By Maurice Ashley
Social and fiscal heritage
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Additional info for The People of England: A Short Social and Economic History
They were hard workers and heavy drinkers, took baths regularly and contributed to the growth of commerce and the develop- 33 THE PEOPLE Of ENGLAND ment of market towns. They helped to transform the social and economic life of England. In so far as the historical impact of the Vikings on English life was novel it was, however, partly brought ab out by reactions against them. King Alfred and his successors, who fought them and ultimately subdued them, did so both by building a navy and by establishing fortified burhs, which in time attracted markets that in the long ron transmuted them into country towns.
WeIl known also for its plentiful springs and rivers 30 THE ANGLO-SAXONS AND THE VIKINGS abounding in fish'. It was a tragedy thatjust as King Alfred was beginning to fashion a world of the mind and the spirit, the country should have once more been tom apart by invaders who, tempted by aland of milk and honey, loaves and fishes, started, as the Anglo-Saxons had done before them, first to loot and then in the last third of the ninth century to colonize. In some ways the assault of the Vikings - a word that meant pirates, who came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden - can be compared to that of the Anglo-Saxons themselves, who had peopled a fruitful country five centuries earlier.
None ofit can have meant much to ordinary Englishmen, for whom the manorial court, the baronial castle and the village church were the symbols of authority they had to respect. Otherwise they were set apart from their Norman conquerors, who, in Professor Barlow's words, represented 'a restless, drunken and emotional society gorged after 1066 with unaccustomed wealth'. From Norman times onwards the village church was the hub of social life. Over 8,000 churches were to be found in England by the end of the thirteenth century.