Early Britain - Anglo-Saxon Britain
by Grant Allen
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The value of the civilising influence thus exerted is seen especially in the written laws, and it affected even the actions of the fierce English princes. The dooms of AEthelberht of Kent are the earliest English documents which we possess, and they were reduced to writing shortly after the conversion of the first English Christian king: while Baeda expressly mentions that they were compiled after Roman models. The Church was not able to hold the warlike princes really in check; but it imposed penances, and encouraged many of them to make pilgrimages to Rome, and to end their days in a cloister. The importance of such pilgrimages was doubtless immense. They induced the rude insular nobility to pay a visit to what was still, after all, the most civilised country of the world, and so to gain some knowledge of a foreign culture, which they afterwards endeavoured to introduce into their own homes. In 688, Ceadwalla, the ferocious king of the West Saxons, whose brother Mul had been burnt alive by the men of Kent, and who harried the Jutish kingdom in return, and who also murdered two princes of Wight, with all their people, in cold blood, went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he was baptised, and died immediately after.[2] Ine, who succeeded him, re-endowed the old British monastery of Glastonbury, in territory just conquered from the West Welsh, and reduced the laws of the West Saxons to writing. He, too, retired to Rome, where he died. In 704, AEthelred, son of Penda, king of the Mercians, "assumed monkhood." In 709, Cenred, his successor, and Offa of Essex, went to Rome. And so on for many years, king after king resigned his kingship, and submitted, in his latter days, to the Church. Within two centuries, no less than thirty kings and queens are recorded to have embraced a conventual life: and far more probably did so, but were passed over in silence. Baeda tells us that many Englishmen went into monasteries in Gaul.

[2] He was buried at St. Peter's, and his tomb still exists in the remodelled building. Baeda quotes the inscription in full, and quotes it correctly; a fact which may be taken as an excellent test of his historical accuracy, and the care with which he collected his materials.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that while Christianity made great progress, many marks of heathendom were still left among the people. Well-worship and stone-worship, devil-craft and sacrifices to idols, are mentioned in every Anglo-Saxon code of laws, and had to be provided against even as late as the time of Eadgar. The belief in elves and other semi-heathen beings, and the reverence for heathen memorials, was rife, and shows itself in such names as AElfred, elf-counsel; AElfstan, elf-stone; AElfgifu, elf-given; AEthelstan, noble-stone; and Wulfstan, wolf-stone. Heathendom was banished from high places, but it lingered on among the lower classes, and affected the nomenclature even of the later West Saxon kings themselves. Indeed, it was closely interwoven with all the life and thought of the people, and entered, in altered forms, even into the conceptions of Christianity current amongst them. The Christian poem of Caedmon is tinctured on every page with ideas derived from the legends of the old heathen mythology. And it will probably surprise many to learn that even at this late date, tattooing continued to be practised by the English chieftains.



With the final triumph of Christianity, all the formative elements of Anglo-Saxon Britain are complete. We see it, a rough conglomeration of loosely-aggregated principalities, composed of a fighting aristocracy and a body of unvalued serfs; while interspersed through its parts are the bishops, monks, and clergy, centres of nascent civilisation for the seething mass of noble barbarism. The country is divided into agricultural colonies, and its only industry is agriculture, its only wealth, land. We want but one more conspicuous change to make it into the England of the Augustan Anglo-Saxon age—the reign of Eadgar—and that one change is the consolidation of the discordant kingdoms under a single loose over-lordship. To understand this final step, we must glance briefly at the dull record of the political history.

Under AEthelfrith, Eadwine, and Oswiu, Northumbria had been the chief power in England. But the eighth century is taken up with the greatness of Mercia. Ecgfrith, the last great king of Northumbria, whose over-lordship extended over the Picts of Galloway and the Cumbrians of Strathclyde, endeavoured to carry his conquests beyond the Forth, and annex the free land lying to the north of the old Roman line. He was defeated and slain, and with him fell the supremacy of Northumbria. Mercia, which already, under Penda and Wulfhere, had risen to the second place, now assumed the first position among the Teutonic kingdoms. Unfortunately we know little of the period of Mercian supremacy. The West Saxon chronicle contains few notices of the rival state, and we are thrown for information chiefly on the second-hand Latin historians of the twelfth century. AEthelbald, the first powerful Mercian king (716-755), "ravaged the land of the Northumbrians," and made Wessex acknowledge his supremacy. By this time all the minor kingdoms had practically become subject to the three great powers, though still retaining their native princes: and Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria shared between them, as suzerains, the whole of Teutonic Britain. The meagre annals of the Chronicle, upon which alone (with the Charters and Latin writers of later date) we rest after the death of Baeda, show us a chaotic list of wars and battles between these three great powers themselves, or between them and their vassals, or with the Welsh and Devonians. AEthelbald was succeeded, after a short interval, by Offa, whose reign of nearly forty years (758-796), is the first settled period in English history. Offa ruled over the subject princes with rigour, and seems to have made his power really felt. He drove the Prince of Powys from Shrewsbury, and carried his ravages into the heart of Wales. He conquered the land between the Severn and the Wye, and his dyke from the Dee to the Severn, and the Wye, marked the new limits of the Welsh and English borders; while his laws codified the customs of Mercia, as those of AEthelberht and Ine had done with the customs of Kent and Wessex. He set up for awhile an archbishopric at Lichfield, which seems to mark his determination to erect Mercia into a sovereign power. He also founded the great monastery of St. Alban's, and is said to have established the English college at Rome, though another account attributes it to Ine, the West Saxon. East Anglia, Kent, Essex, and Sussex all acknowledged his supremacy. Karl the Great was then reviving the Roman Empire in its Germanic form, and Offa ventured to correspond with the Frank emperor as an equal. The possession of London, now a Mercian city, gave Offa an interest in continental affairs; and the growth of trade is marked by the fact that when a quarrel arose between them, they formally closed the ports of their respective kingdoms against each other's subjects.

Nevertheless, English kingship still remained a mere military office, and consolidation, in our modern sense, was clearly impossible. Local jealousies divided all the little kingdoms and their component principalities; and any real subordination was impracticable amongst a purely agricultural and warlike people, with no regular army, and governed only by their own anarchic desires. Like the Afghans of the present time, the early English were incapable of union, except in a temporary way under the strong hand of a single warlike leader against a common foe. As soon as that was removed, they fell asunder at once into their original separateness. Hence the chaotic nature of our early annals, in which it is impossible to discover any real order underlying the perpetual flux of states and princes.

A single story from the Chronicle will sufficiently illustrate the type of men whose actions make up the history of these predatory times. In 754, King Cuthred of the West Saxons died. His kinsman, Sigeberht, succeeded him. One year later, however, Cynewulf and the witan deprived Sigeberht of his kingdom, making over to him only the petty principality of Hampshire, while Cynewulf himself reigned in his stead. After a time Sigeberht murdered an ealdorman of his suite named Cymbra; whereupon Cynewulf deprived him of his remaining territory and drove him forth into the forest of the Weald. There he lived a wild life till a herdsman met him in the forest and stabbed him, to avenge the death of his master, Cymbra. Cynewulf, in turn, after spending his days in fighting the Welsh, lost his life in a quarrel with Cyneheard, brother of the outlawed Sigeberht. He had endeavoured to drive out the aetheling; but Cyneheard surprised him at Merton, and slew him with all his thegns, except one Welsh hostage. Next day, the king's friends, headed by the ealdorman Osric, fell upon the aetheling, and killed him with all his followers. In the very same year, AEthelbald of Mercia was killed fighting at Seckington; and Offa drove out his successor, Beornred. Of such murders, wars, surprises, and dynastic quarrels, the history of the eighth century is full. But no modern reader need know more of them than the fact that they existed, and that they prove the wholly ungoverned and ungovernable nature of the early English temper.

Until the Danish invasions of the ninth century, the tribal kingdoms still remained practically separate, and such cohesion as existed was only secured for the purpose of temporary defence or aggression. Essex kept its own kings under AEthelberht of Kent; Huiccia retained its royal house under AEthelred of Mercia; and later on, Mercia itself had its ealdormen, after the conquest by Ecgberht of Wessex. Each royal line reigned under the supreme power until it died out naturally, like our own great feudatories in India at the present day. "When Wessex and Mercia have worked their way to the rival hegemonies," says Canon Stubbs, "Sussex and Essex do not cease to be numbered among the kingdoms, until their royal houses are extinct. When Wessex has conquered Mercia and brought Northumbria on its knees, there are still kings in both Northumbria and Mercia. The royal house of Kent dies out, but the title of King of Kent is bestowed on an aetheling, first of the Mercian, then of the West Saxon house. Until the Danish conquest, the dependant royalties seem to have been spared; and even afterwards organic union can scarcely be said to exist."

