|Rod's talk last night was a fascinating and detailed examination of the effects of the Norman Conquest in the North lands.
Victorious at Hastings, William quickly consolidated his rule in the South but struggled to bring the rest of the country into line. In 1070, the Harrying of the North was a brutal act of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by an under-resourced task force driven by a desperate King. Fifty years later, Orderic Vitalis wrote:
"The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty. This made a real change. To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of starvation.
I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him."
The Domesday Book records large areas of the Northern uplands as "waste". But, asks Rod, what did this emotive word actually signify and how widespread and permanent was the damage? The maps below tell their own story but it is heartening to note that twenty years after the Conquest, many areas of North Yorkshire were actually more productive than before. The Normans preferred wheat bread and may well have taken the Northern uplands, where only oats would grow, out of production. And one way of interpreting the word "waste" is that it signifies an area where the agriculture is not generating enough surplus to warrant taxing. The reasons for this may indeed have been social displacement caused by warfare, but might just as well be related to the difficult climate and topography of these areas.
Certainly there was widespread social dislocation in the North. The areas immediately around York were brutally attacked. Villages and farms were burned to the ground, crops and livestock killed, peasants slaughtered or left to die of hunger. Refugees were willing to sell themselves and their families into slavery, desperate for food. But Rod's interpretation shows that it was a complex, nuanced and evolving situation which deserves deeper analysis, rather than simplistic, Sellar and Yeatman assumptions.
Rod has written three novels set in the post-Conquest era: "The Year 1070 - Survival", "The Year 1071 - Resistance and Revenge" and "The Year 1072 - Retribution".