Feb 132021
 

No not villeins; villains. History’s “bad guys”.

The English did something bad to the Indians (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company although there were a lots of Scots in the East India Company), the Scottish did something bad to the English (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Alnwick_(1093) – and yes it’s not normally that way around), the Irish did something bad to the Welsh (https://www.libraryireland.com/SocialHistoryAncientIreland/I-III-2.php). And of course the French are always villanous (I’m English after all).

But the more you learn of history, the less easy it becomes to simply classify any nationality as the villains. Sure people did bad things, but a whole nationality? That isn’t so certain.

Take the English-Scottish rivalry for example. It is easy to see it as a simple grab for land; particularly if you’ve watched that Braveheart film and thought it was anything more than simple entertainment. But it turns out to be not quite as simple as that.

Where is the border between England and Scotland anyway? Hadrian’s wall? Or the Antonine wall? Because the border hasn’t always been where it currently is; in fact people have been having rowdy discussions on which bit belongs to whom since before either country existed (and not infrequently using the excuse to make off with each other’s livestock).

In 1018, Malcolm II invaded the northern part of Northumbria, and hung onto it unlike later attempts at a land grab which failed. But was he grabbing land on behalf of Scotland, for his own personal enrichment, or to grant lands to his followers to keep them loyal?

The later was particularly likely as Scotland was not a simple unified nation at the time, and Malcolm II was a high king with several sub-kings giving allegiance.

But were those Northumbrians in the region captured by Malcolm English or Scottish? Did they suddenly become Scottish or did they stay English? Or were they Northumbrian? Or did they think of themselves as Bernicians? Or people of the Hen Ogledd? Because they had been all those within the span of a few hundred years.

But rather than concentrating on destroying the notion of nations created by states for their own convenience, let us switch to something else.

When Malcolm II invaded Northumbria, did he give all his soldiers any choice in the matter? Of course he didn’t; some of his nobles could well have had some say, but the ordinary soldier didn’t. And the same applies for pretty much everything the “English” were responsible for.

Blaming the nation for the crimes of the ruling classes is collective guilt; one step on the way to collective punishment (a war crime). Blame those responsible by all means (and there’s plenty to blame), but don’t condemn a whole country for the crimes of a few.

War Memorial Church
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