The Great British Story: A People's History (2012) s01e03 Episode Script

The Norman Yoke

The story of the British is one of the most extraordinary tales in history.
It's a tale of conflict and struggle, of invasions and civil war.
It's a story of resistance and endurance, and at times sheer bloody-minded defiance.
And it was the people themselves who made our history.
Often in the face of great adversity, it was the people who won our rights, one of our great legacies to the world.
And if there's one time when these ideas begin to emerge at grassroots, it's the time between the Norman Conquest and Magna Carta, a time when the histories of all our peoples: Scots, Irish, English and Welsh, are drawn together.
In the next chapter of our story: The coming of the Normans, Magna Carta and the first fights for freedom.
At the year 1000, the first millennium, many in Christendom thought the world might end.
But it didn't, and afterwards people went forward with a new optimism.
Across Britain, the standard of living rose with stable governments.
England became one of the wealthiest countries in Europe.
But that made it a prize.
And in the 11th century came the most fateful invasion in British history.
Just imagine the scene, it's late September.
600-700 ships floating on the morning tide.
Troop ships, supply vessels carrying everything from portable forges to the prefabricated pieces of a wooden motte and bailey castle.
There's only maybe 8,000-9,000 frontline troops but they're the hardest men that you could imagine.
And their goal is the conquest of England.
These events here on Pevensey beach will eventually engulf not only the whole of England but Wales and even Ireland.
We've reached the most famous date in the history of Britain: 1066.
England in 1066 was a good place to live by the standards of the day.
It had a national law, a strong sense of national identity.
It had many towns, local government and a money economy.
And the wealthiest part of England was the fertile lands of East Anglia.
This is the wonderfully named parish of Old Newton, Gipping and Dagworth.
A little corner of Anglo-Saxon England.
300 people in scattered farmsteads along the valley of the River Gipping.
And we come here to find one Anglo-Saxon farmer, a man who had just 150-200 acres, a mill, a little church.
And his name was Breme - in Anglo Saxon, it means "the renowned, the famous".
As we'll see, he will live up to his name.
Breme was a freeman.
He lived here in Dagworth, in the depths of the countryside.
But he had a voice in local and national affairs, through the meetings of the courts of hundred and shire.
This is the site of his farm, and like countless family houses in Britain, it's got quite a tale to tell.
Some Australians turned up and said that they'd tracked their own ancestry to Dagworth.
And that they were living in a place which was also called Dagworth, I think.
A sheep station.
I think there's meant to be some sort of link to the writing of Waltzing Matilda.
- Yes.
- On that sheep station.
The birth of Waltzing Matilda in Dagworth.
We really are on a historical ley line here, aren't we? Originally it would have been an open hall house, one large space.
A fire somewhere in the middle of the hall and probably just an opening in the roof.
Back in 1066, there was an Anglo-Saxon man who lived here and he probably was married and maybe had three little boys, for all I know.
There is Breme with his caracate and a half, maybe 175, 180 acres, something like that.
13 cows, 12 pigs, 16 sheep and 40 goats and two plough teams.
Do you know how they used to plough? By horses or by oxen.
But I think 40 goats sounds rather useless today.
The story of 1066 has been told many times - King Harold, William the Conqueror.
But this is the tale of an ordinary person, swept up in those great events.
Breme and his wife and kids, if he had them, had no reason to think that their world would change, here in a delightful hall by the River Gipping.
They could still go on pilgrimage to Bury St Edmonds, hold their customary feasts for their workers, they could go to the market and spend their silver pennies.
But there was a catch.
Breme, as a free man, owed military service to his king.
And if war came, he had to take his coat of mail and his spear and his horse and go to fight in the war.
In the autumn of 1066, war came.
From the start, luck was against the English.
When the Normans landed, the English King Harold was up in the north, fighting the Vikings.
So the English were exhausted when they faced William's new model army with their shock weapon cavalry.
October 14th, 1066, was a catastrophe for the English people.
"A havoc of our dear nation," as the chronicler said.
"The flower of England fell that day," says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
And with them, under the banner of his lord, Earl Gurth of East Anglia, the faithful freeman Breme of Dagworth.
He was killed at the battle of Hastings? They've made a war memorial for him, in the book, with his name.
The local people here have remembered him.
A real local hero.
And we're still talking about him now, 1,000 years later.
