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Sat 20 July 2019
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The ever-vigilant Count of the Saxon Shore shows how the Duchess of Sussex can trace her lineage back to Aelle and the earliest Anglo-Saxon aristocracy

History is the interplay of continuity and change. I recounted in my last column how the collapse of the Roman coastal defenses in Southern Britain in 491 AD led to the founding of the Kingdom of the South Saxons, now known as Sussex.

The Saxon leader was Aelle who, as Bede later recounted, was the first of the proto-English to claim ‘imperium’ in these islands. Later the term ‘Bretwalda’ (perhaps meaning ‘Britain-ruler’) was retrospectively endowed on various Anglo-Saxon leaders who might have exercised a form of sovereignty beyond their own region. This moved from East Anglia, Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex –power constantly evolving and devolving as this nation came into being. It was Aelle who first gave us an inkling of a greater English identity.

There were high-ranking black people in Britain long before the coming of the English.

Though he might have styled himself dux, early charters of the Kingdom of Sussex has its monarchs described as such. And the rank had some currency elsewhere at that time. Aelle could have led an Anglo-Saxon alliance against the Britons at the Battle of Badon and was perhaps defeated by Arthur, that mythic figure first described not as king but dux bellorum or ‘battle-leader.’ The term carried on in Saxon as ducas and is still used as a vernacular honorific in the Midland’s greeting ‘Ay up me duck.’

The term is Roman in origin. The Dux Britanniarum was the senior military leader in Britain during the empire and gave orders to the Comes Littoris Saxonici or Count of the Saxon Shore. In the Middle Ages dux becomes duke. The substantive title of the Duke of Sussex, extinct for 175 years, was revived last year on the occasion of Prince Harry’s wedding to Megan Markle and essentially recreated for her (since Harry has plenty of honours already)

It was Aelle who first gave us an inkling of a greater English identity

And so the Duchess of Sussex can trace her lineage back to Aelle and the earliest Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. Those with a misguided notion of cultural identity seem scared by the notion of a royal personage of African descent in these shores. They forget the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus from Libya, who came here in 208 AD. There were high-ranking black people in Britain long before the coming of the English.

Vilification in the popular media of Megan Markle certainly has that dog whistle of racism to guide the pack, but her tormenter-in-chief seems driven more by hurt feelings. Professional celebrity stalker Piers Morgan admits that his attacks on her date from the moment that she unfriended him (no doubt when she learnt of his newspapers’ phone hacking proclivities).

Hell hath no fury than a sycophant scorned. His main criticism is that she is a ‘social climber’, which shows a disturbing lack of self-awareness. And even if this is the case, her arriviste status surely only proves how culturally English she is.

Piers Morgan’s main criticism is that she is a ‘social climber’, which shows a disturbing lack of self-awareness.

The Count of the Saxon Shore welcomes the Duchess of the South Saxons, and the arrival of her heir, in ceremonial deference and with that ancient Mercian salutation:

‘Ay up me duck.’

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