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The Historic Thames
by Hilaire Belloc
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There is no record, and but very little basis for conjecture, as to the origin of the fortifications at Wallingford. Not much is left of them, and though there is some Roman work in the place it is work which has evidently been handled over and over again. It is certainly somewhat late in English history that this "Walled Ford" is heard of—with the tenth century. Its first castle is, of course, Norman, and contemporary with that of Oxford—or rather a year later than that at Oxford, and from the Conquest onward it remains royal. From that time, also, it is perpetually appearing in English history. It was the place of confinement of Edward I. when, as Prince Edward, he was the prisoner of Leicester. It was the attempt to succour that prisoner which led to his removal to Kenilworth, and finally to that escape which permitted him to fight the battle of Evesham. Wallingford passed to Gaveston in Edward the Second's reign, and, remaining continually within the gift of the crown, to the Despenser in the succeeding generation, and finally to Isabella, who declared her policy from within the walls of Wallingford when she returned to the country. It was next held by her favourite, Mortimer, and we afterwards find it, throughout the fourteenth century, a sort of appanage of the heir-apparent, and especially of the Duchy of Cornwall, to which it was attached until the Reformation. It was for a moment under the custody of Chaucer's son: it nursed the childhood of Henry VI., but with the beginning of the next century it had already lost its importance. After half that century had passed the castle was already falling into disrepair; much of the masonry of the town and of the fortress, lying squared and convenient to the river, had been moved down stream for the new buildings at Windsor, and when, nearly a century later again, the Civil War broke out, it was not until after some considerable repair that the place could pretend to stand a siege. It fell to the Parliament, and, before the Restoration, was carefully destroyed, as were throughout England so many foundations of her past by the orders of Oliver Cromwell.

It has often been remarked with surprise that cities and strongholds once densely inhabited and heavily built can disappear and leave no material trace to posterity. That they do so disappear should give pause to those historians who are perpetually using the negative argument, and pretending that the lack of material evidence is sufficient to disturb a strong and early tradition. Those who have watched the process by which abandoned buildings become a quarry will easily understand how all traces of habitation disappear. Three-quarters of what was once Orford, much of what once was Worsted, has gone, and up and down the country-sides to-day one could witness, even in our strictly disciplined civilisation, the removal, by purchase or theft, of abandoned material.

The whole of Wallingford has suffered this fate—the mound, presumably artificial, upon which the first keep stood, and which was, probably, a palisade mound of Anglo-Saxon times, remains, but there is upon it no remaining masonry.

Next down stream of the points with a strategic importance in English history comes Reading. But the strategic importance of Reading was not produced by the town's possessing a site of national moment: it was produced only by local topography. Reading was never (to use a modern term) a "nodal point" in the communications of England.

It may be generally laid down that mere strength of position is noted and greedily seized in barbaric times alone. For mere strength of position is a mere refuge. A strong position (I do not speak, of course, of tactical and temporary, but of permanent, positions), chosen only because it is strong, will save you during a critical short period from the attack of a fierce, unthoughtful, and easily wearied enemy—such as are all barbarians; but it cannot of itself fall into a general scheme of defence, nor, simply because it is strong, intercept the advance of an adversary or support a line of opposition and resistance. Position is always of advantage to a fortress, and, in all but highly civilised times, a necessity—as we shall see when we come to discuss Windsor—but it is not sufficient. A fortress, when society is organised, and when the feud of one small tribe or family against another is not to be feared, derives its principal value from a command of established communications, and established aggregations of power—especially of economic power. Towns alone can feed and house armies; by roads and railways alone can armies proceed.

There are, indeed, examples of a chain of positions so striking that, from their strength alone, a strategic line imposes itself; but these are very rare. Another, and much commoner, exception to the rule I have stated is the growth of what was once a barbaric stronghold, chosen merely for its position, into a larger centre of population, through which communications necessarily lead, and in which stores and other opportunities for armies can be provided. Such places often preserve a continuity of strategic importance, from civilised, through barbaric, to civilised times again. Laon is an excellent instance of this, and so is Constantine another, and so is Luxembourg a third—indeed they are numerous.

But, in spite of—or, rather, as is proved by—these exceptions the fortresses of an organised people are found at the conjunction of their communications, or at places (such as straits or passes) which have the monopoly of communication, or they are identical with great aggregations of population and opportunity, or at least they are situated in spots from which such aggregations can be commanded. Position is always of value, but only as an adjunct.

Now Reading, save, perhaps, in barbaric times, when the Thames was the main highway of Southern England, occupied no such vantage until the nineteenth century. To-day, with its large population, its provision of steam and electrical power, and above all, its command of the main junction between the southern and middle railways, Reading would again prove of primary strategic importance if we still considered warfare with our equals as a possibility. But during all previous centuries, since the Dark Ages, Reading was potentially, as it is still actually, civilian; and, indeed, it is as the typical great town of the Thames Valley that it will be treated later in these pages.

The long and narrow peninsula between the Kennet and the Thames was an ideal place for defence. It needed but a trench from the one marsh to the other to secure the stronghold. But though this was evident to every fighter, though it is as such a stronghold that Reading is mentioned first in history, yet the advantage was never permanently held. Armies hold Reading, fall back on the town, fight near it, and raid it: but it is never a great fortress in the intervals of wars, because, while Oxford commanded the Drovers' Road, Wallingford the western road, and Windsor (as we shall see in a moment) London itself, Reading neither held a line of supply nor an accumulation of supply, and was, therefore, civilian, though it was nearly as easy to hold as Windsor, as easy as Dorchester, its parallel, easier than Oxford, and far easier than Wallingford, which had, indeed, no natural defences whatsoever.

Proceeding with the stream, there is no further stronghold till we come to Windsor.

Even to-day, and in an England that has lost hold of her past more than has any rival nation, Windsor seems to the passer-by to possess a meaning. That hill of stones, sharp though most of its modern outlines are, set upon another hill for a pedestal, gives, even to a modern patriot, a hint of history; and when it is seen from up-stream, showing its only noble part, where the Middle Ages still linger, it has an aspect almost approaching majesty.

The creator of Windsor was the Conqueror. The artificial mound on which the Round Tower stands may or may not be pre-historic. The slopes of the hill were inhabited, like nearly all our English sites, by the Romans, and by the savages before and after the Romans; but the welter of the Saxon dark ages did not use this abrupt elevation for a stronghold. What military reasoning led William of Falaise to discern it at once and there to build his keep?

In order to answer that question let us consider what other points in the valley were at his disposal.

Reading we have discussed. The chalk spurs in the gorge by Goring and Pangbourne are not isolated (as is that of Chateau Gaillard, for instance), and are dominated by the neighbouring heights. The escarpment opposite Henley offered a good site for an eleventh-century castle—but the steep cliff of Windsor had this advantage beyond all the others—that it was at exactly the right distance from London. Windsor is the warden of the capital.

If the reader will look at a modern geological map, he will see from Wallingford to Bray a great belt of chalk in which the trench of the Thames is carved. Alluvials and gravels naturally flank the stream, but chalk is the ground rock of the whole. To the west and to the east of this belt he will notice two curious isolated patches, detached from the main body of the chalk. That to the west forms the twin height of the Sinodun Hills, rising abruptly out of the green sand; that to the east is the knoll of Windsor, rising abruptly out of the thick and damp clay. It is a singular and unique patch, almost exactly round, and as a result of some process at which geology can hardly guess the circle is bisected by the river. If ever the chalk of the north bank rose high it has, in some manner, been worn down. That on the south bank remains in a steep cliff with which everyone who uses the river is familiar. It was the summit of this chalk hill piercing through the clays that the Conqueror noted for his purpose, and he was, to repeat, determined (we must presume) by the distance from London.

The command of a great town, especially a metropolis, is but partially effected by a fortress situated within its limits. In case of a popular revolt, and still more in case the resources of the town are held by an enemy, such a fortress will be penned in and find itself suffering a siege far more rigorous than any that could be laid in an open country-side. On this account the urban fortresses of the Middle Ages are to be found (at least in large cities) lying upon an extreme edge of the walls and reposing, as far as possible, upon uninhabited land or upon water, or both. The two classic examples of this rule are, of course, the Tower and the Louvre, each standing down stream, just outside the wall, and each reposing on the river.

But in an active time even this precaution fails, and that for two reasons. First, the growth of the town makes any possible garrison of the fortress too small for the force with which it might have to cope; and, secondly, this same growth physically overlaps the exterior fortress; suburbs grow up beyond the wall, and the castle finds itself at last embedded in the town. Thus within a hundred and fifty years of its completion the Louvre was but a residence, wholly surrounded, save upon the water front, by the packed houses within the new wall of Marcel.

A tendency therefore arises, more or less early according to local circumstance, to establish a fortified base within striking distance of the civilian centre which it is proposed to command; and striking distance is a day's march. The strict alliance between Paris and the Crown forbade such an experiment to the Capetian Monarchy, but, even in that case, the truth of the general military proposition involved is proved by the power which Montlhery possessed until the middle of the twelfth century of doing mischief to Paris. In the case of London, and of a population the wealthier of whom were probably for some years hostile to the Conqueror, the immediate necessity for an exterior base presented itself, and though the distance from London was indeed considerable, Windsor, under the circumstances of that moment, proved the most suitable point at which to establish the fortress.

