Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century

I spent too much money today on reading materials.  I was delighted to find a used copy of The Norfolk Broads A landscape history by Tom Williamson 1997 (Manchester University Press).  I had a copy of this excellent landscape history when it was published, but unfortunately lent it out, and never saw it again.  A brilliant book for tying my mother's East Norfolk ancestors to their ancestral landscape.

The April 2017 edition of Current Archaeology magazine has an interesting article on an excavation of an Iron Age site in Fenland, and is celebrating their 50th anniversary of publication.

The real treasure of today's book shop excavation however, was an old booklet published in 1969 by Leicester University Press in their Department of English Local History Occasional Papers.  It is entitled Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century by R.A McKinley.  Flicking through it's pages on the way home, sitting on the bus, I was well, almost mind blown - as some of the conclusions knocked down some of my preconceptions of my Norfolk ancestry and heritage.  An old, yellowing booklet that I've never heard of, found on a shelf in a second hand book shop in Norwich.

The book draws on surnames recorded in the County of Norfolk, during the 16th Century AD.  It uses as it's sources several returns, and rolls particularly a military survey, and subsidy roll from between 1522 and 1525.  I want to share at least some of the key points from two chapters of "Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century": 1) Surnames derived from localities in Norfolk, and 2) Locative surnames originating outside Norfolk.

1) Surnames derived from localities in Norfolk

  • The chapter begins by discussing the problems of using locative surnames in a study.
  • "The two main sources used for this study list 739 persons bearing locative surnames derived from places within Norfolk.  Of these, only 23 were living at the places from which their names were derived.".
  • A table then shows the distances of the persons (still within the County of Norfolk) with these locative surnames from origin.  23 were still at the place of origin, 81 were still within 5 miles of it, 123 were within 6 - 10 miles away, 239 were 11 - 20 miles away, 151 were 21 - 30 miles away, and 122 lived over 30 miles from the locative place of origin.  However, these are the locative surnames that still remain in Norfolk, that appear to have an origin within the County.  Many more would have crossed county boundaries into Suffolk, Lincolnshire, etc.
  • "It seems probable from this evidence, however, that most Norfolk families must have changed their place of residence at least between the period when surnames became hereditary, and the early sixteenth century.".
  • There was no pattern to suggest a large migration from any one part of the County, to another.

2) Locative surnames originating outside Norfolk

  • "In the two main sources, there are 1,260 persons bearing surnames which can be derived with fair certainty from places in England, but outside Norfolk".
  • The author then discusses possible biases, for example, some parts of England appear to have generated more locative surnames than others.  It also suggests that about a third of all English surnames are locative, and proposes a rough approximation, that this could "be about 2,500 persons of outside origin amongst the total of about 18,000 listed in the two main sources, or rather more than 13 per cent".  This suggests quite a few people had been moving from other parts of England, into Norfolk between the 13th and 15th centuries AD.
  • Where were they from?  The two main contributors were the neighbouring counties of Suffolk and Lincolnshire. Some had simply moved from close to the Norfolk county boundary.   
  • Cambridgeshire, another neighbouring county, for some reason contributed far fewer.  The East Midlands was also, surprisingly, not a major contributor of locative surnames in 16th Century Norfolk.  There were no locative surnames from Wales.
  • Here is another surprise, Yorkshire turned our to be a common origin - equally spread through the three ridings.  Each riding of Yorkshire had contributed about 40 persons in Norfolk with locative surnames.  The author does point out that Yorkshire is a big county, and is particularly rich in locative surnames, however: "it is evident that there must have been considerable movement from Yorkshire to Norfolk.  Yorkshire surnames are distributed throughout Norfolk in the early sixteenth century.  They are not particularly concentrated in ports or coastal areas, and indeed, are as widespread in central Norfolk, well away from the sea, as in other parts of the county.".
  • There was also a notable contribution of locative surnames from NW England - Lancashire, Cumbria, and Westmorland.
  • The distribution of these surnames was by no means urban based.  Yamouth and Norwich had lower concentrations than the average.  These migrations look more rural.
  • There were very few surnames of any origin type that could be safely regarded as Welsh.
  • There were very few surnames of any origin type that could be safely regarded as Scottish.
  • The author then moves on to records of other foreign born aliens.  I am aware of the influx of Dutch and Flemish religious refugees, into the City of Norwich during the early 16th Century, however, here I learn something new.
  • "there was certainly a considerable migration of aliens into Norfolk, and foreign immigrants came to reside in many Norfolk villages, not merely in a few ports or large towns.  In 1436, for example, when many aliens took oaths of allegiance, 146 persons who took oath are noted as living in Norfolk.  This was not the whole number of aliens in Norfolk...".  A list in 1440 for example, lists 192 aliens residing in Norfolk at 62 different places.  The author feels that those 15th Century records understate the real percentage of immigrants living in Norfolk at that time.
  • The Continental immigrants did not bring in many new surnames.  Many had no surname listed, or had adopted local surnames.  For example, immigrants listed at Norwich in 1440, included persons by the surnames Rider, Johnson, Forest, Skynner, Couper, Bush, Goldsmyth, and Glasier.  Some surnames marking their nationality did survive in 16th Century Norfolk, such as French, Ducheman, Briton / Brett (Breton) etc.

