A History of England Principally in the Seventeenth Century, Volume I (of 6)
by Leopold von Ranke
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse






Once more I come before the public with a work on the history of a nation which is not mine by birth.

It is the ambition of all nations which enjoy a literary culture to possess a harmonious and vivid narrative of their own past history. And it is of inestimable value to any people to obtain such a narrative, which shall comprehend all epochs, be true to fact and, while resting on thorough research, yet be attractive to the reader; for only by this aid can the nation attain to a perfect self-consciousness, and feeling the pulsation of its life throughout the story, become fully acquainted with its own origin and growth and character. But we may doubt whether up to this time works of such an import and compass have ever been produced, and even whether they can be produced. For who could apply critical research, such as the progress of study now renders necessary, to the mass of materials already collected, without being lost in its immensity? Who again could possess the vivid susceptibility requisite for doing justice to the several epochs, for appreciating the actions, the modes of thought, and the moral standard of each of them, and for understanding their relations to universal history? We must be content in this department, as well as in others, if we can but approximate to the ideal we set up. The best-written histories will be accounted the best.

When then an author undertakes to make the past life of a foreign nation the object of a comprehensive literary work, he will not think of writing its history as a nation in detail: for a foreigner this would be impossible: but, in accordance with the point of view he would naturally take, he will direct his eyes to those epochs which have had the most effectual influence on the development of mankind: only so far as is necessary for the comprehension of these, will he introduce anything that precedes or comes after them.

There is an especial charm in following, century after century, the history of the English nation, in considering the antagonism of the elements out of which it is composed, and its share in the fortunes and enterprises of that great community of western nations to which it belongs; but it will be readily granted that no other period can be compared in general importance with the epoch of those religious and political wars which fill the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In the sixteenth century the part which England took in the work of emancipating the world from the rule of the western hierarchy decisively influenced not only its own constitution, but also the success of the religious revolution throughout Europe. In England the monarchy perfectly understood its position in relation to this great change; while favouring the movement in its own interest, it nevertheless contrived to maintain the old historical state of things to a great extent; nowhere have more of the institutions of the Middle Ages been retained than in England; nowhere did the spiritual power link itself more closely with the temporal. Here less depends on the conflict of doctrines, for which Germany is the classic ground: the main interest lies in the political transformation, accomplished amidst manifold variations of opinions, tendencies, and events, and attended at last by a war for the very existence of the nation. For it was against England that the sacerdotal reaction directed its main attack. To withstand it, the country was forced to ally itself with the kindred elements on the Continent: the successful resistance of England was in turn of the greatest service to them. The maintenance of Protestantism in Western Europe, on the Continent as well as in Britain, was effected by the united powers of both. To bring out clearly this alternate action, it would not be advisable to lay weight on every temporary foreign relation, on every step of the home administration, and to search out men's personal motives in them; a shorter sketch may be best suited to show the chief characters, as well as the main purport of the events in their full light.

But then, through the connexion of England with Scotland, and the accession of a new dynasty, a state of things ensued under which the continued maintenance of the position taken up in home and foreign politics was rendered doubtful. The question arose whether the policy of England would not differ from that of Great Britain and be compelled to give way to it. The attempt to decide this question, and the reciprocal influence of the newly allied countries, brought on conflicts at home which, though they in the main arose out of foreign relations, yet for a long while threw those relations into the background.

If we were required to express in the most general terms the distinction between English and French policy in the last two centuries, we might say that it consisted in this, that the glory of their arms abroad lay nearest to the heart of the French nation, and the legal settlement of their home affairs to that of the English. How often have the French, in appearance at least, allowed themselves to be consoled for the defects of the home administration by a great victory or an advantageous peace! And the English, from regard to constitutional questions of apparently inferior importance, have not seldom turned their eyes away from grievous perils which hung over Europe.

The two great constitutional powers in England, the Crown and the Parliament, dating back as they did to early times, had often previously contended with each other, but had harmoniously combined in the religious struggle, and had both gained strength thereby; but towards the middle of the seventeenth century we see them first come into collision over ecclesiastical regulations, and then engage in a war for life and death respecting the constitution of the realm. Elements originally separate unite in attacking the monarchy; meanwhile the old system breaks up, and energetic efforts are made to found a new one on its ruins. But none of them succeed; the deeply-felt need of a life regulated by law and able to trust its own future is not satisfied; after long storms men seek safety in a return to the old and approved historic forms so characteristic of the German, and especially of the English, race. But in this there is clearly no solution of the original controversies, no reconciliation of the conflicting elements: within narrower limits new discords break out, which once more threaten a complete overthrow: until, thanks to the indifference shown by England to continental events, the most formidable dangers arise to threaten the equilibrium of Europe, and even menace England itself. These European emergencies coinciding with the troubles at home bring about a new change of the old forms in the Revolution of 1688, the main result of which is, that the centre of gravity of public authority in England shifts decisively to the parliamentary side. It was during this same time that France had won military and political superiority over all its neighbours on the mainland, and in connexion with it had concentrated an almost absolute power at home in the hands of the monarchy. England thus reorganised now set itself to contest the political superiority of France in a long and bloody war, which consequently became a struggle between two rival forms of polity; and while the first of these bore sway over the rest of Europe, the other attained to complete realisation in its island-home, and called forth at a later time manifold imitations on the Continent also, when the Continent was torn by civil strife. Between these differing tendencies, these opposite poles, the life of Europe has ever since vibrated from side to side.

When we contemplate the framework of the earth, those heights which testify to the inherent energy of the original and active elements attract our special notice; we admire the massive mountains which overhang and dominate the lowlands covered with the settlements of man. So also in the domain of history we are attracted by epochs at which the elemental forces, whose joint action or tempered antagonism has produced states and kingdoms, rise in sudden war against each other, and amidst the surging sea of troubles upheave into the light new formations, which give to subsequent ages their special character. Such a historic region, dominating the world, is formed by that epoch of English history, to which the studies have been devoted, whose results I venture to publish in the present work: its importance is as great where it directly touches on the universal interests of humanity, as where, on its own special ground, it develops itself apart in obedience to its inner impulses. To comprehend this period we must approach it as closely as possible: it is everywhere instinct with collective as well as individual life. We discern how great antagonistic principles sprang almost unavoidably out of earlier times, how they came into conflict, wherein the strength of each side lay, what caused the alternations of success, and how the final decisions were brought about: but at the same time we perceive how much, for themselves, for the great interests they represented, and for the enemies they subdued, depended on the character, the energy, the conduct of individuals. Were the men equal to the emergency, or were not circumstances stronger than they? From the conflict of the universal with the special it is that the great catastrophes of history arise, yet it sometimes happens that the efforts which seem to perish with their authors exercise a more lasting influence on the progress of events than does the power of the conqueror. In the agonising struggles of men's minds appear ideas and designs which pass beyond what is feasible in that land and at that time, perhaps even beyond what is desirable: these find a place and a future in the colonies, the settlement of which is closely connected with the struggle at home. We are far from intending to involve ourselves in juridical and constitutional controversies, or from regulating the distribution of praise and blame by the opinions which have gained the day at a later time, or prevail at the moment; still less shall we be guided by our own sympathies: our only concern is to become acquainted with the great motive powers and their results. And yet how can we help recognising manifold coincidences with that conflict of opinions and tendencies in which we are involved at the present day? But it is no part of our plan to follow these out. Momentary resemblances often mislead the politician who seeks a sure foothold in the past, as well as the historian who seeks it in the present. The Muse of history has the widest intellectual horizon and the full courage of her convictions; but in forming them she is thoroughly conscientious, and we might say jealously bent on her duty. To introduce the interests of the present time into the work of the historian usually ends in restricting its free accomplishment.

This epoch has been already often treated of, if not as a whole, yet in detached parts, and that by the best English historical writers. A native author has this great advantage over foreigners, that he thinks in the language in which the persons of the drama spoke, and lets them be seen through no strange medium, but simply in their natural form. But when, too, this language is employed in rare perfection, as in a work of our own time,—I refer not merely to rounded periods and euphony of cadence, but to the spirit of the narrative so much in harmony with our present culture, and the tone of our minds, and to the style which by every happy word excites our vivid sympathy;—when we have before us a description of the events in the native language with all its attractive traits and broad colouring, a description too based on an old familiar acquaintance with the country and its condition: it would be folly to pretend to rival such a work in its own peculiar sphere. But the results of original study may lead us to form a different conception of the events. And it is surely good that, in epochs of such great importance for the history of all nations, we should possess foreign and independent representations to compare with those of home growth; in the latter are expressed sympathies and antipathies as inherited by tradition and affected by the antagonism of literary differences of opinion. Moreover there will be a difference between these foreign representations. Frenchmen, as in one famous instance, will hold more to the constitutional point of view, and look for instruction or example in political science. The German will labour (after investigation into original documents) to comprehend each event as a political and religious whole, and at the same time to view it in its universal historical relations.