The final supremacy of the West Saxons was mainly brought about by the Danish invasion. But the man who laid the foundation of the West Saxon power was Ecgberht, the so-called first king of all England. Banished from Wessex during his youth by one of the constant dynastic quarrels, through the enmity of Offa, the young aetheling had taken refuge with Karl the Great, at the court of Aachen, and there had learnt to understand the rising statesmanship of the Frankish race and of the restored Roman empire. The death of his enemy Beorhtric, in 802, left the kingdom open to him: but the very day of his accession showed him the character of the people whom he had come to rule. The men of Worcester celebrated his arrival by a raid on the men of Wilts. "On that ilk day," says the Chronicle, "rode AEthelhund, ealdorman of the Huiccias [who were Mercians], over at Cynemaeres ford; and there Weohstan the ealdorman met him with the Wilts men [who were West Saxons:] and there was a muckle fight, and both ealdormen were slain, and the Wilts men won the day." For twenty years, Ecgberht was engaged in consolidating his ancestral dominions: but at the end of that time, he found himself able to attack the Mercians, who had lost Offa six years before Ecgberht's return. In 825, the West Saxons met the Mercian host at Ellandun, "and Ecgberht gained the day, and there was muckle slaughter." Therefore all the Saxon name, held tributary by the Mercians, gathered about the Saxon champion. "The Kentish folk, and they of Surrey, and the South Saxons, and the East Saxons turned to him." In the same year, the East Anglians, anxious to avoid the power of Mercia, "sought Ecgberht for peace and for aid." Beornwulf, the Mercian king, marched against his revolted tributaries: but the East Anglians fought him stoutly, and slew him and his successor in two battles. Ecgberht followed up this step by annexing Mercia in 829: after which he marched northward against the Northumbrians, who at once "offered him obedience and peace; and they thereupon parted." One year later, Ecgberht led an army against the northern Welsh, and "reduced them to humble obedience." Thus the West Saxon kingdom absorbed all the others, at least so far as a loose over-lordship was concerned. Ecgberht had rivalled his master Karl by founding, after a fashion, the empire of the English. But all the local jealousies smouldered on as fiercely as ever, the under-kings retained their several dominions, and Ecgberht's supremacy was merely one of superior force, unconnected with any real organic unity of the kingdom as a whole. Ecgberht himself generally bore the title of King of the West Saxons, like his ancestors: and though in dealing with his Anglian subjects he styled himself Rex Anglorum, that title perhaps means little more than the humbler one of Rex Gewissorum, which he used in addressing his people of the lesser principality. The real kingdom of the English never existed before the days of Eadward the Elder, and scarcely before the days of William the Norman and Henry the Angevin. As to the kingdom of England, that was a far later invention of the feudal lawyers.



In the long period of three and a-half centuries which had elapsed between the Jutish conquest of Kent and the establishment of the West Saxon over-lordship, the politics of Britain had been wholly insular. The island had been brought back by Augustine and his successors into ecclesiastical, commercial, and literary union with the continent: but no foreign war or invasion had ever broken the monotony of murdering the Welsh and harrying the surrounding English. The isolation of England was complete. Ship-building was almost an obsolete art: and the small trade which still centred in London seems to have been mainly carried on in Frisian bottoms; for the Low Dutch of the continent still retained the seafaring habits which those of England had forgotten. But a new enemy was now beginning to appear in northern Europe—the Scandinavians. The history of the great wicking movement forms the subject of a separate volume in this series: but the manner in which the English met it will demand a brief treatment here. Some outline of the bare facts, however, must first be premised.

As early as 789, during the reign of Offa in Mercia, "three ships of Northmen from Haeretha land" came on shore in Wessex. "Then the reeve rode against them, and would have driven them to the king's town, for he wist not what they were: and there men slew him. Those were the first ships of Danish men that ever sought English kin's land." In 795, "the harrying of heathen men wretchedly destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne isle, through rapine and manslaughter." In the succeeding year, "the heathen harried among the Northumbrians, and plundered Ecgberht's monastery at Wearmouth." In 832, "heathen men ravaged Sheppey"; and a year later, "King Ecgberht fought against the crews of thirty-five ships at Charmouth, and there was muckle slaughter made, and the Danes held the battle-field."[1] In 835, another host came to the West Welsh (now almost reduced to the peninsula of Cornwall): and the Welsh readily joined them against their West Saxon over-lord. Ecgberht met the united hosts at Hengestesdun and put them both to flight. It was his last success. In the succeeding year he died, and the kingdom descended to his weak son, AEthelwulf. His second son, AEthelstan, was placed over Kent, Essex, Surrey, and Sussex, as under-king.

[1] This entry in the Chronicle, however, is probably erroneous, as an exactly similar one occurs under AEthelwulf, seven years later.

Next spring, the flood of wickings began to pour in earnest over England. Thirty-three piratical ships sailed up Southampton Water to pillage Southampton, perhaps with an ultimate eye to the treasures of royal Winchester, the capital and minster-town of the West Saxon over-lord himself. This was a bold attempt, but the West Saxons met it in full force. The ealdorman Wulfheard gathered together the levy of fighting men, attacked the host, and put it to flight with great slaughter. Shortly after a second Danish host landed near Portland, doubtless to plunder Dorchester: and the local ealdorman AEthelhelm, falling upon them with the levy of Dorset men, was defeated after a sharp struggle, leaving the heathen in possession of the field. It was not in Wessex, however, that the wickings were to make their great success. The north had long suffered from terrible anarchy, and was a ready prey for any invader. Out of fourteen kings who had reigned in Northumbria during the eighth century, no less than seven were put to death and six expelled by their rebellious subjects. Christian Northumbria, which in Baeda's days had been the most flourishing part of Britain, was now reduced to a mere agglomeration of petty princes and clans, dependent on the West Saxon over-lord, and utterly unconnected with one another in feeling or sympathy. Already we have seen how the Danes harried Northumbria without opposition. The same was probably the case with the whole Anglian coast on the east. In 840, the wickings fell on the fen country. "The ealdorman Hereberht was slain by heathen men, and many with him among the marsh-men." All down the east coast, the piratical fleet proceeded, burning and slaughtering as it went. "In the same year, in Lindsey, and in East Anglia, and among the Kent men, many men were slain by the host." A year later, the wickings returned, growing bolder as they found out the helplessness of the people. They sailed up the Thames, and ravaged Rochester and London, with great slaughter; after which they crossed the channel and fell upon Cwantawic, or Etaples, a commercial port in the Saxon land of the Boulonnais. In 842, a Danish host defeated AEthelwulf himself at Charmouth in Dorset; and in the succeeding summer "the ealdorman Eanulf, with the Somerset levy, and Bishop Ealhstan and the ealdorman Osric, with the Dorset levy, fought at Parretmouth with the host, and made a muckle slaughter, and won the day."

The utter weakness of the first English resistance is well shown in these facts. A terrible flood of heathen savagery was let loose upon the country, and the people were wholly unable to cope with it. There was absolutely no central organisation, no army, no commissariat, no ships. The heathen host landed suddenly wherever it found the people unprepared, and fell upon the larger towns for plunder. The local authority, the ealdorman or the under-king, hastily gathered together the local levy in arms, and fell upon the pirates tumultuously with the men of the shire as best he might. But he had no provisions for a long campaign: and when the levy had fought once, it melted away immediately, every man going back again of necessity to his own home. If it won the battle, it went home to drink over its success: if it lost, it dissolved, demoralized, and left the burghers to fight for their own walls, or to buy off the heathen with their own money. But every shire and every kingdom fought for itself alone. If the Dorset men could only drive away the host from Charmouth and Portland, they cared little whether it sailed away to harry Sussex and Hants. If the Northumbrians could only drive it away from the Humber, they cared little whether it set sail for the Thames and the Solent. The North Folk of East Anglia were equally happy to send it off toward the South Folk. While there was so little cohesion between the parts of the same kingdoms, there was no cohesion at all between the different kingdoms over which AEthelwulf exercised a nominal over-lordship. The West Saxon kings fought for Dorset and for Kent, but there is no trace of their ever fighting for East Anglia or for Northumbria. They left their northern vassals to take care of themselves. "It was never a war between the Danes and the national army," says Prof. Pearson, "but between the Danes and a local militia." It would have been impossible, indeed, to resist the wickings effectually without a strong central system, which could move large armies rapidly from point to point: and such a system was quite undreamt of in the half-consolidated England of the ninth century. Only war with a foreign invader could bring it about even in a faint degree: and that was exactly what the Danish invasion did for Wessex.

The year 851 marks an important epoch in the English resistance. The annual horde of wickings had now become as regular in its recurrence as summer itself; and even the inert West Saxon kings began to feel that permanent measures must be taken against them. They had built ships, and tried to tackle the invaders in the only way in which so partially civilised a race could tackle such tactics as those of the Danes—upon the sea. A host of wickings came round to Sandwich in Kent. The under-king AEthelstan fell upon them with his new navy, and took nine of their ships, putting the rest to flight with great slaughter. But in the same year another great host of 250 sail, by far the largest fleet of which we have yet heard, came to the mouth of the Thames, and there landed, a step which marks a fresh departure in the wicking tactics. They took Canterbury by assault, and then marched on to London. There they stormed the busy merchant town, and put to flight Beorhtwulf, the under-king of the Mercians, with his local levy. Thence they proceeded southward into Surrey, doubtless on their way to Winchester. King AEthelwulf met them at Ockley, with the West-Saxon levy, "and there made the greatest slaughter among the heathen host that we have yet heard, and gained the day." In spite of these two great successes, however, both of which show an increasing statesmanship on the part of the West Saxons, this year was memorable in another way, for "the heathen men for the first time sat over winter in Thanet." The loose predatory excursions were beginning to take the complexion of regular conquest and permanent settlement.

Yet so little did the English still realise the terrible danger of the heathen invasion, that next year AEthelwulf was fighting the Welsh of Wales; and two years after he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, "with great pomp, and dwelt there twelve months, and then fared homeward." In that same year, "heathen men sat over winter in Sheppey."

After AEthelwulf's death the English resistance grew fainter and fainter. In 860, under his second son, AEthelberht, a Danish host took Winchester itself by storm. Five years later, a heathen army settled in Thanet, and the men of Kent agreed to buy peace of them—the first sign of that evil habit of buying off the Dane, which grew gradually into a fixed custom. But the host stole away during the truce for collecting the money, and harried all Kent unawares.