Some centuries earlier or later the exact point for fortification would have lain at Staines, and Windsor may be properly regarded as a sort of second best to Staines.

The great Roman roads continued until the twelfth century to be the main highways of the barbaric and mediaeval armies. We know, for instance, from a charter of Westminster's, that Oxford Street was called, in the last years of the Saxon Dynasty, "Via Militaria," and it was this road which was still in its continuation the marching road upon London from the south and west: from Winchester, which was still in a fashion the capital of England and the seat of the Treasury. Now Staines marks the spot where this road crossed the river. It was a "nodal point," commanding at once the main approach to London by land and the main approach by water.

But there is more than this in favour of Staines. I have already said that a fortress commanding a civilian population—an ancient fortress, at least—can do so with the best effect at the distance of an easy march. Now Staines is not seventeen miles from Tyburn, and a good road all the way: Windsor is over twenty, and for the last miles there was no good, hard road in the time of its foundation.

But, though Staines had all these advantages, it was rejected from a lack of position. Position was still of first importance, and remained so till the seventeenth century. The new Castle, like so many hundred others built by the genius of the same race, must stand on a steep hill even if the choice of such a site involved a long, instead of a reasonable, day's march. Windsor alone offered that opportunity, and, standing isolated upon the chalk, beyond the tide, accessible by water and by road, became to London what, a hundred years later, Chateau Gaillard was to become for a brief space to Rouen.

The choice was made immediately after the Conquest. In the course of the Dark Ages whatever Roman farms clustered here had dwindled, the Roman cemetery was abandoned, the original name of the district forgotten, and the Saxon "Winding Shore" grew up at Old Windsor, two or three miles down stream. Old Windsor was not a borough, but it was a very considerable village. It paid dues to its lords to the amount of some twenty-five loads of corn and more—say 100 quarters—and it had at least 100 houses, since that number is set down in Domesday, and, as we have previously said, Domesday figures necessarily express a minimum. We may take it that its population was something in the neighbourhood of 1000.

This considerable place was under the lordship of the abbots of Westminster. It had been a royal manor when Edward the Confessor came to the throne; he gave it to his new great abbey. When the Conqueror needed the whole neighbourhood for his new purpose he exchanged it against land in Essex, which he conveyed to the abbey, and he added (for the manorial system was still flexible) half a hide from Clewer on the west side of the Windsor territory. This half-hide gave him his approach to the platform of chalk on which he designed to build.

He began his work quickly. Within four years of Hastings, and long before the conquest of the Saxon aristocracy was complete, he held his Court at Windsor and summoned a synod there, and, though we do not know when the keep was completed, we can conjecture, from the rapidity with which all Norman work was done, that the walls were defensible even at that time. Of his building perhaps nothing remains. The forest to the south, with its opportunities for hunting, and the increasing importance of London (which was rapidly becoming the capital of England) made Windsor of greater value than ever in the eyes of his son. Henry I. rebuilt or greatly enlarged the castle, lived in it, was married in it, and accomplished in it the chief act of his life, when he caused fealty to be sworn to his daughter, Matilda, and prepared the advent of the Angevin. When the civil wars were over, and the treaty between Henry II. and Stephen was signed, Windsor ("Mota de Windsor"), though it does not seem to have stood a siege, was counted the second fortress of the realm.

Of the exact place of Windsor in mediaeval strategy, of its relations to London and to Staines, and all we have just mentioned, as also of the great importance of cavalry in the Middle Ages, no better example can be quoted than the connected episode of April-June 1215, which may be called—to give it a grandiose name—the Campaign of Magna Charta. It further illustrates points which should never be forgotten in the reading of early English history, though they are too particular for the general purpose of this book—to wit, the way in which London increased in military value throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; the strategic importance of the few old national roads as late as the reign of John, and that power of the defensive, even in the field, which made general and strategic, as opposed to tactical, attack so cautious, decisive action so rare, and when it was decisive, so thorough.

This book is no place wherein to develop a theme which history will confirm with regard to the aristocratic revolt against the vice and the genius of the third Plantagenet. The strategy of the quarrel alone concerns us.

When John's admirable diplomacy had failed (as diplomacy will under the test of arms), and when his Continental allies had been crushed at Bouvines in the summer of 1214, the rebels in England found their opportunity. The great lords, especially those of the north, took oath in the autumn to combine. The accounts of this conspiracy are imperfect, but its general truth may be accepted. John, who from this moment lay perpetually behind walls, held a conference in the Temple during the January of 1215—to be accurate, upon the Epiphany of that year—and he struck a compact with the conspirators that there should be a truce between their forces and those of the Crown until Low Sunday—which fell that year upon the 26th of April. The great nobles, mistrusting his faith with some justice (especially as he had taken the Cross), gathered their army some ten days before the expiry of the interval, but, as befitted men who claimed in especial to defend the Catholic Church and its principles, they were scrupulous not to engage in actual fighting before the appointed day. The size of this army we cannot tell, but as it contained from 2000 to 3000 armed and mounted gentlemen it must have counted at least double that tale of cavalry, and perhaps five-, perhaps ten-fold the number of foot soldiers. A force of 15,000 to 30,000 men in an England of some 5,000,000 (I more than double the conventional figures) was prepared to enforce feudal independence against the central government, even at the expense of ceding vast territories to Scotland or of submitting to the nominal rule of a foreign king. Against this army the King had a number of mercenaries, mainly drawn from his Continental possessions, probably excellent soldiers, but scattered among the numerous garrisons which it was his titular office to defend.

In the last days of the truce the rebels marched to Brackley and encamped there on Low Monday—the 27th April. The choice of the site should be noted. It lies in a nexus of several old marching roads. The Port Way, a Roman road from Dorchester northward, the Watling Street all lay within half-an-hour's ride. The King was at Oxford, a day's march away. They negotiated with him, and their claims were refused, yet they did not attack him (though his force was small), partly because the function of government was still with him and partly because the defensive power of Oxford was great. They wisely preferred the nearest of his small official garrisons-that holding the castle of Northampton. They approached it up the Roman road through Towcester. They failed before it after two weeks of effort, and marched on to the next royal post at Bedford, which was by far the nearest of the national garrisons. It was betrayed to them. When they were within the gates they received a message from the wealthier citizens of London (who were in practice one with the Feudal Oligarchy), begging them to enter the capital.

What followed could only have been accomplished: by cavalry, by cavalry in high training, by a force under excellent generalship, and by one whose leaders appreciated the all-importance of London in the coming struggle. The rebels left Bedford immediately, marched all that day, all the succeeding night, and early on the Sunday morning, 24th May, entered London, and by the northern gate. Their entry was not even challenged.

From Bedford to St. Paul's is—as the crow flies—between forty and fifty miles: whatever road a man may take would make it nearer fifty than forty. Bearing, as did this army, towards the east until it struck the Ermine Street, the whole march must have been well over fifty miles.

This fine feat was not a barren one: it was well worth the effort and loss which it must have cost. London could feed, recruit, and remount an army of even this magnitude with ease. The Tower was held by a royal garrison, but it could do nothing against so great a town.

From London, as though the name of the city had a sort of national authority, the Barons, who now felt themselves to be hardly rebels but almost co-equals in a civil war, issued letters of mandate to others of their class and to their inferiors. These letters were obeyed, not perhaps without some hesitation, but at any rate with a final obedience which turned the scale against the King. John was now in a very distinct inferiority, and even of his personal attendants a considerable number left the Court on learning of the defection of London. In all this long struggle nothing but the occupation of the capital had proved enough to make John feign a compromise. As excellent an intriguer as he was a fighter he asked nothing better than to hear once more the terms of the Barons.

He proceeded to Windsor, asked for a parley, issued a safeguard to the emissaries of the Barons, and despatched this document upon the 8th June, giving it a validity of three days. His enemies waited somewhat longer, perhaps in order to collect the more distant contingents, and named Runnymede—a pasture upon the right bank of the Thames just above Staines—as the place of meeting.

There are those who see in the derivation of the name "Runnymede" an ancient use of the meadow as a place of council. This is, of course, mere conjecture, but at any rate it was, at this season of the year, a large, dry field, in which a considerable force could encamp. The Barons marched along the old Roman military road, which is still the high-road to Staines from London, crossed the river, and encamped on Runnymede. Here the Charta was presented, and probably, though not certainly, signed and sealed. The local tradition ascribes the site of the actual signature to "Magna Charta" island—an eyot just up-stream from the field, now called Runnymede, but neither in tradition nor in recorded history can this detail be fixed with any exactitude. The Charta is given as from Runnymede upon the 15th June, and for the purpose of these pages what we have to note is that these two months of marching and fighting had ended upon the strategic point of Staines, and had clearly shown its relation to Windsor and to London.

