Richard II meeting with the rebels of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381
England is by far the largest and most populous of the three nations that occupy the island of Britain, but how did its borders take their current shape, and why did Wales and Scotland maintain their distinctive national identities, despite eventually coming under English rule?
Historian Jennifer Paxton recounts how the Germanic migrations to Britain that coincided with the end of Roman rule in Britain led to the rise of several small kingdoms that coalesced into the entity that we know as England.
In contrast to older models of an Anglo-Saxon invasion that eliminated the existing inhabitants of Britain, new research has revealed that the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms developed when the Germanic settlers mixed with the existing Celtic-speaking population, sometimes peacefully and sometimes through violent confrontation.
Paxton returns the Celtic element to the story of the making of England by showing that native British rule persisted longer in some regions of Britain than many people realize. She also outlines how Romano-British resistance to Anglo-Saxon expansion ensured that the outer contours of England were determined not just by geography but by competition between natives and newcomers. Ironically, it was the pressure of another set of newcomers, the Vikings, that caused the disparate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to merge into one entity known as “England.”
Paxton is a clinical associate professor of history and director of the University Honors Program at The Catholic University of America.