the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society

update 10/24: see bottom of post.

this will be my last post on the anglo-saxons for a while. i promise! the following comes from some notes on anglo-saxon kindreds and feuds that have been hanging around on my desktop for a while now, and since i recently had a couple of posts related to the anglo-saxons (see here and here), i thought i may as well share these as well.

in America 3.0, bennett and lotus say [pg. 51]:

The English are descended from the Germanic conquerors who brought to England the ‘integrated nuclear family,’ in which nuclear families formed separate households, but stayed close to their relatives for mutual cooperation and defense. These people were illiterate, so we have no written records from those times, and we cannot know precisely how they organized their family life. But what we do know for sure is that over time the original Germanic family type developed into the ‘Absolute Nuclear Family,’ or ‘ANF,’ which we have today. It appears that the family type we have now has existed for about a thousand years.”

i haven’t actually read anything about the family type(s) of either the continental angles and saxons or the early anglo-saxons in england, but i’ll take bennett and lotus’ word for it. however, later in the book they go on to say about the saxons [pg. 75]:

“They traced their lineages through both the male and female line. This prevented clans or extended families from forming and becoming exclusive, as happens when lineage is traced solely through the male line. As a result extended families or clans did not have collective legal rights, or any recognized political role.

while it is correct that the germanics had bilateral kinship and, so, didn’t have strong patrilineal clans (like the irish or the scots), as i’ve discussed in previous posts (see here and here), the germanics did have kindreds which were VERY important socially AND, crucially, legally. this very much includes the anglo-saxons in early medieval england.

in early anglo-saxon england, if you were injured or killed by another person, your kindred — your closest family members on both sides of your family, probably out to second cousins — were obliged to take up a blood feud against the offending party’s kindred if you/they were not compensated by the other kindred for your injury/murder in the form of wergeld payments. this was your kindred’s legal right — their duty, in fact, since this was how order was maintained in that clannish society. (vengeance feuds have been, and still are, a common solution to keeping order in clannish societies all around the world and throughout history. unfortunately, if the feuding gets out of hand, that can, of course, lead to disorder.)

from “The Kentish Laws” in The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (1997) [pgs. 214-216]:

Large sections of the Kentish laws [all dating from the 600s] (as, in particular, the largest part of the law-code of Aethelberht) are devoted to the condition of feud which came to exist between the kindred of a man (killed, wounded, wronged, or robbed) and that of the man responsible (for the killing, wounding, wrongdoing, or stealing). Kindreds were to take charge of reparation and they could (with a few exceptions, for example, when the conflict was too close in blood-line) arrange either for vengeance or for the payment of compensation to the kin of the killed. Material compensation requited woundings and offences. The reparation (expressed by the Old English verbs *forgildan*, ‘to pay for’ and *gebetan*, ‘to amend’), is meant to recover the lost equilibrium and to maintain the *frid*, ‘peace’.

“The complex system of wergild, with its different levels, which were fixed in relation to the status of the offended person, is strictly connected with feud. Payment could be made in one or more installments: the *healsfang*, which was the first payment of the wergild (that is, the first twenty shillings of the hundred-shilling wergild of a freeman), must be paid *aet openum graefe*, ‘when the grave is still open’. All the details of the feud were regulated by law, which fixed the amount of composition and the time-schedule for payment.

“Two different opinions have been put forwards as regards Anglo-Saxon legislation concerning feud. According to some scholars the kinship system appears to have been made the subject of such a large amount of legislation because it did not work: the chapters of the laws concerned with feud, in all its aspects and details, testify to an increasing failure of family concern (cf. Bridbury 1992). Other scholars have expressed the opinion that feud maintained its importance and vitality well beyond the seventh century. The bond of kinship was undeniably very important in Anglo-Saxon society and the support of the kindred was needed in all aspects of a man’s life: ‘kinship remained immensely strong in ordinary social life’ (Loyn 1974:199); at the same time, however, a strong state-authority soon developed. Kinship appears to be still powerful in the laws of Aethelberht and in those of Hlothhere. If a homicide departed from the country, his kindred were responsible for paying half the wergild (Aebt. 23)….

In the later legal codes it becomes evident that the law attempted to control feud, as the higher authority of the king attempted to exercise some of the power that the kin used to enjoy. As for the Church, it encouraged settlements by composition rather than ‘vendetta’. Bede tells of the role of Theordore of Canterbury in the settlement of the feud between Mercians and Northumbrians after the killing of King Ecgfrith’s brother, Aelfwine. At the same time, the penitentials stressed the negative side of killing, including that perpetrated by a kinsman carrying out a vendetta. In the Penitential of Theodore we read: ‘Si quis pro ultione propinqui hominem occiderit peniteat sicut homicida VII vel X annos’ (If a man slays another one to avenge a relative, he shall do penance as a murderer for seven or ten years).”

so extended families in early anglo-saxon society most definitely had “collective legal rights” — and duties!

and don’t misunderstand this wergeld payment thing. it wasn’t just a whip round that happened within one kindred with the collected cash being passed over to a representative of the other kindred. no. it’s likely that EACH member of the offender’s kindred went and physically paid his corresponding member in the victim’s kindred — paternal uncle would pay paternal uncle, maternal first cousin would pay maternal first cousin, and so on (that’s how wergeld payments happened in iceland anyway and, so it’s supposed, in the other germanic societies). THAT’s how important an individual’s kindred was. in the event of (serious) bodily injury or a killing, TWO WHOLE kindreds would be involved in the resolution.