Meanwhile, we hear little of the North. The almost utter destruction of its records during the heathen domination restricts us for information to the West Saxon chronicles; and they have little to tell us about any but their own affairs. In 866, however, we learn that there came a great heathen host to East Anglia—an organised expedition under two chieftains—"and took winter quarters there, and were horsed; and the East Anglians made peace with them." Next year, this permanent host sailed northward to Humber, and attacked York. The Northumbrians, as usual, were at strife among themselves, two rival kings fighting for the supremacy. The burghers of York admitted the heathen host within the walls. Then the rival kings fell upon the town, broke the slender fortifications, and rushed into the city. The Danes attacked them both, and defeated them with great slaughter. Northumbria passed at once into the power of the heathen. Their chiefs, Ingvar and Ubba, erected Deira into a new Danish kingdom, leaving Bernicia to an English puppet; and Northumbria ceases to exist for the present as a factor in Anglo-Saxon history. We must hand it over for sixty years to the Scandinavian division of this series.

In 868, Ingvar and Ubba advanced again into Mercia and beset Nottingham. Then the under-king Burhred called in the aid of his over-lord, AEthelred of Wessex, who came to his assistance with a levy. "But there was no hard fight there, and the Mercians made peace with the host." In 870, the heathen overran East Anglia, and destroyed the great monastery of Peterborough, probably the richest religious house in all England. Eadmund, the under-king, came against them with the levy, but they slew him; and the people held him for a martyr, whose shrine at Bury St. Edmunds grew in after days into the holiest spot in East Anglia. The Danes harried the whole country, burnt the monasteries, and annexed Norfolk and Suffolk as a second Danish kingdom. East Anglia, too, disappears for a while from our English annals.

Lastly, the Danes turned against Mercia and Wessex. In 871, a host under Bagsecg and Halfdene came to Reading, which belonged to the latter territory, when the local ealdorman engaged them and won a slight victory. Shortly afterward the West Saxon king AEthelred, with his brother AElfred, came up, and engaged them a second time with worse success. Three other bloody battles followed, in all of which the Danes were beaten with heavy loss; but the West Saxons also suffered severely. For three years the host moved up and down through Mercia and Wessex; and the Mercians stood by, aiding neither side, but "making peace with the host" from time to time. At last, however, in 874, the heathens finally annexed the greater part of Mercia itself. "The host fared from Lindsey to Repton, and there sat for the winter, and drove King Burhred over sea, two and twenty years after he came to the kingdom; and they subdued all the land. And Burhred went to Rome, and there settled; and his body lies in St. Mary's Church, in the school of the English kin. And in the same year they gave the kingdom of Mercia in ward to Ceolwulf, an unwise thegn; and he swore oaths to them, and gave hostages that it should be ready for them on whatso day they willed; and that he would be ready with his own body, and with all who would follow him, for the behoof of the host." Thus Mercia, too, fades for a short while out of our history, and Wessex alone of all the English kingdoms remains.

This brief but inevitable record of wars and battles is necessarily tedious, yet it cannot be omitted without slurring over some highly important and interesting facts. It is impossible not to be struck with the extraordinarily rapid way in which a body of fierce heathen invaders overran two great Christian and comparatively civilised states. We cannot but contrast the inertness of Northumbria and the lukewarmness of Mercia with the stubborn resistance finally made by AElfred in Wessex. The contrast may be partly due, it is true, to the absence of native Northumbrian and Mercian accounts. We might, perhaps, find, had we fuller details, that the men of Bernicia and Deira made a harder fight for their lands and their churches than the West Saxon annals would lead us to suppose. Still, after making all allowance for the meagreness of our authorities, there remains the indubitable fact that a heathen kingdom was established in the pure English land of Baeda and Cuthberht, while the Christian faith and the Saxon nationality held their own for ever in peninsular and half-Celtic Wessex.

The difference is doubtless due in part to merely surface causes. East Anglia had long lost her autonomy, and, while sometimes ruled by Mercia, was sometimes broken up under several ealdormen. For her and for Northumbria the conquest was but a change from a West Saxon to a Danish master. The house of Ecgberht had broken down the national and tribal organisation, and was incapable of substituting a central organisation in its place. With no roads and no communications such a centralising scheme is really impracticable. The disintegrated English kingdoms made little show of fighting for their Saxon over-lord. They could accept a Dane for master almost as readily as they could accept a Saxon.

But besides these surface causes, there was a deeper and more fundamental cause underlying the difference. The Scandinavians were nearer to the pure English in blood and speech than they were to the Saxons. In their old home the two races had lived close together,—in Sleswick, Jutland, and Scania,—while the Saxons had dwelt further south, near the Frankish border, by the lowlands of the Elbe. To the English of Northumbria, the Saxons of Wessex were almost foreigners. Even at the present day, when the existence of a recognised literary dialect has done so much to obliterate provincial varieties of speech in England, a Dorsetshire peasant, speaking in a slightly altered form the classical West Saxon of AElfred, has great difficulty in understanding a Yorkshire peasant, speaking in a slightly altered form the classical Northumbrian of Baeda. But in the ninth century the differences between the two dialects were probably far greater. On the other hand, though Danish and Anglian have widely separated at the present day, and were widely distinct even in the days of Cnut, it is probable that at this earlier period they were still, to some extent, mutually comprehensible. Thus, the heathen Scandinavian may have seemed to the Northumbrian and the East Anglian almost like a fellow-countryman, while the West Saxon seemed in part like an enemy and an intruder. At any rate, the similarity of blood and language enabled the two races rapidly to coalesce; and when the cloud rises again from the North half a century later, the distinction of Dane and Englishman has almost ceased in the conquered provinces. It is worthy of note in this connection that the part of Mercia afterwards given over by AElfred to Guthrum, was the Anglian half, while the part retained by Wessex was mostly the Saxon half—the land conquered by Penda from the West Saxons two hundred years before.

Nor must we suppose that this first wave of Scandinavian conquest in any way swamped or destroyed the underlying English population of the North. The conquerors came merely as a "host," or army of occupation, not as a body of rural colonists. They left the conquered English in possession of their homes, though they seized upon the manors for themselves, and kept the higher dignities of the vanquished provinces in their own hands. Being rapidly converted to Christianity, they amalgamated readily with the native people. Few women came over with them, and intermarriage with the English soon broke down the wall of separation. The archbishopric of York continued its succession uninterruptedly throughout the Danish occupation. The Bishops of Elmham lived through the stormy period; those of Leicester transferred their see to Dorchester-on-the-Thames; those of Lichfield apparently kept up an unbroken series. We may gather that beneath the surface the North remained just as steadily English under the Danish princes as the whole country afterwards remained steadily English under the Norman kings.

There was, however, one section of the true English race which kept itself largely free from the Scandinavian host. North of the Tyne the Danes apparently spread but sparsely; English ealdormen continued to rule at Bamborough over the land between Forth and Tyne. Hence Northumberland and the Lothians remained more purely English than any other part of Britain. The people of the South are Saxons: the people of the West are half Celts; the people of the North and the Midlands are largely intermixed with Danes; but the people of the Scottish lowlands, from Forth to Tweed, are almost purely English; and the dialect which we always describe as Scotch is the strongest, the tersest, and the most native modern form of the original Anglo-Saxon tongue. If we wish to find the truest existing representative of the genuine pure-blooded English race, we must look for him, not in Mercia or in Wessex, but amongst the sturdy and hard-headed farmers of Tweedside and Lammermoor.



Only one English kingdom now held out against the wickings, and that was Wessex. Its comparatively successful resistance may be set down, in some slight degree, to the energy of a single man, AElfred, though it was doubtless far more largely due to the relatively strong organisation of the West Saxon state. In judging of AElfred, we must lay aside the false notions derived from the application of words expressing late ideas to an early and undeveloped stage of civilised society. To call him a great general or a great statesman is to use utterly misleading terms. Generalship and statesmanship, as we understand them, did not yet exist, and to speak of them in the ninth century in England is to be guilty of a common, but none the more excusable, anachronism. AElfred was a sturdy and hearty fighter, and a good king of a semi-barbaric people. As a lad, he had visited Rome; and he retained throughout life a strong sense of his own and his people's barbarism, and a genuine desire to civilise himself and his subjects, so far as his limited lights could carry him. He succeeded to a kingdom overrun from end to end by piratical hordes: and he did his best to restore peace and to promote order. But his character was merely that of a practical, common-sense, fighting West Saxon, brought up in the camp of his father and brothers, and doing his rough work in life with the honest straightforwardness of a simple, hard-headed, religious, but only half-educated barbaric soldier.

The successful East Anglian wickings, under their chief Guthrum, turned at once to ravage Wessex. They "harried the West Saxons' land, and settled there, and drove many of the folk over sea." For awhile it seemed as if Wessex too was to fall into their hands. AElfred himself, with a little band, "withdrew to the woods and moor-fastnesses." He took refuge in the Somerset marshes, and there occupied a little island of dry land in the midst of the fens, by name Athelney. Here he threw up a rude earthwork, from which he made raids against the Danes, with a petty levy of the nearest Somerset men. But the mass of the West Saxons were not disposed to give in so easily. The long border warfare with Devon and Cornwall had probably kept up their organisation in a better state than that of the anarchic North. The men of Somerset and Wilts, with those Hampshire men who had not fled to the Continent, gathered at a sacred stone on the borders of Selwood Forest, and there AElfred met them with his little band. They attacked the host, which they put to flight, and then besieged it in its fortified camp. To escape the siege, Guthrum consented to leave Wessex, and to accept Christianity. He was baptised at once, with thirty of his principal chiefs, after the rough-and-ready fashion of the fighting king, near Athelney. The treaty entered into with Guthrum restored to AElfred all Wessex, with the south-western part of Mercia, from London to Bedford, and thence along the line of Watling Street to Chester. Thus for a time the Saxons recovered their autonomy, and the great Scandinavian horde retired to East Anglia. AEthelred, AElfred's son-in-law, was appointed under-king of recovered Mercia. Henceforward, Teutonic Britain remains for awhile divided into Wessex and the Denalagu—that is to say, the district governed by Danish law.