Brancaster, a North Norfolk village.

In summary, what this book has taught me today:

  1. Many families, despite our ideas of the dying fuedal system, were moving around East Anglia, and even England between the 13th and 16th centuries.
  2. There were relatively few people in 16th century Norfolk, with origins in Scotland, or Wales, and perhaps few from the nearby East Midlands or Cambridgeshire.  However, there was migration down from Northern England, particularly from Yorkshire, but even from NW England.
  3. There were also migrations, from the nearby Continent, and these migrations (and the above Northern English) migrations were not strictly urban.  They reached many villages.

A visit to Sutton Hoo - Kings of East Anglia

A day off from work, and I had promised myself that I was going to get out and tick off a job that's been waiting some time.  A visit to the Anglo-Saxon ship burial site at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.  Maybe I should have checked the weather forecast first.  I would have seen that Storm Doris was going to hit East Anglia.  Never mind, I got there and back in one piece, having circumnavigated a number of fallen trees.  Luckily, I arrived before the centre shut it's gates.  I was advised not to walk to the mounds, for fear of windfall - but only mad dogs and Englishman.  At least it was quiet.

The nature of these mounds was revealed back in 1938, when the land owner, Mrs Edith Pretty, commissioned an investigative excavation.  The burials have included whole ships, warriors, swords, grave goods from all over AD 7th Century Europe, and a horse.  The interpretation is that it was the burial site of the Kings of East Anglia during the 6th and 7th centuries AD.

The 1938 excavation revealed the soil marks and iron rivets of a burial ship.  Built in a clinker design, it appears similar in many respects to ship burials in Sweden, only at least two hundred years before the classic Viking examples.  Initially Mrs Petty and her team thought that they had found a Viking ship burial, but at it's centre - although there were no surviving human remains, they found a treasure of grave goods that suggested an Anglo-Saxon origin.  Nothing like it had been found before.

Excavations of the mounds have also revealed that treasure hunters and grave robbers had removed many artifacts during previous centuries, and caused much damage.  One reported dig in another mound here, during the mid 19th Century reported that they found no treasure, just lots of iron rivets - that they sold to the local iron smith to produce horse shoes!  This suggests at least one other ship burial at this site.

Mrs Pretty lived in a house close to the mounds, that is partly open to visitors.  Artifacts, letters, photos of the 1938 dig are displayed in the house.

The original Sutton Hoo Treasure is held in the British Museum in London.  I've seen it several times, but this was my first ever visit to the dig site itself.

Above, a proposed reconstruction of what the chamber in the ship may have looked like at the time of burial.  Although no human remains survived, it is speculated that this was the burial of King Raedwald, who ruled as King of the East Anglians AD 599 to AD 624.  Raedwald is considered the most powerful early 7th Century Anglo-Saxon king in the British Isles.  He belonged to the Wuffinga Dynasty of early East Anglian royals.  Below is a replica reconstruction of the famous ceremonial helmet found in the 1938 ship burial.

