In Our Time: The Domesday Book

4 years ago


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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Domesday Book.

 




In Our Time: History



Related programmes:
The Norman Yoke
Alfred and the Battle of Edington

 




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Hello
Well, I think this is a first. I'm in a departure hall in Terminal 5 at Heathrow, about to go to New York to film several sequences and a long interview with Daniel Radcliffe for The South Bank Show. Everybody seems very courteous. Not many people around. All rather futuristic when it's so empty.
Now to business. I do not know why it matters to me so much that Harold, or King Harold as he then briefly was, made such a botched shot of the Battle of Hastings. He had a good army that had just given a fair old walloping to some tough Vikings in the North. Instead of reorganising, resting and thinking things through, he put all his frontline warriors into a massively ill-advised attack on a rested, deeply entrenched, fortressed William the Conqueror and his men. The slaughter of the English Anglo-Saxon aristocracy was enormous. It was utterly stupid, in my (scholarly, considered, long-held) opinion. I can't quite understand why I care so much? Perhaps the English Anglo-Saxon aristocrats were just as bad as the Norman aristocrats who replaced them? But somehow I think not. Anyway, our language would not have been as rich without the French; that we have to ungrudgingly give the Norman Conquest. And one of the contributors said that catastrophe could be good for countries. And one way and another, with the Vikings and the Vikings and the Vikings and with the Vikings again with French accents, we had our salutary catastrophes.
So, on we go. I'm still almost obsessed (well, until I get on the plane) about how short a time it took to do so massive a project. Imagine if you were doing a Domesday now of this country, it would take you seven or seventeen years to ask the twelve basic questions which were asked by King William's men. And imagine how long it would take to write the thing up. It would take half of the bureaucracies of London working for several years again and meeting each other on every possible occasion. In this case, it took one man one year.
I don't think this is an entirely trivial point. Why have we got so bureaucratically bloated? I remember being in Rome with Gore Vidal when he showed me on Capitol Hill a very small cul-de-sac, maybe about the size of a couple of dozen terraced cottages. He said that from this place the entire Roman Empire was governed. Everybody who needed to be in Rome to do the administration worked here and that was it.
I'm just thinking what the American Declaration of Independence would be like now. How long it would be. It would be bigger than the London telephone directory.
Maybe, as I am dictating this, my verbosity is matching the bureaucratic virility of which I complain, so I think I will go and get myself through Customs. Or is it Excise?
Best wishes
Melvyn Bragg


 
 
 
 


 



In Our Time



Melvyn Bragg presents In Our Time, a series where he and his expert guests discuss the history of ideas, and explore subjects in culture and science.
Read more about Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg on the Radio 4 Blog


 
 
 
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