Introduction

A People's History of England-by A.L.Morton- Introduction by Giles Wynne of the Pocket Version

Hits: 3219

FROM A PEOPLES HISTORY OF ENGLAND by A.L. MORTON 
(Incorporates Wales, Ireland and Scotland)
 
Morton’s classic work sets out the main narrative and most important turning points of British history - from the point of view of the ordinary people - in a clear and jargon-free style. Fascinating for the general reader and the historian alike.
 
I commend this book to you.
 
Are you descended from Stone Age Iberians, Celts or Beaker Folk, from Gauls, Normans, Romans or Angles, or from Saxons, Danes, Northmen or Jutes?
 
We know of William, Henry, Charles, Harold or even Edward, but why not (call your children) Ethelbert, Edwin, Oswy, Oswald, Penda or even Egbert? Kings all of them, but the Great English King Alfred and his sons, Athelstan, Edmund and Edgar, deserve better recognition.
 
I could understand you not considering Wilfred or Cuthbert (Archbishops), or Danish Kings Sweyn and Canute. The Godwins were a powerful force to be reckoned with, but not Ethelred (the Redeless).
 
Did you know?
The word ‘sheriff comes from a shire – reeve.
The feudal maxim – “No man without a lord, no land without a lord.”
 
We know Edward the Confessor was a halfwit, but Harold, a son of Godwin, was a brilliant tactician even though he did take one in the eye.
 
A freeman and serf were not free, puzzling to the modern mind, since they were terms peculiar to the Feudal Age.
A man without land was neither free nor unfree, he did not count.
 
(He might of course be a slave, but then he would be a kind of property rather than a person.)
 
A free man was one who held land on condition of military service or some other service, reckoned honourable, or one who paid a money rent.
 
In 1000 AD, the writings concerning enserfment explain that the cultivator was unfree:
 
“What do you say, ploughman, how do you do your work?”
 
“Oh Sir, I work very hard. I go out at dawn to drive the oxen to the field and yoke them to the plough; however hard the winter, I dare not stay at home for fear of my master; and having made the share and coulter fast to the plough, every day I have to plough an acre or more.”
 
“And what more do you do in the day?”
 
“A great deal more. I have to fill oxen bins and give them water and carry the dung outside”
 
“Oh, its hard work.”
 
“Yes, it is hard because I am not free.”
 
 
Feudalism explained: A contract, in theory, between king and vassal, which was completely imposed in England, more so than elsewhere.
 
The Crown retained enough land in its own possession to ensure that the king was stronger than any baron or combinations of barons.
 
William (the Conqueror) claimed hundreds of manors but also all the forest lands, which created the possibility of a state organisation transcending the feudal system, which was built around the king’s power as military leader of a victorious army.
 
The power of the state in England was greater than in Europe, and the power of the nobility was less than in Europe.
 
The English regarded the power of the Crown as a protector against their immediate superiors. They supported the Crown against the barons.
 
The harshness of William’s rule was soon forgotten by the peasantry, which had been accustomed to conquest and pillage during the long Danish invasions.
 
 
DOMESDAY ENGLAND
 
20 years after conquest, William sent out commissioners to every township leader to make a survey of the economic life of the Country.
 
How much land?
Who holds it?
What is it worth?
How many ploughs?
How many tenants?
How many oxen, sheep, swine?
 
The inquisition was highly unpopular
 
1.    Shameful to tell, not shameful to do!
2.    Shows the completeness of the Conquest, even for the nobles.
Reason for the Survey?
A) Information for levy of tax.
B) Give the King detailed knowledge of the extent of the wealth of lands and revenue.
C) An accurate picture of social structure of England.
 
A unit of agricultural economy was the manor (as the country was overwhelmingly agricultural).
 
Survey Result:
 
Slaves 9%
Borders and Cottars 32%
Villeins 38%
Freemen 12%
 
Multiply these figures by five to account for the average family and, allowing for classes not included, such as lords and their descendants, manorial officials, priests, monks, nuns, merchants-craftsmen, landless wage labourers and isolated cultivators, and the total population of England at that time was estimated at 2 million, or at the very least 1.75 million.
 
Slaves
By 1200 AD, slaves were a rapidly vanishing class and were becoming house servants, shephers or ploughmen on the lords’ domains.
 
Borders and Cottars  were holders of small patches of land outside the framework of the open field system. They were still serfs, but some were free tenants, paying their crafts, cloth, smithy or woodwork as dues.
 
Villeins were bound up in the agriculture of the manor, but farmed 15 to 30 acres share of common land.
 
Day Work and Boon Work
These were the regular number of days per week required to be given to the lord, usually three, but extra Boon days might be demanded at any time. This was hated as it affected a person’s own work (shearing harvest, etc). As a result, much of the work on a person’s holdings was done by women and children.
 
