The Battle of the Standard (1138): A benchmark of Norman and English assimilation
By Ronald Richard Greenwald
Master’s Thesis, University of Liverpool, 2017
Abstract: This dissertation will explore the social science construct of assimilation between the Norman English and the English two generations after the conquest of England in 1066. The Normans English shall be identified as the descendants of Continentals that either fought alongside Duke William at the battle of Hastings or followed shortly thereafter. The English shall be identified as the descendants of the subjects of Edward the Confessor.
This thesis is about perceptions. Many people can perceive the same man very differently. He may be an uncle, son, or brother. He might be a member of a gens, which has more than one nationality, religion, language or set of mores. This thesis examines the relationship between two gentes that shared a nationality, a government, a language, a religion and the holy relics of indigenous saints. Yet, they were separated by the perception that they were different. This thesis examines this perception of differences with medieval charters and poems and the work of historians: medieval, nineteenth century, and modern.
The battle of the Standard (1138) shall be used as a benchmark to assess the degree of assimilation between the Normans and English. Seventy-two years after the Norman Conquest, this battle took place at Northallerton between the forces of the Scottish King David and a disparate coalition of Yorkshire noblemen of Continental descent, Flemish mercenaries, English and Anglo-Scandinavian parish fyrds and a small contingent sent by a distant king occupied in an internecine war of succession. By this time the bilingual Norman English had co-opted an English identity, yet were still proud of their Norman heritage. In the next fifteen years, two of the chroniclers, Henry of Huntingdon and Ailred of Rievaulx, writing about the battle, stripped these Norman Englishmen of their patina of Englishness and extolled their Norman exclusivity and superiority.
In recent decades, the idea has been established that chroniclers attempted to create a single gens in England during the 1120s. Historians have theorised that medieval clerics used the term ‘barbarians’ for the Christian Welsh, Scots and Irish to create an ‘otherness’, which fulfilled the assimilation of the Normans and English. This thesis shall refute this argument.
Top Image: Battle of the Standard – British Library MS Royal 14 C II, folio 88