Anglo-Saxons deserve reparations for the Norman Conquest

The effect on indigenous English society was enduring devastation.

Restorative justice for the victims of colonialism is an idea whose time has come. 

In April this year, Cambridge University announced a two-year study into how buildings and wine cellars might have been constructed on the backs of slaves. 

Glasgow University has already conducted a study into its own links with slavery and concluded that £200 million of its wealth was ill-gotten in this way.

In America, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing in June to examine ‘the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice’.

If these wrongs are not righted through compensation they will live on in our collective shame and the descendants of the victims will continue to suffer.

Far from abandoning the principle of restorative justice we should be expanding it and exploring what other injustices might be put right through financial compensation.

Through war, invasion and genocide, the Anglo-Saxon ruling class was almost entirely replaced, control of the church and state surrendered to foreign adversaries, English replaced by Norman French as the language of government, and England’s entire political, social and cultural orientation shifted from Northern Europe to the continent for the next thousand years.

This matters because, just as the pain of colonialism continues to be endured by its descendants, the Conquest continues to have lasting effects.

When it comes to financial compensation, who should pay, and who should receive?

It should be straightforward for a Royal Commission to trace the present-day descendants of Britain’s Norman usurpers through a combination of genealogical and administrative research as well as — inevitably — mandatory genetic testing.

A small tax on the Lampards, Vardys and Gascoignes of the world, payable to the Bamfords, Bransons and Ecclestones, would be sufficient to catalyse healing for the open sores of the past.

What are the sums involved? By 1086, the Norman arrivistes had stolen almost a third of the 12.5 million acres of arable land in England, parcelling it into manorial estates.

At a conservative estimate, that land is now worth £7,000 per acre — or £25 billion in total that the Normans owe Anglo-Saxons for the Conquest. France’s liability could, of course, be offset against our exit bill from the EU.

There will be inevitable quibbles, such as descendants of Normans claiming that they were not personally responsible.

However, countries typically honour treaties dating hundreds of years in the past, despite no one being alive who signed them, and we pay debts accumulated by previous generations.

Similarly, reparations correctly depend on a notion of collective and inherited responsibility, precisely why the Jews were held accountable for the death of Jesus Christ for most of the Christian era.

We are learning every day just how deep our roots in the past lie - the more we learn, the more necessary it is to see the past in terms of the attitudes of the present, and to rectify regrettable aspects.

Eventually these may encompass events as old as the Indo-Aryan invasions of 1500 BC, which produced the Hindu caste system, as well as more unheralded travesties such as the American conquest of the Philippines, which introduced junk food, soap operas and general bad taste.

Ultimately, only by demarcating a special class of victims and making grievance inheritable can we address the sins of the past and promote harmony in our own world.

Of course, in Britain one Royal Commission is unlikely to be sufficient.

Once the Anglo-Saxon population has been compensated, surviving descendants of the ancient Britons will understandably want to seek redress from the Anglo-Saxons themselves for crimes committed during that earlier settlement.

Justice must be served, even if it means even more public money disappearing over the Severn Bridge into Wales.

But hopefully it will be made up for by the billions we are owed by present-day Scandinavians in compensation for all that rape and pillage by the Vikings.

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