Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Bit of Swash & Buckle

More from Trevelyan’s Social History of England, Chaucer’s England (1340-1400) – yes, folks, we have a long way to go yet…

Just imagine living back then:

"In most of the counties of England the King’s writ ran, though it was often evaded or defied. Murderers and thieves, when not in the service of some great lord, were often obliged to fly to the greenwood, or to take sanctuary and then forswear the realm. Some times they were actually arrested and brought into court. Even then they often slipped through the meshes of law by pleading their ‘clergy’ or by some other lawyer’s trick. But, at worst, a great many thieves and a few murderers were hanged by the King’s justice every year. The engine of law worked in the greater part of England, though cumbrously, corruptly, and at random.

But in the counties bordering on Scotland (that’s up here where we live) the King’s writ can scarcely be said to have run at all. War seldom ceased, and cattle-raiding never. On those roadless fells, society consisted of mounted clans of farmer-warriors, at feud among themselves and at war with the Scots. No man looked to the King’s officers to protect or avenge him. In the land of the Border ballads all men were warriors and most women were heroines." (Oh, yeah, that’s us…).

To Chaucer it was an unknown, distant, barbarous land – much further off than France – ‘far in the North, I cannot tellen where’. There the Percys (you’ve met them before and other border chiefs were building magnificent castles to resist the siege of the King of Scotland’s armies – Alnwick, Warkworth, Dunstanburgh, Chipchase, Belsay, and many more. The lesser gentry had their square ‘peel towers’, smaller copies of the castles of the great; there were no manor-houses, a product of relative peace. The peasants lived in wooden shanties that the raiders burnt as a matter of course, while the inhabitants and their cattle hid in the woods or sheltered in the peels.

This state of things outlasted the Tudors who gave such firm peace to the rest of England. Only after the union of the Crowns on the head of James Stuart had made an end of Border War (1603) did peaceful manor-houses begin to rise beside the castles and peel towers of the north.

One result of this long continuance of warlike habits, amid a sparse population, was that a greater familiarity between high and low prevailed in those wild regions and lasted into modern times. The moorland shepherd and the ‘hind’, as the northern farm hand was called, never became as subject to ‘squire and farmer’ as the pauper labourer of the south in days to come. There was always a breath of freedom blowing off the moors."

Because you’ve been good and read all this, I give you Burradon pele tower (no one seems to be able to decide how it's actually spelled).

Back when I was really fit, we did our long runs on Sunday mornings, starting in Killingworth,

where Bob lives. Several times we ran past this tower and it was pointed out to me. This time Bill

and I drove to it, thankfully; I couldn’t have told you where it was otherwise.

(Silly me, I couldn't resist having a post labelled 09/09/09 09:09)

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