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How Far Was Pre Conquest England a Well Governed and Prosperous Nation

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How far was pre conquest England a prosperous and well governed kingdom

I believe that pre-conquest England was a rather well governed and somewhat prosperous kingdom. The countries system of writs; the division of land and the hierarchy as well as the coinage, trade, towns and frequent invasions all suggest that pre-conquest England was prosperous and well-governed. However, the possible threat to the king of the Earls and the countries comparatively undeveloped economy all suggest as less prosperous, more unstable England. My opinion is that they were given a good image due to how well they dealt with the invasion of the Scandinavians and their introduction of Danegeld it showed how wealthy and organised the kingdom was and how they could deal with all that tax.

The land was divided into several parts. Primarily, the realm was divided into four earldoms (Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia and Northumbria) each of which was controlled by an Earl. These Earls were incredibly powerful. Each earldom was further divided into shires (like modern-day counties) hundreds and hides. Each level of this hierarchy had its own leader / representative, such as the sheriffs managing each shire under the Earls. This system demonstrates that there was a very clear hierarchy in pre-conquest England; which would have made the country far easier to manage and well governed because each division of land would have a local lord to manage it. I believe that it shows that Britain had a well devised system that meant that the country could run to its optimal ability.

However, one issue of this system that could cause instability in the country was the power of the Earls. The Earls combined power easily eclipsed that of the Kings, meaning that if they worked together against him they could overthrow him with no trouble what so ever. This suggests that there were fractures in the system that, if put under pressure, could break to bring the whole thing down. This most likely of the Earls to overthrow the king would have been Harold Godwinson, who was largely opposed by the king Edward the confessor he also had developed a lot of power over time and did inherit the crown in 1051 as the search for a king was constantly a problem due to the amount of people who had been promised the throne or had the right to the throne but weren’t given it. However, one issue of this system that could cause instability in the country was the power of the Earls. The Earls combined power easily eclipsed that of the Kings, meaning that if they worked together against him they could overthrow him with no trouble what so ever. This suggests that there were fractures in the system that, if put under pressure, could break to bring the whole thing down.

England had a system of coinage the likes of which were contested only by the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world. The system they implemented stayed in place right up until the 1970’s. The kings opened mints across the land, and every 5-9 years they would call in all the money in the land and remint it with new casts sent up from London. The King and local authorities would then take a percentage of this money in the form of tax. For this system to have worked (and it did, according to coin hoards found later) the government must have been very well governed and organised. Additionally, this coinage system suggests that the country was quite prosperous as well. If there was little trade or other economy, there would be no need for such a complex system as this. Additionally, the very presence of this system would have helped the economy become more developed and advanced.

Having said that, the economy itself was not all very developed at all, compared to the state of the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world. These countries had advanced system of coinage surpassing that of England, and had cities full of hundreds of thousands of people that were centres for trade for miles around. These economies were massive in comparison to England. Because of this knowledge, it is safe to assume that England was not quite a prosperous as other evidence could have us believe.

In spite of the above, it is important to note that the English did still trade. Finds at archaeological digs such as Sutton Hoo show us that the Anglo-Saxons made jewellery out of materials such as gold, walrus ivory and precious gems. This demonstrates that England was a prosperous country because many of these items would have had to have been imported from overseas. The fact that they are present (and in such high quantities) suggests that the English could afford to buy such lavish goods, and were keen traders.

Pre-conquest England was frequently invaded by the Danes. Each time they did so, the government of collect a tax called the “Danegeld” to pay off the Danish, so they went away. This suggests a number of things. First and foremost, people don’t invade poor countries. England must have been seen as a very valuable prize for it to be invaded so frequently, suggesting that the country was very rich and prosperous. In reaction to each invasion, the government would try to appease the Danes by collecting a tax and using it to pay them to go away. This suggests two things. Firstly, we could afford to pay these huge amounts of money. Other, poorer countries may have been bankrupt by such amounts, but England was able to regularly pay and still remain stable. However, it is impossible that this did not have a knock-on effect on the economy. It would suggest that perhaps England was not as prosperous as it could have been because of these taxations.

Finally, the distribution of the population shows that the English were farmers more than traders. 90% of the population lived in the country, with only a small amount in towns. This shows that the economy was not very developed and that the majority of people relied on self-sufficiency rather than any other way of living.

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