The Norman Yoke

I’ve been reading – or rather re-reading – How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters by Daniel Hannan, the eurosceptic Conservative MEP for Southeast England. It’s a book I bought a year or so back, and which rather annoyed me because, in my view, it explained neither what freedom was nor why it mattered. Freedom, in my view, isn’t something that anyone ever “invented”: it’s a condition that people either do or do not enjoy.

But once the term “freedom” was replaced by “representative government”, my objections largely faded away. And the book has since proved enthralling.

It’s really a potted history of England (and also America). It’s about the Anglosphere, and about the gradual emergence of bottom-up representative government in the face of top-down, royal control.

Up until the Norman conquest in 1066, England  already had kings, but also a primitive representative government in the form of the witan. But when the Normans arrived, it was swept away and replaced by ferocious top-down control. Britain became two cultures: an indigenous Anglo-Saxon English-speaking culture controlled by a French-speaking ruling class.

Subsequent history, as Hannan describes it, has been one of the gradual re-assertion of the Anglo-Saxon culture over the Norman culture, including the emergence of the English language. This was something that began when the French king annexed Normandy, leaving the Norman conquerors stranded in England, and thereafter helplessly English. The signing of Magna Carta in 1215 was one of the first examples of English rights being asserted against Norman royal power. While the Civil War that broke out in 1642 was another moment when bottom-up Anglo-Saxon Protestant parliamentarian culture prevailed over the top-down royal control. The Protestant Levellers of the time, as Hannan describes them, were the first libertarians.

I think that this cultural division between Anglo-Saxons and Normans in England is one that is still evident today. There are a lot of Norman-descended families in England, with names like Beaufort, Beauchamp. Montmorency, etc . One might say that the English ruling class have always regarded themselves as a bit French (sometimes even speaking it), and to have admired European culture, and these are the people who are now the Europhiles. For them, joining the EU seems entirely natural: it’s like going home. But for the Anglo-Saxon majority, France is where the hated Norman overlords originated. And throwing off the Norman yoke is as much an imperative now as it was nearly 1000 years ago. And it’s people like Nigel Farage and UKIP who now represent the Anglo-Saxons. An ancient largely-buried social division is re-emerging in the modern era.

Hannan goes on to say that Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights of 1689 were taken to America by English colonists from South-east England (the very place where Hannan is an MEP, and Farage is seeking to become an MP), and now underpin the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. (I had not known that the English Civil War was also fought in America, with Virginia supporting the royalist cause, and New England the parliamentary.)

But perhaps the most interesting thing was that, while parliamentary control over royal power was being exerted in England, the exact opposite was happening in Europe.

Across the Continent, seventeenth-century rulers swept aside what few restraints had been placed on their power, and put in their place the novel doctrine of the divine right of kings. Peter the Great in Russia, Frederick William in Prussia, Charles XI in Sweden, and above all Louis XIV in France constructed the elaborate machinery of autocratic rule, complete with fiscal independence and juridical supremacy.

In 1614, while English MPs were attacking the excesses of royal spending in the most hectoring and ill-tempered manner, the French Estates-General, which had never been more than a weak advisory body, were being dissolved, not to meet again until 1789. In 1653, when England was at the height of its republican interlude, the Diet of Brandenburg met for the last time and formally surrendered what was left of its tax-raising powers to the monarch. In 1665, when Charles II was discovering that he was as financially dependent on Parliament as his father and grandfather, Denmark adopted the “King’s Law,”  authorizing the sovereign to close down any alternative centres of power and declaring that “he shall from this day forth be revered and considered the most perfect and supreme person on the Earth by all his subjects, standing above all human laws and having no judge above his person, neither in spiritual nor temporal matters, except God alone.”

England and Scotland, almost uniquely, spent the seventeenth century travelling in the opposite direction. (p..154)

And isn’t history repeating itself, as the EU emerges as yet another top-down controlling autocratic state, with weak democratic constraints – while in Britain the groundswell of growing opinion is in favour of a re-assertion of bottom-up Parliamentary control? Europe appears to be reverting to type, and so is England.

Seen in this historical context, the the Anglo-Saxon English are simply carrying on doing what they’ve been doing for the past 1000 years: throwing off the Norman yoke. And if they remain true to type, they will leave the European Union, because it’s another Norman yoke that they don’t need.

The English don’t like top-down control.

Happy New Year.

About Frank Davis

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30 Responses to The Norman Yoke

  1. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    Happy new year FD!

