Aerial view of the Burghal Hidage site of Wallingford with the Thames in partial flood. Outline of the Saxon ramparts and ‘Alfredian’ streetplan is clear.Image courtesy of the Environmental Agency, Author provided
By Stuart Brookes
Senior Research Associate in Archaeology, UCL
The Last Kingdom – BBC’s historical drama set in the time of Alfred the Great’s war with the Vikings – has returned to our screens for a second series. While most attention will continue to focus on the fictional hero Uhtred, his story is played out against a political background where the main protagonist is the brooding and bookish mastermind Alfred the Great, vividly portrayed in the series by David Dawson.
A Battle of the Somme on British soil? It happened on Palm Sunday, 1461: a day of fierce fighting in the mud that felled a generation, leaving a longer litany of the dead than any other engagement in the islands’ history – reputed in some contemporary reports to be between 19,000 – the same number killed or missing in France on July 1 1916 – and a staggering 38,000.
The battle of Towton, fought near a tiny village standing on the old road between Leeds and York, on the brink of the North York Moors, is far less known than many other medieval clashes such as Hastings or Bosworth. Many will never have heard of it.
Everything you know about British and Irish ancestry is wrong. Our ancestors were Basques, not Celts. The Celts were not wiped out by the Anglo-Saxons, in fact neither had much impact on the genetic stock of these islands
by Stephen Oppenheimer
(Stephen Oppenheimer’s books “The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story” and “Out of Eden: The Peopling of the World” are published by Constable & Robinson)
The fact that the British and the Irish both live on islands gives them a misleading sense of security about their unique historical identities. But do we really know who we are, where we come from and what defines the nature of our genetic and cultural heritage? Who are and were the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish and the English? And did the English really crush a glorious Celtic heritage? Everyone has heard of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. And most of us are familiar with the idea that the English are descended from Anglo-Saxons, who invaded eastern England after the Romans left, while most of the people in the rest of the British Isles derive from indigenous Celtic ancestors with a sprinkling of Viking blood around the fringes.Yet there is no agreement among historians or archaeologists on the meaning of the words “Celtic” or “Anglo-Saxon.” What is more, new evidence from genetic analysis (see note below) indicates that the Anglo-Saxons and Celts, to the extent that they can be defined genetically, were both small immigrant minorities. Neither group had much more impact on the British Isles gene pool than the Vikings, the Normans or, indeed, immigrants of the past 50 years.The genetic evidence shows that three quarters of our ancestors came to this corner of Europe as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, after the melting of the ice caps but before the land broke away from the mainland and divided into islands. Our subsequent separation from Europe has preserved a genetic time capsule of southwestern Europe during the ice age, which we share most closely with the former ice-age refuge in the Basque country. The first settlers were unlikely to have spoken a Celtic language but possibly a tongue related to the unique Basque language.
A very interesting ethno-political map of Britain in AD 530 (above) based on the archaeological map below, the literary sources and other data (maps credit: Home Page for Howard Wiseman in Griffith Univ., maps added by periklisdeligiannis.wordpress.com)
Stephan Schiffels, Wolfgang Haak, Pirita Paajanen, Bastien Llamas, Elizabeth Popescu, Louise Loe, Rachel Clarke, Alice Lyons, Richard Mortimer, Duncan Sayer, Chris Tyler-Smith, Alan Cooper & Richard Durbin
British population history has been shaped by a series of immigrations, including the early Anglo-Saxon migrations after 400 CE. It remains an open question how these events affected the genetic composition of the current British population. Here, we present whole-genome sequences from 10 individuals excavated close to Cambridge in the East of England, ranging from the late Iron Age to the middle Anglo-Saxon period. By analysing shared rare variants with hundreds of modern samples from Britain and Europe, we estimate that on average the contemporary East English population derives 38% of its ancestry from Anglo-Saxon migrations. We gain further insight with a new method, rarecoal, which infers population history and identifies fine-scale genetic ancestry from rare variants. Using rarecoal we find that the Anglo-Saxon samples are closely related to modern Dutch and Danish populations, while the Iron Age samples share ancestors with multiple Northern European populations including Britain.