The helmet appears styled on ceremonial helmets worn by Roman generals in the late Western Roman Empire.  It has been suggested that the craftsmanship appears Swedish.  The Swedish links have led some to speculate that the Wuffing Dynasty may have had links to Sweden.

More replica reconstructions from the treasure that can be seen at the Sutton Hoo visitor centre.

Grave goods appear to have came from all over contemporary Europe - from Ireland, France, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Scandinavia.  This demonstrates the ability of the East Angle elites to trade goods from far away.

My Ancestral Events Mapped

Here I map the ancestral events as recorded on my Gramps genealogical database.  These events can be baptisms, marriages, census records, etc.  The larger the dot, the more events for that particular parish.  I have modified images of Southern England from Copyright attribution-sharealike 2.0 generic.

My Mother's Ancestral Events.

This includes the recorded events for my mother's 134 recorded direct ancestors and siblings.  As you can see, her known ancestry over the past 330 years has been incredibly localised!  All English.  All East Anglian.  Almost entirely in Norfolk - with one line drifting back to nearby Suffolk.  An incredibly dense cluster in East Norfolk, around the River Yare in Broadland.  Sure enough second cousin and third cousin marriages have been detected in her tree.

My Father's Ancestral Events

This includes the recorded events for my late father's 116 recorded direct ancestors and siblings.  A little more travelled over the past 330 years, although I feel that the events record has a bias in research to show this - as indeed, I estimate his known Norfolk ancestry over the past 330 years to amount to at least 70% of his combined heritage.  Nonetheless, some of his lines trace back temporarily to London, then back mainly to Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley.  All South-East English again.

None of this makes my family any more special than any other family anywhere else in the World, with any type of recent heritage and admixture.  Indeed, the English are a particularly admixed population. However, in testing commercial DNA tests for ancestry, I feel that we offer a good reference sample of SE English, and even East Anglian Norfolk.

I'm particularly interested in how these commercial DNA companies are failing to discriminate ancient or population admixture, from recent (350 years) family admixture.  Some populations they are able to detect with some certainty and accuracy.  However, others such as the English, not at all.  They are unable - despite their claims otherwise, to break recent autosomal admixture on lines over the past ten generations, from earlier, sometimes much earlier population admixtures.

I'm looking forward to seeing if the new Living DNA test fares any better, with it's rich British data set.

Bunwell, Norfolk - ancestral parish

I took a little local bicycle ride today, along the extremes of my recorded maternal line - that which should carry my mt-DNA.  23andMe tested it as H6a1.  WeGene and mthap analyser both suggest H6a1a8.  I'm looking forward to see what Living DNA make of it.  The haplogroup, based on current evidence, most likely originated on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes, before spreading into Western Europe during the Early Bronze Age.  However, on documentary record, I've traced it back to Generation 9 - my maternal G.G.G.G.G.G Grandmother, Susannah Briting (Brighten, Brighton) who married my ancestor John Hardyman (Hardiment, Hardimend, Hardiman), in the Norfolk parish of Bunwell in 1747.  According to the Bunwell Parish Registers, between 1748 and 1754, John and Susannah had four children baptised at the local church of Bunwell St Michael & Angels: John, Martha, Elizabeth, and Thomas Hardyman.  My G.G.G.G.G Grandmother Elizabeth Hardyman, went on to marry my ancestor Robert Page at nearby Wymondham in 1779, and continued my maternal line down to my Mother.

Bunwell, Norfolk, East Anglia

Bunwell is a parish of scattered settlement and hamlets, located above the Tas Valley, on the high boulder-clay soils of South Norfolk.  These heavy soils encouraged a pattern of dispersed settlement during the Late Medieval, with occupation often taking place along the edges of common land.  This could suggest limited manorial control.