Though peace was thus made with Guthrum, new bodies of wickings came pouring southward from Scandinavia. One of these sailed up the Thames to Fulham, but after spending some time there, they went over to the Frankish coast, where their depredations were long and severe. Throughout all AElfred's reign, with only two intervals of peace, the wickings kept up a constant series of attacks on the coast, and frequently penetrated inland. From time to time, the great horde under Haesten poured across the country, cutting the corn and driving away the cattle, and retreating into East Anglia, or Northumbria, or the peninsula of the Wirrall, whenever they were seriously worsted. "Thanks be to God," says the Chronicle pathetically "the host had not wholly broken up all the English kin;" but the misery of England must have been intense. AElfred, however, introduced two military changes of great importance. He set on foot something like a regular army, with a settled commissariat, dividing his forces into two bodies, so that one-half was constantly at home tilling the soil while the other half was in the field; and he built large ships on a new plan, which he manned with Frisians, as well as with English, and which largely aided in keeping the coast fairly free from Danish invasion during the two intervals of peace.

Throughout the whole of the ninth century, however, and the early part of the tenth, the whole history of England is the history of a perpetual pillage. No man who sowed could tell whether he might reap or not. The Englishman lived in constant fear of life and goods; he was liable at any moment to be called out against the enemy. Whatever little civilisation had ever existed in the country died out almost altogether. The Latin language was forgotten even by the priests. War had turned everybody into fighters; commerce was impossible when the towns were sacked year after year by the pirates. But in the rare intervals of peace, AElfred did his best to civilise his people. The amount of work with which he is credited is truly astonishing. He translated into English with his own hand "The History of the World," by Orosius; Baeda's "Ecclesiastical History;" Boethius's "De Consolatione," and Gregory's "Regula Pastoralis." At his court, too, if not under his own direction, the English Chronicle was first begun, and many of the sentences quoted from that great document in this work are probably due to AElfred himself. His devotion to the church was shown by the regular communication which he kept up with Rome, and by the gifts which he sent from his impoverished kingdom, not only to the shrine of St. Peter but even to that of St. Thomas in India. No doubt his vigorous personality counted for much in the struggle with the Danes; but his death in 901 left the West Saxons as ready as ever to contend against the northern enemy.

One result of the Danish invasion of Wessex must not be passed over. The common danger seems to have firmly welded together Welshman and Saxon into a single nationality. The most faithful part of AElfred's dominions were the West Welsh shires of Somerset and Devon, with the half Celtic folk of Dorset and Wilts. The result is seen in the change which comes over the relations between the two races. In Ine's laws the distinction between Welshmen and Englishmen is strongly marked; the price of blood for the servile population is far less than that of their lords: in AElfred's laws the distinction has died out. Compared to the heathen Dane, West Saxons and West Welsh were equally Englishmen. From that day to this, the Celtic peasantry of the West Country have utterly forgotten their Welsh kinship, save in wholly Cymric Cornwall alone. The Devon and Somerset men have for centuries been as English in tongue and feeling as the people of Kent or Sussex.



The history of the tenth century and the first half of the eleventh consists entirely of the continued contest between the West Saxons and the Scandinavians. It falls naturally into three periods. The first is that of the English reaction, when the West Saxon kings, Eadward and AEthelstan, gradually reconquered the Danish North by inches at a time. The second is that of the Augustan age, when Dunstan and Eadgar held together the whole of Britain for a while in the hands of a single West Saxon over-lord. The third is that of the decadence, when, under AEthelred, the ill-welded empire fell asunder, and the Danish kings, Cnut, Harold, and Harthacnut, ruled over all England, including even the unconquered Wessex of AElfred himself.

At AElfred's death, his dominions comprised the larger Wessex, from Kent to the Cornish border at Exeter, together with the portion of Mercia south-west of Watling Street. The former kingdom passed into the hands of his son Eadward; the latter was still held by the ealdorman AEthelred, who had married AElfred's daughter AEthelflaed. The departure of the Danish host, led by Haesten, left the English time to breathe and to recruit their strength. Henceforth, for nearly a century, the direct wicking incursions cease, and the war is confined to a long struggle with the Northmen already settled in England. Four years later, the east Anglian Danes broke the peace and harried Mercia and Wessex; but Eadward overran their lands in return, and the Kentish men, in a separate battle, attacked and slew Eric their king with several of his earls. In 912, AEthelred the Mercian died, and Eadward at once incorporated London and Oxford with his own dominions, leaving his sister AEthelflaed only the northern half of her husband's principality. Thenceforth AEthelflaed, "the Lady of the Mercians," turned deliberately to the conquest of the North. She adopted a fresh kind of tactics, which mark again a new departure in the English policy. Instead of keeping to the old plan of alternate harryings on either side, and precarious tenure of lands from time to time, AEthelflaed began building regular fortresses or burhs all along her north-eastern frontiers, using these afterwards as bases for fresh operations against the enemy. The spade went hand in hand with the sword: the English were becoming engineers as well as fighters. In the year of her husband's death, the Lady built burhs at Sarrat and Bridgnorth. The next year "she went with all the Mercians to Tamworth, and built the burh there in early summer; and ere Lammas, that at Stafford." In the two succeeding years she set up other strongholds at Eddesbury, Warwick, Cherbury, Wardbury, and Runcorn. By 917, she found herself strong enough to attack Derby, one of the chief cities in the Danish confederacy of the Five Burgs, which she captured after a hard siege. Thence she turned on Leicester, which capitulated on her approach, the Danish host going over quietly to her side. She was in communication with the Danes of York for the surrender of that city, too, when she died suddenly in her royal town of Tamworth, in the year 918.

Meanwhile Eadward had been pushing forward his own boundary in the east, building burhs at Hertford and Witham, and endeavouring to subjugate the Danish league in Bedford, Huntingdon, and Northampton. In 915, Thurketel, the jarl of Bedford, "sought him for lord," and Eadward afterwards built a burh there also. On his sister's death, he annexed all her territories, and then, in a fierce and long doubtful struggle, reconquered not only Huntingdon and Northampton but East Anglia as well. The Christian English hailed him as a deliverer. Next, he turned on Stamford, the Danish capital of the Fens, and on Nottingham, the stronghold of the Southumbrian host. In both towns he erected burhs. These successes once more placed the West Saxon king in the foremost position amongst the many rulers of Britain. The smaller principalities, unable to hold their own against the Scandinavians, began spontaneously to rally round Eadward as their leader and suzerain. In the same year with the conquest of Stamford, "the kings of the North Welsh, Howel, and Cledauc, and Jeothwel, and all the North Welsh kin, sought him for lord." In 923, Eadward pushed further northward, and sent a Mercian host to conquer "Manchester in Northumbria," and fortify and man it. A line of twenty fortresses now girdled the English frontier, from Colchester, through Bedford and Nottingham, to Manchester and Chester. Next year, Eadward himself, now immediate king of all England south of Humber, attacked the last remaining Danish kingdom, Northumbria, throwing a bridge across the Trent at Nottingham, and marching against Bakewell in Peakland, where again he built a burh. The new tactics were too fine for the rough and ready Danish leaders. Before Eadward reached York, the entire North submitted without a blow. "The king of Scots, and all the Scottish kin, and Ragnald [Danish king of York], and the sons of Eadulf [English kings of Bamborough], and all who dwell in Northumbria, as well English as Danes and Northmen and others, and also the king of the Strathclyde Welsh and all the Strathclyde Welsh, sought him for father and for lord." This was in 924. Next year, Eadward "rex invictus" died, over-lord of all Britain from sea to sea, while the whole country south of the Humber, save only Wales and Cornwall, was now practically united into a single kingdom of England.

But the seeming submission of the North was fallacious. The Danes had reintroduced into Britain a fresh mass of incoherent barbarism, which could not thus readily coalesce. The Scandinavian leaven in the population had put back the shadow on the dial of England some three centuries. AEthelstan, Eadward's son, found himself obliged to give his sister in marriage to Sihtric or Sigtrig, Danish king of the Yorkshire Northumbrians, which probably marks a recognition of his vassal's equality. Soon after, however, Sihtric died, and AEthelstan made himself first king of all England by adding Northumbria to his own immediate dominions. Then "he bowed to himself all the kings who were in this island; first, Howel, king of the West Welsh; and Constantine, king of Scots; and Owen, king of Gwent [South Wales]; and Ealdred, son of Ealdulf of Bamborough; and with pledge and with oaths sware they peace, and forsook every kind of heathendom." In the West, he drove the Welsh from Exeter, which they had till then occupied in common with the English, and fixed their boundary at the Tamar. But once more the pretended vassals rebelled. Constantine, king of Scots, threw off his allegiance, and AEthelstan thereupon "went into Scotland, both with a land host and a ship host, and harried a mickle deal of it." In 937, the feudatories made a final and united effort to throw off the West Saxon yoke. The Scots, the Strathclyde Welsh, the people of Wales and Cornwall, the lords of Bamborough, and the Danes throughout the North and East, all rose together in a great league against their over-lord. Anlaf, king of the Dublin Danes, came over from Ireland to aid them, with a large body of wickings. The confederates met the West Saxon fyrd or levy at an unknown spot named Brunanburh, where AEthelstan overthrew them in a crushing defeat, which forms the subject of a fine war-song, inserted in full in the English Chronicle.[1] Three years later AEthelstan died, as his father had died before him, undisputed over-lord of all Britain, and immediate king of the whole Teutonic portion.

