The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. VII. (of 12)
by Edmund Burke
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Beda did not confine his attention to those superior sciences. He treated of music, and of rhetoric, of grammar, and the art of versification, and of arithmetic, both by letters and on the fingers; and his work on this last subject is the only one in which that piece of antique curiosity has been preserved to us. All these are short pieces; some of them are in the catechetical method, and seem designed for the immediate use of the pupils in his monastery, in order to furnish them with some leading ideas in the rudiments of these arts, then newly introduced into his country. He likewise made, and probably for the same purpose, a very ample and valuable collection of short philosophical, political, and moral maxims, from Aristotle, Plato, Seneca, and other sages of heathen antiquity. He made a separate book of shining commonplaces and remarkable passages extracted from the works of Cicero, of whom he was a great admirer, though he seems to have been not an happy or diligent imitator in his style. From a view of these pieces we may form an idea of what stock in the science the English at that time possessed, and what advances they had made. That work of Beda which is the best known and most esteemed is the Ecclesiastical History of the English nation. Disgraced by a want of choice and frequently by a confused ill disposition of his matter, and blemished with a degree of credulity next to infantine, it is still a valuable, and for the time a surprising performance. The book opens with a description of this island which would not have disgraced a classical author; and he has prefixed to it a chronological abridgment of sacred and profane history connected, from the beginning of the world, which, though not critically adapted to his main design, is of far more intrinsic value, and indeed displays a vast fund of historical erudition. On the whole, though this father of the English learning seems to have been but a genius of the middle class, neither elevated nor subtile, and one who wrote in a low style, simple, but not elegant, yet, when we reflect upon the time in which he lived, the place in which he spent his whole life, within the walls of a monastery, in so remote and wild a country, it is impossible to refuse him the praise of an incredible industry and a generous thirst of knowledge.

That a nation who not fifty years before had but just begun to emerge from a barbarism so perfect that they were unfurnished even with an alphabet should in so short a time have established so flourishing a seminary of learning, and have produced so eminent a teacher, is a circumstance which I imagine no other nation besides England can boast.

Hitherto we have spoken only of their Latin and Greek literature. They cultivated also their native language, which, according to the opinions of the most adequate judges, was deficient neither in energy nor beauty, and was possessed of such an happy flexibility as to be capable of expressing with grace and effect every new technical idea introduced either by theology or science. They were fond of poetry; they sung at all their feasts; and it was counted extremely disgraceful not to be able to take a part in these performances, even when they challenged each other to a sudden exertion of the poetic spirit. Caedmon, afterwards one of the most eminent of their poets, was disgraced in this manner into an exertion of a latent genius. He was desired in his turn to sing, but, being ignorant and full of natural sensibility, retired in confusion from the company, and by instant and strenuous application soon became a distinguished proficient in the art.


[37] Inesse quinetiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant; nec aut consilia carum aspernantur aut responsa negligunt.—Tacit. de Mor. Ger. c. 8.

[38] Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib. I. c. 30.

[39] Id. c. cod.

[40] Dugdale's History of St. Paul's.

[41] Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib. IV. c. 13.

[42] Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib IV. c. 13.

[43] Spelm. Concil. p. 329.

[44] Instauret etiam Dei ecclesiam; ... et instauret vias publicas pontibus super aquas profundas et super caenosas vias; ... manumittat servos suos proprios, et redimat ab aliis hominibus servos suos ad libertatem.—L Eccl. Edgari, 14.

[45] Aidanus, Finan, Colmannus mirae sanctitatis fuerunt et parsimoniae.... Adeo autem sacerdotes erant illius temporis ab avaritia immunes, ut nec territoria nisi coacti acciperent.—Hen. Huntingd. Lib. III. p. 333. Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib. III c. 26.

[46] Icolmkill, or Iona.



[Sidenote: A.D. 799]

The Christian religion, having once taken root in Kent, spread itself with great rapidity throughout all the other Saxon kingdoms in England. The manners of the Saxons underwent a notable alteration by this change in their religion: their ferocity was much abated; they became more mild and sociable; and their laws began to partake of the softness of their manners, everywhere recommending mercy and a tenderness for Christian blood. There never was any people who embraced religion with a more fervent zeal than the Anglo-Saxons, nor with more simplicity of spirit. Their history for a long time shows us a remarkable conflict between their dispositions and their principles. This conflict produced no medium, because they were absolutely contrary, and both operated with almost equal violence. Great crimes and extravagant penances, rapine and an entire resignation of worldly goods, rapes and vows of perpetual chastity, succeeded each other in the same persons. There was nothing which the violence of their passions could not induce them to commit; nothing to which they did not submit to atone for their offences, when reflection gave an opportunity to repent. But by degrees the sanctions of religion began to preponderate; and as the monks at this time attracted all the religious veneration, religion everywhere began to relish of the cloister: an inactive spirit, and a spirit of scruples prevailed; they dreaded to put the greatest criminal to death; they scrupled to engage in any worldly functions. A king of the Saxons dreaded that God would call him to an account for the time which he spent in his temporal affairs and had stolen from prayer. It was frequent for kings to go on pilgrimages to Rome or to Jerusalem, on foot, and under circumstances of great hardship. Several kings resigned their crowns to devote themselves to religious contemplation in monasteries,—more at that time and in this nation than in all other nations and in all times. This, as it introduced great mildness into the tempers of the people, made them less warlike, and consequently prepared the way to their forming one body under Egbert, and for the other changes which followed.

The kingdom of Wessex, by the wisdom and courage of King Ina, the greatest legislator and politician of those times, had swallowed up Cornwall, for a while a refuge for some of the old Britons, together with the little kingdom of the South Saxons. By this augmentation it stretched from the Land's End to the borders of Kent, the Thames flowing on the north, the ocean washing it on the south. By their situation the people of Wessex naturally came to engross the little trade which then fed the revenues of England; and their minds were somewhat opened by a foreign communication, by which they became more civilized and better acquainted with the arts of war and of government. Such was the condition of the kingdom of Wessex, when Egbert was called to the throne of his ancestors. The civil commotions which for some time prevailed had driven this prince early in life into an useful banishment. He was honorably received at the court of Charlemagne, where he had an opportunity of studying government in the best school, and of forming himself after the most perfect model. Whilst Charlemagne was reducing the continent of Europe into one empire, Egbert reduced England into one kingdom. The state of his own dominions, perfectly united under him, with the other advantages which we have just mentioned, and the state of the neighboring Saxon governments, made this reduction less difficult. Besides Wessex, there were but two kingdoms of consideration in England,—Mercia and Northumberland. They were powerful enough in the advantages of Nature, but reduced to great weakness by their divisions. As there is nothing of more moment to any country than to settle the succession of its government on clear and invariable principles, the Saxon monarchies, which were supported by no such principles, were continually tottering. The right of government sometimes was considered as in the eldest son, sometimes in all; sometimes the will of the deceased prince disposed of the crown, sometimes a popular election bestowed it. The consequence of this was the frequent division and frequent reunion of the same territory, which were productive of infinite mischief; many various principles of succession gave titles to some, pretensions to more; and plots, cabals, and crimes could not be wanting to all the pretenders. Thus was Mercia torn to pieces; and the kingdom of Northumberland, assaulted on one side by the Scots, and ravaged on the other by the Danish incursions, could not recover from a long anarchy into which its intestine divisions had plunged it. Egbert knew how to make advantage of these divisions: fomenting them by his policy at first, and quelling them afterwards by his sword, he reduced these two kingdoms under his government. The same power which conquered Mercia and Northumberland made the reduction of Kent and Essex easy,—the people on all hands the more readily submitting, because there was no change made in their laws, manners, or the form of their government.

