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This chapter demonstrates how the idea of reciprocity: the idea of ‘what is owed in return’ permeated ordinary life. Wergeld was what a free man could honourably accept in return for an affront. Anglo-Saxon kings and their entourages were supported by a system of ‘uplifting’ resembling that of the Scottish clan chieftains, provided with food and drink and fodder collected from the farms of the districts they travelled through. The peasant families of the kingdom were expected to feed the king and his familia as if this remote group of high personages were literally their guests. It is suggested that the system may have originated in a period when the people of small regions were obliged to hand over produce to support a dominant figure with whom they felt a strong connection. The evidence suggests of later manorial custom suggests that hospitality continued to provide a language in which social relationships, even exploitative ones, might be expressed in a way which preserved people’s sense of worth.
Chapter 3 argues that a particularly powerful ‘legitimising notion’ was that people’s rights, status, and even their ownership of property, derive from the remote past, even if this was often an imagined past. Anglo-Saxon conquest narratives played a very important part in forming an ‘imagined community’, a people’s sense of their common identity, invoked particularly when the country was under threat. The narrative of Gildas’ ‘Downfall of Britain’ recurs throughout the book as legitimising the association of freedom, land, and public obligation.