In the short campaign that followed, during which John so very nearly recovered his power, the capital importance of Windsor reappears. Louis of France, to whom the Barons were willing to hand over what was left of order in England, had occupied all the south and west, including even Worcester, and, of course, London. In this occupation the exception of Dover, which the French were actively besieging, must be regarded as an isolated point, but Windsor, which John's men held against the allies, threw an angle of defence right down into the midst of the territory lost to the Crown. Windsor was, of course, besieged; but John's garrison, holding out as it did, saved the position. The King was at Wallingford at one moment during the siege; his proximity tempted the enemy to raise the siege, to leave Windsor in the hands of the royal garrison, and to advance against him, or rather to cut him off in his advance eastward. They marched with the utmost rapidity to Cambridge, but John was ahead of them: and before they could return to the capture of Windsor he was rapidly confirming his power in the north and the east.

It must not be forgotten in all this description that Windsor was helped in its development as a fortress by the presence to the south of the hill of a great space of waste lands.

These waste lands of Western Europe, which it was impossible or unprofitable to cultivate, were, by a sound political tradition, vested in the common authority, which was the Crown.

Indeed they still remain so vested in most European countries. The Cantons of Switzerland, the Communes and the National Governments of France, Italy, and Spain remain in possession of the waste. It is only with us that wealthy private owners have been permitted to rob the Commonwealth of so obvious an inheritance, a piece of theft which they have accomplished with complete cynicism, and by specific acts whose particular dates can be quoted, though historians are very naturally careful to leave the process but vaguely analysed. Indeed, the last and most valuable of these waste spaces, the New Forest itself, might have entirely disappeared had not Charles I. (the last king in England to attempt a repression of the landed class) so forcibly urged the local engrosser to disgorge as to compel him, with Hampden and the rest, to a burning zeal for political liberty.

This great waste space to the south of Windsor Hill became, after the Conquest, the Forest, and apart from the hunting which it afforded to the Royal palace, served a certain purpose on the military side as well.

To develop a thought which has already been touched on in these pages, mediaeval fortification was dual in character: it had either a purely strategical object, in which case the site was chosen with an eye to its military value, whether inhabited or not, or the stronghold or fortification was made to develop an already existing town or site of importance. Of the second sort was Wallingford, but of the first sort, as we have seen, was Windsor. Indeed the distinction is normal to all fortification and exists upon the Continent to-day. For instance, the first-class fortress Paris is an example of the second sort, the first-class fortress Toul of the first. Again, all German fortresses, without exception, are of the second sort, while all Swiss fortification, what little of it exists, is of the first.

Now where the first category is concerned a waste space is of value, though its dimensions will vary in military importance according to the means of communication of the time. A stronghold may be said to repose upon that side through which communications are most difficult.

It is true that this space lying to the south of Windsor was of no very great dimensions, but such as it was, uninhabited and therefore unprovided with stores of any kind, it prevented surprise from the south.

The next point of strategic importance on the Thames, and the last, is the Tower.

Though it is below bridges it must fall into the scheme of this book, because its whole military history and connection with the story of England is bound up with the inland and not with the estuarial river.

It was, as has already been pointed out, one long day's march from Windsor—a march along the old Roman road from Staines. This land passage more than halved the distance by river, it cut off not only the numerous large turns which the Thames begins to take between Middlesex and Surrey, but also the general sweep southward of the river, and it avoided, what another road might have necessitated, the further crossing of the stream.

Long as the march is, there was no fortification of importance between one point and the other, and mediaeval history is crammed with instances of armies leaving the Tower to march to Windsor in one day, or leaving Windsor to march to the Tower.

The position of the Tower we saw in an earlier page to be due to the same geographical causes as had built up so many of the urban strongholds of Europe. It was situated upon the very bank of the river which fed the capital, it was down stream from the town, and it was just outside the walls. In a word, it was the parallel of the Louvre.

Its remote origins are doubtful; some have imagined that they are Roman, and that if not in the first part of the Roman occupation at least towards the end of those wealthy and populous three centuries, which are the foundation and the making of England, some fortification was built on the brow of the little eminence which here slopes down to the high-water mark.

I will quote the evidence, such as it is, and the reader will perceive how difficult it is to arrive at a conclusion.

Of actual Roman remains all we have is a couple of coins of the end of the fourth century (probably minted at Constantinople), a silver ingot of the same period, and a funeral inscription. No indubitably Roman work has been discovered.

On the other hand there has been no modern investigation of those foundations of the White Tower where, if anywhere, Roman work might be expected. This exhausts the direct evidence. In sciences such as geology or the criticism of Sacred Books evidence to this extent would be ample to overset the firmest traditions or the most self-evident conclusion of common human experience. But history is bound to a greater caution, and it must be reluctantly admitted that the two coins, the ingot and the bit of stone are insufficient to prove the existence of a Roman fortress.

Leaving such material and direct evidence we have the tradition, which is a fairly strong one, of Roman fortification here, and we have the analogy, so frequently occurring in space and time throughout the history and the area of Western Europe, that Gaul reproduces Rome. What the Conqueror saw (it might be vaguely argued) to be the strategical position for London, that a Roman emperor would have seen. But against this argument from tradition, which is fairly strong, and that argument from analogy, which is weak, we have other and contrary considerations.

Rome even in her decline did not build her citadels outside the walls: that was a habit which grew up in the Dark and early Middle Ages, and was attached to the differentiation between the civic and military aspects of the State.

Again, Roman fortification of every kind is connected with earthworks. So far as we can tell from recorded history the ditch round the Tower was not dug till the end of the twelfth century. Finally, there is this strong argument against the theory of a Roman origin to the Tower that had such a Roman fortress existed an extension of the town would almost certainly have gathered round it.

One of the features of the break-up of Roman society was the enormous expansion of the towns. We have evidence of it on every side and nowhere more than in Northern Africa. This expansion took place everywhere, but especially and invariably in the presence of a garrison, and indeed the military conditions of the fourth century, with its cosmopolitan and partially hereditary army, fixed in permanent garrisons and forming as it were a local caste, presupposed a large dependent civilian population at the very gates of the camp or stronghold. Thus you have the Palatine suburb to the south of Lutetia right up against the camp, and Verecunda just outside Lamboesis. Now there is nothing of the sort in the neighbourhood of the Tower. It seems certain that from the earliest times London ended here cleanly at the wall, and that except along the Great Eastern Road the neighbourhood of the Tower was agricultural land.

How then could a tradition have arisen with regard to Roman occupation? It is but a conjecture, though a plausible one, that when the pirate raids grew in severity this knoll down stream was fortified, while still the ruling class was Latin speaking and while still the title of Caesar was familiar, whether before or after the withdrawal of the Legions. If this were the case, then, on the analogy of other similar sites, one may imagine something like the following: that in the Dark Ages the masonry was used as a quarry for other constructions, that the barbarians would occasionally stockade the site, though not permanently, and only for the purposes of their ephemeral but constant quarrels; and one may suggest that when the barbaric period was ended, by the landing of William's army, the place was still, by a tradition now six hundred years old, a public area under the control of the Crown and one such as would lend itself to the design of a permanent fortification. William, finding it in this condition, erected upon it the great keep which was to be the last of his fortifications along the line of the river, and the pivot for the control of London.

This keep is of course the White Tower, which still impresses even our generation with the squat and square shoulders of Norman strength. It and Ely are the best remaining expressions of the hardy little men, and it fills one, as does everything Norman, from the Tyne to the Euphrates, with something of awe. This building, the White Tower, is the Tower itself; the rest is but an accretion, partly designed for defence, but latterly more for habitation. Its name of the "White" Tower is probably original, though we do not actually find the term "La Blaunche Tour" till near the middle of the fourteenth century. The presumption that it is the original name is founded upon a much earlier record—namely, that of 1241, in which not only is it ordered that the tower be repainted white, but in which mention is also made that its original colour had been "worn by the weather and by the long process of time." Such a complaint would take one back to the twelfth century, and quite probably to the first building of the Keep. The object of whitening the walls of the Tower is again explicable by the very reasonable conjecture that it would so serve as a landmark over the long, flat stretches of the lower river. It was the last conspicuous building against the mass of the great town, and there are many examples of similar landmarks used at the head of estuaries or sea passages. When these are not spires they are almost invariably white, especially where they are so situated as to catch the southern or the eastern sun.

The exact date at which the plan was undertaken we do not know, but it is obviously one with the scheme of building Windsor, and must date from much the same period. The order to build was given by the Conqueror to the Bishop of Rochester, Gundulph. Now Gundulph was not promoted to the See of Rochester till 1077. Exactly twenty years later, in 1097, the son of the Conqueror built the outer wall. The Keep was then presumed to be completed, and at some time during those twenty years it must have been begun, probably about 1080. That which we have seen increasing, the military importance of Windsor, diminished the military importance of the Tower, until, with the close of the Middle Ages, it had become no more than a prison. It was not indeed swamped by the growth of the town, as was its parallel the Louvre, but the increase of wealth (and therefore of the means of war), coupled with the correspondingly increased population, made both urban fortresses increasingly difficult to hold as mediaeval civilisation developed.

The whole history of the Tower is the history of military misfortune, which grows as London expands in numbers and prosperity. It probably held out under Mandeville when the Londoners (who were always the allies of the aristocracy against the national government) besieged it under the civil wars of Stephen; but even so there was bad luck attached to it, for when Mandeville was taken prisoner he was compelled to sign its surrender. Within a generation Longchamp again surrendered it to the young Prince John; he was for the moment leading the aristocracy, which, when it was his turn to reign, betrayed him. It was surrendered to the baronial party by the King as a trust or pledge for the execution of Magna Charta, and though it was put into the hands of the Archbishop, who was technically neutral, it was from that moment the symbol of a successful rebellion, as it had already proved to be in the past and was to prove so often again.