With the death of King Harold and the annihilation of the English army, Duke William had won England, with one blow.
William brought over his aristocracy but for working class people like us, as an Anglo-Saxon, so much seemed to have been ripped away from us.
Our connection with that leadership was replaced with a foreign language, our aristocracy was wiped out in the battles.
And, I don't know sort of working-class people, somehow feel today that the position was usurped.
I love that you use this term the working-class people.
Because, of course, in 1066 and after, virtually all of us were the working people of England.
That's all they ended up doing, wasn't it? Making us do the stuff for them.
It was a brutal occupation, I think, and the English remembered it.
The end of the world as we know it.
So began what would become known as the Norman Yoke - the loss of English liberties at the hands of a new aristocracy of French-speaking barons.
As autumn went into winter, William ravaged Southeast England, burning fields and villages, forcing the surviving English leadership to meet him.
This is where representatives of the English nation, and the English did believe they had a nation in 1066, submitted to William the Conqueror.
The Archbishop of York, the earls of the Midlands and the North, the surviving nobility and "all the besten men of London" - the citizens of London, already the richest, most influential civic body in the country.
And they surrendered to William out of force of circumstance, says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
After the Normans had done their worst, devastating the countryside.
And William promised that he would be a gracious lord to them.
They all knew what that meant.
As a contemporary observed, from this moment, cold heart and iron hand now ruled the English land.
And William wasn't a man to cross - even his friends said that.
If anyone wants to know what kind of man King William was, listen to me.
For I knew him and lived in his court.
King William had great wisdom and power, but he was a harsh and cruel man and utterly given over to greed.
Over the next three years, the Normans crushed English resistance.
William ravaged the whole of the North, reducing the people, so it was said, to eating rats and grass and even human flesh.
And everywhere, said an eyewitness, he built castles, to oppress the poor people of England.
There were around 500 of them altogether.
At first, simple earth mounds with wooden stockades, which have long since gone.
Here in Mount Bures in Essex, the Normans threw up a gigantic mound, which has given its name to the village.
The mound sits on land owned by 92-year-old Ida McMaster, who invited archaeologists lead by Carenza Lewis to investigate.
Welcome! Lovely, thank you, boys.
At last.
How many years has it been? Well, we found some roots.
We haven't found any traces of a structure, we found two post holes.
It doesn't look as if anyone was ever actually living here.
I've waited 40 years to have this dig.
I couldn't believe it when they said Carenza was going to mastermind it.
The dig fulfils a promise Ida made to her late husband Bill, who all his life was fascinated by the story of the village and its Norman mound.
When he brought me out here first of all and described what there was here in this village, I absolutely fell in love with it.
I couldn't do anything else but try and find out all about it.
This is the top of the motte, the castle mound.
These were introduced by the Normans.
Most of the villagers are involved in this community dig, hoping to solve the mysteries of the mound.
Tiny population in Mount Bures, it's only like 30 peasants.
It's of no significance whatsoever.
It's very strange that they should have such an enormous earthwork for such a small place at that time.
And it's ten metres high, it's on the top It's a class-one motte, the top category of motte, one of the tallest in the country.
It's a perfect symbol of the Norman impact.
You've got to imagine this huge fighting platform made of wood on top.
And if there was an outer bailey, an enclosure around the church, that would have been packed with buildings.
Claustrophobic granaries and barracks, stables, forges, especially for the metalworking you needed to maintain the army, armour and weaponry.
A blitzed landscape all around.
And not a tree standing behind which the poor benighted Anglo-Saxon peasants could get anywhere near this.
This was a brutally functional fighting platform, bristling with weaponry at the top of the local pyramid of domination.
The Normans were a minority, an armed elite.
Maybe only 30,000 newcomers.
Unlike the Saxons and the Vikings, you'd be hard pushed to find them in our British DNA, but they left their mark.
People with French names are still the richest Britons today, better educated, better off, longer lived - from Beaulieu to Belgravia, they've still got the best real estate.
Jane Austen's Mr Darcy was a Norman.
In winter 1085, with his grip on the land now secure, William ordered a survey of England, to find out what there was, who owned it and how much tax could be got out of it.
And the result was the first detailed portrait of England - Domesday Book.
This, is the Exeter Domesday book.
The local draft, before the final compressed version.
It's the raw data of history.