THOUGHTS OF TIME?
You may be reflecting on what has been written so far and how the masses were subjugated by warrior bands and armies, how their leaders appointed themselves as kings and gave their friends positions of favour and authority.
How many days a week do you work for the ‘state’ and how many for yourself?
 
Women folk are forced to work to make ends meet.
 
Nothing much has really changed, but why not?
 
We have a historical record of feudalism and its effects on people.
 
People are prepared to suffer almost anything for the sake of peace and quiet
 
Then, as now, rocking the boat would get you into serious trouble.
 
We are amazed how much people are prepared to accept today.

Three million unemployed, the greatest capitalist swindle in a generation, MPs milking the public pot, house price collapse, the EU making 80% of our laws and our children facing the prospect of paying for the politicians printing money for decades to come. 
 
And hardly a squeak.

Do the masses know something the protestors don’t? 
 
That parliament is not the ‘state’ will be shown in the next part…………..
BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK –
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER, SECTION BY SECTION,
I WILL TAKE YOU ON A JOURNEY THROUGH
AL MORTON’S BOOK

A People's History of England by A.L.Morton-His Note About the Book

Hits: 3535

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF ENGLAND by A.L.MORTON

HIS NOTE ABOUT THE BOOK

IN SPITE OF ITS TITLE, THIS BOOK IS NOT SO MUCH A HISTORY OF ENGLAND AS AN ESSAY IN HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION.

IT SETS OUT TO GIVE THE READER A GENERAL IDEA OF THE MAIN LINES OF THE MOVEMENT OF OUR HISTORY,AND TO DO THIS A MASS OF DETAIL HAS BEEN SACRIFICED AND EVENTS OF CONSIDERABLE IMPORTANCE HAVE BEEN OF NECESSITY OMITTED OR RECEIVED THE MOST CURSORY TREATMENT.

FURTHER, IT IS INTENDED FOR THE GENERAL READER RATHER THAN THE SPECIALIST, AND MAKES NO PRETENCE OF BEING THE  RESULT OF ORIGINAL RESEARCH:

IT WOULD, INDEED, BE QUITE IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY ONE WRITER TO ATTEMPT TO COVER THE WHOLE FIELD OF ENGLISH HISTORY IN SUCH A WAY.

WHATEVER VALUE THIS MAY HAVE MUST LIE RATHER IN THE INTERPRETATION THAN THE NOVELTY OF THE WORK IT PRESENTS.

A People's History of England- Foreward To Giles Wynne's abridged version by Colin Todhunter

Hits: 3686

Foreword to Giles Wynne's abridged version of AL Morton's 'A People's History of England'

Arthur Leslie Morton's 'A People's History of England' is a classic. Morton (1903-1987) takes us back to when humans first inhabited this land and then on a forward journey that ends on the eve of the Second World War. His book shows that countless millions have inhabited this place we call England, from ancient hunter gatherer tribes and the 'Beaker People', to the Vikings, Normans and those of the industrial age.


As I was reading this abridged version by Giles Wynne, I could not help but recall the words of the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who stated that generals, kings, rulers and politicians have spilled rivers of blood just to become temporary masters of some or other part of the planet and that endless cruelties have been visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the globe upon inhabitants in another corner.

Morton accounts for the plight of the ordinary person, both here and abroad, who has borne the brunt of war, famine, exploitation and the political machinations of tyrants and unscrupulous leaders, whether Roman, medieval monarch, feudal baron or modern day capitalist.

He describes the rise of feudalism and its decline, the agrarian revolution that led to population increase, the English Revolution, where the people pushed Cromwell and others to get rid of the monarch, the rape of Ireland, colonial expansion and the Industrial Revolution.

As this land grew to be the pre-eminent world power, ordinary people struggled to find a voice within these shifting tectonic plates of history. Nevertheless, they succeeded.

Morton discusses the development of the working class movement and subsequent struggles: he notes the impact of the Peasants' Revolt, Peterloo, trade unionism and many other inspiring events that litter the historical landscape of England.


The conclusion to be drawn is that most change that has benefited ordinary people has resulted from the actions of ordinary folk themselves. Such benefits have never been handed out freely by the rich and powerful. This is true for women’s rights and political freedoms, as much as it is for workers' rights or any other number of gains.


If Morton shows us anything, it is that, when conscious of their class interests and sources of oppression, ordinary folk acting together can and do make a difference.

In the latter stages of the book, Morton highlights the driving forces of imperialism, which led to the mass slaughter of two world wars. Today, under the guise of ‘globalisation’ or outright war, western powers continue to plunder the world and wage war.

History can teach us much - but only if we listen.

‘A People’s History of England’ is a rallying call for action. The slaughter, deceptions and barbarity have gone on for too long. 

Colin Todhunter

We use cookies to improve our website and your experience when using it. Cookies used for the essential operation of the site have already been set. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our Privacy Policy.

I accept cookies from this site