[1] See chapter xx.

Yet once more the feeble unity of the country broke hopelessly asunder. Eadmund, who succeeded his brother, found the Danes of the North and the Midlands again insubordinate. The year after his accession "the Northumbrians belied their oath, and chose Anlaf of Ireland for king." The Five Burgs went too, and the old boundary of Watling Street was once more made the frontier of the Danish possessions. In 944, however, Eadmund subdued all Northumbria, and expelled its Danish kings. His recovery of the Five Burgs, and the joy of the Christian English inhabitants, are vividly set forth in a fragmentary ballad embedded in the Chronicle. The next year he harried Strathclyde or Cumberland, the Welsh kingdom between Clyde and Morecambe, and handed it over to Malcolm, king of Scots, as a pledge of his fidelity. At Eadmund's death in 946—when he was stabbed in his royal hall by an outlaw—his kingdom fell to his brother Eadred. Two years later Northumbria again revolted, and chose Eric for its king. Eadred harried and burnt the province, which he then handed over to an earl of his own creation, one of the Bamborough family. The king himself died in 955, and was succeeded by his nephew Eadwig. But Northumbria and Mercia revolted once more, and chose Eadwig's brother, Eadgar, instead of their own Danish princes. Eadwig died in 958, and Eadgar then became king of all three provinces; thus finally uniting the whole of Teutonic England into one kingdom.

Eadgar's reign forms the climax of the West Saxon power. It was, in fact, the only period when England can be said to have enjoyed any national unity under the Anglo-Saxon dynasties. The strong hand of a priest gave peace for some years to the ill-organised mass. Dunstan was probably the first Englishman who seriously deserves the name of statesman. He was born in the half-Celtic region of Somerset, beside the great abbey of Glastonbury, which held the bones of Arthur, and a good deal of the imaginative Celtic temper ran probably with the blood in his veins.[2] But he was above all the representative of the Roman civilisation in the barbarised, half-Danish England of the tenth century. He was a musician, a painter, a reader, and a scholar, in a world of fierce warriors and ignorant nobles. Eadmund made him abbot of Glastonbury. Eadgar appointed him first bishop of London, and then, on Eadwig's death, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was Dunstan who really ruled England throughout the remainder of his life. Essentially an organiser and administrator, he was able to weld the unwieldy empire into a rough unity, which lasted as long as its author lived, and no longer. He appeased the discontent of Northumbria and the Five Burgs by permitting them a certain amount of local independence, with the enjoyment of their own laws and their own lawmen. He kept a fleet of boats cruising in the Irish Sea to check the Danish hosts at Dublin and Waterford. He put forward a code, known as the laws of Eadgar, for the better government of Wessex and the South. He made the over-lordship of the West Saxons over their British vassals more real than it had ever been before; and a tale, preserved by Florence, tells us that eight tributary kings rowed Eadgar in his royal barge on the Dee, in token of their complete subjection. Internally, Dunstan revived the declining spirit of monasticism, which had died down during the long struggle with the Danes, and attempted to reintroduce some tinge of southern civilisation into the barbarised and half-paganised country in which he lived. Wherever it was possible, he "drove out the priests, and set monks," and he endeavoured to make the monasteries, which had degenerated during the long war into mere landowning communities, regain once more their old position as centres of culture and learning. During his own time his efforts were successful, and even after his death the movement which he had begun continued in this direction to make itself felt, though in a feebler and less intelligent form.

[2] It is impossible to avoid noticing the increased importance of semi-Celtic Britain under Dunstan's administration. He was himself at first an abbot of the old West Welsh monastery of Glastonbury: he promoted West countrymen to the principal posts in the kingdom: and he had Eadgar hallowed king at the ancient West Welsh royal city of Bath, married to a Devonshire lady, and buried at Glastonbury. Indeed, that monastery was under Dunstan what Westminster was under the later kings. Florence uses the strange expression that Eadgar was chosen "by the Anglo-Britons:" and the meeting with the Welsh and Scotch princes in the semi-Welsh town of Chester conveys a like implication.

One act of Dunstan's policy, however, had far-reaching results, of a kind which he himself could never have anticipated. He handed over all Northumbria beyond the Tweed—the region now known as the Lothians—as a fief to Kenneth, king of Scots. This accession of territory wholly changed the character of the Scottish kingdom, and largely promoted the Teutonisation of the Celtic North. The Scottish princes now took up their residence in the English town of Edinburgh, and learned to speak the English language as their mother-tongue. Already Eadmund had made over Strathclyde or Cumberland to Malcolm; and thus the dominions of the Scottish kings extended over the whole of the country now known as Scotland, save only the Scandinavian jarldoms of Caithness, Sutherland, and the Isles. Strathclyde rapidly adopted the tongue of its masters, and grew as English in language (though not in blood) as the Lothians themselves. Fife, in turn, was quickly Anglicised, as was also the whole region south of the Highland line. Thus a new and powerful kingdom arose in the North; and at the same time the cession of an English district to the Scottish kings had the curious result of thoroughly Anglicising two large and important Celtic regions, which had hitherto resisted every effort of the Northumbrian or West Saxon over-lords. There is no reason to believe, however, that this introduction of the English tongue and English manners was connected with any considerable immigration of Teutonic settlers into the Anglicised tracts. The population of Ayrshire, of Fife, of Perthshire, and of Aberdeen, still shows every sign of Celtic descent, alike in physique, in temperament, and in habit of thought. The change was, in all probability, exactly analogous to that which we ourselves have seen taking place in Wales, in Ireland, and in the Celtic north of Scotland at the present day.



The slight pause in the long course of Danish warfare which occurred during the vigorous administration of Dunstan, affords the best opportunity for considering the degree of civilisation reached by the English in the last age before the Norman Conquest. Our materials for such an estimate are partly to be found in existing buildings, manuscripts, pictures, ornaments, and other archaeological remains, and partly in the documentary evidence of the chronicles and charters, and more especially of the great survey undertaken by the Conqueror's commissioners, and known as Domesday Book. From these sources we are enabled to gain a fairly complete view of the Anglo-Saxon culture in the period immediately preceding the immense influx of Romance civilisation after the Conquest; and though some such Romance influence was already exerted by the Normanising tendencies of Eadward the Confessor, we may yet conveniently consider the whole subject here under the age of Eadgar and AEthelred. It is difficult, indeed, to trace any very great improvement in the arts of life between the days of Dunstan and the days of Harold.

In spite of constant wars and ravages from the northern pirates, there can be little doubt that England had been slowly advancing in material civilisation ever since the introduction of Christianity. The heathen intermixture in the North and the Midlands had retarded the advance but had not completely checked it; while in Wessex and the South the intercourse with the continent and the consequent growth in culture had been steadily increasing. AEthelwulf of Wessex married a daughter of Karl the Bald; AElfred gave his daughter to a count of Flanders; and Eadward's princesses were married respectively to the emperor, to the king of France, and to the king of Provence. Such alliances show a considerable degree of intercourse between Wessex and the Roman world; and the relics of material civilisation fully bear out the inference. The Institutes of the city of London mention traders from Brabant, Liege, Rouen, Ponthieu, France (in the restricted sense), and the Empire; but these came "in their own vessels." England, which now has in her hands the carrying trade of the world, was still dependent for her own supply on foreign bottoms. We know also that officers were appointed to collect tolls from foreign merchants at Canterbury, Dover, Arundel, and many other towns; and London and Bristol certainly traded on their own account with the Continent.

As a whole, however, England still remained a purely agricultural country to the very end of the Anglo-Saxon period. It had but little foreign trade, and what little existed was chiefly confined to imports of articles of luxury (wine, silk, spices, and artistic works) for the wealthier nobles, and of ecclesiastical requisites, such as pictures, incense, relics, vestments, and like southern products for the churches and monasteries. The exports seem mainly to have consisted of slaves and wool, though hides may possibly have been sent out of the country, and a little of the famous English gold-work and embroidery was perhaps sold abroad in return for the few imported luxuries. But taking the country at a glance, we must still picture it to ourselves as composed almost entirely of separate agricultural manors, each now owned by a considerable landowner, and tilled mainly by his churls, whose position had sunk during the Danish wars to that of semi-servile tenants, owing customary rents of labour to their superiors. War had told against the independence of the lesser freemen, who found themselves compelled to choose themselves protectors among the higher born classes, till at last the theory became general that every man must have a lord. The noble himself lived upon his manor, accepted service from his churls in tilling his own homestead, and allowed them lands in return in the outlying portions of his estates. His sources of income were two only: first, the agricultural produce of his lands, thus tilled for him by free labour and by the hands of his serfs; and secondly, the breeding of slaves, shipped from the ports of London and Bristol for the markets of the south. The artisans depended wholly upon their lord, being often serfs, or else churls holding on service-tenure. The mass of England consisted of such manors, still largely interspersed with woodland, each with the wooden hall of its lord occupying the centre of the homestead, and with the huts of the churls and serfs among the hays and valleys of the outskirts. The butter and cheese, bread and bacon, were made at home; the corn was ground in the quern; the beer was brewed and the honey collected by the family. The spinner and weaver, the shoemaker, smith, and carpenter, were all parts of the household. Thus every manor was wholly self-sufficing and self-sustaining, and towns were rendered almost unnecessary.