in Kindred and clan in the Middle Ages and after: a study in the sociology of the Teutonic races (1913), bertha phillpotts argued that kindreds had more or less disappeared in england by the 600-700s, but most historians since phillpotts’ time (except for bridbury above) — like lorraine lancaster — put the date later at around ca. 1000 or 1100. this is the earliest point in anglo-saxon law tracts in which the law allows for an individual’s guild rather than kindred to be the recipient of wergeld payments — or the executor of a feud. this is a monumental shift in thinking (and feeling) in anglo-saxon society, afaiac — this is THE change from anglo-saxon society being based upon the extended family to english society being based upon friends and associates. this is HUGE.

anglo-saxon and other early medieval kings (like the frankish kings in bavaria) tried throughout the early medieval period to dampen the power of the kindreds, especially the feuding, since all that fighting seriously gets in the way of building a productive society. in the 900s, edmund i, for instance, attempted to restrict vengeance feuding to just the individual rather than whole kindreds — he issued a law exempting the kindred members from feuds if they abandoned their troublemaking kinsman [pgs. 39-40]. it was worth a shot, but probably didn’t much diminish the kindreds’ desires for revenge:

“[T]hese very efforts or aspirations reveal counter-pressures, the continuing use of violent self-help motivated by vengenance, the continuing involvement of kin and others. There must have been resistance, unconscious and conscious, to the extension of royal authority.”

indeed, feuds continued in england throughout at least the 1000s. what changed, though, was who took up the feuds — the gegildan, or the unrelated friends/associates of an individual who were his fellow oath takers. the gegildan appears in some of the anglo-saxon laws in the late-800s as an alternative group of people to whom wergeld might be paid if the wronged individual had no kin. by the 900s, though, in southern england, the gegildan might be the only group that received wergeld, bypassing kin altogether. from Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe [pgs. 39-42]:

“The laws of King Alfred of Wessex, dated to 892-893 or a few years earlier, are more informative about the *gegildan*. Again, the context is murder and the wergild — the compensation required for the crime. By Alfred’s time, if not during Ine’s, the *gegildan* is clearly a group of associates who were not related by blood. The clearest example of this is in chapter 31 of the laws: ‘If a man in this position is slain — if he has no relatives (maternal or paternal) — half the wergild shall be paid to the king, and half to the *gegildan*.’ No information exists on the purpose of the *gegildan* other than its role as a substitute for kinship ties for those without any relatives. These associates, who presumably were bound together by an oath for mutual protection, if only to identify who was responsible, would benefit anyone, whether the person had relatives or not…. Although the evidence from the laws of Ine may be read either way, the *gegildan* seems to be an old social institution. As seen more clearly in the tenth and eleventh centuries, it acquired additional functions — a policing role and a religious character.

“The nobles, clergy, and commoners of London agreed upon a series of regulations for the city, with the encouragement and approval of King Athelstan, who caused the rules to be set down some time in the late 920s or 930s. The primary purpose of these ordinances was to maintain peace and security in the city, and all those supporting these goals had solemnly pledged themselves to this *gegildan*. This type of inclusive guild, sometimes referred to as a peace guild, was an attempt to create one more additional level of social responsibility to support the king and his officials in keeping the peaces. This social group of every responsible person in London is a broad one, and the law does not use the term *gegildan* to describe the association in general….

“The idea of a guild to keep the peace was not limited to London, and a document from the late tenth century contains the rules and duties of the thegn‘s guild in Cambridge. This guild appears to have been a private association, and no king or noble is mentioned as assenting to or encouraging this group. Most of the rules concern the principle purposes of this guild — the security of the members, which receives the most attention, and the spiritual benefits of membership itself. The guild performed the tasks of the old *gegildan*: the members were obliged to defend one another, collect the wergild, and take up vengeance against anyone refusing to pay compensation. The members also swore an oath of loyalty to each other, promising to bring the body of a deceased member to a chosen burial site and supply half the food for the funeral feast. For the first time, another category of help was made explicit — the guild bound itself to common almsgiving for departed members — and the oath of loyalty the members swore included both religious and secular affairs. Although in many respects this guild resembles a confraternity along the lines Hincmar established for the archdiocese of Rheims, the older purpose of the group — mutual protection with its necessary threat of vengeance — makes the Anglo-Saxon guild something more than a prayer meeting. To include almsgiving to members in distress would be a small step, given the scope of activities this guild established. There is no sign that the thegns cooperated in any economic endeavors, but older rules of rural society had already determined methods of sharing responsibility in the villages, and the thegns cooperated on everything that was important in their lives. The thegns of Cambridge had a guild that resembles in some important ways the communal oath, that will be discussed below, of some Italian cities in the next century.”

fantastically, by the twelfth century it appears that many of the terms related to the feud were not understood and no longer really used by legal scholars and scribes [pg. 43]. in the space of about three hundred years, then — from the 900s to the 1100s — feuding in southern england seems to have gone from a regular activity engaged in by relatives, to something that a group of friends might do for one another, to eventually pretty much dying out altogether [pgs. 49-52]. but not in wales. or northern england:

What is also clear, however, is that by the twelfth century, and perhaps before, England was perceived as an area of particular peace. Authors contrasted such peace with the disorder of other areas. Writing at the end of the twelfth century, Gerald of Wales commented on the Welsh greed for land, stating that ‘law-cases in court and quarrels result, killings and arson, and frequent fratricides’, a situation he thought was made worse by the custom of partible inheritance.

