I’ve written about the historical differences between Normans and Saxons, and also about North and South in the United States. So some of it will seem familiar, but this is another elaboration of that topic. I hope you’ll humor me in writing about this again. I’ve been reading about it again.
There is a popular idea, seemingly established as true among people familiar with English history, that the English colonists who came from East Anglia were a distinct people, even a distinct ‘race’ from the Cavalier or ‘Planter’ stock people who settled Virginia.
Presumably the ”Cavalier” stock were mostly descendants of Norman descent. The Normans are something of a vanishing people themselves today, or at least they appear to be. But such a large group of people could hardly just disappear from the face of the earth. The Normans still exist, many of them in the United States and Canada as well as other Anglosphere countries. Certainly people with Norman surnames are not rare in those countries, including the United States. Yet few people identify themselves as being of Norman ancestry. Why is this?
It can’t be because Normans are often shown as villainous people, in popular literature. movies, and so on. I remember as a child watching ‘historical’ TV shows wherein the villains were Normans. In ‘historical’ TV or movies about later eras, the English people in general were usually villainous and foppish, representing the evil upper classes. Even in recent movies like The Patriot with Mel Gibson, the British officers in the Revolutionary War were — villainous and foppish. A complete stereotype. It’s no wonder that this is a popular perception.
Actually one of the few people I’ve encountered who admitted (with no apologies) that he was mostly of Norman descent was Anglo-Irish, by which I mean of the ‘Protestant Ascendancy’.
So if the Normans seem to have fewer descendants alive these days, it’s probably because it is not desirable for most people — who often have a ‘class warfare’ mentality — to identify as Norman-descended.
Then there is the problem of English-descended Americans identifying as ‘just American’, part of the ‘invisible’ nationality. Many people just want to be part of something more exotic or unusual, or to be whatever is considered ‘cool’. I remember seeing a clip of some TV show in which an actress who believed she was Hispanic or ‘native American’ learned she was only European. She cried because she was so let down by the truth — that she was not anything exotic or ‘cool.’ Not many people want to be Norman or even Anglo-Saxon. Most Americans don’t know what a Norman is, anyway.
Some of the problem is that there is the rampant class-war mentality even though America claims to be egalitarian; we have no ‘class system’ here, officially, though it exists, mostly based on material considerations. Ancestry is relatively insignificant; it’s how much money one’s family has, or where you go to school or where you live, who you mingle with. People aspire to be wealthy but they downplay the importance of family connections. Women, especially, idolize royalty or pseudo-royalty (Hollywood celebrities, political royalty like the Kennedys or their extended clan). Men mostly seem to despise aristocracy or royalty, usually on the basis that “our ancestors fought to kick the Kings and Queens out”, even though that was not what ”we” fought for.
Our Founding Fathers, including Jefferson, were not egalitarians believing that we are all congenitally equal. Jefferson believed in a ‘natural elite’ or an elite based on character. That would be my ideal, but most Americans would probably disagree with the idea.
And as far as the ‘Norman vs Anglo-Saxon’ question, today’s Southrons have adopted the idea that the Norman ‘Cavaliers’ were a different people than the Northerners, especially the Anglo-Saxon ‘Yankees.’
According to this article, the Southern Literary Messenger had published articles as early as the 1830s, outlining the ‘racial differences’ between the ‘Cavaliers’ and the Yankees. The two groups, according to the theory, were biologically not of the same breed, and therefore the two sides which were then heading for an internecine war, had irreconcilable differences.
‘[A]nother anonymous writer in The Messenger wrote, “We, too, of the South, and especially we of Virginia, are descendants, for the most part, of the old cavaliers — the enemies and persecutors of those old puritans — and entertain, perhaps, unwittingly something of an hereditary and historical antipathy against the children, for the fathers’ sake.”Christopher Hanlon, NY Times Opinionator, 24 Jan 2013
There is a lot of truth in that statement. If you have an interest in this aspect of American history, it’s a worth your time.
It’s interesting that the British upper classes, representing the ‘remnant’ of the Normans, I suppose, also receive the same negative stereotyping as their counterparts in the Old South. As the article I link says, the original Jamestown settlers were, many of them, members of ‘Elizabeth’s and James’ courts’, thus they were part of the Norman aristocracy.
As to the reason why Americans often have a dislike for British royalty, (which is also present in the UK among those who would prefer a ‘republic) it is odd that Americans don’t show a similar antipathy for royalty of other countries.
It would seem that these centuries-long grudges and lingering resentments have survived, having been continuations of the original differences between the ‘despotic’ Normans and the good-guy Saxons, later adopting the guise of hereditary differences which made warfare inevitable. Are we in the same situation now? To what extent are political differences (which constitute a deep rift as of now) manifesting as regional differences?
If there can be such divisions even between two groups of very similar origins, then what chance is there for disparate groups to coexist?