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A Fanfare for the Common Man
on 11 January 2004
Pollard's "Seven Ages of Britain" explores British history from the perspective of the common people, describing what it might have been like to live in each of "seven ages" from the end of the last ice age until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The focus is not on royalty or battles (which are usually mentioned only in passing) but on the homes that people lived in, what they ate, how they farmed, who they married, what they believed in, how they celebrated and how their lives were changed during the great "ages" of British history. The settings include the end of the last ice age and the resulting formation of the English Channel, the prehistoric settlement of the British Isles, the Roman conquest, the Dark Ages, the Norman conquest, the Black Death and its aftermath, the Reformation and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
The book includes many interesting tidbits that make history come alive for the reader. Pollard explains, for example, that the difference between the Anglo-Saxon words "pig" and "cow" and the Norman French words "pork" and "beef" represents the gulf between conquered and conqueror. The Anglo-Saxons worked their farms for the benefit of the Normans, so we inherited their words for living animals; the Normans enjoyed the produce of their Anglo-Saxon tenants, and so we retained their words for the animals' meat. The observation is illuminating, and it provides a useful bit of trivia for conversation over cocktails.
If you enjoy Pollard's book, you might want to consider a few other works that stress the history and experiences of the common people, including Lacey and Danziger's "The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium"; Danziger & Gillingham's "1215: The Year of Magna Carta"; and Julian Richards' "Meet the Ancestors: Unearthing the Evidence that Brings us Face to Face with the Past."