Augustin Thierry relates the heroic tale of the Kentishmen who defeat William the Conqueror and so are able to keep their ancient laws and liberties (1856)

Augustin Thierry

Augustin Thierry (1795-1856) was an important classical liberal historian who developed a class theory of history based upon the conflict between those who used force (as in conquest and taxation) and those who were the victims of that force (peasants and tax payers). In an Appendix to his History of the Conquest of England by the Normans (1856) Thierry includes a poem about William’s failure to subdue the "Kentishmen" who refused to bow to his authority and forced William to allow them to keep their traditional laws. In return, the Kentishmen acknowledged William as King of England

They set themselves in armour bright, These mischiefs to prevent; With all the yeomen brave and bold That were in fruitful Kent.

At Canterbury did they meet, Upon a certain day, With sword and spear, with bill and bow, And stopt the conqueror’s way.

“Let us not yield, like bond-men poor, To Frenchmen in their pride, But keep our ancient liberty, What chance so e’er betide:

“And rather die in bloody field, With manly courage prest, Than to endure the servile voke, Which we so much detest.”

Among Augustin Thierry’s talents as an historian was his diligence in tracking down primary sources. Here is an excellent example concerning the resistance of the Kentishmen to the Norman invaders of England. They are happy with the laws laid down by King Edward and see no reason to accept the new Norman king, his court and tax collectors, and laws. In the classic style of the guerrilla campaign against far superior odds, the Kentishmen use deception - they dress up as “trees” and so frighten the Norman force that they surrender and cut a deal with the Kentishmen. In exchange for recognizing the nominal authority of the Normans, the Kentishmen are “allowed” to keep their ancient laws and liberties. It reminds us of the scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth where soldiers dress up as trees in Birnam Wood to disguise their numbers as they move against Macbeth.