chapter  7
27 Pages

The Major Social Changes

Before we tu rn to the N orm an Conquest itself, an attem pt m ust be m ade to evaluate the m ajor social changes that occurred in England d u ring the period that stretches from the advent o f the Saxons to the coming o f the N orm ans. This is by no m eans an easy task. Economists have tended in the past to dismiss the whole period, and indeed the g reater part o f the M iddle Ages, as static or, audaciously, as relatively static. Anthropologists have been ready with the com parative m ethod, and have therefore at times too easily rejected the im mense differences in social growth between, for example, nineteenth-century Polynesia and seventh-century England. H istorians and students o f Anglo-Saxon literature are tied so close to the fragm entary natu re o f their evidence that they rightly hesitate to generalize. Conscious o f the gaps in the evidence, they hesitate to postulate change and developm ent for fear that they are only reflecting change in the type o f evidence available. Indeed we have to look to the impressive work o f Kemble as far back as 1849 to find a scholar so confident in his com m and o f all aspects o f his study as to attem pt a com plete picture o f the society o f the age.