Wednesday, 10 February 2010

So who exactly are we? part 4

I dont want to bore you with all the little details - as this isn't meant to be a history lesson (as such), so I will keep the introduction to this part as brief as I can.

Im going to skip a couple of hundred years of detail as it's just too messy with different "kings" and "kingdoms" in the British Isles, and all the bickering and fighting, and political intrigue.

But I want to give a quick mention to King Cnut.

Everyone knows the story about him allegedly sitting on his throne on the beach commanding the tide to go back. But that is a slight exageration so Im going to clear that one up before we start.

The story of Cnut attempting to turn back the tide is one that is meant to demonstrate his piety, rather than the way it is often told as a vainglorious king with an overblown belief in his powers. Cnut, in effect, was saying to his nobles: 'Look how insignificant my power is compared with that of God.'

And something else a lot of people in this country dont realise is that King Cnut was about as "English" as Thai Green Curry.

He was probably the most powerful king ever to rule over Anglo-Saxon England. And the bit that most people dont know is that.........he was the son of the Viking king, Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark, who conquered England in the reign of Ethelred the Unready, but died almost immediately. So one of Cnut's first acts as king was to conquer the country again before taking complete control at the end of 1016.

By the end of his reign, he was not only king of England and Denmark; he also controlled Norway and parts of Sweden. He enjoyed overlordship in Scotland; he had married Emma, the widow of the former Anglo-Saxon king, Ethelred; and when the Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad, was crowned in Rome in 1027, Cnut made the journey to stand at his side as an equal.

And now the trouble starts.

Cnut died in 1035, and for the next 6 years his son Harold Harefoot ruled.

In 1041 the crown was snatched back from Viking rule by the Saxon Edward The Confessor. He was Cnut's stepson (son of Emma and Ethelred).

He had fled to Normandy as a boy in 1016 when Cnut took the throne, and stayed there until he got it back in 1042.

And so we come to the really interesting part - which is going to be so difficult for me to keep brief, but Im really going to try.

When Edward the Confessor died on 5 January 1066, no fixed procedures were in place to decide who should succeed him on the throne.

The Witan (a supreme council of wise men) had to make the decision, and they had four candidates to choose from.

Edgar the Atheling, closest blood claimant to Edward
Edgar, a Saxon prince and nephew of Edward, was a sickly fourteen year old boy.

Harald Hardrada, Viking king of Norway
Hardrada was king of Norway and a direct descendant of the kings of England. He was related to King Cnut.

Harold Godwinson, powerful noble in England, a good soldier and a gifted politician
Harold was born and bred in England and popular with ordinary people. He was son of Earl Godwin, the most powerful noble in England. Harold was a leading Saxon Lord and the brother of Edward's wife. He had won a number of battles for Edward.Harold did not have a direct blood link to the king. He was not of royal birth.

Harold was chosen by the Witan (the King's council) to succeed Edward the Confessor. He also said that it was Edward's dying wish that he, Harold, should have the crown (There were no witnesses to Edward saying this)

The day after Edward died, Harold became King Harold ll of England.

And here we have the final fly in the ointment.......

William, Duke of Normandy, from over the sea in France
William was a distant cousin of Edward the Confessor and wanted to be the next king. He claimed that both Edward and Harold had promised him the throne, but English supporters of Harold challenged this.
Edward invited William of Normandy to his court in 1051 and supposedly promised to make him heir.

After a shipwreck in 1064, Harold was handed over to William of Normandy, who forced him to swear an oath that he would help William become the next king of England when Edward died. It was said that the oath was given over a box that unbeknown to Harold contained the bones of a saint. Oaths were important guarantees that were considered binding in the Middle Ages, so this particular oath bound Harold to helping William, and made Harold’s own claim to the throne look illegal.

William had been a very successful ruler of Normandy and he thought he could do an equally good job for England.

So needless to say, William was pretty p****d off when the crown went to Harold Godwinson. And so he began the Norman invasion of England.

This culminated in The Battle of Hastings, which began at about nine o'clock on the 14th October 1066 and lasted most of the day.

King Harold was killed, and William took the throne...being known forever after as William The Conquerer.

But before you get excited thinking we have now got pure French blood coming into the mixing pot of genes, there is one little twist to the tale about the origins of the Normans..........

The name Normandy comes from the French normand, meaning Norsemen.

Although they were people who lived in Normandy in Northern France.....they were originally Vikings from Scandinavia.

So we're back to the bloody Vikings again.