[Sidenote: Egbert A.D. 827.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 832]

Egbert, when he had brought all England under his dominion, made the Welsh tributary, and carried his arms with success into Scotland, assumed the title of Monarch of all Britain.[47] The southern part of the island was now for the first time authentically known by the name of England, and by every appearance promised to have arrived at the fortunate moment for forming a permanent and splendid monarchy. But Egbert had not reigned seven years in peace, when the Danes, who had before showed themselves in some scattered parties, and made some inconsiderable descents, entered the kingdom in a formidable body. This people came from the same place whence the English themselves were derived, and they differed from them in little else than that they still retained their original barbarity and heathenism. These, assisted by the Norwegians, and other people of Scandinavia, were the last torrent of the Northern ravagers which overflowed Europe. What is remarkable, they attacked England and France when these two kingdoms were in the height of their grandeur,—France under Charlemagne, England united by Egbert. The good fortune of Egbert met its first check from these people, who defeated his forces with great slaughter near Charmouth in Dorsetshire. It generally happens that a new nation, with a new method of making war, succeeds against a people only exercised in arms by their own civil dissensions. Besides, England, newly united, was not without those jealousies and that disaffection which give such great advantage to an invader. But the vigilance and courage of Egbert repaired this defeat; he repulsed the Danes; and died soon after at Winchester, full of years and glory.

[Sidenote: Ethelwolf A.D. 838]

He left a great, but an endangered succession, to his son Ethelwolf, who was a mild and virtuous prince, full of a timid piety, which utterly disqualifies for government; and he began to govern at a time when the greatest capacity was wanted. The Danes pour in upon every side; the king rouses from his lethargy; battles are fought with various success, which it were useless and tedious to recount. The event seems to have been, that in some corners of the kingdom the Danes gained a few inconsiderable settlements; the rest of the kingdom, after being terribly ravaged, was left a little time to recover, in order to be plundered anew. But the weak prince took no advantage of this time to concert a regular plan of defence, or to rouse a proper spirit in his people. Yielding himself wholly to speculative devotion, he entirely neglected his affairs, and, to complete the ruin of his kingdom, abandoned it, in such critical circumstances, to make a pilgrimage to Rome. At Rome he behaved in the manner that suited his little genius, in making charitable foundations, and in extending the Rome-scot or Peter-pence, which the folly of some princes of the Heptarchy had granted for their particular dominions, over the whole Kingdom. His shameful desertion of his country raised so general a discontent, that in his absence his own son, with the principal of his nobility and bishops, conspired against him. At his return, he found, however, that several still adhered to him; but here, too, incapable of acting with rigor, he agreed to an accommodation, which placed the crown on the head of his rebellious son, and only left to himself a sphere of government as narrow as his genius,—the district of Kent, whither he retired to enjoy an inglorious privacy with a wife whom he had married in France.

[Sidenote: Ethelred, A.D. 866]

On his death, his son Ethelred still held the crown, which he had preoccupied by his rebellion, and which he polluted with a new stain. He married his father's widow. The confused history of these times furnishes no clear account either of the successions of the kings or of their actions. During the reign of this prince and his successors Ethelbert and Ethelred, the people in several parts of England seem to have withdrawn from the kingdom of Wessex, and to have revived their former independency. This, added to the weakness of the government, made way for new swarms of Danes, who burst in upon this ill-governed and divided people, ravaging the whole country in a terrible manner, but principally directing their fury against every monument of civility or piety. They had now formed a regular establishment in Northumberland, and gained a very considerable footing in Mercia and East Anglia; they hovered over every part of the kingdom with their fleets; and being established in many places in the heart of the country, nothing seemed able to resist them.


[47] No Saxon monarch until Athelstan.



[Sidenote: A.D. 871]

[Sidenote: A.D. 875]

It was in the midst of these distractions that Alfred succeeded to a sceptre which, was threatened every moment to be wrenched from his hands. He was then only twenty-two years of age, but exercised from his infancy in troubles and in wars that formed and displayed his virtue. Some of its best provinces were torn from his kingdom, which was shrunk to the ancient bounds of Wessex; and what remained was weakened by dissension, by a long war, by a raging pestilence, and surrounded by enemies whose numbers seemed inexhaustible, and whose fury was equally increased by victories or defeats. All these difficulties served only to increase the vigor of his mind. He took the field without delay; but he was defeated with considerable loss. This ominous defeat displayed more fully the greatness of his courage and capacity, which found in desperate hopes and a ruined kingdom such powerful resources. In a short time after he was in a condition to be respected: but he was not led away by the ambition of a young warrior. He neglected no measures to procure peace for his country, which wanted a respite from the calamities which had long oppressed it. A peace was concluded for Wessex. Then the Danes turned their faces once more towards Mercia and East Anglia. They had before stripped the inhabitants of all their movable substance, and now they proceeded without resistance to seize upon their lands. Their success encouraged new swarms of Danes to crowd over, who, finding all the northern parts of England possessed by their friends, rushed into Wessex. They were adventurers under different and independent leaders; and a peace little regarded by the particular party that made it had no influence at all upon the others. Alfred opposed this shock with so much firmness that the barbarians had recourse to a stratagem: they pretended to treat; but taking advantage of the truce, they routed a body of the West Saxon cavalry that were off their guard, mounted their horses, and, crossing the country with amazing celerity, surprised the city of Exeter. This was an acquisition of infinite advantage to their affairs, as it secured them a port in the midst of Wessex.

Alfred, mortified at this series of misfortunes, perceived clearly that nothing could dislodge the Danes, or redress their continual incursions, but a powerful fleet which might intercept them at sea. The want of this, principally, gave rise to the success of that people. They used suddenly to land and ravage a part of the country; when a force opposed them, they retired to their ships, and passed to some other part, which in a like manner they ravaged, and then retired as before, until the country, entirely harassed, pillaged, and wasted by these incursions, was no longer able to resist them. Then they ventured safely to enter a desolated and disheartened country, and to establish themselves in it. These considerations made Alfred resolve upon equipping a fleet. In this enterprise nothing but difficulties presented themselves: his revenue was scanty, and his subjects altogether unskilled in maritime affairs, either as to the construction or the navigation of ships. He did not therefore despair. With great promises attending a little money, he engaged in his service a number of Frisian seamen, neighbors to the Danes, and pirates, as they were. He brought, by the same means, shipwrights from the continent. He was himself present to everything; and having performed the part of a king in drawing together supplies of every kind, he descended with no less dignity into the artist,—improving on the construction, inventing new machines, and supplying by the greatness of his genius the defects and imperfections of the arts in that rude period. By his indefatigable application the first English navy was in a very short time in readiness to put to sea. At that time the Danish fleet of one hundred and twenty-five ships stood with full sail for Exeter; they met; but, with an omen prosperous to the new naval power, the Danish fleet was entirely vanquished and dispersed. This success drew on the surrendry of Exeter, and a peace, which Alfred much wanted to put the affairs of his kingdom in order.