One scribe taking over from another scribe in the middle of an entry.
Some of them not very familiar with English, by the look of it.
How, for instance, did they manage to make Bulfestra out of Buckfast? I don't know.
Domesday lists more than 13,000 places with their human population and even their animals.
"It's a shame to tell this but he thought no shame to do it.
" "He didn't leave out a single ox, a single cow, a single pig.
" Domesday reveals that England in 1086 had two million people, mainly rural but more than 100 towns.
More than half of the English were tied peasants, 15 per cent freemen and women and one in ten still slaves.
All this information was gathered by the old Anglo-Saxon system of local government, the local juries, courts of the hundreds, shires and boroughs.
Like Shakespeare's Stratford, for instance.
We have about 1,700 acres of arable.
There are 29 households, 21 of them villeins and seven smallholders.
We have land for 31 plough teams, five acres of meadow on the Avon, and a mill that gives ten shillings a year and 1,000 eels.
For most places in England, it's the first time they appear in history.
Take Long Melford, in Suffolk.
In our big community dig, we'd already found that Melford had been a busy place in Roman times.
We'd like to get through to something from, sort of, Roman or Saxon time.
In the Dark Ages, it almost vanished, but now in Domesday, it's thriving, with 400 people, sheep flocks, a church and the mill that gave the town its name.
Who did that? Did you do that one? Did you help? In our dig, we were hoping to find traces of the ordinary people listed in Domesday, the unfree villeins and cottagers.
And of 50 test pits in Melford, two were in a hamlet called Kentwell, separately listed in Domesday.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.
The three trays there and that tray at the back are all medieval, there's nothing in it except medieval pottery.
So we're looking at a 40-centimetre thick deposit, dating to the early-medieval period.
I think this is a very late shard of Thetford ware.
It's early medieval.
The point of that is, it probably dates to around the time of the Domesday Book.
There's not only long Melford but there is a little account of a separate manor called Kentwell in 1086.
Well, I'd love to know.
Held by an Anglo-Saxon farmer freely, whose name was Alfgar.
Living on this little estate were seven villeins, who are like semi-free peasants, one bordar, who's like a dependant peasant - you know, a cottager, five beasts, 30 pigs, 80 sheep in 1066.
It's a wonderful specific detail again and you just wonder, could this have been part of that tiny little estate? There's a very, very good chance that in your list of names in the Domesday Book, some of them actually probably used these pots.
I mean, they're the right dates - 1070, 1080, 1090.
So the English faced up to living under foreign occupation.
The Normans didn't mix with them.
For three or four generations there's no intermarriage.
The French-speaking Normans saw themselves as socially and ethnically superior and the Anglo-Saxons lived under a kind of apartheid.
From the big house, the Norman lords observed their new subjects with a mix of curiosity and lofty Gallic distaste.
The English have places in every village that they call ale houses.
There the English peasants sit at the benches with their pots of ale.
And believe it or not, at prayer time, they don't go to church.
They just stand up, pray and carry on drinking.
That's why the Normans say, in every English pub, you'll see the devil.
But beyond the ale houses, life was nasty, brutish and short.
The English lower classes could be arrested and executed with no trial.
What an amazing vista that is! Habeas corpus simply didn't exist.
Northeast over to Leicester over there, towards Market Harborough over there.
This is the quarry.
It's always spectacular if you come here of an evening.
I wanted to do a photography project where I explored how the quarry and nature could co-exist together.
But in doing that, I suddenly realised there's a lot more here to see than just the quarry.
What Colin discovered was that Croft Hill was a Norman execution site.
When you walk down through those and you see them, you just think about people perhaps hanging from the trees, dying their miserable deaths.
On a December day like this.
It's wintertime, isn't it? The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells the story.
They say that many of them suffered unjustly.
The Normans were trying to say, "We're in charge.
It doesn't matter what you think.
We're going to impose our rule on you and you'll do what we say.
" In this same year before Christmas, Ralph Basset held a court of the King's thanes at Houndhill in Leicestershire.
And hanged there more thieves than anyone had before.
44 men were killed in no time.
Six of them were blinded and castrated.
And honest people said many of them suffered very unjustly.
But our Lord God, from whom no secrets are hid, sees the poor oppressed by every kind of injustice, deprived of their property and their lives.
A terrible year was this.
