The Origins of the English

The Origins of the English, by Alistair Miller.

The story of the English people used to be straightforward. In the fifth and sixth centuries, following the departure of the Roman legions, successive waves of Angles, Saxons and Jutes crossed the North Sea to settle in Britain. … Initially pillaging invaders, they soon turned peaceful settlers and were converted to Christianity by Augustine, who landed in 597. Tempered by the Danes and Vikings, and forged into political shape by the Normans, the English people (as they had now become) were set fair for a glorious history …

Traditionally, the English character was regarded as having arisen from a mixture of Celt (or Briton) and Anglo-Saxon, with the emphasis squarely falling on the manly virtues of the latter. …

But modern archaeology, equipped with a dazzling panoply of new scientific techniques … has transformed the picture. In “The Origins of the British,” Stephen Oppenheimer reports that … although there has been a 30 per cent intrusion of founder gene types from northern Europe into England since the last Ice Age, less than 5 per cent of this was from the putative Anglo-Saxon homelands. It is possible that invading Anglo-Saxons formed an elite ruling class, but … there is no archaeological evidence for this. Nor is there evidence of a violent invasion, of burned towns or villages, or charred remains; only of continuity and peaceful evolution. Most telling of all is that isotopic analysis of the tooth enamel of bodies in early Saxon graves has revealed that none of the population sampled was born outside Britain.

The traditional view that Britain was invaded en masse by the Anglo-Saxons, who drove the Britons westward, or exterminated or enslaved them (the ‘wipe out’ or ‘genocide’ theory), then, is simply a myth.

But how do we explain the rise of the Saxon kingdoms and the birth of the English nation? Perhaps even more puzzling, how do we explain the origins of the English language? Nobody knows for certain. But there is a growing consensus among archaeologists, pre-historians and linguists that genetic, cultural and linguistic influences on eastern England from Scandinavia and north-west Europe date back as far as the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages. In other words, Old English was already spoken in England by the ancestral English when the Romans departed, its roots derived not from the languages of Dark Age invaders (Old Saxon, Norse and Frisian) but from an ‘ancestral common Germanic root’ spoken thousands of years before. …

That the English of 1927 were more than 90 per cent the descendants of the English of 927, the year Athelstan founded the English state (the Normans and Huguenots added relatively little to the gene pool), and that some 70 per cent of British DNA dates back more than 6000 years, explodes the fashionable myth that Britain has always been a multicultural society, a nation of migrants.

For today’s immigration debate:

The point is not that newcomers are undesirable; merely that a thousand years and more is ample time for a distinctive culture and pattern of life – for a strong sense of English identity – to have taken shape. Sir Arthur Bryant, the doyen of Anglocentric historians, put it in gloriously politically incorrect terms: although the English are formed of a succession of immigrants (if one goes far enough back), ‘this alien inflow has never been too rapid’ and England ‘has never suffered as other countries have from racial indigestion … Before the next inflow, the strong tradition of England has had time to mould the newcomers to the national pattern’.

hat-tip Stephen Neil