Thursday, August 27, 2009

Re-Writing History

It's always been a pleasure to point out to the more bumptious Anglo-Saxon that, from the Welsh point of view, the English are themselves fairly recent immigrants to this sceptred isle. Now along comes Stephen Oppenheimer with the claim that the English have been inhabitants of Britain for much longer than previously thought. Indeed his more extreme followers even go as far as to say that parts of Ireland have also been English for 2000 years.

Oppenheimer bases his theory on the belief (dismissed by specialists) that the Belgae of Southern England were a Germanic speaking tribe and, well that's about it, except for the fact that how else to explain that England is, you know, English rather than Welsh.

Of course Oppenheimer's book is manner from heaven for those English folk whose confidence has been shaken by the loss of Empire, immigration, bolshie Scots and rule from Brussels, but is it true?

Firstly the Belgae only occupied a small area of Southern England so, even if they were Germanic speakers, it doesn't explain what happened to all the other Celtic tribes of what became England, the Iceni for example. Secondly how is it possible that so few Latin loan words ended up in Anglo-Saxon, far fewer than in Welsh. After all according to Oppenheimer the "English" lived in the most Romanised part of Britain, Southern England, yet the Romans seem to have had precious little influence on their language, culture or religion.

How then can those of us who find little of value in Oppenheimer's work explain the comparative absence of Welsh placenames and loan-words in England? Well how about the extreme weather events of the 530s and the great plague of the 540s. This all fits in with Gildas and would explain how the Anglo-Saxons were so easily able to move into an under-populated landscape.

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