In Dagworth, a Norman colonist was rewarded with Breme's house.
His name was Grose.
Guillaume Grose.
What happened to Breme's family, we don't know.
Maybe they lived on their own land as tenants.
By 1086, only two leading English landowners were left out of 1,400.
The top of English society had gone, their land stolen by Norman feudal lords.
And all over the country, English people now had to rent their land as Domesday says, miserably and with a heavy heart.
But brutal as the Norman conquest was, it unleashed huge energies in British society.
The close links with Normandy and France opened up trade and galvanised the economy.
Bristol, for example, hardly merits a mention in Domesday book.
But it was a strategic port on the sea routes to Wales and Ireland and in the 12th century, it boomed.
Bristol rose very rapidly in the Middle Ages to become the third greatest city in Britain.
And, of course, it would remain the outlet to Ireland and the north Atlantic, right down to the time of Brunel's Great Britain, and the Great Western Railway.
But the real clue to Bristol is in its name.
In Anglo Saxon, Brycgstow - "the meeting place by the bridge".
What made Bristol tick throughout its history was trade.
Skins, wine, fish and slaves.
The earliest trade Bristol recorded in any detail was the slave trade of the 12th century.
It's Welsh slaves, and also English slaves, of course, being ultimately sent across to the developed countries of the world, which is the Moorish states of Spain.
Norman Bristol made money.
In a few generations, the town's population shoots up from Domesday's few hundred people to 10,000.
"Virtute et industria.
" So all these cities that made their wealth on hard work.
This is part of a medieval building.
You've got this medieval arch doorway here, which is sort of blocked in.
And to help attract business, the good burgers of Bristol rebranded their town.
Bristol's petitioning against Gloucester having been made into an independent head port.
Gloucester's saying, "We're much older, we were founded by Caesar in 45AD.
" And Bristol comes back, "Oh, yeah, but we were founded by the Trojans, we were founded" Brutus the Trojan, whatever.
And that's them there? That's the Trojans? So brilliant, isn't it? What a beautiful corner.
So Norman Bristol took a new path.
As well as furs from the north and Irish flax, the market here now offered Mediterranean spices and French wines.
The Normans were slowly beginning to change the English.
And the English were starting to emulate the Normans.
These are the original trading tables, called "the nails" in Bristol, these bronze nails.
This is actually where people would do business in the Middle Ages onwards.
If you want to pay someone your debt back, you can pay in cash, on the nail, in Bristol.
Or you can be using it to write out contracts.
That's for my argosy to Aleppo.
That's my fee.
We don't run to that much! In the early 12th century, using Bristol as a base, the Normans invaded South Wales.
In Pembrokeshire alone they built 50 castles and the first systematic exploration of one of them is here at Nevern.
The Normans, when they arrive here, probably about 1108, 1109, put up this large earth mound, probably with forced local labour.
This creates a defensive headland.
Here in Wales, too, the Normans removed the top of the ruling class.
But learning their lessons from their alienation of the English, here they co-opted many locals.
The Anglo-Norman lords simply came in, took over the existing social organisation, the existing land structures.
And simply supplanted the very top of the aristocratic elite.
Many Welsh laws were retained, many Welsh customs were retained.
Here in Pembrokeshire, the Normans created an enclave studded with castles which even today is distinctive in its language and customs.
The dividing line is known as the Landsker Line.
It runs through towns and villages and even splits some places in half.
Like Narberth.
So this part of West Wales became known as "Anglia Trans Waliana", England the other side of Wales.
One thing that happens as the Anglo-Norman world evolves and has contact with the Welsh is that you start to get Welsh princes and lords, who are starting to do things in a more Anglo-Norman way.
They build castles.
Curiously, forming their castles and their settlements, they now give the fixed points from which Wales can be held.
So by the late 13th century, Edward I is able to march to Wales, capture key Welsh castles, and the Welsh lose power, because by now you have got Wales in controlled centres.
The Welsh create their own kind of yoke, as it were.
So the Norman conquest of England in time drew in Wales and then Ireland too, leaving legacies we're still trying to untangle today.
On the horizon, though they couldn't see it yet, glimmerings of a greater Britain.
But history never stands still.
By the 1180s, 100 years after Domesday, through a gradual, almost imperceptible process of change, the Normans are starting to become English.