Britain in the 6th century (suggested or approximate boundariess). The Anglo-Saxon principalities or tribes are noted in red, the Briton principalities in black, the Irish in blue and the Pictish in brown. The Attecotti of the northern edge being ethnologically indecipherable, are noted in their own colour. In the 7th cent., the Angles of Bernicia, Deira and Lindsey were united in the large kingdom of Northumbria. Bernicia, Deira and then Nortumbria destroyed and conquered the Briton kdms of Bryneich, Ebrauc, Elmet and South Rheged. Mercia conquered South Elmet and a part of Luitcoyt. The territory of Lundein (London) was annexed mainly by Essex (East Saxons) and East Anglia, and Regia by Sussex (South Saxons). Finally Wessex joined by the Gewissae (possibly descendants of Germanic soldiers of Rome), managed to destroy and annex the Briton kdms of Glouvia, Cerin and Atrebatia, pressing hard towards Dumnonia (possibly Arthur’s homeland). A part of the Dumnonii had already fled to Armorica founding the colony of Domnonee. It seems that the principality of Kerrnev in Armorica was also a Briton colony originated from Cerniw of Cornwall. The name of Leon in Armorica probably originates from a Celtic verbal corruption of the Latin ‘Legion’ but it cannot be defined if this principality had Briton origins. The Scots (Irish) of Dal Riada had already colonized modern Argyll pressing the Pictish principalities (map and caption added by P. Deligiannis ).
Michael E. Weale*,1, Deborah A. Weiss†,1, Rolf F. Jager*‡, Neil Bradman* and Mark G. Thomas*
British history contains several periods of major cultural change. It remains controversial as to how much these periods coincided with substantial immigration from continental Europe, even for those that occurred most recently. In this study, we examine genetic data for evidence of male immigration at particular times into Central England and North Wales. To do this, we used 12 biallelic polymorphisms and six microsatellite markers to define high-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes in a sample of 313 males from seven towns located along an east-west transect from East Anglia to North Wales. The Central English towns were genetically very similar, whereas the two North Welsh towns differed significantly both from each other and from the Central English towns. When we compared our data with an additional 177 samples collected in Friesland and Norway, we found that the Central English and Frisian samples were statistically indistinguishable. Using novel population genetic models that incorporate both mass migration and continuous gene flow, we conclude that these striking patterns are best explained by a substantial migration of Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes into Central England (contributing 50%–100% to the gene pool at that time) but not into North Wales.
A map of the subjection of England by the Spanish and their allies (Welsh and Irish) according to my scenario. The arrows denote their operations for the capture of London, Bristol and other cities. . By Periklis Deligiannis .
CONTINUED FROM PART I
The next day Santa Cruz sent message to the Duke of Parma who was waiting with his army in Dunkirk and the neighboring ports, to be ready for the departure of his shallow landing crafts for the English coasts (Note).
Most of the English naval squadron of Dover which by then was guarding Parma’s landing fleet, had to join Howard’s main fleet during his desperate attempt to protect Portsmouth. The English reckoned that the Dutch navy allied to them, was guarding Parma’s fleet but they were mistaken. The Hollanders never really trusted their unnatural friendship with the English, although Elizabeth’s defeat would probably mean also their own subjection to Spain. They were furious by the fact that the Queen was still negotiating with the Duke of Parma on a peace treaty, ignoring their own war against him. They feared that Elizabeth and the Duke had moved much closer to a peace treaty which would leave the Spaniards undisturbed to subdue the Netherlands.
The Duke of Parma had contributed to their confusion by spreading misleading information that his landing fleet would not be heading to England but to the coasts of Holland. After that, the Dutch did not hesitate to keep their warships moored in their ports in order to protect themselves from the threat of Parma’s landing army.
The bad weather delayed the military operations for two days. Santa Cruz was urgent to operate because the English were rapidly concentrating land forces in neighboring Southampton to recapture Portsmouth. After the improvement of the weather, the Armada ships covered the maritime area from Portsmouth to Dunkirk in order to protect Parma’s shallow landing crafts. The English navy attacked for the ultimate deterrence effort. The Englishmen fought furiously unleashing a barrage of shells and thus managed to destroy many galleons of Santa Cruz and sink some of the vessels of the Duke of Parma. But they were finally fought off with heavy losses, by the Spanish who kept unbreakable their “wooden wall” that had set up in the Channel waters. Captain Hawkins, a renowned Sea Dog, was among the casualties, lost together with his galleon.
At the same time, the attacks of the English Army under Leicester (from Southampton) against the Spanish garrison of Portsmouth, had no success because Santa Cruz’s marines and mercenaries who were guarding the city, were experienced soldiers and protected by strong fortifications reinforced by the rapid work of Italian and Spanish engineers. In the final attack, Leicester’s English and a few mercenary troops came very close to recapture the city killing many Spaniards, but they were finally pushed back. Thereby in two days, half of the total soldiers of the Duke of Parma were in Portsmouth, in the English coast ready for the land invasion. Soon the nearly unprotected ports of Brighton and Dover fell into Parma’s troops.
A Renaissance image of the Spanish Armada confronting English ships.
A modern reconstruction of a Spanish galleon (constructed for the movie ‘Pirates’).
By Periklis Deligiannis
This is an historical scenario that I have written about what would have happened if in 1588 the Armada of Spain had defeated the English fleet and the Spanish had conquered England. The scenario extends to the critical impact of such a march of events to the history of Europe and the World. Although it is written in the form of an “historical narrative” (because I was asked to write it in that form for a journal) it is based on actual and – I hope – cogent historical arguments which I mention in the text.