I can in this case, as in others, add something new to what is already known, and this to a larger extent as the work goes on.[1]

In no nation has so much documentary matter been collected for its later history as in England. The leading families which have taken part in public business, and the different parties which wish to assert their views in the historical representation of the past as well as in the affairs of the present, have done much for this object; latterly the government also has set its hand to the work. Yet the existing publications are far from sufficient. How incredibly deficient our knowledge still is of even the most important parliamentary transactions! In the rich collections of the Record Office and of the British Museum I have sought and found much that was unknown, and which I needed for obtaining an insight into events. The labour spent on it is richly compensated by the gain such labour brings; over the originals so injured, and so hard to decipher, linger the spirits of that long-past age. Especial attention is due to the almost complete series of pamphlets of the time, which the Museum possesses. As we read them, there are years in which we are present, as it were, at the public discussion that went on, at least in the capital, from month to month, from week to week, on the weightiest questions of government and public life.

If any one has ever attempted to reconstruct for himself a portion of the past from materials of this kind,—from original documents, and party writings which, prompted by hate or personal friendship, are intended for defence or attack, and yet are withal exceedingly incomplete,—he will have felt the need of other contemporary notices, going into detail but free from such party views. A rich harvest of such independent reports has been supplied to me for this, as well as for my other works, by the archives of the ancient Republic of Venice. The 'Relations,' which the ambassadors of that Republic were wont to draw up on their return home, invaluable though they are in reference to persons and the state of affairs in general, are not, however, sufficient to supply a detailed and consecutive account of events. But the Venetian archives possess also a long series of continuous Reports, which place us, as it were, in the very midst of the courts, the capitals, and the daily course of public business. For the sixteenth century they are only preserved in a very fragmentary state as regards England; for the seventeenth they lie before us, with gaps no doubt here and there, yet in much greater completeness. Even in the first volume they have been useful to me for Mary Tudor's reign and the end of Elizabeth's; in the later ones, not only for James I's times, but also far more for Charles I's government and his quarrel with the Parliament. Owing to the geographical distance of Venice from England, and her neutral position in the world, her ambassadors were able to devote an attention to English affairs which is free from all interested motives, and sometimes to observe their general course in close communication with the leading men. We could not compose a history from the reports they give, but combined with the documentary matter these reports form a very welcome supplement to our knowledge.

Ambassadors who have to manage matters of all kinds, great and small, at the courts to which they are accredited, fill their letters with accounts of affairs which often contain little instruction for posterity, and they judge of a man according to the support which he gives to their interests. This is the case with the French as well as with other ambassadors in England. Nevertheless their correspondence becomes gradually of the greatest value for my work. Their importance grows with the importance of affairs. The two courts entered into the most intimate relations: French politicians ceaselessly endeavoured to gain influence over England, and sometimes with success. The ambassadors' letters at such times refer to the weightiest matters of state, and become invaluable; they rise to the rank of the most important and instructive historical monuments. They have been hitherto, in great part, unused.

In the Roman and Spanish reports also I found much which deserves to be made known to the readers of history. The papers of Holland and the Netherlands prove still more productive, as I show in detail at the end of the narrative.

A historical work may aim either at putting forward a new view of what is already known, or at communicating additional information as to the facts. I have endeavoured to combine both these aims.


[1] Note to the third edition.—In the course of my researches for this work the representation of the seventeenth century has occupied a larger space than I at first thought I should have been able to give it; it forms the chief portion of the book in its present form. I have therefore allowed myself the unwonted liberty of altering the title so as to make this clear. Still the representation of the sixteenth century, which is not now mentioned in the title, has not been abridged on this account. The history of the Stuart dynasty and of William III make up the central part of the edifice; what is given to the earlier, as well as the later times may, if I may be allowed the comparison, correspond to its two wings.


'The History of England, principally during the Seventeenth Century,' which is here laid before the reader in an English form, is one of the most important portions of that cycle of works on which Leopold von Ranke has long been engaged. His History of the Popes, his History of the Reformation in Germany, his French History, his work on the Ottomans and the Spanish Monarchy, his Life of Wallenstein, his volume on the Origin of the Thirty Years' War, and other smaller treatises, all aim at delineating the international relations of the states of Europe. His History of England may well be regarded as the concluding portion of this series; for the relations of England, first with France, and then with Holland, eventually determined the course of European politics.

The book however is more than a history of this period, for Professor Ranke, according to his custom, has prefixed to it a luminous and interesting sketch of the earlier part of our history, presented, as all summaries ought to be, in the form of studies of the most important epochs. And at the end of the work are Appendices, which supply not only happy examples of historical criticism in the discussions on the chief contemporary writers of the period, but also a mass of original documents, most of which have never before been published. Above all, the critiques on Clarendon and Burnet, and the correspondence of William III with Heinsius, will well repay careful study; and the Appendices throw light on some of the more important details connected with the history of the time, besides shewing the student how a great master has found and used his materials.

The present translation was undertaken with the author's sanction, and was intended in the first instance for the use of students in Oxford. Its publication has been facilitated by a division of labour, the eight volumes of the original having been entrusted each to a separate hand. The translators are Messrs. C. W. Boase, Exeter College; W. W. Jackson, Exeter College; H. B. George, New College; H. F. Pelham, Exeter College; M. Creighton, Merton College; A. Watson, Brasenose College; G. W. Kitchin, Christchurch; A. Plummer, Trinity College. The task of oversight, of reducing inequalities of style, and of supervising the Appendices and Index, has been performed by the editors, C. W. Boase and G. W. Kitchin. Notwithstanding the disadvantages incident to a translation, it is hoped that the work in its present shape will be welcomed by a large number of English readers, and will help to increase the deserved renown of the author in the country to the history of which he has devoted such profound and fruitful study.






CHAP. I. The Britons, Romans, and Anglo-Saxons 5

The Anglo-Saxons and Christianity 10

II. Transfer of the Anglo-Saxon crown to the Normans and Plantagenets 22

The Conquest 28

III. The crown in conflict with Church and Nobles 39

Henry II and Becket 41

John Lackland and Magna Charta 47

IV. Foundation of the Parliamentary Constitution 58

V. Deposition of Richard II. The House of Lancaster 74




CHAP. I. Re-establishment of the supreme power 93

II. Changes in the condition of Europe 104

Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey in their earlier years 109

III. Origin of the Divorce Question 120

IV. The Separation of the English Church 134

V. The opposing tendencies within the Schismatic State 151

VI. Religious Reform in the English Church 171

VII. Transfer of the Government to a Catholic Queen 186

VIII. The Catholic-Spanish Government 199




CHAP. I. Elizabeth's accession. Triumph of the Reformation 222

II. Outlines of the Reformation in Scotland 238

III. Mary Stuart in Scotland. Relation of the two Queens to each other 254

IV. Interdependence of the European dissensions in Politics and Religion 280

V. The fate of Mary Stuart 300

VI. The Invincible Armada 316

VII. The later years of Queen Elizabeth 330




CHAP. I. James VI of Scotland: his accession to the throne of England 361

Origin of fresh dissensions in the Church 361

Alliance with England 364

Renewal of the Episcopal Constitution in Scotland 368

Preparations for the Succession to the English Throne 375

Accession to the Throne 381

II. First measures of the new reign 386

III. The Gunpowder Plot and its consequences 403

IV. Foreign policy of the next ten years 418

V. Parliaments of 1610 and 1614 436

VI. Survey of the literature of the epoch 450




CHAP. I. James I and his administration of domestic government 469

II. Complications arising out of the affairs of the Palatinate 484

III. Parliament of the year 1621 497

IV. Negotiations for the marriage of the Prince of Wales with a Spanish Infanta 509

V. The Parliament of 1624. Alliance with France 522

VI. Beginning of the reign of Charles I, and his First and Second Parliament 537

VII. The course of foreign policy from 1625 to 1627 554

VIII. Parliament of 1628. Petition of Right 566

IX. Assassination of Buckingham. Session of 1629 580



As we turn over the pages of universal history, and follow the shifting course of events, we perceive almost at the first glance one comprehensive process of change going on, which, more than any other, governs the external fortunes of the world. Through long periods of time the historic life of the human race was active in Western Asia and in the lands bordering on the Mediterranean which look towards the East: there it laid the foundations of its higher culture. We may rightly regard as the greatest event that meets us in the whole course of authentic history, the fact that the seats of the predominant power and culture have been transplanted to the Western lands and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Not merely the abodes of the ancient civilised nations, but even the capitals which were the medium of communication between East and West, have fallen into barbarism; even the great metropolis, from which first political, and then spiritual, dominion extended itself in both directions over widespread territories, has not maintained its rank. It was due to this tendency of things, combined with a certain geographical cause, that neither could the medieval Empire attain its full development, nor the Papacy continue to subsist with unimpaired authority. From age to age the political and intellectual life of the world transferred itself ever more and more to the nations dwelling further West, especially since a new hemisphere was opened up to their impulses of activity and extension. So it was that the chief interests of the Pyrenean peninsula drew towards its ocean coasts; that there grew up on either side of the Channel which separates the Continent from Britain, the two great capitals in which modern activity is chiefly concentrated; that Northern Germany, together with the races which touch on the North Sea and the Baltic, developed a life and a system of their own; it is in these regions latterly that the universal spirit of the human race chiefly works out its task, and displays its activity in moulding states, creating ideas, and subjugating nature.