    “One might say that the English ruling class have always regarded themselves as a bit French (sometimes even speaking it), ”

    William of Nassyngton (possibly) said it best…Centuries ago:
    In English tonge I schall you telle,
    yif ye with me so longe wil dwelle.
    No Latyn wil I speke no waste,
    But Englisch, that men vse mast,
    That can ech man vnderstonde,
    That is born in Ingelande.
    For that langage is most chewyd,
    Os wel among lered as lewyd.
    Latyn, as I trowe, can nane
    But tho, that haueth it in scol tane.
    And somme can frenssche and no Latyn,
    That vsed hav cowrt and dwellen therein.
    And somme can of Latyn a party,
    That can of Frensche but febly.
    And somme vnderstonde wel Englysch,
    That can nother Laty nor Frankys.
    Bothe lered and lewed, olde and yonge,
    Alle vnderstonden english tonge.

    (nicked from Wiki so any mistakes in the ME are theirs and their’s alone, vnderstonden?)

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    Whatever the shackles of restraint are they are meant to be thrown off and freedom regained.

  3. waltc says:

    I do think it’s possible to invent freedom in the sense that there can’t even be a word for something that’s never been seen or experienced and for most of human history most men had not experienced anything close to what modern western man would come to call freedom (and which modern western man now seems intent on throwing away). In an analogous way, I’ve said that America invented the individual in the sense of recognizing his existence and giving him primacy in the bill of rights and before that in declaring him naturally endowed with liberty and the right to pursue his individual happiness. That was always the great promise of America. I’ve heard it said that back in the 18th C, “happiness” as used in that sentence didn’t mean joy or pleasure but actually meant “happenstance” –chance, luck, opportunity, whatever comes your way that you’d like to pursue. No matter. Either way it promised individual, not communal or class or general, liberty.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I think there are all sorts of freedoms, but for me freedom is most identified with the “free time” of my Idle Theory. It’s a freedom that I first experienced during school playtimes, like coming up for air after hours of lessons. Free time is the time in which people can do what they like, rather than what they must (like study Geography). And this sort of freedom is everyone’s experience. It’s a freedom that only gets noticed when it’s lost, much like the air we breathe.

      What Hannan was talking about was the people’s freedom to organise their own affairs, make their own rules, rather than have somebody else impose them. In this respect, school provides another example of a form of tyranny: the children don’t get to make the rules that bind them.

      I very much doubt that America invented the individual, any more than the English invented freedom. Individuals have always existed. What America did was to give primacy to the individual (although Hannan would say that this had already been present in England). America continued to develop a process that was already under way.

      And I entirely agree about “happiness”, which I believe means “happen-ness” or “happenstance”.. What happens by “happy chance”, rather than what is planned.

      If people are careless of freedom (as many are today), I rather suspect that they will recognise its value when it has been lost (but hopefully not irretrievably lost).

  4. Rose says:

    Very nicely put, Frank. : )

    A very Happy New Year to everyone.

  5. harleyrider1978 says:

    Iro CyZane 12:00am Jan 1

    So where are all the anti-smokers that were supposed to fill these places up?

    ”The monthly gaming revenues for Macau have stumbled for six straight months, and are not likely to recover anytime soon.”

    ”Along with it, expectations prevail that the government will further tighten the current smoking ban in Macau casinos. Under the current regulation implemented in October, smoking is prohibited on casino floors but is allowed in enclosed smoking rooms where gambling is not allowed. However, the regulators are looking to completely ban smoking in casinos, further impacting gaming revenues.”

    Macau Casino Stocks Still Looking For A Bottom

    Bidness Etc takes a look at the recent chain of events impacting major Macau casino operators includ…

  6. margo says:

    Freedom – just another name for nothing left to lose? (Janis Joplin?)

  7. harleyrider1978 says:

    Specter of Debtors’ Prisons Looms Over Americans Who Just Can’t Pay: “You Can’t Squeeze Blood From a Turnip

    A special report highlights the growing disparity in America, and the issues many are having in keeping up with payments, which can even lead to incarceration for failure to pay – in spite of constitutional protections.

    Thanks in part to the growing trend of private collection agencies – including those who service fines and penalties assessed by government agencies – the inability or failure to pay debts is resulting in arrest warrants, mounting costs and, yes, jail time.