“Can we tell if perception corresponded with reality? There is certainly a strong case to be made that the core of the English king’s lands differed in their practices from the periphery, most notably Northumbria. The violent dispute narrated by the ‘De obsessione’ may be the product of particular circumstances rather than a rare survival of a more general English pheonomenon. At the highest level of Northumbrian society, killing certainly was more frequent than elsewhere in England. It has been pointed out that ‘of the fourteen men to rule part or all of Northumbria between 993 and 1076, nine were killed, four had an unknown fate, and only one, Earl Siward, is thought to have died from natural causes.’ As John of Worcester’s account of the killing of Bishop Walcher of Durham in 1080 makes clear, the death of even post-Conquest rulers of Northumbria took place in a context of insult, killing, negotiation, and vengeance. If Northumberland was different, various explanations can be offered, from its geography and economy to the lack of royal presence and the conflicts between the earls and those responsible for Yorkshire.

“Difference from practices in Celtic lands may have existed well before the time of Gerald of Wales. ‘Domesday’ records the following custom under Archenfield of Herefordshire:

“‘If anyone kills one of the king’s men and commits housebreaking [*heinfaram*], he give the king 20s concerning payment for the man and 100s concering the wrong. If anyone kills a thegn’s man, he gives 10s to the dead man’s lord. But [*quod*] if a Welshmand kills a Welshman, the relatives of the slain man gather and despoil [*predantur*] the killer and his associates [*propinquos*] and burn their houses until the body of the dead man is buried the next day about noon. The king has the third part of this plunder, but they have all the rest free.’

Feud in Wales would continue beyond the twelfth century.

and in highland scotland until the 1500s. and in ireland in the form of “faction fighting” until the 1700- and early-1800s.
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so, even though they may have been living in nuclear family units, early anglo-saxons were very much tied to their extended families (kindreds) legally — and, presumably, socially — and those ties didn’t dissipate until around ca. 1000-1200, some six to eight hundred years after they settled in england. i have my own ideas as to why that was — and most of you know what they are, so i won’t repeat them now (you’re welcome! (~_^) ). a couple of important things to keep in mind, though:

– family types must be looked at in context — for instance, just because a group lives in nuclear family units does not necessarily mean that its members don’t have strong ties with their extended family;

– kinship ties are not broken quickly and certainly not via laws that only address the superficial symptoms of those ties (like feuds) — the fundamentals must be changed (and those fundamentals are mating patterns, i think … sorry! couldn’t resist saying it. (^_^) )
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*update 10/24: i meant to say in the post, and i forgot (typical), that bennett and lotus acquired a lot of their info about — and have based much of their thinking on — anglo-saxon family types and the importance of the nuclear familiy in anglo-saxon society from f.w. maitland‘s historical work on english law.

i haven’t read maitland, so i can’t comment on any of it, but i will do one of these days and will no doubt post about it. if you want to get a head start on me, check out these sources (h/t michael lotus – thanks, michael!):

F.W. Maitland And The Making Of The Modern World [pdf] from alan macfarlane.
The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, 2 vols. [1898] by pollack and maitland. see vol II, ch VI, first 10 pgs re the kindred per michael lotus.
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previously: the anglo-saxons and america 3.0 and the saxons, the anglo-saxons, and america 3.0 and medieval germanic kindreds…and the ditmarsians and more on medieval germanic kindreds and kinship in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society ii

(note: comments do not require an email. hold on!)

becoming anglo-saxon

update 10/17: some extra notes in the comments about the gss data here and here. thanks for the thought-filled comments, guys! (^_^)
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bennett and lotus (in America 3.0) have the very right idea that anglo-saxons have been living in absolute nuclear families and behaving very “anglo-saxony” for centuries, but they’ve got, imho, the very wrong idea that if other peoples, non-anglo-saxon peoples, just start living like anglo-saxons in absolute nuclear families, they will — via some sort of cultural osmosis or something — start behaving all anglo-saxony, too. i’m not convinced. where, i would ask, is the evidence for this?

in the comments to one of my previous posts on this subject, i pointed out that, for example, italian american families, most of which have been in the u.s. for multiple generations now, are mostly absolute nuclear families — at least they appear to be on the surface. however, italian americans are really strongly attached to their extended families in ways that anglo-americans simply are not. here’s what i said (or, rather, what i quoted):

from “Community and Identity in Italian American Life” in The Review of Italian American Studies (2000) [pgs. 250-251]:

“Family gatherings…are still part of Italian American life….

“Italian Americans, even the more affluent, remain in inner-city enclaves more than other groups do. When Italian Americans do move, many times two or more generations are involved in the exodus to a new suburban residence. If they do not locate together, Italian American family members find residences within short distances of one another. When upwardly mobile children leave their inner-city parents for the suburbs, they visit them more than any other group. When leaving the extended family, Italian Americans most often move into some modified extended family arrangement characterized by continual economic and social exchanges. Similarly, Italian American middle- and working-class children are more likely to take geographical proximity to the family into account when considering college attendance. Contemporary Italian American youth spread their wings, but not too far.

