The Norman Impact

Ruthless militarists who extinguished a more thoughtful and sophisticated culture? Or synthesisers of genius who gave England a new lease of life in focusing its attention on Continental Europe? R. Allen Brown weighs profit and loss from the events of 1066.

Of all subjects in English history the Norman Conquest must surely be the most controversial, which is a pity. At bottom one may feel the problem to be less academic and more a matter of lingering national prejudice, combined with insularity, not so very different from that which inspired Edward Augustus Freeman to write his great Victorian Norman Conquest over a century ago, the six volumes of which (1867- 79) still have much influence upon those who have not read them. Though, often enough, woolly minds with bogus scholarship pretend it is not so, we do have sufficient evidence to know most of what happened, why it happened, and with what result. The answers are usually in favour of the Normans, but these are unacceptable to the Anglo-Saxons who arc numerous amongst us, and not only on the Clapham omnibus. Identifying with the real Anglo-Saxons (or were they Anglo-Scandinavians?) as 'Us', and therefore 'Right', they resent the Normans as 'Them', and therefore 'Wrong'. One may begin with a passionate plea that an appreciation of, even admiration for, Old English achievement, should not lead to a denigration of the Norman.

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