London is now the pre-eminent city, the financial and commercial capital, building on its Anglo-Saxon foundations.
Look at that.
The Tower of London over on this side here and this little pattern of streets here.
It gives you a fantastic idea.
Much better than the modern A to Z, jetties coming out into the river and a host of ships in the Middle Ages.
In the 13th century, these wharfs were frequented by merchants from France and Germany and the Baltic - one of them named after Matilda, the daughter of the Norman king, Henry I.
Dowgate is Anglo-Saxon, and Queenhithe - the one wharf of the medieval world that still survives.
Queenhithe was used by Londoners to bring in their corn from the Normans till the 20th century.
Across England and Scotland too, towns brought a commercial revolution.
The first driving force is the rise in the population and also a gigantic explosion in the money supply.
This was the only currency, don't forget.
All the money you're talking about in the 12th and 13th centuries is just silver pennies.
So although you have pounds, shillings, pence, marks, there's just one coin.
And there are 240 of these And the more money you have, the more you need markets to spend it in.
I won't get you to roll it all out.
If you walk backwards a little bit The 13th century was the golden age for the creation of markets across Britain.
Lots of grants of new markets and fairs.
And it's on these rolls that they're all recorded.
Keep going.
You'll have to go on and on.
Throughout the 13th century, well over 2,000 of these grants setting up new markets and fairs were issued.
And look, the very, very second entry is a pardon to the abbot of Hailes of the palfrey which he has given the king to have one market each week lasting for two days at Hailes.
And the only condition of pardon of this palfrey is that he's got to use the money he would have spent on the palfrey on chalices for the abbey.
And like Long Melford in Suffolk or Kibworth in Leicestershire, Halesowen in the Black Country is typical.
The market here was founded in 1220.
And it's still a market today.
Down here we have a, rebuilt, admittedly, dancers' outfitters, where I bought this jacket and where I bought my first suit in 1968.
The latest fashions, food, tools - this is a medieval new town with a grand Norman parish church.
It's a magnificent building, isn't it? It's huge.
Look in Domesday book, there are two priests.
What more do you want to show the importance of the place? The Black Country, Smethwick and West Bromwich, Birmingham just over the hills there.
Not perhaps the most resonant historical landscape in Britain, you might have thought.
But the roots of the industrial revolution here in the Black Country go much, much further back than you could ever have guessed.
There's an incredible continuity of life and work and even political action by ordinary people back at least until the 1200s.
Back then, the town was owned by the lord of the manor, the local abbot.
Now, like today, Halesowen was also a metalworking place, nailers and cutlers making the tools in a mainly agricultural society.
But they were only licensed to work with the abbot's permission.
At the court at the manor of Halesowen in 1312.
The abbot then gives permission to Robert Smith of Dudley, now living in Halesowen, to fund and build a forge at Haymill Bank, to make metal from which he may forge hatchets and other tools, for the term of his life.
And you can still find the sites of those medieval cottage industries hidden behind the modern townscapes, the roots of our industrial past, for which the Black Country would become famed across the world.
It may look un-prepossessing but this is a wonderful spot for history.
You've got the Telford bridge here and the medieval mill site.
And this must be the place where Hugh the Cutler made his grinding shop in 1346 to practise the art of the metalworker.
So here in Halesowen, Hugh the Cutler and all the workers on the manor and the traders in the market too needed the abbot's licence to sell the product of their labour.
It's going to be a very, very useful field because it hasn't been walked before.
The field walkers are here to survey the abbot's domain.
put their arm out, so put your right arm out and touch the shoulder of the next person.
Come on, push him along, that's right.
As the borough's archaeological officer, I need this evidence, I need this information.
I couldn't work without these lads.
It's a crucial task searching for the material evidence, gathering the raw data of local history.
I like to get out in the countryside as much as I can.
Being interested in local history Well, history, but particularly local history, it's a good way of combining the two.
It's a family outing today, yeah, and they're all interested.
It's a base of a pot, Roman.
Very pleased with that, it's a nice piece.
It's just adding to the bigger picture of what was going on here, in the medieval period and before.
Look at that! That is a really important piece.
It may be a bowl but look at the decoration of it.
It's a very valuable piece.
That's wealth.
We're standing just about here.
Beside this piece of masonry here.
The whole complex is about 190 feet from east to west and about 100 feet north to south.