It was handed over to Louis of France upon his landing, and during the next reign almost every misfortune of Henry III. is connected with the Tower. He was perpetually taking refuge in it, holding his Court in it: losing it again, as the rebels succeeded, and regaining it as they failed. This long and unfortunate tenure of his is illumined only by one or two delightful phrases which one cannot but retain as one reads. Thus there is the little written order, which still remains to us for the putting of painted windows into the Chapel of St John, the northern one of which was to have for its design "some little Mary or other, holding her Child"—"quandam Mariolam tenenten puerum suum." There is also a very pleasing legend in the same year, 1241, when the fall of certain new buildings was ascribed to the action of St. Thomas, who was seen by a priest in a dream upsetting them with his crozier and saying that he did this "as a good citizen of London, because these new buildings were not put up for the defence of the realm but to overawe the town," and he added this charming remark: "If I had not undertaken the duty myself St. Edward or another would have done it."

Even when Henry's misfortunes were at an end, and when the Battle of Evesham was won, the Tower was perpetually unfortunate. A body of rebels surrounded it, and in the defence were present a great number of Jews, who had fled from the fighting in the city only to find themselves pressed for service in defence of the fortress. From that moment they make no further appearance in English military history till the South African War, unless indeed their appearance in chains thirteen years later in this same Tower as prisoners for financial trickery can be counted a military event.

Upon this occasion the siege was raised by the promptitude and energy of Prince Edward—the man who as King was to march to Caernarvon and to the Grampians had already in his boyhood shown the energy and the military aptitude of his grandfather King John. He was but twenty years old, yet he had already done all the fighting at Lewes, he had already won Evesham, and now, at the end of spring, he made one march from Windsor to the Tower and relieved it. It was almost the last time that the Tower stood for the success of authority. From this time onwards it is, as it had been before, the unfortunate symbol of successful rebellion. Edward II. had to leave it in his fatal year of 1326, the Londoners poured in and incidentally massacred the Bishop of Exeter, into whose hands it had been entrusted.

In 1460 it surrendered to the House of York, and from that time onwards becomes more and more of a prison and less and less of a fortress.

The preponderatingly military aspect of the Thames Valley in English history dwindles with the dwindling of military energy in our civilisation, and passes with the passing of a governing class that was military rather than commercial.

Sites which owed their importance to strategical position, and which had hence grown into considerable towns, ceased to show any but a civilian character, and even in the only episode of consequence wherein fighting occurred in England since the Middle Ages—the episode of the Civil Wars—the banks of the Thames, though perpetually infested by either army, saw very little serious fighting, and that although the line of the Thames was the critical line of action during the first stage of the war.

For the Civil Wars as a whole were but an affair upon the flank of the general struggle in Europe: the losses were never heavy, and in the first stages one can hardly call it fighting at all.

The losses at the skirmish of Edge Hill were, indeed, respectable, though most of them seem to have been incurred after the true fighting ceased, but with that exception, and especially upon the line of the Thames itself, the losses were extraordinarily small.

One may say that Oxford and London were the two objective points of the opposing forces from the close of 1642 to the spring of 1644. The King's Government at Oxford, the Parliament in London, were the civil bases, at least, upon which the opposing forces pivoted, and the two intermediate points were Abingdon and Reading. To read the contemporary, and even the modern, history of the time, one would imagine from the terms used that these places were the theatre of considerable military operations. We hear, with every technicality which the Continental struggle had rendered familiar to Englishmen, of sieges, assaults, headquarters, and even hornworks. But when one looks at dates and figures it is not easy to treat the matter seriously. Here, for instance, is Abingdon, within a short walk of Oxford, and the Royalists easily allow it to be occupied by Essex in the spring of '44. Even so Abingdon is not used as a base for doing anything more serious than "molesting" the university town. And it was so held that Rupert tried to recapture it, of all things in the world, with cavalry! He was "overwhelmed" by the vastly superior forces of the enemy, and his attempt failed. When one has thoroughly grasped this considerable military event one next learns that the overwhelming forces were a trifle over a thousand in number!

Next an individual gentleman with a few followers conceives the elementary idea of blocking the western road at Culham Bridge, and isolating Abingdon upon this side. He begins building a "fort." A certain proportion of the handful in Abingdon go out and kill him and the fort is not proceeded with: and so forth. A military temper of this sort very easily explains the cold-blooded massacre of prisoners which the Parliament permitted, and which has given to the phrase "Abingdon Law" the unpleasant flavour which it still retains.

The story of Reading in the earlier part of the struggle is much the same. Reading was held as a royal garrison and fortified in '43. According to the garrison the fortification was contemptible, according to the procedures it was of the most formidable kind. Indeed they doubted whether it could be captured by an assault of less than 5000 men, a number which appeared at this stage of the campaign so appalling that it is mentioned as a sort of standard of comparison with the impossible. The garrison surrendered just as relief was approaching it, and after a strain which it had endured for no less than ten days; but the capture of Reading was not effected entirely without bloodshed; certainly fifty men were killed (counting both sides), possibly a few more; and the whole episode is a grotesque little foot-note to the comic opera upon which rose the curtain of the Civil Wars. It was not till the appearance of Cromwell, with his highly paid and disciplined force, that the tragedy began.

Even after Cromwell had come forward as the chief leader, in fact if not in name, the apparent losses are largely increased by the random massacres to which his soldiers were unfortunately addicted. Thus after Naseby a hundred women were killed for no particular reason except that killing was in the air, and similarly after Philiphaugh the conscience of the Puritans forbade them to keep their word to the prisoners they had taken, who were put to the sword in cold blood: the women, however, on this occasion, were drowned.

After the Civil Wars all the military meaning of the Thames disappears. Nor is it likely to revive short of a national disaster; but that disaster would at once teach us the strategical meaning of this great highway running through the south of England with its attendant railways, it would re-create the strategical value of the point where the Thames turns northward and where its main railways bifurcate; it would provide in several conceivable cases, as it provided to Charles I. and to William III., the line of approach on London.

* * * * *

So far as we have considered the Thames, first as a line of pre-historic settlements, passing successively into the Roman, the barbaric and the Norman phases of our history; and secondly, as a field on which one can plot out certain strategical points and show how these points created the original importance of the towns which grew about them.

In the next part of these notes I propose to consider the economic or civil development of the Thames above London, and to show how the foundations of its permanent prosperity was laid. That economic phenomenon has at its roots the action of the Benedictine Order. It was the great monasteries which bridged the transition between Rome and the Dark Ages throughout North-Western Europe; it was they that recovered land wasted by the barbarian invasions, and that developed heaths and fens which the Empire even in its maturity had never attempted to exploit.

The effect of the barbarian invasions was different in different provinces of the Roman Empire, though roughly speaking it increased in intensity with the distance from Rome. It is probable that the actual numbers of the barbarian invaders was small even in Britain, as it certainly was in Northern Gaul, but we must not judge of the effect produced upon civilisation by this catastrophe, as though it were a mere question of numbers. So large a proportion of the population was servile, and so fixed had the imagination of everyone become in the idea that the social order was eternal; so entirely had the army become a professional thing, and probably a thing of routine divorced from the civilian life round it, that at the close of the fourth century a little shock from without was enough to produce a very considerable result. In Eastern Britain, small as the number of the invaders must necessarily have been, religion itself was almost, if not entirely, destroyed, and the whole fabric of Roman civilisation appears to have dissolved—with the exception, of course, of such irremovable things as the agricultural system, the elements of municipal life, and the simpler arts. Even the language very probably changed in the eastern part of the island, and passed from what we may conceive to have been Low Latin in the towns and Celtic dialects in the country-sides, with possibly Teutonic settlements here and there along the eastern shore, to a generally confused mass of Teutonic dialects scattered throughout the eastern and northern half of the island and enclosing but isolated fragments of Celtic speech.

So far as we can judge the disaster was complete, but it was destined that Britain should be recivilised.

St Augustine landed, and after the struggle of the seventh century between those petty chieftains who sympathised with, and those who opposed, the order of cultivated European life, the battle was won in favour of that civilisation which we still enjoy. It would have been impossible to re-create a sound agriculture and to refound the arts and learning; especially would it have been impossible to refound the study of letters, upon which all material civilisation depends, had it not been for the monastic institution. This institution did more work in Britain than in any other province of the Empire. And it had far more to do. It found a district utterly wrecked, perhaps half depopulated, and having lost all but a vague memory of the old Roman order; it had to remake, if it could, of all this part of a Europe. No other instrument was fitted for the purpose.

