David Miles is a historian with a past – Chief Archaeologist withEnglish Heritage, Director of the Oxford Archaeological Unit and Associate Prof at Stanford University – so he knows his stuff.
I have read this before, so this time round I missed out the introduction, but the thesis seems to be that Britain has a record of immigration stretching back to pre-history, and Miles gives a fantastically detailed account of that record. It’s so stuffed with facts that even reading it twice I was overwhelmed, but as a history of Britain it’s fascinating and certainly recommended.
The history of mesolithic and neolithic Britain gives an interesting account of what Britain was like before the land was domesticated by man. It seems a romantic time of wild forests and unspoiled landscape. The flooding of the North Sea and the impact of rising sea levels on the flora and fauna of Britain and Ireland (no snakes, for example, in Ireland) is explored in detail. Miles gives accounts of the archaeological finds across the four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and illustrates the differences in development and the ways these were affected by geology and climate.
I was on more familiar ground with the Roman invasion, but Miles is a mine of information about settlement patterns and culture, and with the Fosseway just up the road, that section had a particular resonance. He went on to illuminate the dark ages, ranging widely across Northern Europe to examine the impact of the Vikings, and to consider whether both that and the Saxon invasion were mass colonisations, or merely the assimilation of a smaller force by the native inhabitants. The case seems unproven, but an exact genetic match was found between the bones found in Cheddar caves, which are 7000 years old, and 2 out of 20 schoolchildren who were tested in the village in the 1990s. That was quite astonishing.
As I expected the section on the Norman conquest really got my blood up. The ethnic cleansing that went on then, and later, in the North of England under the reign of Henry 8th goes a long way to explain the continuing North South divide. People don’t forget, and that’s quite sad if we want peace and harmony here on earth. Later sections on the growth of democracy and the labour movements were also really worth reading – both to reveal the slow growth of individual liberty, and to recognise the forces, which still exist today, that fight against it. The political divide reaches back to the Whigs and the Tories, the English Civil War and even earlier to the peasants revolt, and Richard 2nd’s treacherous volte face. Confronted with John Ball’s sermon: Are we not descended from the same parents – Adam and Eve? And what can they show, or what reason can they give why they should be more masters than ourselves? Richard at first dispersed the crowd, and went on to execute the ringleaders, promising incomparably harsher bondage for the future. At least, in the end, the political power of the monarchy was neutered, and Britain built a democracy that, whilst not perfect, has been pretty good at protecting the rights of individuals and constraining the unlicensed power of the aristocracy and the bloody rich.
What do you think?
I really recommend this book.