Yet this transmission, this transplanting, is not the work of a blind destiny. While civilisation in the East succumbed and died out before the advance of races incapable of culture, it was welcomed in the West by races possessing the requisite capacity, which by their inborn force gave it new forms and indestructible bases for its outward existence. Nor have the nations and kingdoms arisen each from its mother earth, as it were in obedience to some inward impulse of inevitable necessity, but amid constant assimilation and rejection, ever repeated wars to secure their future, and a ceaseless struggle with opposing elements that threatened their ruin.

The object of universal history is to place before our eyes the leading changes, and the conflicts of nations, together with their causes and results. Our purpose is to depict the history of one of the chief of the Western nations, the English, and that too in an age which decisively modified both its inner constitution and its outward position in the world, but it cannot be understood unless we first pourtray, with a few quick touches, the historical events under the influence of which it became civilised and great.



The history of Western Europe in general opens with the struggle between Kelts, Romans, and Germans, which determined out of what elements modern nations should be formed.

Just as it is supposed that Albion in early times was connected with the Continent, and only separated from it by the raging sea-flood which buried the intermediate lands in the abyss, so in ethnographic relations it would seem as if the aboriginal Keltic tribes of the island had been only separated by some accident from those which occupied Gaul and the Netherlands. The Channel is no national boundary. We find Belgians in Britain, Britons in Eastern Gaul, and very many names of peoples common to both coasts; there were tribes which, though separated by the sea, yet acknowledged the same prince. Without being able to prove how far natives of the island took part in the expeditions of conquest, which pouring forth from Gaul inundated the countries on the Danube and Italy, Greece and Western Asia, we yet can trace the affinity of names and tribes as far as these expeditions extend. This island was the home of the religion that gave a certain unity to the populations, which, though closely akin, nevertheless contended with each other in ceaseless discord. It was that Druidic discipline which combined a priestly constitution with civil privileges, and with a very peculiar doctrine of a political and even moral purport. We might be tempted to suppose that the atrocity of human sacrifice was first introduced among them by the Punic race. For they were from primeval times connected with the Carthaginians and Phoenicians, who were the first to traverse the outer sea, and sought in the island a metal which was very valuable for the wants of the ancient world. Distant clans might retain in the mountains their original wildness, but the southern coasts ranked in the earliest times as rich and civilised. They stood within the circle of the relations that had been created by the expeditions of the Keltic tribes, by the mixture of peoples thence arising, by the war and commerce of the earliest age.

In the great war between Rome and Carthage, which decided the destiny of the ancient world, the Keltic tribes took part as allies of the Punic race. If Carthage had conquered, they would have maintained in most, if not all, the lands they had occupied, and especially in their own homes, their old manners and customs, and their religion in its existing form. It was not merely the supremacy of the one city or the other, but the future of Western Europe that was at stake when Hannibal attacked the Romans in Italy. Rome, which had already grown strong in warring against the Gauls, won the victory over the Carthaginians. Thenceforth one after another of the Keltic nations succumbed to the superiority of the Roman arms, which at last invaded Transalpine Gaul, and struck its military power to the ground.

From this point the reaction against the Keltic enterprises necessarily extended itself also to Britain.

The great general who conquered Gaul did not feel sure of being able to accomplish his task unless he also obtained influence over the British tribes, from which those of the Continent constantly received help and encouragement, unless he established among them the authority of the Roman name.

It was an important moment in the world's history, well worthy of remembrance, when Caesar first trod the soil of Albion. Already repulsed from the steep chalk cliffs of the island, he found the flat shore on which he hoped to disembark occupied by the enemy, some in their war-chariots, others on horseback and on foot; his ships could not reach the shore; the soldiers hesitated, encumbered with their armour as they were, to throw themselves into a sea with which they were not familiar, in presence of an enemy acquainted with the ground, active, brave, and superior in numbers; the general's order had no effect on them; when however an eagle-bearer, calling on the gods of Rome, threw himself into the flood, the men would have thought themselves traitors had they allowed the war-standard, to which an almost divine worship was paid, to fall into the hands of the enemy; fired by the danger that threatened their honour, and by the religion of arms, from one ship after another they followed him to the fight; in the hand-to-hand combat in the water which ensued they gained the superiority, supported most skilfully by their general wherever it was necessary; the moment they reached the land, the victory was won.[2]

We cannot reckon it a slight matter, that Caesar, though not at the first, yet at the second and better prepared expedition, succeeded in carrying away with him hostages from the chief tribes. For this very form was the one customary in that century and among those tribes, by which he bound them and their princes to himself.

It was the first step towards the Roman supremacy. But Gaul and West Germany had first to be subdued, and the Empire securely concentrated in one hand, before—a century later—the conquest of the island could be really attempted.

Even then the Britons still fought without helmet or shield, as did the Gauls of old before Rome. In Britain, just as on the Lombard plains, the war-chariot was their best arm; their defective mode of defence necessarily yielded to the organised tactics of the legion. How easily did the Romans, pushing forward under cover of their mantelets, clear away the rude entrenchments by which the Britons used formerly to secure themselves against attack. The Druids on Mona trusted in their gods, whose will they thought to ascertain from the quivering fibres of human sacrifices; and for a moment the sight of the crowd of fanatics collected around them checked the attack, but only for a moment: as soon as they came to blows they were instantly scattered, and their holy places perished with them. For this is the greatest result of the Roman wars, that they destroyed the rites which contradicted the idea of Humanity. Yet once more an injured princess—Boadicea—united all the sympathies which the old constitution and religion could awaken. Dio has depicted her, doubtless according to the reports which reached Rome. A tall form, with the national decoration of the golden necklace and the chequered mantle, over which her rich yellow hair flowed down below her waist. She called on her peoples to defend themselves at any risk, since what could befall those to whom each root gave nourishment, each tree supplied shelter: and on her gods, not to let the land pass into the possession of that insatiable, unjust foe of foreign race. So truly does she represent the innate characteristics of the British race, when oppressed and engaged in a desperate defence. She is earnest, rugged, and terrible; the men who gathered round her were reckoned by hundreds of thousands. But the Britons had not yet learnt the art of war. A single onslaught of the Romans sufficed to scatter their disorderly masses with a fearful butchery. It was the last day of the old British independence. Boadicea would not, any more than Cleopatra, adorn a Roman triumph; she fell by her own hand.

Within a few dozen years the Roman eagles were masters of Britain as far as the Highlands: the Keltic clan-life and the religion of the Druids withdrew into the Caledonian mountains, and the large islands off that coast; in the conquered territory the religion of the arms that had won the victory, and the might of the Great Empire, were supreme. The work which was begun by superiority in war was completed by pre-eminence in civilisation. It seemed an advantage and an improvement to the sons of the British princes, to adopt the Roman language, and knowledge, and mode of life; they delighted in the luxury of colonnades, baths, feasts, and city life. Men like Agricola used these modes of Romanising Britain by preference. Just as the Britons exchanged their rude shipbuilding and their leathern sails for the discoveries of a more advanced art of navigation, so they learnt to carry on their agriculture in Roman fashion; in later times Britain was considered as the granary of the legions in Germany. Most of the cities in the land betray by their very names their Roman origin; London, though it existed earlier, owes its importance to this connexion. It was the emporium destined as it were by nature for the peaceful commerce that now arose between the Western provinces of the Empire. Once in the third century an attempt was made to make the island independent, but it failed the moment the marts on the opposite coast fell into the hands of the Emperor who was universally recognised. Britain seemed an integral part of the Roman Empire. It was from York that Constantine marched forth to unite its Eastern and Western halves once more under one government.