“Although crude survey data indicate that Italian Americans are increasingly intermarrying, these measures miss the reality that many times it is the non-Italian marriage partner who is drawn into the powerful magnet of the Italian American family. In addition, intermarriage need no diminish the ethnicity of the Italian American partner nor does it mean necessarily that the offspring will not be reared in the Italian American way. Italian Americans are more entrepreneurial than most; family businesses, by definition, provide not only income and independence from outsiders but also keep the family together. Socially mobile Itlaian Americans are willing to sacrifice some career and employment opportunities in order to stay within the orbit of family life.”

and from The Italian American Experience (2000) [pgs. 210-211, 373-374]:

“For a long time, it was believed that this sequence was inevitably moving toward the complete absorption of Italian Americans….

“While intermarriage rates have remained lower than for other groups, exogamy among Italian Americans has greatly increased. Divorce rates, even for the most recent generation, remain very low compared to all other ethnic groups. Italian Americans still maintain a pattern of relatively frequent family contacts, with some studies actually indicating an increase in visiting among relatives for later generations. The strength of family ties has been identified as a deterrent to residential mobility and as a factor in the maintenance of Italian American neighborhoods….

“For Italians, family is an all-consuming ideal as is expressed by Luigi Barzini, among many others. For Italian Americans, ‘families’ usually include grandparents, whose influence on family life can be great….

“*L’ordine della familia*, which connotes precise boundaries, role expectations, and clear values for right and wrong behavior, is taught at a very early age and includes:

“- Always respecting parents and grandparents;
– Placing family needs first, staying physically and psychologically close to other members;
– Not talking about the family to outsiders;
– Sometimes maintaining secrets between family members to maintain personal boundaries; other family members do not need to know everythings, particularly if it will cause harm;
– Showing respect for authority outside of the family, but not trusting it;
– and Working hard, but also enjoying life; livining well is sharing food, music, and companionship with those one loves.”

yeah. just like in every sopranos episode that you ever saw. (~_^) why, then, don’t italian americans behave just like anglo americans? they’ve been in the u.s. a pretty long time now … and they live in absolute nuclear families. ‘sup?
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so i thought i’d check the gss (General Social Survey) to see how anglo-saxony italian americans are. unfortunately, the gss numbers for italian americans with all four grandparents born in the u.s. (in other words, being at least third generation or more, which ought to make one really american, right?) are really tiny. dr*t.

so, i decided to look at german and irish americans instead in comparison to english/welsh americans — to see how anglo-saxony those two groups have become (quick answer for those tl:dr folks out there [SPOILER ALERT!]: not very).

before we start, though, t. greer recently pointed out the ever-present problem in these self-reported sort-of surveys and that is that we’re relying on how the respondents “identify” ethnically. how “german” are any of the “german americans” in the gss? who knows? however, the same problem should apply, i would think, across the board here with the self-identified english/welsh, german, and irish americans (i purposefully have NOT used the “just american” category since i want to get at how anglo americans behave), so it should all even out (i hope).

i’ve picked out questions that related to: “civicness” (see previous posts here and here for more on what that is), because the english are VERY civic-minded; “familism” (see here and here), because the english are NOT very familistic; and a couple of ones related to ideas about government and the u.s. that i thought sounded pretty anglo-saxony and that i just found interesting. let’s start with those.

for all of these questions, i’ve shown the results for respondents with all four grandparents born in the u.s. AND for all respondents — just because i can (and i thought it might be interesting to compare). for ethnicity i selected the “COUNTRY OF FAMILY ORIGIN [ETHNIC]” parameter. [click on charts for LARGER view.]

should we “Allow public meeting protesting the government” [PROTEST 1]?:

gss - anglo saxons - allow public meetings protesting government 02

england/wales: n=455 for all/n=244 for 4 grandparents
germany: n=604/n=248
ireland: n=412/n=151

should we “Allow publications protesting the government” [PROTEST 2]?:

gss - anglo saxons - allow publications protesting government 02

same n’s as above.

“How close do you feel to America” [CLSEUSA]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how close do you feel to america

england/wales: n=262/n=205
germany: n=367/n=242
ireland: n=245/n=170

wtf german americans?!

so on those three questions there’s anywhere from a four to a fourteen point spread between the responses of german and irish americans versus anglo americans, with anglo americans consistently being more pro allowing protests against the government of different sorts and more pro american. i agree, four points is not much of a difference, but fourteen is — and, as you’ll see below, this is a consistent pattern, i.e. that third+ generation anglo americans are more anglo-saxony than either third+ generation german americans or irish americans.
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the familism questions (again, see previous posts on familism here and here). for all of these:

england/wales: n=96/n=72
germany: n=150/n=100
ireland: n=106/n=70

“How often does R[espondent] contact uncles or aunts [UNCAUNTS]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how often contact uncles aunts

“How often does R contact nieces or nephews [NIECENEP]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how often contact nieces nephews

