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The Formation of the English Nation Essay

1. During the period from the 6th to the 3rd century B.C. a people called the Celts spread across Europe from the east to the west. Some Celtic tribes invaded Britain. Celtic tribes called the Picts penetrated into the mountains on the North; some Picts as well as tribes of Scots crossed over to Ireland and settled there. Later the Scots returned to the larger island and settled in the North beside the Picts. They came in such large numbers that in time the mane of Scotland was given to the country. Powerful Celtic tribes, the Britons, held most of the country, and the southern half of the island was named Britain after them. Today the words “Briton” and “British” refer to the people of the whole of the British Isles. The Iberians, who inhabited Britain, were unable to fight back the attacks of the Celts; some of them were driven westwards into the mountains of what is now Wales and the others mixed with the Celts. The Celts had no towns; they lived in villages. They were acquainted with the use of copper, tin and iron, and they kept large herds of cattle and sheep.

They also cultivated crops, especially corn. The life of the Celts differed greatly from that of the Iberians. But both the Iberians and the Celts lived under the primitive system. In the last centuries B.C. and in the first centuries. A. D. The Celts were in a period of transition from primitive communal society to class society. The elders, military leaders and their warriors made up the tribal nobility. They began to seize much land for themselves and they had more cattle than the other members of the clan. But still the communal way of life predominated among them. To this day the descendants of the ancient Celts live on the territory of the British Isles. The Welsh who live in Wales are of Celtic origin. People in most parts of Wales speak Welsh, a Celtic tongue. In the Highlands of Scotland as well as in the western pats of Ireland the people speak a tongue of Celtic origin too. Some words of the Celtic language can still be found in Modern English and most of them are geographical names. Thus in England there are several rivers called Avon which in Celtic means “a river”. Some rivers have the name of Derwent, which in Celtic means “clear Water”.

2. Two thousand years ago while the Celts were still living in tribes the Romans were the most powerful people in the world. Roman society differed greatly from that of the Celts. It was a slave society divided into antogonistic classes. The main classes were the slaves and the slave-owners. The Romans conquered all the countries around the Mediterranean. One of the last countries to be conquered by Rome was France, or Gaul as it was then called In 55 B.C. Roman Army of 1000 men crossed the channel and invaded Britain, but it had to return to Gaul. In the next year, 54 B.C., Caesar again came to Britain. This time with larger forces (25 000 men). The Celts fought bravely for their independence, but they were not strong enough to drive the Romans off. Some of the chiefs submitted and promised to pay tribute to Rome. Caesar then went back to Gaul to complete his conquest on the continent. Although Julius Caesar came to Britain twice in the course of two years, he was not able, really, to conquer it.

The promised tribute was not paid and the real conquest of Britain by the Romans was not begun until nearly a hundred years after Caesar’s visits to the Island. In 43 A.D. a Roman Army invaded Britain and conquered the South-East. Other parts of the country were taken from time to time during the next forty years. As a result of the conquest signs of Roman civilization spread over Britain. The Romans began to build towns, splendid villas, public baths as in Rome, itself. York, Lincoln and London became the chief Roman towns; there were also about 50 other smaller towns. London became a center for trade both by road and river. A network of roads connected all parts of the country. A constant trade was carried on with other parts of the empire. The chief exports were corn, lead, tin and building tiles. But together with a high civilization the Romans brought exploitation and slavery to the British Isles.

The free Celts were not turned into slaves, but they had to pay heavy taxes and were made to work for the conquerors. Among the Celts themselves inequality began to grow, the tribal chiefs and nobility became richer than other members of the tribe. Many of them became officials acting for Rome. The noble Celts adopted the mode of life of the Romans. They began to speak Latin. The Romans remained in Britain for about 4 centuries. In the 3rd – 4th centuries the power of the Roman Empire gradually weakened. Early in the 5th century (407) the Roman legions were recalled from Britain to defend the central provinces of the Roman Empire from the attacks of the barbarian tribes. They didn’t return to Britain, and the Celts were left alone in the land. But many words of Modern English have come from Latin. The words, which the Romans left behind them in the language of Britain, are for the most part the names of the things, which they taught the Celts. e.g.

The word “street”, “port”, ”wall”. The names of many Modern English towns are of Latin origin too. 3. The Celts remained independent but not for long. From the middle of the 5th century they had to defend the country against the attacks of Germanic tribes from the Continent. In the 5th century, first the Jutes and then other Germanic tribes – the Saxons and the Angles began to migrate to Britain. The Saxons came from the territory lying between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers which was later on called Saxony. The Jutes and the Angles came from the Jutland Peninsula. In 449 the Jutes landed in Kent and this was the beginning of the conquest. The British natives fought fiercely against the invaders and it took more than a hundred and fifty years for the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes to conquer the country.

