Yesterday was the 955th anniversary of the battle of Hastings in 1066.
I saw online the beginning of an article in the Daily Telegraph - which used to be a respectable newspaper, one that one could read in public places - by Robert Tombs, who for all that he is a Professor Emeritus of French History specialising in the nineteenth century, is a fanatical Brexiteer. In it he appeared to be stressing by contrast the significance of the 937 battle of Brunanburh and then was apparently recycling the old idea of Anglo-Saxon “freedom” - an idea that went out of fashion at least fifty years ago for us mere medievalists. Now it is, of course, true that in the Danelaw and in Kent there were strong traditions of personal freedom which survived and fed into the political and social life of medieval and later centuries. How unique that is in the wider world of the time is not clear, and it does not make the people of those counties proto-modern voters. There were, to be slightly topical, by the way, still slaves in Anglo-Saxon England, a thing which largely disappeared under Norman rule. Moreover, Brexiteers please note, like all the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Scandinavians the freemen were, let’s face it, illegal immigrants from, dare I say it, Europe ….
From other articles of his in the paper it appears that Prof Tombs seems to be very keen on the Enlightenment - now that is one pesky European thing we mercifully only had doses of in this country unlike the unfortunate French.
Peering a little further over the pay-wall of the
Daily Telegraph website ( I refuse to pay for what should be free, and is with other papers ) I found a 2016 Hastings 950 anniversary article by the then un-ennobled Daniel Hannan - in which the then MEP wrote that he apparently thinks we should celebrate Naseby instead of Hastings…. Now not only does he profess to be a Conservative but the man is from Oriel for Heaven’s sake! He read Modern History there - he must have been slumbering in Dr Beddard and Dr Catto’s tutorials….
Brunanburgh is undoubtedly, probably crucially, important in shaping English identity. Naseby hastened the, mercifully temporary, victory of fanaticism and military dictatorship and eventually of regicide, but its long-term consequences are difficult to assess.
However, as those great Oriel historians Sellar and Yeatman knew, there is one date that unquestionably sticks in the English historical folk consciousness as being memorable - and that is 1066. Because unlike those other two battles everything, everything in the life of the realm was to change or to be transformed as a consequence - far more than King Harold II and King William I could have ever possibly imagined that day on Senlac Hill 955 years ago.
It is sad indeed to see the outdated and outmoded ‘Whig History’ so elegantly satirised by Sellar and Yeatman almost a hundred years ago being regurgitated as political propaganda by men intelligent enough to know better.