We've possibly got Celtic, Pictish, Scottish, Roman, Angle, Saxon, Jute, Viking or French blood in our veins. Can I just say though, as someone from England, and knowing our colourful history with the French (Im a horse owner and some things such as eating them cant be forgiven hahaha), Im laying a disclaimer to say that regarding French blood, we only MIGHT have a TEENY WEENY and certainly INSIGNIFICANTLY small amount of it - IF ANY!!!!

In the next (and final) part of my very concise history of our origins, Im going to go through some pointers to help you decide who you think that YOU are.

So who exactly are we? part 3

Britain was settling into a nice (ish) peaceful (ish) time of farming and small village communities. The "new" religion of Christianity was prevalent in almost all of the country of England, Ireland and Scotland (although some small pockets of the old religion flourished in more rural and isolated parts).

Of course there were wars between different groups within the country, but on the whole, it wasnt too bad a place to be.

Until in the 8th Century, bands of fierce raiders began to attack our coasts. They were the Vikings (or Norsemen).

Sorry about this - but does anyone else instantly think of Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis whenever anyone says "The Vikings"? Plus Im now humming the theme tune trying to write this hahaha

They came across the North Sea, just as the Anglo-Saxons had done 400 years earlier. Vikings is a generic term we use for them, but they were from 3 separate Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

"From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord."

The first place the Vikings attacked in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a holy island situated off the Northumberland coast in the north east of England. A few years later the island of Iona (off the west coast of Scotland), came under attack and its monks were slaughtered.

Soon no region of the British Isles was safe from the Vikings. They attacked villages and towns in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and England.

No matter how many times the Vikings were beaten, they always came back.

The last of the Picts appear to have vanished some time after the Viking invasions of Northern Scotland. Were they wiped out? Or did they just become swallowed up and inter-marry with the new rulers of their homelands? Possibly some clue can be gathered from the town names in places like Shetland and Orkney. They are mainly of Norse or possible even Celtic origin. There appear to be no remaining town or settlement names that sound remotely like anything else....which could indicate mass extermination of the race of Picts.

I only say this because if you look at places such as Australia, there are still many places with Aboriginal names because the Aboriginal people are still there. But in places like Tasmania, where the indiginous population was virtually wiped out, there are very very few.

Just a theory, but maybe the right one????

So a very few lucky people living today on these islands could have some trace of Pictish ancestry - but as we have no genetic markers to compare this against (at least not yet) I guess that whole point is just hyperthetical for the forseeable future.

There is no doubt that the Vikings slaughtered a whole lot of Anglo-Saxons, Celts, and the decendants of the Romans, but they didnt kill everybody.

Why not? Well there are indications that there was a pretty strong slave trade going on between Scandinavia and the British Isles. Very profitable! And also, how do new rulers build their empires and armies? On taxes and tithes - and you need people to work the land if you want to fill your coffers.

But they didnt defeat the entire country. Saxons still retained a strong hold in the south and so the country was divided into two.The area eventually settled by Vikings was called the Danelaw. It formed a boundary separating Anglo-Saxon England from Viking England and was defined in a treaty between the English King Alfred and Viking King Guthrum in 880 A.D. It lay north of Watling Street (a Roman road running from London north-west to Chester) and covered northern and eastern England. It included counties north of an imaginary line running from London to Bedford and then up to Chester.

We can tell where the Vikings settled by place names of towns and villages today. Some of the names of places in Britain are made up of Viking words.

Place names ending in –by eg. Derby, Rugby, Whitby, Selby, Grimsby
–by meant farm or homestead (village). These places mark the earliest Viking settlements.

Derby - A village where deer are found

Place names ending in –thorpe (or -thorp, -throp or –trop) eg. Scunthorpe and Grimethorpe-thorpe meant farms.

Place names ending in –toft or-tofts.
A -toft referred to the site of a house or a plot of land.

Some other lasting legacies of our Viking ancestors (or not if you still think you're not a mongrel at the moment)

The Vikings left their imprint on the island in many ways: in government, legal procedures, language, and even arithmetic.

They transmitted to the English with whom they dwelt, among other things, their duodecimal system (counting in twelves instead of tens); therefore, establishing to this day the marketing unit of a dozen, the measuring formula of 12 inches to a foot, the monetary equation of 12 pence to a shilling, and the legal entity of a jury of "12 good men and true".

Maybe they weren't THAT barbaric after all?

And another little snippet before I leave part 3........ Today all the multitudes of familiar English and American patronymic ending in son; such as Jackson, Robertson, Thompson, Stevenson, Johnson, etc. clearly manifest their Scandinavian origin.

But dont relax just yet, as I have more to add before we can try and figure out exactly WHO or rather WHAT we are !