But soon after him an epoch began in which the third great nationality, at first thought to be part of the Keltic race, then driven back or taken into service by the Romans, but always maintaining its peculiar original independence—the German, rose to supremacy in the West. In the fifth century it had become everywhere master in the militarily-organised Roman frontier districts: encouraged by the embarrassments of the authorities it advanced into the peaceful provinces.

It is of importance to remark what the fate of Britain was in these struggles.

From the Romanised territory an Augustus, called Constantine, set up by the revolted legions, invaded Gaul, not merely to check the inroads of the barbarians, but at the same time to possess himself of the Empire. He at one time held a great position, when the legions of Gaul and Aquitaine also took his side, and Spain saluted him Emperor. But the authority of Honorius the generally recognised Emperor could not be so easily set aside: discontented followers of the new Augustus again went over to the old one: before them and the barbarians combined Constantine fell, and soon after paid for his attempt with his life.

The result, then, was that Honorius restored his authority to a certain extent everywhere on the Continent, but not in Britain. To the towns which had taken up arms while Constantine was there he gave the right of self-defence—he could do nothing for them. The Roman Empire was not exactly overthrown in Britain—it ceased to be.[3]

At this time, when the connexion between Rome and Roman Britain was broken off, the Germans possessed themselves of the latter country.

The Anglo-Saxons and Christianity.

Germans had been long ago settled in this as in so many other provinces of the Western and Eastern Empires. Antoninus had brought over German tribes from the Danube, Probus others from the Rhineland. In the legions we find German cohorts, and very many others joined them as free allies. In the civil wars between the Emperors we hear of one side relying on the Franks, the other on the Alemanni in their service; Constantine the Great is called to be Caesar by help of the chiefs of the Alemanni. But besides this, German seafarers, who appeared under the name of Saxons, after they had learnt shipbuilding and navigation from the Romans, settled on the opposite coasts of Britain and Gaul, and gave their name to both. Not then for the first time, nor at the invitation of the Britons, as the Saga declares,[4] did the descendants of Wodan make their first trial of the sea in light vessels. Alternating between piracy and alliance—now with a usurper and now with the lawful Emperor, between independence and subjection, German seafarers had long ago filled all seas and coasts with the terror of their name. In the North too they are mentioned together with Scots and Attacotti. When now the Roman rule over the island and the surrounding seas came to an end, to whom could it pass? To the peaceful Provincials, if they could indeed gird on the sword, or to the old companions in arms of the Romans? There is no doubt that the same general impulse which urged on the German peoples, in the great revolution of affairs, into the Roman provinces, led the enterprising inhabitants of the German and Northern coasts, Frisians, Angles, and Jutes, as well as Saxons, into Britain. A fearful war broke out, in which it may be true to say the ruined towns became the sepulchres of their inhabitants, but no man found the quiet time necessary for depicting its details. After it had filled a century and a half with its horrors, and men again lifted up their eyes, they found the island divided between two great nationalities, which had separated themselves as opposing forces. The natives had as good as abandoned the civilisation they had learnt from Rome, and leant on their kinsfolk in North Gaul, and the Scots in Ireland and the Highlands; they occupied the west of the island. The Germans were settled in the east, in the greatest part of the south, and in the north, in most of the old Roman settlements,—but they were far from forming a united body. Not seven or eight merely, but a large number of little tribal kingdoms, occupied or fought for the ground.

If we wish to point out in general the distinction between the Anglo-Saxon and other German settlements, it lies in this, that they rested neither on the Emperor's authorisation whether direct or indirect, nor on any agreement with the natives of the land. In Gaul Chlodwig assumed and carried on the authority of the Roman Empire;—in Britain it went wholly to the ground. Hence it was that here the German ideas could develop in their full purity, more so than in Germany itself, over which the Frankish monarchy, which had also adopted Roman tendencies, had gained influence.

Just as the natives who would not submit were driven out of the German settlements, so within their boundaries the germs of Christianity, which had already spread in the island, were as good as annihilated. Among the victorious Germans the Northern heathenism existed in full strength. In many names of places, at the water-springs, the watersheds, in the designations of the days of the week, the names of the gods of Germany and the North appear; the kings trace their descent directly from them as their immediate ancestors; the Sagas and poems about them symbolise those battles with the elements, the storm, the sea, and the powers of nature, which are peculiarly characteristic of the Northern mythology. With this, however, arose the question, so important for the history of the world, whether the great territory already won for the ideas of the universal culture and religion of mankind should be again lost.

Towards the end of the 6th century the epoch began in which, as the German invaders of Gaul had already done, so now those of Spain and Italy, whether Arians or heathens, came over to the Catholic faith of the Provincials. This took place under the mediation of the chief Pontiff, who had raised the city, from which the Empire took its name, to be the metropolis of the Faith. Lombards and Visigoths became as good Catholics as the Franks already were. The relationship of the royal families, which held all Germans in close connexion, and the zeal of Rome, which could not possibly suffer the loss of a province that it had once possessed, now combined to call forth a similar movement among the Anglo-Saxons, yet one which worked itself out in a very different way. Since among the natives a peculiar form of church-life, not unconnected with the Druidic discipline, had arisen, with which Rome would hold no communion, and which rejected all demands of submission, the spiritual enmity of the missionary was united to the national enmity of the conqueror. When a king still heathen, while attacking the Britons, directed his weapons against the monks of Bangor, who (collected on a height) were offering up prayers against him, and massacred them to the number of twelve hundred, the followers of the Roman Mission saw in this a punishment decreed by God for apostasy, and the fulfilment of the prophecies of their apostle.[5] On the other hand British Christian kings also made common cause with the heathen Angles, and wasted with fire and sword the provinces that had been converted by Rome. Had not in the vicissitudes of internal war the native church organisation of the North won influence over the Anglo-Saxons, heathenism would never have been conquered; it would have always found support among the Britons.

When this however had once taken place, the whole Anglo-Saxon name attached itself to the Roman ritual. Among the motives for this change those which corresponded to the naive materialistic superstition of the time may have been the most influential, yet there were other motives also which touched the very essence of the matter. Men wished to belong to the great Church Communion which then in still unbroken freedom comprehended the most distant nations.[6] They preferred the bishops whom the kings appointed (with the authorisation of the Roman See), to those over whom the abbot of the great monastery on the island of Iona exercised a kind of supremacy. Here there was no question of any agreement between the German king and the bishops of the land, as under the Merovingians in Gaul; they even avoided restoring the bishops' sees which had flourished in the old Roman times in Britain. The primitive and independent element manifests itself in the decision of the princes and their great men. In Northumberland, Christianity was introduced by a formal resolution of the King and his Witan: a heathen high priest girt himself with the sword, and even with his own hand threw down his idols. The Anglo-Saxon tribes in fact passed over from the popular religion and mythology of the North and of Germany, which would have kept them in barbarism, to the communion of the universal religion, to which belonged the civilisation of the world. Never did a race show itself more susceptible of such an influence: it presents the most remarkable example of how the old German ideas, which had now taken living root in this soil, and the Roman ecclesiastical culture, which was vigorously embraced, met and became intertwined. The first German who made the universal learning, derived from antiquity, his own, was an Anglo-Saxon, the Venerable Beda; the first German dialect in which men wrote history and drew up laws, was likewise the Anglo-Saxon. Despite all their reverence for the threshold of the Apostles they admitted foreign priests no longer than was indispensable for the foundation of the new church: in the gradual progress of the conversion they were no longer needed, we soon find Anglo-Saxon names everywhere in the church: the archbishops and leading bishops are as closely related to the royal families, as the heathen high priests had been before.

It was exactly through the co-operation of both principles, originally so foreign to one another, that the Anglo-Saxon nature took firm and lasting form.

The Kelts had formerly lived under a clan system which, extending over vast districts, yet displayed in each spot characteristic weaknesses which the hostility of every neighbour rendered fatal. Then the Romans had introduced a military administrative constitution, which displaced this tribal system, while it also subjected Britain to the universal Empire, of which it formed only an unimportant province. A characteristic form of life was first built up in Britain by the Anglo-Saxons on the ruins of the Roman rule. The union into which they entered with the civilised world was the freely chosen one of the religion of the human race; they had no other connexion to control them. Their whole energies being concentrated on the island, they gave it for the first time, though continually at war with each other, an independent position.