I took this photo of the local landscape.  Large medieval open fields were divided into smaller enclosed fields during the 17th to 19th centuries.  These small parceled and enclosed fields were then opened up again into larger fields, with the removal of many hedgerows, during the 20th century.  Main land uses today are arable agriculture - modern crops include sugar beet, wheat, oil seed rape, etc.

Counting the number of plant species within a designated length of hedgerow has been used as a dating process.  The number of species increasing across the centuries.

Vernacular tradition includes many classic South Norfolk farmhouses, of which the following example is a striking example:

The owner has been renovating it from many years, having inherited it from his father.  Aside from the chimney (which was replaced following a lightening strike), the newest sections of the house date to the 1740's.  The eldest have not been dated, but perhaps extend to the Late Medieval.

The Church building is of the Perpendicular tradition, and dates to circa the 1450's, although it was most likely built on the site of an earlier church.  It is dedicated to St Michael and All Angels.

It is very much still an active church.  A knitting club were busy at work on my visit.  The church warden also called in.  The locals told me that there were, or still are Hardiment and Britings living in the parish.  I had a look around the surrounding graves.

This headstone is a good example of 18th century headstones in East Anglia.  Sadly, not one of my known ancestors.  Note the extra information Late of Starston.

I didn't spot any Britings, but I did find a cluster of Hardyman graves, including this example:

Not one of my direct ancestors, but most likely, a cousin.

My mtDNA ancestor Elizabeth, moved away from Bunwell, marrying nearby at Wymondham. From there, my mtDNA line moved through other nearby villages, including Bestthorpe.  Another generation on, it made an unusual leap (my Norfolk ancestors rarely moved far) to the opposite side of Norwich, to the parish of Rackheath in Broadland.  It then moved further East, to the parishes of Tunstall and Reedham.  On to Hassingham and my mother carried it back west to the Norwich area. We've ironically both  carried it back to the Wymondham area.

Immigration into East Anglia

Hear a sentence like "immigrants in Eastern England", and many people might think of the recent immigration from countries such as Poland, Lithuania, and Romania.  However, I'm interested in the longer picture, and how that has impacted the genetic genealogy of East Anglians.

I have noticed, that my mother's 23andMe ancestral composition, is more similar to those of some Dutch testers, than most Irish, Scottish, or West British testers.  23andme has reported at least one small segment shared with a Dutch tester.  My mother on Ancestry Composition speculative mode, scored only 36% "British & Irish", followed by 13% "French & German", 4% "Scandinavian", 2% "South European", and 40% unassigned "Broadly NW European".

My first reaction was that the 23andme calculators and references were confused by relatively ancient admixture, specifically Early Medieval Immigration between the 5th and 11th centuries AD.  The Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods.

However, I'm beginning to review how I see the history of East Anglia.  I think that like many people, I've underplayed the contribution not only of earlier unrecorded immigration events, but also of ongoing later immigration from the European Continent, into East Anglia.

A shock historical suggestion, is that during the late 16th Century, almost a third of the population of the City of Norwich, belonged to an immigrant community of Dutch, Flemish, and Walloon protestants, that had recently settled there, as refugees from persecution on the Continent.  I don't know how many of these immigrants, into centres such as Norwich, Ipswich, kings Lynn, and Great Yarmouth, left descendants in East Anglia.  My parent's recorded Norfolk ancestry is very rural - outside of Norwich.  However, how much DNA did these more recent immigrants leave behind in Norfolk, and East Anglia as a whole?

The immigration events of the 5th to 11th centuries AD into East Anglia, were most likely the most significant.  However, I believe it is wrong to see them as the only immigration events.  The POBI Study found DNA evidence of an earlier, perhaps late prehistoric immigration from the Continent.  Caesar claimed that the people that he called the Belgae had recently immigrated to South East Britain, from the area that is now Belgium.

Neither were the Anglo-Saxon, Dane-Law, nor Norman immigration events the last to the region.  It continued as a background, with occasional known events, such as the Strangers from what is now Belgium and the Netherlands, to Norwich.  East Anglia has always had stronger connections to across the North Sea, than some other regions of Britain. Therefore it should be no suprise, that my mother, with her strong recorded East Norfolk ancestry, has an autosomal ancestry composition, that resembles the Dutch, more than the Welsh or Irish.