The chief difficulty of starting again the machine of civilisation when its parts have been distorted by a barbarian interlude, whether external or internal in origin, is the accumulation of capital. The next difficulty is the preservation of such capital in the midst of continual petty feuds and raids, and the third is that general continuity of effort, and that treasuring up of proved experience, to which a barbaric time, succeeding upon the decline of a civilisation, is particularly unfitted. For the surmounting of all these difficulties the monks of Western Europe were suited to a high degree. Fixed wealth could be accumulated in the hands of communities whose whole temptation was to gather, and who had no opportunity for spending in waste. The religious atmosphere in which they grew up forbade their spoliation, at least in the internal wars of a Christian people, and each of the great foundations provided a community of learning and treasuring up of experience which single families, especially families of barbaric chieftains, could never have achieved. They provided leisure for literary effort, and a strict disciplinary rule enforcing regular, continuous, and assiduous labour, and they provided these in a society from which exact application of such a kind had all but disappeared.

The monastic institution, so far as Western Europe was concerned, was comparatively young when the work in Britain was begun. The fifth century had seen its inception; it was still embryonic in the sixth; the seventh, which was the date of its great conquest of the English country-sides, was for it a period of youth and of vigour as fresh as was, let us say, the thirteenth century for the renaissance of civil learning. We must not think of these early foundations as we think of the complicated, wealthy, somewhat restricted and privileged bodies of the later Middle Ages. They were all more or less of one type, and that type a simple one. They all sprang from the same Benedictine stem. It was the quality of all to be somewhat independent in management, and especially to work in large units, and out of the very many which sprang, up all over the island three particularly concern the Thames Valley. Each of them dates from the very beginnings of Anglo-Saxon history, each of them has its roots in legend, and each of them continued for close upon a thousand years to be a capital economic centre of English life. These three great Benedictine foundations are WESTMINSTER, CHERTSEY, and ABINGDON.

When civilisation returned in fulness with the Norman Conquest, another great house of the first importance was founded—at Reading; and, much later, a fourth at Sheen. To these we shall turn in their place, as also to the string of dependent houses and small foundations which line the river almost from its source right down to London: indeed the only type of religious foundation which historic notes such as these can afford to neglect is the monastery or nunnery built in a town, and for the purposes of a town, after the civic life of a town had developed. These very numerous houses (most numerous, of course, in Oxford), such as the Observants of Richmond and a host of others, do not properly enter into the scheme we are considering. They are not causes but effects of the development of civilisation in the Thames Valley.

Abingdon, Westminster, and Chertsey are all ascribed by tradition, and each by a very vital and well-documented tradition, to the seventh century: Abingdon and Chertsey to its close; Westminster, with less assurance, to its beginning. All three, we may take it, did arise in that period which was for the eastern part of this island a time when all the work of Europe had to be begun again. Though we know nothing of the progress of the Saxon pirates in the province of Britain, and though history is silent for the hundred and fifty years covered by the disaster, yet on the analogy of other and later raids from the North Sea we may imagine that no inland part of the country suffered more than the valley of the Thames. All that was left of the Roman order, wealth and right living, must have appeared at the close of that sixth century, when the Papal Mission landed, something as appears the wrecked and desolate land upon the retirement of a flood. To cope with such conditions, to reintroduce into the ravaged and desecrated province, which had lost its language in the storm, all its culture, and even its religion, a new beginning of energy and of production, came, with the peculiar advantages we have seen it to possess for such a work, the monastic institution. For two centuries the great houses were founded all over England: their attachment to Continental learning, their exactitude, their corporate power of action, were all in violent contrast to, and most powerfully educational for, the barbarians in the midst of whom they grew. It may be truly said that if we regard the life of England as beginning anew with the Saxon invasion, if that disaster of the pirate raids be considered as so great that it offers a breach of continuity in the history of Britain, then the new country which sprang up, speaking Teutonic dialects, and calling itself by its present name of England, was actually created by the Benedictine monks.

It was within a very few years of St. Augustine's landing that Westminster must have been begun. There are several versions of the story: the most detailed statement we have ascribes it to the particular year 604, but varied as are the forms in which the history, or rather the legend, is preserved, the truth common to all is the foundation quite early in the seventh century. It was very probably supported by what barbaric Government there was in London at the time and initiated, moreover, according to one form of the legend, and that not the least plausible, by the first bishop of the see. The site was at the moment typical of all those which the great monasteries of the West were to turn from desert places to gardens: it was a waste tract of ground called "Thorney," lying low, triangular in shape, bounded by the two reedy streams that descended through the depression which now runs across the Green Park and Mayfair, and emptied themselves into the Thames, the one just above, the other 100 or 200 yards below, the site of the Houses of Parliament.

The moment the foundation was established a stream of wealth tended towards it: it was at the very gate of the largest commercial city in the kingdom and it was increasingly associated, as the Anglo-Saxon monarchy developed, with the power of the Central Government. This process culminated in the great donation and rebuilding of Edward the Confessor.

The period of this new endowment was one well chosen to launch the future glory of Westminster. England was all prepared to be permeated with the Norman energy, and when immediately after the Conquest came, the great shrine inherited all the glamour of a lost period, while it established itself with the new power as a sort of symbol of the continuity of the Crown. There William was anointed, there was his palace and that of his son. When, with the next century, the seat of Government became fixed, and London was finally established as the capital, Westminster had already become the seat of the monarchy.

Chertsey, next up the river, took on the work. Like Westminster—though, by tradition, a few years later than Westminster—its foundation goes back to the birth of England. Its history is known in some detail, and is full of incident, so that it may be called the pivot upon which, presumably, turned the development of the Thames Valley above London for two hundred years. Its site is worth noting. The rich, but at first probably swampy, pasturage upon the Surrey side was just such a position as one foundation after another up and down England settled on. To reclaim land of this kind was one of the special functions of the great abbeys, and Chertsey may be compared in this particular to Hyde, for instance, or to the Vale of the Cross, to Fountains, to Ripon, to Melrose, and to many others. It was in the new order of monastic development what Staines, its neighbour, had been in the old Roman order—the mark of the first stage up-river from London.

The pagan storm which all but repeated in Britain the disaster of the Saxon invasions, which all but overcame the mystic tenacity of Alfred and the positive mission of the town of Paris, swept it completely. Its abbot and its ninety monks were massacred, and it was not till late in the next century, about 950, that it arose again from its ruins. It was deliberately re-colonised again from Abingdon, and from that moment onwards it grew again into power. Donations poured upon it; one of them, not the least curious, was of land in Cardiganshire. It came from those Welsh princes who were perpetually at war with the English Crown: for religion was in those days what money is now—a thing without frontiers—and it seemed no more wonderful to the Middle Ages that an English monastery should collect its rents in an enemy's land than it seems strange to us that the modern financier should draw interest upon money lent for armament against the country of his domicile. Here also was first buried (and lay until it was removed to Windsor) the body of Henry VI.

The third of the great early foundations is Abingdon, and in a way it is the greatest, for, without direct connection with the Crown, by the mere vitality of its tradition, it became something more even than Chertsey was, wielding an immense revenue, more than half that of Westminster itself, and situated, as it was, in a small up-valley town, ruling with almost monarchical power. There could be even less doubt in the case of Abingdon than there was in the case of Chertsey that it was the creator of its own district of the Thames. It stood right in the marshy and waste spaces of the middle upper river, commanding a difficult but an important ford, and holding the gate of what was to be one of the most fruitful and famous of English vales. It can only have been from Abingdon that the culture and energy proceeded which was to build up Northern Berkshire and Oxfordshire between the Saxon and the Danish invasions. There only was established a sufficient concentration of capital for the work and of knowledge for the application of that wealth.

Like its two peers at Chertsey and at Westminster, Abingdon begins with legend. We are fairly sure of its date, 675, but the anchorite of the fifth century, "Aben," is as suspicious as the early Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself, and still wilder are the fine and striking stories of its British origin, of its destruction under the persecution of Diocletian and of its harbouring the youth of Constantine. But the stories are at least enough to show with what violence the pomp and grandeur of the place struck the imagination of its historians.

Abingdon was, moreover, probably on account of its distance from London, more of a local centre, and, to repeat a word already used, more of a "monarchy" than the other great monasteries of the Thames Valley. This is sufficiently proved by a glance at the ecclesiastic map, such as, for instance, that published in "The Victoria History of the County of Berkshire," where one sees the manors belonging to Abingdon at the time of the Conquest all clustered together and occupying one full division of the county, that, namely, included in the great bend of the Thames which has its cusp at Witham Hill. Abingdon was the life of Northern Berkshire, and it is not fantastic to compare its religious aspect in Saxon times over against the King's towns of Wantage and Wallingford to the larger national aspect of Canterbury over against Winchester and London.

Even in its purely civic character, it acquired a position which no one of the greater northern monasteries could pretend to, through the building of its bridge in the early fifteenth century. The twin fords crossing this bend of the river were, though direct and important, difficult; when they were once bridged and the bridges joined by the long causeway which still runs across Andersey Island between the old and the new branches of the Thames, travel was easily diverted from the bridge of Wallingford to that at Abingdon, and the great western road running through Farringdon towards the Cotswolds and the valley of the Severn had Abingdon for its sort of midway market town.

These three great Benedictine monasteries form, as it were, the three nurseries or seed plots from which civilisation spread out along the Thames Valley after the destruction wrought by the first and worst barbarian invasions. All three, as we have seen, go back to the very beginning of the Christian phase of English history; the origins of all three merge in those legends which make a twilight between the fantastic stories of the earlier paganism and the clear records of the Christian epoch after the re-Latinisation of England. An outpost beyond these three is the institution of St Frideswides at Oxford. Beyond that point the upper river, gradually narrowing, losing its importance for commerce and as a highway, supported no great monastery, and felt but tardily the economic change wrought by the foundations lower down the stream.