This peace, however, did not last long. As the Danes were continually pouring into some part of England, they found most parts already in Danish hands; so that all these parties naturally directed their course to the only English kingdom. All the Danes conspired to put them in possession of it, and bursting unexpectedly with the united force of their whole body upon Wessex, Alfred was entirely overwhelmed, and obliged to drive before the storm of his fortune. He fled in disguise into a fastness in the Isle of Athelney, where he remained four months in the lowest state of indigence, supported by an heroic humility, and that spirit of piety which neither adverse fortune nor prosperity could overcome. It is much to be lamented that a character so formed to interest all men, involved in reverses of fortune that make the most agreeable and useful part of history, should be only celebrated by pens so little suitable to the dignity of the subject. These revolutions are so little prepared, that we neither can perceive distinctly the causes which sunk him nor those which again raised him to power. A few naked facts are all our stock. From these we see Alfred, assisted by the casual success of one of his nobles, issuing from his retreat; he heads a powerful army once more, defeats the Danes, drives them out of Wessex, follows his blow, expels them from Mercia, subdues them in Northumberland, and makes them tributary in Bast Anglia; and thus established by a number of victories in a full peace, he is presented to us in that character which makes him venerable to posterity. It is a refreshment, in the midst of such a gloomy waste of barbarism and desolation, to fall upon so fair and cultivated a spot.

[Sidenote: A.D. 880.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 896.]

When Alfred had once more reunited the kingdoms of his ancestors, he found the whole face of things in the most desperate condition: there was no observance of law and order; religion had no force; there was no honest industry; the most squalid poverty and the grossest ignorance had overspread the whole kingdom. Alfred at once enterprised the cure of all these evils. To remedy the disorders in the government, he revived, improved, and digested all the Saxon institutions, insomuch that he is generally honored as the founder of our laws and Constitution.[48]

The shire he divided into hundreds, the hundreds into tithings; every freeman was obliged to be entered into some tithing, the members of which were mutually bound for each other, for the preservation of the peace, and the avoiding theft and rapine. For securing the liberty of the subject, he introduced the method of giving bail, the most certain fence against the abuses of power. It has been observed that the reigns of weak princes are times favorable to liberty; but the wisest and bravest of all the English princes is the father of their freedom. This great man was even jealous of the privileges of his subjects; and as his whole life was spent in protecting them, his last will breathes the same spirit, declaring that he had left his people as free as their own thoughts. He not only collected with great care a complete body of laws, but he wrote comments on them for the instruction of his judges, who were in general, by the misfortune of the time, ignorant. And if he took care to correct their ignorance, he was rigorous towards their corruption. He inquired strictly into their conduct, he heard appeals in person; he held his Wittenagemotes, or Parliaments, frequently; and kept every part of his government in health and vigor.

Nor was he less solicitous for the defence than he had shown himself for the regulation of his kingdom. He nourished with particular care the new naval strength which he had established; he built forts and castles in the most important posts; he settled beacons to spread an alarm on the arrival of an enemy; and ordered his militia in such a manner that there was always a great power in readiness to march, well appointed and well disciplined. But that a suitable revenue might not be wanting for the support of his fleets and fortifications, he gave great encouragement to trade, which, by the piracies on the coasts, and the rapine and injustice exercised by the people within, had long become a stranger to this island.

In the midst of these various and important cares, he gave a peculiar attention to learning, which by the rage of the late wars had been entirely extinguished in his kingdom. "Very few there were" (says this monarch) "on this side the Humber that understood their ordinary prayers, or that were able to translate any Latin book into English,—so few, that I do not remember even one qualified to the southward of the Thames when I began my reign." To cure this deplorable ignorance, he was indefatigable in his endeavors to bring into England men of learning in all branches from every part of Europe, and unbounded in his liberality to them. He enacted by a law that every person possessed of two hides of land should send their children to school until sixteen. Wisely considering where to put a stop to his love even of the liberal arts, which are only suited to a liberal condition, he enterprised yet a greater design than that of forming the growing generation,—to instruct even the grown: enjoining all his earldormen and sheriffs immediately to apply themselves to learning, or to quit their offices. To facilitate these great purposes, he made a regular foundation of an university, which with great reason is believed to have been at Oxford. Whatever trouble he took to extend the benefits of learning amongst his subjects, he showed the example himself, and applied to the cultivation of his mind with unparalleled diligence and success. He could neither read nor write at twelve years old; but he improved his time in such a manner that he became one of the most knowing men of his age, in geometry, in philosophy, in architecture, and in music. He applied himself to the improvement of his native language; he translated several valuable works from Latin; and wrote a vast number of poems in the Saxon tongue with a wonderful facility and happiness. He not only excelled in the theory of the arts and sciences, but possessed a great mechanical genius for the executive part; he improved the manner of ship-building, introduced a more beautiful and commodious architecture, and even taught his countrymen the art of making bricks,—most of the buildings having been of wood before his time. In a word, he comprehended in the greatness of his mind the whole of government and all its parts at once, and, what is most difficult to human frailty, was at the same time sublime and minute.

Religion, which in Alfred's father was so prejudicial to affairs, without being in him at all inferior in its zeal and fervor, was of a more enlarged and noble kind; far from being a prejudice to his government, it seems to have been the principle that supported him in so many fatigues, and fed like an abundant source his civil and military virtues. To his religious exercises and studies he devoted a full third part of his time. It is pleasant to trace a genius even in its smallest exertions,—in measuring and allotting his time for the variety of business he was engaged in. According to his severe and methodical custom, he had a sort of wax candles made of different colors in different proportions, according to the time he allotted to each particular affair; as he carried these about with him wherever he went, to make them burn evenly he invented horn lanterns. One cannot help being amazed that a prince, who lived in such turbulent times, who commanded personally in fifty-four pitched battles, who had so disordered a province to regulate, who was not only a legislator, but a judge, and who was continually superintending his armies, his navies, the traffic of his kingdom, his revenues, and the conduct of all his officers, could have bestowed so much of his time on religious exercises and speculative knowledge; but the exertion of all his faculties and virtues seemed to have given a mutual strength to all of them. Thus all historians speak of this prince, whose whole history was one panegyric; and whatever dark spots of human frailty may have adhered to such a character, they are entirely hid in the splendor of his many shining qualities and grand virtues, that throw a glory over the obscure period in which he lived, and which is for no other reason worthy of our knowledge.

[Sidenote: A.D. 897.]

