.

 

A century before St Augustine of Canterbury, Patrick, a Briton from Wales, went to Ireland and laid the foundations of Christian culture so securely that Irish priests established a monastery on the island of Iona, Scotland, in the next century.   While Augustine and his immediate successors were converting the South, the Irish priests from Iona, led by St Columba, were converting the Picts and Scots in Scotland, and the Angles in the embryonic kingdom of Northumbria that stretched from York to Edinburgh along the British North Sea coast.

 

But Christianity was not an instantly done deal.   The Kentish king after Aethelberht reverted to paganism.   An East Anglian king had Christian and pagan altars side by side and worshipped at both.   The fabulous grave goods of one Angle king - found at Sutton Hoo - included gold and silver objects, decorated with Christian and pagan motifs.

 

Worst of all, from the Christian point of view, was Penda the Pagan, whose war bands controlled central England.   In alliance with the Welsh-British king of North Wales, he overthrew the saintly King Oswald of Northumbria, and slaughtered him and his entire army in 642.   King Penda was killed in 655.

 

King Caedwalla of Wessex invaded Hampshire and the Isle of Wight a bit later and wiped out its entire pagan royal family.   But he spared two young princes long enough for them to be converted to Christianity before having them beheaded.   He went to Rome in 688 where he was baptized by Pope Sergius I.

 

Penda's heir, in 655, was a Christian, and Northumbria recovered its equilibrium after the death of Oswald, its king and saint, to hold a synod at Whitby Abbey, north Yorkshire, founded by a woman called Hilda.   This council, in 664, pronounced in favour of Roman Christianity, at the behest of Oswy, king of Northumbria.   Top royal followers were on-message even in the 7th century.

 

What is known as the Northumbrian cultural re-birth in the early 8th century produced the Lindisfarne Gospels, commissioned by the monastery on Holy Island.   It also produced The History of the English, by St Bede, the father of modern history.   One of Lindisfarne's early bishops was St Cuthbert, who gave his name to Durham Cathedral.   And not far from Lindisfarne was Bamburgh Castle, one of the fortresses of the Northumbrian kings.

 

So successful were the English and Irish conversions in the 7th century, that priests from both countries, and Iona, evangelized the modern Netherlands and Germany in the 8th century.   Indeed, the patron saint of the modern Netherlands is an Englishman, born in Devon.   He is St Boniface.   Women played a notable part in consolidating Christianity in the islands at the Edge of the World and also travelled to Germany, France, and Italy.

 

But it might have been different.   More than a century earlier, Arabs from modern Saudi Arabia charged out of their tribal lands and conquered as far east as Persia, and west from Egypt, through the whole of north Africa, as far as Spain.   

They invaded France more than once,  and controlled the French south coast from modern Marseilles west to Spain, which they ruled.   Had it not been for the Frankish commander Charles Martel, who defeated them at Poitiers, western France, in 731, we might all be Muslims and be speaking Arabic.

 

Just imagine if Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492, had been a Muslim and not a Christian.   Charles Martel's grandson was Charles the Great - Charlemagne - who was crowned emperor of the West by Pope Leo III in Rome, on Christmas Day 800.   One of his chief ministers was Alcuin, a priest from York.

 

In England, by about 750, there were only three kingdoms left in England: Wessex, in the south-west; Mercia, in the Midlands; and Northumbria, in the north-east.

 

Wales stayed independent of England, but its princes were routinely at war with English rulers, one trying to invade the other, which caused a great king of Mercia to build a dyke to keep the Welsh Britons out.   It was called Offa's Dyke and was, for centuries to come, the largest single man-made structure in Western Europe.

 

Then, in the very late 8th century, the first Vikings descended on England, murdering, pillaging, and taking away English men, women, and children as slaves, whom they sold as far away as modern Russia and Turkey.

 

These pagans returned in ever greater numbers in their longships from the 850s, overthrowing Northumbria and putting enormous pressure on Mercia.   They might have taken Wessex but for the determination and persistence of one of the English's most important kings, Alfred the Great, but the Vikings took and settled most of the north and east of the country with York as their capital.

 

King Alfred held the invaders in check, made peace with them, and converted them to Christianity.   He reformed the ramshackle English Church during this crisis, learnt to read and write, was pious, encouraged learning among his chief men, and ordered the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a most important series of histories by date about the country and its neighbours.  

Uniquely, it was written in English.   King Alfred also wrote the laws in English and his land grants in English, and the Bible was read in church in English.   The Normans put a stop to that.

