Friday, October 14, 2016

1066 and All This


Today is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman famously lampooned history with their classic 1066 and All That, but I think it's a turning point in history whose after effects we are still feeling.

For fear of seeming to add a few paltry ha'pence worth of ire to an already full field of it, I've not written here about the appalling political situation in the UK, a fiasco entirely brought upon us by the Tories and their chums the media moguls, the bankers, the corporate CEOS, all those nice Arab despots wanting to order more UK-made arms, &c, &c, &c.

But the EU referendum got me thinking about the British People, if I may use capital letters. David Cameron spoke a few years ago of Britain's 'remarkable political stability', and in this I think we should give the pig-interferer his due - he was right about this (the list of things he was wrong about is, of course, somewhat longer than my arm). Britain is very stable country. Or at least, that's what the media tell us. (Britain has the most right-wing media in Europe, by the way.)

When the Panama scandal broke, Cameron was grilled, but he remained in office. In Iceland, the people forced their tax-dodging PM out.

Why did that not happen in Britain? Could it be anything to do with 'remarkable political stability'? Or is that just another word for apathy? If so, why are the majority of the British so seemingly apathetic?

A recent study suggests that trauma can be inherited. I began to wonder, could apathy be inherited in a similar way? And could that apathy have anything to do with the fact that the ruling classes in Britain have been brutalising, terrorising, imprisoning and executing the populace for centuries, on a scale unmatched by other European countries? That would appear to be one of the conclusions of Douglas Hay et al's study of crime and punishment in C18 Britain, Albion's Fatal Tree. Britain was routinely treating its populace with far more savagery than happened in the Great Terror that followed the French Revolution.

So it made me wonder, if this thesis is correct - even partially so - where did this savagery start?

1066.

The Norman Yoke didn't start on 15th October of that year; indeed, there was a period of two months after the battle when Harold II's successor, Edgar Atheling, tried to rally support and get himself crowned. But that didn't happen, and William the Conqueror became king on Christmas Day 1066. He then set about brutalising the country, most notoriously in the Harrying of the North.

Whilst Harrying the North, the Normans also stole Saxon land on an enormous scale. Around 90% of Saxon land was taken and parcelled out to William's nobles.

It's perhaps typical of Victorian myopia that C19 historians routinely held that nothing much happened in 1066, it was business as usual, carrying on in the typically British way of muddling through. (I'm all for muddling through; in fact, I do it on a daily basis.) However, such Victorian attitudes are still with us, as the former director of the British Museum, the great Neil MacGregor, recently pointed out. They are views frequently held by those in government.

But it was not business as usual in 1066 and the years that followed. As well as stealing most of the land and practicing the C11 form of state terrorism, the Normans also brought with them the feudal system. This gave us an inequality of wealth which persists to this day; to say nothing of the class system.

I can't help thinking that the Norman Yoke never ended; likewise, the feudal system is still here, making Britain a strange anomaly in Europe. Naturally, certain people want to maintain this anomalous status. For them, it is a matter of pride, of business as usual.

These reasons are why I think the Battle of Hastings is still relevant, and why we are still feeling its consequences today. It was a catastrophe that Britain, and England in particular, never recovered from. We are still under the Norman Yoke. We are told that leaving the EU will be good for Britain, but that is of course industrial-scale bullshit. It will lead to more deregulation, among other things, and things will get worse for the majority of the population. But with 950 years of being trodden on by the elites, surely we're used to that by now? George Orwell's remark that totalitarianism was 'a boot stamping on a human face forever' is in fact an apt description for the way the British ruling classes have treated the population since 1066.

Although the Saxons were not perfect - they had slaves, for starters - they couldn't compete with the Normans on the great scale of bastardy that has become some kind of benchmark for subsequent British rulers. I may of course have a touch of Dark Age nostalgia about me, but anyway, raise a glass for Harold. Me, I'm rooting for an independent Wessex. Perhaps the Heptarchy wasn't so bad after all. 
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