HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE, VOLUME I
JOHN RICHARD GREEN, M.A. Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford
EARLY ENGLAND, 449-1071 FOREIGN KINGS, 1071-1204 THE CHARTER, 1204-1216
First Edition, Demy 8vo, November 1877; Reprinted December 1877, 1881, 1885, 1890. Eversley Edition, 1895. London MacMillan and Co. and New York 1895
I Dedicate this Book
TO TWO DEAR FRIENDS MY MASTERS IN THE STUDY OF ENGLISH HISTORY
EDWARD AUGUSTUS FREEMAN AND WILLIAM STUBBS
Book I—Early England—449-1071
Authorities for Book I
Chapter I—The English Conquest of Britain—449-577
Chapter II—The English Kingdoms—577-796
Chapter III—Wessex and the Northmen—796-947
Chapter IV—Feudalism and the Monarchy—954-1071
Book II—England under Foreign Kings—1071-1204
Authorities for Book II
Chapter I—The Conqueror—1071-1085
Chapter II—The Norman Kings—1085-1154
Chapter III—Henry the Second—1154-1189
Chapter IV—The Angevin Kings—1189-1204
Book III—The Charter—1204-1307
Authorities for Book III
LIST OF MAPS
Britain and the English Conquest (v1-map-1.png)
The English Kingdoms in A.D. 600 (v1-map-2.jpg)
England and the Danelaw (v1-map-3.jpg)
The Dominions of the Angevins (v1-map-4.jpg)
Ireland just before the English Invasion (v1-map-5.jpg)
BOOK I EARLY ENGLAND 449-1071
AUTHORITIES FOR BOOK I 449-1071
For the conquest of Britain by the English our authorities are scant and imperfect. The only extant British account is the "Epistola" of Gildas, a work written probably about A.D. 560. The style of Gildas is diffuse and inflated, but his book is of great value in the light it throws on the state of the island at that time, and above all as the one record of the conquest which we have from the side of the conquered. The English conquerors, on the other hand, have left jottings of their conquest of Kent, Sussex, and Wessex in the curious annals which form the opening of the compilation now known as the "English" or "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," annals which are undoubtedly historic, though with a slight mythical intermixture. For the history of the English conquest of mid-Britain or the Eastern Coast we possess no written materials from either side; and a fragment of the Annals of Northumbria embodied in the later compilation ("Historia Britonum") which bears the name of Nennius alone throws light on the conquest of the North.
From these inadequate materials however Dr. Guest has succeeded by a wonderful combination of historical and archaeological knowledge in constructing a narrative of the conquest of Southern and South-Western Britain which must serve as the starting-point for all future enquirers.
This narrative, so far as it goes, has served as the basis of the account given in my text; and I can only trust that it may soon be embodied in some more accessible form than that of a series of papers in the Transactions of the Archaeological Institute. In a like way, though Kemble's "Saxons in England" and Sir F. Palgrave's "History of the English Commonwealth" (if read with caution) contain much that is worth notice, our knowledge of the primitive constitution of the English people and the changes introduced into it since their settlement in Britain must be mainly drawn from the "Constitutional History" of Professor Stubbs.
Baeda's "Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum," a work of which I have spoken in my text, is the primary authority for the history of the Northumbrian overlordship which followed the Conquest. It is by copious insertions from Baeda that the meagre regnal and episcopal annals of the West Saxons have been brought to the shape in which they at present appear in the part of the English Chronicle which concerns this period. The life of Wilfrid by Eddi, with those of Cuthbert by an anonymous contemporary and by Baeda himself, throws great light on the religious and intellectual condition of the North at the time of its supremacy. But with the fall of Northumbria we pass into a period of historical dearth. A few incidents of Mercian history are preserved among the meagre annals of Wessex in the English Chronicle: but for the most part we are thrown upon later writers, especially Henry of Huntingdon and William of Malmesbury, who, though authors of the twelfth century, had access to older materials which are now lost. A little may be gleaned from biographies such as that of Guthlac of Crowland; but the letters of Boniface and Alcwine, which have been edited by Jaffe in his series of "Monumenta Germanica," form the most valuable contemporary materials for this period.
From the rise of Wessex our history rests mainly on the English Chronicle. The earlier part of this work, as we have said, is a compilation, and consists of (1) Annals of the Conquest of South Britain, and (2) Short Notices of the Kings and Bishops of Wessex expanded by copious insertions from Baeda, and after the end of his work by brief additions from some northern sources. These materials may have been thrown together into their present form in AElfred's time as a preface to the far fuller annals which begin with the reign of AEthelwulf, and which widen into a great contemporary history when they reach that of AElfred himself. After AElfred's day the Chronicle varies much in value. Through the reign of Eadward the Elder it is copious, and a Mercian Chronicle is imbedded in it: it then dies down into a series of scant and jejune entries, broken however with grand battle-songs, till the reign of AEthelred when its fulness returns.
Outside the Chronicle we encounter a great and valuable mass of historical material for the age of AElfred and his successors. The life of AElfred which bears the name of Asser, puzzling as it is in some ways, is probably really Asser's work, and certainly of contemporary authority. The Latin rendering of the English Chronicle which bears the name of AEthelweard adds a little to our acquaintance with this time. The Laws, which form the base of our constitutional knowledge of this period, fall, as has been well pointed out by Mr. Freeman, into two classes. Those of Eadward, AEthelstan, Eadmund, and Eadgar, are like the earlier laws of AEthelberht and Ine, "mainly of the nature of amendments of custom." Those of AElfred, AEthelred, Cnut, with those which bear the name of Eadward the Confessor, "aspire to the character of Codes." They are printed in Mr. Thorpe's "Ancient Laws and Institutes of England," but the extracts given by Professor Stubbs in his "Select Charters" contain all that directly bears on our constitutional growth. A vast mass of Charters and other documents belonging to this period has been collected by Kemble in his "Codex Diplomaticus AEvi Saxonici," and some are added by Mr. Thorpe in his "Diplomatarium Anglo-Saxonicum." Dunstan's biographies have been collected and edited by Professor Stubbs in the series published by the Master of the Rolls.
In the period which follows the accession of AEthelred we are still aided by these collections of royal Laws and Charters, and the English Chronicle becomes of great importance. Its various copies indeed differ so much in tone and information from one another that they may to some extent be looked upon as distinct works, and "Florence of Worcester" is probably the translation of a valuable copy of the "Chronicle" which has disappeared. The translation however was made in the twelfth century, and it is coloured by the revival of national feeling which was characteristic of the time. Of Eadward the Confessor himself we have a contemporary biography (edited by Mr. Luard for the Master of the Rolls) which throws great light on the personal history of the King and on his relations to the house of Godwine.
The earlier Norman traditions are preserved by Dudo of St. Quentin, a verbose and confused writer, whose work was abridged and continued by William of Jumieges, a contemporary of the Conqueror. William's work in turn served as the basis of the "Roman de Rou" composed by Wace in the time of Henry the Second. The primary authority for the Conqueror himself is the "Gesta Willelmi" of his chaplain and violent partizan, William of Poitiers. For the period of the invasion, in which the English authorities are meagre, we have besides these the contemporary "Carmen de Bello Hastingensi," by Guy, Bishop of Amiens, and the pictures in the Bayeux Tapestry. Orderic, a writer of the twelfth century, gossipy and confused but honest and well-informed, tells us much of the religious movement in Normandy, and is particularly valuable and detailed in his account of the period after the battle of Senlac. Among secondary authorities for the Norman Conquest, Simeon of Durham is useful for northern matters, and William of Malmesbury worthy of note for his remarkable combination of Norman and English feeling. Domesday Book is of course invaluable for the Norman settlement. The chief documents for the early history of Anjou have been collected in the "Chroniques d'Anjou" published by the Historical Society of France. Those which are authentic are little more than a few scant annals of religious houses; but light is thrown on them by the contemporary French chronicles. The "Gesta Consulum" is nothing but a compilation of the twelfth century, in which a mass of Angevin romance as to the early story of the Counts is dressed into historical shape by copious quotations from these French historians.
It is possible that fresh light may be thrown on our earlier history when historical criticism has done more than has yet been done for the materials given us by Ireland and Wales. For Welsh history the "Brut y Tywysogion" and the "Annales Cambriae" are now accessible in the series published by the Master of the Rolls; the "Chronicle of Caradoc of Lancarvan" is translated by Powel; the Mabinogion, or Romantic Tales, have been published by Lady Charlotte Guest; and the Welsh Laws collected by the Record Commission. The importance of these, as embodying a customary code of very early date, will probably be better appreciated when we possess the whole of the Brehon Laws, the customary laws of Ireland, which are now being issued by the Irish Laws Commission, and to which attention has justly been drawn by Sir Henry Maine ("Early History of Institutions") as preserving Aryan usages of the remotest antiquity.