    And things are only going to get worse
    The ACLU highlighted the growing issue of “Court-Sanctioned Extortion by Private Probation Companies.” On Debtors’ Prisons:

    Across the country, in the face of mounting budget deficits, states are more aggressively going after poor people who have already served their criminal sentences and jailing them for failing to pay their legal debts. These modern-day debtors’ prisons impose devastating human costs, waste taxpayer money and resources, undermine our criminal justice system, are racially skewed, and create a two-tiered system of justice.

    This case started with traffic violations and trouble with serious medical expenses:

    PBS reported:

    Cities across the country are increasingly turning to what are known as private probation companies to collect unpaid fines. But are indigent people ending up in jail because they can’t afford to pay? Since NewsHour Weekend’s first story on this issue aired last spring, the Childersburg Municipal Court issued a “standing order” stating that “In no case shall an indigent defendant be incarcerated … based solely on his or her inability to pay fines.” But the practice continues elsewhere in the country. Special correspondent John Carlos Frey takes an in-depth look at what some are calling the return of the debtors’ prison.

    From the transcript:

    In 1971 The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution prohibits imposing “a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full.”

    1,000 people every month are going to jail in Alabama because they cannot afford to pay a fine.”


    TIM FUGATT: It was all at one time, just– just hit us all at once. And I explained it all to them. But we– you know, it was either pay or go to jail.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Being threatened with a jail sentence, did that help you to come up with the money?

    TIM FUGATT: It helped to try a little harder. But, you know, still. I mean, as the old saying goes, you know, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Over the next 8 months with JCS monthly fees adding up, the couple missed at least one court date each and were fined additional fees for failure to appear. Then a warrant for their arrest was issued. By the time of their arrest in February of 2012, the Fugatt’s had racked up $2,500 in additional court fines. Remember all this began with three traffic violations for which they were found not guilty.

    I wonder when the IRS incarcerations will begin for non payment of zerocare premiums like the did with RomneyCare in MassHole! They looked at romneycare premiums the same as the dead beat dad law on non payment of child support and locked you up til you paid up a certain portion of the mandated premium on you or your family.

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    Sentenced for Debt – The New Debtor Prisons

    A friend emailed me, “If a prisoner in our local Detention Center has to have health care, she or he must pay that bill within 30 days – regardless of the amount. If they don’t, they are picked up and put back in jail.

    So, you have 30 day to get your life re-established: find a place to live, get a job, buy groceries, etc. … and pay off a bill that sometime runs into the thousands of dollars.”

    “When, an individual is convicted of a crime, there are state required fees and court costs which the defendant must pay…”

    It is a ‘catch 22’ situation for many people. Without a job, many struggle to pay the fines. But, many cannot have their record cleared and be eligible to work until their fines are paid. So, until the fines are paid, they cannot work.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      You might as well die as go to VA you wont get seen and if you get appointments itswith 300 other guys all vying for the same service. Zerocare cost so many people their jobs and insurance they had to turn to va as a last resort.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        I needed 3 stitches last summer for a cut. Went to the ER and the bill was 1200 VA paid only about 300. Gave me every lame excuse for why they didn’t pay for anything else that was charged……….. needless to say when your 60 miles from the er at va and need it fixed right them. They expect me to drive to bowling green which is only open 7 hours at an outreach clnic. Then theyd likely transport me to Nashville to get th stitches. Guess how much time was wasted. Figure a whole day for a 10 minute job.

  9. Rose says:


    Green comet Lovejoy lights up the New Year sky

    “A green-glowing comet will reach its closest position to Earth on January 7”

    “The comet, formerly known as C/2014 Q2, is named after amateur Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy and was discovered in August.

    The comet has been growing more visible in recent weeks to those living in the Southern Hempishere and Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the comet will reach its nearest position to Earth on January 7, a distance of about 70.2 million kilometres away. Thus, the green-glowing comet will be visible to those in the Northern Hemisphere.”

    • carol2000 says:

      It’s already visible as far north as Montana. “Observers should look for the comet passing through the constellation Lepus the Hare south of Orion.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      Thanks. I think it should soon start to be visible low in the north or north-east night sky, climbing higher.

      • Rose says:

        Please tell when you see it, I’ve got a big hill behind me to the north and north east.

      • Edgar says:

        It will be visible from the UK in the south west, below and to the right of the constellation Orion.

        • Edgar says:

          Before midnight, that is. For the rest of the night, it will be below the horizon.

