Whilst repatriating my own books from other people's bedrooms, I came across several small books in the series "A Very Short Introduction" so my reading will be rather random as I catch up on subjects I haven't managed so far to educate myself about.
Today I started on "Medieval Britain". Sure enough, it starts with 1066, (no mention of King Harold and the arrow) but nothing is the same ....... History was simple when I first learnt it. Just a few kings' names to learn plus a few funny stories: the one who burnt the cakes, the one who lost his crown in the wash, the one who got his feet wet on the beach (wrong period I know).
Now see what really happened:
On Christmas Day 1066 Duke William of Normandy was acclaimed king of England in Westminster Abbey. It was an electrifying moment. The shouts of acclamation -- in English as well as in French -- alarmed the Norman guards outside the abbey. Believing that inside the church something had gone horribly wrong, they set fire to the neighbouring houses. Half a century later, a Norman monk recalled the chaos of that day. As the fire spread rapidly, the people in the church were thrown into confusion and crowds of them rushed outside, some to fight the flames, others to take the chance to go looting. Only the monks, the bishops and a few clergy remained before the altar. Though they were terrified, they managed to carry on and complete the consecration of the king who was trembling violently.
A very good job they didn't have television in those days. Not very likely that people would have had confidence in a king who was trembling.
Despite his victory at Hastings, despite the surrender of London and Winchester, William's position was still a precarious one and he had good reason to tremble. It was to take at least another five years before he could feel fairly confident that the conquest had been completed. There were risings against Norman rule in every year from 1067 to 1070: in Kent, in the south-west, in the Welsh marches, in the Fenland, and in the north. The Normans had to live like an army of occupation, living, eating and sleeping together in operational units. They had to build castles -- strong points from which a few men could dominate a subject population. There may well have been no more than 10,000 Normans living in the midst of a hostile population of one or two millions.
Now isn't this sounding a bit familiar?
This is not to say that every single Englishman (sic) actively opposed the Normans. Unquestionably there were many who cooperated with them; it was this which made possible the successful Norman takeover of so many Anglo-Saxon institutions. But there is plenty of evidence to show that the English resented becoming an oppressed majority in their own country. The years of insecurity were to have a profound effect on subsequent history. They meant that England received not just a new royal family but also a new ruling class, a new culture and language. Probably no other conquest in European history has had such disastrous consequences for the defeated.
Leaving aside the extremely anglocentric conclusion (the book was written in 1984 not in the 19th century as you might have thought), you can draw some useful conclusions. The idea of invading a country and not taking it over would seem pretty bizarre in medieval Europe. If you are going to successfully invade a country to take it over, the king must go too and spend a lot of time there, getting crowned as well as being seen by the population. Secondly, pacifying an invaded country is not going to be a quick action. It will take years. Nothing has changed in this respect from 1066 to 2003. I'll leave George Bush to read my blog and draw some conclusions from history. The rest of you can fill in the cliches about history repeating itself as farce.