“How often does R contact cousin [COUSINS]?”:

gss - anglo saxons - how often contact cousins

the differences in the familism scores, then, are not that great. still, with the exception of “how often contact nieces/nephews”, both the german and irish american scores reflect greater familism on their part than on the anglo americans. slightly greater, but greater nevertheless.
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finally, the civicness questions (again, see previous posts on civicness here and here). for all of these:

england/wales: n=96, n=72
germany: n=150, n=100
ireland: n=106, n=70

“Participated in a charitable organization in past 12 months [GRPCHRTY]”:

gss - anglo saxons - charitable organization

“Participated in activity of a political party [GRPPOL]”:

gss - anglo saxons - political party

“Participated in activity of a political party [GRPUNION]”:

gss - anglo saxons - trade union

“Participated in activity of church in past 12 months [GRPCHURH]”:

gss - anglo saxons - church

“Participated in sports group in past 12 months [GRPSPORT]”:

gss - anglo saxons - sports group

so, again, with the exception of participation in a sports group, the anglo americans score higher than the other two groups on all of the questions. the differences range from just two points to eighteen. in the case of sports, german americans scored just a tad (one point) higher in participation than anglo americans and irish americans four points, but anglo americans are out in front on the other four civic behaviors.

you might be thinking that the not-all-that-great differences in civicness scores between these three groups illustrates that german and irish americans are, in fact, becoming more like anglo americans. (why it should be taking so long is curious though — these are THIRD+ generation groups after all.) however, if we look at the very same questions from the world values survey (2005-2008 wave), we find the SAME pattern!: great britain ahead of germany on all the civicness metrics. (unfortunately, ireland was not included in this wvs wave.) (see also previous post.)

great britain: n=1012-1035
germany: n=2039-2050

note that non-whites are included in these figures. ethnicity was, apparently, not asked in germany, because … well, you know … everybody’s the same, so i didn’t parse out non-whites from the results for britain, either. doesn’t seem to make much difference to the scores — one point here and there — since there are not that many non-whites included in the british survey.

gss - anglo saxons - wvs civicness metrics

as you can see, same patterns again: great britain ahead of germany on all of these civicness measurements. and the differences between the two populations — the (mostly) anglos in britain and the (mostly) germans in germany — are very similar to the differences between the two populations in the u.s. — AFTER THREE+ GENERATIONS of being in the u.s.!:

– charitable organization: u.s.=11%, euro=21%
– political party: u.s.=6%, euro=6%
– trade union: u.s.=5%, euro=8%
– church: u.s.=3%, euro=1%
– sports group: u.s.=1% (higher in germany), euro=5%

i strongly suspect that german americans are not becoming like anglo americans, or if they are, it’s NOT happening very quickly. german americans:anglo americans::germans:anglos. nor do i see any reason to think that other groups like the irish or the italians are becoming anglo-saxons either.
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the evidence i’ve presented is not conclusive. obviously. (it’s just a blog post!) Further Research is RequiredTM.

anglo-saxons — or the english of today — have been living in absolute nuclear families for a very long time, but this is more of a symptom of anglo-saxonness than its cause (although there undoubtedly has been feedback between the family type and societal structures). it took the anglo-saxons a looong time to get from being a kindred-based germanic “tribe” to the anglo-saxony individualistic-collectivistic english society that we know today (and have known since about the 1200s-1400s). it’s going to take other societies a similarly looong time to get to the same place — if they will even ever get to exactly the same place — since we are talking about biological processes here including the selection for certain behavioral traits. simply plunking germans — let alone italians (especially southern italians!) — down in absolute nuclear families will NOT turn them into anglos overnight. apparently it won’t even turn them into anglos in three+ generations.

no. anglo-saxons are exceptional. innately so. we should try not to destroy that, since it benefits so many of us.

previously: the anglo-saxons and america 3.0 and the saxons, the anglo-saxons, and america 3.0 and civic societies and civic societies ii and hispanic family values and familism in the u.s. of a.

(note: comments do not require an email. mustachioed bird!)

the saxons, the anglo-saxons, and america 3.0

back to America 3.0 for a sec.

if i understand their argument correctly, bennett and lotus are proposing that the anglo-saxon absolute nuclear family — and the sort-of individual-based society that goes along with it — has distant roots stretching back to the pre-christian germans on the continent. they do say that there were obviously some changes to the anglo-saxon family type after the germanics arrived in (what would become) england — basically that the anglo-saxon nuclear family became even more nuclear over the course of the medieval period. but, by and large, they believe that there is a very long cultural continuity of family types and societal structures going all the way back to the early germans and that these cultural traditions are what made the anglo world pretty d*rn great.

based upon my readings over the last couple of years (feel free to flip through the “english” section in the “mating patterns in europe series” below ↓ in left-hand column), i think that bennett and lotus have got it pretty right. the anglo-saxon world IS exceptional (and, no, no one in my extended family can take ANY credit for that) — this exceptionalism has got to do with the structures of anglo-saxon society, very much so the fundamental family structures — and the development of these structures does go back to the pre-christian continental germans. HOWEVER, i think that bennett and lotus have missed some details — details which throw off the timing of their argument somewhat. for instance, as i pointed out in my last post on the book, they missed out entirely on the importance of the kindred in early germanic society, thus over-estimating the importance of the nuclear family at that point in time. early germanic society wasn’t composed of very tightly knit clans, but neither was it made up of truly independent nuclear families. the early germans were very much tied to their kindreds — including the anglo-saxons in early medieval england up to at least 1000 a.d. (see previous post).

whatever made the anglo-saxons finally give up on their extended families (the kindreds) happened after they got to england (although they may already have been primed for it). the kindred seems to be truly gone in england (at least in the south/southeast) by about 1200 a.d., the evidence suggesting that it was on its way out by at least ca. 1000 a.d. so, sometime between their arrival in the 400s-600s and 1200, something happened which resulted in the disappearance of the anglo-saxon kindred (and germanic kindreds on the continent, too, btw — but not all the germanic kindreds).
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in this post, i want to nit-pick about another point that bennett and lotus made about the pre-christian germans on the continent [pg. 75]:

