The English and the Normans: Ethnic Hostility, Assimilation, and Identity, 1066-C. 1220

The English and the Normans: Ethnic Hostility, Assimilation, and Identity, 1066-C. 1220

The English and the Normans: Ethnic Hostility, Assimilation, and Identity, 1066-C. 1220

The English and the Normans: Ethnic Hostility, Assimilation, and Identity, 1066-C. 1220

Synopsis

This is an important new study of the impact of the Norman Conquest. It provides the first full explanation of how the English and the Normans merged to become the same people. The author draws on anthropological theory, the latest scholarship on Anglo-Norman England, and sources ranging from legal documents to romances.

Excerpt

On Christmas Day, 1066, large crowds of English and Normans gathered for the coronation of William the Conqueror. Though William had gained his crown by force, he claimed to be the legitimate successor to Edward the Confessor, and sought to have that claim reinforced and symbolized by a traditional coronation, which included a call for acclamation and assent from the people gathered. The call was duly read out, both in French and English, and both Normans and English responded dutifully. At that point, however, William's carefully planned propa- ganda coup met disaster. A nervous guard of Norman knights posted outside Westminster Abbey, unfamiliar with the traditional ceremony and unable to understand what the English were shouting, mistook the ceremonial acclamation for the beginnings of an attack and reacted by setting fire to the houses surrounding the abbey.

William's coronation was indeed a powerful symbol, but not of the unity he hoped to achieve. Instead, it showed the cultural and linguistic gulf between his Continental followers and English subjects and foreshadowed the renewed warfare and hostility to come. In the years following the coronation revolt followed upon revolt and the Normans countered with savage reprisals, including the deliberate devastation of wide swaths of countryside. Hostility dominated the relationship between the ethnic groups and even shattered the tranquillity of monastic life when the new Norman abbot of Glastonbury sought to introduce Continental innova- tions in the liturgy and his monks reacted forcefully. The abbot sent in troops, and during the resulting massacre, in the words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 'blood ran from the altar onto the steps and from the steps onto the floor'. Peace between English and Norman aristocrats proved unattainable and within twenty years of the conquest the Normans had slaughtered, exiled, or dispossessed almost all of the most powerful pre-conquest landholders. The bitterness between the English and Normans lingered well into the twelfth century.

Yet by the end of the twelfth century this hostile state of affairs was altered beyond recognition. Ethnic distinctions had broken down to the point that one could not

GGWP 150.

For an excellent recent account of the revolts and warfare after the conquest, see Williams,ENC
14–70.

ASCE 1083.

I provide the most recent discussion of this process in 'The Significance and Fate of the Native
English Landholders of 1086',EHR, forthcoming, 2003.

For the chronology, see below, Chaps. 5 and 6.

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