History series. Michael Wood explores how foreign invaders shaped Britain following the battle of 1066, as well as the struggle for rights across medieval Britain.
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The story of the British
is one of the most extraordinary tales in history.
It's a tale of conflict and struggle,
of invasions and civil war.
It is a story of resistance and endurance,
and at times, sheer bloody-minded defiance.
And it was the people themselves who made our history.
Often in the face of adversity, it was the people who
won our rights - one of our great legacies to the world.
And if there's one time when these ideas emerge at grassroots,
it's the time between the Norman Conquest and Magna Carta.
A time when the histories of all our peoples -
Scots, Irish, English and Welsh - are drawn together.
In the next chapter of our story, the coming of the Normans,
Magna Carta and the first fights for freedom.
At the year 1,000, the first millennium,
many in Christendom thought the world might end.
But it didn't, and afterwards people looked forward with a new optimism.
'Across Britain, the standard of living rose with stable governments.
'England became one of the wealthiest countries in Europe,
'but that made it a prize, and in the 11th century
came the most fateful invasion in British history.'
Just imagine the scene - it's late September.
600 or 700 ships floating on the morning tide.
Troop ships, supply vessels carrying everything from portable forges
to the prefabricated pieces of a wooden motte-and-bailey castle.
There's only maybe 8,000 or 9,000 frontline troops,
but they're the hardest men you could imagine.
Their goal is the conquest of England.
These events here on Pevensey beach
will not only engulf not only the whole of England,
but Wales and even Ireland.
We've reached the most famous date in the history of Britain, 1066.
England in 1066 was a good place to live by the standards of the day.
It had a national law, a strong sense of national identity.
It had many towns, local government and a money economy.
'And the wealthiest part of England
'was the fertile lands of East Anglia.'
This is the wonderfully named parish of Old Newton, Gipping and Dagworth.
A little corner of Anglo-Saxon England.
300 people in scattered farmsteads
along the valley of the River Gipping.
And we come here to find one Anglo-Saxon farmer,
a man who had 150-200 acres. A mill, a little church.
His name was Breme.
In Anglo-Saxon, it means "the renowned", and "the famous".
As we will see, he will live up to his name.
Breme was a free man. He lived here in Little Dagworth,
in the depths of the countryside.
But he had a voice in local and national affairs,
through the meetings of the courts of hundred and shire.
This is the site of his farm,
and like countless family houses in Britain,
it's got quite a tale to tell.
Some Australians turned up
and said that they'd tracked their own ancestry to Dagworth.
And that they were living in a place also called Dagworth, I think.
A sheep station.
I think there's meant to be some sort of link
to the writing of Waltzing Matilda, wasn't there,
-on that sheep station?
The birth of Waltzing Matilda in Dagworth!
We really are on a historical ley line here.
Originally it would have been an open hall house,
one large space.
A fire somewhere in the middle of the hall,
and probably just an opening in the roof.
Back in 1066, there was an Anglo-Saxon man who lived here.
He probably was married, and maybe had three little boys,
for all I know.
There is Breme, with his carucate and a half,
maybe 175 or 180 acres - something like that.
13 cows, 12 pigs, 16 sheep and 40 goats.
And two plough teams.
Do you know how they used to plough?
By horses or by oxen.
But I think 40 goats sounds rather useless today.
The story of 1066 has been told many times -
King Harold, William the Conqueror.
But this is the tale of an ordinary person,
swept up in those great events.
Breme and his wife and kids, if he had them,
had no reason to think their world would change.
Here in a delightful hall by the River Gipping,
they could still go on pilgrimage to Bury St Edmonds.
Hold their customary feasts for their workers.
They could go to the market and spend their silver pennies.
But there was a catch.
Breme, as a free man, owed military service to his king
- and if war came,
he had to take his coat of mail and his spear and his horse
to go to fight in the war.
In the autumn of 1066, war came.
# Of our own will, we took the field
# Our spears like stands of pine. #
From the start, luck was against the English.
When the Normans landed the English King Harold was up in the north,
fighting the Vikings.
# Far to the north, we put to flight An army twice this size. #
'So the English were exhausted
'when they faced William's New Model Army with their shock weapon.
October 14th, 1066 was a catastrophe for the English people.
"A havoc of our dear nation", as a chronicler said.
# And under bitter sky
# Pierced by the cruellest, blackest rain
# The heart of England lies. #
"The flower of England fell that day,"
says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
With them, under the banner of his lord, Earl Gurth of East Anglia,
'the faithful free man, Breme of Dagworth.'
He was killed at the Battle of Hastings.
They've made a war memorial for him, in the book, with his name.