I visited the Bridewell Alley Museum today, for the first time for many years, and picked up a new book: Strangers.  A History of Norwich's Incomers by Frank Meeres 2012.  It's full of references to the history of immigration into Norwich.  I thought that it might be useful, to harvest some of the continental immigrant surnames mentioned in this book:


  • Addurge (French)
  • Asger (Bruges, Belgium).
  • de Norwege (Norway)
  • Dutchman
  • Glasier (French)
  • Hensser  (Dutch)
  • Isborne 
  • Jevort (French)
  • Johnson (Dutch)
  • Kempe de Gaunt (Ghent)
  • Kenneton (French)
  • Mouner  (French)
  • Oreng (French)
  • Peterson (Dutch)
  • Petirson (Dutch)
  • Rijsel (Flemish)
  • Tiphany (French)

In 1343, a boat capsized at Cantley.  It had passengers from Latvia and Sweden.

The Strangers 1560 - 1600 AD

In 1571, a return of the Strangers, recorded that there were 4,013 Strangers in Norwich.  This included 868 Dutchmen, and 203 Walloon men.

  • Bateman
  • Clarebote (Winnezele)
  • Clapettia
  • Clercke (Dutch)
  • Baet
  • Bake (Ypres)
  • Bartingham (Dutch)
  • Coene (Ypres)
  • Dedecre (Dutch)
  • De Linne
  • De Mol
  • De Turk (Flanders)
  • Der Haghe
  • Des Passett
  • Faber (East Flanders)
  • Goddarte
  • Gruter (Antwerp)
  • Herjtes (Flemish)
  • Hodgeson (Dutch)
  • Johnson (Dutch)
  • Keerlinck (Ypres)
  • Lewalle (Walloon)
  • Moded (Antwerp)
  • Navegeer
  • Le Dente
  • Poultier (Dieppe)
  • Powells (Dutch)
  • Steene (Dutch)
  • Vamboute (St Jans-Kappel)
  • Van Brugen (Dutch)
  • Waells (Houtkerke)
  • Wervekin (Ypres)

These are just the surnames of some of the Norwich Strangers, mentioned in the above book.  Just how much did they, and others, contribute though, to the genealogy of Norfolk and East Anglia.  Most belonged to aspiring classes of artisans and merchants.  Weavers, printers, hat makers, etc.  How much of their DNA might have seeped into the surrounding countryside?

A DNA Reference for East Anglian Ancestry

GEDmatch Kit M786040

 The above map of East Anglia, plots the ancestral events from my Gramps genealogical database, for my mother's ancestry alone.  All 100% of the events in her family history occur in East Anglia, with a significant concentration on the loam soils of East Norfolk, north of the River Yare, and shouldering up to the marshes of the Halvergate Triangle.  It includes events for the immediate families of 127 direct ancestors, stretching back to the 1680's in places.  Events include such things as births, baptisms, marriages, burials, deaths, census records, occupations, residence, etc.

Surnames include: Tovell, Tovil, Tammas, Tovell-Tammis, Lawn, Gorll, Gaul, Rowland, Dawes, Curtis, Key, Goffen, Goffin, Waters, Merrison, Morrison, Smith, Dove, Porter, Springall, Thacker, Daynes, Daines, Quantrill, Wymer, Rix, Hagon, Page, Nichols, Nicholes, Shepherd, Ransby, Briggs, Barker, Rose, Brooks, Larke, Dingle, Annison, Britiff, Symonds, Sales, Jacobs, Yallop, Moll, Hewitt, Osborne, Ginby, Ling, Briting, Hardyman, Hardiment, and Norton.  Surnames are all English or of Anglo-Danish origin.

Recorded religions are: Anglican Church of England, Baptist, Congregationalist (Presbyterian), Methodist, and Weslyan Methodist.  No Roman Catholicism, Islam, or Judaism.