The enormous mass of materials which exists for the early history of Ireland, various as they are in critical value, may be seen in Mr. O'Curry's "Lectures on the Materials of Ancient Irish History"; and they may be conveniently studied by the general reader in the "Annals of the Four Masters," edited by Dr. O'Donovan. But this is a mere compilation (though generally a faithful one) made about the middle of the seventeenth century from earlier sources, two of which have been published in the Rolls series. One, the "Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill," is an account of the Danish wars which may have been written in the eleventh century; the other, the "Annals of Loch Ce," is a chronicle of Irish affairs from the end of the Danish wars to 1590. The "Chronicon Scotorum" (in the same series) extends to the year 1150, and though composed in the seventeenth century is valuable from the learning of its author, Duald Mac-Firbis. The works of Colgan are to Irish church affairs what the "Annals of the Four Masters" are to Irish civil history. They contain a vast collection of translations and transcriptions of early saints' lives, from those of Patrick downwards. Adamnan's "Life of Columba" (admirably edited by Dr. Beeves) supplies some details to the story of the Northumbrian kingdom. Among more miscellaneous works we find the "Book of Rights," a summary of the dues and rights of the several over-kings and under-kings, of much earlier date probably than the Norman invasion; and Cormac's "Glossary," attributed to the tenth century and certainly an early work, from which much may be gleaned of legal and social details, and something of the pagan religion of Ireland.
CHAPTER I THE ENGLISH CONQUEST OF BRITAIN 449-577
[Sidenote: Old England]
For the fatherland of the English race we must look far away from England itself. In the fifth century after the birth of Christ the one country which we know to have borne the name of Angeln or the Engleland lay within the district which is now called Sleswick, a district in the heart of the peninsula that parts the Baltic from the northern seas. Its pleasant pastures, its black-timbered homesteads, its prim little townships looking down on inlets of purple water, were then but a wild waste of heather and sand, girt along the coast with a sunless woodland broken here and there by meadows that crept down to the marshes and the sea. The dwellers in this district, however, seem to have been merely an outlying fragment of what was called the Engle or English folk, the bulk of whom lay probably in what is now Lower Hanover and Oldenburg. On one side of them the Saxons of Westphalia held the land from the Weser to the Rhine; on the other the Eastphalian Saxons stretched away to the Elbe. North again of the fragment of the English folk in Sleswick lay another kindred tribe, the Jutes, whose name is still preserved in their district of Jutland. Engle, Saxon, and Jute all belonged to the same Low-German branch of the Teutonic family; and at the moment when history discovers them they were being drawn together by the ties of a common blood, common speech, common social and political institutions. There is little ground indeed for believing that the three tribes looked on themselves as one people, or that we can as yet apply to them, save by anticipation, the common name of Englishmen. But each of them was destined to share in the conquest of the land in which we live; and it is from the union of all of them when its conquest was complete that the English people has sprung.
[Sidenote: The English Village]
Of the temper and life of the folk in this older England we know little. But from the glimpses that we catch of it when conquest had brought them to the shores of Britain their political and social organization must have been that of the German race to which they belonged. In their villages lay ready formed the social and political life which is round us in the England of to-day. A belt of forest or waste parted each from its fellow villages, and within this boundary or mark the "township," as the village was then called from the "tun" or rough fence and trench that served as its simple fortification, formed a complete and independent body, though linked by ties which were strengthening every day to the townships about it and the tribe of which it formed a part. Its social centre was the homestead where the aetheling or eorl, a descendant of the first English settlers in the waste, still handed down the blood and traditions of his fathers. Around this homestead or aethel, each in its little croft, stood the lowlier dwellings of freelings or ceorls, men sprung, it may be, from descendants of the earliest settler who had in various ways forfeited their claim to a share in the original homestead, or more probably from incomers into the village who had since settled round it and been admitted to a share in the land and freedom of the community. The eorl was distinguished from his fellow villagers by his wealth and his nobler blood; he was held by them in an hereditary reverence; and it was from him and his fellow aethelings that host-leaders, whether of the village or the tribe, were chosen in times of war. But this claim to precedence rested simply on the free recognition of his fellow villagers. Within the township every freeman or ceorl was equal. It was the freeman who was the base of village society. He was the "free-necked man" whose long hair floated over a neck which had never bowed to a lord. He was the "weaponed man" who alone bore spear and sword, and who alone preserved that right of self-redress or private war which in such a state of society formed the main check upon lawless outrage.
Among the English, as among all the races of mankind, justice had originally sprung from each man's personal action. There had been a time when every freeman was his own avenger. But even in the earliest forms of English society of which we find traces this right of self-defence was being modified and restricted by a growing sense of public justice. The "blood-wite" or compensation in money for personal wrong was the first effort of the tribe as a whole to regulate private revenge. The freeman's life and the freeman's limb had each on this system its legal price. "Eye for eye," ran the rough code, and "life for life," or for each fair damages. We see a further step towards the modern recognition of a wrong as done not to the individual man but to the people at large in another custom of early date. The price of life or limb was paid, not by the wrong-doer to the man he wronged, but by the family or house of the wrong-doer to the family or house of the wronged. Order and law were thus made to rest in each little group of people upon the blood-bond which knit its families together; every outrage was held to have been done by all who were linked in blood to the doer of it, every crime to have been done against all who were linked in blood to the sufferer from it. From this sense of the value of the family bond as a means of restraining the wrong-doer by forces which the tribe as a whole did not as yet possess sprang the first rude forms of English justice. Each kinsman was his kinsman's keeper, bound to protect him from wrong, to hinder him from wrong-doing, and to suffer with him and pay for him if wrong were done. So fully was this principle recognized that even if any man was charged before his fellow-tribesmen with crime his kinsfolk still remained in fact his sole judges; for it was by their solemn oath of his innocence or his guilt that he had to stand or fall.
[Sidenote: The Land]
As the blood-bond gave its first form to English justice, so it gave their first forms to English society and English warfare. Kinsmen fought side by side in the hour of battle, and the feelings of honour and discipline which held the host together were drawn from the common duty of every man in each little group of warriors to his house. And as they fought side by side on the field, so they dwelled side by side on the soil. Harling abode by Harling, and Billing by Billing; and each "wick" or "ham" or "stead" or "tun" took its name from the kinsmen who dwelled together in it. In this way the home or "ham" of the Billings was Billingham, and the "tun" or township of the Harlings was Harlington. But in such settlements the tie of blood was widened into the larger tie of land. Land with the German race seems at a very early time to have become everywhere the accompaniment of full freedom. The freeman was strictly the free-holder, and the exercise of his full rights as a free member of the community to which he belonged became inseparable from the possession of his "holding" in it. But property had not as yet reached that stage of absolutely personal possession which the social philosophy of a later time falsely regarded as its earliest state. The woodland and pasture-land of an English village were still undivided, and every free villager had the right of turning into it his cattle or swine. The meadow-land lay in like manner open and undivided from hay-harvest to spring. It was only when grass began to grow afresh that the common meadow was fenced off into grass-fields, one for each household in the village; and when hay-harvest was over fence and division were at an end again. The plough-land alone was permanently allotted in equal shares both of corn-land and fallow-land to the families of the freemen, though even the plough-land was; subject to fresh division as the number of claimants grew greater or less.
[Sidenote: Laet and Slave]
It was this sharing in the common land which marked off the freeman or ceorl from the unfree man or laet, the tiller of land which another owned. As the ceorl was the descendant of settlers who, whether from their earlier arrival or from kinship with the original settlers of the village, had been admitted to a share in its land and its corporate life, so the laet was a descendant of later comers to whom such a share was denied, or in some cases perhaps of earlier dwellers from whom the land had been wrested by force of arms. In the modern sense of freedom the laet was free enough. He had house and home of his own, his life and limb were as secure as the ceorl's—save as against his lord; it is probable from what we see in later laws that as time went on he was recognized as a member of the nation, summoned to the folk-moot, allowed equal right at law, and called like the full free man to the hosting. But he was unfree as regards lord and land. He had neither part nor lot in the common land of the village. The ground which he tilled he held of some freeman of the tribe to whom he paid rent in labour or in kind. And this man was his lord. Whatever rights the unfree villager might gain in the general social life of his fellow villagers, he had no rights as against his lord. He could leave neither land nor lord at his will. He was bound to render due service to his lord in tillage or in fight. So long however as these services were done the land was his own. His lord could not take it from him; and he was bound to give him aid and protection in exchange for his services.
