Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Britons in Anglo-Saxon England

Britons in Anglo-Saxon England

edited by NICK HIGHAM
Volume: 7
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 266
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Britons in Anglo-Saxon England
    Book Description:

    The number of native Britons, and their role, in Anglo-Saxon England has been hotly debated for generations; the English were seen as Germanic in the nineteenth century, but the twentieth saw a reinvention of the German `past'. Today, the scholarly community is as deeply divided as ever on the issue: place-name specialists have consistently preferred minimalist interpretations, privileging migration from Germany, while other disciplinary groups have been less united in their views, with many archaeologists and historians viewing the British presence, potentially at least, as numerically significant or even dominant. The papers collected here seek to shed new light on this complex issue, by bringing together contributions from different disciplinary specialists and exploring the interfaces between various categories of knowledge about the past. They assemble both a substantial body of evidence concerning the presence of Britons and offer a variety of approaches to the central issues of the scale of that presence and its significance across the seven centuries of Anglo-Saxon England. NICK HIGHAM is Professor of Early Medieval and Landscape History at the University of Manchester. Contributors: RICHARD COATES, MARTIN GRIMMER, HEINRICH HARKE, NICK HIGHAM, CATHERINE HILLS, LLOYD LAING, C. P. LEWIS, GALE R. OWEN-CROCKER, O. J. PADEL, DUNCAN PROBERT, PETER SCHRIJVER, DAVID THORNTON, HILDEGARD L. C. TRISTRAM, DAMIAN TYLER, HOWARD WILLIAMS, ALEX WOOLF.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-518-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xi)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  8. 1 Britons in Anglo-Saxon England: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    THE presence, or absence, of significant numbers of Britons in Anglo-Saxon England has recently been the subject of considerable debate, with scholars in several disciplines offering conflicting opinions. There are a number of key questions to which we would very much like answers. Whether or not there were many Britons within Anglo-Saxon England is just the starting point: if there were large numbers, how did they come to be there, what roles did they perform and what eventually happened to them? If there were only very few, then what became of the sub-Roman population of the lowland zone of the...

  9. Part I: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives

    • 2 Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
      (pp. 16-26)

      I TAKE my title from the novel of that name by Angus Wilson,¹ who borrowed it from Lewis Carroll.² Debby Banham has also already used the title for an interesting paper which addresses a different, although related, topic from mine.³ At the time of the conference I was, like most of us, excited by the find of a rich seventh-century burial at Prittlewell near Southend, excavated by the Museum of London archaeology service during the autumn of 2003.⁴ Discussion of this find reflects current thinking about the relationship between religious belief and burial practice, specifically early medieval Christianity and paganism,...

    • 3 Forgetting the Britons in Victorian Anglo-Saxon Archaeology
      (pp. 27-41)

      HOW we explain the origins and development of furnished burial rites in southern and eastern England dated to the fifth and sixth centuries AD is the focus of ongoing debate and controversy. Currently, archaeologists and historians have various answers to this question, from the adoption of Germanic ‘fashions’ by indigenous Britons to a mass-migration of Germanic settlers. Many scholars opt for different points on a spectrum between these extremes, including the settlement, accommodation and interaction of Germanic groups with Britons on a local level and the invasion and subsequent imitation of Germanic warrior elites. In contrast, some writers opt out...

    • 4 Romano-British Metalworking and the Anglo-Saxons
      (pp. 42-56)

      THE decline in manufacturing which characterized late Roman Britain and the early post-Roman period has caused real difficulties in assessing the extent and degree of continuity which Anglo-Saxon workmanship exhibits with earlier Insular production, but metalworking is perhaps the one exception which can enable us to explore this interface. This paper will, therefore, seek to examine evidence for contact between Anglo-Saxon artificers and consumers of metalwork and traditions of production in late Roman and early post-Roman Britain. In the late Roman period in Britain, there is evidence for the development of distinctive types of personal adornment, which seem in general...

