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Author Topic: History vs. Folklore: The Battle of Aylesford, Horsa and the White Horse of Kent  (Read 21329 times)

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Offline Far away

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Thanks, it all makes sense  :)

So, when you are reading a document you need to always bear in mind what the writer considered each group was called - which must interesting if a second writer quotes the earlier work a couple of centuries earlier and has not considered this...


Offline Leofwine

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This has made me think, and now I wonder if there is not some confusion in history about references to Wales and the Welsh, and Britons. If 'Welsh' means 'foreigner', are our references to Britons and Welsh for the period actually the same thing, and that 'Wales' was really the rest of Britain that the Germanic tribes had yet to conquer? Basically, was Wales all of Britain except East Kent in those early days? Does 'fighting the Welsh' mean nothing more than 'fighting the Britons from the other side of the river'?

That is exactly what it means. Following the Battle of Aylesford England (Angleland) was the area from the River Medway to the Kent coat, Wales was all the rest of modern England and Wales!  The term Welsh (wealas) was and English (Anglo-Saxon) term for the Britons, the Britons would have used the term Briton, or perhaps have used the Brittonic word Combrogi, meaning fellow countryman (also the origin of the place names Cumbria and Cymru.)
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Offline Far away

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This has made me think, and now I wonder if there is not some confusion in history about references to Wales and the Welsh, and Britons. If 'Welsh' means 'foreigner', are our references to Britons and Welsh for the period actually the same thing, and that 'Wales' was really the rest of Britain that the Germanic tribes had yet to conquer? Basically, was Wales all of Britain except East Kent in those early days? Does 'fighting the Welsh' mean nothing more than 'fighting the Britons from the other side of the river'?

Offline Far away

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Great piece of work, reminded me of many things I had forgotten :)

In order to understand the concept of Englishness you first have to understand how the Englishman perceives foreign-ness. In most countries foreign-ness starts beyond your country's borders. In England it starts beyond the end of your street! However, don't be fooled into thinking foreign-ness is purely a product of distance. It is equally as much to do with distance and common history. To an Englishman, a Frenchman, whose country lies a mere 20 miles or so from England, is far more foreign than say, a Canadian, an Indian or an Australian....

I heard all this kind of thing when I used to live in the UK, and then when I came to live in Poland I heard exactly the same things. I think people feel a need to find a way of justifying why their group is special, and they come up with the same answers...

I remember talking to this 80-90 year old woman in a village here where my wife's family came from, and she was telling me about things like how the Germans closed down their mill during the war. Then she asked me where I was from, and I told her England. "Never heard of it," she said "But it's probably just like here anyway."

Offline Leofwine

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That is a good question RWTA. At the time I know it was discussed that it would be moved as the garage was due to be built pretty much on the spot it stood on, but then there were some objections and I really don't know for sure what the result was. I think it was moved a few yard, but I'm not 100% certain.  Maybe someone else on the forum does know for sure?
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Offline Riding With The Angels

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Great analysis Leofwine question though re point G

Has the White Horse Stone been moved from the site of the service station then? I have never heard this and have seen it where it is now presuming it to have always been there and the Colonels stone on the opposite side of the field?

RWTA

Offline PaddyX21

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It is threads like this that make this forum what it is! Fantastic, well written, well researched, informative and entertaining.
Thank you!
Never be afraid to stand out from the crowd!

Offline Riding With The Angels

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Brilliant Leofwine - will read when am not so tired after a long day at work :)

Offline scintilla

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Just wanted to add my thanks for these articles as well. You do need to print them off and sit down and read them. I've done a bit of researching about this time on the internet and haven't found anything so clearly and succinctly written as Leofwine's pieces.

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Golly, this is fantastic.  I'd heard of the battle and always think of it when I go down Blue Bell Hill.

I'm another one who'll be printing off to read in detail.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously.

Offline Leofwine

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During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts,......
This seems to me to be the origins of Assizes.

Many of our later legal systems had their origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, although sometimes in a much more primitive form than later versions. This is one of the (many) areas that modern research has shown started before the Norman Conquest, even though in the 19th and early 20th century the Normans got the credit for introducing them. The boom in historical interest in the 18th and 19th century was great for getting things started, but sadly very many fallacies and inaccuracies that the Victorian scholars came up with were taken as incontravertible fact by 20th century scholars, and reproduced time and time again. Fortunately modern 'multi-disciplinary' approaches combined with improvements in archaeology, post-excavation study, digitisation (and wider distribution) of historical documents, etc has meant that over the last 30 years or so much more has been discovered and these old 'truths' have begun to be questioned, often proving to have been false or distorted versions of things. Of course, some have also been proved much more strongly.
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Offline peterchall

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I am running out of words of acclaim, so will simply say "Thanks, Leofwine" :)
During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts,......
This seems to me to be the origins of Assizes.
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline Leofwine

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The only other contemporary source I know of from this period is by a monk named Gildas, whose work from the 540's is called "The Ruin of Britain". Unfortunately it seems that this was a bit of a rant about all of the tyrants that were ruling the country at the time and isn't generally looked upon as a particularly reliable source of information. He does, however, mention a major British victory around 500 at a place called "Mons Badonicus" which, if true, has never been properly confirmed or identified. It is believed by some that later memories of this battle (Britons against the invaders) is where the legend of King Arthur first took root.