Into the chapter house.
From 1215 to 1538, the abbot ruled the people's lives here.
For the un-free, jobs, housing, marriage and even death duties in the hands of the Lord.
Looks like a medieval roof.
Absolutely beautiful.
Medieval crown posts.
So what was it? Give us a clue? I go with the infirmary but there are other people who are not convinced.
And it's quite plausibly the abbot's house.
But certainly a very glamorous building.
And resented, quite clearly, in the court rolls by quite a few of the peasants.
Particularly the higher-class peasants, who knew the score and who knew their legal background.
And we know what the ordinary peasants of Halesowen thought about their lords, thanks to an amazing treasure trove here in Birmingham central library.
Any idea how many miles of shelves you've got here? Well, we think it's currently about 14.
A collection of 215 court rolls survives from medieval Halesowen, recording hundreds of sessions of the abbot's court.
And one of them tells the story of a peasant activist, whose battle with the abbot became bitterly personal.
His name was Roger Kettle.
Roger Kettle is very easily found because his name appears constantly in these records.
A thorn in the flesh of the abbey, who he sees as making unreasonable impositions on the tenants.
They realise that their conditions have deteriorated and they see the lords as being the people who have oppressed them and they see the king as a protector.
They can see that, if only they could get back to the good old days when the king was fully in control, and you didn't have this middle band of lords squeezing them, squeezing rents and services and payments of money from them.
What it says is that he merits a fine with the abbot for the offence of "having impleaded him in the court of the lord king".
The peasants of Halesowen have clubbed together to provide what we would now call a fighting fund to pay a lawyer to put their case to the king's judges.
- Did they succeed? - No.
Almost never did they succeed.
They thought that the law was impartial.
They thought that the king could be persuaded to be on their side.
But they hadn't taken into account, of course, that the law was run by essentially aristocrats in favour of aristocrats.
So that constantly the lord's interest would be protected and defended by the lawyers and by the judges.
So what happens to Kettle in the end? The abbot arrested him and he died in custody.
Wow.
So the feudal system was still against the ordinary people.
And the violence caused by such tensions comes out in a new source for our social history, the coroner's rolls.
About bedtime on 22nd August 1266, Henry Coburn of Great Barford went out of his house, there to drink a pot of ale.
At dawn the next day, his mother Agnes Coburn went to search for him and found him dead, his body having seven wounds about the heart and in the stomach, apparently made with a knife, four in the head, apparently made with a pick, and others in the throat, on the chin and in the head and in the brain.
She immediately raised the hue, which was followed and found pledges from Humphrey and Thomas Quarrell.
I swear by Almighty God that the evidence The English coroner is a product of that time, a response to the tide of random killing.
It was a Norman innovation using the English jury.
It came formerly in 1194, which I think was the reign of Richard I.
And it seemed to me then that it was just an opportunity of raising money from the oppressed population of the country.
And the one way of doing that is if anybody died unexpectedly, then that was a way that you could try and cash in on it.
Of course, under the legislation, if you were killed, if you killed somebody by your horse or by your cart, that horse or cart would, under it was called deodand, I think would be forfeit to the crown.
So if somebody ran out in front of you and you ran him over with your horse, then bad news.
Because they'd take your horse as a penalty to the crown unless you could raise the money.
Which might be your only source of livelihood.
So this is why coroners were not terribly popular.
Not like today, of course.
The Bedford coroners'rolls are one of the most amazing sources for the real lives of our 13th-century ancestors.
And the jaw-dropping violence of everyday life.
And it was out of their world that the most famous legend of the time arose.
The story of an outlaw who stood against the tyrant King John.
A hero whom we know by a 13th-century criminal nom de plume.
Robin Hood.
The price for one of the King's deer is your right hand.
If you admit your guilt and save us time, the punishment is lessened.
We can take a finger.
The tale is a distant mirror of a time when for everybody the issue was: - Who is the law supposed to serve? - I've changed my mind.
No appeal.
What the Who's there? The tale of Robin Hood and bad King John is a myth but like all myths, it has a kernel of truth.
If the law wants respect, shouldn't the punishment fit the crime? King John's abuse of the law had antagonised both the people and the nobles.
The barons increasingly now saw themselves not as Norman but as English.
And alert to the opinions of their fellow countrymen, they moved against the King, to fight arbitrary royal power.
