Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Dark Ages

I was recently asked why does my writing most often centre on Saxon England? Of course many of my books have been on the origins of place names and as the vast majority of English place names originate from this period writing on the Saxon era was inevitable. Yet those books were written because of my interest in etymology (specifically toponymy, the study of place names) and not because of my interest in Saxon England.

Considering my writing covers English history, I rarely more than touch on the Roman occupation or the rule of the House of Normandy. However the intervening six and a half centuries, the Romans left in 410 AD and the Normans arrived in 1066, are still referred to as the Dark Ages. Perhaps it was because history just ignored the Saxon era when I was at school, leaping from Romans to Normans with hardly a pause. This may also be the reason I have no interest in these important episodes in British history, having been force fed a diet of road-building Romans and Norman knights.

Said Dark Ages were not only when most English place names were coined. This was also the time when the basis for the democratic system of government were laid down, a system copied throughout the world. Said Saxons brought with them their language, Old English. This evolved to Middle English and the modern version, spoken in 112 countries (double the number of any other language), and spoken as a second language by at least 500 million. While the craftsmanship shown by the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard shows these ages were anything but dark.

The Saxons also split the land into the counties which remained largely unchanged until 1974. These traditional boundaries were taken into consideration when my published books on place names covered Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, South Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Herefordshire, West Sussex, East Sussex, and Gloucestershire. I am very much looking forward to the publication of the volume on Cambridgeshire later this year.

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