The latter part of his reign was molested with new and formidable attempts from the Danes: but they no longer found the country in its former condition; their fleets were attacked; and those that landed found a strong and regular opposition. There were now fortresses which restrained their ravages, and armies well appointed to oppose them in the field; they were defeated in a pitched battle; and after several desperate marches from one part of the country to the other, everywhere harassed and hunted, they were glad to return with half their number, and to leave Alfred in quiet to accomplish the great things he had projected. This prince reigned twenty-seven, years, and died at last of a disorder in his bowels, which had afflicted him, without interrupting his designs or souring his temper, during the greatest part of his life.


[48] Historians, copying after one another, and examining little, have attributed to this monarch the institution of juries, an institution which certainly did never prevail amongst the Saxons. They have likewise attributed to him the distribution of England into shires, hundreds, and tithings, and of appointing officers over these divisions. But it is very obvious that the shires were never settled upon any regular plan, nor are they the result of any single design. But these reports, however ill imagined, are a strong proof of the high veneration in which this excellent prince has always been held; as it has been thought that the attributing these regulations to him would endear them to the nation. Be probably settled them in such an order, and made such reformations in his government, that some of the institutions themselves which he improved have been attributed to him: and, indeed, there was one work of his which serves to furnish us with a higher idea of the political capacity of that great man than any of these fictions. He made a general survey and register of all the property in the kingdom, who held it, and what it was distinctly: a vast work for an age of ignorance and time of confusion, which has been neglected in more civilized nations and settled times. It was called the Roll of Winton, and served as a model of a work of the same kind made by William the Conqueror.



[Sidenote: Edward, A.D. 900.]

[Sidenote: Athelstan A.D. 925.]

[Sidenote: Edmund, A.D. 942.]

[Sidenote: Edred, A.D. 947.]

[Sidenote: Edwin, A.D. 957.]

His son Edward succeeded. Though of less learning than his father, he equalled him in his political virtues. He made war with success on the Welsh, the Scots, and the Danes, and left his kingdom strongly fortified, and exercised, not weakened, with the enterprises of a vigorous reign. Because his son Edmund was under age, the crown was set on the head of his illegitimate offspring, Athelstan. His, like the reigns of all the princes of this time, was molested by the continual incursions of the Danes; and nothing but a succession of men of spirit, capacity, and love of their country, which providentially happened at this time, could ward off the ruin of the kingdom. Such Athelstan was; and such was his brother Edmund, who reigned five years with great reputation, but was at length, by an obscure ruffian, assassinated in his own palace. Edred, his brother, succeeded to the late monarchy: though he had left two sons, Edwin and Edgar, both were passed by on account of their minority. But on this prince's death, which happened after a troublesome reign of ten years, valiantly supported against continual inroads of the Danes; the crown devolved on Edwin; of whom little can be said, because his reign was short, and he was so embroiled with his clergy that we can take his character only from the monks, who in such a case are suspicious authority.

[Sidenote: Edgar, A.D. 959.]

Edgar, the second son of King Edmund, came young to the throne; but he had the happiness to have his youth formed and his kingdom ruled by men of experience, virtue, and authority. The celebrated Dunstan was his first minister, and had a mighty influence over all his actions. This prelate had been educated abroad, and had seen the world to advantage. As he had great power at court by the superior wisdom of his counsels, so by the sanctity of his life he had great credit with the people, which gave a firmness to the government of his master, whose private character was in many respects extremely exceptionable. It was in his reign, and chiefly by the means of his minister, Dunstan, that the monks, who had long prevailed in the opinion of the generality of the people, gave a total overthrow to their rivals, the secular clergy. The secular clergy were at this time for the most part married, and were therefore too near the common modes of mankind to draw a great deal of their respect; their character was supported by a very small portion of learning, and their lives were not such as people wish to see in the clergy. But the monks were unmarried, austere in their lives, regular in their duties, possessed of the learning of the times, well united under a proper subordination, full of art, and implacable towards their enemies. These circumstances, concurring with the dispositions of the king and the designs of Dunstan, prevailed so far that it was agreed in a council convened for that purpose to expel the secular clergy from their livings, and to supply their places with monks, throughout the kingdom. Although the partisans of the secular priests were not a few, nor of the lowest class, yet they were unable to withstand the current of the popular desire, strengthened by the authority of a potent and respected monarch. However, there was a seed of discontent sown on this occasion, which grew up afterwards to the mutual destruction of all the parties. During the whole reign of Edgar, as he had secured the most popular part of the clergy, and with them the people, in his interests, there was no internal disturbance; there was no foreign war, because this prince was always ready for war. But he principally owed his security to the care he took of his naval power, which was much greater and better regulated than that of any English monarch before him. He had three fleets always equipped, one of which annually sailed round the island. Thus the Danes, the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh were kept in awe. He assumed the title of King of all Albion. His court was magnificent, and much frequented by strangers. His revenues were in excellent order, and no prince of his time supported the royal character with more dignity.

[Sidenote: Edward, A.D. 975.]

[Sidenote: Ethelred, A.D. 979.]

Edgar had two wives, Elfleda and Elfrida. By the first he had a son called Edward; the second bore him one called Ethelred. On Edgar's death, Edward, in the usual order of succession, was called to the throne; but Elfrida caballed in favor of her son, and finding it impossible to set him up in the life of his brother, she murdered him with her own hands in her castle of Corfe, whither he had retired to refresh himself, wearied with hunting. Ethelred, who by the crimes of his mother ascended a throne sprinkled with his brother's blood, had a part to act which exceeded the capacity that could be expected in one of his youth and inexperience. The partisans of the secular clergy, who were kept down by the vigor of Edgar's government, thought this a fit time to renew their pretensions. The monks defended themselves in their possession; there was no moderation on either side, and the whole nation joined in these parties. The murder of Edward threw an odious stain on the king, though he was wholly innocent of that crime. There was a general discontent, and every corner was full of murmurs and cabals. In this state of the kingdom, it was equally dangerous to exert the fulness of the sovereign authority or to suffer it to relax. The temper of the king was most inclined to the latter method, which is of all things the worst. A weak government, too easy, suffers evils to grow which often make the most rigorous and illegal proceedings necessary. Through an extreme lenity it is on some occasions tyrannical. This was the condition of Ethelred's nobility, who, by being permitted everything, were never contented.

Thus all the principal men held a sort of factious and independent authority; they despised the king, they oppressed the people, and they hated one another. The Danes, in every part of England but Wessex as numerous as the English themselves, and in many parts more numerous, were ready to take advantage of these disorders, and waited with impatience some new attempt from abroad, that they might rise in favor of the invaders. They were not long without such an occasion; the Danes pour in almost upon every part at once, and distract the defence which the weak prince was preparing to make.

In those days of wretchedness and ignorance, when all the maritime parts of Europe were attacked by these formidable enemies at once, they never thought of entering into any alliance against them; they equally neglected the other obvious method to prevent their incursions, which was, to carry the war into the invaders' country.

[Sidenote: A.D. 987.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 991.]

