English Nationalism in ‘The Battle of Maldon’ and ‘The Battle of Brunanburh’
By George Neame
Innervate: Leading student work in English studies, Volume 8 (2015-2016)
Introduction: To assess the prevalence of English nationalism in Anglo-Saxon literature, it is first necessary to define what we mean by ‘English’. Recent archaeological and genetic research has suggested that—contrary to belief in a singular mass migration of Germanic people—immigration to Britain ‘consisted of only small groups of warriors and few, if any, families’.
It is possible, therefore, that the entire Anglo-Saxon society did not arrive fully formed and in vast enough numbers to span the country. Ward-Perkins has suggested that the spread of Anglo-Saxon culture is instead due to many native Britons being quickly ‘anglo-saxonised’, willing to adopt a new Anglo-Saxon culture by breeding, fighting and worshipping alongside the invaders. By the time of a Christianised monarchy in the tenth century, the ethnic makeup of those who identified as ‘English’ could contain genes from Britain, Germania, Scandinavia and more, with substantial regional variations.
Because of this, and accounting for further migrations between the fifth and tenth centuries, the English nationalism that we might find in Anglo-Saxon literature is not merely the patriotism of one racial group from the Germanic continent. It is instead the nationalism of a variety of peoples for whom Englishness could be learnt, shared and adopted.