-The local people here have remembered him.
-A real local hero.
And we're still talking about him now, 1,000 years later.
With the death of death of King Harold
and the annihilation of the English army,
Duke William had won England,
with one blow.
William brought over his aristocracy,
but for working-class people like us, as an Anglo-Saxon,
so much seemed to have been ripped away from us.
Our connection with that leadership was replaced with a foreign language.
Our aristocracy was wiped out in the battles.
Working-class people, you somehow feel that today -
that the position was usurped.
I love the fact you use this term "the working-class people".
Because, of course, in 1066 and long after, virtually all of us
were the working people of England.
That's all they ended up doing, wasn't it?
Making us do the stuff for them.
It was a brutal occupation.
And the English remembered it.
The end of the world as we know it.
So began what would become know as "the Norman Yoke".
The loss of English liberties
at the hands of a new aristocracy of French-speaking Barons.
'As autumn went into winter, William ravaged south-eastern England,
'burning fields and villages.
'Forcing the surviving English leadership to meet him.'
This is where representatives of the English nation -
and the English did believe they had a nation in 1066 -
submitted to William the Conqueror.
The Archbishop of York, the earls of the Midlands and the north,
surviving nobility and "all the best men of London",
the citizens of London,
already the richest most influential civic body in the country.
And they surrendered to William "out of force of circumstance,"
says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
After the Normans had done their worst, devastating the countryside.
And William promised he would be a gracious lord to them.
They all knew what that meant.
As a contemporary observed, from this moment cold heart
and iron hand now ruled the English land.
'And William wasn't a man to cross. Even his friends said that.'
If anyone wants to know what kind of man King William was, listen to me.
For I knew him and lived in his court.
King William had great wisdom and power,
but he was a harsh and cruel man, and utterly given over to greed.
Over the next three years,
the Normans crushed English resistance.
William ravaged the whole of the North,
reducing the people, so it was said,
to eating rats and grass and even human flesh.
And everywhere, said an eyewitness, he built castles,
to oppress the poor people of England.
There were around 500 of them altogether.
At first, simple earth mounds with wooden stockades,
which have long since gone.
Here in Mount Bures in Essex,
the Normans threw up a gigantic mound,
which has given its name to the village.
The mound sits on land owned by 92-year-old Ida McMaster,
who invited archaeologists led by Carenza Lewis to investigate.
Lovely. Thank you, boys.
At last! How many years has it been?
Well we found some roots.
We haven't found any traces of a structure. We found two post holes.
It doesn't look as if anyone was ever actually living here.
I've waited 40 years to have this dig,
I couldn't believe it when they said Carenza was going to mastermind it.
The dig fulfils a promise Ida made to her late husband, Bill,
who all his life was fascinated by the story of the village
and its Norman mound.
When he brought me out here first of all,
and described what was here in this field,
I absolutely fell in love with it.
I couldn't do anything else but try and find out all about it.
This is the top of the motte, the castle mound,
and these are introduced by the Normans.
'Most of the villagers are involved in this community dig,
'hoping to solve the mysteries of the mound.'
Tiny population in Mount Bures. It's only like 30 peasants.
It's of no significance whatsoever.
It's very strange they should have such an enormous earthwork
for such a small place at that time.
And it's ten metres high, it's on the top.
A class one motte, the top category of motte.
One of the tallest in the country.
It's a perfect symbol of the Norman impact.
You've got to imagine this huge fighting platform,
made of wood, on top.
And if there was an outer bailey - an enclosure around the church -
that would have been packed with buildings.
Claustrophobic. Granaries and barracks.
Stables, forges, especially for the metal working you needed
to maintain the army with armour and weaponry.
A blitzed landscape all around.
And not a tree standing behind which the poor benighted
Anglo-Saxon peasants could get anywhere near this.
This was a brutally functional fighting platform.
Bristling with weaponry at the top of the local pyramid of domination.
The Normans were a minority.
An armed elite - maybe only 30,000 newcomers.
Unlike the Saxons and the Vikings, you'd be hard-pushed to find them
in our British DNA.
But they left their mark.
People with French names are still the richest Britons today.
Better educated, better-off, longer-lived.
From Beaulieu to Belgravia,
they've still got the best real estate.
Jane Austen's Mr D'Arcy was a Norman.
In winter, 1085, with his grip on the land now secure,
William ordered a survey of England,
to find out what there was, who owned it,
and how much tax could be got out of it.
'The result was the first detailed portrait of England -
This, is the Exeter Domesday Book.
The local draft,
before the final, compressed version.
It's the raw data of history.