Their constitution combines the ideas of the army and the tribe: it is the constitution of armies of colonists bringing with them domestic institutions which had been theirs from time immemorial. A society of freemen of the same stock, who divided the soil among themselves in such a manner that the number of the hides corresponded to that of the families (for among no people was there a stronger conception of separate ownership), they composed the armed array of the country, and by their union maintained that peace at home which again secured each man's life and property. At their head stands a royal family, of the highest nobility, which traces its origin to the gods, and has by far the largest possessions; from it, by birth and by election combined, proceeds the King; who then, sceptre in hand, presides in the court of justice, and in the field has the banner carried before him; he is the Lord, to whom men owe fidelity; the Guardian, to whom the public roads and navigable rivers belong, who disposes of the undivided land. Yet he does not stand originally so high above other men that his murder cannot be expiated by a wergeld, of which one share falls to his family—not a larger one than for any other of its members,—and the other to the collective community, since the prince belongs to the former by birth, to the latter by his office. Between the simple freeman and the prince appear the eorls, ealdormen, and thanes, in some instances raised above the mass by noble birth or by larger possessions, natural chiefs of districts and hundreds, in others promoted by service in the King's court and in the field, sometimes specially bound to him by personal allegiance: they are the Witan who have elected him out of his family (in a few instances they depose him); they concur in giving laws, they take part in making peace. Now the bishops take place by their side. They appear with the ealdormen in the judicial meetings of the counties: if the Gerefa neglects his duty, it is for them to step in; yet they have also their own spiritual jurisdiction. It is a spiritual and temporal organisation of small extent, yet of a certain self-sufficing completeness. Many of the present shires correspond to the old kingdoms, and bear their names to this day. The bishops' sees often coincide with the seats of royalty; for the kings wished each to have a bishop to himself in his little territory, since they had to endow the bishopric. How many regulations still in force date from these times!

The Anglo-Saxons always had an immediate and near relation to the kingdom of the Franks.

It was with the daughter of a Frankish prince that the first impulse towards conversion came into a Saxon royal house. By the Anglo-Saxons again the conversion of inner Germany was carried out, in opposition to the same Scoto-Irish element which they withstood in Britain. Carl the Great thought it expedient to inform the Mercian King Offa of the progress of Christianity among the Saxons in Germany: he looked on him as his natural ally. Both kingdoms had moreover a common interest as against the free British populations on their western marches, who were allied with each other across the sea: decisive campaigns of Carl the Great and King Egbert of Wessex coincide in point of time, and may have supported each other.

Similarly, we may suppose that Egbert, who lived a number of years as an exile at Carl's court, and could not have remained uninfluenced by his mode of government and improved military tactics, was then also incited and enabled, after his return, to subdue the little kingdoms and unite them with Wessex: by the side of the 'Francia' of the continent he created in the island a united 'Anglia.' But still there subsisted a yet greater difference. Sprung from the stock of Cerdic, Egbert belonged to the popular royalty which we find throughout at the head of the invading Germans; he is, so far, more like the Merovingians whom Carl's predecessors overthrew, than like Carl himself; and he was almost entirely destitute of that strong groundwork of military institutions on which the Carolingians supported themselves. His rise depended much more on the fact that the old families in Mercia, Northumbria, and Kent had disappeared, and the succession in general had become doubtful; after Egbert had conquered the claimants to the throne in a great and bloody battle, he was recognised by the Witans of the several kingdoms as their common prince, and his family as that which in fact it now was,—the leading one of all. After the example of Pipin's family, whose alliance with the Papacy was the most important historical event of the epoch and founded Western Christendom, the descendants of Cerdic also got themselves anointed by the popes—for the religious movement still had the predominance over every other. The amalgamation of the tribes and kingdoms found its expression in the Church, through the prestige and rank of the Archbishop of Canterbury, almost earlier than it did in the State; the unity of the Church broke down the antipathies of the tribes, and prepared the way for that of the kingdoms. In the midst of this work of construction, so incomplete as yet, but so full of hope, of these birthpangs of a new life, the very existence of the country was threatened by the rise of a new Great Power. For so may we well designate the influence which the Scandinavian North exercised by land over Eastern Europe, and at the same time over all the Western coasts by sea.

Only a part of the German peoples had been influenced by the idea of the Empire or the Church; the inborn heathenism of the rest, irritated by the losses it had sustained and the dangers that continually threatened it, roused itself for the most formidable onslaught that the civilised world has ever had to withstand from the heroic and barbarous children of Nature.

The mischief they wrought in Britain, from the middle of the ninth century onwards, is indescribable.

The Scoto-Irish schools, then in their most flourishing state (they trained John Scotus Erigena, of all the scholars of that time the man who had the widest intellectual range), fell before the Danish, not the Anglo-Saxon assaults; an element of intellectual activity which might have been of the greatest importance was thus lost to the Western world. But the Northmen persecuted the Romano-English forms as bitterly as they did the Irish. In the places where those Anglo-Saxon scholars had been trained, who then enlightened the West, the Northmen planted the banner which announced utter destruction; with twofold rapacity they threw themselves on the more remote abbeys which seemed to derive protection from their inaccessibility, and to guarantee it by their dignity; in searching for the treasures which they believed had been placed in them for security, they destroyed the monuments and means of instruction which were really there; in Medeshamstede, where there was a rich library, the flames raged for fourteen days. The half-formed union of the various districts into one kingdom seems to have crippled rather than strengthened the power of local resistance: the Danes became masters of Kent and of East-Anglia, of Northumberland, and even of Mercia; at last Wessex too, after already suffering many losses, was invaded; from both sides at the same moment, from the inland and from the coast, the deluge of robber-hordes poured over its whole extent.

Things had come to such a point that the Anglo-Saxon community seemed inevitably devoted to the same ruin which had overtaken first the Britons and then the Romans, they seemed doomed to make way for another reconstruction. Britain would have become an outpost of the restored heathenism, which could then have been with difficulty repulsed from the Eastern and Western Frankish empires, afflicted as they were by similar attacks, and governed by the discordant and weak princes who then ruled them. At this moment of peril King Alfred appeared. It was not merely for his own interests, nor merely for those of England, but for those of the world, that he fought. He is rightly called 'the Great;' a title fairly due only to those who have maintained great universal interests, and not merely those of their own country.

The distress of the moment, and the deliverance from it, have been kept in imperishable remembrance by popular sagas and church legends. It is well worth the trouble to trace out in the authenticated traditions, brief as they are, the causes that decided the event. We may state them as follows:—Since the attacks of the Vikings were especially ruinous, from their occupation of the strong places whence they could command and plunder the open country, one step in the work of liberation was taken when Alfred, for the first time, wrested from them a stronghold which they had seized, deep in the west. Then he, too, occupied strong positions, and knew how to defend them. With the bravest and most devoted of his nobles, and of the population that had not yet submitted, he established a hill-fortress on a height rising like an island out of the standing waters and marshlands in the still only slightly cultivated land of Somersetshire; this not only served him as an asylum, but also as a central point from which he too ranged through the land far and wide, like the enemy, except that his object was to guard it, and make it ring once more with the already forgotten name of the King. Around his banners gathered, with reviving courage, the population of the neighbouring districts also: the Saxons could again appear in the open field; from their advancing shield-wall the disorderly onsets of the Vikings recoiled, the victory was theirs. Hereupon, moreover, as if the decision between the two religions depended on the result of the war, the leader of the heathens came over to Christianity, and took an Anglo-Saxon name. The Danes attached themselves to the principles and the powers which they had come forth to destroy.

King Alfred is a marvellous phenomenon: suffering from a disease which sometimes broke out with violence, and which he never ceased to feel for a single day of his life, he not merely withstood the extreme of peril at that moment so big with ruin, but also founded a system of resistance throughout the kingdom, in which his arms so worked together by sea and land that each new band of Vikings betook themselves again to their ships, and those that had already penetrated into the country, gave way step by step. We remark with interest how, under Alfred and his children, his son who succeeded him, and his manlike daughter, the protecting fortresses advance from place to place, and provide free space for the Anglo-Saxon community. The culture already existing, the whole future of which had been saved by Alfred, attained in him its fullest development. How many years had passed since the hour when an illuminated initial letter gave him his first taste for a book, before he could master even the elementary branches of knowledge! then he devoted his whole efforts to instil new life into the studies that had almost perished, and to give them a national character. He not merely translated a number of the later authors of antiquity, whose works had contributed most to the transmission of scientific culture; in the episodes which he interweaves in them he shows a desire for knowledge that reaches far beyond them; but especially we find in them a reflective and thoughtful mind, solid sense at peace with itself, a fresh way of viewing the world, a lively power of observation. This King introduced the German mind with its learning and reflection into the literature of the world; he stands at the head of the prose-writers and historians in a German tongue—the people's King of the most primeval kind, who is also the teacher of his people. We know his laws, in which extracts from the books of Moses are combined with restored legal usages of German origin; in him the traditions of antiquity are interpenetrated by the original tendencies of the German mind. We completely weaken the impression made on us by this great figure, so important in his first limited and arduous efforts, by comparing him with the brilliant names of antiquity. Each man is what he is in his own place.

