I just spent some money on more books about the Saxons, who lived in England and ruled it prior to the Norman conquest of 1066. I am working on a part of the book where I talk about the Saxons. I had to ask myself this question before I clicked on the purchase button: Why should we care about the Saxons?
We care about all this old stuff simply to show how deeply rooted our culture is, and the institutions that have grown up on that basis. This means that very basic changes in how we do things, what we want, what our aspirations and life-plans and life-goals are going to be, are simply not going to happen. As a result, we have certain strong points as a culture and we should be playing to those strong points. So it is not a matter of establishing whether people actually thought that much about the Magna Carta in the centuries before Lord Coke, or whether we have unimpeachable evidence that the Saxons lived in single family homes (though in both cases I believe the answer is yes). The point is the continuity over the centuries, with changes being bounded by these basic Anglospheric impulses. The point is not antiquarianism, as much as your authors are in fact antiquarians, but to show the incredible depth of this continuity.
The further point is that America 2.0 was a partial detour away from some of these things, with a constant pushback by ordinary people who wanted autonomy, their own homes, their own businesses, middle class respectability, mobility, etc.
And the yet further point is that America 3.0 is shaping up to even further get us back onto the track we have been on for all these centuries, while taking best advantage of all the new technology which is coming along. Your authors want to encourage and facilitate that because it is the most natural fit with the deepest roots of American culture, and thus the most realistic path to the continued success of the American experiment.
9 thoughts on “Why we care about the Saxons”
The richness of the English language is due, in no small part – to the Saxons and then the Normans who came from….Normandy? ;-)
That is why there are so many nouns with 2 or more words – like ‘pork” (from the Normans) and Swine (From the Saxons).
I hope that your premise is correct Lex – that we are getting back on track – cause from my vantage point the train is careening and about to jump the track ;-)
Bill, I hope so too.
As to the language, you are right. Saxon was purely Germanic, then there was an infusion of Church Latin, then a huge infusion of Norman French, then many, many foreign words came in due to the English trading all around the world. Logan Pearsall Smith’s old book on The English Language is very good on these matters.
Cecilia Holland has written several books about England 900-1100ad. The fiction is enjoyable and her historical accuracy is spot on. I think you will discover that the Danes were more important than the Saxons. A mini-ice age was in effect from 950-1200 characterized by a short growing season and invasions by North men. The people living in England (including many Danes) responded to these invasions by building castles and maintaining a permanent class of warriors supported by an ungrateful peasantry.
Obama is a replay of Ethelred the Unready.
Pollock and Maitland have written a decent history of the common law. Ranulf de Glanville has an excellent history (1190 – best read in the original medieval latin) and, of course, there is William Blackstone’s Commentaries.
Blackstone’s Commentaries were carried in the saddlebags of circuit judges and lawyers in the 18th century wild west. Blackstone formed the base from which American law was elaborated.
Of these sources Holland’s works are historicly accurate dramatic descriptions of day to day English life in 900-1100. Pollack and Maitland is the best history of the law. But Blackstone brought law and order to an entire continent (except Mexico).
I’ve been reading (for the fourth or fifth time) Manchester’s biography of Churchill, this time “Alone.” During the period when Chamberlain and Halifax were trying to find a way to renege on their pledge to Poland in 1939, Churchill was working on the galleys of his “History of the English Speaking Peoples,” which I’ve also read a few times. The section he was revising (He had to drop the project until after the War) at the time concerned the Saxon invasion and the legend of King Arthur, who Churchill believed was a war leader chosen by the Britons to fight the Saxon invasion. English history is a pastime and Bernard Cornwell’s novels bring some of it to life.
Imagine how rich and prosperous Mexico could be IF they had decided to use Blackstone to provide law and order in Mexico.
An excellent basis for an alternative history.
Thanks, Sol. Pollock and Maitland’s book is still very good, a true classic. Maitland wrote most of the book, but Pollock wrote the part about England under the Saxons. The best guys going on the Saxons in the current era, from what I can tell, are James Campbell and Patrick Wormald. Blackstone was very important, agreed, and I will have more to say about him. The writers of that era, including Blackstone, may have over-estimated the continuity with the Saxon era — but we have gone way too far the other way. The Danes were another infusion of Teutonic folkways into England, for sure, but I cannot say they were more important than the Saxons and other prior groups that settled the country probably more thickly than the Danes. Of course the people who gave their name to the English, the Angles, came from what is now Denmark, and the area they came from is still called Angeln. A truly excellent essay on the early settlements by the Teutons is “The English People in its Three Homes” which is found in Lectures to American Audiences By Edward Augustus Freeman (1882).
Isn’t “English” more appropriate in referring to the pre-1042 Germanic barbarians than “Saxon”? We Britons call the English “Saxons” but they call us “Welsh”, meaning stranger, as if we were strangers in our island.
When we finally drive the house of Cerdic and their English savages back into the sea, from whence they can go to hell or Juteland for all we care, then Britain can return to its proper version: Britain 1.0.
Cymru am byth!
I just spent some money on more books about the Saxons
What books have you bought? Early Middle ages has always been something of an obsession of mine, and am always on the look out for more on this.
And my I recommend for a fun read Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Tales.
Sol, it would not have mattered. The cultural and institutional foundations were not there. Trying to import Blackstone would have had minimal if any impact.
Citizen Fouche, you are a patron of deeply lost causes indeed. Repelling the Teutons, and pushing all Jutes, Angles, Saxons and other assorted riffraff off the Island so the Celts can keep it is more of a doomed dream than even a Stuart restoration.
Steve, I already have James Campbell, The Anglo-Saxon State. I went a little nuts and bought three more: (1) James Campbell, Essays in Anglo-Saxon History, (2) James Campbell, et al., The Anglo-Saxons; and (3) Sir Frank M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England. Way, way overkill, I know. Amazon is my crack pipe. And, when all is said and done, this period is a minor part of the book.
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