By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Jennifer Paxton presented Wondrium’s wildly successful series Celtic World. Before that, she took the lead on 1066: The Year That Changed Everything. She returns for England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest.
Wondrium’s new series England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest examines British history from the early 5th century C.E. to the mid-11th century. As the name implies, it focuses on the period of time after Rome left Britain and the establishment of England as a country and identity. Among other highlights is the thriving Anglo-Saxon culture of the time.
The presenter of the series is returning Wondrium professor Dr. Jennifer Paxton, Director of the University Honors Program and Clinical Associate Professor of History at The Catholic University of America, where she is also Dean of Undergraduate Studies. In an exclusive interview, Dr. Paxton explained how her experience as a teacher and a student informed her new series.
An Application of Expertise
A high school trip to England sparked Dr. Paxton’s love of British history. Her class went to London, but also Bath, Canterbury, Stratford-upon-Avon, and other sites. She’s been enraptured by the field ever since. And although research for a Wondrium series is always necessary, Dr. Paxton is very comfortable with the material she presents in England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest.
“There’s a lecture in this course that comes straight out of my dissertation,” Dr. Paxton said. “I talk about the English church reform movement of the 10th century, where very prominent bishops and archbishops tried very hard to bring the Anglo-Saxon church up to what they considered to be the state of the art in the 10th century, which included bringing in expertise from overseas.”
Dr. Paxton said that they had contacts with churches on the main continent of Europe, including in France and the Low Countries, which made up modern-day Luxemburg, The Netherlands, and Belgium. These figures helped reform the Anglo-Saxon church’s liturgy and monastic customs as part of the Anglo-Saxon world joining the mainstream.
“I wrote about this in my dissertation because some of these archbishops and bishops were the founders of the monasteries that I work on,” she said. “So this is material that was right in my wheelhouse, and it was really fun distilling it for a wider audience.”
The episode in question is “Monastic Reform: A Tale of Three Saints,” which is the 19th episode in the series.
Taking the Good with the Bad
Building or uniting a nation is no small task, but it also isn’t pretty. In order to understand history, all sides of it must be acknowledged. Dr. Paxton mentioned this in relation to what she hopes her series conveys to viewers.
“The story of the creation of any state, any culture, any people, is incredibly complicated and involves hard work, luck, and the talents of very dedicated individuals,” she said. “It’s also not always a rosy picture. Some of the state building that went on in the Anglo-Saxon period involved the domination of other people. It’s something that we have to keep in mind—that as you create a stable political system, which was their great accomplishment, there are losses along the way.”
The establishment of England as a post-Roman nation is not one of unmitigated triumph, she said, but a complicated picture involving looking at the dark side of human nature. Britain in the Middle Ages was a place of conquering by force and basically demanding taxes as protection money, and these are pieces of history not to be forgotten or ignored.
England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest is now available to stream on Wondrium.