Far different from the position of the laet was that of the slave, though there is no ground for believing that the slave class was other than a small one. It was a class which sprang mainly from debt or crime. Famine drove men to "bend their heads in the evil days for meat"; the debtor, unable to discharge his debt, flung on the ground his freeman's sword and spear, took up the labourer's mattock, and placed his head as a slave within a master's hands. The criminal whose kinsfolk would not make up his fine became a crime-serf of the plaintiff or the king. Sometimes a father pressed by need sold children and wife into bondage. In any case the slave became part of the live stock of his master's estate, to be willed away at death with horse or ox, whose pedigree was kept as carefully as his own. His children were bondsmen like himself; even a freeman's children by a slave mother inherited the mother's taint. "Mine is the calf that is born of my cow," ran an English proverb. Slave cabins clustered round the homestead of every rich landowner; ploughman, shepherd, goatherd, swineherd, oxherd and cowherd, dairymaid, barnman, sower, hayward and woodward, were often slaves. It was not indeed slavery such as we have known in modern times, for stripes and bonds were rare: if the slave was slain it was by an angry blow, not by the lash. But his master could slay him if he would; it was but a chattel the less. The slave had no place in the justice court, no kinsmen to claim vengeance or guilt-fine for his wrong. If a stranger slew him, his lord claimed the damages; if guilty of wrong-doing, "his skin paid for him" under his master's lash. If he fled he might be chased like a strayed beast, and when caught he might be flogged to death. If the wrong-doer were a woman-slave she might be burned.
[Sidenote: The Moot]
With the public life of the village however the slave had nothing, the last in early days little, to do. In its Moot, the common meeting of its villagers for justice and government, a slave had no place or voice, while the last was originally represented by the lord whose land he tilled. The life, the sovereignty of the settlement resided solely in the body of the freemen whose holdings lay round the moot-hill or the sacred tree where the community met from time to time to deal out its own justice and to make its own laws. Here new settlers were admitted to the freedom of the township, and bye-laws framed and headman and tithing-man chosen for its governance. Here plough-land and meadow-land were shared in due lot among the villagers, and field and homestead passed from man to man by the delivery of a turf cut from its soil. Here strife of farmer with farmer was settled according to the "customs" of the township as its elder men stated them, and four men were chosen to follow headman or ealdorman to hundred-court or war. It is with a reverence such as is stirred by the sight of the head-waters of some mighty river that one looks back to these village-moots of Friesland or Sleswick. It was here that England learned to be a "mother of Parliaments." It was in these tiny knots of farmers that the men from whom Englishmen were to spring learned the worth of public opinion, of public discussion, the worth of the agreement, the "common sense," the general conviction to which discussion leads, as of the laws which derive their force from being expressions of that general conviction. A humourist of our own day has laughed at Parliaments as "talking shops," and the laugh has been echoed by some who have taken humour for argument. But talk is persuasion, and persuasion is force, the one force which can sway freemen to deeds such as those which have made England what she is. The "talk" of the village moot, the strife and judgement of men giving freely their own rede and setting it as freely aside for what they learn to be the wiser rede of other men, is the groundwork of English history.
[Sidenote: The Folk]
Small therefore as it might be, the township or village was thus the primary and perfect type of English life, domestic, social, and political. All that England has been since lay there. But changes of which we know nothing had long before the time at which our history opens grouped these little commonwealths together in larger communities, whether we name them Tribe, People, or Folk. The ties of race and kindred were no doubt drawn tighter by the needs of war. The organization of each Folk, as such, sprang in all likelihood mainly from war, from a common greed of conquest, a common need of defence. Its form at any rate was wholly military. The Folk-moot was in fact the war-host, the gathering of every freeman of the tribe in arms. The head of the Folk, a head who existed only so long as war went on, was the leader whom the host chose to command it. Its Witenagemot or meeting of wise men was the host's council of war, the gathering of those ealdormen who had brought the men of their villages to the field. The host was formed by levies from the various districts of the tribe; the larger of which probably owed their name of "hundreds" to the hundred warriors which each originally sent to it. In historic times however the regularity of such a military organization, if it ever existed, had passed away, and the quotas varied with the varying customs of each district. But men, whether many or few, were still due from each district to the host, and a cry of war at once called town-reeve and hundred-reeve with their followers to the field.
The military organization of the tribe thus gave from the first its form to the civil organization. But the peculiar shape which its civil organization assumed was determined by a principle familiar to the Germanic races and destined to exercise a vast influence on the future of mankind. This was the principle of representation. The four or ten villagers who followed the reeve of each township to the general muster of the hundred were held to represent the whole body of the township from whence they came. Their voice was its voice, their doing its doing, their pledge its pledge. The hundred-moot, a moot which was made by this gathering of the representatives of the townships that lay within its bounds, thus became at once a court of appeal from the moots of each separate village as well as of arbitration in dispute between township and township. The judgement of graver crimes and of life or death fell to its share; while it necessarily possessed the same right of law-making for the hundred that the village-moot possessed for each separate village. And as hundred-moot stood above town-moot, so above the hundred-moot stood the Folk-moot, the general muster of the people in arms, at once war-host and highest law-court and general Parliament of the tribe. But whether in Folk-moot or hundred-moot, the principle of representation was preserved. In both the constitutional forms, the forms of deliberation and decision, were the same. In each the priests proclaimed silence, the ealdormen of higher blood spoke, groups of freemen from each township stood round, shaking their spears in assent, clashing shields in applause, settling matters in the end by loud shouts of "Aye" or "Nay."
[Sidenote: Social Life]
Of the social or the industrial life of our fathers in this older England we know less than of their political life. But there is no ground for believing them to have been very different in these respects from the other German peoples who were soon to overwhelm the Roman world. Though their border nowhere touched the border of the Empire they were far from being utterly strange to its civilization. Roman commerce indeed reached the shores of the Baltic, and we have abundant evidence that the arts and refinement of Rome were brought into contact with these earlier Englishmen. Brooches, sword-belts, and shield-bosses which have been found in Sleswick, and which can be dated not later than the close of the third century, are clearly either of Roman make or closely modelled on Roman metal-work. Discoveries of Roman coins in Sleswick peat-mosses afford a yet more conclusive proof of direct intercourse with the Empire. But apart from these outer influences the men of the three tribes were far from being mere savages. They were fierce warriors, but they were also busy fishers and tillers of the soil, as proud of their skill in handling plough and mattock or steering the rude boat with which they hunted walrus and whale as of their skill in handling sword and spear. They were hard drinkers, no doubt, as they were hard toilers, and the "ale-feast" was the centre of their social life. But coarse as the revel might seem to modern eyes, the scene within the timbered hall which rose in the midst of their villages was often Homeric in its simplicity and dignity. Queen or Eorl's wife with a train of maidens bore ale-bowl or mead-bowl round the hall from the high settle of King or Ealdorman in the midst to the mead benches ranged around its walls, while the gleeman sang the hero-songs of his race. Dress and arms showed traces of a love of art and beauty, none the less real that it was rude and incomplete. Rings, amulets, ear-rings, neck-pendants, proved in their workmanship the deftness of the goldsmith's art. Cloaks were often fastened with golden buckles of curious and exquisite form, set sometimes with rough jewels and inlaid with enamel. The bronze boar-crest on the warrior's helmet, the intricate adornment of the warrior's shield, tell like the honour in which the smith was held their tale of industrial art. The curiously twisted glass goblets, so common in the early graves of Kent, are shewn by their form to be of English workmanship. It is only in the English pottery, hand-made, and marked with coarse zigzag patterns, that we find traces of utter rudeness.
The religion of these men was the same as that of the rest of the German peoples. Christianity had by this time brought about the conversion of the Roman Empire, but it had not penetrated as yet among the forests of the north. The common God of the English people was Woden, the war-god, the guardian of ways and boundaries, to whom his worshippers attributed the invention of letters, and whom every tribe held to be the first ancestor of its kings. Our own names for the days of the week still recall to us the gods whom our fathers worshipped in their German homeland. Wednesday is Woden's-day, as Thursday is the day of Thunder, the god of air and storm and rain. Friday is Frea's-day, the deity of peace and joy and fruitfulness, whose emblems, borne aloft by dancing maidens, brought increase to every field and stall they visited. Saturday may commemorate an obscure god Saetere; Tuesday the dark god, Tiw, to meet whom was death. Eostre, the goddess of the dawn or of the spring, lends her name to the Christian festival of the Resurrection. Behind these floated the dim shapes of an older mythology; "Wyrd," the death-goddess, whose memory lingered long in the "Weird" of northern superstition; or the Shield-maidens, the "mighty women" who, an old rime tells us, "wrought on the battle-field their toil and hurled the thrilling javelins." Nearer to the popular fancy lay deities of wood and fell, or hero-gods of legend and song; Nicor, the water-sprite who survives in our nixies and "Old Nick"; Weland, the forger of weighty shields and sharp-biting swords, who found a later home in the "Weyland's smithy" of Berkshire; AEgil, the hero-archer, whose legend is one with that of Cloudesly or Tell. A nature-worship of this sort lent itself ill to the purposes of a priesthood; and though a priestly class existed it seems at no time to have had much weight among Englishmen. As each freeman was his own judge and his own lawmaker, so he was his own house-priest; and English worship lay commonly in the sacrifice which the house-father offered to the gods of his hearth.
