Archaeologies and histories of the fens of eastern England, continue to suggest, explicitly or by implication, that the early medieval fenland was dominated by the activities of north-west European colonists in a largely empty landscape. Using existing and new evidence and arguments, this new interdisciplinary history of the Anglo-Saxon fenland offers another interpretation. The fen islands and the silt fens show a degree of occupation unexpected a few decades ago. Dense Romano-British settlement appears to have been followed by consistent early medieval occupation on every island in the peat fens and across the silt fens, despite the impact of climatic change. The inhabitants of the region were organised within territorial groups in a complicated, almost certainly dynamic, hierarchy of subordinate and dominant polities, principalities and kingdoms. Their prosperous livelihoods were based on careful collective control, exploitation and management of the vast natural water-meadows on which their herds of cattle grazed. This was a society whose origins could be found in prehistoric Britain, and which had evolved through the period of Roman control and into the post-imperial decades and centuries that followed. The rich and complex history of the development of the region shows, it is argued, a traditional social order evolving, adapting and innovating in response to changing times.
Abbreviations and notes
The wide wilderness
One of the loneliest pieces of country
Cultural identity in the early medieval fenland
Brigands and bandits
Ely and the central peat lands
Rich hay and commons
A specialized environment
Susan Oosthuizen is Reader in Medieval Archaeology in the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge. She has a special interest in the origins and development of Anglo-Saxon and medieval pastures, fields and settlement. She is the author of several books and numerous papers on landscape history, including rights of common and the East Anglian fenland.
"This important and thoroughly researched book makes a very good case for long-term continuity in the specialised management needed for the Fenland."
– David Bird, British Archaeology (05/12/2017)
"A comparatively slim book, but in any roll call of regional histories, also comparatively significant."
– Paul Spoerry, Current Archaeology (06/12/2017)
"[...] offers a fresh perspective on a relatively poorly defined period, usefully questioning established views, long taken for granted, and generating a new set of carefully argued hypotheses that should focus attention for a new generation of researchers."
– Bob Silvester, Medieval Settlement Research Group (16/11/2017)
"[...] full of provoking ideas."
– Peter Herring, Landscape History (05/12/2017)