Did you come back changed by your summer holiday?






Tutbury is now an attractive small town in Staffordshire and the venue for our long awaited extended family holiday this year ( thanks again to Mum). We stayed at Castle Hill House, a big Georgian/ Victorian pile with a castle over one wall and the churchyard of a Norman abbey, now a church, over another. We played croquet to the screech, honk and crank of peacocks (yes, they do honk too!) overshadowed by the ruins of the eleventh century Norman castle in which Eleanor of Aquitaine stayed in its early days. John of Gaunt owned the castle, Chaucer could well have visited and later Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there on several occasions. It was a fascinating week, not least because it highlighted just how powerful the Normans were and how total their control of England was in an astonishingly short time frame. It's believed they were building the 'three castles of Gwent' on the Welsh border as early as 1070, for instance.


I'd grown up on tales of the 'English' under Edward the First invading Wales in the thirteenth century and been to all the mighty invaders' castles, (Castell Harlech for example being built between 1282 and 1289), boiling my blood on a history of atrocity, subjugation and appropriation, but this trip brought home how a similar fate happened to Harold's people too after the Battle of Hastings. A similar fate befell the Anglo-Saxons after the Norman invasion, something that was to happen two centuries later to the Welsh - the removal of land, office and status from them and their replacement by a new order. Even their language was superseded.


In Ruth Mohrman's new novel Gold of Pleasure, we see in action the process whereby the Anglo-Saxon order is made subservient by the Norman invaders. She explores the life of the historical figure Christina of Margate , a twelfth century holy woman, member of the 'old' Anglo-Saxon elite and captures a time before assimilation was complete when they were second class citizens in their own land . After my 2021 summer holiday, the simplistic badge of 'English' invasion of Wales under Edward the First no longer sits comfortably for me. Until the Anglo-Saxons and Normans were fully integrated ( and I would argue that perhaps that has still not happened - look at the make up of 'English' nobility and the distribution of wealth and landholdings even now! However, that's a debate for another day...) I've decided to call Edward's invasion 'Norman' not English.

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