More thoughts on Britons and Angles and Saxons in the 6th century

Two pieces of work have helped move my thoughts along on this. The first is Caitlin Green’s Oxford DPhil (2011) on Anglian/British interactions in the Lincoln region. (Find it under Thomas Green). Her 2012 book is called Britons and Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire AD 400-650. The second is Susan Oosthuizen’s work on the Cambridgeshire Fens. Her book is called The Anglo-Saxon Fenlands, but it seems to be a bit hard to get hold of. However, out there in internet land are various articles/summaries of her conclusions.

Both authors add to the picture drawn for the Chilterns in providing evidence of continuity of land use from post-Roman Britain through the sixth century. Indeed, Green goes so far as to suggest that Anglian elites more or less simply took over the British kingdom based around Lincoln.

The Chilterns: Tring Gap, looking north east from the Icknield Way

I am reminded of my own work Рback in the dim and distant past of the 1970s Рon the sixteenth-century demographic impact of the Spanish conquest on the indigenous inhabitants of the Andes. Despite catastrophic decline in the population, the imposition of overtly exploitative colonial elites, Christianity and forced labour, there was continuity in a surprising number of pre-conquest characteristics. In particular, social institutions for the collection of tribute, tribal identities and elites and traditional methods of land use survived, especially in poorer areas, for many decades. And, of course, demographic collapse notwithstanding, it was indigenous peoples who continued to work the land.

Conquistadores were not, as a whole, interested in a life of manual labour. This was what many had left behind in Spain. They wanted to live like lords. And the women? Some did come out from Spain, of course, especially after the initial phase of conquest. But many conquistadores took indigenous women to their beds and the higher the woman’s status the better. The daughters and widows of chiefs – or even better – members of the Inca ruling families – offered the kind of noble pedigrees that the earliest waves of conquerors pretty much universally lacked.

Did something of the kind happen in Wessex in the sixth century, where British-sounding names crop up among the king lists? Or was this the result of the rather different process of intermarriage between the ruling families of neighbouring kingdoms, British and Saxon?


There is another, but perhaps not entirely convincing, work that has recently contributed to changes in my own views on what seventh-century Britain may have been like. Andrew Breeze has joined the ranks of those arguing that Arthur was a real person and not just a legend and he goes on to argue that Arthur was a king or war leader of Strathclyde. Breeze maintains that all the battles attributed to Arthur, except Mount Badon, took place in southern Scotland or Northumbria and that the victor of Mount Badon was Ambrosius Aurelianus. (The historical Arthur and sixth-century Scotland, Northern History, September 2015)

So if true (and this is a controversial proposition), this requires another major shift in perception. Not that Arthur was a man of the north. This is not a new idea, but that he was a Briton fighting Britons from the adjacent kingdoms of Rheged and Gododdin, rather than Angles (let alone Saxons.)

This entry was posted in Ancient Welsh History, Anglo-Saxon History, Anglo-Saxon Settlement, Ethnogenesis, Landscape, Seventh-century agriculture. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to More thoughts on Britons and Angles and Saxons in the 6th century

  1. Andrew Breeze says:

    I am Andrew Breeze, and am grateful for the attention. For more on the historical Arthur, see my ‘Arthur’s Battles and the Volcanic Winter of 536-37’ in _Northern History_ for September 2016.

  2. Sally says:

    Thanks Andrew.

  3. Susan Oosthuizen says:

    So pleased the fenland work is useful, Sally. The book on the Anglo-Saxon Fenland will, I believe, be published by Windgather at the beginning of July – not too long now! Looking forward to reading more about your work, Best wishes, Sue

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