Anglo Saxons & Normans

The Rev’d Dr. Nicholas Henderson, our speaker in January, is a graduate of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and he trained for the Anglican ministry at Ripon Hall, Oxford. He is also Vice President of ‘Modern Church’ (founded 1898) the oldest theological society in the Anglican Communion.

Rev Nicholas opened with a slide of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, and a reference to the grave of William Shakespeare.

He explained how Christianity had arrived with the Romans in the 4th Century AD. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire. Britannia, as our islands were known, was gradually infiltrated in the 5th century by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, all pagans, and Christianity was pushed to the West and North of the country. St Martins church in Canterbury saw the return of Christianity in the south and now claims to be the longest continuous place of christian worship in the country.

He explained that the Saxons were poor builders constructing mainly in wood. The art of brick-making had died and any masonry buildings, usually tall and thin with pointed window arches, contained bricks plundered from Roman buildings and set in a distinctive herringbone pattern. Remnants of these buildings remain. He even played a recording of Saxon speech to demonstrate the origins of ‘English’.

The Viking invasions 865 to 896 brought Danelaw to Britannia and the reign of King Cnut (Canute) is deemed to be the beginning of England as a country.

King Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1065) founded Westminster Abbey.

The Norman invasion in 1066 saw the end of Saxon rule. The Normans were technically well ahead of the Saxons with sophisticated armour and the use of cavalry in battle. Norman Barons ruled the country building castles and taking control demoting all Saxons to serfdom. The Tower of London was an early Norman castle.

The Doomsday Book completed in 1086 established the control of all land by Norman Noblemen. Norman architecture, featuring gothic arches, allowed greater roof spans and larger and more impressive buildings.

By the reign of Henry II the old Britannia was the smaller part of an empire comprising most of France and all of England with French as the official language.

Rev Nichola demonstrated differences in language with reference to surviving terms where the ruling French referenced the name of a meat and the old English refers to the animal. Serfs rarely tasted the meat but looked after the animals. (e.g. mutton/lamb). He demonstrated that current English is a hybrid language with the first records dating back to 14th century.