The question of ownership is often dismissed as an attempt to complicate an ostensibly simple issue; any given property is owned by he whose name is on the title deeds, and those properties which are leased out to tenants are owned by the landlords. National parks are owned by the government-backed charity the National Trust, reservoirs and the like are owned by the utilities companies, some land is owned by the Ministry of Defence, and so on and so forth. Another fundamental question, namely who rules us, is yet another that has, on the surface at least, rather simple answers. We elect parliament, thus electing the head of government with executive powers, whilst on a local level we elect councils, mayors and the like to take decisions that have a local emphasis.
Yet these questions of who owns our nation and who rules it are not nearly so simple. The answers only provide dictionary definitions of these points, without analysing the cultural and historical significance of governance and land ownership in this country.
Despite this famed Anglo-Saxon tradition of Common Law Property Rights, the English nation has in fact no such rights. For all intents and purposes, England is still operated on feudal lines, albeit with a post-modern bent. Did you know, for instance, that every square inch of the English nation is in fact owned by one person; the monarch. Yes, according to a government response to an information request by an MP back in February 2009, the Ministry of Justice told us the following: “The Crown is the ultimate owner of all land in England and Wales (including the Isles of Scilly): all other owners hold an estate in land. Although there is some land that the Crown has never granted away, most land is held of the Crown as freehold or leasehold.” This means that, despite the title deeds to your home bearing you signature, you are in fact merely guarding it in perpetuity for the sovereign. This explains the ease at which government can requisition your property for other purposes, a phenomenon that is much more difficult to enact in republics such as that of the United States.
In addition, 70% of the land owned as freehold is owned by 0.3% of the population. Many of these families, one can assume, are descendants of the Norman conquistadors of the eleventh century, considering that land ownership is the preserve of the wealthy and those of Norman descent are at least 10% wealthier than those of native Anglo-Saxon stock. This ownership structure stems from William the Conqueror’s proclamation in 1067 AD, one year after the fateful invasion, that every square inch of land in England now belonged to him. He then instituted the feudal system, leasing land to his most loyal soldiers and nobles who, in turn, exacted rent from their unwilling peasant tenants. The fact that the monarch still, today, owns the land, along with the context that owners of property worth tens of millions of pounds pay relatively less council (property) tax than those in two-hundred thousand pound houses in urban centres, suggests that post-modern feudalism is very much alive and well in England today.
Just like in Norman England, the price one pays for the land leased to them by the Crown is very politicised. Effectively, one’s ability to remain the “owner” of the monarch’s land in perpetuity is linked to their loyalty to the Crown. Should this loyalty wane and one become an “enemy of the state (Crown)”, then this could result in the right to that land being terminated. Of course, we may all consider the value of being able to remove property from those who break the law, but this prerogative could also be used in a political sense too by the sitting government of the day who, after all, gets to define what it means to be an “enemy of the Crown” – note the increasing use of counter-terror legislation to clamp down on legitimate political activism. Otherwise, however, history has shown the Crown to be rather stable in its restraint in exercising this prerogative, giving the perception and illusion that we actually own our land.
This peculiar hangover from the Norman conquest is not the only way in which this event marks our society today. That’s because, in order to answer the question of who rules us, we must delve more deeply into the statistics than simply saying “those we elect to parliament”. Yes, parliamentarians do govern us for all intents and purposes, but exactly who are these people? We’re all aware that a large proportion of politicians were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge university, which signifies nothing other than their relative “poshness”. However, what many people don’t know is that those of “Norman lineage” are 800% more likely to study at these prestigious universities than those of Anglo-Saxon descent. Considering William the Conqueror brought over just a few thousand nobles and a band of usurious Jews (later expelled), this suggests an iron grip on the political and intellectual life of England that has remained unbroken for the last one-thousand years. Indeed, there have been 27 unbroken generations of families by the names of Baskerville, Darcy, Mandeville, Percy and the like studying at Oxford or Cambridge for the last 800 years.
The story of England in the intervening years since William’s arrival has always been one of peasantry against the Norman landed gentry. From the Peasant’s Revolt to Robin Hood, through to the incredibly popular stories of Poldark and the like, we can see that England has always seen itself as a set apart from its ruling aristocracy, which it has always held in private contempt. This remains true to the modern day, where the politics of social justice dominate the discourse and everybody naturally favours the underdog. Sadly, this discourse has been adopted by Marxists who, in their disregard for the caste context of this equality divide, focus their anger towards the wrong targets on the behalf of the wrong people. Yet the spirit of England, even rural Southern England, remains one of defiance and hardship against an unjust, unwanted ruling class that came here with William I in 1066.
“The Great Property Swindle” (New Statesman): https://www.newstatesman.com/life-and-society/2011/03/million-acres-land-ownership
“High House Prices?” (The Guardian): https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/17/high-house-prices-inequality-normans
“You Still Need a Norman Name to Get Ahead” (Daily Mail): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2479271/1-000-years-invaded-need-Norman-like-Darcy-Percy-ahead.html
“The Same Families Own Most of England” (YouTube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV9DuTVItW0