What aggravated these calamities, the nobility, mostly disaffected to the king, and entertaining very little regard to their country, made, some of them, a weak and cowardly opposition to the enemy; some actually betrayed their trust; some even were found who undertook the trade of piracy themselves. It was in this condition, that Edric, Duke of Mercia, a man of some ability, but light, inconstant, and utterly devoid of all principle, proposed to buy a peace from the Danes. The general weakness and consternation disposed the king and people to take this pernicious advice. At first 10,000l. was given to the Danes, who retired with this money and the rest of their plunder. The English were now, for the first time, taxed to supply this payment. The imposition was called Danegelt, not more burdensome in the thing than scandalous in the name. The scheme of purchasing peace not only gave rise to many internal hardships, but, whilst it weakened the kingdom, it inspired such a desire of invading it to the enemy, that Sweyn, King of Denmark, came in person soon after with a prodigious fleet and army. The English, having once found the method of diverting the storm by an inglorious bargain, could not bear to think of any other way of resistance. A greater sum, 48,000l., was now paid, which the Danes accepted with pleasure, as they could by this means exhaust their enemies and enrich themselves with little danger or trouble. With very short intermissions they still returned, continually increasing in their demands. In a few years they extorted upwards of 160,000l. from the English, besides an annual tribute of 48,000l. The country was wholly exhausted both of money and spirit. The Danes in England, under the protection of the foreign Danes, committed a thousand insolencies; and so infatuated with stupidity and baseness were the English at this time, that they employed hardly any other soldiers for their defence.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1002]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1003]

In this state of shame and misery, their sufferings suggested to them a design rather desperate than brave. They resolved on a massacre of the Danes. Some authors say, that in one night the whole race was cut off. Many, probably all the military men, were so destroyed. But this massacre, injudicious as it was cruel, was certainly not universal; nor did it serve any other or better end than to exasperate those of the same nation abroad, who the next year landed in England with a powerful army to revenge it, and committed outrages even beyond the usual tenor of the Danish cruelty. There was in England no money left to purchase a peace, nor courage to wage a successful war; and the King of Denmark, Sweyn, a prince of capacity, at the head of a large body of brave and enterprising men, soon mastered the whole kingdom, except London. Ethelred, abandoned by fortune and his subjects, was forced to fly into Normandy.

[Sidenote: Edmund Ironside, A.D. 1016.]

As there was no good order in the English affairs, though continually alarmed, they were always surprised; they were only roused to arms by the cruelty of the enemy, and they were only formed into a body by being driven from their homes: so that they never made a resistance until they seemed to be entirely conquered. This may serve to account for the frequent sudden reductions of the island, and the frequent renewals of their fortune when it seemed the most desperate. Sweyn, in the midst of his victories, dies, and, though succeeded by his son Canute, who inherited his father's resolution, their affairs were thrown into some disorder by this accident. The English were encouraged by it. Ethelred was recalled, and the Danes retired out of the kingdom; but it was only to return the nest year with a greater and better appointed force. Nothing seemed able to oppose them. The king dies. A great part of the land was surrendered, without resistance, to Canute. Edmund, the eldest son of Ethelred, supported, however, the declining hopes of the English for some time; in three months he fought three victorious battles; he attempted a fourth, but lost it by the base desertion of Edric, the principal author of all these troubles. It is common with the conquered side to attribute all their misfortunes to the treachery of their own party. They choose to be thought subdued by the treachery of their friends rather than the superior bravery of their enemies. All the old historians talk in this strain; and it must be acknowledged that all adherents to a declining party have many temptations to infidelity.

Edmund, defeated, but not discouraged, retreated to the Severn, where he recruited his forces. Canute followed at his heels. And now the two armies were drawn up which were to decide the fate of England, when it was proposed to determine the war by a single combat between the two kings. Neither was unwilling; the Isle of Alney in the Severn was chosen for the lists. Edmund had the advantage by the greatness of his strength, Canute by his address; for when Edmund had so far prevailed as to disarm him, he proposed a parley, in which he persuaded Edmund to a peace, and to a division of the kingdom. Their armies accepted the agreement, and both kings departed in a seeming friendship. But Edmund died soon after, with a probable suspicion of being murdered by the instruments of his associate in the empire.

[Sidenote: The Danish race.


[Sidenote: Harold I., A.D. 1035.]

[Sidenote: Hardicanute, A.D. 1035]

[Sidenote: The Saxon line restored.]

Canute, on this event, assembled the states of the kingdom, by whom he was acknowledged King of all England. He was a prince truly great; for, having acquired the kingdom by his valor, he maintained and improved it by his justice and clemency. Choosing rather to rule by the inclination of his subjects than the right of conquest, he dismissed his Danish army, and committed his safety to the laws. He reestablished the order and tranquillity which so long a series of bloody wars had banished. He revived the ancient statutes of the Saxon princes, and governed through his whole reign with such steadiness and moderation that the English were much happier under this foreign prince than they had been under their natural kings. Canute, though the beginning of his life was stained with those marks of violence and injustice which attend conquest, was remarkable in his latter end for his piety. According to the mode of that time, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, with a view to expiate the crimes which paved his way to the throne; but he made a good use of this peregrination, and returned full of the observations he had made in the country through which he passed, which he turned to the benefit of his extensive dominions. They comprehended England, Denmark, Norway, and many of the countries which lie upon the Baltic. Those he left, established in peace and security, to his children. The fate of his Northern possessions is not of this place. England fell to his son Harold, though not without much competition in favor of the sons of Edmund Ironside, while some contended for the right of the sons of Ethelred, Alfred and Edward. Harold inherited none of the virtues of Canute; he banished his mother Emma, murdered his half-brother Alfred, and died without issue after a short reign, full of violence, weakness, and cruelty. His brother Hardicanute, who succeeded him, resembled him in his character; he committed new cruelties and injustices in revenging those which his brother had committed, and he died after a yet shorter reign. The Danish power, established with so much blood, expired of itself; and Edward, the only surviving son of Ethelred, then an exile in Normandy, was called to the throne by the unanimous voice of the kingdom.

[Sidenote: Edward the Confessor, A.D. 1041.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1053]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1066.]

