chapter  9
57 Pages

England at the End of the Eleventh Century

T he time has now come to attem pt a survey o f England at the end o f the eleventh century. W riter after writer has em phasized that the m odern m an would be appalled by the poverty even o f tranquil England if by some fantastic means he found him self transported back to the England o f William and his sons. In many respects this is true. T he spectre o f famine was never far distant in the eleventh century. Plague does not appear to have been so virulent, undergoing one o f those recessive cycles that m odern medical science has taught us to take seriously. Occasional outbursts of violence could devastate a community. Tyranny was too often the fo rtune o f a village that sought over-zealously for protection. T h e national frontiers were vague and undefined. William Rufus effected an arbitrary border with the Scots that by historical acci­ den t still remains substantially unaltered. T he M archer Lords in their ascendancy were rem oving the Welsh menace which had been acute in the generation before the Conquest. Populations could still be transported like the peasants who were moved into C um berland at the instigation o f William R ufus.1 But colonization now followed closely defined lines, and was directed against the soil and not against fellow settlers. T he Norm ans were rulers not peasants: therein lies the fundam ental distinction between their Conquest and the first Danish onslaught. T he Danes had been colonizers as well as conquerors, in some areas effecting considerable settlem ent, apparently w ithout m ajor displacem ent o f indigenous population.