One scribe taking over from another scribe in the middle of an entry.
Some of them not very familiar with English, by the look of it.
How for instance did they manage to make "Bulfestra" out of Buckfast?
I don't know.
'Domesday lists almost 13,000 places with their human population
and even their animals.
HE SPEAKS OLD ENGLISH
"It is a shame to tell this, but he thought no shame to do it".
HE SPEAKS OLD ENGLISH
He didn't leave out a single ox, a single cow, a single pig.
'Domesday reveals that England in 1086 had 2 million people,
'mainly rural, but more than 100 towns.'
'More than half of the English were tied peasants,
'15% free men and women, and one in ten still slaves.'
All this information was gathered
by the old Anglo-Saxon system of local government.
The local juries, courts of the hundreds, shires and boroughs.
Like Shakespeare's Stratford, for instance.
We have about 1,700 acres of arable.
There are 29 households,
21 of them villeins,
and seven small holders.
We have land for 31 plough teams,
five acres of meadow on the Avon,
and a mill that gives ten shillings a year
and 1,000 eels.
For most places in England,
it's the first time they appear in history.
Take Long Melford, in Suffolk.
In our big community dig, we'd already found that Melford
had been a busy place in Roman times.
We'd like to get through to something from Roman or Saxon time.
'In the Dark Ages it almost vanished,
'but now in Domesday, it's thriving,
'with 400 people, sheep flocks,
'a church and the mill that gave the town its name.'
Who did that?
Did you do that one? Did you help?
In our dig, we were hoping to find traces of the ordinary people
listed in Domesday.
The un-free villeins and cottagers.
Of the 50 test pits in Melford,
two were in hamlet called Kentwell, separately listed in Domesday.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,
The three trays there, and that tray at the back are all medieval.
There's nothing in it except medieval pottery.
So we're looking at a 40 centimetre-thick deposit,
dating to the early medieval period.
I think this is a very late shard of Thetford ware.
It's early medieval.
But the point of that is, it probably dates
to around the time of the Domesday Book.
There's not only Long Melford, but there is a little account
of a separate manor called Kentwell, in 1086.
And that's - well I'd love to know -
held by an Anglo-Saxon farmer freely, whose name was Alfgar.
Living on this little estate, were seven villeins,
who are like semi-free peasants, one bordar,
who's like a dependant peasant - a cottager.
30 pigs, 80 sheep in 1066.
It's a wonderful specific detail again,
and you just wonder if this could have been part
of that tiny little estate.
There's a very good chance that in your list of names
in the Domesday Book, some of them actually used these pots.
They're the right date - 1070, 1080, 1090.
So the English faced up to living under foreign occupation.
The Normans didn't mix with them.
For three or four generations, there's no inter-marriage.
The French-speaking Normans saw themselves as socially
and ethnically superior.
The Anglo-Saxons lived under a kind of apartheid.
From the big house, the Norman lords observed their new subjects
with a mixture of curiosity and lofty Gallic distaste.
The English have places in every village that they call "ale houses".
There, the English peasants sit at the benches
with their pots of ale.
And believe it or not,
at prayer time,
they don't go to church.
They just stand up,
pray and carry on drinking.
That's why the Normans say,
"In every English pub, you'll see the devil".
'But beyond the ale houses, life was nasty, brutish and short.
'The English lower classes
'could be arrested and executed with no trial.'
What an amazing vista that is.
'Habeas corpus simply didn't exist.'
North-east, over to Leicester over there,
towards Market Harborough over there.
This is the quarry.
It's always spectacular if you come up here of an evening.
I wanted to do a photography project where I explored
how the quarry and nature could co-exist together.
But in doing that, I suddenly realised there a lot more here
to see than just the quarry.
'What Colin discovered was that Croft Hill
'was a Norman execution site.'
When you walk down through those and you see them you just think about
people perhaps hanging from the trees, dying their miserable deaths.
On a December day like this. Wintertime, isn't it?
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells the story.
They say that many of them suffered unjustly.
I think the Normans were trying to say, "We're in charge.
"It doesn't matter what you think.
"We're going to impose our rule on you, and you'll do what we say.
In this same year, before Christmas,
Ralph Basset held a court of the king's thanes
at Hundhoge in Leicester.
And hanged there more thieves than anyone had before.
44 men were killed in no time.
Six of them were blinded and castrated.
And honest people said many of them suffered very unjustly.
But our lord, God, from whom no secrets are hid,
sees the poor oppressed by every kind of injustice.
Deprived of their property and their lives. A terrible year was this.
In Dagworth, a Norman colonist was rewarded with Breme's house.