In 1205, a meeting in Oxford - what they called a parliament - forced the King to swear that he would preserve the rights of the English kingdom.
And in that simple phrase is the idea that our rights are the possession not of the king but of his subjects.
And that idea is what lies behind the most famous document in British history, possibly in world history.
Magna Carta.
So there it is.
The barons forced King John to agree to limit his own power.
Copies were sent out all over England - this one in Hereford cathedral from 1217.
It is a sort of incredible, iconic document.
Everybody's heard of Magna Carta.
If you talk to people in the street, nine times out of ten they will have heard of 1066 and Magna Carta.
It's taken away the arbitrary nature of royal power, particularly in the reign of King John.
Before the Magna Carta, of course, the king's will would decide everything rather than any written papers.
The Magna Carta was a bill of rights, basically gathering all laws.
Freemen were already quite free, weren't they? There's not so much that's very new in here, it's just actually setting out formally: These are the feudal laws, these are the conditions by which we live by.
There are many clauses that talk about free men and the rights of free men.
Of course, today, our idea of free men is everybody, isn't it? Whereas in this context, we're talking about a feudal society where the majority of people were tied to their landowners and their lords so the free men we're talking about are actually the elite top cream.
So this is actually an elitist document.
It's a very conservative document, it's not the thing that it has become.
And the most famous clause of all: "Every free person has the right to a fair trial.
" In English law, the roots of that system went back to Anglo-Saxon times, to the local juries elected in every village.
In those days, the jury were all men over 12 years of age from two or three surrounding villages.
An unlike now, where if the jury knows anything about the case they're disqualified, in those days, the more the merrier, because out of the villages and the dozens of people that might come, somebody ought to know something about it.
And here in Laxton, England's last working open field village, you can still see the jury supervising the regulation of the fields, as it has since the 13th century.
Right, gentlemen, I call the court to order.
Oyez, oyez, oyez.
All manor of persons who owe suit and service to the court lead of the Queen's most excellent majesty.
Morning, gentlemen, we'll swear in the jury with the foreman first.
Take the Bible in your right hand.
Bill Haig, you as foreman of the jury, with the rest of your fellows Watching the court day here at Laxton, you understand something absolutely central to the beginnings of representative government here in England.
The jury.
nothing from hatred or malice but in all things you shall true and just presentment make, according to the best of your understanding, so help you God.
12 good men and true.
The like oath, which Bill Haig, your foreman, has taken on his part, you and every one of you shall well and truly observe.
Bound together by solemn oaths which connect each other and express their allegiance to the king or the queen or the ruler.
And in the old days, they regulate not only the fields but law and order, the whole way that the community got along together.
It's an entirely co-operative communally organised system.
And it's what the English, the British, later exported to the rest of the world.
OK, onto the suit roll.
Call that over.
- S Noble.
- Present.
- S Rose.
- Present.
From the freemen of the manor to the local knights of the shire, it's how the people's opinions were conveyed to the makers of Magna Carta.
- J Walker.
- Absent.
M Hennell.
It wasn't democracy but it was consultation.
D Brown.
He's here but not speaking.
And that's the key to what follows.
Onto the minutes of the last court.
The presentment paper was received for top field.
S Rose had allowed spray to drift onto In the 13th century, with the increasing peasant literacy, these ideas were percolating everywhere at the grass roots.
In Wales, too, after the English conquest of 1282, the jury system was introduced.
And even as the rulers of England were attacking Wales, we can see how it worked, here in Rhuthun in the border lands where the two cultures met.
Court of Llanych, 10th June, 1294.
Cadac Blethwyn accused Henry Rigby of Lancaster of theft of an iron-grey horse.
He put the matter before a jury of six English men and six Welsh men who said that Henry did take the horse without his leave but not thievishly.
Though, of course, in war there are always profiteers and opportunists.
Court of Llanych, 26th August, 1295.
William Howell complains that Madeline Kite occupied his house in the time of Madoc ap Llywelyn's revolt against the English.
Afterwards, when William came back to town with the army of King Edward, he found Madeline running a brewery there.
The jury say that she is guilty.
And in war, old enmities can always return.
Court of Llanych, 10th June, 1294.
Yorath of Kenwick is accused of disturbing the peace.
