What amazes me is how much society changes over time. Just as any culture changes over time England was and is dynamic. One of the clearest ways to examine this change is to look at the architecture.
The range of time we will start with is the Saxon. The Saxon period is characterized by the invasion of England by the Saxons in the 5th century.(1) Little is known about the Saxons, and not a lot of writing survived the period, but they dominated England until the Norman invasion in 1066.(2) There is little in the way of surviving architecture from this period.
Things got shaken up after William the conqueror led the Norman invasion in 1066. The Normans were actually also the remnants of viking invaders from centuries earlier (hear the North Men part in Norman?) (4) They had been in France for some time, and had adopted mainland European culture, language, and architecture. When the invasion happened, the upper class was replaced by French influence. The ones who had the money, and therefore could make fancy things like castles and Cathedrals, were bringing in the influence of their own land. Norman influence was characterized by large stone works, ornate color work, and dark rooms. The structures were also characterized by large barrel-like roofs that were very heavy. This period shows English aristocracy trying to be French. This is mirrored in the adaptation of French as the primary language as the English upper class as well. (2)
After the Norman period came the Gothic. Like the Norman, it was a reflection of larger trends across Europe. (3) The Gothic fits into three categories of time: Early English (1190-1280), Decorated (1280-1330), and Perpendicular (1330-1540). Each of these trends has specific styles that show not only a change in England, but the continent as a whole as technology and culture changed. The more stone influence of the Gothic was replaced by more glass centered architecture. The more column based design was taken over by ones that more emphasized the wide open spaces that the buildings could create.
What is really interesting is what was behind these changes. These architectural shifts are hiding deeper histories. The Gothic design was present as a foreign culture was being imposed upon a subjected people. The Gothic designs emerged as this group learned and grew into their own version of the culture of their mainland counterparts (so much so that they refuse to label their architectural periods the same name as those for the rest of the continent. England has been, and likely will remain, a fiercely independent nation. This idea that they are a distinct group from the rest of the continent has roots going all the way back to the subtle difference in architecture from the rest, to how the common folk never did take up the French language in the long run, though it had tremendous influence. This fierce independence can been seen today in the Brexit referendum as British people seek to have their own identity separate from the rest of Europe. It will be interesting to see what happens to their culture in the years to come.
- 1. Britannica Academic, s.v. “Briton,” accessed February 22, 2017, http://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Briton/16538.
- 2. Britannica Academic, s.v. “England,” accessed February 22, 2017, http://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/England/110752
- 3. Information about Architecture taken from Dr. Lindgren’s lecture and powerpoints.
- 4. Britannica Academic, s.v. “Norman,” accessed February 22, 2017, http://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Norman/56137.