His name was Gros, Guillaume Gros.
What happened to Breme's family, we don't know.
Maybe they lived on their own land as tenants.
By 1086, only two leading English landowners were left out of 1,400.
The top of English society had gone,
their land stolen by Norman feudal lords.
All over the country, English people
now had to rent their land, as Domesday says,
miserably and with a heavy heart.
But, brutal as the Norman Conquest was,
it unleashed huge energies in British society.
The close links with Normandy and France opened up trade
and galvanised the economy.
Bristol, for example, hardly merits a mention in Domesday Book.
'But it was a strategic port
'on the sea routes to Wales and Ireland,
'and in the 12th century, it boomed.'
Bristol rose very rapidly in the Middle Ages
to become the third greatest city in Britain.
Of course it would remain the outlet
to Ireland and the North Atlantic
right down to the time of Brunel's Great Britain
and Great Western Railway.
But the real clue to Bristol is in its name.
In Anglo-Saxon, Brycgstow - "the meeting place by the bridge".
What made Bristol tick throughout its history was trade.
And the Bristolians traded anything.
Skins, wine, fish and slaves.
The earliest trade in Bristol recorded in detail
was the slave trade of the 12th century.
Welsh slaves, English slaves,
being ultimately sent across to the developed countries of the world.
Which is the Moorish states of Spain.
Norman Bristol made money.
In a few generations,
the town's population shoots up from Domesday's few hundred people
"Virtute et industria".
It's like all these cities that made their wealth on hard work.
This is actually part of a medieval building.
You have this medieval arch doorway here, which is sort of blocked in.
'And to help attract business,
'the good burgers of Bristol rebranded their town.'
Bristol petitions against Gloucester having been made
an independent head port, and Gloucester's saying,
"We're older, we're much older, We were founded by Caesar in 45AD."
And Bristol comes back to it and says, "Oh yeah,
"but we were founded by the Trojans. We were founded by..."
-"..Brutus the Trojan".
And that's them there? That's the Trojans?
So brilliant, isn't it? What a beautiful corner.
So Norman Bristol took a new path. As well as furs from the north
and Irish flax,
the market here now offered Mediterranean spices
and French wines.
The Normans were slowly beginning to change the English.
And the English were starting to emulate the Normans.
These are the original trading tables,
called the "nails" in Bristol - these bronze nails.
This is actually where people would do business
from the Middle Ages onwards.
If you want to pay someone your debt back,
you can pay in cash on the nail in Bristol,
or you can use it to write out contracts.
That's from my argosy to Aleppo.
-That's my fee.
Come on - we don't run to that much.
In the early 12th century, using Bristol as base,
the Normans invaded South Wales.
In Pembrokeshire alone, they built 50 castles,
and the first systematic exploration of one of them is here at Nevern.
The Normans, when they arrive here, probably about 1108, 1109,
put up this large earth mound, probably with forced local labour.
This creates a defensive headland.
Here in Wales too, the Normans removed the top of the ruling class.
But learning their lessons
from their alienation of the English,
here they co-opted many locals.
The Anglo-Norman lords simply came in,
took over the existing social organisation,
the existing land structures.
And simply supplanted the very top of the aristocratic elite.
Many Welsh laws were retained. Many Welsh customs were retained.
Here in Pembrokeshire, the Normans created an enclave
studded with castles, which even today
is distinctive in its language and customs.
The dividing line is known as "the Lanska Line".
It runs through towns and villages and even splits some places in half.
This part of West Wales
became known as "Anglia Transwalliana",
"England, the other side of Wales".
One thing that happens as the Anglo-Norman world evolves,
and has contact with the Welsh,
is that you start to get Welsh princes and lords
who are starting to do things in a more Anglo-Norman way.
They build castles.
Curiously, forming their castles and their settlements,
they now give the fixed points from which Wales can be held.
So, by the late 13th century, Edward I is able to march to Wales,
capture key Welsh castles, and the Welsh lose power
because by now you have got Wales in control centres.
The Welsh create their own kind of yoke, as it were.
So the Norman Conquest of England,
in time drew in Wales and Ireland, too.
Leaving legacies we're still trying to untangle today.
On the horizon, though they couldn't see it yet,
glimmerings of a greater Britain.
But history never stands still.
By the 1180s - 100 years after Domesday -
through a gradual, almost imperceptible process of change,
the Normans are starting to become English.
'London is now the pre-eminent city,
'the financial and commercial capital,
'building on its Anglo-Saxon foundations.'
Look at that, Tower of London - over on this side, here.
And this little pattern of streets, here.
It gives you a fantastic idea.