The area has no significant immigration events in recent centuries, however, it has long held connections with the Dutch.  It is not near to the drained Fens (to the West of East Anglia), so would not have attracted any significant immigrant labour.  The City of Norwich has had communities of strangers, including medieval Jews, and more substantially, protestant refugees during the 16th century, from the Netherlands.   French Huguenots followed to Norwich.

The best known immigration to East Anglia, took place during the 4th to 11th centuries AD, from across the North Sea.  The elites of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, claimed descent from the Angles, from Angeln  in the Schleswig-Holstein region of Northern Germany, that borders Denmark.  The area is rich in Anglo-Danish place-names.  East Anglia fell deep into the Dane-law.

Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 5 has 15 individuals. (93.75%)

Generation 6 has 30 individuals. (93.75%)

Generation 7 has 28 individuals. (43.75%)

Generation 8 has 26 individuals. (21.88%)

Generation 9 has 10 individuals. (4.69%)

Generation 10 has 4 individuals. (0.78%)

Total direct ancestors in generations 2 to 10 is 127.

The above photograph is of the wedding of my mother's parents, at Limpenhoe, Norfolk, in 1932.  It includes four of my great grandparents, and a great great grandmother.

I like to present my mother's heritage as a good reference for an area of particular interest.  An area that saw substantial early medieval immigration and admixture, from across the North Sea.  23andMe reports our haplogroup as H6a1.  Uploading the raw data to James Lick's mthap analyser, and to WeGene, both give a best match of H6a1a8.

That so much of her recorded ancestry, is so deeply rooted into East Anglia over the past 330 years, and particularly that one part of Norfolk, would suggest that she has strong East Anglian ancestry stretching back at least to the early medieval, and perhaps earlier.  I have recorded marriage between third, and second cousins, within her East Norfolk direct ancestry.  

Update 11th May 2016.

Her results are in.

23andMe AC (Ancestry Composition) standard mode:

European 100%  Broken into:

NW European 78%  Broken into:

  • British & Irish 9%
  • French & German 1%
  • The rest, broadly NW European 69%

Broadly European 22%

23andMe AC Speculative mode:

European 100%  Broken into:

NW European 93%  Broken into:

  • British & Irish 36%
  • French & German 13%
  • Scandinavian 4%
  • The rest, broadly NW European 40%

South European 2%

Sub Saharan African 0.1%

  • East African <0.1%

Eurogenes     K13

Oracle.  Closest single population:

  1. SE English   Distance 4.9
  2. South Dutch    Distance 5.19
  3. West German   Distance 6.23
  4. SW English   Distance 6.99
  5. Orcadian   Distance 7.19

Oracle-4 Closest two populations mixed:

  • 50% South_Dutch +50% Southeast_English @ 4.49

Oracle-4.  Closest three population mixed:

  • 50% Southeast_English +25% Southwest_Finnish +25% Spanish_Aragon @ 3.49

Oracle-4.  Closest four populations mixed:

  1. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Valencia @ 2.92
  2. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Murcia @ 3.10
  3. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon @ 3.13
  4. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Aragon @ 3.25
  5. North_Swedish + Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English @ 3.28

Eurogenes EU Test V2 K15

Oracle Closest single population:

  1. South Dutch   Distance 4.02
  2. SW English   Distance 4.3
  3. SE English   Distance 5.04
  4. Irish   Distance 6.72
  5. North German   Distance 7.15

Oracle-4 Closest two populations mixed;

  • 50% South_Dutch +50% Southwest_English @ 3.45

Oracle-4 Closest three population mixed:

  • 50% Danish +25% Southwest_English +25% Southwest_French @ 1.57

Oracle-4 Closest four population mixed;

  1. French_Basque + North_Swedish + West_German + West_Scottish @ 1.22
  2. French_Basque + Irish + North_Swedish + West_German @ 1.26
  3. French_Basque + Norwegian + Norwegian + South_Dutch @ 1.39
  4. French_Basque + North_Swedish + Southeast_English + West_German @ 1.44
  5. Danish + French_Basque + Norwegian + South_Dutch @ 1.46