[Sidenote: The English Temper]
It is not indeed in Woden-worship or in the worship of the older gods of flood and fell that we must look for the real religion of our fathers. The song of Beowulf, though the earliest of English poems, is as we have it now a poem of the eighth century, the work it may be of some English missionary of the days of Baeda and Boniface who gathered in the very homeland of his race the legends of its earlier prime. But the thin veil of Christianity which he has flung over it fades away as we follow the hero-legend of our fathers; and the secret of their moral temper, of their conception of life breathes through every line. Life was built with them not on the hope of a hereafter, but on the proud self-consciousness of noble souls. "I have this folk ruled these fifty winters," sings the hero-king as he sits death-smitten beside the dragon's mound. "Lives there no folk-king of kings about me—not any one of them—dare in the war-strife welcome my onset! Time's change and chances I have abided, held my own fairly, sought not to snare men; oath never sware I falsely against right. So for all this may I glad be at heart now, sick though I sit here, wounded with death-wounds!" In men of such a temper, strong with the strength of manhood and full of the vigour and the love of life, the sense of its shortness and of the mystery of it all woke chords of a pathetic poetry. "Soon will it be," ran the warning rime, "that sickness or sword-blade shear thy strength from thee, or the fire ring thee, or the flood whelm thee, or the sword grip thee, or arrow hit thee, or age o'ertake thee, and thine eye's brightness sink down in darkness." Strong as he might be, man struggled in vain with the doom that encompassed him, that girded his life with a thousand perils and broke it at so short a span. "To us," cries Beowulf in his last fight, "to us it shall be as our Weird betides, that Weird that is every man's lord!" But the sadness with which these Englishmen fronted the mysteries of life and death had nothing in it of the unmanly despair which bids men eat and drink for to-morrow they die. Death leaves man man and master of his fate. The thought of good fame, of manhood, is stronger than the thought of doom. "Well shall a man do when in the strife he minds but of winning longsome renown, nor for his life cares!" "Death is better than life of shame!" cries Beowulf's sword-fellow. Beowulf himself takes up his strife with the fiend, "go the weird as it will." If life is short, the more cause to work bravely till it is over. "Each man of us shall abide the end of his life-work; let him that may work, work his doomed deeds ere death come!"
[Sidenote: English Piracy]
The energy of these peoples found vent in a restlessness which drove them to take part in the general attack of the German race on the Empire of Rome. For busy tillers and busy fishers as Englishmen were, they were at heart fighters; and their world was a world of war. Tribe warred with tribe, and village with village; even within the village itself feuds parted household from household, and passions of hatred and vengeance were handed on from father to son. Their mood was above all a mood of fighting men, venturesome, self-reliant, proud, with a dash of hardness and cruelty in it, but ennobled by the virtues which spring from war, by personal courage and loyalty to plighted word, by a high and stern sense of manhood and the worth of man. A grim joy in hard fighting was already a characteristic of the race. War was the Englishman's "shield-play" and "sword-game"; the gleeman's verse took fresh fire as he sang of the rush of the host and the crash of its shield-line. Their arms and weapons, helmet and mailshirt, tall spear and javelin, sword and seax, the short broad dagger that hung at each warrior's girdle, gathered to them much of the legend and the art which gave colour and poetry to the life of Englishmen. Each sword had its name like a living thing. And next to their love of war came their love of the sea. Everywhere throughout Beowulf's song, as everywhere throughout the life that it pictures, we catch the salt whiff of the sea. The Englishman was as proud of his sea-craft as of his war-craft; sword in hand he plunged into the sea to meet walrus and sea-lion; he told of his whale-chase amidst the icy waters of the north. Hardly less than his love for the sea was the love he bore to the ship that traversed it. In the fond playfulness of English verse the ship was "the wave-floater," "the foam-necked," "like a bird" as it skimmed the wave-crest, "like a swan" as its curved prow breasted the "swan-road" of the sea.
Their passion for the sea marked out for them their part in the general movement of the German nations. While Goth and Lombard were slowly advancing over mountain and plain the boats of the Englishmen pushed faster over the sea. Bands of English rovers, outdriven by stress of fight, had long found a home there, and lived as they could by sack of vessel or coast. Chance has preserved for us in a Sleswick peat-bog one of the war-keels of these early pirates. The boat is flat-bottomed, seventy feet long and eight or nine feet wide, its sides of oak boards fastened with bark ropes and iron bolts. Fifty oars drove it over the waves with a freight of warriors whose arms, axes, swords, lances, and knives, were found heaped together in its hold. Like the galleys of the Middle Ages such boats could only creep cautiously along from harbour to harbour in rough weather; but in smooth water their swiftness fitted them admirably for the piracy by which the men of these tribes were already making themselves dreaded. Its flat bottom enabled them to beach the vessel on any fitting coast; and a step on shore at once transformed the boatmen into a war-band. From the first the daring of the English race broke out in the secrecy and suddenness of the pirates' swoop, in the fierceness of their onset, in the careless glee with which they seized either sword or oar. "Foes are they," sang a Roman poet of the time, "fierce beyond other foes and cunning as they are fierce; the sea is their school of war and the storm their friend; they are sea-wolves that live on the pillage of the world!"
Of the three English tribes the Saxons lay nearest to the Empire, and they were naturally the first to touch the Roman world; at the close of the third century indeed their boats appeared in such force in the English Channel as to call for a special fleet to resist them. The piracy of our fathers had thus brought them to the shores of a land which, dear as it is now to Englishmen, had not as yet been trodden by English feet. This land was Britain. When the Saxon boats touched its coast the island was the westernmost province of the Roman Empire. In the fifty-fifth year before Christ a descent of Julius Caesar revealed it to the Roman world; and a century after Caesar's landing the Emperor Claudius undertook its conquest. The work was swiftly carried out. Before thirty years were over the bulk of the island had passed beneath the Roman sway and the Roman frontier had been carried to the Firths of Forth and of Clyde. The work of civilization followed fast on the work of the sword. To the last indeed the distance of the island from the seat of empire left her less Romanized than any other province of the west. The bulk of the population scattered over the country seem in spite of imperial edicts to have clung to their old law as to their old language, and to have retained some traditional allegiance to their native chiefs. But Roman civilization rested mainly on city life, and in Britain as elsewhere the city was thoroughly Roman. In towns such as Lincoln or York, governed by their own municipal officers, guarded by massive walls, and linked together by a network of magnificent roads which reached from one end of the island to the other, manners, language, political life, all were of Rome.
For three hundred years the Roman sword secured order and peace without Britain and within, and with peace and order came a wide and rapid prosperity. Commerce sprang up in ports amongst which London held the first rank; agriculture flourished till Britain became one of the corn-exporting countries of the world; the mineral resources of the province were explored in the tin mines of Cornwall, the lead mines of Somerset or Northumberland, and the iron mines of the Forest of Dean. But evils which sapped the strength of the whole Empire told at last on the province of Britain. Wealth and population alike declined under a crushing system of taxation, under restrictions which fettered industry, under a despotism which crushed out all local independence. And with decay within came danger from without. For centuries past the Roman frontier had held back the barbaric world beyond it, the Parthian of the Euphrates, the Numidian of the African desert, the German of the Danube or the Rhine. In Britain a wall drawn from Newcastle to Carlisle bridled the British tribes, the Picts as they were called, who had been sheltered from Roman conquest by the fastnesses of the Highlands. It was this mass of savage barbarism which broke upon the Empire as it sank into decay. In its western dominions the triumph of these assailants was complete. The Franks conquered and colonized Gaul. The West-Goths conquered and colonized Spain. The Vandals founded a kingdom in Africa. The Burgundians encamped in the border-land between Italy and the Rhone. The East-Goths ruled at last in Italy itself.
[Sidenote: Conquests of Jute and Saxon]
It was to defend Italy against the Goths that Rome in the opening of the fifth century withdrew her legions from Britain, and from that moment the province was left to struggle unaided against the Picts. Nor were these its only enemies. While marauders from Ireland, whose inhabitants then bore the name of Scots, harried the west, the boats of Saxon pirates, as we have seen, were swarming off its eastern and southern coasts. For some thirty years Britain held bravely out against these assailants; but civil strife broke its powers of resistance, and its rulers fell back at last on the fatal policy by which the Empire invited its doom while striving to avert it, the policy of matching barbarian against barbarian. By the usual promises of land and pay a band of warriors was drawn for this purpose from Jutland in 449 with two ealdormen, Hengest and Horsa, at their head. If by English history we mean the history of Englishmen in the land which from that time they made their own, it is with this landing of Hengest's war-band that English history begins. They landed on the shores of the Isle of Thanet at a spot known since as Ebbsfleet. No spot can be so sacred to Englishmen as the spot which first felt the tread of English feet. There is little to catch the eye in Ebbsfleet itself, a mere lift of ground with a few grey cottages dotted over it, cut off nowadays from the sea by a reclaimed meadow and a sea-wall. But taken as a whole the scene has a wild beauty of its own. To the right the white curve of Ramsgate cliffs looks down on the crescent of Pegwell Bay; far away to the left across grey marsh-levels where smoke-wreaths mark the sites of Richborough and Sandwich the coast-line trends dimly towards Deal. Everything in the character of the spot confirms the national tradition which fixed here the landing-place of our fathers; for the physical changes of the country since the fifth century have told little on its main features. At the time of Hengest's landing a broad inlet of sea parted Thanet from the mainland of Britain; and through this inlet the pirate boats would naturally come sailing with a fair wind to what was then the gravel-spit of Ebbsfleet.