Much better than the modern A-to-Z.
Jetties coming out to the river and a host of ships in the Middle Ages.
'In the 13th century, these wharfs were frequented
'by merchants from France and Germany and the Baltic.
'One of them named after Matilda. the daughter of the Norman king,
Dowgate is Anglo-Saxon, and Queenhithe.
The one wharf of the medieval world that still survives.
'Queenhithe was used by Londoners to bring in their corn,
'from the Normans till the 20th century.'
'Across England and Scotland, too,
'towns brought a commercial revolution.'
First driving force is the rise in the population,
and also a gigantic explosion in the money supply.
This was the only currency, don't forget.
All the money in the 12th and 13th century is just silver pennies.
Although you have pounds, shillings, pence, marks, there is just one coin.
And there are 240 of these.
'And the more money you have,
'the more you need markets to spend it in.'
I won't get you to roll it all out. If you walk backwards a little bit...
'The 13th century was the golden age for the creation of markets
Lots of grants of new markets and fairs.
And it's on these roles they're all recorded. Keep going.
You'll have to go on and on.
Throughout the course of the 13th century, over 2,000 of these grants
setting up new markets and fairs, were issued.
And look, the very second entry is a pardon
to the Abbot of Hales, of the palfrey which he has given the king
to have one market each week, lasting for two days at Hales.
And the only condition of pardon is that he's got to use the money
he would have spent on the palfrey buying two chalices for the abbey.
MUSIC: "Apache" by The Shadows
And like Long Melford In Suffolk,
or Kibworth in Leicestershire,
Halesowen in the Black Country is typical.
The market here was founded in 1220, and is still a market today.
Down here we have a rebuilt, admittedly,
where I bought this jacket, and my first suit in 1968.
'The latest fashions. Food, too. This is a medieval new town,
'with a grand Norman parish church.'
It's a magnificent building. It is huge.
And you look in Domesday Book, there are two priests.
What more to do you want to show the importance of the place?
Black Country, Smethwick and West Bromwich,
Birmingham just over the hills there.
Not perhaps the most resonant historical landscape in Britain,
you might have thought.
but the roots of the Industrial Revolution here in the Black Country
go much, much further back than you could ever have guessed.
There's an incredible continuity of live and work and even
political action by ordinary people back at least until the 1200s.
'Back then the town was owned by the lord of the manor, the local abbot.
Now, like today, Halesowen was also a metal-working place.
Nailers and cutlers making the tools in a mainly agricultural society.
But they were only licensed to work with the abbot's permission.
Into the court at the manor of Halesowen in 1312.
The abbot gives permission to Robert Smith of Dudley,
now living in Halesowen, to fund and build a forge at Haymill Bank.
To make metal for which he may forge hatchets and other tools.
For the term of his life.
'And you can still find the sites of those medieval cottage industries
'hidden behind the modern townscapes
- the roots of our industrial past -
'for which the Black Country will become famed across the world.'
It may look un-prepossessing,
but this is a wonderful spot of for history.
You have the Telford bridge here and a medieval mill site.
And this must be the place where Hugh the Cutler
made his grinding shop in 1346,
to practice the art of the metalworker.
Here in Halesowen, Hugh the Cutler,
and all the workers on the manor, and the traders in the market, too,
needed the abbot's license to sell the product of their labour.
It's going to be a very useful field,
because it hasn't been walked before.
The field walkers are here to survey the abbot's domain.
Put your right arm out,
and touch the shoulder of the next person.
Come on, push him along. That's right.
As the borough's archaeological officer, I need this evidence,
I need this information. I couldn't work without these lads.
It's a crucial task, searching for the material evidence,
gathering the raw data of local history.
I like to get out in the countryside as much as I can,
and being interested in history,
particularly local history, it's a good way of combining the two.
It's a family outing today,
and they're all interested.
It's a base of a pot, Roman.
Very pleased with that. That's a nice piece.
It's just adding the bigger picture of what was going on here,
in the medieval period and before.
Look at that!
Now that is a really important piece.
It may be a bowl, but look at the decoration of it.
It's a very valuable piece, that's wealth.
We're standing just about here. This side, this piece of masonry.
The whole complex is about 190 feet from east to west,
and 100 feet north to south.
Into the chapter house.
'From 1215 to 1538, the abbot ruled the people's lives here.
'For the un-free, jobs, housing, marriage,
'even death duties, in the hands of the lord.'
Looks like a medieval roof.
Medieval crown posts.
So what was it? Give us a clue?
I go with the infirmary,
but there are other people who are not convinced.
And it's, quite plausibly, the abbot's house.
There's certainly a very glamorous building.