“They owned property individually, not communally, and not as families. Adult children and parents had separate and individual rights, not collective rights as a family.”

nope. as greying wanderer mentioned in the comments on the other post, this is incorrect.

here from “Jural Relations Among the Saxons Before and After Christianization” in The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (2003) is giorgio ausenda on early saxon society on the continent. he’s drawing this information from the earliest written saxon laws. i’m quoting an extended bit here, since the first part includes an interesting description of how the early german kindred structure, including blood feuds, worked [pgs. 113-114]:

“There was no overarching structure with executive power in that society [pre-carolingian continental saxon society], even when stratified as in the case of the Saxons. There were no permanent ‘tribal chiefs’, but only heads of clans with little if any restraining power; the containment of violence was a private matter based on fear of retaliation between like corporate groups, i.e. ‘do not do onto others what you don’t want to be done to you’. The only restraining power the senior ‘elder’ of the group, which is also the etymological meaning of many terms for ‘chief’ all over the world, had was that of acting as an arbiter in an effort to reach consensus on compensations for murder or lesser injuries between contending parties belonging to different corporate groups under his jurisdiction; hence the Latin term *iudex* for such chiefs which were seen as acting mostly in legal palavers.

Property did not concern land, as this belonged to the corporate group as a whole and was the object of raids and counterraids to keep neighbouring groups away, or even wars rather than legal transfers. Tools and weapons were considered individual property and, in many cases … when the owners died, buried with them…. The only transmissible property was livestock and, in general, its apportionment was fixed by custom: women obtained their customary marriage endowment and men started owning livestock after they were wedded. They inherited their part in proportion to the number of sons of their deceased father, as sons were the only manual labor available in simple societies and were engaged in herding and minding their extended family’s herds and flocks.”

the early saxons, then, did NOT have property — not transferrable real estate anyway. (we saw something similar in early medieval ireland, although in that case, it was clearly the patrilineal clan that held common ownership of land.) in the case of the early saxons, land was held in common by — well, i’m not sure by whom (ausenda doesn’t say) — a set of related kindreds possibly? in any case, there is that group membership again — kindreds and wergeld in the case of murder/injury and now some sort of corporate group wrt land ownership. the continental saxons were not entirely independent, nuclear-family based individuals. they were a bit … clannish. clannish-lite.

whatever happened to make the anglo-saxons independent, property owning, absolute nuclear family individualists happened after they arrived on albion’s shores (but, i agree, their germanic background probably made a difference). and judging by what i’ve read (again, see the “mating patterns series” below), whatever happened doesn’t appear to have gained traction until about 1000 a.d. by 1200 it’s well underway, and by 1400 — well, i think you could probably drop a modern day englishman back into 1400s england, and he wouldn’t feel that disoriented. bennett and lotus are missing this timeline, because they are projecting too much anglo-saxonism too far back in time.

otherwise, they are very correct about the origins of anglo-saxon exceptionalism! (^_^)

(except for the fact that they believe it ALL to be about culture. that’s impossible, of course. at least in this universe. maybe in some alternate reality things are different. (~_^) )

edit: interesting. here is a quote from “The Kentish Laws” found in The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (1997) regarding the beginnings of a shift from communal to private property (land) in kent in a law from the seventh century [pg. 217]:

“The Kentish laws portray a society where the change from movable to landed wealth was under way so much so that even the oldest laws contemplate fines for the breach of enclosures (Aebt. 27-9). It is clear here that land is no longer handled in tribal terms but as belonging to individuals.”
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bonus content!: here are a couple of things i came across tonight re. the anglo-saxons and other early germanics that i found interesting, so i just thought i’d share….

1) in early medieval kent, arranged marriages were all the rage. from “The Kentish Laws” in The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (1997) [pgs. 211, 216 – links added by me]:

“We have four English law-codes which all originated in the seventh century; the first three sets of laws were issued by the kings of Kent Æthelberht I, Hlothhere and Eadric, and Wihtred….

“The three laws contain a series of decrees about matrimony and have been made the object of considerable research into the (legal) position of women and its evolution…. This is one of the fields where the control of the kindred remained stable: the kinsmen arranged marriage and, after the wedding, continued to watch over the woman.

there’s the importance of the kindred again — in early medieval anglo-saxon (and jutish) england even.

interestingly, this is pretty much what happens in some parts the arab world today — arranged marriages, but the woman’s kin keeps an eye on her to make sure she’s ok. i just read recently, in fact, that in the hejaz, it’s very common for hejazi women to be set up with their own bank accounts by their family so that they have a set of financial resources independent from their husbands (but then they share a common household budget). who knew?