Chertsey and Westminster certainly, and Abingdon very probably, were destroyed, or at least sacked, in the Danish invasions, but their roots lay too deep to allow them to disappear: they re-arose, and a generation before the Conquest were again by far the principal centres of production and government in the Thames Valley. Indeed, with the exception of the string of royal estates upon the banks of the river, and of the town of Oxford, Chertsey, Westminster and Abingdon were the only considerable seats of regulation and government upon the Thames, when the Conquest came to reorganise the whole of English life.

With that revolution it was evident that a great extension not only of the numbers, but especially of the organisation and power, of the monastic system would appear: that gaps left uninfluenced by it in the line of the Thames would be filled up, and all the old foundations themselves would be reconstructed and become new things.

The Conquest is in its way almost as sharp a division in the history of England as is the landing of St Augustine. In some externals it made an even greater difference to this island than did the advent of the Roman Missionaries, though of course, in the fundamental things upon which the national life is built, the re-entry of England into European civilisation in the seventh century must count as a far greater and more decisive event than its first experience of united and regular government under the Normans in the eleventh. Moreover although the Conquest largely changed the language of the island, introduced a conception of law in civil affairs with which the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy were quite unfamiliar, and began to flood England with a Gallic admixture which flowed .uninterruptedly for three hundred years, yet it did not change the intimate philosophy of the people, and it is only the change of the intimate philosophy of a people which can have a revolutionary consequence. The Conquest found England Catholic, vaguely feudal, and, though in rather an isolated way, thoroughly European. The Normans organised that feudality, extirpated whatever was unorthodox, or slack in the machinery of the religious system, and let in the full light of European civilisation through a wide-open door, which had hitherto been half-closed.

The effect, therefore, of the Conquest was exercised upon the visible and mutable things of the country rather than upon the nourishing inward things: but it was very great, and in nothing was it greater than in its inception of new buildings and the use everywhere of stone. Under the Normans very nearly all the great religious foundations of England re-arose, and that within a generation. New houses also arose, and the mark of that time (which was a second spring throughout Europe: full of the spirit of the Crusades, and a complete regeneration of social life) was the rigour of new religious orders, and especially the transformation of the old Benedictine monotony.

Chief, of course, of these religious movements, and the pioneer of them all, was the institution of Cluny in Burgundy.

Cluny did not rise by design. It was one of those spontaneous growths which are characteristic of vigorous and creative times. Those who are acquainted with the Burgundian blood will not think it fantastic to imagine the vast reputation of Cluny to have been based upon rhetoric. It was perhaps the sonorous Burgundian facility for expression and the inheritance of oratory which belonged to Burgundian soil till Bossuet's birth, and which still belongs to it, that gave Cluny a sort of spell over the mind of Western Europe, and which made Cluny a master in the century which preceded the great change of the Crusades. From Cluny as a mother house proceeded communities instinct with the discipline and new life of the reformed order, and though it has been remarked that these communities were not numerous, in comparison to the vigour of the movement, yet it should also be noted that they were nearly always very large and wealthy, that they were in a particular and close relation to the civil government of the district in which each was planted, and that their absolute dependence upon the mother house, and their close observance of one rule, lent the whole order something of the force of an army.

The Cluniac influence came early into the Thames Valley. By the beginning of the twelfth century, and within fifty years of the Conquest, this new influence was found interpolated with and imposed upon the five centuries that had hitherto been wholly dependent upon the three great Benedictine posts. This Cluniac foundation, the first of the new houses on the Thames, was fixed upon the peninsula of Reading.

It was in 1121 that the son of the Conqueror brought the Cluniac order to the little town. From the moment of the foundation of the abbey it attracted, in part by its geographical position, in part by the fact that it was the first great new foundation upon the Thames, and in part by the accident which lent a special devotion or power to one particular house and which was in this case largely due to the discipline and character of the Cluniac order, Reading took on a very high position in England. It had about it, if one may so express oneself, something more modern, something more direct and political than was to be found in the old Benedictine houses that had preceded it. The work it had to do was less material: the fields were already drained, the life and wealth of the new civilisation had begun, and throughout the four hundred years of its existence the function of Reading was rather to entertain the Court, to assist at parliaments, and to be, throughout, the support of the monarchy. It sprang at once into this position, and its architecture symbolised to some extent the rapid command which it acquired, for it preserved to the end the characteristics of the early century in which it was erected: the Norman arch, the dog-tooth ornaments, the thick walls, the barbaric capitals of the early twelfth century.

Before the thirteenth it was in wealth equal to, and in public repute the superior of, any foundation upon the banks of the Thames with the exception of Westminster itself, and it forms, with the three Benedictine foundations, and with the later foundation of Osney, the last link in the chain of abbeys which ran unbroken from stage to stage throughout the whole length of the river. And with it ends the story of those first foundations which completed the recivilisation of the Valley.

Reading was not the only Cluniac establishment upon the Thames. Another, and earlier one, was to be found at Bermondsey; but its proximity to London and its distance down river forbid it having any place in these pages. It was founded immediately after the Conquest; Lanfranc colonised it with French monks; it became an abbacy at the very end of the fourteenth century, and was remarkable for its continual accretion of wealth, an accretion in some part due to the growing importance of London throughout its existence. At the end of the thirteenth century it stands worth L280. At the time of its dissolution, on the first of January 1538, in spite of the much higher value of money in the sixteenth century as compared with the thirteenth, it stands worth over L500: L10,000 a year.

A relic of its building remained (but only a gatehouse) till 1805.

Osney also dated from the early twelfth century, and was almost contemporary with Reading.

It stood just outside the walls of Oxford Castle to the west, and upon the bank of the main stream of the Thames, and owed its foundation to the Conqueror's local governing family of Oilei. Though at the moment of its suppression it hardly counted a fifth of the revenues of Westminster (which must be our standard throughout all this examination), yet its magnificence profoundly affected contemporaries, and has left a great tradition. It must always be remembered that these great monasteries were not only receivers of revenue as are our modern rich, but were also producers or, rather, could be producers when they chose, and that therefore the actual economic power of any one foundation might always be higher, and often was very considerably higher, than the nominal revenue, the dead income, which passed to the spoliators of the sixteenth century. When a town is sacked the army gets a considerable loot, but nothing like what the value was of the city as it flourished before the siege.

At any rate, whether Osney owed its magnificence to internal industry, to a wise expenditure, or to a severity of life which left a large surplus for ornament and extension, it was for 400 years the principal building upon the upper river, catching the eye from miles away up by Eynsham meadows and forming a noble gate to the University town for those who approached it from the west by the packway, of which traces still remain, and over the bridges which the Conqueror had built. So deep was the impress of Osney upon the locality, and even upon the national Government, that Henry proposed, as in the case of Westminster, to make of the building one of his new cathedrals, and to establish there his new See of Oxford. The determination, however, lasted but for a very short time. In a few years the financial pressure was too much for him; he transferred the see to the old Church of St Frideswides, where it still remains, and gave up Osney to loot. It was looted very thoroughly.

The smaller monasteries need hardly a mention. At the head of them comes Eynsham, worth more than half as much as Osney, and a very considerable place. Founded as a colony or adjunct to Stow, in Lincolnshire, it outlived the importance of the parent house, and was at the height of its prosperity immediately before the Dissolution.

Eynsham affords a very good instance of the way in which the fabric in these superb temples disappeared. As late as the early eighteenth century there was still standing the whole of the west front; the two high towers, the splendid west window, and the sculptured doorways were complete, though they remained but as a fragment of a ruined building. A century and a half passed and the whole had disappeared, carted away to build walls and stables for the local squires, or sold by the local squires for rubble.

Of the little priory at Lechlade very little is known, save that it was founded in the thirteenth century and had disappeared long before the Reformation, while of that at Cricklade we know even less, save that it humbly survived and was counted in the "bag" at only four pounds a year.

With Dorchester, which had existed from the twelfth century, and which was worth almost half as much as Eynsham, and with the considerable Cell of Hurley which attached to Westminster, the list is complete. It is interesting to know that the church at Dorchester was saved by the local patriotism of one man, who left half his fortune for the purchase of it, and that not in order to ruin it and to sell the stones of it, but in order to preserve it: a singular man.

In a general survey of monastic influence in the Valley of the Thames, it would be natural to omit the foundations which belonged to the later Middle Ages. It was in the Dark Ages that the great Benedictine work was done, the pastures drained, the woods planted, the settlements established. It was in the early Middle Ages, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and in the first half of the fourteenth—in a word, before the Black Death—that the work of the new and vigorous foundations, and the revived energy of the older ones, spread Gothic architecture, scholastic learning, and the whole reinvigorated social system of the time, from Oxford to Westminster; and the historian who notes the social and economic effects of monasticism in Western Europe, however enthusiastic he may be in defence of that force, cannot with truth lend it between the Black Death and the Reformation a vigour which it did not possess. It had tended to become, in the fifteenth century, a fixed social institution like any other, one might almost say a bundle of proprietary rights like any other. And though it is easy now to perceive what ruin was caused by the sudden destruction, the contemporaries of the last age of Great Houses were perpetually considering their privilege and their immovable tradition rather than the remaining functions which the monasteries fulfilled in the State.