Forests and heaths still also covered about half the surface. These were now the hunting-grounds of the kings and nobles, while in the leys, hursts, and dens, small groups of huts gave shelter to the swineherds and woodwards who had charge of their lord's property in the woodlands. The great tree-covered region of Selwood still divided Wessex into two halves; the forest of the Chilterns still spread close to the walls of London; the Peakland was still overgrown by an inaccessible thicket; and the long central ridge between Yorkshire and Scotland was still shadowed by primaeval oaks, pinewoods, and beeches. Agriculture continued to be confined to the alluvial bottoms, and had nowhere as yet invaded the uplands, or even the stiffer and drier lowland regions, such as the Weald of Kent or the forests of Arden and Elmet.

Only two elements broke the monotony of these self-sufficing agricultural communities. Those elements were the monasteries and the towns.

A large part of the soil of England was owned by the monks. They now possessed considerable buildings, with stone churches of some pretensions, in which service was conducted with pomp and impressiveness. The tiny chapel of St. Lawrence, at Bradford-on-Avon, forms the best example of this primitive Romanesque architecture now surviving in England. Around the monasteries stretched their well-tilled lands, mostly reclaimed from fen or forest, and probably more scientifically cultivated than those of the neighbouring manors. Most of the monks were skilled in civilised handicrafts, introduced from the more cultivated continent. They were excellent ecclesiastical metalworkers; many of them were architects, who built in rude imitation of Romanesque models; and others were designers or illuminators of manuscripts. The books and charters of this age are delicately and minutely wrought out, though not with all the artistic elaboration of later mediaeval work. The art of painting (almost always in miniature) was considerably advanced, the figures being well drawn, in rather stiff but not unlifelike attitudes, though perspective is very imperfectly understood, and hardly ever attempted. Later Anglo-Saxon architecture, such as that of Eadward's magnificent abbey church at Westminster (afterwards destroyed by Henry III. to make way for his own building), was not inferior to continental workmanship. All the arts practised in the abbeys were of direct Roman origin, and most of the words relating to them are immediately derived from the Latin. This is the case even with terms relating to such common objects as candle, pen, wine, and oil. Names of weights, measures, coins, and other exact quantitative ideas are also derived from Roman sources. Carpenters, smiths, bakers, tanners, and millers, were usually attached to the abbeys. Thus, in many cases, as at Glastonbury, Peterborough, Ripon, Beverley, and Bury St. Edmunds, the monastery grew into the nucleus of a considerable town, though the development of such towns is more marked after than before the Norman Conquest. As a whole, it was by means of the monasteries, and especially of their constant interchange of inmates with the continent, that England mainly kept up the touch with the southern civilisation. There alone was Latin, the universal medium of continental intercommunication, taught and spoken. There alone were books written, preserved, and read. Through the Church alone was an organisation kept up in direct communication with the central civilising agencies of Italy and the south. And while the Church and the monasteries thus preserved the connection with the continent, they also formed schools of culture and of industrial arts for the country itself. At the abbeys bells were cast, glass manufactured, buildings designed, gold and silver ornaments wrought, jewels enamelled, and unskilled labour organised by the most trained intelligence of the land. They thus remained as they had begun, homes and retreats for those exceptional minds which were capable of carrying on the arts and the knowledge of a dying civilisation across the gulf of predatory barbarism which separates the artificial culture of Rome from the industrial culture of modern Europe.

The towns were few and relatively unimportant, built entirely of wood (except the churches), and very liable to be burnt down on the least excuse. In considering them we must dismiss from our minds the ideas derived from our own great and complex organisation, and bring ourselves mentally into the attitude of a simple agricultural people, requiring little beyond what was produced on each man's own farm or petty holding. Such people are mainly fed from their own corn and meat, mainly clad from their own homespun wool and linen. A little specialisation of function, however, already existed. Salt was procured from the wyches or pans of the coast, and also from the inland wyches or brine wells of Cheshire and the midland counties. Such names as Nantwich, Middlewych, Bromwich, and Droitwich, still preserve the memory of these early saltworks. Iron was mined in the Forest of Dean, around Alcester, and in the Somersetshire district. The city of Gloucester had six smiths' forges in the days of Eadward the Confessor, and paid its tax to the king in iron rods. Lead was found in Derbyshire, and was largely employed for roofing churches. Cloth-weaving was specially carried on at Stamford; but as a rule it is probable that every district supplied its own clothing. English merchants attended the great fair at St. Denys, in France, much as those of Central Asia now attend the fair at Kandahar; and madder seems to have been bought there for dyeing cloth. In Kent, Sussex, and East Anglia, herring fisheries already produced considerable results. With these few exceptions, all the towns were apparently mere local centres of exchange for produce, and small manufactured wares, like the larger villages or bazaars of India in our own time. Nevertheless, there was a distinct advance towards urban life in the later Anglo-Saxon period. Baeda mentions very few towns, and most of those were waste. By the date of the Conquest there were many, and their functions were such as befitted a more diversified national life. Communications had become far greater; and arts or trade had now to some extent specialised themselves in special places.

A list of the chief early English towns may possibly seem to give too much importance to these very minor elements of English life; yet one may, perhaps, be appended with due precaution against misapprehension.

The capital, if any place deserved to be so called under the perambulating early English dynasty, was Winchester (Wintan-ceaster), with its old and new minsters, containing the tombs of the West-Saxon kings. It possessed a large number of craftsmen, doubtless dependant ultimately upon the court; and it was relatively a place of far greater importance than at any later date.

The chief ports were London (Lundenbyrig), situated at the head of tidal navigation on the Thames; and Bristol (Bricgestow) and Gloucester (Gleawan-ceaster), similarly placed on the Avon and Severn. These towns were convenient for early shipping because of their tidal position, at an age when artificial harbours were unknown; They were the seat of the export traffic in slaves and the import traffic in continental goods. Before AElfred's reign the carrying trade by sea seems to have been in the hands of the Frisian skippers and slave-dealers, who stood to the English in the same relation as the Arabs now stand to the East African and Central African negroes; but after the increased attention paid to shipbuilding during the struggle with the Danes, English vessels began to engage in trade on their own account. London must already have been the largest and richest town in the kingdom. Even in Baeda's time it was "the mart of many nations, resorting to it by sea and land." It seems, indeed, to have been a sort of merchant commonwealth, governed by its own port reeve, and it made its own dooms, which have been preserved to the present day. From the Roman time onward, the position of London as a great free commercial town was probably uninterrupted.

York (Eoforwic), the capital of the North, had its own archbishop and its Danish internal organisation. It seems to have been always an important and considerable town, and it doubtless possessed the same large body of handicraftsmen as Winchester. During the doubtful period of Danish and English struggles, the archbishop apparently exercised quasi-royal authority over the English burghers themselves.

Among the cathedral towns the most important were Canterbury (Cant-wara-byrig), the old capital of Kent and metropolis of all England, which seems to have contained a relatively large trading population; Dorchester, in Oxfordshire, first the royal city of the West Saxons, and afterwards the seat of the exiled bishopric of Lincoln; Rochester (Hrofes-ceaster), the old capital of the West Kentings, and seat of their bishop: and Worcester (Wigorna-ceaster), the chief town of the Huiccii. Of the monastic towns the chief were Peterborough (Burh), Ely (Elig), and Glastonbury (Glaestingabyrig). Bath, Amesbury, Colchester, Lincoln, Chester, and other towns of Roman origin were also important. Exeter, the old capital of the West Welsh, situated at the tidal head of the Exe, had considerable trade. Oxford was a place of traffic and a fortified town. Hastings, Dover, and the other south-coast ports had some communications with France. The only other places of any note were Chippenham, Bensington, and Aylesbury; Northampton and Southampton; Bamborough; the fortified posts built by Eadward and AEthelflaed; and the Danish boroughs of Bedford, Derby, Leicester, Stamford, Nottingham, and Huntingdon. The Witena-gemots and the synods took place in any town, irrespective of size, according to royal convenience. But as early as the days of Cnut, London was beginning to be felt as the real centre of national life: and Eadward the Confessor, by founding Westminster Abbey, made it practically the home of the kings. The Conqueror "wore his crown on Eastertide at Winchester; on Pentecost at Westminster; and on Midwinter at Gloucester:" which probably marks the relative position of the three towns as the chief places in the old West Saxon realm at least. Under AEthelstan, London had eight moneyers or mint-masters, while Winchester had only six, and Canterbury seven.

As regards the arts and traffic in the towns, they were chiefly carried on by guilds, which had their origin, as Dr. Brentano has shown with great probability, in separate families, who combined to keep up their own trade secrets as a family affair. In time, however, the guilds grew into regular organisations, having their own code of rules and laws, many of which (as at Cambridge, Exeter, and Abbotsbury) we still possess. It is possible that the families of craftsmen may at first have been Romanised Welsh inhabitants of the cities; for all the older towns—London, Canterbury, York, Lincoln, and Rochester—were almost certainly inhabited without interruption from the Roman period onward. But in any case the guilds seem to have grown out of family compacts, and to have retained always the character of close corporations. There must have been considerable division of the various trades even before the Conquest, and each trade must have inhabited a separate quarter; for we find at Winchester, or elsewhere, in the reign of AEthelred, Fellmonger, Horsemonger, Fleshmonger, Shieldwright, Shoewright, Turner, and Salter Streets.

