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Conquered: The last children of Anglo-Saxon England by Eleanor Parker

by
19 August 2022

Sarah Foot considers one generation’s story

TO READERS this year, the cover of Eleanor Parker’s new book, Conquered, conveys a meaning never envisaged by either author or publisher. It depicts a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry which shows an English woman holding the hand of a child as she flees, unseen, from a house that Norman soldiers are setting alight. I misread the cursive script of the subtitle — The last children of Anglo-Saxon England — at first glance as the “lost” children of that generation, my mind drawing instant and uncomfortable parallels with the war in Ukraine.

The English children born in the middle years of the 11th century, who were in their childhood or teens in 1066, offer a unique perspective on the events of that momentous year and the lasting consequences of the Norman Conquest. Too young to have played an active part at Hastings or in its immediate aftermath, and yet old enough to remember Anglo-Saxon rule, these conquered children played a central part in preserving the memory of pre-Conquest English culture, as well as in the formation of an Anglo-Norman realm.

In this fascinating and accessible volume, Parker analyses the continuities and changes that followed the Conquest. She explores the careers of young men who rebelled against Norman rule: Hereward, the English hero of the fens, and Waltheof, the earl executed for his part in the rising against William in 1069, who was remembered at Crowland Abbey a martyr; surviving members of the West Saxon royal line, the grandchildren of Edmund Ironside: St Margaret of Scotland, Edgar Ætheling, and Christina, a nun at Romsey; and the “lost generation”, the children and grandchildren of Godwine, Earl of Wessex, and his wife, Gytha.

No chapter sheds light so vividly on the complexities of navigating the post-Conquest landscape as the last, exploring the career of Eadmer of Canterbury, St Anselm’s biographer. As a child of seven, Eadmer witnessed the devastating fire that destroyed the cathedral and much of the city of Canterbury in 1067. Although he was famously silent about the immediate aftermath of the Norman victory at Hastings in his History of Recent Events, Eadmer returned throughout his career to reflect on that fire and on the consequences of Archbishop Lanfranc’s rebuilding of everything anew.

His extensive writings provide unparalleled insight into this transitional period, emphasising the continuities in English history which spanned the Conquest, as he sought to reconcile past and present. One of the last children of Anglo-Saxon England, Eadmer spoke for the lost who had not survived, preserving their memories with his own, as he stamped his authority on a contested past.
 

The Revd Dr Sarah Foot is Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the University of Oxford.

 

Conquered: The last children of Anglo-Saxon England
Eleanor Parker
Bloomsbury Academic £20
(978-1-7883-1450-3)
Church Times Bookshop £18

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