On this account historical notes dealing with the development of the Thames Valley would naturally omit a reference to foundations existing only from the close of the Middle Ages. But an exception must be made to this rule in the case of Sheen.

Sheen was a Charterhouse, and it merits observation not only from the peculiar characteristics of the Carthusian Order, but also from its considerable position so near to Westminster and not yet overshadowed by the greatness either of that abbey or of Chertsey. It received, from its land in England alone, a revenue of close upon two-thirds of that which Westminster enjoyed. Recent in its origin (it had existed for only just over 100 years when Henry VIII. attacked it), not without that foreign flavour which, rightly or wrongly, was ascribed in this island to the Carthusian Order, rigid in doctrine, and of a magnificent temper in the defence of religion, these Carthusians, like their brethren in London, formed a very natural target for the King's attack. I include them only because notes upon the mediaeval foundations, would be quite imperfect were there no mention of Sheen, late as the origin of the community was, and little as it had to do with the historic development of the valley.

This completes the list of the greater foundations; with the lesser ones it would only be possible to deal in pages devoted to the Monastic Institution alone. The very numerous communities of friars, and the hospitals in the towns upon the Thames, cannot be mentioned, the little nunneries of Ankerwick, Burnham, and Little Marlow, the communities, early and late, of Medmenham and Cholsey, the priories of Lechlade and of Cricklade (which might have occupied a larger space than was available), must be passed over. Even Godstow, famous as it is from the early legend of Rosamond, and considerable as was its function both of education and of retreat, cannot be included in the list of those principal foundations which alone take rank as originators of the prosperity of the valley.

Several of these smaller houses went in the dissolution to swell the revenues of Bisham, the new community which Henry, as he said, intended to take the place of much that he had destroyed; and Bisham would be very well worth a considerable attention from the reader had it survived. But it did not survive. Hardly was it founded when Henry himself immediately destroyed it, and, as we shall see later, Bisham affords one of the most curious and instructive examples of the way in which that large monastic revenue, which it was certainly intended to keep in the hands of the Crown, and which, had it been so kept, would have given to England the strongest Central Government in Europe, drifted into the hands of the squires, multiplied perhaps by ten the wealth of their class, and transformed the Government of England into that oligarchy which was completed in the seventeenth century, and which, though permeated and transformed by Jewish finance, is standing in a precarious strength to this day.

Westminster, Chertsey, Sheen, Reading, Abingdon, and Osney disappeared.

One writes the list straight off without considering, taking it for granted that everything which could have roused the cupidity of that generation necessarily disappeared: and as one writes it one remembers that, after all, Westminster survived. Its survival was an accident, which will be further considered. But that survival, so far from redeeming, emphasises and throws into relief the destruction of the rest.

Of these enduring monuments of human energy and, what is more important still in the control of energy, human certitude, what besides Westminster survived? Of Chertsey there is perhaps a gateway and part of a wall; of Sheen nothing; of Reading a few flints built into modern work; of Abingdon a gateway, and a buttress or two that long served to support a brewhouse; of Osney nothing, contrariwise, electric works and the slums of a modern town. All these were Westminsters. In all of these was to be discovered that patient process of production which argues the continuity, and therefore the dignity, of human civilisation. Each had the glass which we can no longer paint, the vivid, living, and happy grotesque in sculpture which only the best of us can so much as understand; each had a thousand and another thousand details of careful work in stone meant to endure, if not for ever, at least into such further centuries as might have the added faith and added knowledge to restore them in greater plenitude. The whole thing has gone. It has gone to no purpose. Nothing has been built upon it save a wandering host of rich and careworn men.

Suppose a man to have gone down the Thames when the new discussions were beginning in London and (as was customary even at the close of the Middle Ages) were spreading from town to town with a rapidity that we, who have ceased to debate ideas, can never understand. Let such a traveller or bargeman have gone down from Cricklade to the Tower, how would the Great Houses have appeared to him?

The upper river would have been much the same, but as he came to that part of it which was wealthy and populous, as he turned the corner of Witham Hill, he would already have seen far off, larger and a little nearer than the many spires of Oxford, a building such as to-day we never see save in our rare and half-deserted cathedral country towns. It was the Abbey of Osney. It would have been his landmark, as Hereford is the landmark for a man to-day rowing up to Wye, or the new spire of Chichester for a man that makes harbour out of the channel past Bisham upon a rising tide. And as he passed beneath it (for, of the many branches here, the main stream took him that way) he would have seen a great and populous place with nothing ruinous in it, all well ordered, busy with men and splendid; here again that which we now look upon as a relic and a circumstance of repose was once alive and strong.

Upon his way beneath the old stone bridge which crossed the ford, and shooting between the lifted paddles of the weirs, he would, once below Oxford, have seen much the same pastures that we see to-day; but in a few hours Abingdon, the next to Osney, would have fixed his eyes as Osney had before.

Abingdon would have been to him what Noyon is on the Oise, or any of our river cathedrals in Western Europe—an apse pointing up stream, though rounded and lacking the flying buttresses of the Gothic, for it was thick, broad, and Norman. Here also, as one may believe, from its situation, trees would have shrouded somewhat what he saw. There are few such riverside apses in Christian Europe that are not screened in this manner by trees planted between the stream and them. But as he drifted farther down, before he reached the bridge, the west front would have burst upon him, quite new, exceedingly rich and proud, a strict example, one may believe, of the Perpendicular, and of what was for the first time, and for a moment only, a true English Gothic. It would have stood out before him, catching the sun of the afternoon in its maze of glass. It would have seemed a thing to endure; within his lifetime it was to be utterly destroyed.

Once more in the many reaches between Abingdon and Wallingford, the sights would have been those which a man sees now. And though at Wallingford he would have had before him a town of brilliant red tiles and timberwork, and a town perhaps larger than that which we see to-day, yet (could such a man come to life again) the contrast would not strike him here, and still less in the fields below, so much as when he came near to Reading.

That everything else of age in Reading has disappeared one need not say, but were that traveller here to-day, the thing that he would most seek for and most lack would be the bulk of the building at the farther end of the town.

One can best say what it was by saying that it was like Durham. It is true that Durham Cathedral stands upon a noble cliff overhanging a ravine, while Reading Abbey stood upon a small and irregular hill which hardly showed above the flat plains of the river meadows, but in massiveness of structure and in type of architecture Reading seems to have resembled Durham more nearly than any other of our great monuments, and to emphasise its parallelism to Durham is perhaps the best way to make the modern reader understand what we have lost.

Nothing that he had seen in this journey would more have sunk into the mind of a contemporary man, nothing that he would lack were he resuscitated to-day would leave a want more grievous. In the destruction of Reading the people of this country lost something which not even their aptitude for foreign travel can replace.

Windsor, as he passed, stood up above the right of him, not very different from what we still admire as we come down from Bray and look up to the jutting fore-tower which is worthy of Coucy. But down below Windsor (after whose bridge we to-day see nothing whatever of value), just after he had passed the wooden bridge of Staines and shot the weir of that town, the river bent southward.

The traveller would have found Pentonhook already forming or formed, and when he had got round it he would have seen soaring above him down stream the great mass of Chertsey Abbey. If Reading had the solidity and the barbaric grandeur of Durham, Chertsey had in an ecclesiastical way the vastness of Windsor, and must have seemed like a town to anyone approaching it thus down the river. The enclosed area of the abbey buildings alone covered four acres.

This impression which such a traveller would have received of the great religious houses was enhanced by something more than the magnitude and splendour of the buildings. Divided as was opinion at that moment upon their value to the State, and jealous as had become landless men of the long traditions and privileges of the monks, these still represented not only their own wealth but the general accumulation of capital and the continued prosperity of the river valley. It is true to say, in spite of the difficulty of appreciating such a truth in the light of our knowledge of what was to follow, that the destruction of such foundations would have seemed to the traveller before the Dissolution inconceivable. Nevertheless it came.

These notes are not the place in which to discuss that most difficult of all historical problems—I mean the causes which led the nation to abandon in a couple of generations the whole of its traditions and to adopt, not spontaneously but at the bidding of a comparatively small body of wealthy men, a new scheme of society. But it is of value to consider the economic aspect of the thing, and to show what it was that Henry desired to seize when his policy of Dissolution was secretly formed.

The economic function of the monastic system in the Middle Ages, and especially in the later Middle Ages, is one to which no sufficient attention has been given by historians.

They collected, as does no modern agency, wealth from very various sources, scattered up and down the whole of the kingdom, and often farther afield, throughout Europe, and exercised the whole economic power so drawn together in one centre, and so founded a permanent nucleus of wealth in the place where the community resided.

We are indeed to-day accustomed to a similar effect in the action of our wealthy families. The rents of the London poor, a toll upon the produce of Egypt, of the Argentine, or of India, all flow into some country house in the provinces, where it revives in an effective demand for production, or lends to the whole countryside a wealth which, of itself, it could never have produced. The neighbourhood of Aylesbury, the palaces of the larger territorials, are modern examples of this truth, that the economic power of a district does not reside in its productive capacity, but in its capacity for effective demand. And it is undoubtedly true that if there were anything permanent in modern society we should be witnessing in the wealthier quarters of Paris and London, in the Riviera in the holiday part of Egypt, and in certain centres of provincial luxury in England, in France, and in Western Germany, the foundation of a permanent economic superiority.