Eurogenes ANE K7

  1. Western/Unknown Hunter-gatherer 64%
  2. Early Neolithic Farmer 19%
  3. Ancient North Eurasian 14%
  4.  Ancestral South Eurasian 1.7%

Eurogenes Hunter Gatherer V Farmer

  1. Baltic Hunter Gatherer 54%
  2. Mediterranean Farmer 36%
  3. Anatolian Farmer 6.7%
  4. Middle Eastern Herder 1.3%

23andMe Neanderthal Ancestry

  • estimated 2.9%

West Eurasian 100%  Broken into:

North/Central European 80%

South European 10%:

  • Italian 8%
  • Balkan 2%

Finnish 6%

Sardinian 2%


  • French 59%
  • Britons 32%
  • Finns 8%                                                                                                            

An Anglo-Saxon Bias Confirmed

We want to understand the past, our past, but how we interpret that past always depends on our own personal bias.  Our culture, our class, our political and religious stance.  Doing history is about writing a story, and you do it from a perspective, rarely as an objective.

My perspective is that of a 21st Century rural working class guy in his fifties.  My bias is that I am an atheist and a liberal that grew up in a Post Fordist society, during the Arms Race, followed by 911, and the War on Terror.  That sounds ridiculous, but the truth is that how we see the distant past, is tempered by our life time experiences.

During the early parts of the 20th Century, British antiquarians and archaeologists would proudly raise different shaped skulls, bronze axe heads, and pottery shards at conferences, announcing that they represented the "collared urn people", or the "pond barrow culture" the "La Tene" or what not.  These time travellers had grown up and experienced times of imperialism, colonisation, international upheaval, world war, and genocide.  They were as often as not, politically conservative, middle class, men, and yeah, if it matters, white.  They saw every trench level of artefact changes as evidence of population displacement, invasion, genocide.

Then following years of relative world peace, anti-war protests, and social reforms, the universities and colleges started to churn out a new breed of professional archaeologist - from a variety of backgrounds.  They argued that "pots were not people", they argued for "continuity, admixture, and cultural exchange".  As they saw it, a change in artefacts, cultures, even perhaps of languages, did not always prove displacement.  They grew up in a time of peace.  They saw peace.

That age recently ended.  The past six or seven years has seen a resurrection of ideas of invasion, displacement, Indo-European expansion, and maybe even of ancient genocides.  It is as though we have returned to those antiquarian conferences, only the actors are no longer middle class historians, but online enthusiasts, and it is no longer bronze weapons or pots that they hold up as their artefacts, but haplogroups, DNA, and PIE (proto Indo-European language).  A popular revolution with a conservative theme.  Pots might not always be people, but SNPs (snips) may well be, they jeer.

So in this post 911 World, here I am acknowledging my prejudice, my bias.  I am not opposed to the new popularist wave of displacement hypothesis.  Some of it does sound dangerously nationalist, even xenophobic.  A struggle for survival, as one Y chromosome replaces a less fit haplogroup, almost as if proposed by a perverted social take on Darwinism.  The online bulletin boards on the front line of this debate are full of posts by banned members.  I actually welcome the new ideas, the revival, the challenge of acceptance.  That so many online enthusiasts are involved, rather than the merely elitist professionalised academics has to be a good, more democratic thing.  However, I also tend to look for a concession.  I think yes, the revisionist archaeologists out of the post-war universities went too far.  But as do many of the new genetic warriors today.

With that in mind, I'm going to share my own prejudiced view of the origins of Anglo-Saxon England with this post.

The humble Dutch immigrant

People have been building boats and travelling out of sight of the coast, for a very long time.  More than 8,000 years ago, Neolithic farmers were doing it, to colonise places like Cyprus and Crete.  Britain had long been an island, when the first Neolithic farmers arrived here.