        • Frank Davis says:

          You’re right! I was looking at the orbit of Lovejoy, which is in the north of the Earth in ecliptic plain. But at this time of year, the UK southern night sky faces the ecliptic north. So Lovejoy will appear low in the southern or south-western sky

        • beobrigitte says:

          How far below and to the right of Orion? Perhaps I can make it out on the horizon, living in the north of the country?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Oh Gawd!

      Stargazers hoping to catch a glimpse of comet ‘Lovejoy’ this weekend should ditch the cigarettes, an astronomer has advised.
      The glowing green comet is making its closest approach to Earth at the moment, proving amateur astronomers a sight that will not be seen again for 8,000 years.
      And while it may be tempting to indulge in a cigarette while shivering in the January chill, astronomer Geoff Wyatt said it could prevent people seeing the comet.
      Mr Wyatt said smoking affects the blood supply to the optic nerve and reduces night vision.

  10. garyk30 says:

    Hard to insist on freedom/liberty when the majority, it seems, have willingly traded their freedom/liberty for mistaken sense of security.

  11. harleyrider1978 says:

    Head teacher orders parents to stop swearing and smoking outside school

  12. smokingscot says:

    Not sure if you’ve picked up on the fact 9000 doctors have put their name to an open letter telling the government to quit procrastinating and bring in plain packs before the end of this parliament.

    Had time to ponder this because Edward is all in favour of anything anti-smoking, so all they need do is sit on their hands, wait until he gets elected and enjoy the power.

    So what’s the problem? Certainly it cannot possibly be UKIP, because the experts tell us they’ll win at most about 7 to 12 seats.

    Maybe they don’t think Edward, ably assisted Alex will be able to command a majority in May 2015, so land a deeply unpopular turd in the lap of the Tories, get them to take the heat and bingo, Eddie gets the rebound vote and we’re stuck with him until 2020.

    • prog says:

      There’d be plenty more UKIP votes if it focussed more on the dismantling of the Bully State. I’ve met very few people who disagree with that.

  13. beobrigitte says:

    Happy New Year to everyone!
    We did wrap up 2014 as an extreme year: extreme sadness and extreme changes. And turmoil. We saw the last year out in style and I woke up in Hangover Land.

    By co-incidence we had a discussion today about people asking for individual freedom to be removed in the name of “safety-for-the-children” and “collective safety”.
    If people are careless of freedom (as many are today), I rather suspect that they will recognise its value when it has been lost (but hopefully not irretrievably lost).

    I am really pessimistic about people recognising the value and responsibility of freedom. The many years of trickle-feeding the population with health and safety propaganda is bearing fruit: people are no longer thinking and common sense is on the verge of dying.
    Our discussion started off about the internet and I was told that a German politician has been found to have pictures of children on his PC. Rather than asking about the nature of the pictures (?grandchildren sat in a paddling pool naked) people jump to the conclusion that it has to be of the sickest and worst kind and are demanding more legislation thus invasion into peoples’ private lives.
    My only thoughts uttered were: “ok. You do jump to the conclusion that an innocent picture of your e.g. granddaughter you downloaded from your camera onto the PC will be wanking material for peadophile hackers when the pictures they CREATE (involving REAL victims) are far more easy to exchange amongst themselves than hacking into peoples’ PCs in the hope to find pictures/clips of the owners’ children/grandchildren performing in a primary school Christmas play/being sat in a paddling pool in summer? You do have grandchildren and a digital camera. WHERE do you store these precious family pictures? Do you delete all pictures of your children/grandchildren just in case the legislation you support demands that the police can raid your home, take your PC to look for (however innocent) pictures of children and destroy your life for just wanting to keep a copy of a lovely time spent watching your children/grandchildren having a fun time playing? Don’t you remember our kids when they were young and on visits finding the garden hose and soon they all stripped themselves of the wet clothes? How many pictures did we take to have them developed at the place we all took our rolls of 35mm film to?


    My next point was then to point out that these (vile) peadophiles prey on their relatives’ children mostly.

    Long Silence.

    Lobbied governments’ induced paranoia kills common sense.

  14. Ruben says:

    Freedom is limited power.
    Without limits you have no freedom but omnipotence that only God has.
    Too much people claim for omnipotence that is a non sence, and no freedom.
    If you want freedom you will claim and accept limits.
    If you want to have and maintaine own personality you will defend freedom, then limits!
    Who wants omnipowers dont understand that is losing itself.
    Maybe mass of people now does not understand this simply mechanism.

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