Though the Anglo-Saxon monarchy wanted that element of authority which the kings of other German tribes drew from the Roman government by transmission or succession, yet it had strengthened itself, like the others, by union with the Church. Alfred, too, was at Rome in his boyhood: it stood him in good stead that he had been anointed, and, as men said, adopted by a Roman pope. In the reconquest of the land, Church ideas had played an important part. It was impossible to drive out the invading foes, they could only be held in check; never would they have submitted to the Anglo-Saxon commonwealth had they not at the same time been converted to Christianity. Nothing, moreover, contributed more to this than the effort, which was then the order of the day in the Christian world, to base the organisation of the Church on monasticism: from Italy this tendency spread to Germany, from South France to North, from thence to England, where it produced its greatest effect. Now the power of conversion is inherent only in sharply-defined doctrines; and it was precisely this tendency that penetrated the Northern natures: the sons of the Vikings became the champions of monachism; to the fury with which the fathers had destroyed the monasteries succeeded in the sons a zeal to restore them. And in what good stead this stood the Anglo-Saxon kings! The kingly power obtained, through the splendour which the union with religion bestowed on its victorious arms, a reverential recognition by the old native population as well as by the invaders.

Alfred's grandson had regained Northumbria by a somewhat doubtful title, and had then maintained his right in a great battle, renowned in song; his great-grandson, Edgar, in one of his charters thanks the grace of God which had permitted him to extend his rule further than his predecessors, over the islands and seas as far as Norway, and over a great part of Ireland. We are not to look on it as a mere piece of vanity, when he seeks after new titles for his power, when he calls himself Basileus and Imperator; the former is the title of the Eastern, the latter of the Western emperors; he will not yield the precedence to either the one or the other, though the latter are so closely related to him by blood. We cannot express the feeling of a supreme power, independent of men, derived from the grace of God, the King of kings, more strongly than it was expressed by Edgar under Dunstan's influence; the ruling motives of life in Church and State make it conceivable that a monkish hierarch, such as Dunstan, shared, as it were, the King's power, and shaped the course of the authority of the state.

It was still the ancestral Anglo-Saxon crown which glittered on Edgar's head, but, if we may so say, its splendour had at the same time received a monkish and hierarchic colouring.


[2] The words of some MSS. in Caesar's Commentaries, iv. 25, 'deserite, milites, si vultis, aquilam, atque hostibus prodite,' might well be taken for the genuine words, originally noted down in his Ephemerides (journal).

[3] Brettanian mentoi hoi Romaioi anasosasthai ouketi eschon, all' ousa hupo tyrannois ap' autou emene. Procop. de bello Vand. I. No. 2. p. 318 ed. Bonn. Compare Zosimus, vi. 4. on, we may assume, the better authority of Olympiodorus.

[4] The simplest form of the Saga occurs in Gildas, with very few historical ingredients. Nennius enlarges it with Anglo-Saxon traditions. Beda has combined both with some notices from the real history. Since the departure of the Romans was rightly fixed about 409, and Gildas said the Britons had rest for forty years, Beda settled that the Saxons arrived in 449.

[5] Beda, Hist. Eccl. ii. 2. Some have wished to consider the remark, that Augustine had been then long dead, as a later interpretation, 'ad tollendam labem caedis Bangorensis;' this, however, is against the spirit of that age.

[6] 'Omnem orbem, quocunque ecclesia Christi diffusa est per diversas nationes et linguas uno temporis ordine.' Beda, Hist. Eccl. iii. 14.



In the families of German national kings we not unfrequently find among the women a hideous mixture of ambition, revenge, and bloodthirstiness, which brings kings and kingdoms to ruin. In England it appears, despite of Christianity and monastic discipline, in its most atrocious form after the death of Edgar. His eldest son, for some years his successor, was treacherously murdered by his stepmother (who wished to advance her own son to the throne), at a visit which he paid her as he returned from hunting. It was that Edward whose innocence and leaning towards the Church have gained him the name of Martyr. The son of the murderess did ascend the throne, but the guilt of blood seemed to cleave to the crown; he met with the obedience of his father's times no more. The Anglo-Saxon magnates seized the occasion which this crime, or the subsequent vacillation of the government between violence and weakness, offered them, to aim at an independent position, and to indulge in a personal policy, each man for himself.

At this very moment the Danes renewed their invasions.

Little did Edgar and those around him understand their position, when they attributed the peace they enjoyed to their own military power, in the splendid and extensive display of which they took delight. In reality it was the state of the world at large that brought this peace about. First of all, it was due to the settlement of the Normans in North Gaul, under the condition that they should be of one religion and one realm, and should fulfil the natural duty of keeping off fresh incursions: the current of Northern invasion thus lost its aim and direction. But it was of still more decisive effect at the first that the energetic family which arose in North Germany, and even assumed the imperial authority, not content with warding off the Danes, sought them out in their own country instead, and carried the war against heathenism into the North. The Saxons beyond the sea were indebted for the peace which they enjoyed chiefly to the great and splendid deeds of arms of their kindred on the mainland. How much all depended on this became very clear when Otto II, in the full glow of great enterprises, met with an unlooked for and early death. Within the empire two able women and their advisers succeeded in maintaining peace; but in Denmark, as in other neighbouring countries, the hostile elements got the upper hand. The Danish king's son, Sven Otto, abandoned the religion which he regarded as a yoke laid on him by the German conquerors; he could not destroy the order of things established in Denmark, but he revived the old sea-king's life, and threw himself with the old superiority of the Viking arms on the English coasts.

Ethelred on this attack fell into the greatest distress, mainly because he was not sure of his great nobles. How often did the commanders of the fleet desert it at the moment of action, and the leaders of the inland levies go over to the enemy! Ethelred sought for safety by an alliance with the Duchy of Normandy, then daily rising to greater power. Thus supported, he proceeded to unjustifiable outrages against his domestic as well as his foreign foes. The great nobles whom he suspected were mercilessly killed or exiled, and their children blinded. The Danes who remained in the land he caused to be murdered all on one day.

The consequences of this deed necessarily recoiled upon himself. When Sven some years after again landed with redoubled enmity, which was to a certain extent justified, he experienced no effectual resistance whatever; Ethelred had to fly before him and quit the island. But now that Sven too, who had been already saluted by many as King, died in the first enjoyment of his victory, a question arose which extended far beyond the personal relations and embarrassments of the moment.

The influence always exercised by the Witans of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in determining the succession to the throne remained much the same when they were all fused into a single kingdom; even among the descendants of Alfred, the great men designated the sovereign. In the disturbed state of things in which they now found themselves, the lawful King having fled, and the other, who had put himself into actual possession of the supreme authority, being dead, they framed the largest conception of their right. They formally made conditions with Ethelred for his return, and he consented to their demands through his son.[7] Since he, however, did not fulfil his promise—for how could he have altered his nature?—they held themselves released from their engagement to maintain this family on the throne. Sven's son, Canute, had taken his father's place among the Danes; he had been long ago baptised, he was of a character which commanded confidence, and possessed at the time overwhelming power. After Ethelred's death the lay and spiritual chiefs of England decided to abandon the house of Cerdic for ever, and to recognise Canute as their King. How many jarls and thanes of Danish origin do we find around the kings under all the last governments. Edgar was especially blamed for the very reason that he took them under his protection. But they had been subjected only by war; no hereditary sentiment of natural loyalty attached them to the West Saxon royal house. The ecclesiastical aristocracy was besides determined by religious considerations; to them these disasters and crimes seemed sufficient proof of the truth of those prophecies of coming woe which Dunstan was believed to have uttered. They repaired to Canute at Southampton, and concluded a peace with him, the conditions of which were that they would abandon the descendants of Ethelred for ever, and recognise Canute as their King; he, on the other hand, promised to fulfil the duties of a King truly, in both spiritual and temporal relations.[8] Yet once more, Ethelred's eldest son, Edmund Ironsides, who was himself half a Dane by birth, roused himself to a vigorous resistance: London and a part of the nobility took his side; he gained through force of arms a settlement by which, though indeed he lost the best part of the land and the capital itself, he maintained the crown; he died however, soon after, and then the whole country recognised Canute as King. The last scion of the royal house in the land was banished, and all the claims of the family to the crown again declared void. The Anglo-Saxon magnates undertook to make a money payment to the Danish host; in return they received the pledge from the King's hand, and the oath by his soul taken by his chiefs.[9] It was a treaty between the Anglo-Saxon and the Danish chiefs, by which the former received the King of the latter as also their own.