And resented, quite clearly in the court rolls,
by quite a few of the peasants.
Hugely, particularly the higher-class peasants.
Who knew the score and who knew their legal background.
'And we know what the ordinary peasants of Halesowen
'thought about their lords,
'thanks to an amazing treasure trove here in Birmingham Central Library.'
Gosh, so any idea how many miles of shelves you've got here?
We think it's currently about...
'A collection of 215 court rolls survives from medieval Halesowen,
recording hundreds of sessions of the abbot's court.
And one of them tells the story of a peasant activist
whose battle with the abbot became bitterly personal.
His name was Roger Kettle.
Roger Kettle is very easily found,
because his name appears constantly in these records.
As a thorn in the flesh of the abbey,
who he sees as making unreasonable impositions on the tenants.
They realise that their conditions have deteriorated,
and they see the lords as being the people who have oppressed them,
and they see the king as a protector.
They can see that if only they could get back to the good old days
when the king was fully in control,
and you didn't have this middle band of lords
squeezing rents and services and payments of money from them.
What it says is that he made a fine with the abbot
"for the offence
"of having impleaded him in the court of the lord king".
The peasants of Halesowen have clubbed together to provide
what we would now call a "fighting fund"
to pay a lawyer to put their case to the king's judges.
-Did they succeed?
Almost never did they succeed.
They thought that the law was impartial.
they thought that the king could be persuaded to be on their side,
but they hadn't taken into account, of course, that the law
was run by aristocrats in favour of aristocrats.
So that constantly the lords' interest would be protected
and defended by the lawyers and by the judges.
So what happens to Kettle in the end?
-The abbot arrested him and he died in custody.
So the feudal system was still against the ordinary people,
and the violence caused by such tensions comes out
in a new source for our social history, the coroner's rolls.
About bedtime on 22nd August, 1266,
Henry Colburn of Great Barford went out of his house,
there to drink a pot of ale.
At dawn the next day, his mother, Agnes Colburn, went to search for him
and found him dead.
His body having seven wounds about the heart and in the stomach.
Apparently made with a knife.
Four in the head, apparently made with a pick,
and others in the throat, on the chin and in the head and in the brain.
She immediately raised the hue, which was followed
and found pledges from Humphrey and Thomas Quarrell.
I swear by almighty God that the evidence I give...
The English Coroner is a product of that time -
a response to the tide of random killing.
It was a Norman innovation, using the English jury.
It came formerly in 1194,
which I think was the reign of Richard I.
And it seemed to me then that it was just an opportunity
of raising money from the oppressed population of the country.
And the one way of doing that is if anybody died unexpectedly,
that was a way you could try and cash in on it.
Of course, under the legislation, if you were killed,
if you killed somebody by your horse
or by your cart,
that horse or cart would, under - it was called "deodand", I think -
would be forfeit to the crown.
So if somebody ran out in front of you, and you ran him
over with your horse, then bad news,
because they'd take your horse as a penalty to the crown,
unless you could raise the money.
Which might be your only source of livelihood.
Might be the only source,
so this is why coroners were not terribly popular.
Not like today, of course(!)
The Bedford coroner's rolls
are one of the most amazing sources
for the real lives of our 13th century ancestors.
And the jaw-dropping violence of everyday life.
And it was out of their world
that the most famous legend of the time arose.
The story of an outlaw who stood against the tyrant King John.
A hero who we know by a 13th century criminal nomme de plume.
Right, for one of the king's deer, is your right hand.
If you admit your guilt and save us time, the punishment is lessened.
We can take a finger.
The tale is a distant mirror
of a time when for everybody, the issue was,
"Who is the law supposed to serve?"
The tale of Robin Hood and bad King John is a myth,
but like all myths, it has a kernel of truth.
The law wants respect. Shouldn't the punishment fit the crime?
'King John's abuse of the law had antagonised both the people
'and the nobles.
'The barons increasingly now saw themselves not as Norman,
'but as English.
'And, alert to the opinions of their fellows countrymen,
'they moved against the king, to fight arbitrary royal power.'
In 1205, a meeting in Oxford, what they called a "parliament",
forced the king to swear that he would preserve the rights
of the English kingdom.
And in that simple phrase is the idea
that our rights are the possession,
not of the king,
but of his subjects.
And that idea is what lies behind
the most famous document in British history,
possibly in world history. Magna Carta.
So there it is.
'The barons forced King John to agree to limit his own power.
'Copies were sent out all over England,
'this one in Hereford Cathedral, from 1217.'
It is sort of an incredible, iconic, document.
Everybody's heard of Magna Carta.