This prince was educated in a monastery, where he learned piety, continence, and humility, but nothing of the art of government. He was innocent and artless, but his views were narrow, and his genius contemptible. The character of such a prince is not, therefore, what influences the government, any further than as it puts it in the hands of others. When he came to the throne, Godwin, Earl of Kent, was the most popular man in England; he possessed a very great estate, an enterprising disposition, and an eloquence beyond the age he lived in; he was arrogant, imperious, assuming, and of a conscience which never put itself in the way of his interest. He had a considerable share in restoring Edward to the throne of his ancestors; and by this merit, joined to his popularity, he for some time directed everything according to his pleasure. He intended to fortify his interest by giving in marriage to the king his daughter, a lady of great beauty, great virtue, and an education beyond her sex. Godwin had, however, powerful rivals in the king's favor. This monarch, who possessed many of the private virtues, had a grateful remembrance of his favorable reception in Normandy; he caressed the people of that country, and promoted several to the first places, ecclesiastical and civil, in his kingdom. This begot an uneasiness in all the English; but Earl Godwin was particularly offended. The Normans, on the other hand, accused Godwin of a design on the crown, the justice of which imputation the whole tenor of his conduct evinced sufficiently. But as his cabals began to break into action before they were in perfect ripeness for it, the Norman party prevailed, and Godwin was banished. This man was not only very popular at home by his generosity and address, but he found means to engage even, foreigners in his interests. Baldwin, Earl of Flanders, gave him a very kind reception. By his assistance Godwin fitted out a fleet, hired a competent force, sailed to England, and having near Sandwich deceived the king's navy, he presented himself at London before he was expected. The king made ready as great a force as the time would admit to oppose him. The galleys of Edward and Godwin met on the Thames; but such was the general favor to Godwin, such the popularity of his cause, that the king's men threw down their arms, and refused to fight against their countrymen in favor of strangers. Edward was obliged to treat with his own subjects, and in consequence of this treaty to dismiss the Normans, whom he believed to be the best attached to his interests. Godwin used the power to which he was restored to gratify his personal revenge, showing no mercy to his enemies. Some of his sons behaved in the most tyrannical manner. The great lords of the kingdom envied and hated a greatness which annihilated the royal authority, eclipsed them, and oppressed the people; but Godwin's death soon after quieted for a while their murmurs. The king, who had the least share in the transactions of his own reign, and who was of a temper not to perceive his own insignificance, begun in his old age to think of a successor. He had no children: for some weak reasons of religion or personal dislike, he had never cohabited with his wife. He sent for his nephew Edward, the son of Edmund Ironside, out of Hungary, where he had taken refuge; but he died soon after he came to England, leaving a son called Edgar Atheling. The king himself irresolute in so momentous an affair, died without making any settlement. His reign was properly that of his great men, or rather of their factions. All of it that was his own was good. He was careful of the privileges of his subjects, and took care to have a body of the Saxon laws, very favorable to them, digested and enforced. He remitted the heavy imposition called Danegelt, amounting to 40,000l. a year, which had been constantly collected after the occasion had ceased; he even repaid to his subjects what he found in the treasury at his accession. In short, there is little in his life that can call his title to sanctity in question, though he can never be reckoned among the great kings.



[Sidenote: Harold II., A.D. 1066.]

Though Edgar Atheling had the best title to the succession, yet Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, on account of the credit of his father, and his own great qualities, which supported and extended the interest of his family, was by the general voice set upon the throne. The right of Edgar, young, and discovering no great capacity, gave him little disturbance in comparison of the violence of his own brother Tosti, whom for his infamous oppression he had found himself obliged to banish. This man, who was a tyrant at home and a traitor abroad, insulted the maritime parts with a piratical fleet, whilst he incited all the neighboring princes to fall upon his country. Harold Harfager, King of Norway, after the conquest of the Orkneys, with a powerful navy hung over the coasts of England. But nothing troubled Harold so much as the pretensions and the formidable preparation of William, Duke of Normandy, one of the most able, ambitious, and enterprising men of that age. We have mentioned the partiality of King Edward to the Normans, and the hatred he bore to Godwin, and his family. The Duke of Normandy, to whom Edward had personal obligations, had taken a tour into England, and neglected no means to improve these dispositions to his own advantage. It is said that he then received the fullest assurances of being appointed to the succession, and that Harold himself had been sent soon after into Normandy to settle whatever related to it. This is an obscure transaction, and would, if it could be cleared up, convey but little instruction. So that whether we believe or not that William had engaged Harold by a solemn oath to secure him the kingdom, we know that he afterwards set up a will of King Edward in his favor, which, however, he never produced, and probably never had to produce. In these delicate circumstances Harold was not wanting to himself. By the most equitable laws and the most popular behavior he sought to secure the affections of his subjects; and he succeeded so well, that, when he marched against the King of Norway, who had invaded his kingdom and taken York, without difficulty he raised a numerous army of gallant men, zealous for his cause and their country. He obtained a signal and decisive victory over the Norwegians. The King Harfager, and the traitor Tosti, who had joined him, were slain in the battle, and the Norwegians were forced to evacuate the country. Harold had, however, but little time to enjoy the fruits of his victory.

Scarce had the Norwegians departed, when William, Duke of Normandy, landed in the southern part of the kingdom with an army of sixty thousand chosen men, and struck a general terror through all the nation, which was well acquainted with the character of the commander and the courage and discipline of his troops.

The Normans were the posterity of those Danes who had so long and so cruelly harassed the British islands and the shore of the adjoining continent. In, the days of King Alfred, a body of these adventurers, under their leader, Rollo, made an attempt upon England; but so well did they find every spot defended by the vigilance and bravery of that great monarch that they were compelled to retire. Beaten from these shores, the stream of their impetuosity bore towards the northern parts of France, which had been reduced to the most deplorable condition by their former ravages. Charles the Simple then sat on the throne of that kingdom; unable to resist this torrent of barbarians, he was obliged to yield to it; he agreed to give up to Rollo the large and fertile province of Neustria, to hold of him as his feudatory. This province, from the new inhabitants, was called Normandy. Five princes succeeded Rollo, who maintained with great bravery and cultivated with equal wisdom his conquests. The ancient ferocity of this people was a little softened by their settlement; but the bravery which, had made the Danes so formidable was not extinguished in the Normans, nor the spirit of enterprise. Not long before this period, a private gentleman of Normandy, by his personal bravery, had acquired the kingdom of Naples. Several others followed his fortunes, who added Sicily to it. From one end of Europe to the other the Norman name was known, respected, and feared. Robert, the sixth Duke of Normandy, to expiate some crime which lay heavy upon his conscience, resolved, according to the ideas of that time, upon a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was in vain that his nobility, whom he had assembled to notify this resolution to them, represented to him the miserable state to which his country would be reduced, abandoned by its prince, and uncertain of a legal successor. The Duke was not to be moved from his resolution, which appeared but the more meritorious from the difficulties which attended it. He presented to the states William, then an infant, born of an obscure woman, whom, notwithstanding, he doubted not to be his son; him he appointed to succeed; him he recommended to their virtue and loyalty; and then, solemnly resigning the government in his favor, he departed on the pilgrimage, from whence he never returned. The states, hesitating some time between, the mischiefs that attend the allowing an illegitimate succession, and those which might arise from admitting foreign pretensions, thought the former the least prejudicial, and accordingly swore allegiance to William. But this oath was not sufficient to establish a right so doubtful. The Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, as well as several Norman noblemen, had specious titles. The endeavors of all these disquieted the reign of the young prince with perpetual troubles. In these troubles he was formed early in life to vigilance, activity, secrecy, and a conquest over all those passions, whether bad or good, which obstruct the way to greatness. He had to contend with all the neighboring princes, with the seditions of a turbulent and unfaithful nobility, and the treacherous protection of his feudal lord, the King of France. All of these in their turns, sometimes all of these together, distressed him. But with the most unparalleled good fortune and conduct he overcame all opposition, and triumphed over every enemy, raising his power and reputation above that of all his ancestors, as much as he was exalted by his bravery above the princes of his own time.

