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Northumbria: History and Identity 547-2000

December 31st, 2008 (06:52 pm)

I picked up this volume, published by Phillimore late last year, at WH Smith in Newcastle today. It's perhaps a surprisingly academic tome for Smith's to be carrying, but local interest is a large market in Newcastle and the north-east, and Northumbria: History and Identity 547-2000 is a title sure to excite local and regional patriotism. The book is edited by Professor Robert Colls of the University of Leicester, a South Shields man whose career has placed him in exile in the East Midlands, and who has published authoritatively on the north-east and particularly on Newcastle before. I'm only a few chapters in, but inwardly punched the air at this statement in the introduction:

"Given the timing of Welsh (1536) and Scottish (1707) incorporations into the central state, it is clear that north-east England was incorporated into a British polity rather than into an English one and that its historic identity and relationship with England more resembles their than it does England's."

Despite the appeal to a chain of Northumbrian claims to distinctiveness in the preceding paragraph, from the homage of the Northumberland barons to Alexander II of Scotland in 1216, throuhg the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Rebellion of the North in the sixteenth century, and the Jacobite rebellion of 1746 (though I'd have argued for 1715 as the defining one), it's A.C King's and A.J. Pollard's chapter on Northumbrian identity in the late middle ages which provides the best qualification to this, tracing the rise of distinct 'Northumberland' and 'Durham' identities within what in the twelfth century is one Anglo-Norman territorial earldom of Northumberland, and also, from the Scottish War of Independence, a loss of historic consciousness in England that Northumbria ever extended north of the Tweed, together with the rise of a new class of warrior marcher lords in the county replacing the old cross-border landowners. A book of valuable insights - I'm in the middle of a chapter on early modern identity which contrasts the heroic sixteenth-century 'Child A' version of Chevy Chase with the eighteenth-century 'Child B', which it portrays as a burlesque - and I could happily spend the rest of the evening with it.


Posted by: Kargicq (kargicq)
Posted at: December 31st, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC)

That sounds like an excellent read; I've been looking (albeit not very hard) for a way in to north-eastern studies.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 31st, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)

I think you'd enjoy it: for the post-1550 period the volume edited by Colls and Bill Lancaster, Newcastle upon Tyne: A Modern History, is worth looking at too. There's a very good section about Bede and his mobilisation of his monastic network into a data-gathering operation; for a century or three after his death he was principally remembered as a chronologist and a scientific observer, though his estimates of the size of the Earth and variations in temperature led him to argue that human life could not be sustained in equatorial regions.

Posted by: muuranker (muuranker)
Posted at: January 1st, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)

Is there a paper by Adrian Green? I have read one by him on early modern houses in the North-east which I like a lot.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: January 1st, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)

Afraid not; but I shall have to look Adrian Green up, as the topic is interesting.