Confession of St Patrick
End of Roman rule
After Roman Rule
The Saxon Invasion
The Age of Saints
Pagan Religions in Britain
Ogham and the Irish in Britain
Scotti and Scots
Dark Age Books
Early Welsh History
After Rome: C.400-c.800
Thomas Charles-Edwards (Editor).
The chapters in this volume, each written by a leading scholar of the period, analyse in turn the different nationalities and kingdoms that existed in the British Isles from the end of the Roman empire to the coming of the Vikings, the process of conversion to Christianity, the development of art and of a written culture, and the interaction between this written culture and the societies of the day. Available from:
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The Venerable Bede
Bede was born in 672 or 673 and died on May 27, 735. He was a Northumbrian
monk associated with the monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow.
Completed in 731, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English
People is the most seminal source of the English foundation myth. The Latin
text was copied widely and no fewer than four 8th century, and 156 later
medieval manuscripts remain (Farmer, 1990: 36). In his introduction to the 1990 Penguin
edition, Farmer says that: 'The History is readable and attractive' and 'Bede's insight, empathy and concision
are evident'. Significantly, and unlike Gildas, Nennius or Geoffrey of Monmouth, his work
has fashioned the common view of early English history. Stenton (1965: 187) explained
"...the quality which makes his work great is not his
scholarship nor the faculty of narrative which Bede shared with many contemporaries,
but his astonishing power of co-ordinating the fragments of information
which came to him through tradition, the relation of friends or documentary
evidence. In an age when little was attempted beyond the registration of
fact, he had reached the conception of history."
In other words, Bede's attractiveness derives not from the mere recording
of fact (or myth?) but his creation of a coherent 'history'.
Bede is not thought to have
held a significant ecclesiastical position or travelled any great distance,
but he appears to have been held in considerable respect at the time. Farmer (1990: 34)
states that 'he went to Lindisfarne,
Hexham and York, but he may have never left Northumbria. It seems safe
to assume that he had little or no direct experience of kings and their
courts, about which inevitably he formed his own opinions.'
However, the History
was commissioned by the Northumbrian king and shows a careful respect for
the secular and religious politics of the time. As John (1996: 51) observes:
"... he was freely given information from all over England as well
as the papal archives. He shows intimate familiarity with the world of
high politics - especially as regards what it was expedient to ignore."
Moffat (2001: 10) has a
different perspective, arguing that the transformation of Britain (in part) into
England was a lengthy process, during which 'oral
culture became gradually discredited and was replaced with the perceived greater
certainties of ink and paper.' Anglo-Saxon historians such as Bede of
Jarrow committed the English version of history to writing. This gave it permanence and
authority - an authority that we would rarely give to a book today - and, moreover,
'the engines of government also came to depend on
signed, witnessed and dated texts.'
In the introduction to a best-selling and overtly nationalistic book published in 2002,
Peter Ackroyd (2002: xx) states:
"There is clear evidence that the concept of Englishness -
the 'Englishness' of the Anglo-Saxons, as opposed to the 'Britishness' of the Celts -
circulated widely in the Anglo-Saxon world. Bede composed Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis
Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People), where the 'Gens Anglorum' were
deemed to be a specific and identifiable race sprung out of Saxon and Old English roots. In
Bede's history, 'the English were God's new "chosen" nation elected to replace the sin-stained
Briton in the promised land of Britain'. "(last quote cited by Ackroyd from Greenfield, S.B. and Calder, D.G. (1986),
A New Critical History of Old English Literature, New York University Press)
In fact, Bede was a medieval spin-doctor, casting the 'English' in a
righteous, Catholic Christian role, while the (Celtic Christian) Britons were portrayed as faithless, cowardly and vindictive.
John (1996: 42) expresses the view that:
"The History is in many ways a parochial book, reticent
to the point of dishonesty. Bede is a master of the art of conveying a
wholly misleading impression without actually telling a lie. I would offer
as examples his account of the conversion of Edwin or his version of Chad's
elevation to the see of York. The nearer he gets to his own time the more
reticent he becomes. Bede was clearly a timid man: not for him the outspoken
recklessness of Wilfrid. Since timidity is rather commoner than outspokenness
in the groves of academe, this helps explain why Bede gets so much better
a press than Wilfrid."
He goes on:
"It is evident that there was still a substantial element
in the Northumbrian population of Romano-British descent, and some residual
Christianity. Bede totally ignores them, though Wilfrid and his biographer
did not. Within a generation of Bede's death his writings had been taken
en masse to the Continent by the Anglo-Saxon missionaries, and his influence
on what was to become Carolingian Francia was immense. In England Bede
came into his own with the monastic revival of the tenth century: in the
process he ceased to be a Northumbrian writer and became an English one."
Ackroyd, P. (2002), Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination,
Chatto and Windus
Bede, the Venerable (731), Ecclesiastical History of the English
People, 1990 Penguin edition, translated by L.Sherley-Price, edited
with new introduction and notes by D.H. Farmer, Penguin: Harmondsworth.
Farmer, D.H. (1990), Introduction and notes in Bede's Ecclesiastical
History of the English People, 1990 Penguin edition, translated by
L.Sherley-Price, Penguin: Harmondsworth.
John, E. (1996) Reassessing Anglo-Saxon England, Manchester University Press.
Moffat, A. (2001) The Sea Kingdoms: The Story of Celtic Britain and Ireland,
The Tribes of Britain
by David Miles. The diverse peoples of Britain and Ireland are revealed not only by physical characteristics but also through structures and settlements, place names and dialects. Using the latest genetic and archaeological research, the author shows how different peoples traded, settled and conquered, establishing the 'tribal' and regional roots still apparent today. Its vast scope considers the impact of prehistoric peoples and Celtic tribes, Romans and Vikings, Saxons and Normans, Jews and Huguenots, as well as the increasing population movements of the last century. Available from:
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