I did not take into account some random factors which in real history favored the English, while in the present scenario I supposed that they did not, for example the weather conditions which actually favored them much (in fact the Armada was defeated by the weather and not by Lord Howard’s fleet). First I quote an introduction comprising the actual historical events until the departure of the Armada. Next follows the scenario, being an estimate of mine on how the events would have evolved if the Spanish were victorious.
During the 16th century the Reformation of the Protestants against the arbitrariness of the Papacy and the Inquisition has divided the Western Christian world. Around 1587, the supporters of Catholicism had rallied around the Habsburgs whose dynasties possessed two of the three most powerful European thrones, the ones of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire of the Germans. In addition, the Spanish throne had inherited large areas of Europe (Portugal, Flanders, half of Italy, and others) while other European regions (eg some Italian states) were its protectorates.
The third most powerful European kingdom, France, was under the control of the Catholic League. The French King Henry III was essentially a ‘hostage’ of the leader of the League, the Duke of Guise who in his turn was manipulated mostly by the Spanish king. The stubborn French Protestants (the Huguenots) despite the carnage of the night of St. Bartholomew at their expense, were still numbering almost 1,000,000 causing instability in France and giving the opportunity to the Catholic League to substitute the royal power. Spain had additionally annexed the extensive network of the Portuguese colonies. The Spanish Empire controlled the most productive parts of the Americas and the numerous Spanish and Portuguese colonial settlements and posts around the world. The abundant American gold which was transported by the Spanish convoys in Madrid’s royal treasuries, ensured the supremacy of the kingdom over any other in Europe.
According to several scholars, the Spanish Empire was the most powerful in the planet, more powerful than the empires of the Ottomans, the Mughals (“Mongols”, in fact Turks) of India or the Ming of China. On the other hand, Protestantism had officially prevailed in England, Scotland, and the Scandinavian, northern German and Baltic countries. However, a large proportion of the population of the English kingdom remained Catholic because all Irishmen and a significant proportion of the Englishmen and Welshmen remained faithful to the papal church.
The Protestant doctrine of Calvin had prevailed in Scotland, however the majority of the Scottish Highlanders and a significant proportion of the Lowlanders remained Catholic. The Germanic Protestants of the Netherlands (ancestors of the Dutch) used to revolt from time to time against the Spanish domination. Their struggle for ethno-religious freedom, in combination with other factors, led to their gradual differentiation from the rest of the Germans. Thus during the 16th-17th centuries arose the Dutch nation.
A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet which was discovered in an Anglo-Saxon burial. At first, the Anglo-Saxons met large difficulties after their landing on the British shores and some of them had to return to their ancestral home in modern Germany. But after the alleged death of Arthur or the possibly historical military commander of the Britons that he represents (or the fall of the dynasty that he represents), they finally gained military superiority over the latter, conquering the lands that later became England.
A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin, used also by the Briton inheritors of the Roman military tradition. .
By Periklis Deligiannis . CONTINUED from PART II
If Arthur was an historical personality, he probably had his headquarters in contemporary Southwestern England, the land of the Dumnonii and their sub-tribes, where Tintagel and Cadbury are located. It is likely that he was a Dumnonian. However, many researchers believe that he came from other British regions, with the stronger versions being the ones of Wales and modern Northern England or Lowland Scotland (theory of a ‘Northern Arthur’). Concerning the opinions on the origin and the seat of Arthur (which are not as strongly supported by the existing data as that of Dumnonia), I will mention only the following: the legends on Arthur often connect him with Brittany (West Armorica) and the rest of Northern Gaul, while it should also be observed that the main directions of the Anglo-Saxon advance followed the British south coast and the Thames Valley. If Arthur resided in Wales or Northern Britain, it would be difficult for him to have frequent contacts with Gaul or restrain the “spearhead” of the Saxon invasion.
According to Geoffrey, when Arthur campaigned in Gaul, he left Mordred, his nephew, as protector of his throne. Mordred usurped his power together with his queen, Guinevere. Arthur faced the usurper and his forces on the banks of the River Camel. In the bloody battle, all the knights were killed except three. Arthur and Mordred were among the survivors, then clashing themselves in a duel. Arthur surprised Mordred and wounded him mortally. Before he drop dead, he managed to strike Arthur with a crushing blow on his face. After the battle, nine hooded women carried Arthur on a boat to the island of Avalon (Insula Avallonis), where he died. According to the Welsh legend, the king survived and still lives sleeping in a cave near Avalon, waiting for the right moment to return to his people and to evict the barbarians from Britain. Geoffrey seems to adopt the Welsh legend, because he does not mention that Arthur died. However it is recognized that if Arthur was buried somewhere, his grave was in the mythical island of Avalon, of unknown location.