Haiku: Saint Edmund’s Day

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You aren’t forgotten
Some of us will remember
until bitter ends

copyright Francis Barker 2019

Brexit Precedents No.3: ‘Bad’ King John and the Loss of Normandy

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When King John of England lost Normandy, Anjou and Brittany in northern France in 1204 AD to King Philip II Augustus of France, it was to have great repercussions back home in England.

The territories of Normandy and Anjou had been at the very heart of the great Angevin Empire, which at its zenith during the reign of John’s father, Henry II (1154 – 1189 AD), stretched from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees.

Although John retained Gascony and Aquitaine in the south west of France after 1204, lands that had come into the possession of his family through his father’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the loss of Normandy and Anjou seemed symbolic of a catastrophic failure.

Normandy of course was the dukedom brought into the fold of the English crown with William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066. John’s father, Henry II, was from Anjou, meaning that this dukedom also became a crown possession when he acceded to the throne, even though Kings of England still had to swear fealty to the Kings of France for their possession of the dukedoms of Normandy and Anjou.

A sudden sense of separation?

So there was definitely a great sense of sudden separation felt, not merely with John, but also among the vast majority of the ruling aristocracy of England, who were overwhelmingly of Anglo Norman or Anglo Angevin descent, and who had lands and familial ties to these French dukedoms.

Now these barons and other aristocrats had to make a choice: Were they English or French? Whilst the ties between England and northern France remained to some degree, there began to grow a sense of English nationhood from this point in history.

Anglo Normans began to feel increasingly English, often marrying English spouses. Those left in Normandy and Anjou became truly French once more. From 1066 to 1204, the English Channel was a connection between two areas essentially of the same realm: Now it was a great divide between two kingdoms growing apart, who would within a hundred and fifty years embark upon the Hundred Years’ War.

Magna Carta and civil war

Nevertheless, despite the loss of Normandy, for over ten years King John, perhaps foolishly, persisted in trying to regain his lost French territories, causing crippling taxation and making powerful enemies at home and abroad.

This would eventually lead to Magna Carta in 1215, where the barons tried to curtail the power of the king against them.

However, when John began to refuse to follow the new ‘rules’, civil war broke out, ultimately leading to the baron’s inviting Prince Louis, the son of King Philip Augustus, to England with an army of several hundred ships.

A new French conquest

By 1216, much of England was in the control of Prince Louis and the barons and it seemed very likely for a while that the ties between the two kingdoms were about to be even more strongly cemented by this new conquest, exactly one hundred and fifty years since the first one.

Then, in October 1216, King John suddenly died. The English barons who had not supported Louis began to resist and gain more support and the French barons were finally defeated as support for Prince Louis began to slip away.

The barons probably realised that they now had John’s young son, Henry III, to control and get what they wanted without trying to justify the arrival of a young French king and all his staff and the unpopularity that this would undeniably bring.

England’s ‘in out’ relationship with the continent

So within twelve short years, England had effectively been cut off from the continent with the loss of Normandy and Anjou, notwithstanding the retention of distant lands in south west France, then came with a hair’s breadth of being fully subsumed within the sphere of influence of kingdom of France, and then finally reneged on the latter idea altogether, ultimately choosing ‘independence’.

Once more England found itself essentially alone, cut off, though independent and with a growing sense of nationhood, perhaps a little bit like Brexit Britain might be?

copyright Francis Barker 2019

Brexit Precedents No.2 – 410 AD, Roman Emperor Honorius tells Britons to Look After Themselves

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The period of Roman rule of Britain is quite clearly defined. Although Julius Caesar had attempted invasion twice a century before, it was the Emperor Claudius who successfully invaded Britain in 43 AD, marking the beginning of the province of Britannia, which, interestingly, did not permanently include what we now call Scotland.

The provincial borders came to be defined by Hadrian’s Wall in the north, created in the early 2nd century AD, and then quite fleetingly by the Antonine Wall in the Scottish midlands.

Boudicca had attempted to destroy the Roman power in the land with her rebellion of 60 – 61AD, but it ultimately failed, although it was a clear sign that Britons were not so easily assimilated into the empire, nor keen on the notion of being ruled by a distant dictator.