The exact amount of the population of England cannot be ascertained, even approximately; but we may obtain a rough approximation from the estimates based upon Domesday Book. It seems probable that at the end of the Conqueror's reign, England contained 1,800,000 souls. Allowing for the large number of persons introduced at the Conquest, and for the natural increase during the unusual peace in the reigns of Cnut, of Eadward the Confessor, and, above all, of William himself, we may guess that it could not have contained more than a million and a quarter in the days of Eadgar. London may have had a population of some 10,000; Winchester and York of 5,000 each; certainly that of York at the date of Domesday could not have exceeded 7,000 persons, and we know that it contained 1,800 houses in the time of Eadward the Confessor.

The organisation of the country continued on the lines of the old constitution. But the importance of the simple freeman had now quite died out, and the gemot was rather a meeting of the earls, bishops, abbots, and wealthy landholders, than a real assembly of the people. The sub-divisions of the kingdom were now pretty generally conterminous with the modern counties. In Wessex and the east the counties are either older kingdoms, like Kent, Sussex, and Essex; or else tribal divisions of the kingdom, like Dorset, Somerset, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Surrey. In Mercia, the recovered country is artificially mapped out round the chief Danish burgs, as in the case of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Leicestershire, where the county town usually occupies the centre of the arbitrary shire. In Northumbria it is divided into equally artificial counties by the rivers. Beneath the counties stood the older organisation of the hundred, and beneath that again the primitive unit of the township, known on its ecclesiastical side as the parish. In the reign of Eadgar, England seems to have contained about 3,000 parish churches.



The death of Dunstan was the signal for the breaking down of the artificial kingdom which he had held together by the mere power of his solitary organising capacity. AEthelred, the son of Eadgar (who succeeded after the brief reign of his brother Eadward), lost hopelessly all hold over the Scandinavian north. At the same time, the wicking incursions, intermitted for nearly a century, once more recommenced with the same vigour as of old. Even before Dunstan's death, in 980, the pirates ravaged Southampton, killing most of the townsfolk; and they also pillaged Thanet, while another host overran Cheshire. In the succeeding year, "great harm was done in Devonshire and in Wales;" and a year later again, London was burnt and Portland ravaged. In 985, AEthelred, the Unready, as after ages called him, from his lack of rede or counsel, quarrelled with AElfric, ealdormen of the Mercians, whom he drove over sea. The breach between Mercia and Wessex was thus widened, and as the Danish attacks continued without interruption the redeless king soon found himself comparatively isolated in his own paternal dominions. Northumbria, under its earl, Uhtred (one of the house of Bamborough), and the Five Burgs under their Danish leaders, acted almost independently of Wessex throughout the whole of AEthelred's reign. In 991 Sigeric, archbishop of Canterbury, advised that the Danes should be bought off by a payment of ten thousand pounds, an enormous sum; but it was raised somehow and duly paid. In 992, the command of a naval force, gathered from the merchant craft of the Thames, was entrusted to AElfric, who had been recalled; and the Mercian leader went over on the eve of an engagement at London to the side of the enemy. Bamborough was stormed and captured with great booty, and the host sailed up Humber mouth. There they stood in the midst of the old Danish kingdom, and found the leading men of Northumbria and Lindsey by no means unfriendly to their invasion. In fact, the Danish north was now far more ready to welcome the kindred Scandinavian than the West Saxon stranger. AEthelred's realm practically shrank at once to the narrow limits of Kent and Wessex.

The Danes, however, were by no means content even with these successes. Olaf Tryggvesson, king of Norway, and Swegen Forkbeard,[1] king of Denmark, fell upon England. The era of mere plundering expeditions and of scattered colonisation had ceased; the era of political conquest had now begun. They had determined upon the complete subjugation of all England. In 994 Olaf and Swegen attacked London with 94 ships, but were put to flight by a gallant resistance of the townsmen, who did "more harm and evil than ever they weened that any burghers could do them." Thence the host sailed away to Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, burning and slaying all along the coast as they went. AEthelred and his witan bought them off again, with the immense tribute of sixteen thousand pounds. The host accepted the terms, but settled down for the winter at Southampton—a sufficient indication of their intentions—within easy reach of Winchester itself; and there "they fed from all the West Saxons' land." AEthelred was alarmed, and sent to Olaf, who consented to meet him at Andover. There the king received him "with great worship," and gifted him with kinglike gifts, and sent him away with a promise never again to attack England. Olaf kept his word, and returned no more. But still Swegen remained, and went on pillaging Devonshire and Cornwall, wending into Tamar mouth as far as Lidford, where his men "burnt and slew all that they found." Thence they betook themselves to the Frome, and so up into Dorset, and again to Wight. In 999, on the eve of doomsday as men then thought, they sailed up Thames and Medway, and attacked Rochester. The men of Kent stoutly fought them, but, as usual, without assistance from other shires; and the Danes took horses, and rode over the land, almost ruining all the West Kentings. The king and his witan resolved to send against them a land fyrd and a ship fyrd or raw levy. But the spirit of the West Saxons was broken, and though the craft were gathered together, yet in the end, as the Chronicle plaintively puts it, "neither ship fyrd nor land fyrd wrought anything save toil for the folk, and the emboldening of their foes."

[1] See Mr. York-Powell's "Scandinavian Britain."

So, year after year, the endless invasion dragged on its course, and everywhere each shire of Wessex fought for itself against such enemies as happened to attack it. At last, in the year 1002, AEthelred once more bought off the fleet, this time with 24,000 pounds; and some of the Danes obtained leave to settle down in Wessex. But on St. Brice's day, the king treacherously gave orders that all Danes in the immediate English territory should be massacred. The West Saxons rose on the appointed night, and slew every one of them, including Gunhild, the sister of King Swegen, and a Christian convert. It was a foolhardy attempt. Swegen fell at once upon Wessex, and marched up and down the whole country, for two years. He burnt Wilton and Sarum, and then sailed round to Norwich, where Ulfkytel, of East Anglia, gave him "the hardest hand-play" that he had ever known in England. A year of famine intervened; but in 1006 Swegen returned again, harrying and burning Sandwich. All autumn the West Saxon fyrd waited for the enemy, but in the end "it came to naught more than it had oft erst done." The host took up quarters in Wight, marched across Hants and Berks to Reading, and burned Wallingford. Thence they returned with their booty to the fleet, by the very walls of the royal city. "There might the Winchester folk behold an insolent host and fearless wend past their gate to sea." The king himself had fled into Shropshire. The tone of utter despair with which the Chronicle narrates all these events is the best measure of the national degradation. "There was so muckle awe of the host," says the annalist, "that no man could think how man could drive them from this earth or hold this earth against them; for that they had cruelly marked each shire of Wessex with burning and with harrying." The English had sunk into hopeless misery, and were only waiting for a strong rule to rescue them from their misery.

The strong rule came at last. Thorkell, a Danish jarl, marched all through Wessex, and for three years more his host pillaged everywhere in the South. In 1011, they killed AElfheah, the archbishop of Canterbury, at Greenwich. When the country was wholly weakened, Swegen turned southward once more, this time with all Northumbria and Mercia at his back. In 1013 he sailed round to Humber mouth, and thence up the Trent, to Gainsborough. "Then Earl Uhtred and all Northumbrians soon bowed to him, and all the folk in Lindsey; and sithence the folk of the Five Burgs, and shortly after, all the host by north of Watling-street; and men gave him hostages of each shire." Swegen at once led the united army into England, leaving his son Cnut in Denalagu with the ships and hostages. He marched to Oxford, which received him; then to the royal city of Winchester, which made no resistance. At London AEthelred was waiting; and for a time the town held out. So Swegen marched westward, and took Bath. There, the thegns of the Welsh-kin counties—Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall—bowed to him and gave him hostages. "When he had thus fared, he went north to his ships, and all the folk held him then as full king." London itself gave way. AEthelred fled to Wight, and thence to Normandy. He had married Ymma, the daughter of Richard the Fearless; and he now took refuge with her brother, Richard the Good.

Next year Swegen died, and the West Saxon witan sent back for AEthelred. No lord was dearer to them, they said, than their lord by kin. But the host had already chosen Cnut; and the host had a stronger claim than the witan. For two years AEthelred carried on a desultory war with the intruders, and then died, leaving it undecided. His son Eadmund, nicknamed Ironside, continued the contest for a few months; but in the autumn of 1016 he died—poisoned, the English said, by Cnut—and Cnut succeeded to undisputed sway. He at once assumed Wessex as his own peculiar dominion, and the political history of the English ends for two centuries. Their social life went on, of course, as ever; but it was the life of a people in strict subjection to foreign rulers—Danish, Norman, or Angevin. The story of the next twenty-five years at least belongs to the chronicles of Scandinavian Britain.

At the end of that time, however, there was a slight reaction. Cnut and his sons had bound the kingdom roughly into one; and the death of Harthacnut left an opportunity for the return of a descendant of AElfred. But the English choice fell upon one who was practically a foreigner. Eadward, son of AEthelred by Ymma of Normandy, had lived in his mother's country during the greater part of his life. Recalled by Earl Godwine and the witan, he came back to England a Norman, rather than an Englishman. The administration remained really in the hands of Godwine himself, and of the Danish or Danicised aristocracy. But Mercia and Northumbria still stood apart from Wessex, and once procured the exile of Godwine himself. The great earl returned, however, and at his death passed on his power to his son Harold, a Danicised Englishman of great rough ability, such as suited the hard times on which he was cast. Harold employed the lifetime of Eadward, who was childless, in preparing for his own succession. The king died in 1066, and Harold was quietly chosen at once by the witan. He was the last Englishman who ever sat upon the throne of England.