This extremely important event links the centuries together, and determines the future fortunes of England. The kingly house, whose right and pre-eminence was connected with the earliest settlements, which had completed the union of the realm and delivered it from the worst distress, was at a moment of moral deterioration and disaster excluded by the spiritual and temporal chiefs, of Anglo-Saxon and Danish origin. They had first tried to limit it, to bind it by its own promise; when this led to nothing, they annihilated its right by a formal resolution of the realm, and procured peace by raising to the throne another sovereign who had no right by birth. Canute did not owe the crown to conquest, though his greater power contributed to the result, but to election, which now appeared as the superior right: hitherto the Witan had always exercised it within the limits of the royal family; this time they disregarded that family altogether.

Canute decreed or allowed some bloody acts of violence, in order to strengthen the power that had fallen to his lot; but afterwards he administered it with a noble spirit answering to his position. He became the leading sovereign of the North: men reckoned five or six kingdoms as subject to him. England was the chief of them all, even for him; it was in possession of the culture and religion which he wished should prevail in the rest: the missionaries of the North went forth from Canterbury. England itself, however, gained a higher position in the world by its union with a power which ruled as far as Norway and North America, and carried on commerce with the East by the Baltic. In Gothland the great emporium of the West, Arabic as well as Anglo-Danish coins are found; the former were carried from the North as far as England. Canute favoured the Anglo-Saxon mode of life; he liked to be designated the 'successor of Edgar;' he confirmed his legislation; and it was his intention, at least, to rule according to the laws: as he even submitted himself to the military regulations of the Huskarls, so he commanded right and law to be administered in civil matters without respect to his own person.

But a union of such different kingdoms could only be a transitory phenomenon. Canute himself thought of leaving England again independent under one of his sons.

With this object he had married Ethelred's widow Emma. For, according to Anglo-Saxon ideas, the Queen was not merely the King's wife, but also sovereign of the land, in her own right. It was settled that the children of this marriage should succeed him in England. Probably Canute did not wish the inheritance of the crown in his house to depend merely on the goodwill of the Witan.

After Canute's death we can observe a wavering between the principles of election and birthright. The magnates again elected, but limited their choice to the King's house. After the extinction of the Danish-Norman family, they came back to the English-Norman one; they called the son of Ethelred and Emma, Edward the Confessor, to the throne of his fathers, though, it is true, without leaving him much power. This lay rather in the hands of the Earls Godwin of Kent and Leofric of Mercia; especially in the former, whose wife was related to Canute, did the Anglo-Saxon spirit of independence energetically manifest itself. He was once banished, but returned and recovered all his offices. When however, Edward too died without issue, the dynastic question once more came before the English magnates. It might have seemed most consistent to recall the Aetheling Edgar a member of the house of Cerdic from exile, and to carry on the previous form of government under his name. But the thoughts of the English chiefs no longer turned in that direction. Not very long before a king from the ranks of the native nobility had ascended the throne of the Carolingians in the West Frank empire; in the East Frank, or German empire, men had seen first the mightiest duke, then one of the most distinguished counts, attain the imperial dignity. Why should it not be possible for something similar to happen in England also? The very day on which Edward the Confessor died, Godwin's son, Harold, was elected by the magnates of the kingdom, and crowned without delay[10] (Jan. 5, 1066). The event now happened which was only implied in what occurred at Canute's accession: the house of Cerdic was abandoned, and the further step taken of raising another native family to its throne.

It was not this time a pressing necessity that brought it about; but we cannot deny that, if carried through, it opened out an immeasurable prospect.

For such would have been the case, if the attempt to found a Germanic Anglo-Saxon kingdom under Harold, and maintain it free from any preponderating foreign influence had been successful. By recalling Edgar the influence of Normandy, against which the antipathies of the nation had been awakened under the last government, would have been renewed. But just as little were those claims to be recognised which the Northern kings put forward for the re-establishment of their supremacy. Even as regards the Papacy, the government began to adopt an independent line of conduct.

The question now was, whether the Anglo-Saxon nation would be unanimous and strong enough to maintain such a haughty position on all sides.

The first attack came from the North; it was all the more dangerous, from the fact that an ambitious brother of the new King supported it: only by an extreme effort were these enemies repelled. But, at the same moment, an attack was threatened from another enemy of infinitely greater importance—Duke William of Normandy. It was not only this sovereign, and his land, but a new phase of development in the history of the world, with which England now entered into conflict.

The Conquest.

Out of the antagonism of nationalities, of the Empire and the Church, of the overlord and the great chiefs, in the midst of invasions of foreign peoples and armies, the local resistance to them and their occupations of territory, a new world had, as it were, been forming itself in Southern Europe, and especially in Gaul. Still more decidedly than in England had the invading Vikings in France attached themselves to the national element, even in the second generation they had given up their language; they discovered at the same time a form which reconciled the membership in the kingdom, and the recognition of the common faith, with provincial freedom. In France no native power successfully opposed and checked the advancing Normans, such as that which the Danes had encountered in England. On the contrary they exercised the greatest influence over the foundation of a new dynasty. A system developed itself over the whole realm, in which, both in the provincial authorities and in the lower degrees of rank, the possession of land and share in public office, feudalism and freedom, interpenetrated each other, and made a common-weal which yet harmonised with all the inclinations that lend charm and colouring to individual life. The old migratory impulse and spirit of warlike enterprise set before itself religious aims also, which lent it a higher sanction; war for the Church, and conquest (which meant for each man a personal occupation of land) were combined in one. Starting from Normandy, where great warlike families were formed that found no occupation at home (for these young populations are wont to multiply quickest), North French love of war and habits of war transplanted themselves to Spain and to Italy. How must it have elevated their spirit of enterprise when in the latter country the Papacy, which had just thrown off the supremacy of the emperor, and entered on a new stage in the development of its power, made common cause with their arms, and a practised Norman warrior, Robert Guiscard, appeared as Duke of Apulia and Calabria 'by grace of God and of S. Peter and, under his protection, of Sicily also in time to come'![11] The Pope gave him lands in fief, which had hitherto belonged to the Greek Empire, and which the Germans had been unable to conquer; he promised, in return, to defend the prerogatives of S. Peter. Between the hierarchy which was striving to perfect its supremacy, and the warlike chivalry of the 11th century, an alliance was formed like that once concluded with the leaders of the Frankish host. The ideas were already stirring from which proceeded the Crusades, the foundation of the Spanish kingdoms, and the creation of the Latin Empire at Constantinople. In the princely fiefs of the French Crown, and above all in Normandy, they seized on men's minds. Chivalrous life and hierarchic institutions, dialectic and poetry, continual war at home and ceaseless aspirations abroad, were here fused into a living whole.

