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Extract from Tombs, Robert (2014) “Conquests”. The English and their History.

New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 91, 92.

The most popular story of conflict and reconciliation is the saga of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of
Nottingham, Prince John and King Richard the Lionheart. The link between Robin and the
Lionheart was invented by a sixteenth-century Scottish historian, John Major, elaborated by
Walter Scott in his enormously popular Ivanhoe (1819), and thence transferred to films and
television. This version sets the story in the 1190s, makes Robin an outlawed Saxon yeoman and
his merrie men the embodiment of Saxon freedom struggling against Norman oppression,
epitomized by the cruel and decadent John and his henchmen. King Richard, though Norman,
has somehow acquired Saxon virtues; and when he secretly returns from captivity, he is
acclaimed by the loyal Saxons. Richard subsequently reconciles Saxons and Normans, who,
says Scott, became “completely mingled.”
These ancient questions long engaged historians, and still do. Was the Conquest a long-term
subjugation making England an oppressed colony?46 Or did Saxons and Normans quickly
integrate to form a new English nation—and an aggressive one that soon began a “thousand-
year Reich”? 47 Did fundamental institutions of Anglo-Saxon England survive? Would changes
in language, law and government have happened anyway, as the whole of Europe evolved under
the influence of Catholicism and French culture? How did conquest alter England’s relationship
with its island neighbours and with the Continent? How these events are interpreted has always
affected the fundamental sense of what Englishness is. What recent scholarship tells us is that
the rupture of conquest was traumatic but not complete. The principle governing institutions and
the unity of the Anglo- Saxon kingdom survived, and were even strengthened by a powerful
monarchy. The tradition of the witan and of a national community perhaps did survive or at least
“re-emerged” to strengthen claims to Rights and representation in Magna Carta and parliaments
—though Roman law and the influence of the Church were also important.48 The English were
politically, economically and culturally subjugated, but their spoken and written language
continued, as did their religious traditions. Though the conquerors soon began to pride
themselves on being “English,” lapping up patriotic English history and assimilating the few
surviving English landowners, the majority of the “natives” long remained culturally distinct
and politically unrepresented.
The Conquest further concentrated royal power: this was one of its historic consequences. But it
could not provide stable kingship. It did not cure the problem of disputed succession: descent,
bequest, election and coronation could still potentially conflict, and the death of every monarch
posed a danger. The situation was further complicated as England and Normandy were at first
considered separate inheritances. Every post-Conquest monarch for 150 years suffered
rebellions, mainly due to family rivalry. Moreover, the unique power now claimed by the Crown
led to attempts to bring the king under the rule of law, as enshrined in Magna Carta. Above all,
the troubled link with Normandy and with other parts of France placed a recurring strain on
English politics. English kings were often away pursuing Continental interests. Their use of
England as an endless source of money for wars caused rumbling discontent, and was the
greatest single reason why kings had to seek the consent of their subjects through parliaments.
The gradual loss of French territories would also lead
to conflict in England. For all these reasons, of the eighteen kings who reigned between the
Conquest and the accession of Henry VII in 1485, only eight died peacefully—an unusually
turbulent record by western European standards.*1 Yet, paradoxically, post-Conquest England
as a whole, below the level of its rulers, was in general more peaceful than its neighbours, less
ravaged by war between great nobles, by foreign invasion, or by general lawlessness.