Britain has two main spheres of influence.  1) The West (or if you prefer "Celtic West", looks to the Irish and Atlantic seaboards that connect the West of Britain to Ireland, Brittany, the Highlands and perhaps even Northern Iberia.  2) The East (or if you prefer the English south-east), that is a part of the "the North Sea World", looks to the low countries, the north German coast, and even to Scandinavia for trade, influence, and exchange.  How far back do these two spheres go?  I'd say all of the way back.  People didn't simply wait until AD 410 to hop onto a boat, I cannot accept that.

My first confession of bias, is that I do not believe that Anglo-Saxon England was born in AD 410.  I think that it had a North Sea influence much earlier than that.  Perhaps that is what the POBI 2015 study (people of the British Isles) found when they assessed the English to be a very homogeneous population, but with a mystery shared ancestry with the French, that appeared to date back long before AD 410.  Perhaps we should take more notice of Caesar's assertion, that the British Isles had recently been colonised by the Belgae.  Perhaps we shouldn't dismiss all of the suggestions by Stephen Oppenheimer, that there was an ancient Saxon presence in south-east Britain, and that the Belgae were a part of their story.

That is my first confession.  I think that the English have been around Britain longer than from AD 410.

My second confession.  I don't see an Anglo Saxon invasion, simply followed a few centuries later by a Viking army.  I see instead, immigrant farmers from what is now Belgium, the Netherlands, Northern Germany, and Denmark, arriving in South-east Britain in drips and waves between perhaps late prehistory, and the 12th century.  Immigrants more than invaders.  Fitting in where they could.  Grabbing what was available.  Perhaps they were fleeing fealties and bonds in their own countries.  Late Roman Britain suffered from uprisings, disputes, insecurity, and political weaknesses.  The economy collapsed, administration collapsed, society was in tatters.  It was easy to row past immigration control in the forms of the deserted Roman shore fort at Burgh, evade paying a tax, and to land at Reedham.

I can imagine that when they landed, they would have been met by others, already familiar with their dialects, eager to trade, and to sell services.  Guide them to the best cut of new land, or land that could be drained.  The economy was in collapse, local elites would have been ready to break with tradition, make deals with hard working immigrants.  Allocate land to work.  Who cares if it had bypassed the Imperial authorities, it was cheap and flexible.

So what I am suggesting is that the Anglo-Saxon invasion in places like the coastline and river valleys of East Anglia may not have been such a big hitter.  Instead of helmeted Angles and Saxons roaring up the beaches waving their swords, that the change could have been a little gentler, less confrontational.  Gildas and Bede, with their stories of Hengist and Horsa, could have been the outraged Daily Mail Editorial of their day "invading immigrants, raping our women, nicking our land!!".  Recent studies of cemeteries in the Cambridge area, have supported this hypothesis, with evidence that a) locals mimicked the culture of the immigrants, b) they inter-married, and c) the poorest were actually recent immigrants.  Source.

I'm not saying that it happened this way, it's just an alternative perspective.  Poor Dutch and German farmers looking for a better life in Britannia.  That might have been the scene in 5th Century East Anglia.  Of course, the good times couldn't roll forever.  New elites emerged, and started to exploit the fealties again.  Once again, the poor got poorer.  Feudalism established....

The trickle of immigrants probably continued.  The trade and contact across the North Sea didn't just go away.  Perhaps there was a secondary wave during the 9th Century AD, that which we associate with the Dane-Law.  Perhaps they were from the area of Denmark, but were they raging horned helmeted Vikings?  Sea levels had recently dropped ever so slightly, making new land at Flegg in Norfolk, actually of use, with just a little bit of drainage - as other new land would have been.  No wonder places like that are dotted with Anglo-Danish place-names.

Was this period though, just a continuation of what had preceded?  We could extend this in a way.  Norwich and Great Yarmouth became host to a number of Dutch protestants during the early 15th Century.  Later it was the Huguenots.  There always was a Dutch influence in East Norfolk.  During the early 20th Century, Anglo-Dutch sugar beet consortiums even carved up the landscape of the area.  Was this nothing new?

But I'm biased...

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