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May 312017
 

The title is not meant to be taken seriously except as a poke of fun at the notion that border between England and Scotland is set in stone and has always been there. It is essentially an excuse to counteract some of the anti-English propaganda found in films like Braveheart or TV series such as Outlander.  For example, the Battle of Culloden involved Scottish regiments fighting for the British side, and the Jacobite side had several regiments that suffered severely from desertion, plus a small English contingent; it was actually very little to do with England and Scotland, being rather more about religion and restoring the ousted House of Stuart.

But back to the borders …

The map above does not show Edinburgh, but it is on the northern edge of what is shown as Northumbria. The modern border is of course different; very roughly imagine a diagonal between the “Y” of Strathclyde, and a bit north of Bamburgh. The modern border was pretty much defined by the battle of Carham (or Coldstream) in 1018 when two Scottish kings (technically one was the king of Strathclyde) defeated an Earl of Northumbria. Later significant border changes worked out to be more or less temporary in nature.

This defeat (and loss of territory) was accepted by the kings of England partially because it has been alleged that the defacto border reflected the new border – England would have been quite weak in enforcing the “king’s peace” given it’s struggle to survive (essentially it didn’t being eventually conquered by the Normans which were essentially Danes or Norwegians with a French accent).

It is also the case that Northumbria would have seemed a remote part of the kingdom to both the Anglo-Saxon kings (most of whom were originally based in Wessex in the south), and to the Normans who were also distracted with “issues” in France. A case of not bothering when there were bigger issues at stake.

Which may very well have been a contributing factor to the North being somewhat grumpy and inclined towards rebellion; so much so that when Charles I raised his banner in the north to defeat parliament he was seen as a rebel.

So did those Northumbrians see themselves as Scottish after 1018? Almost certainly not, but they may very well not seen themselves as English or even Northumbrian either. The common people were far more likely to put more importance to their pre-medieval clan allegiances, and their medieval feudal lords. And those classified as clan chiefs or feudal lords would have pled allegiance to any overlord or king who was in a position to assist them.

To make things more complicated, the kings of Scotland often held the Earldom of Northumbria (thus were in theory required to swear allegiance to the English king) or Cumbria. Of course as an alternative to paying homage, the Scottish kings were just as happy to invade England – on at least one occasion reaching as far south as Dover.

And no medieval army behaved well on campaign – rape and pillage were considered standard forms of warfare at the time – so it is worth remembering that the English invasion in 1296 did not come in a vacuum. Yes the English behaved terribly in Scotland, but it was standard behaviour for armies at the time – soldiers expected to make money through plunder.

Trying to determine who invaded whom first is pointless not just because the conflict disappears into murkier periods of history, and because smaller scale “wars” (raids) probably occurred nearly constantly. The Scottish borders were a place of nearly constant raiding back and forth until at least the 17th century – there was even a special legal system in force in the borders (not that it helped much), and “real wars” were often raids on a larger scale.

So yes it is possible to argue that Edinburgh is English (and a great way to start an argument), but more importantly this all illustrates that nations are created and not natural. Someone from Berwick-Upon-Tweed could reasonably claim to be English, Scottish, Northumbrian, or even Bernician. If you look closely at history, you can actually see that nation-building happening with kings re-enforcing the notion of nation in order to protect their centralised power against magnates with ambition to replace them.

Just because nations are artificially created does not mean that they are meaningless, but it doesn’t do any harm to remember that they are artificial and that people on the “wrong” side of the border are different only in that some ruler from the distant past declared that they were different. Most national borders get fuzzier as you look closer at the people living near those borders.

Jun 292016
 

Having said give it a rest already, this is where I rant a bit about the dumbest decision England has made since following the direction of the pope and invading Ireland back in the 13th century.

So it turns out that crowd-sourcing decisions can sometimes result in the dumbest possible result. If you think about it a bit, you realise that the decision is effectively not a decision at all. The result (52% for exit, 48% for remain) indicates that half the country wants to leave and half the country wants to remain. We’re effectively undecided.

Parliament could ignore the result and decide to remain within the EU; the referendum is not legally binding. That probably isn’t going to happen, and a second referendum is even less likely – I cannot see the politicians wanting to spend that much money on democracy.

The amusing thing is that there are people out there who voted to leave as a protest vote, and didn’t really want to leave at all. Which strikes me as possibly the dumbest method of protesting you can possibly come up with. Mooning number 10 Downing Street is more sensible than voting for something you do not want.

But what do those of us who want to remain part of the EU do? Probably the most sensible thing is to keep quiet, let things go through their course, and in about 5 years time start campaigning to re-join the EU. Five years is about long enough to demonstrate just how dumb this move was, and will also shift all those under-18 remain fans get old enough to start voting.

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Mar 242007
 

I have written on slavery before in a more general sense, but this time it is more about how media represents slavery at a time when slavery is in the news because Sunday is the 200th anniversary of the British attempting to abolish the slave trade as the first step in abolishing slavery which is something that is still not finished.

Well, actually the campaign for the abolition of slavery in Britain/England is actually quite a bit older than that act in 1807; the first step was allegedly the abolition of serfdom in 1102. There were many steps forward and many shameful steps backwards (such as the start of the transatlantic slave trade). But I’ll stop there before I get carried away and just point you to the Wikipedia article on the history of slavery … [w:History of Slavery]

What this little rant is about, is how the media portray slavery as an institution where only blacks were slaves and only whites were slave owners and traders. Wrong!

Even ignoring the earlier history of slavery, it is clear from various statistics that slaves could be white or black :-

Group Number
Africans in the transatlantic slave trade 11.6 million
Africans in the Eastern slave trade 11-16 million
Europeans in the Eastern slave trade 1-1.5 million

These figures are hardly likely to be accurate … slave traders do not appear to be good record keepers for some reason, but it would appear that from these figures approximately 6% of the slaves in early modern history were European. That seems like a relatively small quantity in comparison to the number of African slaves taken from their homes, but each individual forced into slavery is a crime against humanity, and a tragedy for the individual whether the individual was black, white or any other colour.

These figures probably vastly underestimate the number of slaves throughout history even if we exclude serfs (a serf is a slave owned by the land and not a person … a distinction likely to make a difference to a lawyer but not the serf). The colour of a slave is irrelevant; it is the fact that he is a slave that is important (and important to free him). The colour of a slave owner is irrelevant; it is the fact that she owns slaves and abuses them that is important (no matter how kind a slavemaster is, she is still abusing other humans).

It is easy to overlook the African involvement in the slave trade … we are given the impression that it was solely white Europeans who threw black Africans into chains. There was certainly plenty of that going on, but in the early days at least many black Africans were involved in the slave trade.

The media needs to stop getting carried away with the easy job of portraying the transatlantic slave trade where images are relatively easy to come by, and make it plain that all slavery is wrong and that it was not just black Africans abused in this way. Given how widespread slavery has been in the past, it is almost certain that everyone alive today is descended from someone who was a slave and probable that they are descended from slave owner.

There are those who say we should compensate the descendants of slaves for the crime against their ancestors. If everyone is a descendent of a slave, this could be somewhat expensive to do! However there is some that we must do and that is to do everything we can to stop present day slavery … yes it still goes on. I am sure that many if not all of history’s dead slaves would cry out that any money that could be put into compensation should be first spent on stopping anyone else being subject to slavery in any form … that is the first priority.

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