One of the major obstacles to an understanding of the late Old English kingdom is that the bulk of the scanty sources which survive were produced by and for the royal court. It has been argued that reliance on such material has seduced scholars into overstating the practical application of royal aspirations, and giving too little attention to resistance on the part of those with their own interests. Such misgivings have led to attacks on the ‘maximist’ view of the Old English state (‘Campbell's kingdom’), arguing that what we are hearing is a royalist interpretation which conceals the existence of a divided and fragmented country. The sources are what they are, and conclusions based upon them can only be a matter of opinion, but an examination of the events of 1051–2, when the English kingdom underwent one of its most dangerous upheavals, may help to illuminate both those forces which divided it, and those which held it together.