But nothing in modern society has any roots. Where to-day is some one of these great territorial houses in fifty years there may be nothing but decay. Fashion may change from the Riviera to some other part of the Mediterranean littoral, and with fashion will go the concentration of wealth which accompanies it.

In the Middle, and especially in the latter Middle, Ages it was otherwise. The great religious houses not only tended to accumulate wealth and to perpetuate it in the same hands (they could not gamble it away nor disperse it in luxury; they could hardly waste it by mismanagement), but they were also permanently fixed on one spot.

Such an institution as Reading, for example, or as Abingdon, went on perpetually receiving its immense revenues for generation after generation, and were under no temptation or rather had no capacity for spending it elsewhere than in the situation where their actual buildings were to be found.

In this way the great monastic houses founded a tradition of local wealth which has profoundly affected the history of the Thames Valley. And if that valley is still to-day one of the chief districts wherein the economic power of England is concentrated, it owes that position mainly to the centuries during which the great foundations exercised their power upon the banks of the river.

The growth of great towns, one of the last phases of our national development, one which finds its example in the Thames Valley as elsewhere, and one to which we shall allude before closing these notes upon the river, has somewhat obscured the quality of this original accumulation of wealth along the Thames. But when we come to consider the figures of the census at an earlier time, before modern commercialism and the railway had drawn wealth and population into fewer and larger centres, we shall see how considerable was the string of towns which had grown up along the stream. And we shall especially see how fairly divided among them was the population, and, it may be presumed, the wealth and the rateable value, of the valley.

The point just mentioned in connection with the larger monastic foundations, and their artificial concentration of economic power, deserves a further elaboration, for the economic importance of a district is one of the aspects of geography which even modern analysis has dealt with very imperfectly.

Economists speak of the economic importance of such-and-such a spot because material of use to man-kind is there discovered. Thus, people commonly point to the economic importance of the valleys all round the Pennine Range in England because they contain coal and metals, and to the economic importance of a small district in South Wales for the same reason.

A further consideration has admitted that not only places where things useful to mankind are discovered, but places naturally fitted for their exchange have an economic importance peculiarly their own. Indeed, the more history is studied from the point of view of economics, the more does this kind of natural opportunity emerge, and the less does the political importance of purely productive areas appear. The mountain districts of Spain, the Cornish peninsula, were centres of metallic industry of the first importance to the Romans, but they remained poor throughout the period of Roman civilisation. To-day the farmer in the west of America, the miner and the clerk in Johannesburg, are perhaps more numerous, but as a political force no wealthier for the opportunities of their sites: the economic power which they ultimately produce is first concentrated in the centres of exchange where the wealth they produce is handled.

Now there is a third basis for the economic importance of a district, and as this third basis is indefinitely more important than the other two, it has naturally been overlooked in the analysis of the universities. This basis is the basis of residence. Given that a conqueror, or a seat of Government established by routine, is established in a particular place and chooses there to remain; or given that the pleasure attached to a particular site—its natural pleasures or the inherited grandeur of its buildings or what not—make it an established residence for those who control the expenditure of wealth, then that place will acquire an economic importance which has for its foundation nothing more material than the human will. Thither wealth, wherever produced, will flow, and there will be discovered that ultimate motive force of all production and of all exchange, the effective demand of those possessors who alone can set the industrial machine in motion.

This has been abundantly true in every period of the world's history, whenever commerce existed upon a considerable scale, or whenever a military force sufficiently universal was at the command of wealthy men.

It is particularly true to-day. To-day not the natural centres of exchange, still less the natural centres of production, determine what places in the world shall be wealthy and what shall not. The surplus of the wealth produced by the Egyptian fellaheen is carefully collected by English officials and largely consumed in Paris; the wealth produced by the manufacturers of North England is largely spent in the south of England and upon the Continent; until their recent and successful revolt, the wealth produced by the Irish peasantry was largely spent in London and upon the Riviera.

The economic importance, then, of the Thames Valley has not diminished, but increased since South England ceased to be the main field of production.

The tradition of Government, the habitual residence of the wealthy and directing classes of the community, have centred more and more in London. The old establishment of luxury in the Thames Valley has perpetually increased since the decline of its industrial and agricultural importance, and undoubtedly, if it were possible to draw a map indicating the proportion of economic demand throughout the country, the Valley of the Thames would appear, in proportion to its population, by far the most concentrated district in England, although it contains but one very large town, and although it is innocent of any very important modern industry.

It is interesting, in connection with this economic aspect of the Thames Valley, to note that, alone of the great river valleys of Europe, it has no railway system parallel to its banks. There is no series of productive centres which could give rise to such a railway system. The Great Western Railway follows the river now some distance upon one side, now some distance upon the other, as far as Oxford; but it does not depend in any way upon the stream, and where the course of the stream is irregular it goes on its straight course, throwing out branch lines to the smaller towns upon the banks: for the railway depends, so far as this section is concerned, upon the industries of the Midlands and of the west. Were you to cut off the sources of carriage which it draws upon from beyond the Valley of the Thames it could not exist.

The Scheldt, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Garonne, the Seine, the Elbe, are all different in this from the Thames. The economic power of our main river valley is chiefly a spending power. It produces little and, though it exchanges more of human wealth, it is the artificial machinery of exchange rather than the physical movement of goods that enriches it.

Now this habit of residence, this settlement of the concentrated power of demand upon the banks of the Thames, was the work of the monastic houses. It may be argued that, with the commercial importance of London, and with its attainment of the position of a capital, the residence of such economic power would necessarily have spread up the Thames Valley. It is doubtful whether any such necessity as this existed. In Roman times the Thames certainly did not lead up thus in the line of wealth from London, and though it is true that water carriage greatly increased in importance after the breakdown of Roman civilisation, yet the medium by which that water carriage was utilised was the medium of the Benedictine foundations. They it was who established that continuous line of progressive agricultural development and who prepared the way for the later yet more continuous line of the full monastic effort which succeeded the Conquest.

A list of monastic institutions upon the river, if we exclude the friars, the hospitals, and such foundations as made part of town or university life, is as follows:—a priory at Cricklade, another at Lechlade, the Abbey at Eynsham (sufficiently near the stream to be regarded as riparian), the Nunnery and School of Godstow, the great Abbeys of Osney and Rewley, the Benedictine Nunnery at Littlemore, the great Abbey of Abingdon, the Abbey of Dorchester, Cholsey (but this had been destroyed before the Conquest, and was never revived), the Augustinian Nunnery at Goring, the great Cluniac Abbey at Reading, the Cell of Westminster at Hurley, the Abbey of Medmenham, the Abbey of Bisham just opposite Marlow, and the Nunnery of Little Marlow; the Nunnery of Burnham, which, though nearly a mile and a half from the stream, should count from the position of its property as a riparian foundation, the little Nunnery of Ankerwike, the great Benedictine Abbey of Chertsey, the Carthusians of Sheen, and the Benedictines of Westminster, to which may be added the foundation of Bermondsey.

When the end came the total number of those in control of such wide possessions was small.

Indeed it was perhaps no small cause of the unpopularity, such as it was, into which the same monasteries had locally fallen, that so much economic power was concentrated in so few hands. The greater foundations throughout the country possessed but a little more than 3000 religious, and even when all the nuns, friars, and professed religious of the towns are counted, we do not arrive at more than 8000 in religion in an England which must have had a population of at least 4,000,000, and quite possibly a much larger number; nor could the mobs foresee that the class which would seize upon the abbey lands would concentrate the means of production into still fewer hands, until at last the mass of Englishmen should have no lot in England.

Moreover, it would be an error to consider the numbers of the religious alone. The smaller foundations, and especially the convents of nuns, did certainly support but small numbers, and this probably accounts for the ease with which they were suppressed, but, on the other hand, their possessions also were small. In the case of the great foundations, though one can count but 3000 monks and canons, the number of them must be multiplied many times if we are to arrive at the total of the communities concerned. Reading, Abingdon, and the rest were little cities, with a whole population of direct dependants living within the walls, and a still larger number of families without, who indirectly depended upon the revenues of the abbey for their livelihood.

Another and perhaps a better way of presenting to a modern reader the overwhelming economic power of the mediaeval monastic system, especially its economic power in the Valley of the Thames, would be to add to such a list of houses a map of that valley showing the manors in ecclesiastical hands, the freeholds and leaseholds held by the great abbeys, in addition to the livings that were within their gift; in a word, a map giving all their different forms of revenue.

Such a map would show the Valley of the Thames and its tributaries covered with ecclesiastical influence upon every side.

Even if we confined ourselves to the parishes upon the actual banks of the river, the map would present a continuous stretch of possessions upon either side from far above Eynsham down to below bridges.

The research that would be necessary for the establishment of such a complete list would require a leisure which is not at the disposal of the present writer, but it is possible to give some conception of what the monastic holdings were by drawing up a list confined to but a small part of these holdings and showing therefore a fortiori what the total must have been.

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