Who are the British? A study of the ethnic and cultural make-up of the British people, by STEVE BRADY
"The modern British are a nation of Immigrants". Thus begins the BBC book of popular TV historian Michael Wood's In Search of the Dark Ages, echoing conventional wisdom. The British, proclaimed the notorious liberal Lord Wolfenden in the 'Race Relations' chapter of the Church of England's 1961 National Assembly yearbook, "are one of the most mongrel of all the strains of the human race".
Other leading multiracialists have described our land as having long been 'a truly multiracial society' because our people are simply the descendents of successive waves of Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Norman, Huguenot and Fleming Immigrants. Thus an image is constantly dinned into the popular perception of Britain as always having been a multiracial melting-pot, to which a few million Asians and Negroes will only add a bit more spice, a nation successively stolen by each new wave of Immigrants from the descendents of the last, so that we can scarcely object if yet another wave comes to share in the spoils. We are all foreign invaders, nobody is a "native Briton" if you go back more than a few centuries, a couple of millennia at most, so why should we seek to defend the non-existent racial purity of a mongrel breed, to ward the frontiers of our land against racially alien invasion when we are descended from racially alien invaders ourselves?
That part of this picture of a perennially multiracial Britain is arrant nonsense is self-evident to anyone. Put simply: since the Romans, Danes, Huguenots etc were all of the same White race as the indigenous Britons it's difficult to see how mixing them would cause 'multi-racialism'. As Dr. John R. Baker, the Oxford zoologist, points out, the Normans, Saxons, Danes and Celts who invaded these islands are "not only of one race (Europid) but of one subrace (Nordid)" (Race, OUP, 1974, p267).
But nonetheless, however wholly White and largely Nordic they may have been, it is still surely true that we British are a nation of Immigrants, and, compared to the 12,000 or so years of continuous habitation of our land, pretty recent Immigrants at that? The English, in particular, are surely much admixed with Norman and Dane and can in any case rarely trace their ancestral claim to the land further back than the fifth and sixth Centuries AD, when their Anglo-Saxon forebears swept ashore and drove out or killed the native, or at least older, immigrant, Celts.
But the truth, as modern historians and archaeologists, are overwhelmingly coming to realise, is very different. The 'waves of Immigrants' were shallower, numerically, less frequent, and in genetic and ethnic, if not cultural, linguistic and political terms, stirred up far less change in what is increasingly being seen as a relatively rather deep pool of indigenous British people than has hitherto been popularly appreciated. We are very much less a nation of Immigrants than we think.
To see how this can be so, in the face of the apparent facts of history we learned at school, we must begin by disposing of certain obvious misconceptions.
The first is the confusion of culture, language, physical artefacts and social organisation, with ethnicity. England, for example, unarguably did in language, culture and society became successively Celtic, Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon, partially Scandinavian, and Norman-French. But however often this is cited by multiracialists as evidence of their "mongrel race Britain", it says nothing whatsoever about the racial nature and makeup of the English people at any of these epochs, about who the people were that spoke the language or lived in the society.
It will become obvious that this is so if we recall that over much of the modern West Indies the people speak, and sometimes write, English, have English personal names, and live in a society whose political, social and legal organization, architecture, clothes and artefacts are largely copies of English models.
Future archaeologists excavating, or historians describing, 20th Century Kingston, Jamaica, would be doing no worse than many of their present-day counterparts working on British history and prehistory if they ignored evidence to the contrary from physical anthropologists looking at the skeletal remains of the people of the time and the physical ethnic makeup of their modern descendants, and peopled their 20th Century "West Indian Culture" (1st Rasta Dynasty?) with fair-haired, ruddy-faced true sons of the Saxon shires.
Similarly, Ireland changed almost totally in speech from a Celtic language (Irish Gaelic) to a Germanic (English) in a couple of centuries - but few would seriously argue, as has often been similarly argued from the same process happening in England a millenium earlier, that this linguistic overturn reflected the wholesale extermination or explusion of the Gael and the repeopling of the Ould Sod with true-blue Brits.
Instead it shows what quite a small and culturally alien minority can achieve if they hold total power and attendant social prestige: all official business, for example, from local level up, is conducted in the alien speech, which anyone who wishes to 'get on' and not be branded a total bumpkin must master.
