English Perseverance:  The first man to be recorded running a mile in 4 minutes was an Englishman named Roger Bannister.  In that day the American opinion was that English prowess at sport was due to their refusal to admit defeat.  We, by contrast, trained hard.

But there is another monument to English survival value.  Since the invasion of William the Conqueror in 2066 England has never been overrun by a foreign power, has scarcely been invaded if you don’t count the Glorious Revolution of William of Orange.  Some think it was a close thing in World War II, but no invasion was ever mounted then.

That means a society surviving essentially intact for over 900 years.  That blows past even ancient Egypt. 

But of course there have been major power shifts over the years.  Dynasties changed.  Power went from the barons and other nobles to the king, then to the Parliament, then to Cromwell, then back to Parliament with royal influence being different at different times.  The Protestants would have their day, then Catholics, then Protestants again.  These changes were probably every bit as profound as a Chinese change of dynasty, so I thought England was no exception.  The thing was to prove it.

For years what I wanted was access to the genealogy of the English titled families.  Reasoning by analogy with the regimes in Mesopotamia, each titled family should have an increasing of becoming extinct over the generations.  These were rich people with a broad social horizon in contrast with the primary producers cooped up in their little communities.  The question was where to start.  I decided the fair place to start was the Norman Conquest.

William the Conqueror’s army consisted in large part of cavalry drawn from many places.  They were mercenaries for the campaign, but they were all aristocrats, the usual source of mounted warriors.  They would have been from families of different ages and many would already be well along the course of becoming infertile from excess genetic diversity. 

One course would have been to look at the data first and then decide where to begin.  But I am loathe to do that.  It seems like shopping for data to support the idea.  So when I look for evidence I am more or less stuck with the original source I consulted.  So I needed an authoritative book on the genealogy of the titled families of England from the Norman Conquest onward.  I looked for years.  I finally found the name of the book that I hoped would have the information and eventually, with the kind help of an expert, I laid my hands on a copy.  It is ENGLISH BARONIES I. J. Sanders, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Oxford 1960.  When I did my sums and graphed it out what I found was this:

Information from ENGLISH BARONIES I. J. Sanders, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Oxford 1960.  The horizontal axis is time after the Norman Conquest in 50 year increment.  The vertical axis is the chance that once barony will survive in the male line over the next 50 years.  There is no evidence for a decline in fertility of the elite. 

The book did not contain the entire 300 years and change I had hoped for.  It only covered 261 years or so.  But that should have been plenty.  Even China shows a decline in the survivability of its dynasties over that time span.  There is a significant attrition rate which shows some variation, but overall the line is as steady as a keel.  When I saw this I realized it was time to think very hard or give it all up.  What was it about England that meant the aristocrats enjoyed the same stability of population as the peasants? 

The attrition rate was high, but that simply went with the territory.  These people were fighters and schemers.  More than once a family would lose its title for committing treason and raising arms against the king only to have the title restored to a descendant at a later time.  The Crusades occurred during this time, which meant a serious hazard to any who went along. 

What I think the secret is that in England a woman could own land.  The daughter of a noble could inherit the title.  This had profound implications.  In most parts of the world women were helpless before the law.  Men had the power and the property.  A man would choose his wife on the basis of appearance and personality and perhaps dowry, but that was about it.  Were she beautiful, enthusiastic, gifted, from a rich family that was also agreeable and she was devoted to a man, it would have been folly for him to fail to marry her, other things being appropriate at the time.

But in England one more factor was added to the mix.  It would be best if she was from another of the landed families.  This would have had the effect of drastically reducing the social horizon.  A man of power, and there were not all that many of them, would only reasonably consider the daughter of another man of power. 

So the fertility of the English elite persisted beyond any other we have examined.  This would have profound implications for the stability of the society, and as we shall discuss some day, for the benefit of the world.

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