Such was the prince who, on a pretended claim from the will of King Edward, supported by the common and popular pretence of punishing offenders and redressing grievances, landed at Pevensey in Sussex, to contest the crown with Harold. Harold had no sooner advice of his landing than he advanced to meet him with all possible diligence; but there did not appear in his army, upon this occasion, the same unanimity and satisfaction which animated it on its march against the Norwegians. An ill-timed economy in Harold, which made him refuse to his soldiers the plunder of the Norwegian camp, had created a general discontent. Several deserted; and the soldiers who remained followed heavily a leader under whom there was no hope of plunder, the greatest incitement of the soldiery. Notwithstanding this ill disposition, Harold still urged forward, and by forced marches advanced within seven miles of the enemy. The Norman, on his landing, is said to have sent away his ships, that his army might have no way of safety but in conquest; yet had he fortified his camp, and taken every prudent precaution, that so considerable an enterprise should not be reduced to a single effort of despair. When the armies, charged with the decision of so mighty a contest, had approached each other, Harold paused awhile. A great deal depended on his conduct at this critical time. The most experienced in the council of war, who knew the condition of their troops, were of opinion that the engagement ought to be deferred,—that the country ought to be wasted,—that, as the winter approached, the Normans would in all probability be obliged to retire of themselves,—that, if this should not happen, the Norman army was without resources, whilst the English would be every day considerably augmented, and might attack their enemy at a time and manner which might make their success certain. To all these reasons nothing was opposed but a false point of honor and a mistaken courage in Harold, who urged his fate, and resolved on an engagement. The Norman, as soon as he perceived that the English, were determined on a battle, left his camp to post himself in an advantageous situation, in which his whole army remained the night which preceded the action.

This night was spent in a manner which prognosticated the event of the following day. On the part of the Normans it was spent in prayer, and in a cool and steady preparation for the engagement; on the side of the English, in riot and a vain confidence that neglected all the necessary preparations. The two armies met in the morning; from seven to five the battle was fought with equal vigor, until at last the Norman army pretending to break in confusion, a stratagem to which they had been regularly formed, the English, elated with success, suffered that firm order in which their security consisted to dissipate, which when William observed, he gave the signal to his men to regain their former disposition, and fall upon the English, broken and dispersed. Harold in this emergency did everything which became him, everything possible to collect his troops and to renew the engagement; but whilst he flew from place to place, and in all places restored the battle, an arrow pierced his brain, and he died a king, in a manner worthy of a warrior. The English immediately fled; the rout was total, and the slaughter prodigious.

The consternation which this defeat and the death of Harold produced over the kingdom was more fatal than the defeat itself. If William had marched directly to London, all contest had probably been at an end; but he judged it more prudent to secure the sea-coast, to make way for reinforcements, distrusting his fortune in his success more than he had done in his first attempts. He marched to Dover, where the effect of his victory was such that the strong castle there surrendered without resistance. Had this fortress made any tolerable defence, the English would have had leisure to rouse from their consternation, and plan some rational method for continuing the war; but now the conqueror was on full march to London, whilst the English were debating concerning the measures they should take, and doubtful in what manner they should fill the vacant throne. However, in this emergency it was necessary to take some resolution. The party of Edgar Atheling prevailed, and he was owned king by the city of London, which even at this time was exceedingly powerful, and by the greatest part of the nobility then present. But his reign was of a short duration. William advanced by hasty marches, and, as he approached, the perplexity of the English redoubled: they had done nothing for the defence of the city; they had no reliance on their new king; they suspected one another; there was no authority, no order, no counsel; a confused and ill-sorted assembly of unwarlike people, of priests, burghers, and nobles confounded with them in the general panic, struck down by the consternation of the late defeat, and trembling under the bolts of the Papal excommunication, were unable to plan any method of defence: insomuch that, when he had passed the Thames and drew near to London, the clergy, the citizens, and the greater part of the nobles, who had so lately set the crown on the head of Edgar, went out to meet him; they submitted to him, and having brought him in triumph to Westminster, he was there solemnly crowned King of England. The whole nation followed the example of London; and one battle gave England to the Normans, which had cost the Romans, the Saxons, and Danes so much time and blood to acquire.

At first view it is very difficult to conceive how this could have happened to a powerful nation, in which it does not appear that the conqueror had one partisan. It stands a single event in history, unless, perhaps, we may compare it with the reduction of Ireland, some time after, by Henry the Second. An attentive consideration of the state of the kingdom at that critical time may, perhaps, in some measure, lay open to us the cause of this extraordinary revolution. The nobility of England, in which its strength consisted, was much decayed. Wars and confiscations, but above all the custom of gavelkind, had reduced that body very low. At the same time some few families had been, raised to a degree of power unknown in the ancient Saxon times, and dangerous in all. Large possessions, and a larger authority, were annexed to the offices of the Saxon magistrates, whom they called Aldermen. This authority, in their long and bloody wars with the Danes, it was found necessary to increase, and often to increase beyond the ancient limits. Aldermen were created for life; they were then frequently made hereditary; some were vested with a power over others; and at this period we begin to hear of dukes who governed over several shires, and had many aldermen subject to them. These officers found means to turn the royal bounty into an instrument of becoming independent of its authority. Too great to obey, and too little to protect, they were a dead weight upon the country. They began to cast an eye on the crown, and distracted the nation by cabals to compass their designs. At the same time they nourished the most terrible feuds amongst themselves. The feeble government of Edward established these abuses. He could find no method of humbling one subject grown too great, but by aggrandizing in the same excessive degree some others. Thus, he endeavored to balance the power of Earl Godwin by exalting Leofric, Duke of Mercia, and Siward, Duke of Northumberland, to an extravagant greatness. The consequence was this: he did not humble Godwin, but raised him potent rivals. When, therefore, this prince died, the lawful successor to the crown, who had nothing but right in his favor, was totally eclipsed by the splendor of the great men who had adorned themselves with the spoils of royalty. The throne was now the prize of faction; and Harold, the son of Godwin, having the strongest faction, carried it. By this success the opposite parties were inflamed with a new occasion of rancor and animosity, and an incurable discontent was raised in the minds of Edwin and Morcar, the sons of Duke Leofric, who inherited their father's power and popularity: but this animosity operated nothing in favor of the legitimate heir, though it weakened the hands of the governing prince.

The death of Harold was far from putting an end to these evils; it rather unfolded more at large the fatal consequences of the ill measures which had been pursued. Edwin and Morcar set on foot once more their practices to obtain the crown; and when they found themselves baffled, they retired in discontent from the councils of the nation, withdrawing thereby a very large part of its strength and authority. The council of the nation, which was formed of the clashing factions of a few great men, (for the rest were nothing,) divided, disheartened, weakened, without head, without direction, dismayed by a terrible defeat, submitted, because they saw no other course, to a conqueror whose valor they had experienced, and who had hitherto behaved with great appearances of equity and moderation. As for the grandees, they were contented rather to submit to this foreign prince than to those whom they regarded as their equals and enemies.

