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Memory and Myths of the Norman Conquest

Memory and Myths of the Norman Conquest

Siobhan Brownlie
Series: Medievalism
Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    Memory and Myths of the Norman Conquest
    Book Description:

    The Norman Conquest is one of the most significant events in British history - but how is it actually remembered and perceived today? This book offers a study of contemporary British memory of the Norman Conquest, focussing on shared knowledge, attitudes and beliefs. A major source of evidence for its findings are references to the Norman Conquest in contemporary British newspaper articles: 807 articles containing references to the Conquest were collected from ten British newspapers, covering a recent three year period. A second important source of information is a quantitative survey for which a representative sample of 2000 UK residents was questioned. These sources are supplemented by the study of contemporary books and film material, as well as medieval chronicles for comparative purposes, and the author also drawns on cultural theory to highlight the characteristics and functions of distant memory and myth. The investigation culminates in considering the potential impact of memory of the Norman Conquest in Britain today. Siobhan Brownlie is a Lecturer in the School of Arts, Languages & Cultures at the University of Manchester.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-162-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. 1 Memory and Method
    (pp. 1-22)

    The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 is a ‘fateful event’ and a ‘memory site’. For Jan Assman¹ there are specific points in a culture’s memory which represent fateful events of the distant past, whose memory is maintained up into the present through cultural formations (texts, rites, monuments) and institutional communication (recitation, practice, observance). Such cultural objects and practices which keep the past alive are invested with powerful ‘mnemonic energy’. Following Pierre Nora,² an historical event can become a ‘memory site’ insofar as posterity has conferred on it the greatness of origins, the solemnity of inaugural ruptures, and heavy symbolic...

  6. 2 Knowledge, Symbolization and Tradition
    (pp. 23-44)

    Because of their differing histories, it is to be expected that the date 1066 does not have the same prominent mythical and memorial status in other parts of the British Isles as it does in England. Bates,¹ citing Rees Davies, points out that it is 1093 which is the ‘annus horribilis’ in the history of the period in Wales and Scotland. 1093 marked major Norman incursions and appropriation of land in Wales, and the death of Scottish king Malcolm Canmore in battle with the Normans in Northumberland. As for Ireland, Bartlett² says that ‘1169 has acquired something of the fateful...

  7. 3 Multiple Remediation
    (pp. 45-60)

    Multiple representations, mentions and allusions in many different media and genres across time are necessary for the memory of an event to remain in the memorial canon, and for it to harbour the symbolism and mythical qualities of a memory site in the community. Erll¹ refers to this process as ‘remediation’. In the case of the Norman Conquest these representations, mentions and allusions have been going on for more than 900 years. It is naturally very difficult to cover the whole history of the mentions, reworkings and uses of the memory of the Conquest throughout that time. For a general...

  8. 4 Presentism and Multidirectionality
    (pp. 61-76)

    As we have seen, memory is both static and dynamic, such that information both persists and changes over time. Two specific features contributing to the dynamic nature of memory will be focused on here: association with present events, and multidirectionality.

    Presentism is a general characteristic of memory, since the past will only be recalled and recounted if it has some interest for the present public. One of the ways that the relevance of the past for today is displayed is in explicit links made between past and present. With regard to memory of the Norman Conquest, in Chapter 2 when...

  9. 5 Affective Mobility
    (pp. 77-94)

    Memory is not only a matter of knowledge and beliefs about the past; memory is also about the feelings and attitudes we attach to the past. In fact, some consider that emotion is the key to memory. Assmann¹ says that: ‘only emotionally cathected forms of communication bring structure, perspective, relevance, definition and horizon into memory’. Attitudes, which express evaluative emotions of favourableness or unfavourableness towards an object, are thus an essential part of memory. In the experimental school of social psychology attitudes are considered to be ‘pre-formed’ inner mental states that influence behaviour. They are categorized as explicit (consciously endorsed)...

  10. 6 Mythologization: A Founding Myth
    (pp. 95-110)

    The term ‘mythologization’ means the process of something becoming a myth. The term ‘myth’ is a polyseme, a word with multiple meanings and connotations. I will first review various meanings given to ‘myth’ before reaching a definition for our purposes which includes several strands of meaning. As a starting consideration it should be said that myths may be about the past, present or future; in our case we are only dealing with the past. Myths are related to memory in two ways: they may constitute the shape in which past events and persons are remembered, and they also relate to...

  11. 7 A Time-Honoured Myth
    (pp. 111-130)

    A time-honoured myth of the Norman Conquest is the myth of the Norman yoke. It is a myth which was particularly strong in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, and which, beyond the formulaic traditional plot structure, had a number of variants used for various political purposes with wide-reaching ramifications. Although not of such apparent importance today, the myth of the Norman yoke must be investigated in a study of contemporary memory, in order to discover to what extent elements of the myth may still be influential.

    The literal meaning of the word ‘yoke’ is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened...

  12. 8 Contradictory Myths
    (pp. 131-152)

    In his study of myths, Schöpflin¹ says that the myths of a community may overlap, feed on one another or contradict each other. Schöpflin explains that myths may need to be relatively coherent internally, but a culture with a repertoire of many myths can live comfortably with a considerable diversity of mythopoeias. With regard to the Norman Conquest, newspaper data have revealed what appear to be two incompatible ideas: the Normans of the Conquest are French, and the Normans of the Conquest are British.² how can they be French and British at the same time? This is a question I...

  13. 9 Memorial and Mythic Functions
    (pp. 153-172)

    Memory and myths have various social functions of which we have constantly caught glimpses throughout this study. In this chapter, after a brief general discussion, I will concentrate on the question of identity, and investigate the group identity of the British in relation to memory of the Conquest. In doing so, I will engage with recent debates on the construction of Britishness.

    One of the functions of the inscription of memory which we have observed, for example in the use of the Norman yoke myth, is to express a particular point of view, politics, or ideology.¹ Memory is thus used...

  14. 10 Significance of Distant Memory
    (pp. 173-194)

    The Norman Conquest was an important event in shaping the history of England and also the British Isles, but it is very distant in time. This raises two interesting questions. Firstly, what are the differences between memory of a recent event and memory of a distant event? The second and to my mind very important question is: can memory of an important but very distant event matter today? With regard to this second question, I am particularly interested in the potential impact of memory of a distant event, in our case the Norman Conquest, on intercultural relations, both international and...

  15. Afterword
    (pp. 195-196)
    Siobhan Brownlie

    On the morning of 9 October 2010, the day of that year’s re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings, my friend and I visited a coffee house prior to the day’s proceedings. At the table next to us were a couple of re-enactors whom we took to be Saxon foot soldiers, but as we drank our coffee they began conversing in French. Strolling among the rows of white tents of the medieval village located next to the battlefield, we also heard both English and French languages being spoken. I was surprised at this participation of French nationals, which signalled recognition of...

  16. Appendix 1 Survey of the UK Population: The Norman Conquest of England in 1066
    (pp. 197-200)
  17. Appendix 2 Medieval Attitudes in Six Chronicles (ASC, Eadmer, John of Worcester, Orderic Vitalis, William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon)
    (pp. 201-208)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-218)
  19. Index
    (pp. 219-228)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)