2) several readers have wondered out loud here — and so have i — why on EARTH did the northern europeans/the germanics (or any europeans for that matter) adopt christianity at all? why wouldn’t you just do what the frisians did when st. boniface or his ilk showed up and (presumably) tried to chop down the locals’ sacred trees — hang him from the nearest one?!

well, the saxons were forced to convert. by tptb (in this case the invading franks). huh. imagine that — so-called leaders forcing policies down the people’s throats. hard to imagine!

again from “Jural Relations Among the Saxons Before and After Christianization” [pg. 117 – links added by me]:

“The first ones [written saxon laws] were issued directly by or under the supervision of Frankish authorities. The first group, know as *Capitula de partibus Saxoniae*, issued in 777 at the end of centuries-long conflict with the Saxons, is none other than a martial law enforcing both public order and wholesale christianization. Of the total number of 31 articles, the first five list the penalties for crimes against churches and priests; the next four establish stiff penalties for acts of ‘paganism’ including the death penalty for whomever should refuse to be baptized. Among them a lone ray of light: law number 6 which prohibits witchcraft accusations *’secundum more paganorum’*…. Law 14 is for repentants who, having committed a crime, might confess to a priest, hence would be exempt from the death penalty *’testimonio sacerdote’*.

“The next group of laws from 15 to 19 lays down the duties towards the Church, consisting of a certain number of inhabitants in each hamlet donating to the church *’servum et ancillam’*, and that the tenth part *’decimam’* of the value of penalties incurred, or of one’s subsistence labour must be given to the church. The remaining articles list the prohibitions and duties following on religious festivities and ceremonies.

“This brief set of laws ends with … a final prohibition of unauthorized assemblies….”

so there!

previously: the anglo-saxons and america 3.0

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the anglo-saxons and america 3.0

been reading America 3.0 written by two of the chicago boyz (hey chicago boyz! *waves*). i got interested in the book after reading daniel hannan’s review of it in the telegraph a couple of weeks ago in which he said:

“Their conclusion? That English, later Anglosphere, exceptionalism, is very real. That the rise of our language and culture to their current unprecedented dominance – what one commentator terms ‘Anglobalisation’ – is based on a series of properties that are either unique to the English-speaking peoples, or shared only with a handful of kindred cultures in northwestern Europe. Among these properties are the common law, representative government, Protestantism, dispersed landownership, civil associations separate from the state and – of particular interest to these authors – the unusual nature of the family.

They show that the Anglosphere dispenses with the extended family structures which, in most places, have legal as well as cultural force. In many societies, the peasant family has traditionally been treated as a kind of collective landowner, within which there are reciprocal responsibilities. Children, even in adulthood, have been expected to work on the family plot, receiving board and lodging. Marriages are typically arranged, and daughters-in-law come under the authority of the head of their new household. Even when the law recognises individual autonomy, custom is often slow to follow.

“The Anglosphere scarcely resembles the Eurasian landmass in its family structures. Our notion of the family is limited and nuclear. Most English-speakers in most centuries wanted to set up home on their own, independently, with just their spouse and children – although economic circumstances did not always allow that aspiration to be fulfilled.

The notion that the limited family underpins Anglosphere exceptionalism – which draws heavily on the work of the French anthropologist and demographer Emmanuel Todd – is intriguing. I see the cultural difference all around me in the European Parliament. In most Continental states, your social life is largely taken up with your extended family: you have an endless stream of weddings and christenings to go to, sometimes of very distant cousins. Britons and Americans, by contrast, expect to leave their parental home in their teens, either to go to university or to work. We make friends away from home, and they become the core of our social life. Indeed, the word ‘friend’ carries more force in English than in many European languages, in which it is bestowed quickly and generously, but often means little more than what we mean by a Facebook friend. When a Spaniard says of someone ‘es muy amigo mío’, he simply means that he gets on with the chap.”

oh, emmanuel todd! i love emmanuel todd!

i disagree with lotus and bennett on two major points.

firstly, that the u.s. is on the verge of an economic/societal upturn that will be even bigger and better than those of the past (thus the title of the book). meh. maybe. i’m not so hopeful as they are, but that’s probably just because i’m a pessimist. i’ll be very happy to be proven wrong!

my other disagreement with the authors is more of an irreconcilable difference [pgs. 25-26, 60-61]:

“What we have found in our research is that our distinctive and exceptional American culture has extremely deep roots, stretching back over a thousand years, long before our own national Founding and our Constitution, long before the the first English settlements in North America….”

yes, definitely. i’d agree with that. but…

“The word ‘culture’ may seem amorphous, something you would know by intuition but cannot necessarily pin down. Even professional anthropologists, whose job it is to study and understand culture, seem to have trouble pinning down exactly what they mean by it. For our purposes, we define culture as the distinctive patterns of behavior within a specified group of people that are transmitted from one generation to the next and are not genetic in origin.

It is very important to understand that culture is not genetic. Adopted children and immigrants may come from entirely different genetic backgrounds, but they adopt artifacts of culture such as language, values, and customs as readily as do biological children of parents within that culture. It is indisputable that the culture we describe in this book can be and has been adopted by people of every possible ethnic background….”

well, no … not exactly.

“[T]he strictly racial explanation for the Germanic roots of English liberty is simply and demonstrably incorrect. We now know more about human biology and genetics than did the writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We know for a fact that there is no genetic basis for the English way of life. There is nothing special in the DNA of any English ‘race’ that especially suits them for liberty….