He cursed a constable and swore by the body of Christ and soon the constable and other English will hear such rumours that they will not wish to come to Wales again.
Magna Carta initiated dramatic changes in English politics.
Back in 1215, King John had promised to protect all ranks of society.
The whole community.
"Communa tocius terre" - the community of the whole land.
And in the French translation - of course, King John was a French speaker - it's "la commune de toute Angleterre".
Now, the implication of that, although of course, they couldn't say it in so many words, was that the opposition had the right to speak for and to act for the community against the king.
And in 1264, that's exactly what happened.
In a battle at Lewes in Sussex, the reforming barons defeated and captured King Henry III.
Speaking for the whole community of the realm, they hoped to use Magna Carta to create the first constitutional monarchy.
They were lead by the charismatic Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort.
The first English people's hero.
He is the pioneer, if you like, of democracy as we know it.
It was a germ, it had to grow, but it did mark the beginning of something greater.
That's important for us today.
It was the first time that ordinary people had some say in government apart from the aristocracy.
It's this big issue of ruler's authority versus subjects' rights.
It starts with Magna Carta.
Simon de Montfort is its first big test.
He'd bothered to learn English, he'd bothered to get in touch with people.
And that is why I feel he had the common touch.
The King's supporters now raised an army over the Channel in France to invade England and overthrow the revolution.
To meet the threat, de Montfort mobilised the English people.
That summer, with the King in his power, de Montfort summoned the greatest army that had ever been gathered in England to meet him near the Kentish coast, at a place called Barham Down, today on the A2.
Shades of the Armada, Napoleon, the Battle of Britain, a people's army, fighting, as they said, for England to be free.
Imagine a vast encampment stretching as far as the eye can see.
Thousands of tents.
In that summer of 1264, every village in England had been summoned to send men to this spot, each one of them with money provided by their neighbours for 40 days of food supplies.
It was the first time in our history that such a huge gathering of people had come together, not just for defence but for a great political cause.
"We say that the king must be subordinate to the law.
We say that the precedence goes to the community of the realm.
" The invasion of England never came.
But the following year, the barons fell out and de Montfort was killed at Evesham.
Ever since, he's been seen as a symbol of the English people's long march to freedom.
The pool where he died became a place of pilgrimage.
People came from far and wide to make use of this water, which they believed had miraculous powers.
Why is this event so important in the history of the people of England? Why does this make such a mark and why is it so significant? It's because, really for the first time in history, we get the sense of a popular movement.
It's difficult to find any such example any earlier than 1265.
Our first great constitutional revolution failed but it was never forgotten.
We've reached the year 1300.
The boom time is over.
Across the British Isles, climate change brought a mini ice age, which led to failed harvests, famine and disease.
The French-speaking rulers of England, though, still waged their futile wars across Britain.
In 1314, as the Great Famine began, Edward II invaded Scotland to be defeated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn.
In the aftermath, the Scottish barons made their own declaration of freedom, fired by the same great ideas that had inspired de Montfort and the English - the primacy of the people and the community of the realm.
The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, sparing neither age, nor sex, religion, nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.
But from these countless evils, we have been set free, by our most tireless prince, king and lord, the Lord Robert.
It is, in truth, not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting.
But for freedom.
For that alone which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
That text has been called the greatest statement of Scottish nationhood ever made.
Can I just ask you all, what drives you re-enact it? That statement on its own, is one of the main structures of this nation.
It's to keep the history alive and to remember where the structure of the nation evolved from.
A lot of people in Scotland don't realise the importance of the declaration.
By doing the re-enactments as we do them, just very short re-enactments, it brings it back to people's attention.
It really is a basic statement of the people's interest in their own wellbeing and how the nations are going to take more interest in their own affairs.
The bitterness of the declaration of Arbroath towards the English and their war crimes - things that had to be seen to be believed, it says - was an inevitable consequence of the English onslaught on the Celtic peoples of Britain and indeed Ireland in the 13th century.
I call them English but, of course, the rulers of England were not English, they were foreigners.
The Angevins and the Plantagenets were the successors of the Normans and in their attack on the Celtic peoples of Britain, they were furthering a Norman project.
Before 1066, the Anglo-Saxon achievement had been to create England.
It would be the Normans and their successors who attempted to create Great Britain.
And as it looks from the 21 st century, it appears that they didn't succeed quite so well.
February 2017