Before setting out to show the manner in which it can be demonstrated that the Normans did not succeed in establishing a hereditary ruling class, and in holding themselves in exclusive prestige above the conquered population, which is only intimated in the foregoing, it is proper that a statement be made which gives the position of those who believe in the conquest theory.Next Page
Sorokin quotes and affirms the clean and bold statement: 37
The Norman Conquest appears to have almost completely supplanted the aristocracy of the Anglo-Saxon race, and to have put the adventurers who accompanied William into the place of those nobles who had ruled the peasantry . . . Anglo-Saxon lords were degraded . . . The dignitaries of the old monarchy were constrained to retire.
Wilhelm Wundt goes even further, seeing in the present day nobility of England the physical and speech characteristics of the Norman conquerors. His statement reads: 38
So verrät noch heute der hohe englische Adel in seinem physischen Eigenschaften und sogar in gewissen dialektischen Eigentümlichkeiten seine Abstammung von den normanischen Eroberern.
Although Wundt did not publish the foregoing until 1917, it can be stated that as early as 1876 a five volume study of the Norman Conquest had been made showing neither physically, culturally, socially, nor politically (in the sense of leadership) was the effect of the conquest traceable in English life a few decades after William I -- much less heute noch.
Westermarck states the conquest theory in standard fashion. He says: 39
Social differentiation may be the result of foreign conquest and subjugation, the conquerors becoming the nobility and the subjugated the commonality or slaves. In England, before the Norman Conquest the aristocracy was Saxon; after it, Norman.
That these statements do not rest upon documented historical facts has been revealed in the painstaking researches of Freeman. From his extensive study one gets a clear view of why the Normans failed to establish a aristocratic ruling class, even though the groundwork for one had been laid by the initial distribution of titles and land. Freeman writes: 40
It is plain that, in all this vast system of confiscation, there was no avowed difference made between Englishmen and foreigners. It was clearly William's object, not only to reward and to punish, but to carry out a politic scheme of putting the greater part of the lands of his new kingdom into the hands of his own countrymen. But no such purpose appears on the face of any legal document. King William punished, by the usual punishment of confiscation of lands, those men, English or French, who rebelled against him. He rewarded in the usual way, by grants of lands, those men, French or English, who did him good service.
In the foregoing it is clear that the conquest was not altogether a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It shows that the political head of the state leaned heavily toward his own kind, but he also had to bear down heavily upon some of his own group, even at the outset of the conquest. This was somewhat after the manner of Glovis. It is also clear that some persons among the conquered were quick to find a way of ingratiating themselves into the favor of the new ruler. Freeman also observes: "Even at the time of the Survey, a large number of Englishmen still held their own lands or the lands of their fathers undisturbed . . . . " 41 But when he went to France and returned, he found the lords too independent, so he confiscated again and gave "his" lands to whomever he chose -- mostly Normans, but many English. 42
It was natural that by this time some of the English aristocracy should have reached the court and fallen into the good graces of the sovereign.
After the death of William there followed an era of civil warfare and confusion during which many of the Norman families were utterly annihilated. Instead of living to see their progeny settled in high stations of political and social life, they perished in the throes of plot and counter-plot!
Freeman says of the reign of Stephen (1135 - 54), only a short lifetime after William's time: 43
Even this wretched time had its share in wiping out the distinction between the conquerors and the conquered. In the universal slaying and harrying . . . no distinction was made between Norman and Englishman . . . . The anarchy itself thus led men to forget older national enmities . . . and it led them too to join as one people in welcoming the return of order under a prince who was as little Norman as he was English. It is in this reign, if the word reign be not utterly out of place, that we hear the last faint echoes of the time when England was inhabited by men who could be pointedly divided into conquerors and conquered. During this reign we hear for the last time, from a very few and very uncertain voices, the word Norman used to imply a distinct class among the inhabitants of England. In the next reign the distinction is wholly wiped out . . . .
With these words, based on a lifetime of research by a well-known historian, the Norman Conquest may be dismissed as in incidental disturbance on the social class scene, a splash in the English sea of conventionality and stable social classes. The havoc of the Norman Conquest was repaired within a century -- so far as the social class system of England was concerned. Wundt, Westermarck, Sorokin, and many other social philosophers of history and hereby respectfully referred to as Freeman. The Normans did not establish the English nobility.
37. Sorokin, op. cit., p. 144.
38. Wilhelm Wundt, Völkerpsychologie, vol. VIII, Die Gesellschaft, 2nd part (Leipzig, 1917) p. 105.
39. Westermarck, op. cit., p. 62.
40. Edward A. Freeman, History of the Norman Conquest, vol. V (Oxford, 1876) p. 32.
41. Ibid., p. 21.
42. Ibid., p. 23.
43. Ibid., pp. 242 - 243; italics not in original.