Recorded history, too, is generally simply a chronicle of the doings of tiny ruling minorities, telling of the deeds of kings and lords, often invaders and usurpers, to the exclusion of the lives and names of the uncounted millions of humbler folk whose proportion of the population is frequently in inverse relationship to their share in the history books.
Even these unrepresentative chronicles of the deeds of rulers suffer, it is now clear, especially in the so-called "Dark Ages", from gross inaccuracy and wild exaggeration. For example, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ascribes vast hordes to the Viking invaders of 9th Century England, on which arguments as to their contribution to the native gene pool have been based.
Yet, as Professor Gwyn Jones (in his History of the Vikings, OUP 1973, p 219) accepts on behalf of modern historians, Viking expert P.H. Sawyer "fully sustains his argument that the Viking armies should be numbered in hundreds, not thousands, and that even the Great Horde of 892 would hardly exceed a thousand in number. 3-400 would, one judges, be a very substantial force. It is easy to find medieval exaggerations of the order of ten-, thirty-, even fiftyfold".
The Danes' Great Army may indeed, as G.K. Chesterton says, have been "made of iron men". It may even have "run round England red as morn". But there was simply not enough of it, however enthusiastic its raping and pillaging, to wreak undue havoc with England's ethnic makeup. A truer picture of the size of invading armies emerges, for example, from the late 7th Century Laws of King Ine of Wessex, which define up to 7 men as "a gang of thieves", "from 7 to 35 a band and above three dozen an army". Archaeologists Lloyd and Jennifer Laing observe in their Anglo-Saxon England (Paladin, 1982, p.78), "In 786 Cynheard's army amounted to 85 men, which was nearly sufficient to capture Wessex from King Cynewulf. Hengist and Horsa" - the supposed founders of English Kent - "are described as having come over in three ships, while Cerdic and Cynric" - founders of Saxon Wessex - "came over in five. In other words, war bands coming to England were of the order of 100-250 men."
Similarly, the Scots invaded Argyll from Ireland in 501, we are told, in three shiploads captained by the Sons of Ere. Clearly, the popular image of vast hordes of invaders sweeping ashore again and again out of the mists of the Dark Ages, conquering all before them and driving the natives into the sea and the mountains is simply a historical nonsense. Indeed, before modern ships and jumbo jets it was more or less physically impossible to move very large numbers of people across the sea.
As we look backwards through time in more detail at each of the "invasion waves" to reach our islands the true picture will become ever clearer, and the myth of pre-20th Century mass Immigration ever less tenable.
1: Flemings, Huguenots and Jews.
The most recent pre-20th Century immigrations are indisputably of no ethnic consequence whatsoever, save to make longer the list of alleged ingredients of the "mongrel population" of Britain. A few thousand Flemings and Huguenots, ethnically indistinguishable from the natives, were simply swallowed up without trace, culturally as well as racially, among millions of natives.
The Jews, as Baker rightly says, "have never had very much genetic effect on the rest of the population, partly because they have not been very numerous, partly because they have tended to practise endogamy" (breeding exclusively among their own community).
2: The Norman Conquest
But the first major invasion of Britain we come to as we pass back through the years, the Norman Conquest, seems a very different story. The political, economic, social and cultural effect of this event was undeniably shattering.
The Battle of Hastings, 1066, from the Bayeux Tapestry. Although it had a massive cultural imapact the Norman numbers were comparatively small.
The entire English government and ruling elite was totally overthrown - 20 years after the Conquest only 8% of England was left under native lordship. The effect further down the social scale may be gauged by such pathetic cases related in the 1086 Domesday Book as that of Aelfric of Marsh Gibbon, who held his land freely under King Edward the Confessor but who held it of William "at rent, heavily and wretchedly".
The thriving Anglo-Saxon language and culture was driven underground, replaced in the halls of governance by Norman French. When it surfaced again, three hundred years later, the English language had been drastically transformed in grammar and vocabulary, with a substantial accrual of Norman French loan words. Surely the Normans' numbers, and consequent racial effect on our ancestry, must have been correspondingly great?