If you talk to people in the street, nine times out of ten
they will have heard of 1066 and Magna Carta.
It's taken away the arbitrary nature of royal power,
and particularly in the reign of King John.
Before the Magna Carta, of course, the king's will decided everything,
rather than any written papers.
Magna Carta was a bill of rights. It was basically gathering all laws,
and free men were already quite free, weren't they?
Yes, there's not so much that's very new in here,
it's just actually setting out formally,
"These are the feudal laws.
"These are the conditions by which we abide."
There are many clauses that talk about free man
and the right of free man
Today, our idea of free man is everybody, isn't it?
Whereas in this context, we're talking about a feudal society
where the majority of people were tied to the their landowners
and their lords,
so the free men we're talking about
are actually the elite top cream.
So this is actually an elitist document.
It's very conservative - it's not the thing it has become.
And the most famous clause of all.
"Every free person has the right to a fair trial".
In English law, the roots of that system went back to
Anglo-Saxon times, to the local juries elected in every village.
In those days, the jury were all men over 12 years of age
from two or three surrounding villages.
And unlike now, where,
if the jury knows anything about the case, they're disqualified.
In those days, the more the merrier,
because out of the villages,
and the dozens of people that might come,
somebody ought to know something about it.
And here in Laxton, England's last working open field village,
you can still see the jury
supervising the regulation of the fields.
As is has since the 13th century.
Right, gentlemen, I'll call the court to order.
Oyez, oyez, oyez. All manner of persons who own suit
and service to the Court Leet of the Queen's most excellent majesty.
Morning, gentlemen. We'll swear in the jury. With the foreman first.
Take the bible in your right hand.
Bill Haig, you as foreman of the jury,
with the rest of your fellows...
Watching the court day here at Laxton, you understand
something absolutely central
to the beginnings of representative government, here in England.
...Nothing from hatred or malice, but in all things you shall true
and just presentment make, according the best of your understanding,
so help you God.
12 good men and true.
The like oath, which Bill Haig has taken on his part,
you and every one of you shall well and truly observe.
Bound together by solemn oaths which connect each other,
and express their allegiance to the king or the queen or the ruler.
And in the old days, they regulate not only the fields,
but law and order -
the whole way that the community got along together.
It's an entirely co-operative communally organised system.
And it's what the English, the British,
later exported to the rest of the world.
OK, onto the suit roll.
From the free man of the manor to the local knights of the shire,
it's how the people's opinions were conveyed
to the makers of Magna Carta.
It wasn't democracy, but it was consultation.
He's here, but not speaking.
And that's the key to what follows.
Onto the minutes of the last court.
The presentment paper was received for top field.
S Rose had allowed spray to drift onto...
In the 13th century, with the increasing peasant literacy,
these ideas were percolating everywhere at the grass roots.
In Wales, too, after the English Conquest of 1282,
the jury system was introduced.
And, even as the rulers of England were attacking Wales,
we can see how it worked.
Here in Rhuthun, in the border lands, where the two cultures met.
Court of Llanerch, 10th June, 1294.
Caddoc Blethyn accused Henry Rigby, of Lancaster,
of theft of an iron-grey horse.
He put the matter before a jury of six English men
and six Welsh men, who said that Henry did take the horse
without his leave, but not thievishly.
Though of course, in war, there are always profiteers and opportunists.
Court of Clanach, 26th August, 1295.
William Howell complains that Madeline Kite occupied his house
in the time of Llewelyn's revolt against the English.
And that afterwards, when William came to town,
with the army of King Edward,
he found Madeline running a brewery there.
The jury say that she is guilty.
And in war, old enmities can always return.
Court of Clannach, 10th, June, 1294.
Yorath of Kenwick is accused of disturbing the peace.
He cursed a constable,
and swore by the body of Christ. Assumed the constable and the
English will hear such rumours and not wish to come to Wales again.
Magna Carta initiated dramatic changes in English politics.
Back in 1215, King John promised to protect all ranks of society.
The whole community.
The "communa totius terrae" -
the community of the whole land.
And in the French translation - King John was a French speaker -
it's "la commune de tout Angleterre".
The implication of that,
although they couldn't say in it in so many words,
was that the opposition
had the right to speak for, and to act for,
the community, against the king.
And in 1264, that's exactly what happened.
In a battle at Lewes in Sussex, the reforming barons defeated
and captured King Henry III.
Speaking for the whole community of the realm,
they hoped to use Magna Carta to create
the first constitutional monarchy.
They were lead by the charismatic Earl of Leicester,
Simon de Montfort.
The first English people's hero.