Yes, Gildas' work is one of those frustrating pieces that so nearly tells us so much, but doesn't quite deliver. It hints at some things that help us understand other sources though, but is more religious propoganda than hard fact. One thing of interest to this thread, however, is that many modern scholars now believe that the Tyrant it was aimed at was Vortigern or, more likely, his direct descendants.

As far as Arthur is concerned, the mention of "Mons Badonicus" is thought to be the origin of the battle of Mount Badon in later Arthurian myth, but Gildas never mentions Arthur, and does not even make it clear if the forces concerned were led by one man or a coalition of local leaders.  I also find it interesting that in his various rants he chastises the British leaders for making the same mistakes their leaders made a century earlier - the employment of 'barbarian' mercenaries who would likely turn on them. Although we don't know his fate, I always like to imagine him living to a ripe old age in some monastery in the west of Britain, a bitter old man watching the streams of refugees fleeing the onslaught, ans waving his fist at the leaders  saying "I told you so!"
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Offline Leofwine

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Regarding taxation - this requires a system of record keeping, a mechanism for collection, and the existence of coinage. I know that the Romans had coins but in the (presumably) less organised and centralised Anglo-Saxon society, was there a common coinage, and were the 'workers' paid in cash? Presumably even a slave would have an allowance for a minimum of personal needs. It seems that there was no equivalent of the modern village shop, so if a family didn't have the skill to bake its own bread or make a pair of shoes, how did it get them?

The term taxation when dealing with this period can be misleading when used to modern monetary systems. The taxes were generally paid in produce and goods (more like the later medieval church tithes). The Anglo-Saxon term feorm was used for this 'food rent' and may well be the origin of our modern words 'farm' and 'farming'. Whilst undoubtedly some of this produce would have been sent to the lord or the king directly, much of it was supplied in situ, as the nobleman and his retinue would spend a certain amount of his time travelling to the villages on his manor, and would there literally live off this rent/tax before moving on to the next. Likewise, the king would go on tours of his noblemen's halls and the villages on his own lands and receive similar hospitality. As well as the economic significance, it also reinforced the bonds between the lord (whether king or nobleman) and his subjects. During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts, but the had a much more important socialogical and political significance than the simple PR exercises of today, they served  (hopefully) to unite a small and warlike tribal kingdom, and cement the loyalty of the subjects to the overlords.

As mentioned before, little is known about the life of slaves in Anglo-Saxon England. Presumably they were fed an clothed by their owners, but what rights (if any) they had are unknown. Whether they were treated like the serfs of feudal England, much like freemen but without free right of movement, and with heavy labour, or whether they were as rightless as livestock is unclear. Later, after the advent of Christianity, on the feast of Michaelmas (I think, going just from memory here, so it may have been a different feast) they were entitled to a gift of coin and a sheep which they may have ben allowed to sell, or use as a feast. There are also later examples of slaves buying their own freedom or that of their families, but how similar pre-Christian era slavery was is unclear.

The exact economics of an early Anglo-Saxon village are unclear, and probably varied from place to place, so the following is a very generic explanation.  As mentioned before, most villagers were primarily farmers of one kind or another, but most would also have other skills. It is likely that the parents taught the children the skills they had ,so certain families might become the village 'specialist' - baker, leatherworker, boneworker, etc. This said, most people would probably know the basics of most everyday skills, but if they needed something a bit more advance they would go to the village specialist and barter for the goods. Some skills, such as pottery, might be something found only in one village on an estate, so would be bartered between villages, not just familes. Other skills, such as spinning, weaving, carpentry, etc would be so widespread that most members of most families would know them (although many were gender specific).

Re coinage, this seems to appear in sixth and seventh century England as kings establish wider power bases and start modelling their kingship on the Roman pattern, including the issuing of formal coinage. Before this things seem to have been done with barter and bullion, rather than coins. Interestingly, even by the eleventh century it was still common to weigh coins to see they had the proper bullion value, suggesting the coin was a piece of kingly vanity and propoganda, and a convenient way to move seilver (and rarely gold) around.
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Offline smiffy

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Some excellent work from you there, Leofwine - very informative. One of the reasons I'm interested in this period is the very lack of historical information. I find the mystery surrounding this time to be one of its main attractions, giving plenty of room to speculate! It also means that even minor archaeological finds can have a lot more significance in trying to piece things together than with some other better documented periods.

The only other contemporary source I know of from this period is by a monk named Gildas, whose work from the 540's is called "The Ruin of Britain". Unfortunately it seems that this was a bit of a rant about all of the tyrants that were ruling the country at the time and isn't generally looked upon as a particularly reliable source of information. He does, however, mention a major British victory around 500 at a place called "Mons Badonicus" which, if true, has never been properly confirmed or identified. It is believed by some that later memories of this battle (Britons against the invaders) is where the legend of King Arthur first took root.

 

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