The work for which the mercenaries had been hired was quickly done; and the Picts are said to have been scattered to the winds in a battle fought on the eastern coast of Britain. But danger from the Pict was hardly over when danger came from the Jutes themselves. Their fellow-pirates must have flocked from the Channel to their settlement in Thanet; the inlet between Thanet and the mainland was crossed, and the Englishmen won their first victory over the Britons in forcing their passage of the Medway at the village of Aylesford. A second defeat at the passage of the Cray drove the British forces in terror upon London; but the ground was soon won back again, and it was not till 465 that a series of petty conflicts which had gone on along the shores of Thanet made way for a decisive struggle at Wippedsfleet. Here however the overthrow was so terrible that from this moment all hope of saving Northern Kent seems to have been abandoned, and it was only along its southern shore that the Britons held their ground. Eight years later, in 473, the long contest was over, and with the fall of Lymne, whose broken walls look from the slope to which they cling over the great flat of Romney Marsh, the work of the first English conqueror was done.
The warriors of Hengest had been drawn from the Jutes, the smallest of the three tribes who were to blend in the English people. But the greed of plunder now told on the great tribe which stretched from the Elbe to the Rhine, and in 477 Saxon invaders were seen pushing slowly along the strip of land which lay westward of Kent between the weald and the sea. Nowhere has the physical aspect of the country more utterly changed. A vast sheet of scrub, woodland, and waste which then bore the name of the Andredsweald stretched for more than a hundred miles from the borders of Kent to the Hampshire Downs, extending northward almost to the Thames and leaving only a thin strip of coast which now bears the name of Sussex between its southern edge and the sea. This coast was guarded by a fortress which occupied the spot now called Pevensey, the future landing-place of the Norman Conqueror; and the fall of this fortress of Anderida in 491 established the kingdom of the South-Saxons. "AElle and Cissa beset Anderida," so ran the pitiless record of the conquerors, "and slew all that were therein, nor was there henceforth one Briton left." But Hengest and AElle's men had touched hardly more than the coast, and the true conquest of Southern Britain was reserved for a fresh band of Saxons, a tribe known as the Gewissas, who in 495 landed under Cerdic and Cynric on the shores of the Southampton Water, and pushed to the great downs or Gwent where Winchester offered so rich a prize. Nowhere was the strife fiercer than here; and it was not till 519 that a decisive victory at Charford ended the struggle for the "Gwent" and set the crown of the West-Saxons on the head of Cerdic. But the forest-belt around it checked any further advance; and only a year after Charford the Britons rallied under a new leader, Arthur, and threw back the invaders as they pressed westward through the Dorsetshire woodlands in a great overthrow at Badbury or Mount Badon. The defeat was followed by a long pause in the Saxon advance from the southern coast, but while the Gewissas rested a series of victories whose history is lost was giving to men of the same Saxon tribe the coast district north of the mouth of the Thames. It is probable however that the strength of Camulodunum, the predecessor of our modern Colchester, made the progress of these assailants a slow and doubtful one; and even when its reduction enabled the East-Saxons to occupy the territory to which they have given their name of Essex a line of woodland which has left its traces in Epping and Hainault Forests checked their further advance into the island.
[Sidenote: Conquests of the Eagle]
Though seventy years had passed since the victory of Aylesford only the outskirts of Britain were won. The invaders were masters as yet but of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, and Essex. From London to St. David's Head, from the Andredsweald to the Firth of Forth the country still remained unconquered: and there was little in the years which followed Arthur's triumph to herald that onset of the invaders which was soon to make Britain England. Till now its assailants had been drawn from two only of the three tribes whom we saw dwelling by the northern sea, from the Saxons and the Jutes. But the main work of conquest was to be done by the third, by the tribe which bore that name of Engle or Englishmen which was to absorb that of Saxon and Jute, and to stamp itself on the people which sprang from the union of the conquerors as on the land that they won. The Engle had probably been settling for years along the coast of Northumbria and in the great district which was cut off from the rest of Britain by the Wash and the Fens, the later East-Anglia. But it was not till the moment we have reached that the line of defences which had hitherto held the invaders at bay was turned by their appearance in the Humber and the Trent. This great river-line led like a highway into the heart of Britain; and civil strife seems to have broken the strength of British resistance. But of the incidents of this final struggle we know nothing. One part of the English force marched from the Humber over the Yorkshire wolds to found what was called the kingdom of the Deirans. Under the Empire political power had centred in the district between the Humber and the Roman wall; York was the capital of Roman Britain; villas of rich landowners studded the valley of the Ouse; and the bulk of the garrison maintained in the island lay camped along its northern border. But no record tells us how Yorkshire was won, or how the Engle made themselves masters of the uplands about Lincoln. It is only by their later settlements that we follow their march into the heart of Britain. Seizing the valley of the Don and whatever breaks there were in the woodland that then filled the space between the Humber and the Trent, the Engle followed the curve of the latter river, and struck along the line of its tributary the Soar. Here round the Roman Ratae, the predecessor of our Leicester, settled a tribe known as the Middle-English, while a small body pushed further southwards, and under the name of "South-Engle" occupied the oolitic upland that forms our present Northamptonshire. But the mass of the invaders seem to have held to the line of the Trent and to have pushed westward to its head-waters. Repton, Lichfield, and Tamworth mark the country of these western Englishmen, whose older name was soon lost in that of Mercians, or Men of the March. Their settlement was in fact a new march or borderland between conqueror and conquered; for here the impenetrable fastness of the Peak, the mass of Cannock Chase, and the broken country of Staffordshire enabled the Briton to make a fresh and desperate stand.
[Sidenote: Conquests of West-Saxons]
It was probably this conquest of Mid-Britain by the Engle that roused the West-Saxons to a new advance. For thirty years they had rested inactive within the limits of the Gwent, but in 552 their capture of the hill-fort of Old Sarum threw open the reaches of the Wiltshire downs, and a march of King Cuthwulf on the Thames in 571 made them masters of the districts which now form Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Pushing along the upper valley of Avon to a new battle at Barbury Hill they swooped at last from their uplands on the rich prey that lay along the Severn. Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath, cities which had leagued under their British kings to resist this onset, became in 577 the spoil of an English victory at Deorham, and the line of the great western river lay open to the arms of the conquerors. Once the West-Saxons penetrated to the borders of Chester, and Uriconium, a town beside the Wrekin which has been recently brought again to light, went up in flames. The raid ended in a crushing defeat which broke the West-Saxon strength, but a British poet in verses still left to us sings piteously the death-song of Uriconium, "the white town in the valley," the town of white stone gleaming among the green woodlands. The torch of the foe had left it a heap of blackened ruins where the singer wandered through halls he had known in happier days, the halls of its chief Kyndylan, "without fire, without light, without song," their stillness broken only by the eagle's scream, the eagle who "has swallowed fresh drink, heart's blood of Kyndylan the fair."
CHAPTER II THE ENGLISH KINGDOMS 577-796
[Sidenote: Britain becomes England]
With the victory of Deorham the conquest of the bulk of Britain was complete. Eastward of a line which may be roughly drawn along the moorlands of Northumberland and Yorkshire through Derbyshire and the Forest of Arden to the Lower Severn, and thence by Mendip to the sea, the island had passed into English hands. Britain had in the main become England. And within this new England a Teutonic society was settled on the wreck of Rome. So far as the conquest had yet gone it had been complete. Not a Briton remained as subject or slave on English ground. Sullenly, inch by inch, the beaten men drew back from the land which their conquerors had won; and eastward of the border line which the English sword had drawn all was now purely English.