It was only by the beginning of the 7th century that the invaders managed to coquer the greater part of the land. Several Kingdoms were formed on the territory of Britain conquered by the Germanic tribes. This territory later on became England proper. Kent was set up by the Jutes in the South-East. In the south-eastern parts of the country the Saxons also formed a number of Kingdoms-Sussex, Wessex and Essex. The new settlers disliked towns preferring to live in small villages. In the course of the conquest they destroyed the Roman towns and village. The Jutes, the Saxons and the Angles were closely alike in speech and customs, and they gradually merged into one people. The name “Jute” soon died out and the conquerors are generally referred to as the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons made up the majority of the population in Britain and their customs, religion and languages became predominant. They called the Celts “welsh” which means “foreigners” as they could not understand the Celtic language. But gradually the Celts who were in the minority merged with the conquerors, adopted their customs and learned to speak their languages.

Only the Celts who remained independent in the West, Scotland and Ireland spoke their native tongue. At first the Anglo-Saxons spoke various dialects but gradually the dialect of the Angles of Mercia became predominant. In the course of time all the people of Britain were referred to as the English after the Angles and the new name of England was given to the whole country. The Anglo-Saxon language, or English, has been the principal language of the country since then although it has undergone great changes. Most of the Anglo-Saxons settled far away from the Roman towns. The Anglo-Saxon villages were small. A village that had 25 families was considered a large one. Nearly all the villagers were engaged in cultivating the land. Each village was self-sufficient, that is, most of the necessities of life were produced in the village itself. The needs of the villagers were few and simple. Food, clothing and shelter were their basic needs.

Arable-farming and cattle-breeding satisfied the needs of the people in the way of foodstuffs, clothing and footwear. There was very little trading at that time. The villagers had little or no money, and very little need for it, since they themselves produced most of what they wanted. Thus, natural economy predominated in Britain in early medieval times (the 8th 9th centuries). By the beginning of the 9th century changes had come about in Anglo-Saxon society. With the development of feudal relations great changes were taking place in administration too. Rich landowners were given great power over the peasants. 4. The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity began at the end of the 6th century (597) and was completed, in the main, in the second half of the 7th century. Before this the Angles, Saxons and Jutes had been pagans. In 597 the Roman Pope sent about 40 monks to Britain to convert the Anglo-Saxons. The monks Landed in Kent and it became the first Anglo-Saxon Kingdom to be converted.

The first church was built in the town of Canterbury, the capital of Kent that is why the archbishop of Canterbury is now Head of the Church of England. Then Christianity spread among the Anglo-Saxons of the other Kingdoms. The spread of Christianity brought about important changes in the Life of the Anglo-Saxons. Many new churches and monasteries were built all over the country. The churchmen became great Landowners alongside with the landlords. The spread of Christianity was of great importance for the growth of culture in Britain. The Roman monks helped to spread Roman culture in the country again. They brought many books and they were all written in Latin and Greek. The church services were also conducted in Latin. Latin was of international importance at that time, as it was used by learned men in all countries.

The first libraries and schools for the clergy were set up in monasteries. The monks copied out many hand written books and even translated some books from Latin and Greek into Anglo-Saxon. The spread of Christianity promoted a revival of learning. Such English words of Greek origin as “arithmetic, mathematics, theatre and geography” or words of Latin origin, such as “school, paper, candle” reflect the influence of the Roman civilization, a new wave of which was brought about in the 7th century by Christianity. However the cultural influence of the Church effected only a small number of people and mainly in clergy. The rank-and-file Anglo-Saxons remained completely illiterate.

5. The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms had a constant struggle against one another for predominance over the country. From time to time some stronger state seized the land of the neighbouring Kingdoms and made them pay tribute, or even ruled them directly. The number of Kingdoms was always changing; so were their boundaries. The greatest and most important Kingdoms were Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex. For a time Northumbria gained supremacy. Mercia was the next Kingdom to take the lead. The struggle for predominance continued and at last at the beginning of the 9th century Wessex became the strongest state. In 829 Egbert, King of Wessex, was acknowledged by Kent, Mercia and Northumbria. This was really the beginning of the united Kingdom of England, for Wessex never again lost its supremacy and King Egbert became the first King of England. Under his rule all the small Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms were united to form one Kingdom, which was called England from that time.

The political unification of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms was sped up by the urgent task of defending the country against the dangerous raids of the new enemies. From the end of the 8th century and during the 9th and the 10th centuries Western Europe was troubled by a new wave of barbarian attacks. These barbarians came from the North –from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and were called Northmen. More often the British Isles were raided from Denmark, and the invaders came to be known in English history as the Danes. The Danes were of the same Germanic race as the Anglo-Saxons themselves and they came from the same part of the Continent. But unlike the Anglo-Saxons whose way of life had changed greatly ever since they came to Britain, the Danes still lived in tribes. They were still pagans. The Danes were well armed. In 793 the Danes carried out their first raids on Britain. Their earliest raids were for plunder only.