    • 5 Invisible Britons, Gallo-Romans and Russians: Perspectives on Culture Change
      (pp. 57-67)

      SINCE the 1980s a new consensus has emerged in British early medieval archaeology according to which a substantial proportion of the native Romano-British population survived into the Anglo-Saxon period.¹ This view is usually associated with a ‘minimalist’ perspective on the Anglo-Saxon immigration. It is also worth pointing out that this new consensus is mainly based on new thinking, not new evidence. The key problem for this new consensus has been the near-invisibility, in archaeological terms, of the postulated sub-Roman, British population. This is, of course, one of the main reasons why the traditional ‘ethnic cleansing’ model, derived from the written...

    • 6 Historical Narrative as Cultural Politics: Rome, ‘British-ness’ and ‘English-ness’
      (pp. 68-79)

      IT HAS often been remarked that the British indigenes had only a minimal impact on the culture of the barbarian successor states which emerged across the lowland heartlands of the old Roman diocese.¹ In contrast, Gaul is generally considered to have retained far more from its Roman past, as regards all of settlement continuity, spoken language, place-names and Christianity, and the comparison has had a profound effect on interpretations of early Anglo-Saxon England. The barbarian settlement of Gaul is generally seen as an elite phenomenon characterised primarily by assimilation of the culture of the indigenes. Traditional explanations of the English...

    • 7 British Wives and Slaves? Possible Romano-British Techniques in ‘Women’s Work’
      (pp. 80-90)

      SPINNING and weaving are believed to have developed as women’s crafts because they were compatible with child rearing; they were interruptible tasks, like food preparation and other domestic chores.¹ Given the high proportion of hours that must be spent spinning in order to support weaving, about 10:1, anyone available may have been recruited to spin, including children and old men no longer capable of heavy work. Nevertheless, textile implements from furnished Anglo-Saxon graves – spindle whorls and weaving beaters, shears and needles – are gendered, feminine possessions.² Weaving, from classical antiquity at least, is presented in art and text as...

    • 8 Early Mercia and the Britons
      (pp. 91-101)

      THIS essay considers some aspects of the ethnic composition of the Mercian kingdom and hegemony to the death of Penda, king of the Mercians c.633–c.655. The early Mercians appear in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica as an ‘English’ group; we are told that they are of Anglian stock,¹ and Bede treats them throughout as a part of the gens Anglorum, if often a morally dubious part. It will be argued here that the situation was rather more complex than Bede implies. Three zones of interaction between the Mercian kingship and the Britons will be proposed: firstly an ‘outer zone’ consisting of...

    • 9 Britons in Early Wessex: The Evidence of the Law Code of Ine
      (pp. 102-114)

      ONE of the ‘facts’ about the modern study of Anglo-British relations is the extent to which the historian, generally speaking, is afforded a very circumscribed array of references with which to work, and the more so for the early Anglo-Saxon period. Certainly, a reasonable corpus of material survives which can be accessed to inform an understanding of how Anglo-Saxons and Britons may have interacted with one another, but the issue has to be approached by examining often peripheral and sometimes incidental references in a range of texts written for a variety of different purposes. And when attention is focussed specifically...

    • 10 Apartheid and Economics in Anglo-Saxon England
      (pp. 115-129)

      WHEN considering and discussing the fate of the Britons within Anglo-Saxon England, we invariably seem to find ourselves forced to choose between two hypotheses. The first of these, and perhaps currently the less fashionable, is that a ‘mass migration’ of Germanic peoples committed genocide against the inhabitants of the Insular territories they conquered, creating a situation in which all subsequent generations of Anglo-Saxons were descended entirely, or almost entirely, from fifth-century immigrants. The second, the ‘elite emulation model’, perhaps most clearly articulated in our editor’s 1992 monograph Rome, Britain and the Anglo-Saxons, holds that incoming Germans supplied only an aristocratic...