It is this which distinguishes the conquest of Britain from that of other provinces of Rome. The conquest of Gaul by the Franks or that of Italy by the Lombards proved little more than a forcible settlement of the one or the other among tributary subjects who were destined in a long course of ages to absorb their conquerors. French is the tongue, not of the Frank, but of the Gaul whom he overcame; and the fair hair of the Lombard is all but unknown in Lombardy. But the English conquest of Britain up to the point which we have reached was a sheer dispossession of the people whom the English conquered. It was not that Englishmen, fierce and cruel as at times they seem to have been, were more fierce or more cruel than other Germans who attacked the Empire; nor have we any ground for saying that they, unlike the Burgundian or the Frank, were utterly strange to the Roman civilization. Saxon mercenaries are found as well as Frank mercenaries in the pay of Rome; and the presence of Saxon vessels in the Channel for a century before the descent on Britain must have familiarized its invaders with what civilization was to be found in the Imperial provinces of the West. What really made the difference between the fate of Britain and that of the rest of the Roman world was the stubborn courage of the British themselves. In all the world-wide struggle between Rome and the German peoples no land was so stubbornly fought for or so hardly won. In Gaul no native resistance met Frank or Visigoth save from the brave peasants of Britanny and Auvergne. No popular revolt broke out against the rule of Odoacer or Theodoric in Italy. But in Britain the invader was met by a courage almost equal to his own. Instead of quartering themselves quietly, like their fellows abroad, on subjects who were glad to buy peace by obedience and tribute, the English had to make every inch of Britain their own by hard fighting.
This stubborn resistance was backed too by natural obstacles of the gravest kind. Elsewhere in the Roman world the work of the conquerors was aided by the very civilization of Rome. Vandal and Frank marched along Roman highways over ground cleared by the Roman axe and crossed river or ravine on the Roman bridge. It was so doubtless with the English conquerors of Britain. But though Britain had long been Roman, her distance from the seat of Empire left her less Romanized than any other province of the West. Socially the Roman civilization had made little impression on any but the townsfolk, and the material civilization of the island was yet more backward than its social. Its natural defences threw obstacles in its invaders' way. In the forest belts which stretched over vast spaces of country they found barriers which in all cases checked their advance and in some cases finally stopped it. The Kentishmen and the South-Saxons were brought utterly to a standstill by the Andredsweald. The East-Saxons could never pierce the woods of their western border. The Fens proved impassable to the Northfolk and the Southfolk of East-Anglia. It was only after a long and terrible struggle that the West-Saxons could hew their way through the forests which sheltered the "Gwent" of the southern coast. Their attempt to break out of the circle of woodland which girt in the downs was in fact fruitless for thirty years; and in the height of their later power they were thrown back from the forests of Cheshire.
[Sidenote: Withdrawal of the Britons]
It is only by realizing in this way the physical as well as the moral circumstances of Britain that we can understand the character of its earlier conquest. Field by field, town by town, forest by forest, the land was won. And as each bit of ground was torn away by the stranger, the Briton sullenly withdrew from it only to turn doggedly and fight for the next. There is no need to believe that the clearing of the land meant so impossible a thing as the general slaughter of the men who held it. Slaughter there was, no doubt, on the battle-field or in towns like Anderida whose long resistance woke wrath in their besiegers. But for the most part the Britons were not slaughtered; they were defeated and drew back. Such a withdrawal was only made possible by the slowness of the conquest. For it is not only the stoutness of its defence which distinguishes the conquest of Britain from that of the other provinces of the Empire, but the weakness of attack. As the resistance of the Britons was greater than that of the other provincials of Rome so the forces of their assailants were less. Attack by sea was less easy than attack by land, and the numbers who were brought across by the boats of Hengest or Cerdic cannot have rivalled those which followed Theodoric or Chlodewig across the Alps or the Rhine. Landing in small parties, and but gradually reinforced by after-comers, the English invaders could only slowly and fitfully push the Britons back. The absence of any joint action among the assailants told in the same way. Though all spoke the same language and used the same laws, they had no such bond of political union as the Franks; and though all were bent on winning the same land, each band and each leader preferred their own separate course of action to any collective enterprise.
[Sidenote: The English settlement]
Under such conditions the overrunning of Britain could not fail to be a very different matter from the rapid and easy overrunning of such countries as Gaul. How slow the work of English conquest was may be seen from the fact that it took nearly thirty years to win Kent alone, and sixty to complete the conquest of Southern Britain, and that the conquest of the bulk of the island was only wrought out after two centuries of bitter warfare. But it was just through the length of the struggle that of all the German conquests this proved the most thorough and complete. So far as the English sword in these earlier days had reached, Britain had become England, a land, that is, not of Britons but of Englishmen. Even if a few of the vanquished people lingered as slaves round the homesteads of their English conquerors, or a few of their household words mingled with the English tongue, doubtful exceptions such as these leave the main facts untouched. The keynote of the conquest was firmly struck. When the English invasion was stayed for a while by the civil wars of the invaders, the Briton had disappeared from the greater part of the land which had been his own; and the tongue, the religion, the laws of his English conquerors reigned without a break from Essex to Staffordshire and from the British Channel to the Firth of Forth.
For the driving out of the Briton was, as we have seen, but a prelude to the settlement of his conqueror. What strikes us at once in the new England is this, that it was the one purely German nation that rose upon the wreck of Rome. In other lands, in Spain or Gaul or Italy, though they were equally conquered by German peoples, religion, social life, administrative order, still remained Roman. Britain was almost the only province of the Empire where Rome died into a vague tradition of the past. The whole organization of government and society disappeared with the people who used it. Roman roads indeed still led to desolate cities. Roman camps still crowned hill and down. The old divisions of the land remained to furnish bounds of field and farm for the new settlers. The Roman church, the Roman country-house, was left standing, though reft of priest and lord. But Rome was gone. The mosaics, the coins which we dig up in our fields are no relics of our English fathers, but of a world which our fathers' sword swept utterly away. Its law, its literature, its manners, its faith, went with it. Nothing was a stronger proof of the completeness of this destruction of all Roman life than the religious change which passed over the land. Alone among the German assailants of Rome the English stood aloof from the faith of the Empire they helped to overthrow. The new England was a heathen country. Homestead and boundary, the very days of the week, bore the names of new gods who displaced Christ.
As we stand amidst the ruins of town or country-house which recall to us the wealth and culture of Roman Britain, it is hard to believe that a conquest which left them heaps of crumbling stones was other than a curse to the land over which it passed. But if the new England which sprang from the wreck of Britain seemed for the moment a waste from which the arts, the letters, the refinement of the world had fled hopelessly away, it contained within itself germs of a nobler life than that which had been destroyed. The base of Roman society here as everywhere throughout the Roman world was the slave, the peasant who had been crushed by tyranny, political and social, into serfdom. The base of the new English society was the freeman whom we have seen tilling, judging, or fighting for himself by the Northern Sea. However roughly he dealt with the material civilization of Britain while the struggle went on, it was impossible that such a man could be a mere destroyer. War in fact was no sooner over than the warrior settled down into the farmer, and the home of the ceorl rose beside the heap of goblin-haunted stones that marked the site of the villa he had burned. The settlement of the English in the conquered land was nothing less than an absolute transfer of English society in its completest form to the soil of Britain. The slowness of their advance, the small numbers of each separate band in its descent upon the coast, made it possible for the invaders to bring with them, or to call to them when their work was done, the wives and children, the laet and slave, even the cattle they had left behind them. The first wave of conquest was but the prelude to the gradual migration of a whole people. It was England which settled down on British soil, England with its own language, its own laws, its complete social fabric, its system of village life and village culture, its township and its hundred, its principle of kinship, its principle of representation. It was not as mere pirates or stray war-bands, but as peoples already made, and fitted by a common temper and common customs to draw together into our English nation in the days to come, that our fathers left their German home-land for the land in which we live. Their social and political organization remained radically unchanged. In each of the little kingdoms which rose on the wreck of Britain, the host camped on the land it had won, and the divisions of the host supplied here as in its older home the rough groundwork of local distribution. The land occupied by the hundred warriors who formed the unit of military organization became perhaps the local hundred; but it is needless to attach any notion of precise uniformity, either in the number of settlers or in the area of their settlement, to such a process as this, any more than to the army organization which the process of distribution reflected. From the large amount of public land which we find existing afterwards it has been conjectured with some probability that the number of settlers was far too small to occupy the whole of the country at their disposal, and this unoccupied ground became "folk-land," the common property of the tribe as at a later time of the nation. What ground was actually occupied may have been assigned to each group and each family in the group by lot, and Eorl and Ceorl gathered round them their laet and slave as in their homeland by the Rhine or the Elbe. And with the English people passed to the shores of Britain all that was to make Englishmen what they are. For distant and dim as their life in that older England may have seemed to us, the whole after-life of Englishmen was there. In its village-moots lay our Parliament; in the gleeman of its village-feasts our Chaucer and our Shakspere; in the pirate-bark stealing from creek to creek our Drakes and our Nelsons. Even the national temper was fully formed. Civilization, letters, science, religion itself, have done little to change the inner mood of Englishmen. That love of venture and of toil, of the sea and the fight, that trust in manhood and the might of man, that silent awe of the mysteries of life and death which lay deep in English souls then as now, passed with Englishmen to the land which Englishmen had won.
[Sidenote: The King]
But though English society passed thus in its completeness to the soil of Britain, its primitive organization was affected in more ways than one by the transfer. In the first place conquest begat the King. It seems probable that the English had hitherto known nothing of kings in their own fatherland, where each tribe was satisfied in peace time with the customary government of village-reeve and hundred-reeve and ealdonnan, while it gathered at fighting times under war leaders whom it chose for each campaign. But in the long and obstinate warfare which they waged against the Britons it was needful to find a common leader whom the various tribes engaged in conquests such as those of Wessex or Mercia might follow; and the ceaseless character of a struggle which left few intervals of rest or peace raised these leaders into a higher position than that of temporary chieftains. It was no doubt from this cause that we find Hengest and his son AEsc raised to the kingdom in Kent, or AElle in Sussex, or Cerdic and Cynric among the West Saxons. The association of son with father in this new kingship marked the hereditary character which distinguished it from the temporary office of an ealdorman. The change was undoubtedly a great one, but it was less than the modern conception of kingship would lead us to imagine. Hereditary as the succession was within a single house, each successive king was still the free choice of his people, and for centuries to come it was held within a people's right to pass over a claimant too weak or too wicked for the throne. In war indeed the king was supreme. But in peace his power was narrowly bounded by the customs of his people and the rede of his wise men. Justice was not as yet the king's justice, it was the justice of village and hundred and folk in town-moot and hundred-moot and folk-moot. It was only with the assent of the wise men that the king could make laws and declare war and assign public lands and name public officers. Above all, should his will be to break through the free customs of his people, he was without the means of putting his will into action, for the one force he could call on was the host, and the host was the people itself in arms.
[Sidenote: The Thegn]
With the new English king rose a new order of English nobles. The social distinction of the eorl was founded on the peculiar purity of his blood, on his long descent from the original settler around whom township and thorpe grew up. A new distinction was now to be found in service done to the king. From the earliest times of German society it had been the wont of young men greedy of honour or seeking training in arms to bind themselves as "comrades" to king or chief. The leader whom they chose gave them horses, arms, a seat in his mead hall, and gifts from his hoard. The "comrade" on the other hand—the gesith or thegn, as he was called—bound himself to follow and fight for his lord. The principle of personal dependence as distinguished from the warrior's general duty to the folk at large was embodied in the thegn. "Chieftains fight for victory," says Tacitus; "comrades for their chieftain." When one of Beowulf's "comrades" saw his lord hard bested "he minded him of the homestead he had given him, of the folk right he gave him as his father had it; nor might he hold back then." Snatching up sword and shield he called on his fellow-thegns to follow him to the fight. "I mind me of the day," he cried, "when we drank the mead, the day we gave pledge to our lord in the beer hall as he gave us these rings, our pledge that we would pay him back our war-gear, our helms and our hard swords, if need befel him. Unmeet is it, methinks, that we should bear back our shields to our home unless we guard our lord's life." The larger the band of such "comrades," the more power and repute it gave their lord. It was from among the chiefs whose war-band was strongest that the leaders of the host were commonly chosen; and as these leaders grew into kings, the number of their thegns naturally increased. The rank of the "comrades" too rose with the rise of their lord. The king's thegns were his body-guard, the one force ever ready to carry out his will. They were his nearest and most constant counsellors. As the gathering of petty tribes into larger kingdoms swelled the number of eorls in each realm, and in a corresponding degree diminished their social importance, it raised in equal measure the rank of the king's thegns. A post among them was soon coveted and won by the greatest and noblest in the land. Their service was rewarded by exemption from the general jurisdiction of hundred-court or shire-court, for it was part of a thegn's meed for his service that he should be judged only by the lord he served. Other meed was found in grants of public land which made them a local nobility, no longer bound to actual service in the king's household or the king's war-band, but still bound to him by personal ties of allegiance far closer than those which bound an eorl to the chosen war-leader of his tribe. In a word, thegnhood contained within itself the germ of that later feudalism which was to battle so fiercely with the Teutonic freedom out of which it grew.
[Sidenote: The Bernicians]
But the strife between the conquering tribes which at once followed on their conquest of Britain was to bring about changes even more momentous in the development of the English people. While Jute and Saxon and Engle were making themselves masters of central and southern Britain, the English who had landed on its northernmost shores had been slowly winning for themselves the coast district between the Forth and the Tyne which bore the name of Bernicia. Their progress seems to have been small till they were gathered into a kingdom in 547 by Ida the "Flame-bearer," who found a site for his King's town on the impregnable rock of Bamborough; nor was it till the reign of his fourth son AEthelric that they gained full mastery over the Britons along their western border. But once masters of the Britons the Bernician Englishmen turned to conquer their English neighbours to the south, the men of Deira, whose first King AElla was now sinking to the grave. The struggle filled the foreign markets with English slaves, and one of the most memorable stories in our history shows us a group of such captives as they stood in the market-place at Rome, it may be in the great Forum of Trajan, which still in its decay recalled the glories of the Imperial City. Their white bodies, their fair faces, their golden hair was noted by a deacon who passed by. "From what country do these slaves come?" Gregory asked the trader who brought them. The slave-dealer answered "They are English," or as the word ran in the Latin form it would bear at Rome, "they are Angles." The deacon's pity veiled itself in poetic humour. "Not Angles but Angels," he said, "with faces so angel-like! From what country come they?" "They come," said the merchant, "from Deira." "De ira!" was the untranslatable wordplay of the vivacious Roman—"aye, plucked from God's ire and called to Christ's mercy! And what is the name of their king?" They told him "AElla," and Gregory seized on the word as of good omen. "Alleluia shall be sung in AElla's land," he said, and passed on, musing how the angel-faces should be brought to sing it.
While Gregory was thus playing with AElla's name the old king passed away, and with his death in 588 the resistance of his kingdom seems to have ceased. His children fled over the western border to find refuge among the Welsh, and AEthelric of Bernicia entered Deira in triumph. A new age of our history opens in this submission of one English people to another. When the two kingdoms were united under a common lord the period of national formation began. If a new England sprang out of the mass of English states which covered Britain after its conquest, we owe it to the gradual submission of the smaller peoples to the supremacy of a common political head. The difference in power between state and state which inevitably led to this process of union was due to the character which the conquest of Britain was now assuming. Up to this time all the kingdoms which had been established by the invaders had stood in the main on a footing of equality. All had taken an independent share in the work of conquest. Though the oneness of a common blood and a common speech was recognized by all we find no traces of any common action or common rule. Even in the two groups of kingdoms, the five English and the five Saxon kingdoms, which occupied Britain south of the Humber, the relations of each member of the group to its fellows seem to have been merely local. It was only locally that East and West and South and North English were grouped round the Middle English of Leicester, or East and West and South and North Saxons round the Middle Saxons about London. In neither instance do we find any real trace of a confederacy, or of the rule of one member of the group over the others; while north of the Humber the feeling between the Englishmen of Yorkshire and the Englishmen who had settled towards the Firth of Forth was one of hostility rather than of friendship. But this age of isolation, of equality, of independence, had now come to an end. The progress of the conquest had drawn a sharp line between the kingdoms of the conquerors. The work of half of them was done. In the south of the island not only Kent but Sussex, Essex, and Middlesex were surrounded by English territory, and hindered by that single fact from all further growth. The same fate had befallen the East Engle, the South Engle, the Middle and the North Engle. The West Saxons, on the other hand, and the West Engle, or Mercians, still remained free to conquer and expand on the south of the Humber, as the Englishmen of Deira and Bernicia remained free to the north of that river. It was plain, therefore, that from this moment the growth of these powers would throw their fellow kingdoms into the background, and that with an ever-growing inequality of strength must come a new arrangement of political forces. The greater kingdoms would in the end be drawn to subject and absorb the lesser ones, and to the war between Englishman and Briton would be added a struggle between Englishman and Englishman.
