Help yourself

Onward with the In Our Time History Archive!  We continue with the unapologetically English theme — but the British Isles have a very old culture and a very long history — and you can’t understand the appalling modern history without some examination of how the English came by the mindset.

Alene was busy today with iPod-friendly work — so we heard about the dissolution of the monasteries, Hadrian’s Wall, Druids, the Divine Right of Kings, the enclosures of the commons, the Magna Carta, and the Roman Occupation — somewhat in that order.

The Hadrian’s Wall episode somehow collapsed time and space for us, as we contemplated Whin Sill in Northumberland, the dramatic fault escarpment on top of which part of the wall was built. Alene had to stop what she was doing briefly to look at pictures online. There was much confusion over who exactly built this wall, with the attribution going to Hadrian in modern times. In Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People, it would appear to be Severus, who came from northern Africa — and we found ourselves contemplating the Atlas Mountains, which were formed more than 200 million years ago by the same tectonic collision which built the Appalachians (rather dear to Alene), as well as the highlands of Scotland, which brought us back to Hadrian’s Wall again.

But the account of the dissolution of the monasteries spawned an idea that we kept revisiting all day long. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries following the split from Rome. Common belief is that he had them sacked and destroyed, but that is not necessarily the case. Rather, their occupants were forced to leave, and the buildings were made non-habitable, usually just via removal of the roof — to make sure no one returned. The serious sacking and looting was actually done by local people — not by Henry’s henchmen.

The Church lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the people. God had just stood by as the monasteries were dissolved. Then the people went in and helped themselves to anything they could carry away — and again God just stood by — there were no consequences. It is said that God helps those who helps themselves — and the English got rather good at helping themselves!

Another tragedy associated with the dissolution of the monasteries is that the contents of many of the libraries were destroyed. The cultures of pre-Roman Britain had an oral tradition, which is why we rely on archaeological evidence for want of written historical accounts — and why we know so little about our original religion, Druidism. The Anglo-Saxons did have a written tradition (both Latin and Old English) — but much of it was lost in the sixteenth century.

So at the same time that the English people were losing their conscience, they also lost some connection with their early history and culture — which is too bad — because that’s a deadly combination.
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