“The historical record as it now stands, based on documents, archeology, and genetic evidence, shows that *the foundations of English liberty were not genetic or racial, but cultural, institutional, legal, and political*.”

oh, no, no, no, no, no!

i’m actually not interested in debating this in this post, but, in response to these passages, i will just ask my one, favorite, hopefully irritating question: where does culture come from?
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i do want to nitpick a small-ish point with lotus and bennett, though. their main argument is that the anglo-saxon absolute nuclear family goes way, waaaay back — pretty much to, or nearly to, the time of the settlement of the anglo-saxons in england — and, thanks to that, both england and america have been characterized by all sorts of neat things like: individualism, a love of liberty, nonegalitarianism, competitiveness, an enterprising spirit, mobility, voluntarism, middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and suburbia (a spacious home and backyard for each and every nuclear family).

i generally agree with that assessment, although, as you know, i’d throw mating patterns into the mix there — especially that the mating patterns of the angles and saxons and other germanic tribes probably affected their family types, the general pattern being: the closer the mating types, the larger the families (think: the arabs with their father’s brother’s daughter marriage and their huge clans/tribes), while the more distant the mating types, the smaller the families (think: well, think the english with their avoidance of close cousin marriage for ca. 1000-1200 years and their absolute nuclear families). and, of course, i’d toss evolution and genetic differences between populations in there, too.

lotus and bennett, amongst other points, say of the saxons that settled in england that [pg. 75]:

“- They were free people. They were independent minded, individually and in their tribal organization….
– They owned property individually, not communally, and not as families. Adult children and parents had separate and individual rights, not collective rights as a family.
– They traced their lineages through both the male and female line. This prevented clans or extended families from forming and becoming exclusive, as happens when lineage is traced solely through the male line. As a result extended families or clans did not have collective legal rights, or any recognized political role.”

yes. but this is a slight oversimplification of the situation. no, the pre-christian germanics didn’t have strong clans, but they did have kindreds which were, in fact, very important in many cases when legal issues arose, in particular in the instance of wergeld payment and collection, i.e. compensation for when a member of a kindred was injured or killed. the members of a person’s kindred in germanic society — and this includes anglo-saxon society in early medieval england — were obliged to undertake a feud if wergeld payments were not met — by the guilty party’s kindred. in other words, two whole kindreds were involved whenever someone was injured or killed by another person.

this was a sort of clannishness-lite, then — actual clans did not exist in pre-christian germanic society, but kindreds did. and these extended families were very important in early anglo-saxon society, even though people may have regularly resided in nuclear family units. according to lorraine lancaster, this didn’t change until after ca. 1000 a.d., four- to six-hundred years after the anglo-saxons arrived in england, when wergeld began to be paid/collected by a person’s friends or fellow guild members rather than extended family members [pgs. 373, 375 – see also this post]:

“Phillpotts has effectively demonstrated the weakness of Anglo-Saxon kin groups compared with certain related systems on the continent….

“During the period they [‘friends’] gained continued importance as oath-helpers. After the end of the tenth century, it was even permissible for a feud to be prosecuted or wergild claimed by a man’s associates or guild-brothers. If murder was done *within* the guild, kinsmen again played a part….”

so, yes, the importance of the nuclear family does have its roots in germanic and anglo-saxon society, but the extended family in the form of the bilateral kindred was also a very significant element of germanic societies — until quite late in some regions of europe. the importance of the germanic kindred waned over the course of the early medieval period, very much so in england, i think thanks to The Outbreeding Project undertaken by northwest europeans beginning in the early medieval period. (see mating patterns in europe series below ↓ in left-hand column.)

previously: kinship in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society ii and medieval germanic kindreds … and the ditmarsians and emmanuel todd’s absolute nuclear family and “l’explication de l’idéologie”

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emmanuel todd’s absolute nuclear family

steve sailer posted about the curious distribution of todd’s absolute nuclear family (the yellow bits on the map over here) — this family system, according to todd, is found in the eastern parts of england and scotland, denmark and southern norway, what looks like frisia to me, and brittany. steve points out that all of these were anglo-saxon lands back in the day — except for brittany.

todd (in “The Explanation of Ideology”) describes the absolute nuclear family as having these characteristics:

– no precise inheritance rules, frequent use of wills;
– no cohabitation of married children with their parents;
– no marriage between the children of brothers.

here are a couple excerpts from his chapter on nuclear families:

pg. 100:

“Peter Laslett, with the help of household lists, has thus studied household composition as far back as the sixteenth century, and Alan Macfarlane has extended the analysis back to the thirteenth century by reinterpreting medieval documents about inheritance customs. The result of this research is clear: extended families have never existed in England where, at least since the Middle Ages, the nuclear model has been the dominant form…. What the research conducted in England in the 1960s and 1970s shows is that the individual, in the sociological sense of the word, has always existed in certain regions of Europe.”

well, not always but, rather, since at least the medieval period.

i’ve got alan macfarlane’s “The Origins of English Individualism” sitting on the shelf here. i’m hoping he can shed more light on this anglo individualism/nuclear family thing.

more from todd. pg. 101:

“The dislocation of traditional English and (northern) French societies by a complex process of ubanization, industrialization and the spread of literacy, has been comparatively less painful than in cultures dominated by a family ideal that emphasizes the complementary qualities of parents and children. The rural exodus separates the generations and erodes the core of complex families of the exogamous community and authoritarian models. It has no effect on a system dominated by nuclear households, where the early breakdown of domestic groups is socially acceptable and prepared for by an apprenticeship in individual autonomy from childhood. Urbanization in England started early and was soon complete. By comparison with Germany and Russia which developed later, the process in England seems to have been an easy one. It occurred in a peasant society which was already very flexible.”

previously: “l’explication de l’idéologie” and behind the hajnal line and medieval manoralism and the hajnal line

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