He is the pioneer, if you like, of democracy, as we know it.
It was a germ. It had to grow,
but it did mark the beginning of something greater
I feel that's important for us today.
It was the first time that ordinary people
had some say in government, apart from the aristocracy.
It's this big issue of ruler's authority versus subject's rights.
Starts with Magna Carta. Simon de Montfort is its first big test.
He'd bothered to learn English.
He'd bothered to get in touch with people,
and that is why I feel he had the common touch.
'The king's supporters now raised an army over the channel, in France,
'to invade England and overthrow the revolution.
'To meet the threat, de Montfort' mobilised the English people.
That summer, with the king in his power,
de Montfort summoned the greatest army that had ever been gathered
in England to meet him near the Kentish coast.
At a place called Barham Down,
today on the A2.
Shades of the Armada, Napoleon, the Battle of Britain.
A people's army fighting, as they said, for England to be free.
Imagine a vast encampment stretching as far as the eye can see.
Thousands of tents.
In that summer of 1264, every village in England had been summoned
to send men to this spot.
Each one of them with money provided by their neighbours
for 40 days of food supplies.
It was the first time in our history
that such a huge gathering of people
had come together, not just for defence,
but for a great political cause.
"We say that the king must be subordinate to the law.
"We say that the precedence goes to the community of the realm".
'The invasion of England never came, but the following year
'the barons fell out and de Montfort was killed at Evesham.
'Ever since, he's been seen as a symbol
'of the English people's long march to freedom.
'The pool where he died became a place of pilgrimage.'
People came from far and wide to make use of this water,
which they believed had miraculous powers.
Why is this event
so important in the history of the people of England?
Why does this make such a mark, and why is it so significant?
It's because, really for the first time in history,
we get the sense of a popular movement.
It's difficult to find any such example any earlier than 1265.
So our first great constitutional revolution failed,
but it was never forgotten.
We've reached the year 1300.
The boom time is over.
Across the British Isles, climate change brought a mini ice age.
Which lead to failed harvests, famine and disease.
The French-speaking rulers of England, though,
still waged their futile wars across Britain.
In 1314, as the great famine began, Edward II invaded Scotland,
to be defeated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn.
In the aftermath,
the Scottish barons made their own declaration of freedom.
Fired by the same great ideas that had inspired de Montfort
and the English.
The primacy of the people and the community of the realm.
"The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson.
"Sparing neither age, nor sex, religion, nor rank.
"No-one could describe, nor fully imagine,
"unless he had seen them with his own eyes".
"But from these countless evils, we have been set free.
"By our most tireless prince, king and lord. The Lord Robert".
"It is in truth not for glory, nor riches,
"nor honours that we are fighting".
"But for freedom. For that alone."
"Which no honest man gives up.
"But with life itself".
That text has been called the greatest statement
of Scottish nationhood ever made.
Can I just ask you all what drives you re-enact it?
That statement on its own,
is one of the main structures of this nation.
It's to keep the history alive,
and to remember where the structure for the nation evolved from.
A lot of people in Scotland don't realise
the importance of the declaration.
And by doing the re-enactments as we do them
- just very short re-enactments -
it brings it back to people's attention.
It really is a basic statement of the people's interest,
and their own well-being,
and how the nations are going to take more interest in their own affairs.
The bitterness of the Declaration of Arbroath towards the English
and their war crimes -
"Things that had to be seen to be believed," it says -
was an inevitable consequence of the English onslaught
on the Celtic people's of Britain, and indeed Ireland,
in the 13th century.
I call them English, but of course the rulers of English were
not English, they were foreigners.
The Angevins and the Plantagenets were successors of the Normans,
and in their attack on the Celtic peoples of Britain,
they were furthering a Norman project.
Before 1066, the Anglo-Saxon achievement had been
to create England.
It would be the Normans and their successors
who attempted to create Great Britain.
And, as it looks from the 21st century,
it appears that they didn't succeed quite so well.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The next chapter of The Great British Story begins with the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest, a brutal foreign occupation that will eventually draw in Wales and Ireland too.
This episode explores how the Normans consolidated their power by building castles all over England. Michael Wood visits the excavation of an enormous Norman Castle mound at Mount Bures, Essex, and returns to the community big dig at Long Melford to find out what life was like for the Anglo-Saxon peasantry in the decades after 1066.
Going into the 12th century, the programme looks at the medieval beginnings of trade and industry in Bristol, Wales and the Black Country. Finally, Michael explores the battle for rights enshrined in Magna Carta with an original copy in Hereford before looking at the Barons' War and the Scottish War of Independence, struggles that will shape the lives of the British people till today.