A crumbling empire in the west

By the late 4th century, however, several legions had already been withdrawn, leaving the province more open to attack from the Picts to the north and by Germanic raiders, the Anglo Saxons, along the eastern and southern seaboard.

By 410 AD the situation had got so serious that British leaders requested help from the then Roman emperor Honorius. However, due to his ongoing struggles nearer home in Italy and the western empire in general, trying to repulse invasions by other Germanic tribes, he sent his ‘Rescript of Honorius’ back to the Britons, basically telling them that they had to look after themselves, because he was in no position to do so.

Although subsequent Roman leaders probably wanted to re-establish proper links to this far flung province, they never did because the empire in the west was slowly falling apart, finally ending in 476 AD.

So Britain, or at least most of it, had been under Roman rule for over 350 years, a significant time. Now it was cast adrift and largely at the mercy of invasions from the east and north.

The beginnings of England

The Romano British warlords, ‘King’ Arthur quite likely being one of them, did their best to defend the country. However, gradually, as more Angles, Saxons and Jutes (and others) who had been living to the north of the empire, settled over the next two centuries, the foundations of the country we now call England began to take hold, in the form of petty kingdoms ruled by Germanic warlord aristocrats.

Of course, we can’t compare this history too much to what is happening now. For one thing, the Romans left Britain, whereas today’s Brexit is the other way round, Britain leaving the EU, allegedly. And then there’s the duration factor too. For example, the United Kingdom has only been in the Common Market/European Economic Union/European Union since January 1 1973 – not 350 years.

Britain may leave the EU but Romans abandoned Britain

And of course, the Roman takeover was largely hostile, whereas Britain’s deferring of powers to the EU has been granted peaceably, albeit foolishly according to a growing number of British patriots.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting comparison and another example of the island of Great Britain being a part of Europe but always likely to be either less well thought of by central Europeans, abandoned, forgotten, or even seeking to go its own way, looking beyond with an independent spirit.

One can imagine the uneasy feeling of the people of Britain 1600 years ago, knowing that the protection they had known for so long had been withdrawn.

Do those who want to remain in the EU today feel the same? And do Brexiteers, like some of the populace back at the end of Roman Britain, feel more of a sense of opportunity, the chance to create something freer?

copyright Francis Barker 2019

Original Oil Painting, Wells-Next-The-Sea, North Norfolk, England

This is an original oil painting, based on a scene in the harbour at Wells, North Norfolk, England.

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Blow up of painting.

It has been completed on stretched canvas and is unframed, size 51 x 41 cm.

copyright Francis Barker 2019.

Original Oil Painting, Bamburgh, Northumberland Coast, England

The coast of Northumberland in north east England is quite spectacular.

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This is a painting based on a view of that coast near Bamburgh castle, the silhouette featured in this painting.

It is completed in oil on stretched canvas, size 41 x 31 cm, unframed.

copyright Francis Barker 2019

New Original Oil Paintings of North Norfolk Coast – Wells-Next-The-Sea

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North Norfolk in eastern England is one of my favourite places, unusual light, maybe because it is mostly north facing, and very atmospheric – and largely unspoiled too.

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I recently completed two quite similar paintings based on views around Wells-Next-The-Sea, which pretty much describes its position.

Both of these paintings have been produced in oil on stretched canvas, 31 x 23 cm, unframed.

copyright Francis Barker 2019

Poem: The Empty Naves

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The voice and song remind me
of why I don’t come.
The words and the platitudes wash over me,
echo and reverberate around this sacred space,
crying for heaven
though never finding any home.
The bats are nearer but unaware
of their advantage,
leaving me staring high into this perpendicular sky.
Is this all that is left?
Listening to Betjeman and Vaughan Williams
to stir us up,
to remind us of what once was.
This is me and you coming here,
cultural appreciators
though never spiritual partakers
in a creed we can’t believe.
Give me the fire and brimstone,
a faith which disturbs me
into knowing I’m not already saved.
It is better than this – looking up in awe
into a world that is lost.

words and photographs copyright Francis Barker 2019