The Danish raids were successful because the Kingdom of England had neither a regular army nor a fleet in the North Sea to meet them. Northumbria and East Anglia suffered most from the Danish raids The Danes seized the ancient city of York and then all of Yorkshire. Only Wessex was left to face the enemy. Before the Danes conquered the North, they had made an attack on Wessex, but in 835 King Egbert defeated them. In 871 the Danes invaded Wessex again. But in was not so easy to devastate Wessex as other parts of England. Wessex had united the small Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and under the reign of Egbert’s grandson, King Alfred (871-899) who became known in English history as Alfred the Great, Wessex became the center of resistance against the invaders. Alfred managed to raise on army and to stop the offensive of the Danes. During the reign of Alfred the Great the first British Navy was built and a war fleet of ships larger and faster than those of the Danes protected the Island.

As a result of all these measures, the Anglo-Saxons won several victories over the Danes. In the treaty, which followed in 896, the Danes promised to leave Wessex and a part of Mercia. They settled in the north-eastern part of England. Thus the Danes were prevented from conquering whole Island and the country was divided into two parts: The Danelaw (Northumbria, East Anglia and a part of Mercia), where the Danes spoke their language and kept to their way of life, and the English south-western part of the country that is Wessex, which was under Alfred’s rule. In time of peace Alfred the Great took measures to improve the laws in the interests of the great landowners and to raise the standad of culture among them. At that time the Kingdom of England became stronger. In the second half of the 10th century under the rule of Alfred’s descendants the Saxon monarchy was further consolidated.

The Anglo-Saxons won several victories over the Danes, took away the Danelaw and ruled over the whole England. The Danes were not driven out of the country but they were made subjects of Wessex. They submitted to the power of the Anglo-Saxons Kings and never tried to make the Danelaw a separate kingdom. The Danes influenced the development of the country greatly. They were good sailors and traders and they favoured the growth of towns and the development of trade in England. Many Scandinavian words came into the English language at that time and are even used today. Such adjectives as “happy, law, ill, ugly, weak”, such verbs as “to die, to call”, nouns like “sister, husband, sky, fellow, law, window, leg, wing, harbour” are examples of Scandinavian borrowings. At the end of the 10th century the Danish invasions were resumed.

The Anglo-Saxon Kings were unable to organize any effective resistance and they tried to buy off the Danes. At the beginning of the 11th century England was conquered by the Danes once more. The Danish King Canute (1017-1035) became king of Denmark, Norway and England. He made England the center of his power. After his death his Kingdom split up and soon afterwards an Anglo-Saxon King came to the throne (1042) and the line of Danish Kings came to an end. 6. In 1066 William, the Duke of Normandy, began gathering an army to invade Britain. The pretext for the invasion was William’s claims to the English throne. William landed in the south of England and the battle bw the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons took place on the 14th of October 1066 at a little village in the neighbourhood of the town now called Hastings.

The victory at Hastings was only the beginning of the conquest. It took several years for William to subdue the whole England. Thus the Norman duke became King of England – William I, or, as he was generally known, William the Conqueror. He ruled England for 21 years (1066 – 1087). The Conqueror declared that all the lands of England belonged to him by right of conquest. Each Norman noble, on getting his estate, swore an oath of allegiance to the king and became the King’s vassal. The Conqueror won the support of the Anglo-Saxon lords too. Those who had not fought against him were left in possession of their estates. The Church helped greatly in strengthening the royal power. The townspeople supported the royal power too. William the conqueror took severe measures to establish peace in the country, and now people could travel without fear of being robbed or murdered. In the reign of William the Conqueror there was more trade and travelling than before.

More merchants could move about without fear of losing their goods. The new masters were strangers in the country. They had different manners, customs and laws from those of the conquered people. They spoke a foreign tongue and the Anglo-Saxon peasants could not understand their speech. The Norman aristocracy spoke a Norman dialect of French, a tongue of Latin origin, while the Anglo-Saxons spoke English, a tongue of Germanic origin. Thus there were two different languages spoken in the country at the same time. Norman-French became the official language of the state. All the official documents were written in French or Latin. The richer Anglo-Saxons learnt to speak the language of the rulers. But the peasants and townspeople spoke English. The Normans could not subdue the popular tongue, which was spoken by the majority of the population.

The conquerors who settled down on English estates had to communicate with the natives of the country and they gradually learned to speak their language. Many of them married Anglo-Saxon wives and their children and grandchildren grew up speaking English. In a few generations the descendants of the Normans who had come with William the conqueror learned to speak the mother tongue of the common people of England. In time English became the language of the educated classes and the official language of the state. This was a gradual process. At the time when the two languages were spoken side-by-side a lot of French words and expressions came into English language. Words of Germanic origin make up the basic vocabulary of Modern English. Simple everyday words are mostly Anglo-Saxon.(to eat, land, house).

The vocabulary of the English language was enlarged due to such Norman – French words dealing with feudal relations as “noble, baron, serve, obey” ; or words relating to administration and law, such as “ counsil, accuss, court, crime’; or such military terms as ‘arms troops, guard, navy, battle, victory’. As a result of the Conquest, the English language changed greatly under the influence of the French language. The two languages gradually formed one rich English language, which already in the 14th century was being used both in speech and writing. Gradually the Normans mixed with the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes and from this mixture the English nation finally emerged.


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