In the Germanic countries also this close alliance of hierarchy and chivalry now sought to win influence, but here it met with a strenuous resistance. In England, Edward the Confessor had tried to prepare the way for it: Godwin and his house opposed it. And when the former named the Norman Robert Archbishop of Canterbury, and the latter drove him out, the English quarrels became connected with those of Rome; Stigand, the archbishop put in by Godwin, received his pallium from Pope Benedict X, who had been elected in the old tumultuous manner once more by the neighbouring Roman barons, but had to succumb to Hildebrand's zeal for a regular election by the cardinals, on which the emancipation of the Papacy depended. It seemed, then, intolerable at Rome that there should be a primate of the English Church, connected by his Church position with a phase of the supreme priesthood now condemned and abolished: it is very intelligible that this priesthood in its present form took up a hostile position towards the England of that time. In this, moreover, it found an ally ready to act in Duke William of Normandy, who wished to be regarded as the born champion of the Anglo-Saxon dynasty, and as the natural successor to its rights. Once already his father had collected a fleet to restore the exiled Aethelings, and was only kept back from an invasion by unfavourable weather. There had often since been rumours, that Edward had destined Duke William to be his successor; men asserted that Harold had previously recognised this right, and that in return William's daughter, and a part of the land as an independent possession, had been promised him.[12] In his own position William had cleared the ground for himself with a strong hand. He had beaten his feudal lord in the open field, and thus not only recovered a frontier fortress lost during his minority, but also strengthened the independence of the duchy. At the same time William had vanquished his rebellious vassals in arms, banished them, deprived them of their possessions, and got rid, with the Pope's consent, of an archbishop who was allied with them. Death freed him from another mighty opponent, the Duke of Brittany, who threatened him with a great maritime expedition. It throws a certain light on his policy, to see how he made himself master of the county of Maine in 1062. On the ground that Count Heribert, whom he had supported in his quarrel with Anjou, had become his vassal and made him his heir,[13] he overran Maine, and put his adherents in possession of the fortresses which commanded the land. However we may decide as to the details told us about his relations to Edward and Harold, it seems undeniable that William had received provisional promises from both—for Harold loved to side with Edward. He was not the man to put up with their being broken. The system, however, which through Harold's accession gained the upper hand in England, was in itself hostile to the Norman one: and that a king of England like the present might some day become dangerous to the duke, amidst all the other hostilities which threatened him, is clear. To these motives was now added the approbation of the Roman See. The Pope's chief Council deliberated on the enterprise, above all did the archdeacon of the Church, Hildebrand, declare himself in its favour. He was reproached—then or at a later time—with being the author of bloodshed; he declared that his conscience acquitted him, since he knew well, that the higher William mounted, the more useful he would be to the Church.[14] Alexander II now sent the duke the banner of the Church. As a few years before Robert Guiscard had become duke, so now a Norman duke was to become king, in the service of the Church. The Normans were still divided in their views as to the enterprise, but when this news arrived, all opposition ceased, for in the service of S. Peter and the Church men believed themselves secure of success; then lay and spiritual vassals emulously armed ships and men; in the harbour of S. Valery, which belonged to one of those who had been last gained over, the Count of Ponthieu, the fleet and the troops gathered together.[15] The Count of Flanders, the duke's father-in-law, secretly favoured the enterprise; another of his nearest relations, Count Odo of Champagne, brought up his troops in person; Count Eustace of Boulogne armed, to avenge on Godwin's house an affront he had once suffered at Dover; a number of leading Breton counts and lords attached themselves to William in opposition to their duke, who cherished wholly different projects. To the lords and knights of North France were joined many of lower rank, whose names show that they came from Gascony, Burgundy, the duchy of France, or the neighbouring districts belonging to the German Empire. Of their own free will they ranged themselves round William, to vindicate the right which he claimed to the English crown, but each man naturally entertained brilliant hopes also for himself. William is depicted as a man of vast bodily strength, which none could surpass or weary out, with a strong hardy frame, a cool head, an expression in his features which exactly intimated the violence with which he followed up his enemies, destroyed their states, and burnt their houses. Yet all was not passionate desire in him. He honoured his mother, he was true to his wife. Never did he undertake a quarrel without giving fair notice, and certainly never without having well prepared for it beforehand. He knew how to keep up a warlike spirit in his vassals: there were seen with him only splendid men and able leaders; he kept strict discipline. So also he had seized the moment for his enterprise, at which the political relations of Europe were favourable to him. The two great realms, which might otherwise have well interposed, the East Frank (or the Roman-German) as well as the West Frank, were under kings not yet of age: the guardianship of the latter lay with the Count of Flanders, who thought he did enough in not standing openly by his son-in-law, of the former with great bishops devoted heart and soul to the hierarchic system.[16] Harold, on the other hand, had no friend or ally, in North or East, in South or in West. To encounter the combined efforts of a great European coalition he had only himself and his Anglo-Saxons to rely on. Harold is depicted as coming forth perfect from the hands of nature, without blemish from head to foot, personally brave before the enemy, gentle among his own people, and endowed with natural eloquence. His enemy's passion for, and knowledge of, war were not in him; the taste of the Anglo-Saxons was directed more to peaceful enjoyments than to ceaseless wars. At this moment too they were weakened by great losses in the last bloody war; many of the most trustworthy and bravest had fallen, others wavered in their fidelity; Harold had not been able to put even the coasts in a state of defence; William landed without resistance, to demand his crown from him. When reminded of his promise Harold was believed to have answered in the very spirit of Anglo-Saxon independence, that he had no right to make any such promise without the consent of the Anglo-Saxon chiefs and people. And not to meet the invading foe instantly at the sword's point would have seemed to him disgraceful cowardice. And so William and Harold, the North French knights and the national war-array of the Anglo-Saxons, encountered at Hastings. Harold fell at the very beginning of the fight. The Normans, according to their wont, knew how to separate their enemies by a pretended flight, and then by a sudden return to surround and destroy them in isolated bodies. It was the iron-clad, yet rapidly moving cavalry, which decided the battle.[17]

William expected, now that his rival had fallen, to be recognised by the Anglo-Saxons as their King. Instead of this the chiefs and the capital raised Edgar the Aetheling, grandson of Edmund Ironsides, to the throne: as though William would retire before a scion of the old West-Saxon house, of which he professed to be the champion. He held firmly to the transfer made to him by the last king without regard to any third person, ratified as it was by the Roman See, and marched on the capital.

Edgar was a boy, and the magnates were at variance as to who should have the authority to exercise guardianship over him. When William appeared before the city, and threatened the walls with his siege-machines, it too lost courage. The embassy which it sent him was amazed at the grandeur and splendour of his appearance, was convinced as to the right which King Edward had transferred to him,[18] and penetrated by the danger which a resistance, in itself hopeless, would bring on the city. Aldermen and people abandoned Edgar, and recognised William as King. There is an old story, that the county of Kent, on capitulating, made good conditions for itself. To the nobles also, who submitted by degrees, similar terms may have been accorded, but their position was almost entirely altered. We need notice only this one point. Their chief right, which they exercised to a perhaps unauthorised extent, was that of electing the King; they had now elected twice, but the first election was annulled by defeat in the open field, the second by increasing superiority in arms; they had to recognise the Conqueror, who claimed by inheritance, as their King, whether they would or no. There is something almost symbolic of the resulting state of things in the story of William's coronation, which was now celebrated by the tomb of Edward the Confessor at Westminster. For the first time the voices of the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans were united to greet him as King, but the discordant outcry of the two languages seemed a sign of conflict to the troops gathered outside, and made the warlike fury, so hardly kept under control, boil up again in them; they set the houses of London on fire. Whilst all hurried from the church, the ceremony it is said was completed by shuddering priests in the light of the flames: the new King himself, who at other times did not know what fear was, trembled.[19]

By this coronation-acclaim, two constituent elements of the world, which had been fundamentally at conflict with each other, became indissolubly united.

That against which the Anglo-Saxons had set themselves to guard with all their strength during the last period, the inroad of the Norman-French element into their Church and their State, was now accomplished in fullest measure. William's maxim was, that all who had taken arms against him and his right had forfeited their property; those who escaped, and the heirs of those who had fallen, were deprived alike. In a short time we find William's leading comrades in the war, as earls of Hereford, Buckingham, Shrewsbury, Cornwall; his valiant brothers were endowed with hundreds of fiefs; and when the insurrection which quickly broke out led to new outlawries and new confiscations, all the counties were filled with French knights. From Caen came over the blocks of freestone to build castles and towers, by which they hoped to bridle the towns and the country. It is an exaggeration to assume a complete transfer of property from the one people to the other; among the tenants in chief about half the names are still Anglo-Saxon. At first, those who from any even accidental cause had not actually met William in arms were left in possession of their lands, though without hereditary right: later, after they had conducted themselves quietly for some time, this too was given back to them. In the next century it excited surprise that so many great properties should have remained in the hands of the Anglo-Saxons.[20] It would have been altogether against William's plan, to treat the Anglo-Saxons as having no rights. He wished to appear as the rightful successor of the Anglo-Saxon kings: by their laws he would abide, only adding the legal usages of the Normans to those of the Danes, Mercians, and West Saxons; and it was not merely through his will, but also by its higher form, and connexion with the ideas of the century, that the Norman law gained the upper hand. But however much we may deduct from the usual exaggerations, this fact remains, that the change of ownership which took place, like the change in the constitution and the general state of things, was of enormous extent: the military and judicial power passed entirely into the hands of the victors in the war. And in the Church alterations no less thoroughgoing ensued. Under the authority of Papal legates, the great office-holders of the English Church, who had been opposed to the newly arisen hierarchic system, were mercilessly deprived of their places. The King was afterwards personally on tolerably good terms with Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but was not inclined on his account to oppose the Church. The archbishopric, and with it the primacy of England, passed to the man in whom the union of the Church authority and orthodoxy of that which we may call the especially hierarchic century was most vividly represented, the man who had been the chief agent in establishing the dogma of Transubstantiation, the great teacher of Bec, Lanfranc. In most of the bishoprics and abbeys we find Normans of kindred tendency. It was precisely in the enterprise against England that the hierarchy concluded its compact with the hereditary feudal state, which was all the more lasting in that they were both still in process of formation.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse