The Grail Code 
The slow pace of the English conquest

Here we have two maps from Green’s Short History of the English People, and taken together they illustrate something that isn’t always obvious when we read the histories of England.


The first map shows Britain in the middle of the English conquest. The English have taken the eastern parts of the island, leaving the British desperately clinging to the west and still dreaming (not unreasonably) of taking back the rest.


The second map shows the English in control of more of the island, but the Britons (or Welsh, as the English would call them) still hold much of western Britain; and, though it might seem optimistic, we can still imagine them dreaming of one day ruling over the English, if not expelling them altogether. West Wales is shrunk to about half its size, but it’s still there. (A dialect of the old British language would be spoken in pockets of Cornwall up into the 1600s).

Now, these two maps are about two hundred years apart. The Dark Ages are so dim that those two hundred years usually take up no more than two or three pages in our history books. But two hundred years is a very long time.

Think for a moment how the world has changed since 1807. Steam power catapults us across the countryside at a mile a minute; the telegraph brings news instantly from across the continent; coal gas turns night into day in all our cities with its brilliant light. There may have been even more surprising changes, but I don’t read the newspapers much anymore.

The first eruption of the English was swift and devastating; in one campaign they destroyed the lingering Roman civilization on the island of Britain. But they could not hold the whole island: the Britons regrouped, and after that the conquest was a matter of an inch at a time. Almost as often the British took back an inch here or there.

You can say all that in words, but sometimes nothing conveys an idea better than a good map.

2 Responses to “The slow pace of the English conquest”

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(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey