Early Britain - Anglo-Saxon Britain
by Grant Allen
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It has been usual to represent the English conquest of South-eastern Britain as an absolute change of race throughout the greater part of our island. The Anglo-Saxons, it is commonly believed, came to England and the Lowlands of Scotland in overpowering numbers, and actually exterminated or drove into the rugged west the native Celts. The population of the whole country south of Forth and Clyde is supposed to be now, and to have been ever since the conquest, purely Teutonic or Scandinavian in blood, save only in Wales, Cornwall, and, perhaps, Cumberland and Galloway. But of late years this belief has met with strenuous opposition from several able scholars; and though many of our greatest historians still uphold the Teutonic theory, with certain modifications and admissions, there are, nevertheless, good reasons which may lead us to believe that a large proportion of the Celts were spared as tillers of the soil, and that Celtic blood may yet be found abundantly even in the most Teutonic portions of England.

In the first place, it must be remembered that, by common consent, only the east and south coasts and the country as far as the central dividing ridge can be accounted as to any overwhelming extent English in blood. It is admitted that the population of the Scottish Highlands, of Wales, and of Cornwall is certainly Celtic. It is also admitted that there exists a large mixed population of Celts and Teutons in Strathclyde and Cumbria, in Lancashire, in the Severn Valley, in Devon, Somerset, and Dorset. The northern and western half of Britain is acknowledged to be mainly Celtic. Thus the question really narrows itself down to the ethnical peculiarities of the south and east.

Here, the surest evidence is that of anthropology. We know that the pure Anglo-Saxons were a round-skulled, fair-haired, light-eyed, blonde-complexioned race; and we know that wherever (if anywhere) we find unmixed Germanic races at the present day, High Dutch, Low Dutch, or Scandinavian, we always meet with some of these same personal peculiarities in almost every individual of the community. But we also know that the Celts, originally themselves a similar blonde Aryan race, mixed largely in Britain with one or more long-skulled dark-haired, black-eyed, and brown-complexioned races, generally identified with the Basques or Euskarians, and with the Ligurians. The nation which resulted from this mixture showed traces of both types, being sometimes blonde, sometimes brunette; sometimes black-haired, sometimes red-haired, and sometimes yellow-haired. Individuals of all these types are still found in the undoubtedly Celtic portions of Britain, though the dark type there unquestionably preponderates so far as numbers are concerned. It is this mixed race of fair and dark people, of Aryan Celts with non-Aryan Euskarians or Ligurians, which we usually describe as Celtic in modern Britain, by contradistinction to the later wave of Teutonic English.

Now, according to the evidence of the early historians, as interpreted by Mr. Freeman and other authors (whose arguments we shall presently examine), the English settlers in the greater part of South Britain almost entirely exterminated the Celtic population. But if this be so, how comes it that at the present day a large proportion of our people, even in the east, belong to the dark and long-skulled type? The fact is that upon this subject the historians are largely at variance with the anthropologists; and as the historical evidence is weak and inferential, while the anthropological evidence is strong and direct, there can be very little doubt which we ought to accept. Professor Huxley [Essay "On some Fixed Points in British Ethnography,"] has shown that the melanochroic or dark type of Englishmen is identical in the shape of the skull, the anatomical peculiarities, and the colour of skin, hair, and eyes with that of the continent, which is undeniably Celtic in the wider sense—that is to say, belonging to the primitive non-Teutonic race, which spoke a Celtic language, and was composed of mixed Celtic, Iberian, and Ligurian elements. Professor Phillips points out that in Yorkshire, and especially in the plain of York, an essentially dark, short, non-Teutonic type is common; while persons of the same characteristics abound among the supposed pure Anglians of Lincolnshire. They are found in great numbers in East Anglia, and they are not rare even in Kent. In Sussex and Essex they occur less frequently, and they are also comparatively scarce in the Lothians. Dr. Beddoe, Dr. Thurnam, and other anthropologists have collected much evidence to the same effect. Hence we may conclude with great probability that large numbers of the descendants of the dark Britons still survive even on the Teutonic coast. As to the descendants of the light Britons, we cannot, of course, separate them from those of the like-complexioned English invaders. But in truth, even in the east itself, save only perhaps in Sussex and Essex, the dark and fair types have long since so largely coalesced by marriage that there are probably few or no real Teutons or real Celts individually distinguishable at all. Absolutely fair people, of the Scandinavian or true German sort, with very light hair and very pale blue eyes, are almost unknown among us; and when they do occur, they occur side by side with relations of every other shade. As a rule, our people vary infinitely in complexion and anatomical type, from the quite squat, long-headed, swarthy peasants whom we sometimes meet with in rural Yorkshire, to the tall, flaxen-haired, red-cheeked men whom we occasionally find not only in Danish Derbyshire, but even in mainly Celtic Wales and Cornwall. As to the west, Professor Huxley declares, on purely anthropological grounds, that it is probably, on the whole, more deeply Celtic than Ireland itself.

These anthropological opinions are fully borne out by those scientific archaeologists who have done most in the way of exploring the tombs and other remains of the early Anglo-Saxon invaders. Professor Rolleston, who has probably examined more skulls of this period than any other investigator, sums up his consideration of those obtained from Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon interments by saying, "I should be inclined to think that wholesale massacres of the conquered Romano-Britons were rare, and that wholesale importations of Anglo-Saxon women were not much more frequent." He points out that "we have anatomical evidence for saying that two or more distinct varieties of men existed in England both previously to and during the period of the Teutonic invasion and domination." The interments show us that the races which inhabited Britain before the English conquest continued in part to inhabit it after that conquest. The dolichocephali, or long-skulled type of men, who, in part, preceded the English, "have been found abundantly in the Suffolk region of the Littus Saxonicum, where the Celt and Saxon [Englishman] are not known to have met as enemies when East Anglia became a kingdom." Thus we see that just where people of the dark type occur abundantly at the present day, skulls of the corresponding sort are met with abundantly in interments of the Anglo-Saxon period. Similarly, Mr. Akerman, after explorations in tombs, observes, "The total expulsion or extinction of the Romano-British population by the invaders will scarcely be insisted upon in this age of enquiry." Nay, even in Teutonic Kent, Jute and Briton still lie side by side in the same sepulchres. Most modern Englishmen have somewhat long rather than round skulls. The evidence of archaeology supports the evidence of anthropology in favour of the belief that some, at least, of the native Britons were spared by the invading host.

On the other hand, against these unequivocal testimonies of modern research we have to set the testimony of the early historical authorities, on which the Teutonic theory mainly relies. The authorities in question are three, Gildas, Baeda, and the English Chronicle. Gildas was, or professes to be, a British monk, who wrote in the very midst of the English conquest, when the invaders were still confined, for the most part, to the south-eastern region. Objections have been raised to the authenticity of his work, a small rhetorical Latin pamphlet, entitled, "The History of the Britons;" but these objections have, perhaps, been set at rest for many minds by Dr. Guest and Mr. Green. Nevertheless, what little Gildas has to tell us is of slight historical importance. His book is a disappointing Jeremiad, couched in the florid and inflated Latin rhetoric so common during the decadence of the Roman empire, intermingled with a strong flavour of hyperbolical Celtic imagination; and it teaches us practically nothing as to the state of the conquered districts. It is wholly occupied with fierce diatribes against the Saxons, and complaints as to the weakness, wickedness, and apathy of the British chieftains. It says little that can throw any light on the question as to whether the Welsh were largely spared, though it abounds with wild and vague declamation about the extermination of the natives. Even Gildas, however, mentions that some of his countrymen, "constrained by famine, came and yielded themselves up to their enemies as slaves for ever;" while others, "committing the safeguard of their lives to mountains, crags, thick forests, and rocky isles, though with trembling hearts, remained in their fatherland." These passages certainly suggest that a Welsh remnant survived in two ways within the English pale, first as slaves, and secondly as isolated outlaws.

Baeda stands on a very different footing. His authenticity is undoubted; his language is simple and straightforward. He was born in or about the year 672, only two hundred years after the landing of the first English colonists in Thanet. Scarcely more than a century separated him from the days of Ida. The constant lingering warfare with the Welsh on the western frontier was still for him a living fact. The Celt still held half of Britain. At the date of his birth the northern Welsh still retained their independence in Strathclyde; the Welsh proper still spread to the banks of the Severn; and the West Welsh of Cornwall still owned all the peninsula south of the Bristol Channel as far eastward as the Somersetshire marshes. Beyond Forth and Clyde, the Picts yet ruled over the greater part of the Highlands, while the Scots, who have now given the name of Scotland to the whole of Britain beyond the Cheviots, were a mere intrusive Irish colony in Argyllshire and the Western Isles. He lived, in short, at the very period when Britain was still in the act of becoming England; and no historical doubts of any sort hang over the authenticity of his great work, "The Ecclesiastical History of the English people." But Baeda unfortunately knows little more about the first settlement than he could learn from Gildas, whom he quotes almost verbatim. He tells us, however, nothing of extermination of the Welsh. "Some," he says, "were slaughtered; some gave themselves up to undergo slavery: some retreated beyond the sea: and some, remaining in their own land, lived a miserable life in the mountains and forests." In all this, he is merely transcribing Gildas, but he saw no improbability in the words. At a later date, AEthelfrith, of Northumbria, he tells us, "rendered more of their lands either tributary to or an integral part of the English territory, whether by subjugating or expatriating[1] the natives," than any previous king. Eadwine, before his conversion, "subdued to the empire of the English the Mevanian islands," Man and Anglesey; but we know that the population of both islands is still mainly Celtic in blood and speech. These examples sufficiently show us, that even before the introduction of Christianity, the English did not always utterly destroy the Welsh inhabitants of conquered districts. And it is universally admitted that, after their conversion, they fought with the Welsh in a milder manner, sparing their lives as fellow-Christians, and permitting them to retain their lands as tributary proprietors.

[1] The word in the original is exterminatis, but of course exterminare then bore its etymological sense of expatriation or expulsion, if not merely of confiscation, while it certainly did not imply the idea of slaughter, connoted by the modern word.

The English Chronicle, our third authority, was first compiled at the court of AElfred, four and a-half centuries after the Conquest; and so its value as original testimony is very slight. Its earlier portions are mainly condensed from Baeda; but it contains a few fragments of traditional information from some other unknown sources. These fragments, however, refer chiefly to Kent, Sussex, and the older parts of Wessex, where we have reason to believe that the Teutonic colonisation was exceptionally thorough; and they tell us nothing about Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and East Anglia, where we find at the present day so large a proportion of the population possessing an unmistakably Celtic physique. The Chronicle undoubtedly describes the conflict in the south as sharp and bloody; and in spite of the mythical character of the names and events, it is probable that in this respect it rightly preserves the popular memory of the conquest, and its general nature. In Kent, "the Welsh fled the English like fire;" and Hengest and AEsc, in a single battle, slew 4,000 men. In Sussex, AElle and Cissa killed or drove out the natives in the western rapes on their first landing, and afterwards massacred every Briton at Anderida. In Wessex, in the first struggle, "Cerdic and Cynric offslew a British king whose name was Natanleod, and 5,000 men with him." And so the dismal annals of rapine and slaughter run on from year to year, with simple, unquestioning conciseness, showing us, at least, the manner in which the later English believed their forefathers had acquired the land. Moreover, these frightful details accord well enough with the vague generalities of Gildas, from which, however, they may very possibly have been manufactured. Yet even the Chronicle nowhere speaks of absolute extermination: that idea has been wholly read into its words, not directly inferred from them. A great deal has been made of the massacre at Pevensey; but we hear nothing of similar massacres at the great Roman cities—at London, at York, at Verulam, at Bath, at Cirencester, which would surely have attracted more attention than a small outlying fortress like Anderida. Even the Teutonic champions themselves admit that some, at least, of the Celts were incorporated into the English community. "The women," says Mr. Freeman, "would, doubtless, be largely spared;" while as to the men, he observes, "we may be sure that death, emigration, or personal slavery were the only alternatives which the vanquished found at the hands of our fathers." But there is a vast gulf, from the ethnological point of view, between exterminating a nation and enslaving it.[2]

[2] In this and a few other cases, modern authorities are quoted merely to show that the essential facts of a large Welsh survival are really admitted even by those who most strongly argue in favour of the general Teutonic origin of Englishmen.

In the cities, indeed, it would seem that the Britons remained in great numbers. The Welsh bards complain that the urban race of Romanised natives known as Loegrians, "became as Saxons." Mr. Kemble has shown that the English did not by any means always massacre the inhabitants of the cities. Mr. Freeman observes, "It is probable that within the [English] frontier there still were Roman towns tributary to the conquerors rather than occupied by them;" and Canon Stubbs himself remarks, that "in some of the cities there were probably elements of continuous life: London, the mart of the merchants, York, the capital of the north, and some others, have a continuous political existence." "Wherever the cities were spared," he adds, "a portion, at least, of the city population must have continued also. In the country, too, especially towards the west and the debateable border, great numbers of Britons may have survived in a servile or half-servile condition." But we must remember that in only two cases, Anderida and Chester, do we actually hear of massacres; in all the other towns, Baeda and the Chronicle tell us nothing about them. It is a significant fact that Sussex, the one kingdom in which we hear of a complete annihilation, is the very one where the Teutonic type of physique still remains the purest. But there are nowhere any traces of English clan nomenclature in any of the cities. They all retain their Celtic or Roman names. At Cambridge itself, in the heart of the true English country, the charter of the thegn's guild, a late document, mentions a special distinction of penalties for killing a Welshman, "if the slain be a ceorl, 2 ores, if he be a Welshman, one ore." "The large Romanised towns," says Professor Rolleston, "no doubt made terms with the Saxons, who abhorred city life, and would probably be content to leave the unwarlike burghers in a condition of heavily-taxed submissiveness."

Thus, even in the east it is admitted that a Celtic element probably entered into the population in three ways,—by sparing the women, by making rural slaves of the men, and by preserving some, at least, of the inhabitants of cities. The skulls of these Anglicised Welshmen are found in ancient interments; their descendants are still to be recognised by their physical type in modern England. "It is quite possible," says Mr. Freeman, "that even at the end of the sixth century there may have been within the English frontier inaccessible points where detached bodies of Welshmen still retained a precarious independence." Sir F. Palgrave has collected passages tending to show that parties of independent Welshmen held out in the Fens till a very late period; and this conclusion is admitted by Mr. Freeman to be probably correct. But more important is the general survival of scattered Britons within the English communities themselves. Traces of this we find even in Anglo-Saxon documents. The signatures to very early charters,[3] collected by Thorpe and Kemble, supply us with names some of which are assuredly not Teutonic, while others are demonstrably Celtic; and these names are borne by people occupying high positions at the court of English kings. Names of this class occur even in Kent itself; while others are borne by members of the royal family of Wessex. The local dialect of the West Riding of Yorkshire still contains many Celtic words; and the shepherds of Northumberland and the Lothians still reckon their sheep by what is known as "the rhyming score," which is really a corrupt form of the Welsh numerals from one to twenty. The laws of Northumbria mention the Welshmen who pay rent to the king. Indeed, it is clear that even in the east itself the English were from the first a body of rural colonists and landowners, holding in subjection a class of native serfs, with whom they did not intermingle, but who gradually became Anglicised, and finally coalesced with their former masters, under the stress of the Danish and Norman supremacies.

[3] Kemble "On Anglo-Saxon Names." Proc. Arch. Inst., 1845.

In the west, however, the English occupation took even less the form of a regular colonisation. The laws of Ine, a West Saxon king, show us that in his territories, bordering on yet unconquered British lands, the Welshman often occupied the position of a rent-paying inferior, as well as that of a slave. The so-called Nennius tells us that Elmet in Yorkshire, long an intrusive Welsh principality, was not subdued by the English till the reign of Eadwine of Northumbria; when, we learn, the Northumbrian prince "seized Elmet, and expelled Cerdic its king:" but nothing is said as to any extermination of its people. As Baeda incidentally mentions this Cerdic, "king of the Britons," Nennius may probably be trusted upon the point. As late as the beginning of the tenth century, King AElfred in his will describes the people of Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and Wilts, as "Welsh kin." The physical appearance of the peasantry in the Severn valley, and especially in Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and Herefordshire, indicates that the western parts of Mercia were equally Celtic in blood. The dialect of Lancashire contains a large Celtic infusion. Similarly, the English clan-villages decrease gradually in numbers as we move westward, till they almost disappear beyond the central dividing ridge. We learn from Domesday Book that at the date of the Norman conquest the number of serfs was greater from east to west, and largest on the Welsh border. Mr. Isaac Taylor points out that a similar argument may be derived from the area of the hundreds in various counties. The hundred was originally a body of one hundred English families (more or less), bound together by mutual pledge, and answerable for one another's conduct. In Sussex, the average number of square miles in each hundred is only twenty-three; in Kent, twenty-four; in Surrey, fifty-eight; and in Herts, seventy-nine: but in Gloucester it is ninety-seven; in Derby, one hundred and sixty-two; in Warwick, one hundred and seventy-nine; and in Lancashire, three hundred and two. These facts imply that the English population clustered thickest in the old settled east, but grew thinner and thinner towards the Welsh and Cumbrian border. Altogether, the historical evidence regarding the western slopes of England bears out Professor Huxley's dictum as to the thoroughly Celtic character of their population.

On the other hand, it is impossible to deny that Mr. Freeman and Canon Stubbs have proved their point as to the thorough Teutonisation of Southern Britain by the English invaders. Though it may be true that much Welsh blood survived in England, especially amongst the servile class, yet it is none the less true that the nation which rose upon the ruins of Roman Britain was, in form and organisation, almost purely English. The language spoken by the whole country was the same which had been spoken in Sleswick. Only a few words of Welsh origin relating to agriculture, household service, and smithcraft, were introduced by the serfs into the tongue of their masters. The dialects of the Yorkshire moors, of the Lake District, and of Dorset or Devon, spoken only by wild herdsmen in the least cultivated tracts, retained a few more evident traces of the Welsh vocabulary: but in York, in London, in Winchester, and in all the large towns, the pure Anglo-Saxon of the old England by the shores of the Baltic was alone spoken. The Celtic serfs and their descendants quickly assumed English names, talked English to one another, and soon forgot, in a few generations, that they had not always been Englishmen in blood and tongue. The whole organisation of the state, the whole social life of the people, was entirely Teutonic. "The historical civilisation," as Canon Stubbs admirably puts it, "is English and not Celtic." Though there may have been much Welsh blood left, it ran in the veins of serfs and rent-paying churls, who were of no political or social importance. These two aspects of the case should be kept carefully distinct. Had they always been separated, much of the discussion which has arisen on the subject would doubtless have been avoided; for the strongest advocates of the Teutonic theory are generally ready to allow that Celtic women, children, and slaves may have been largely spared: while the Celtic enthusiasts have thought incumbent upon them to derive English words from Welsh roots, and to trace the origin of English social institutions to Celtic models. The facts seem to indicate that while the modern English nation is largely Welsh in blood, it is wholly Teutonic in form and language. Each of us probably traces back his descent to mixed Celtic and Germanic ancestry: but while the Celts have contributed the material alone, the Teutons have contributed both the material and the form.



We can now picture to ourselves the general aspect of the country after the English colonies had established themselves as far west as the Somersetshire marshes, the Severn, and the Dee. The whole land was occupied by little groups of Teutonic settlers, each isolated by the mark within their own township; each tilling the ground with their own hands and those of their Welsh serfs. The townships were rudely gathered together into petty chieftainships; and these chieftainships tended gradually to aggregate into larger kingdoms, which finally merged in the three great historical divisions of Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex; divisions that survive to our own time as the North, the Midlands, and the South. Meanwhile, most of the Roman towns were slowly depopulated and fell into disrepair, so that a "waste chester" becomes a common object in Anglo-Saxon history. Towns belong to a higher civilisation, and had little place in agricultural England. The roads were neglected for want of commerce; and trade only survived in London and along the coast of Kent, where the discovery of Frankish coins proves the existence of intercourse with the Teutonic kingdom of Neustria, which had grown up on the ruins of northern Gaul. Everywhere in Britain the Roman civilisation fell into abeyance: in improved agriculture alone did any notable relic of its existence remain. The century and a half between the conquest and the arrival of Augustine is a dreary period of unmixed barbarism and perpetual anarchy.

From time to time the older settled colonies kept sending out fresh swarms of young emigrants towards the yet unconquered west, much as the Americans and Canadians have done in our own days. Armed with their long swords and battle-axes, the new colonists went forth in family bands, under petty chieftains, to war against the Welsh; and when they had conquered themselves a district, they settled on it as lords of the soil, enslaved the survivors of their enemies, and made their leader into a king. Meanwhile, the older colonies kept up their fighting spirit by constant wars amongst themselves. Thus we read of contests between the men of Kent and the West Saxons, or between conflicting nobles in Wessex itself. Fighting, in fact, was the one business of the English freeman, and it was but slowly that he settled down into a quiet agriculturist. The influence of Christianity alone seems to have wrought the change. Before the conversion of England, all the glimpses which we get of the English freeman represent him only as a rude and turbulent warrior, with the very spirit of his kinsmen, the later wickings of the north.

An enormous amount of the country still remained overgrown with wild forest. The whole weald of Kent and Sussex, the great tract of Selwood in Wessex, the larger part of Warwickshire, the entire Peakland, the central dividing ridge between the two seas from Yorkshire to the Forth, and other wide regions elsewhere, were covered with primaeval woodlands. Arden, Charnwood, Wychwood, Sherwood, and the rest, are but the relics of vast forests which once stretched over half England. The bear still lurked in the remotest thickets; packs of wolves still issued forth at night to ravage the herdsman's folds; wild boars wallowed in the fens or munched acorns under the oakwoods; deer ranged over all the heathy tracts throughout the whole island; and the wild white cattle, now confined to Chillingham Park, roamed in many spots from north to south. Hence hunting was the chief pastime of the princes and ealdormen when they were not engaged in war with one another or with the Welsh. Game, boar-flesh, and venison formed an important portion of diet throughout the whole early English period, up to the Norman conquest, and long after.

The king was the recognised head of each community, though his position was hardly more than that of leader of the nobles in war. He received an original lot in the conquered land, and remained a private possessor of estates, tilled by his Welsh slaves. He was king of the people, not of the country, and is always so described in the early monuments. Each king seems to have had a chief priest in his kingdom.

There was no distinct capital for the petty kingdoms, though a principal royal residence appears to have been usual. But the kings possessed many separate hams or estates in their domain, in each of which food and other material for their use were collected by their serfs. They moved about with their suite from one of these to another, consuming all that had been prepared for them in each, and then passing on to the next. The king himself made the journey in the waggon drawn by oxen, which formed his rude prerogative. Such primitive royal progresses were absolutely necessary in so disjointed a state of society, if the king was to govern at all. Only by moving about and seeing with his own eyes could he gain any information in a country where organisation was feeble and writing practically unknown: only by consuming what was grown for him on the spot where it was grown could he and his suite obtain provisions in the rude state of Anglo-Saxon communications. But such government as existed was mainly that of the local ealdormen and the village gentry.

Marriages were practically conducted by purchase, the wife being bought by the husband from her father's family. A relic of this custom perhaps still survives in the modern ceremony, when the father gives the bride in marriage to the bridegroom. Polygamy was not unknown; and it was usual for men to marry their father's widows. The wives, being part of the father's property, naturally became part of the son's heritage. Fathers probably possessed the right of selling their children into slavery; and we know that English slaves were sold at Rome, being conveyed thither by Frisian merchants.

The artizan class, such as it was, must have been attached to the houses of the chieftains, probably in a servile position. Pottery was manufactured of excellent but simple patterns. Metal work was, of course, thoroughly understood, and the Anglo-Saxon swords and knives discovered in barrows are of good construction. Every chief had also his minstrel, who sang the short and jerky Anglo-Saxon songs to the accompaniment of a harp. The dead were burnt and their ashes placed in tumuli in the north: the southern tribes buried their warriors in full military dress, and from their tombs much of the little knowledge which we possess as to their habits is derived. Thence have been taken their swords, a yard long, with ornamental hilt and double-cutting edge, often covered by runic inscriptions; their small girdle knives; their long spears; and their round, leather-faced, wooden shields. The jewellery is of gold, enriched with coloured enamel, pearl, or sliced garnet. Buckles, rings, bracelets, hairpins, necklaces, scissors, and toilet requisites were also buried with the dead. Glass drinking-cups which occur amongst the tombs, were probably imported from the continent to Kent or London; and some small trade certainly existed with the Roman world, as we learn from Baeda.

In faith the English remained true to their old Teutonic myths. Their intercourse with the Christian Welsh was not of a kind to make them embrace the religion which must have seemed to them that of slaves and enemies. Baeda tells us that the English worshipped idols, and sacrificed oxen to their gods. Many traces of their mythology are still left in our midst.

First in importance among their deities came Woden, the Odin of our Scandinavian kinsmen, whose name we still preserve in Wednesday (dies Mercurii). To him every royal family of the English traced its descent. Mr. Kemble has pointed out many high places in England which keep his name to the present day. Wanborough, in Surrey, at the heaven-water-parting of the Hog's Back, was originally Wodnesbeorh, or the hill of Woden. Wanborough, in Wiltshire, which divides the valleys of the Kennet and the Isis, has the same origin; as has also Woodnesborough in Kent. Wonston, in Hants, was probably Woden's stone; Wambrook, Wampool, and Wansford, his brook, his pool, and his ford. All these names are redolent of that nature-worship which was so marked a portion of the Anglo-Saxon religion. Godshill, in the Isle of Wight, now crowned by a Christian church, was also probably the site of early Woden worship. The boundaries of estates, as mentioned in charters, give instances of trees, stones, and posts, used as landmarks, and dedicated to Woden, thus conferring upon them a religious sanction, like that of Hermes amongst the Greeks. Anglo-Saxon worship generally gathered around natural features; and sacred oaks, ashes, wells, hills, and rivers are among the commonest memorials of our heathen ancestors. Many of them were reconsecrated after the introduction of Christianity to saints of the church, and so have retained their character for sanctity almost to our own time.

Thunor, the same word as our modern English thunder, was practically, though not philologically, the Anglo-Saxon representative of Zeus. We are more familiar with his name in its clipped Norse form of Thor. Thursday is Thunor's day (Thunres daeg: dies Jovis) and the thunderbolt, really a polished stone axe of the aboriginal neolithic savages, was supposed to be his weapon. Thundersfield, in Surrey; Thundersley, in Essex; and Thursley, in Surrey, still preserve the memory of his sacred sites. Thurleigh, in Bedford; Thurlow, in Essex; Thursley, in Cumberland; Thursfield, in Staffordshire; and Thursford, in Norfolk, are more probably due to later Danish influence, and commemorate namesakes of the Norse Thor rather than the English Thunor.

Tiw, the philological equivalent of Zeus, answered rather in character to Ares, and had for his day Tuesday (dies Martis). Tiw's mere and Tiw's thorn occur in charters, and a few places still retain his name. Frea gives his title to Friday (dies Veneris), and Saetere to Saturday (dies Saturni). But the Anglo-Saxon worship really paid more attention to certain deified heroes,—Baeldaeg, Geat, and Sceaf; and to certain personified abstractions,—Wig (war), Death, and Sige (victory), than to these minor gods. And, as often happens in Polytheistic religions, there is reason to believe that the popular creed had much less reference to the gods at all than to many inferior spirits of a naturalistic sort. For the early English farmer, the world around was full of spiritual beings, half divine, half devilish. Fiends and monsters peopled the fens, and tales of their doings terrified his childhood. Spirits of flood and fell swamped his boat or misled him at night. Water nicors haunted the streams; fairies danced on the green rings of the pasture; dwarfs lived in the barrows of Celtic or neolithic chieftains, and wrought strange weapons underground. The mark, the forest, the hills, were all full for the early Englishman of mysterious and often hostile beings. At length the Weirds or Fates swept him away. Beneath the earth itself, Hel, mistress of the cold and joyless world of shades, at last received him; unless, indeed, by dying a warrior's death, he was admitted to the happy realms of Waelheal. As a whole, the Anglo-Saxon heathendom was a religion of terrorism. Evil spirits surrounded men on every side, dwelt in all solitary places, and stalked over the land by night. Ghosts dwelt in the forest; elves haunted the rude stone circles of elder days. The woodland, still really tenanted by deer, wolves, and wild boars, was also filled by popular imagination with demons and imps. Charms, spells, and incantations formed the most real and living part of the national faith; and many of these survived into Christian times as witchcraft. Some of them, and of the early myths, even continue to be repeated in the folk-lore of the present day. Such are the legends of the Wild Huntsman and of Wayland Smith. Indeed, heathendom had a strong hold over the common English mind long after the public adoption of Christianity; and heathen sacrifices continued to be offered in secret as late as the thirteenth century. Our poetry and our ordinary language is tinged with heathen ideas even in modern times.

Still more interesting, however, are those relics of yet earlier social states, which we find amongst the Anglo-Saxons themselves. The production of fire by rubbing together two sticks is a common practice amongst all savages; and it has acquired a sacred significance which causes it to live on into more civilised stages. Once a year the needfire was so lighted, and all the hearths of the village were rekindled from the blaze thus obtained. Cattle were "passed through the fire" to preserve them from the attacks of fiends; and perhaps even children were sometimes treated in the same manner. The ceremony, originally adopted, perhaps, by the English from their Celtic serfs, still lingers in remote parts of the country, as the lighting of fires on St. John's Eve. Tattooing the face was practised by the noble classes. It seems probable that the early English sacrificed human victims, as the Germans certainly did to Wuotan (the High Dutch Woden); and we know that the practice of suttee existed, and that widows slew themselves on the death of their husbands, in order to accompany them to the other world. Even more curious are the vestiges of Totemism, or primitive animal worship, common to all branches of the Aryan race, as well as to the North American Indians, the Australian black fellows, and many other savages. Totemism consists in the belief that each family is literally descended from a particular plant or animal, whose name it bears; and members of the family generally refuse to pluck the plant or kill the animal after which they are named. Of these beliefs we find apparently several traces in Anglo-Saxon life. The genealogies of the kings include such names as those of the horse, the mare, the ash, and the whale. In the very early Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf, two of the characters bear the names of Wulf and Eofer (boar). The wolf and the raven were sacred animals, and have left their memory in many places, as well as in such personal titles as AEthelwulf, the noble wolf. The boar was also greatly reverenced; its head was used as an amulet, or as a crest for helmets, and oaths were taken upon it till late in the middle ages. Our own boar's head at Christmas is a relic of the old belief. The sanctity of the horse and the ash has been already mentioned. Now many of the Anglo-Saxon clans bore names implying their descent from such plants or animals. Thus a charter mentions the AEscings, or sons of the ash, in Surrey; another refers to the Earnings, or sons of the eagle (earn); a third to the Heartings, or sons of the hart; a fourth to the Wylfings, or sons of the wolf; and a fifth to the Thornings, or sons of the thorn. The oak has left traces of his descendants at Oakington, in Cambridge: the birch, at Birchington, in Kent; the boar (Eofer) at Evringham, in Yorkshire; the hawk, at Hawkinge, in Kent; the horse, at Horsington, in Lincolnshire; the raven, at Raveningham, in Norfolk; the sun, at Sunning, in Berks; and the serpent (Wyrm), at Wormingford, Worminghall, and Wormington, in Essex, Bucks, and Gloucester, respectively. Every one of these objects is a common and well-known totem amongst savage tribes; and the inference that at some earlier period the Anglo-Saxons had been Totemists is almost irresistible.

Moreover, it is an ascertained fact that the custom of exogamy (marriage by capture outside the tribe), and of counting kindred on the female side alone, accompanies the low stage of culture with which Totemism is usually associated. We know also that this method of reckoning relationship obtained amongst certain Aryan tribes, such as the Picts. Traces of the ceremonial form of marriage by capture survived in England to a late date in the middle ages; and therefore the custom of exogamy, upon which the ceremony is based, must probably have existed amongst the English themselves at some earlier period. Even in the first historical age, a conquered king generally gave his daughter in marriage to his conqueror, as a mark of submission, which is a relic of the same custom. Now, if members of the various tribes—Jutes, English, and Saxons,—used at one time habitually to intermarry with one another, and to give their children the clan-name of the father, it would follow that persons bearing the same clan-name would appear in all the tribes. Such we find to be actually the case. The Hemings, for instance, are met with in six counties—York, Lincoln, Huntingdon, Suffolk, Northampton, and Somerset; the Mannings occur in English Norfolk and in Saxon Dorset; the Billings, and many other clans, have left their names over the whole land, from north to south and from east to west alike. It has often been assumed that these facts prove the intimate intermixture of the invading tribes; but the supposition of the former existence of exogamy, and consequent appearance of similar clan-names in all the tribes, seems far more probable than such an extreme mingling of different tribesmen over the whole conquered territory.[1] Part of the early English ceremony of marriage consisted in the bridegroom touching the head of the bride with a shoe, a relic, doubtless, of the original mode of capture, when the captor placed his foot on the neck of his prisoner or slave. After marriage, the wife's hair was cut short, which is a universal mark of slavery.

[1] I owe this ingenious explanation to a note in Mr. Andrew Lang's essays prefixed to Mr. Holland's translation of Aristotle's Politics. He has there also suggested the analysis of the clan names for traces of Totemism, whose results I have given above in part.

Thus we may divide the early English religion into four elements. First, the remnants of a very primitive savage faith, represented by the sanctity of animals and plants, by Totemism, by the needfire, and by the use of amulets, charms, and spells. Second, the relics of the old common Aryan nature-worship, found in the reverence paid to Thunor, or Thunder, who is a form of Zeus, and in the sacredness of hills, rivers, wells, fords, and the open air. Third, a system of Teutonic hero or ancestor-worship, typified by Woden, Baeldaeg, and the other great names of the genealogies, and having its origin in the belief in ghosts. Fourth, a deification of certain abstract ideas, such as War, Fate, Victory, and Death. But the average heathen Anglo-Saxon religion was merely a vast mass of superstition, a dark and gloomy terrorism, begotten of the vague dread of misfortune which barbarians naturally feel in a half-peopled land, where war and massacre are the highest business of every man's lifetime, and a violent death the ordinary way in which he meets his end.



It was impossible that a country lying within sight of the orthodox Frankish kingdom, and enclosed between two Christian Churches on either side, should long remain in such a state of isolated heathendom. For to be cut off from Christendom was to be cut off from the whole social, political, intellectual, and commercial life of the civilised world. In Britain, as distinctly as in the Pacific Islands in our own day, the missionary was the pioneer of civilisation. The change which Christianity wrought in England in a few generations was almost as enormous as the change which it has wrought in Hawaii at the present time. Before the arrival of the missionary, there was no written literature, no industrial arts, no peace, no social intercourse between district and district. The church came as a teacher and civiliser, and in a few years the barbarous heathen English warrior had settled down into a toilsome agriculturist, an eager scholar, a peaceful law-giver, or an earnest priest. The change was not merely a change of religion, it was a revolution from a life of barbarism to a life of incipient culture, and slow but progressive civilisation.

So inevitable was the Christianisation of England, that even while the flood of paganism was pouring westward, the east was beginning to receive the faith of Rome from the Frankish kingdom and from Italy. It has been necessary, indeed, to anticipate a little, in order to show the story of the conquest in its true light. Ten years before the heathen AEthelfrith of Northumbria massacred the Welsh monks at Chester, Augustine had brought Christianity to the people of Kent.

In 596, Gregory the Great determined to send a mission to England. Even before that time, Kent had been in closer union with the Continent than any other part of the country. Trade went on with the kindred Saxon coast of the Frankish kingdom, and AEthelberht, the ambitious Kentish king, and over-lord of all England south of the Humber, had even married Bercta, a daughter of the Frankish king of Paris. Bercta was of course a Christian, and she brought her own Frankish chaplain, who officiated in the old Roman church of St. Martin, at Canterbury. But Gregory's mission was on a far larger scale. Augustine, prior of the monastery on the Coelian Hill, was sent with forty monks to convert the heathen English. They landed in Thanet, in 597, with all the pomp of Roman civilisation and ecclesiastical symbolism. Gregory had rightly determined to try by ritual and show to impress the barbarian mind. AEthelberht, already predisposed to accept the Continental culture, and to assimilate his rude kingdom to the Roman model, met them in the open air at a solemn meeting; for he feared, says Baeda, to meet them within four walls, lest they should practice incantations upon him. The foreign monks advanced in procession to the king's presence, chanting their litanies, and displaying a silver cross. AEthelberht yielded almost at once. He and all his court became Christians; and the people, as is usual amongst barbarous tribes, quickly conformed to the faith of their rulers. AEthelberht gave the missionaries leave to build new churches, or to repair the old ones erected by the Welsh Christians. Augustine returned to Gaul, where he was consecrated as Archbishop of the English nation, at Arles. Kent became thenceforth a part of the great Continental system. Canterbury has ever since remained the metropolis of the English Church; and the modern archbishops trace back their succession directly to St. Augustine.

For awhile, the young Church seemed to make vigorous progress. Augustine built a monastery at Canterbury, where AEthelberht founded a new church to SS. Peter and Paul, to be a sort of Westminster Abbey for the tombs of all future Kentish kings and archbishops. He also restored an old Roman church in the city. The pope sent him sacramental vessels, altar cloths, ornaments, relics, and, above all, many books. Ten years later, Augustine enlarged his missionary field by ordaining two new bishops—Mellitus, to preach to the East Saxons, "whose metropolis," says Baeda, "is the city of London, which is the mart of many nations, resorting to it by sea and land;" and Justus to the episcopal see of West Kent, with his bishop-stool at Rochester. The East Saxons nominally accepted the faith at the bidding of their over-lord, AEthelberht; but the people of London long remained pagans at heart. On Augustine's death, however, all life seemed again to die out of the struggling mission. Laurentius, who succeeded him, found the labour too great for his weaker hands. In 613 AEthelberht died, and his son Eadbald at once apostatised, returning to the worship of Woden and the ancestral gods. The East Saxons drove out Mellitus, who, with Justus, retired to Gaul; and Archbishop Laurentius himself was minded to follow them. Then the Kentish king, admonished by a dream of the archbishop's, made submission, recalled the truant bishops, and restored Justus to Rochester. The Londoners, however, would not receive back Mellitus, "choosing rather to be under their idolatrous high-priests." Soon Laurentius died too, and Mellitus was called to take his place, and consecrated at last a church in London in the monastery of St. Peter. In 624, the third archbishop was carried off by gout, and Justus of Rochester succeeded to the primacy of the struggling church. Up to this point little had been gained, except the conversion of Kent itself, with its dependent kingdom of Essex—the two parts of England in closest union with the Continent, through the mercantile intercourse by way of London and Richborough.

Under the new primate, however, an unexpected opening occurred for the conversion of the North. The Northumbrian kings had now risen to the first place in Britain. AEthelfrith had done much to establish their supremacy; under Eadwine it rose to a height of acknowledged over-lordship. "As an earnest of this king's future conversion and translation to the kingdom of heaven," says Baeda, with pardonable Northumbrian patriotic pride, "even his temporal power was allowed to increase greatly, so that he did what no Englishman had done before—that is to say, he united under his own over-lordship all the provinces of Britain, whether inhabited by English or by Welsh." Eadwine now took in marriage AEthelburh, daughter of AEthelberht, and sister of the reigning Kentish king. Justus seized the opportunity to introduce the Church into Northumbria. He ordained one Paulinus as bishop, to accompany the Christian lady, to watch over her faith, and if possible to convert her husband and his people.

Gregory had planned his scheme with systematic completeness; he had decided that there should be two metropolitan provinces, of York and London (which he knew as the old Roman capitals of Britain), and that each should consist of twelve episcopal sees. Paulinus now went to York in furtherance of this comprehensive but abortive scheme. A miraculous escape from assassination, or what was reputed one, gave the Roman monk a hold over Eadwine's mind; but the king decided to put off his conversion till he had tried the efficacy of the new faith by a practical appeal. He went on an expedition against the treacherous king of the West Saxons, who had endeavoured to assassinate him, and determined to abide by the result. Having overthrown his enemy with great slaughter, he returned to his royal city of Coningsborough (the king's town), and put himself as a catechumen under the care of Paulinus. The pope himself was induced to interest himself in so promising a convert; and he wrote a couple of briefs to Eadwine and his queen. These letters, the originals of which were carefully preserved at Rome, are copied out in full by Baeda. No doubt, the honour of receiving such an epistle from the pontiff of the Eternal City was not without its effect upon the semi-barbaric mind of Eadwine, who seems in some respects to have inherited the old Roman traditions of Eboracum.

Still the king held back. To change his own faith was to change the faith of the whole nation, and he thought it well to consult his witan. The old English assembly was always aristocratic in character, despite its ostensible democracy, for it consisted only of the heads of families; and as the kingdoms grew larger, their aristocratic character necessarily became more pronounced, as only the wealthier persons could be in attendance upon the king. The folk-moot had grown into the witena-gemot, or assembly of wise men. Eadwine assembled such a meeting on the banks of the Derwent—for moots were always held in the open air at some sacred spot—and there the priests and thegns declared their willingness to accept the new religion. Coifi, chief priest of the heathen gods, himself led the way, and flung a lance in derision at the temple of his own deities. To the surprise of all, the gods did not avenge the insult. Thereupon "King AEduin, with all the nobles and most of the common folk of his nation, received the faith and the font of holy regeneration, in the eleventh year of his reign, which is the year of our Lord's incarnation the six hundred and twenty-seventh, and about the hundred and eightieth after the arrival of the English in Britain. He was baptized at York on Easter-day, the first before the Ides of April (April 12), in the church of St. Peter the Apostle, which he himself had hastily built of wood, while he was being catechised and prepared for Baptism; and in the same city he gave the bishopric to his prelate and sponsor Paulinus. But after his Baptism he took care, by Paulinus's direction, to build a larger and finer church of stone, in the midst whereof his original chapel should be enclosed." To this day, York Minster, the lineal descendant of Eadwine's wooden church, remains dedicated to St. Peter; and the archbishops still sit in the bishop-stool of Paulinus. Part of Eadwine's later stone cathedral was discovered under the existing choir during the repairs rendered necessary by the incendiary Martin. As to the heathen temple, its traces still remained even in Baeda's day. "That place, formerly the abode of idols, is now pointed out not far from York to the westward, beyond the river Dornuentio, and is to-day called Godmundingaham, where the priest himself, through the inspiration of the true God, polluted and destroyed the altars which he himself had consecrated." So close did Baeda live to these early heathen English times. From the date of St. Augustine's arrival, indeed, Baeda stands upon the surer ground of almost contemporary narrative.

Still the greater part of English Britain remained heathen. Kent, Essex, and Northumbria were converted, or at least their kings and nobles had been baptised: but East Anglia, Mercia, Sussex, Wessex, and the minor interior principalities were as yet wholly heathen. Indeed, the various Teutonic colonies seemed to have received Christianity in the exact order of their settlement: the older and more civilised first, the newer and ruder last. Paulinus, however, made another conquest for the church in Lindsey (Lincolnshire), "where the first who believed," says the Chronicle, "was a certain great man who hight Blecca, with all his clan." In the very same year with these successes, Justus died, and Honorius received the See of Canterbury from Paulinus at the old Roman city of Lincoln. So far the Roman missionaries remained the only Christian teachers in England: no English convert seems as yet to have taken holy orders.

Again, however, the church received a severe check. Mercia, the youngest and roughest principality, stood out for heathendom. The western colony was beginning to raise itself into a great power, under its fierce and strong old king Penda, who seems to have consolidated all the petty chieftainships of the Midlands into a single fairly coherent kingdom. Penda hated Northumbria, which, under Eadwine, had made itself the chief English state: and he also hated Christianity, which he knew only as a religion fit for Welsh slaves, not for English warriors. For twenty-two years, therefore, the old heathen king waged an untiring war against Christian Northumbria. In 633, he allied himself with Cadwalla, the Christian Welsh king of Gwynedd, or North Wales, in a war against Eadwine; an alliance which supplies one more proof that the gulf between Welsh and English was not so wide as it is sometimes represented to be. The Welsh and Mercian host met the Northumbrians at Heathfield (perhaps Hatfield Chase) and utterly destroyed them. Eadwine himself and his son Osfrith were slain. Penda and Cadwalla "fared thence, and undid all Northumbria." The country was once more divided into Deira and Bernicia, and two heathen rulers succeeded to the northern kingdom. Paulinus, taking AEthelburh, the widow of Eadwine, went by sea to Kent, where Honorius, whom he had himself consecrated, received him cordially, and gave him the vacant see of Rochester. There he remained till his death, and so for a time ended the Christian mission to York. Penda made the best of his victory by annexing the Southumbrians, the Middle English, and the Lindiswaras, as well as by conquering the Severn Valley from the West Saxons. Henceforth, Mercia stands forth as one of the three leading Teutonic states in Britain.



It was not the Roman mission which finally succeeded in converting the North and the Midlands. That success was due to the Scottish and Pictish Church. At the end of the sixth century, Columba, an Irish missionary, crossed over to the solitary rock of Iona, where he established an abbey on the Irish model, and quickly evangelised the northern Picts. From Iona, some generations later, went forth the devoted missionaries who finally converted the northern half of England.

The native churches of the west, cut off from direct intercourse with the main body of Latin Christendom, had retained certain habits which were now regarded by Rome as schismatical. Chief among these were the date of celebrating Easter, and the uncanonical method of cutting the tonsure in a crescent instead of a circle. Augustine, shortly after his arrival, endeavoured to obtain unity between the two churches on these matters of discipline, to which great importance was attached as tests of submission to the Latin rule. He obtained from AEthelberht a safe-conduct through the heathen West-Saxon territories as far as what is now Worcestershire; and there, "on the borders of the Huiccii and the West-Saxons," says Baeda, "he convened to a colloquy the bishops and doctors of the nearest province of the Britons, in the place which, to the present day, is called in the English language, Augustine's Oak." Such open-air meetings by sacred trees or stones were universal in England both before and after its conversion. "He began to admonish them with a brotherly admonition to embrace with him the Catholic faith, and to undertake the common task of evangelising the pagans. For they did not observe Easter at the proper period: moreover, they did many other things contrary to the unity of the Church." But the Welsh were jealous of the intruders, and refused to abandon their old customs. Thereupon, Augustine declared that if they would not help him against the heathen, they would perish by the heathen. A few years later, after Augustine's death, this prediction was verified by AEthelfrith of Northumbria, whose massacre of the monks of Bangor has already been noticed.

It was in return for the destruction of Chester and the slaughter of the monks that Cadwalla joined the heathen Penda against his fellow Christian Eadwine. But the death of Eadwine left the throne open for the house of AEthelfrith, whose place Eadwine had taken. After a year of renewed heathendom, however, during part of which the Welsh Cadwalla reigned over Northumbria, Oswald, son of AEthelfrith, again united Deira and Bernicia under his own rule. Oswald was a Christian, but he had learnt his Christianity from the Scots, amongst whom he had spent his exile, and he favoured the introduction of Pictish and Scottish missionaries into Northumbria. The Italian monks who had accompanied Augustine were men of foreign speech and manners, representatives of an alien civilisation, and they attempted to convert whole kingdoms en bloc by the previous conversion of their rulers. Their method was political and systematic. But the Pictish and Irish preachers were men of more Britannic feelings, and they went to work with true missionary earnestness to convert the half Celtic people of Northumbria, man by man, in their own homes. Aidan, the apostle of the north, carried the Pictish faith into the Lothians and Northumberland. He placed his bishop-stool not far from the royal town of Bamborough, at Lindisfarne, the Holy Island of the Northumbrian coast. Other Celtic missionaries penetrated further south, even into the heathen realm of Penda and his tributary princes. Ceadda or Chad, the patron saint of Lichfield, carried Christianity to the Mercians. Diuma preached to the Middle English of Leicester with much success, Peada, their ealdorman, son of Penda, having himself already embraced the new faith. Penda had slain Oswald in a great battle at Maserfeld in 641; but the martyr only brought increased glory to the Christians: and Oswiu, who succeeded him, after an interval of anarchy, as king of Deira (for Bernicia now chose a king of its own), was also a zealous adherent of the Celtic missionaries. Thus the heterodox Church made rapid strides throughout the whole of the north.

Meanwhile, in the south the Latin missionaries, urged to activity, perhaps, by the Pictish successes, had been making fresh progress. In the very year when Oswald was chosen king by the Northumbrians, Birinus, a priest from northern Italy, went by command of the pope to the West Saxons: and after twelve months he was able to baptise their king, Cynegils, at his capital of Dorchester, on the Thames, his sponsor being Oswald of Northumbria. A year later, Felix, a Burgundian, "preached the faith of Christ to the East Anglians," who had indeed been converted by the Augustinian missionaries, but afterwards relapsed. Only Sussex and Mercia still remained heathen. But, in 655, Penda made a last attempt against Northumbria, which he had harried year after year, and was met by Oswiu at Winwidfield, near Leeds; the Christians were successful, and Penda was slain, together with thirty royal persons—petty princes of the tributary Mercian states, no doubt. His son, Peada, the Christian ealdorman of the Middle English, succeeded him, and the Mercians became Christians of the Pictish or Irish type. "Their first bishop," says Baeda, "was Diuma, who died and was buried among the Middle English. The second was Cellach, who abandoned his bishopric, and returned during his lifetime to Scotland (perhaps Ireland, but more probably the Scottish kingdom in Argyllshire). Both of these were by birth Irishmen. The third was Trumhere, by race an Englishman, but educated and ordained by the Irish." Thus Roman Christianity spread over the whole of England south of the Wash (save only heathen Sussex): while the Irish Church had made its way over all the north, from the Wash to the Firth of Forth. The Roman influence may be partly traced by the Roman alphabet superseding the old English runes. Runic inscriptions are rare in the south, where they were regarded as heathenish relics, and so destroyed: but they are comparatively common in the north. Runics appear on the coins of the first Christian kings of Mercia, Peada and AEthelred, but soon die out under their successors.

Heathendom was now fairly vanquished. It survived only in Sussex, cut off from the rest of England by the forest belt of the Weald. The next trial of strength must clearly lie between Rome and Iona.

The northern bishops and abbots traced their succession, not to Augustine, but to Columba. Cuthberht, the English apostle of the north, who really converted the people of Northumbria, as earlier missionaries had converted its kings, derived his orders from Iona. Rome or Ireland, was now the practical question of the English Church. As might be expected, Rome conquered. To allay the discord, King Oswiu summoned a synod at Streoneshalch (now known by its later Danish name of Whitby) in 664, to settle the vexed question as to the date of Easter. The Irish priests claimed the authority of St. John for their crescent tonsure; the Romans, headed by Wilfrith, a most vigorous priest, appealed to the authority of St. Peter for the canonical circle. "I will never offend the saint who holds the keys of heaven," said Oswiu, with the frank, half-heathendom of a recent convert; and the meeting shortly decided as the king would have it. The Irish party acquiesced or else returned to Scotland; and thenceforth the new English Church remained in close communion with Rome and the Continent. Whatever may be our ecclesiastical judgment of this decision, there can be little doubt that its material effects were most excellent. By bringing England into connection with Rome, it brought her into connection with the centre of all then-existing civilisation, and endowed her with arts and manufactures which she could never otherwise have attained. The connection with Ireland and the north would have been as fatal, from a purely secular point of view, to early English culture as was the later connection with half-barbaric Scandinavia. Rome gave England the Roman letters, arts, and organisation: Ireland could only have given her a more insular form of Celtic civilisation.



The change wrought in England by the introduction of the new faith was immense and sudden at the moment, as well as deep-reaching in its after consequences. The isolated heathen barbaric communities became at once an integral part of the great Roman and Christian civilisation. Even before the arrival of Augustine, some slight tincture of Roman influence had filtered through into the English world. The Welsh serfs had preserved some traditional knowledge of Roman agriculture; Kent had kept up some intercourse with the Continent; and even in York, Eadwine affected a certain imitation of Roman pomp. But after the introduction of Christianity, Roman civilisation began to produce marked results over the whole country. Writing, before almost unknown, or confined to the engraving of runic characters on metal objects, grew rapidly into a common art. The Latin language was introduced, and with it the key to the Latin literature and Latin science, the heirlooms of Greece and the East. Roman influences affected the little courts of the English kings; and the customary laws began to be written down in regular codes. Before the conversion we have not a single written document upon which to base our history; from the moment of Augustine's landing we have the invaluable works of Baeda, and a host of lesser writings (chiefly lives of saints), besides an immense number of charters or royal grants of land to monasteries and private persons. These grants, written at first in Latin, but afterwards in Anglo-Saxon, were preserved in the monasteries down to the date of their dissolution, and then became the property of various collectors. They have been transcribed and published by Mr. Kemble and Mr. Thorpe, and they form some of our most useful materials for the early history of Christian England.

It was mainly by means of the monasteries that Christianity became a great civilising and teaching agency in England. Those who judge monastic institutions only by their later and worst days, when they had, perhaps, ceased to perform any useful function, are apt to forget the benefits which they conferred upon the people in the earlier stages of their existence. The state of England during this first Christian period was one of chronic and bloody warfare. There was no regular army, but every freeman was a soldier, and raids of one English tribe upon another were everyday occurrences; while pillaging frays on the part of the Welsh, followed by savage reprisals on the part of the English, were still more frequent. During the heathen period, even the Picts seem often to have made piractical expeditions far into the south of England. In 597, for example, we read in the Chronicle that Ceolwulf, king of the West Saxons, constantly fought "either against the English, or against the Welsh, or against the Picts." But in 603, the Argyllshire Scots made a raid against Northumbria, and were so completely crushed by AEthelfrith, that "since then no king of Scots durst lead a host against this folk"; while the southern Picts of Galloway became tributaries of the Northumbrian kings. But war between Saxons and English, or between Teutons and Welsh, still remained chronic; and Christianity did little to prevent these perpetual border wars and raids. In 633, Cadwalla and Penda wasted Northumbria; in 644, Penda drove out King Kenwealh, of the West Saxons, from his possessions along the Severn; in 671, Wulfhere, the Mercian, ravaged Wessex and the south as far as Ashdown, and conquered Wight, which he gave to the South Saxons; and so, from time to time, we catch glimpses of the unceasing strife between each folk and its neighbours, besides many hints of intestine struggles between prince and prince, or of rivalries between one petty shire and others of the same kingdom, far too numerous and unimportant to be detailed here in full.

With such a state of affairs as this, it became a matter of deep importance that there should be some one institution where the arts of peace might be carried on in safety; where agriculture might be sure of its reward; where literature and science might be studied; and where civilising influences might be safe from interruption or rapine. The monasteries gave an opportunity for such an ameliorating influence to spring up. They were spared even in war by the reverence of the people for the Church; and they became places where peaceful minds might retire for honest work, and learning, and thinking, away from the fierce turmoil of a still essentially barbaric and predatory community. At the same time, they encouraged the development of this very type of mind by turning the reproach of cowardice, which it would have carried with it in heathen times, into an honour and a mark of holiness. Every monastery became a centre of light and of struggling culture for the surrounding district. They were at once, to the early English recluse, universities and refuges, places of education, of retirement, and of peace, in the midst of a jarring and discordant world.

Hence, almost the first act of every newly-converted prince was to found a monastery in his dominions. That of Canterbury dates from the arrival of Augustine. In 643, Kenwealh of Wessex "bade timber the old minster at Winchester." In 654, shortly after the conversion of East Anglia, "Botulf began to build a monastery at Icanho," since called after his name Botulf's tun, or Boston. In 657, Peada of Mercia and Oswiu of Northumbria "said that they would rear a monastery to the glory of Christ and the honour of St. Peter; and they did so, and gave it the name of Medeshamstede"; but it is now known as Peterborough.[1]

[1] The charter is a late forgery, but there is no reason to doubt that it represents the correct tradition.

Before the battle of Winwidfield, Oswiu had vowed to build twelve minsters in his kingdom, and he redeemed his vow by founding six in Bernicia and six in Deira. In 669, Ecgberht of Kent "gave Reculver to Bass, the mass-priest, to build a monastery thereon." In 663, AEthelthryth, a lady of royal blood, better known by the Latinised name of St. Etheldreda, "began the monastery at Ely." Before Baeda's death, in 735, religious houses already existed at Lastingham, Melrose, Lindisfarne, Whithern, Bardney, Gilling, Bury, Ripon, Chertsey, Barking, Abercorn, Selsey, Redbridge, Coldingham, Towcester, Hackness, and several other places. So the whole of England was soon covered with monastic establishments, each liberally endowed with land, and each engaged in tilling the soil without, and cultivating peaceful arts within, like little islands of southern civilisation, dotted about in the wide sea of Teutonic barbarism.

In the Roman south, many, if not all, of the monasteries seem to have been planned on the regular models; but in the north, where the Irish missionaries had borne the largest share in the work of conversion, the monasteries were irregular bodies on the Irish plan, where an abbot or abbess ruled over a mixed community of monks and nuns. Hild, a member of the Northumbrian princely family, founded such an abbey at Streoneshalch (Whitby), made memorable by numbering amongst its members the first known English poet, Caedmon. St. John of Beverley, Bishop of Hexham, set up a similar monastery at the place with which his name is so closely associated. The Irish monks themselves founded others at Lindisfarne and elsewhere. Even in the south, some Irish abbeys existed. An Irish monk had set up one at Bosham, in Sussex, even before Wilfrith converted that kingdom; and one of his countrymen, Maidulf (or Maeldubh?) was the original head of Malmesbury. In process of time, however, as the union with Rome grew stronger, all these houses conformed to the more regular usage, and became monasteries of the ordinary Benedictine type.

The civilising value of the monasteries can hardly be over-rated. Secure in the peace conferred upon them by a religious sanction, the monks became the builders of schools, the drainers of marshland, the clearers of forest, the tillers of heath. Many of the earliest religious houses rose in the midst of what had previously been trackless wilds. Peterborough and Ely grew up on islands of the Fen country. Crowland gathered round the cell of Guthlac in the midst of a desolate mere. Evesham occupied a glade in the wild forests of the western march. Glastonbury, an old Welsh foundation, stood on a solitary islet, where the abrupt knoll of the Tor looks down upon the broad waste of the Somersetshire marshes. Beverley, as its name imports, had been a haunt of beavers before the monks began to till its fruitful dingles. In every case agriculture soon turned the wild lands into orchards and cornfields, or drove drains through the fens which converted their marshes into meadows and pastures for the long-horned English cattle. Roman architecture, too, came with the Roman church. We hear nothing before of stone buildings; but Eadwine erected a church of stone at York, under the direction of Paulinus; and Bishop Wilfrith, a generation later, restored and decorated it, covering the roof with lead and filling the windows with panes of glass. Masons had already been settled in Kent, though Benedict, the founder of Wearmouth and Jarrow, found it desirable to bring over others from the Franks. Metal-working had always been a special gift of the English, and their gold jewellery was well made even before the conversion, but it became still more noticeable after the monks took the craft into their own hands. Baeda mentions mines of copper, iron, lead, silver, and jet. Abbot Benedict not only brought manuscripts and pictures from Rome, which were copied and imitated in his monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow, but he also brought over glass-blowers, who introduced the art of glass-making into England. Cuthberht, Baeda's scholar, writes to Lull, asking for workmen who can make glass vessels. Bells appear to have been equally early introductions. Roman music of course accompanied the Roman liturgy. The connection established with the clergy of the continent favoured the dispersion of European goods throughout England. We constantly hear of presents, consisting of skilled handicraft, passing from the civilised south to the rude and barbaric north. Wilfrith and Benedict journeyed several times to and from Rome, enlarging their own minds by intercourse with Roman society, and returning laden with works of art or manuscripts of value. Baeda was acquainted with the writings of all the chief classical poets and philosophers, whom he often quotes. We can only liken the results of such intercourse to those which in our own time have proceeded from the opening of Japan to western ideas, or of the Hawaiian Islands to European civilisation and European missionaries. The English school which soon sprang up at Rome, and the Latin schools which soon sprang up at York and Canterbury, are precise equivalents of the educational movements in both those countries which we see in our own day. The monks were to learn Latin and Greek "as well as they learned their own tongue," and were so to be given the key of all the literature and all the science that the world then possessed.

The monasteries thus became real manufacturing, agricultural, and literary centres on a small scale. The monks boiled down the salt of the brine-pits; they copied and illuminated manuscripts in the library; they painted pictures not without rude merit of their own; they ran rhines through the marshy moorland; they tilled the soil with vigour and success. A new culture began to occupy the land—the culture whose fully-developed form we now see around us. But it must never be forgotten that in its origin it is wholly Roman, and not at all Anglo-Saxon. Our people showed themselves singularly apt at embracing it, like the modern Polynesians, and unlike the American Indians; but they did not invent it for themselves. Our existing culture is not home-bred at all; it is simply the inherited and widened culture of Greece and Italy.

The most perfect picture of the monastic life and of early English Christianity which we possess is that drawn for us in the life and works of Baeda. Before giving any account, however, of the sketch which he has left us, it will be necessary to follow briefly the course of events in the English church during the few intervening years.

The Church of England in its existing form owes its organisation to a Greek monk. In 667, Oswiu of Northumbria and Ecgberht of Kent, in order to bring their dominions into closer connection with Rome, united in sending Wigheard the priest to the pope, that he might be hallowed Archbishop of Canterbury. No Englishman had yet held that office, and the choice may be regarded as a symptom of growth in the native Church. But Wigheard died at Rome, and the pope seized the opportunity to consecrate an archbishop in the Roman interest. His choice fell upon one Theodore, a monk of Tarsus in Cilicia, who was in the orders of the Eastern church. The pope was particular, however, that Theodore should not "introduce anything contrary to the verity of the faith into the Church over which he was to preside." Theodore accepted Roman orders and the Roman tonsure, and set out for his province, where he arrived after various adventures on the way. His re-organisation of the young Church was thorough and systematic. Originally England had been divided into seven great dioceses, corresponding to the principal kingdoms (save only still heathen Sussex), and having their sees in their chief towns—East and West Kent, at Canterbury and Rochester; Essex, at London; Wessex, at Dorchester or Winchester; Northumbria, at York; East Anglia, at Dunwich; and Mercia, at Lichfield. The Scottish bishopric of Lindisfarne coincided with Bernicia. Theodore divided these great dioceses into smaller ones; East Anglia had two, for its north and south folk, at Elmham and Dunwich; Bernicia was divided between Lindisfarne and Hexham; Lincolnshire had its see placed at Sidnacester; and the sub-kingdoms of Mercia were also made into dioceses, the Huiccii having their bishop-stool at Worcester; the Hecans, at Hereford; and the Middle English, at Leicester. But Theodore's great work was the establishment of the national synod, in which all the clergy of the various English kingdoms met together as a single people. This was the first step ever taken towards the unification of England; and the ecclesiastical unity thus preceded and paved the way for the political unity which was to follow it. Theodore's organisation brought the whole Church into connection with Rome. The bishops owing their orders to the Scots conformed or withdrew, and henceforward Rome held undisputed sway. Before Theodore, all the archbishops of Canterbury and all the bishops of the southern kingdoms had been Roman missionaries; those of the north had been Scots or in Scottish orders. After Theodore they were all Englishmen in Roman orders. The native church became thenceforward wholly self-supporting.

Theodore was much aided in his projects by Wilfrith of York, a man of fiery energy and a devoted adherent of the Roman see, who had carried the Roman supremacy at the Synod of Whitby, and who spent a large part of his time in journeys between England and Italy. His life, by AEddi, forms one of the most important documents for early English history. In 681 he completed the conversion of England by his preaching to the South Saxons, whom he endeavoured to civilise as well as Christianise. His monastery of Selsey was built on land granted by the under-king (now a tributary of Wessex), and his first act was to emancipate the slaves whom he found upon the soil. Equally devoted to Rome was the young Northumbrian noble, who took the religious name of Benedict Biscop. Benedict became at first an inmate of the Abbey of Lerins, near Cannes. He afterwards founded two regular Benedictine abbeys on the same model at Wearmouth and Jarrow, and made at least four visits to the papal court, whence he returned laden with manuscripts to introduce Roman learning among his wild Northumbrian countrymen. He likewise carried over silk robes for sale to the kings in exchange for grants of land; and he brought glaziers from Gaul for his churches. Jarrow alone contained 500 monks, and possessed endowments of 15,000 acres.

It was under the walls of Jarrow that Baeda himself was born, in the year 672. Only fifty years had passed since his native Northumbria was still a heathen land. Not more than forty years had gone since the conversion of Wessex, and Sussex was still given over to the worship of Thunor and Woden. But Baeda's own life was one which brought him wholly into connection with Christian teachers and Roman culture. Left an orphan at the age of seven years, he was handed over to the care of Abbot Benedict, after whose death Abbot Ceolfrid took charge of the young aspirant. "Thenceforth," says the aged monk, fifty years later, "I passed all my lifetime in the building of that monastery [Jarrow], and gave all my days to meditating on Scripture. In the intervals of my regular monastic discipline, and of my daily task of chanting in chapel, I have always amused myself either by learning, teaching, or writing. In the nineteenth year of my life I received ordination as deacon; in my thirtieth year I attained to the priesthood; both functions being administered by the most reverend bishop John [afterwards known as St. John of Beverley], at the request of Abbot Ceolfrid. From the time of my ordination as priest to the fifty-ninth year of my life, I have occupied myself in briefly commenting upon Holy Scripture, for the use of myself and my brethren, from the works of the venerable fathers, and in some cases I have added interpretations of my own to aid in their comprehension."

The variety of Baeda's works, the large knowledge of science and of classical literature which he displays (when judged by the continental standard of the eighth century), and his familiar acquaintance with the Latin language, which he writes easily and correctly, show that the library of Jarrow must have been extensive and valuable. Besides his Scriptural commentaries, he wrote a treatise De Natura Rerum, Letters on the Reason of Leap-Year, a Life of St. Anastasius, and a History of his Own Abbey, all in Latin. In verse, he composed many pieces, both in hexameters and elegiacs, together with a treatise on prosody. But his greatest work is his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People," the authority from which we derive almost all our knowledge of early Christian England. It was doubtless suggested by the Frankish history of Gregory of Tours, and it consists of five books, divided into short chapters, making up about 400 pages of a modern octavo. Five manuscripts, one of them transcribed only two years after Baeda's death, and now deposited in the Cambridge library, preserve for us the text of this priceless document. The work itself should be read in the original, or in one of the many excellent translations, by every person who takes any intelligent interest in our early history.

Baeda's accomplishments included even a knowledge of Greek—then a rare acquisition in the west—which he probably derived from Archbishop Theodore's school at Canterbury. He was likewise an English author, for he translated the Gospel of St. John into his native Northumbrian; and the task proved the last of his useful life. Several manuscripts have preserved to us the letter of Cuthberht, afterwards Abbot of Jarrow, to his friend Cuthwine, giving us the very date of his death, May 27, A.D. 735, and also narrating the pathetic but somewhat overdrawn picture, with which we are all familiar, of how he died just as he had completed his translation of the last chapter. "Thus saying, he passed the day in peace till eventide. The boy [his scribe] said to him, 'Still one sentence, beloved master, is yet unwritten.' He answered, 'Write it quickly.' After a while the boy said, 'Now the sentence is written.' Then he replied, 'It is well,' quoth he, 'thou hast said the truth: it is finished.'... And so he passed away to the kingdom of heaven."

It is impossible to overrate the importance of the change which made such a life of earnest study and intellectual labour as Baeda's possible amongst the rough and barbaric English. Nor was it only in producing thinkers and readers from a people who could not spell a word half a century before, that the monastic system did good to England. The monasteries owned large tracts of land which they could cultivate on a co-operative plan, as cultivation was impossible elsewhere. Laborare est orare was the true monastic motto: and the documents of the religious houses, relating to lands and leases, show us the other or material side of the picture, which was not less important in its way than the spiritual and intellectual side. Everywhere the monks settled in the woodland by the rivers, cut down the forests, drove out the wolves and the beavers, cultivated the soil with the aid of their tenants and serfs, and became colonisers and civilisers at the same time that they were teachers and preachers. The reclamation of waste land throughout the marshes of England was due almost entirely to the monastic bodies.

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