    • 11 Welsh Territories and Welsh Identities in Late Anglo-Saxon England
      (pp. 130-143)
      C. P. LEWIS

      RECENT work on late Anglo-Saxon England has paid only fitful attention to the kingdom’s undoubted cultural and linguistic diversity. That must be a matter of regret given the potential of such an approach for the exploration of English attitudes to ‘Others’ in the shaping of Englishness and the formation of the Anglo-Saxon state.¹ There has, of course, been some excellent discussion of the continuing Scandinavian character of the Danelaw,² and some interest in French and Lotharingian incomers,³ and in the Britons of Cornwall and Cumbria.⁴ However, little has been written lately on the Welsh of the western border shires. This...

    • 12 Some Welshmen in Domesday Book and Beyond: Aspects of Anglo-Welsh Relations in the Eleventh Century
      (pp. 144-164)

      WHEREAS the importance for the study of eleventh-century English history of William the Conqueror’s great land survey known, since the twelfth century, as ‘Domesday Book’ hardly needs stating, its value as a source for the history of Wales during the same period is perhaps less self-evident.¹ True, Welsh historians from Sir John Lloyd onwards have drawn on the survey for their historical reconstructions, but most of these studies have tended to ‘sample’ Domesday Book in order to supplement information drawn from their other – main – primary sources. While there are notable exceptions to this rule, a thorough analysis of...

  10. Part II: Linguistic Perspectives

    • 13 What Britons Spoke around 400 AD
      (pp. 165-171)

      THIS article is about the contribution of historical linguistics to a reconstruction of the linguistic landscape that the Anglo-Saxons found on their arrival in Britain and to the way in which this linguistic landscape may have influenced the language of the newcomers. The bare bones are well known. British Celtic was spoken, both in the northern and western ‘Highland Zone’ and in the heavily Romanised, eastern ‘Lowland Zone’. Latin was spoken, too, especially in the Lowland Zone, although to what extent remains unclear. It has often been suggested that Latinity was probably very much a question of social status and...

    • 14 Invisible Britons: The View from Linguistics
      (pp. 172-191)

      IT has long been believed that the Britons of what became England were effectively exterminated – whether killed, driven out and/or culturally effaced by enslavement – by the incoming Anglo-Saxons; the basis for this belief was essentially derived from the documentary record. Over recent years, a competing view has arisen on the basis of a more critical assessment of the historical record as English foundation-mythmaking: that the Britons did not wholly disappear in any of these ways but that many ‘became English’ by taking on English practices, including the English language. This paper shows that the new view is not...

    • 15 Why Don’t the English Speak Welsh?
      (pp. 192-214)

      ALONG with many eminent British linguists, such as Robert W. Burchfield² or David Crystal,³ Richard Coates,⁴ in a recent study on the Late British contribution to the making of English toponymy,⁵ commented on the absence of ordinary lexis of Late British origin in the English lexicon by saying that:

      We shall need to confront the apparent paradox that whilst the Angles and the Saxons seem content to have taken some place-names from the Britons – not an enormous number, but not negligible either – they took practically no ordinary vocabulary.

      Is this really a paradox? I would claim that comparison...

    • 16 Place-Names and the Saxon Conquest of Devon and Cornwall
      (pp. 215-230)
      O. J. PADEL

      THE comparative absence of Brittonic place-names in most of England has long been a notable problem for anyone wishing to postulate large-scale survival of the native British population into the Anglo-Saxon period. In recent years these names have received useful attention,¹ but the overall picture nevertheless remains little changed from what it was fifty years ago.² Linguistically, too, the lack of British loan-words or other influences in English continues to be a powerful argument, despite unconvincing attempts to suggest syntactic and other borrowings. In recent years Margaret Gelling has given the question brief but valuable discussion;³ here I shall demonstrate...

    • 17 Mapping Early Medieval Language Change in South-West England
      (pp. 231-244)

      THIS paper explores the potential for using evidence preserved in certain place-names to map the linguistic transition from a Brittonic to an Old English vernacular in south-west England.¹ The traditional account of the corresponding political transition is well known.² In the late sixth century the English reached the lower Severn, thereby isolating south-western Britons from their compatriots in the West Midlands and Wales. The takeover of what became Dorset and Somerset was complete by the late seventh century and, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, included battles at which the Britons were driven ‘as far as the Parrett’ and ‘as far...

  11. Index
    (pp. 245-254)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)