Not so. The eminent military historian Terence Wise sums up the position thus (1066 - Year of Destiny. Osprey, 1979, p221): "The number of Normans estimated to have come to England is perhaps 10,000 at the most in a country with a population of 1,500,000. As in Normandy 150 years before, the Normans established a small and exclusive warrior aristocracy over the native peasantry and townspeople, using the land for their own purposes and gain".
Indeed, the Norman army at Hastings was no more than 8,000 strong, and had the rightful King Harold Godwinsson, paused to mobilise the Great Fyrd of England it would have been swamped, and the usurping Duke William gone down in history by his earlier sobriquet "the Bastard".
The point made earlier about the sheer physical problems attendant, with pre-industrial technology, upon moving large numbers of people across even narrow seas is graphically illustrated by the fact that, even with ships honed by three centuries of Viking maritime expertise, Wise estimates it required a fleet of 700 - 800 ships, vast by 11th Century standards, to transport William's modest army with its 2,000 horses across the Channel.
The similar sized army of the Norse Harald Hardradi, which landed in Yorkshire earlier that fateful year, dispensed with the horses and got away with 300 warships and 200 auxiliary vessels. These fleets were without doubt among the biggest ever to land in Britain up to that date, after all the other "waves of invaders", yet they bore under 10,000 men apiece.
3: The Vikings
Before the Normans came the Vikings, principally Danes. Again, the historico-cultural impact was enormous. After being prevented from conquering the whole of England only by a heroic native resistance, lyrically evoked by G.K. Chesterton in his magnificent (Ballad of the White Horse*, the invaders planted themselves in the Danelaw of Eastern England, which they ruled as an independent state for decades.
In Scotland, they ruled the North-West and the Islands for centuries, and in Ireland founded and ruled most of the cities that land now boasts. Numerous place names in their areas of settlement, and large numbers of loan words in English, some as basic as "egg" and "sky", and such institutions as trial by jury attest their profound impact on our national phenotype, the outward appearance of our country. But what of their impact on our national genotype, our ancestral pool of heredity?
Firstly, as we have seen, most scholars now accept P.H. Sawyer's argument, first mooted in his 1958 paper "The Density of Danish Settlement in England" (University of Birmingham Historical Journal), that the invading Viking armies numbered hundreds, not thousands. Secondly, as the Laings (op. cit. p184) point out "there was land enough for both Anglo-Saxon and Dane in the Danelaw - there is no evidence for a massacre of the English population, nor of its displacement".What actually happened, explains Magnus Magnusson in The Viking Expansion Westwards (Bodley Head, 1973, p.26) is that "the incomers took over the major Anglo-Saxon towns and villages as a dominant minority, and created many new secondary settlements of their own."
He too emphasises that "there is nothing to suggest that the Anglo-Saxons were exterminated or enslaved or driven away. The two peoples were soon living together in amity" (not surprisingly, as racially and culturally, unlike the ingredients of modern "multi-ethnic societies", they were closely akin).
J. Graham-Campbell and Dafydd Kidd, in The Vikings, published officially by the British Museum in 1980, yet again reinforce the point that the Danes did not replace the native population, which "stayed largely where it was ... In England the Scandinavian takeover of land was complex and not merely brutal appropriation".
Indeed, many Vikings seem to have used their loot to simply buy land from the locals quite lawfully. Even in the densest areas of Scandinavian settlement, the incomers seem never to have made up more than a 40% minority of the population, and only from parts of Lincolnshire is there evidence of Norsemen tilling the land themselves, rather than living off the produce of Saxon peasants. Many Vikings of all degrees seem to have taken native brides (helped, apparently, by their custom of bathing more often than the natives!) rather than bringing their womenfolk from the homelands. Much the same seems to have been the case in the other Viking-settled areas of the British Isles. So, whilst the folk of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the like may justly take pride in their Viking blood, it is by no means even there, in the heart of the old Danelaw, the preponderant element in their veins.
Again, the heredity of an older, native stock predominates, in search of which we must seek still further pastward.
The Viking cultural influence is still strong in the Shetlands:
the 'Up-Helly-Aa Festival is celebrated every January in Lerwick.