Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

for one of the scions of Ecgberht's house, he might have relied on the co-operation of his rivals; as an
upstart on the throne he could only count on the veiled or open enmity of Mercians and Northumbrians,

who regarded him, and were regarded by him, as hardly less foreign than the invader from France.

The battle of Hastings sums up a series and clinches an argument. Anglo-Saxondom had only been saved
from Danish marauders by the personal greatness of Alfred; it had utterly failed to respond to Edmund's

call to arms against Canute, and the respite under Edward the Confessor had been frittered away. Angles

and Saxons invited foreign conquest by a civil war; and when Harold beat back Tostig and his

Norwegian ally, the sullen north left him alone to do the same by William. William's was the third and

decisive Danish conquest of a house divided against itself; for his Normans were Northmen with a

French polish, and they conquered a country in which the soundest elements were already Danish. The

stoutest resistance, not only in the military but in the constitutional and social sense, to the Norman

Conquest was offered not by Wessex but by the Danelaw, where personal freedom had outlived its

hey-day elsewhere; and the reflection that, had the English re-conquest of the Danelaw been more

complete, so, too, would have been the Norman Conquest of England, may modify the view that

everything great and good in England is Anglo-Saxon in origin. England, indeed, was still in the crudest

stages of its making; it had as yet no law worth the name, no trial by jury, no parliament, no real

constitution, no effective army or navy, no universities, few schools, hardly any literature, and little art.

The disjointed and unruly members of which it consisted in 1066 had to undergo a severe discipline

before they could form an organic national state.

 

CHAPTER II. THE SUBMERGENCE OF ENGLAND

1066-1272

For nearly two centuries after the Norman Conquest there is no history of the English people. There is
history enough of England, but it is the history of a foreign government. We may now feel pride in the

strength of our conqueror or pretend claims to descent from William's companions. We may boast of the

empire of Henry II and the prowess of Richard I, and we may celebrate the organized law and justice, the

scholarship and the architecture, of the early Plantagenet period; but these things were no more English

than the government of India to-day is Hindu. With Waltheof and Hereward English names disappear

from English history, from the roll of sovereigns, ministers, bishops, earls, and sheriffs; and their place is

taken by names beginning with "fitz" and distinguished by "de." No William, Thomas, Henry, Geoffrey,

Gilbert, John, Stephen, Richard, or Robert had played any part in Anglo-Saxon affairs, but they fill the

pages of England's history from the days of Harold to those of Edward I. The English language went

underground, and became the patois of peasants; the thin trickle of Anglo-Saxon literature dried up, for

there was no demand for Anglo-Saxon among an upper class which wrote Latin and spoke French.

Foreigners ruled and owned the land, and "native" became synonymous with "serf."

Their common lot, however, gave birth to a common feeling. The Norman was more alien to the Mercian
than had been Northumbrian or West-Saxon, and rival tribes at last discovered a bond of unity in the

impartial rigour of their masters. The Norman, coming from outside and exempt from local prejudice,

applied the same methods of government and exploitation to all parts of England, just as Englishmen

bring the same ideas to bear upon all parts of India; and in both cases the steady pressure of a

superimposed civilization tended to obliterate local and class divisions. Unwittingly Norman and

Angevin despotism made an English nation out of Anglo-Saxon tribes, as English despotism has made a

nation out of Irish septs, and will make another out of the hundred races and religions of our Indian

 

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