It was through this struggle and the establishment of a lordship on the part of the stronger and growing states over their weaker and stationary fellows that the English kingdoms were to make their first step towards union in a single England. Such an overlordship seemed destined but a few years before to fall to the lot of Wessex. The victories of Ceawlin and Cuthwulf left it the most powerful of the English kingdoms. None of its fellow states seemed able to hold their own against a power which stretched from the Chilterns to the Severn and from the Channel to the Ouse. But after its defeat in the march upon Chester Wessex suddenly broke down into a chaos of warring tribes; and her place was taken by two powers whose rise to greatness was as sudden as her fall. The first of these was Kent. The Kentish king AEthelberht found himself hemmed in on every side by English territory; and since conquest over Britons was denied him he sought a new sphere of action in setting his kingdom at the head of the conquerors of the south. The break up of Wessex no doubt aided his attempt; but we know little of the causes or events which brought about his success. We know only that the supremacy of the Kentish king was owned at last by the English peoples of the east and centre of Britain. But it was not by her political action that Kent was in the end to further the creation of a single England; for the lordship which AEthelberht built up was doomed to fall for ever with his death, and yet his death left Kent the centre of a national union far wider as it was far more enduring than the petty lordship which stretched over Eastern Britain. Only three or four years after Gregory had pitied the English slaves in the market-place of Rome, he found himself as Bishop of the Imperial City in a position to carry out his dream of winning Britain to the faith; and an opening was given him by AEthelberht's marriage with Bertha, a daughter of the Frankish king Charibert of Paris. Bertha like her Frankish kindred was a Christian; a Christian bishop accompanied her from Gaul; and a ruined Christian church, the church of St. Martin beside the royal city of Canterbury, was given them for their worship. The king himself remained true to the gods of his fathers; but his marriage no doubt encouraged Gregory to send a Roman abbot, Augustine, at the head of a band of monks to preach the Gospel to the English people. The missionaries landed in 597 in the Isle of Thanet, at the spot where Hengest had landed more than a century before; and AEthelberht received them sitting in the open air on the chalk-down above Minster, where the eye nowadays catches miles away over the marshes the dim tower of Canterbury. The king listened patiently to the long sermon of Augustine as the interpreters the abbot had brought with him from Gaul rendered it in the English tongue. "Your words are fair," AEthelberht replied at last with English good sense, "but they are new and of doubtful meaning." For himself, he said, he refused to forsake the gods of his fathers, but with the usual religious tolerance of the German race he promised shelter and protection to the strangers. The band of monks entered Canterbury bearing before them a silver cross with a picture of Christ, and singing in concert the strains of the litany of their Church. "Turn from this city, O Lord," they sang, "Thine anger and wrath, and turn it from Thy holy house, for we have sinned." And then in strange contrast came the jubilant cry of the older Hebrew worship, the cry which Gregory had wrested in prophetic earnestness from the name of the Yorkshire king in the Roman market-place, "Alleluia!"
[Sidenote: Christian England]
It was thus that the spot which witnessed the landing of Hengest became yet better known as the landing-place of Augustine. But the second landing at Ebbsfleet was in no small measure a reversal and undoing of the first. "Strangers from Rome" was the title with which the missionaries first fronted the English king. The march of the monks as they chaunted their solemn litany was in one sense a return of the Roman legions who withdrew at the trumpet-call of Alaric. It was to the tongue and the thought not of Gregory only but of the men whom his Jutish fathers had slaughtered or driven out that AEthelberht listened in the preaching of Augustine. Canterbury, the earliest royal city of German England, became a centre of Latin influence. The Roman tongue became again one of the tongues of Britain, the language of its worship, its correspondence, its literature. But more than the tongue of Rome returned with Augustine. Practically his landing renewed that union with the Western world which the landing of Hengest had destroyed. The new England was admitted into the older commonwealth of nations. The civilization, art, letters, which had fled before the sword of the English conquerors returned with the Christian faith. The fabric of the Roman law indeed never took root in England, but it is impossible not to recognize the result of the influence of the Roman missionaries in the fact that codes of the customary English law began to be put in writing soon after their arrival.
A year passed before AEthelberht yielded to the preaching of Augustine. But from the moment of his conversion the new faith advanced rapidly and the Kentish men crowded to baptism in the train of their king. The new religion was carried beyond the bounds of Kent by the supremacy which AEthelberht wielded over the neighbouring kingdoms. Saeberht, King of the East-Saxons, received a bishop sent in 604 from Kent, and suffered him to build up again a Christian church in what was now his subject city of London, while soon after the East-Anglian king Raedwald resolved to serve Christ and the older gods together. But while AEthelberht was thus furnishing a future centre of spiritual unity in Canterbury, the see to which Augustine was consecrated, the growth of Northumbria was pointing it out as the coming political centre of the new England. In 593, four years before the landing of the missionaries in Kent, AEthelric was succeeded by his son AEthelfrith, and the new king took up the work of conquest with a vigour greater than had yet been shown by any English leader. For ten years he waged war with the Britons of Strathclyde, a tract which stretched along his western border from Dumbarton to Carlisle. The contest ended in a great battle at Daegsastan, perhaps Dawston in Liddesdale; and AEthelfrith turned to deliver a yet more crushing blow on his southern border. British kingdoms still stretched from Clyde-mouth to the mouth of Severn; and had their line remained unbroken the British resistance might yet have withstood the English advance. It was with a sound political instinct therefore that AEthelfrith marched in 613 upon Chester, the point where the kingdom of Cumbria, a kingdom which stretched from the Lune to the Dee, linked itself to the British states of what we now call Wales. Hard by the city two thousand monks were gathered in one of those vast religious settlements which were characteristic of Celtic Christianity, and after a three days' fast a crowd of these ascetics followed the British army to the field. AEthelfrith watched the wild gestures of the monks as they stood apart from the host with arms outstretched in prayer, and bade his men slay them in the coming fight. "Bear they arms or no," said the King, "they war against us when they cry against us to their God," and in the surprise and rout which followed the monks were the first to fall.
With the battle of Chester Britain as a country ceased to exist. By their victory at Deorham the West-Saxons had cut off the Britons of Dyvnaint, of our Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and Cornwall, from the general body of their race. By AEthelfrith's victory at Chester and the reduction of southern Lancashire which followed it what remained of Britain was broken into two several parts. From this time therefore the character of the English conquest of Britain changes. The warfare of Briton and Englishman died down into a warfare of separate English kingdoms against separate British kingdoms, of Northumbria against the Cumbrians and Strathclyde, of Mercia against the Welsh between Anglesea and the British Channel, of Wessex against the tract of country from Mendip to the Land's End. But great as was the importance of the battle of Chester to the fortunes of Britain, it was of still greater importance to the fortunes of England itself. The drift towards national unity had already begun, but from the moment of AEthelfrith's victory this drift became the main current of our history. Masters of the larger and richer part of the land, its conquerors were no longer drawn greedily westward by the hope of plunder; while the severance of the British kingdoms took from their enemies the pressure of a common danger. The conquests of AEthelfrith left him without a rival in military power, and he turned from victories over the Welsh, as their English foes called the Britons, to the building up of a lordship over his own countrymen.
The power of AEthelberht seems to have declined with old age, and though the Essex men still owned his supremacy, the English tribes of Mid-Britain shook it off. So strong however had the instinct of union now become, that we hear nothing of any return to their old isolation. Mercians and Southumbrians, Middle-English and South-English now owned the lordship of the East-English King Raedwald. The shelter given by Raedwald to AElla's son Eadwine served as a pretext for a Northumbrian attack. Fortune however deserted AEthelfrith, and a snatch of northern song still tells of the day when the river Idle by Retford saw his defeat and fall. But the greatness of Northumbria survived its king. In 617 Eadwine was welcomed back by his own men of Deira; and his conquest of Bernicia maintained that union of the two realms which the Bernician conquest of Deira had first brought about. The greatness of Northumbria now reached its height. Within his own dominions, Eadwine displayed a genius for civil government which shows how utterly the mere age of conquest had passed away. With him began the English proverb so often applied to after kings: "A woman with her babe might walk scatheless from sea to sea in Eadwine's day." Peaceful communication revived along the deserted highways; the springs by the roadside were marked with stakes, and a cup of brass set beside each for the traveller's refreshment. Some faint traditions of the Roman past may have flung their glory round this new "Empire of the English"; a royal standard of purple and gold floated before Eadwine as he rode through the villages; a feather tuft attached to a spear, the Roman tufa, preceded him as he walked through the streets. The Northumbrian king became in fact supreme over Britain as no king of English blood had been before. Northward his frontier reached to the Firth of Forth, and here, if we trust tradition, Eadwine founded a city which bore his name, Edinburgh, Eadwine's burgh. To the west his arms crushed the long resistance of Elmet, the district about Leeds; he was master of Chester, and the fleet he equipped there subdued the isles of Anglesea and Man. South of the Humber he was owned as overlord by the five English states of Mid-Britain. The West-Saxons remained awhile independent. But revolt and slaughter had fatally broken their power when Eadwine attacked them. A story preserved by Baeda tells something of the fierceness of the struggle which ended in the subjection of the south to the overlordship of Northumbria. In an Easter-court which he held in his royal city by the river Derwent, Eadwine gave audience to Eumer, an envoy of Wessex, who brought a message from its king. In the midst of the conference Eumer started to his feet, drew a dagger from his robe, and rushed on the Northumbrian sovereign. Lilla, one of the king's war-band, threw himself between Eadwine and his assassin; but so furious was the stroke that even through Lilla's body the dagger still reached its aim. The king however recovered from his wound to march on the West-Saxons; he slew or subdued all who had conspired against him, and returned victorious to his own country.