The remaining story belongs chiefly to the annals of Norman Britain. Harold was assailed at once from either side. On the north, his brother Tostig, whom he had expelled from Northumbria, led against him his namesake, Harold Hardrada, king of Norway. On the south, William of Normandy, Eadward's cousin, claimed the right to present himself to the English electors. Eadward's death, in fact, had broken up the temporary status, and left England once more a prey to barbaric Scandinavians from Denmark, or civilised Scandinavians from Normandy. The English themselves had no organisation which could withstand either, and no national unity to promote such organisation in future. Harold of Norway came first, landing in the old Danish stronghold of Northumbria; and the English Harold hurried northward to meet him, with his little body of house-carls, aided by a large fyrd which he had hastily collected to use against William. At Stamford-bridge he overthrew the invaders with great slaughter, Harold Hardrada and Tostig being amongst the slain. Meanwhile, William had crossed to Pevensey, and was ravaging the coast. Harold hurried southward, and met him at Senlac, near Hastings. After a hard day's fight, the Normans were successful, and Harold fell. But even yet the English could not agree among themselves. In this crisis of the national fate, the local jealousies burnt up as fiercely as ever. While William was marching upon London, the witan were quarrelling and intriguing in the city over the succession. "Archbishop Ealdred and the townsmen of London would have Eadgar Child,"—a grandson of Eadmund Ironside—"for king, as was his right by kin." But Eadwine and Morkere, the representatives of the great Mercian family of Leofric, had hopes that they might turn William's invasion to their own good, and secure their independence in the north by allowing Wessex to fall unassisted into his hands. After much shuffling, Eadgar was at last chosen for king. "But as it ever should have been the forwarder, so was it ever, from day to day, slower and worse." No resistance was organised. In the midst of all this turmoil, the Peterborough Chronicler is engaged in narrating the petty affairs of his own abbey, and the question which arose through the application made to Eadgar for his consent to the appointment of an abbot. In such a spirit did the English meet an invasion from the stoutest and best organised soldiery in Europe. William marched on without let or hindrance, and on his way, the Lady—the Confessor's widow—surrendered the royal city of Winchester into his hands. The duke reached the Thames, burnt Southwark, and then made a detour to cross the river at Wallingford, whence he proceeded into Hertfordshire, thus cutting off Eadwine and Morkere in London from their earldoms. The Mercian and Northumbrian leaders being determined to hold their own at all hazards, retreated northward; and the English resistance crumbled into pieces. Eadgar, the rival king, with Ealdred, the archbishop, and all the chief men of London, came out to meet William, and "bowed to him for need." The Chronicler can only say that it was very foolish they had not done so before. A people so helpless, so utterly anarchic, so incapable of united action, deserved to undergo a severe training from the hard taskmasters of Romance civilisation. The nation remained, but it remained as a conquered race, to be drilled in the stern school of the conquerors. For awhile, it is true, William governed England like an English king; but the constant rebellion and faithlessness of his new subjects drove him soon to severer measures; and the great insurrection of 1068, with its results, put the whole country at his feet in a very different sense from the battle of Senlac. For a hundred and fifty years, the English people remained a mere race of chapmen and serfs; and the English language died down meanwhile into a servile dialect. When the native stock emerges again into the full light of history, by the absorption of the Norman conquerors in the reign of John, it reappears with all the super-added culture and organisation of the Romance nationalities. The Conquest was an inevitable step in the work of severing England from the barbarous North, and binding it once more in bonds of union with the civilised South. It was the necessary undoing of the Danish conquest; more still, it was an inevitable step in the process whereby England itself was to begin its unified existence by the final breaking down of the barriers which divided Wessex from Mercia, and Mercia from Northumbria.



A description of Anglo-Saxon Britain, however brief, would not be complete without some account of the English language in its earliest and purest form. But it would be impossible within reasonable limits to give anything more than a short general statement of the relation which the old English tongue bears to the kindred Teutonic dialects, and of the main differences which mark it off from our modern simplified and modified speech. All that can be attempted here is such a broad outline as may enable the general reader to grasp the true connexion between modern English and so-called Anglo-Saxon, on the one hand, as well as between Anglo-Saxon itself and the parent Teutonic language on the other. Any full investigation of grammatical or etymological details would be beyond the scope of this little volume.

The tongue spoken by the English and Saxons at the period of their invasion of Britain was an almost unmixed Low Dutch dialect. Originally derived, of course, from the primitive Aryan language, it had already undergone those changes which are summed up in what is known as Grimm's Law. The principal consonants in the old Aryan tongue had been regularly and slightly altered in certain directions; and these alterations have been carried still further in the allied High German language. Thus the original word for father, which closely resembled the Latin pater, becomes in early English or Anglo-Saxon faeder, and in modern High German vater. So, again, among the numerals, our two, in early English twa, answers to Latin duo and modern High German zwei; while our three, in old English threo, answers to Latin tres, and modern High German drei. So far as these permutations are concerned, Sanscrit, Greek, and Latin may be regarded as most nearly resembling the primitive Aryan speech, and with them the Celtic dialects mainly agree. From these, the English varies one degree, the High German two. The following table represents the nature of such changes approximately for these three groups of languages:—

- - - Greek, Sanscrit, Latin, Celtic p. b. f. t. d. th. k. g. ch. - - - Gothic, English, Low Dutch f. p. b. th. t. d. ch. k. g. - - - High German b. f. p. d. th. t. g. ch. k. - - -

In practice, several modifications arise; for example, the law is only true for old High German, and that only approximately, but its general truth may be accepted as governing most individual cases.

Judged by this standard, English forms a dialect of the Low Dutch branch of the Aryan language, together with Frisian, modern Dutch, and the Scandinavian tongues. Within the group thus restricted its affinities are closest with Frisian and old Dutch, less close with Icelandic and Danish. While the English still lived on the shores of the Baltic, it is probable that their language was perfectly intelligible to the ancestors of the people who now inhabit Holland, and who then spoke very slightly different local dialects. In other words, a single Low Dutch speech then apparently prevailed from the mouth of the Elbe to that of the Scheldt, with small local variations; and from this speech the Anglo-Saxon and the modern English have developed in one direction, while the Dutch has developed in another, the Frisian dialect long remaining intermediate between them. Scandinavian ceased, perhaps, to be intelligible to Englishmen at an earlier date, the old Icelandic being already marked off from Anglo-Saxon by strong peculiarities, while modern Danish differs even more widely from the spoken English of the present day.

The relation of Anglo-Saxon to modern English is that of direct parentage, it might almost be said of absolute identity. The language of Beowulf and of AElfred is not, as many people still imagine, a different language from our own; it is simply English in its earliest and most unmixed form. What we commonly call Anglo-Saxon, indeed, is more English than what we commonly call English at the present day. The first is truly English, not only in its structure and grammar, but also in the whole of its vocabulary: the second, though also truly English in its structure and grammar, contains a large number of Latin, Greek, and Romance elements in its vocabulary. Nevertheless, no break separates us from the original Low Dutch tongue spoken in the marsh lands of Sleswick. The English of Beowulf grows slowly into the English of AElfred, into the English of Chaucer, into the English of Shakespeare and Milton, and into the English of Macaulay and Tennyson.

Old words drop out from time to time, old grammatical forms die away or become obliterated, new names and verbs are borrowed, first from the Norman-French at the Conquest, then from the classical Greek and Latin at the Renaissance; but the continuity of the language remains unbroken, and its substance is still essentially the same as at the beginning. The Cornish, the Irish, and to some extent the Welsh, have left off speaking their native tongues, and adopted the language of the dominant Teuton; but there never was a time when Englishmen left off speaking Anglo-Saxon and took to English, Norman-French, or any other form of speech whatsoever.

An illustration may serve to render clearer this fundamental and important distinction. If at the present day a body of Englishmen were to settle in China, they might learn and use the Chinese names for many native plants, animals, and manufactured articles; but however many of such words they adopted into their vocabulary, their language would still remain essentially English. A visitor from England would have to learn a number of unfamiliar words, but he would not have to learn a new language. If, on the other hand, a body of Frenchmen were to settle in a neighbouring Chinese province, and to adopt exactly the same Chinese words, their language would still remain essentially French. The dialects of the two settlements would contain many words in common, but neither of them would be a Chinese dialect on that account. Just so, English since the Norman Conquest has grafted many foreign words upon the native stock; but it still remains at bottom the same language as in the days of Eadgar.

Nevertheless, Anglo-Saxon differs so far in externals from modern English, that it is now necessary to learn it systematically with grammar and dictionary, in somewhat the same manner as one would learn a foreign tongue. Most of the words, indeed, are more or less familiar, at least so far as their roots are concerned; but the inflexions of the nouns and verbs are far more complicated than those now in use: and many obsolete forms occur even in the vocabulary. On the other hand the idioms closely resemble those still in use; and even where a root has now dropped out of use, its meaning is often immediately suggested by the cognate High German word, or by some archaic form preserved for us in Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Milton, as well as by occasional survival in the Lowland Scotch and other local dialects.

English in its early form was an inflexional language; that is to say, the mutual relations of nouns and of verbs were chiefly expressed, not by means of particles, such as of, to, by, and so forth, but by means of modifications either in the termination or in the body of the root itself. The nouns were declined much as in Greek and Latin; the verbs were conjugated in somewhat the same way as in modern French. Every noun had gender expressed in its form.

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