 

Like just about all the chronicles in Europe, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was compiled by monks - the literate community with time to write.   But we have to be careful with what they tell us because they were not unbiased, even the great Bede.   They promoted Roman Christianity in their histories.   In their biographies, they promoted their subjects, like King Alfred and William the Conqueror, sometimes gushingly so.

 

Unwanted characters and events were air-brushed out, like a Nazi panegyric to Hitler, or a Soviet one to Stalin.

 

We shall hear them speaking to us through quotations, in their own words - in English, not Latin - from as long ago as 1,300 years.

 

Alfred established a series of defensive fortresses along the border with the Viking Danelaw, and in depth.   England had already been measured, so the king had a good idea of what his subjects could pay for their own defence, and a land tax (known as geld) was laid on them, and collected by efficient administrators.   He built a powerful navy so that he could meet the Vikings at sea, before they landed, or if they had landed, he could come up behind them.

 

He revised and consolidated the Anglo-Saxon laws, and introduced his own penal code to meet the critical circumstances of invasion,   Perhaps surprisingly, the death penalty was a last resort.   He followed the English tradition of fines, or wirgilds, on a rising scale, depending on the importance of the victim.

 

When he died in 899, aged about 49, he left a race of highly competent sons and grandsons, who reconquered all of England, and brought the Vikings under their sceptre.   They and their children married into all the chief royal families of Europe, and there is not one royal, princely, or ex-royal house today that is not descended from the Saxon monarchy.   Ironically, the kingdom of all the English was made possible by the terrible Viking attacks from Scandinavia.

 

But the invasions were not over and almost 100 years later, under the feeble rule of King Alfred's great grandson, Aethelred the Unready, the Danes arrived in force again and overthrew him.   The kingdom was taken by Cnut, in 1015, who was the first ruler to style himself king of England, as opposed to ‘of the English'.   He is best known as the monarch who is said to have had his throne taken onto a beach where he commanded the tide to recede.

 

Aethelred died in exile in Normandy.   He was the brother-in-law of the duke, and his widow Emma extraordinarily married Cnut and returned to England, leaving her son and England's heir Edward with his uncle Normandy.   Cnut and his two sons reigned until 1042, when Prince Edward was recalled from Normandy to ascend the long-awaited English throne.   He is known as Edward the Confessor, whose shrine is in Westminster Abbey.

 

That he died childless in 1066, left an open door to another duke of Normandy - William the Conqueror - who made himself king after the Battle of Hastings.

 

In going back long before the events that occupy this history - in an effort to give reasons for those events - we shall also look forward to the present to see if we can discern any strands of behaviour and thought that might be universal.   We are nothing without history and, though we cannot change the past, we can try to learn from it and perhaps change the future.  

Can you imagine what it would be like to have no memory earlier than your year of birth?   We enter a world created by our ancestors.   We need to know about them because we are not just linked to them by flesh, bone, and DNA.   We are linked to them by memory, and without memory, we would be nothing more than a life form of no intellect, no different from an inanimate pebble on the shore.

 

I think it is a Polish saying that sums up best what I am trying to convey: with one eye focused on the past, we are blind in one eye; with no eye focused on the past, we are blind in both.

 

This blog is really a history documentary, of one hundred and ten episodes, each about 18 minutes long.   It will make a total of more than 30 hours over two years.   Episodes will appear weekly on the Manorial Society website and on You-Tube, with links to museums, churches, castles, and many others who have helped us without making any charges.

 

There is nothing on the internet like it for history in depth.   In the UK, history documentaries of more than one episode are mostly four episodes, and sometimes six.   Some are more travelogue than history.   There will be no historical re-enactment, posing as an excuse for history.   In our documentary, you will see me some of the time, or I shall be talking over still pictures, maps, and moving footage, that has been specially filmed by experienced friends, who have given me their help freely.   The music has been written and orchestrated by a talented friend.

 

I believe in scene-setting, and I believe in narrative: dates, places, and rulers, if you like.   We shall meet emperors and kings; popes, bishops, and warlords; pagans, bloody battles, terrible plagues, great wealth, grinding poverty, greedy noblemen and perverse priests, but also men and women of truly wondrous worth and commitment.

 

My opinions will be relentless, and I shall pick out the strands that I think still resonate today.   You might disagree, or think of other strands that I have not.   There will be a redacted forum for your opinions, and we might invite you to take part in a filmed discussion  or opinion  to be run as a supplement.

 

Copyright Robert Smith, Manorial Society of Great Britain

 

 

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