With these causes other strong ones concurred. For near two centuries the continual and bloody wars with the Danes had exhausted the nation; the peace, which for a long time they were obliged to buy dearly, exhausted it yet more; and it had not sufficient leisure nor sufficient means of acquiring wealth to yield at this time any extraordinary resources. The new people, which after so long a struggle had mixed with the English, had not yet so thoroughly incorporated with the ancient inhabitants that a perfect union might be expected between them, or that any strong, uniform, national effort might have resulted from it. Besides, the people of England were the most backward in Europe in all improvements, whether in military or in civil life. Their towns were meanly built, and more meanly fortified; there was scarcely anything that deserved the name of a strong place in the kingdom; there was no fortress which, by retarding the progress of a conqueror, might give the people an opportunity of recalling their spirits and collecting their strength. To these we may add, that the Pope's approbation of William's pretensions gave them great weight, especially amongst the clergy, and that this disposed and reconciled to submission a people whom the circumstances we have mentioned had before driven to it.



Before we begin to consider the laws and constitutions of the Saxons, let us take a view of the state of the country from whence they are derived, as it is portrayed in ancient writers. This view will be the best comment on their institutions. Let us represent to ourselves a people without learning, without arts, without industry, solely pleased and occupied with war, neglecting agriculture, abhorring cities, and seeking their livelihood only from pasturage and hunting through a boundless range of morasses and forests. Such a people must necessarily be united to each other by very feeble bonds; their ideas of government will necessarily be imperfect, their freedom and their love of freedom great. From these dispositions it must happen, of course, that the intention of investing one person or a few with the whole powers of government, and the notion of deputed authority or representation, are ideas that never could have entered their imaginations. When, therefore, amongst such a people any resolution of consequence was to be taken, there was no way of effecting it but by bringing together the whole body of the nation, that every individual might consent to the law, and each reciprocally bind the other to the observation of it. This polity, if so it may be called, subsists still in all its simplicity in Poland.

But as in such a society as we have mentioned the people cannot be classed according to any political regulations, great talents have a more ample sphere in which to exert themselves than in a close and better formed society. These talents must therefore have attracted a great share of the public veneration, and drawn a numerous train after the person distinguished by them, of those who sought his protection, or feared his power, or admired his qualifications, or wished to form themselves after his example, or, in fine, of whoever desired to partake of his importance by being mentioned along with him. These the ancient Gauls, who nearly resembled the Germans in their customs, called Ambacti; the Romans called them Comites. Over these their chief had a considerable power, and the more considerable because it depended upon influence rather than institution: influence among so free a people being the principal source of power. But this authority, great as it was, never could by its very nature be stretched to despotism; because any despotic act would have shocked the only principle by which that authority was supported, the general good opinion. On the other hand, it could not have been bounded by any positive laws, because laws can hardly subsist amongst a people who have not the use of letters. It was a species of arbitrary power, softened by the popularity from whence it arose. It came from popular opinion, and by popular opinion it was corrected.

If people so barbarous as the Germans have no laws, they have yet customs that serve in their room; and these customs operate amongst them better than laws, because they become a sort of Nature both to the governors and the governed. This circumstance in some measure removed all fear of the abuse of authority, and induced the Germans to permit their chiefs[49] to decide upon matters of lesser moment, their private differences,—for so Tacitus explains the minores res. These chiefs were a sort of judges, but not legislators; nor do they appear to have had a share in the superior branches of the executive part of government,—the business of peace and war, and everything of a public nature, being determined, as we have before remarked, by the whole body of the people, according to a maxim general among the Germans, that what concerned all ought to be handled by all. Thus were delineated the faint and incorrect outlines of our Constitution, which has since been so nobly fashioned and so highly finished. This fine system, says Montesquieu, was invented in the woods; but whilst it remained in the woods, and for a long time after, it was far from being a fine one,—no more, indeed, than a very imperfect attempt at government, a system for a rude and barbarous people, calculated to maintain them in their barbarity.

The ancient state of the Germans was military: so that the orders into which they were distributed, their subordination, their courts, and every part of their government, must be deduced from an attention to a military principle.

The ancient German people, as all the other Northern tribes, consisted of freemen and slaves: the freemen professed arms, the slaves cultivated the ground. But men were not allowed to profess arms at their own will, nor until they were admitted to that dignity by an established order, which at a certain age separated the boys from men. For when a young man approached to virility,[50] he was not yet admitted as a member of the state, which was quite military, until he had been invested with a spear in the public assembly of his tribe; and then he was adjudged proper to carry arms, and also to assist in the public deliberations, which were always held armed.[51] This spear he generally received from the hand of some old and respected chief, under whom he commonly entered himself, and was admitted among his followers.[52] No man could stand out as an independent individual, but must have enlisted in one of these military fraternities; and as soon as he had so enlisted, immediately he became bound to his leader in the strictest dependence, which was confirmed by an oath,[53] and to his brethren in a common vow for their mutual support in all dangers, and for the advancement and the honor of their common chief. This chief was styled Senior, Lord, and the like terms, which marked out a superiority in age and merit; the followers were called Ambacti, Comites, Leudes, Vassals, and other terms, marking submission and dependence. This was the very first origin of civil, or rather, military government, amongst the ancient people of Europe; and it arose from the connection that necessarily was created between the person who gave the arms, or knighted the young man, and him that received them; which implied that they were to be occupied in his service who originally gave them. These principles it is necessary strictly to attend to, because they will serve much to explain the whole course both of government and real property, wherever the German nations obtained a settlement: the whole of their government depending for the most part upon two principles in our nature,—ambition, that makes one man desirous, at any hazard or expense, of taking the lead amongst others,—and admiration, which makes others equally desirous of following him, from the mere pleasure of admiration, and a sort of secondary ambition, one of the most universal passions among men. These two principles, strong, both of them, in our nature, create a voluntary inequality and dependence. But amongst equals in condition there could be no such bond, and this was supplied by confederacy; and as the first of these principles created the senior and the knight, the second produced the conjurati fratres, which, sometimes as a more extensive, sometimes as a stricter bond, are perpetually mentioned in the old laws and histories.

The relation between the lord and the vassal produced another effect,—that the leader was obliged to find sustenance for his followers, and to maintain them at his table, or give them some equivalent in order to their maintenance. It is plain from these principles, that this service on one hand, and this obligation to support on the other, could not have originally been hereditary, but must have been entirely in the free choice of the parties.

But it is impossible that such a polity could long have subsisted by election alone. For, in the first place, that natural love which every man has to his own kindred would make the chief willing to perpetuate the power and dignity he acquired in his own blood,—and for that purpose, even during his own life, would raise his son, if grown up, or his collaterals, to such a rank as they should find it only necessary to continue their possession upon his death. On the other hand, if a follower was cut off in war, or fell by natural course, leaving his offspring destitute, the lord could not so far forget the services of his vassal as not to continue his allowance to his children; and these again growing up, from reason and gratitude, could only take their knighthood at his hands from whom they had received their education; and thus, as it could seldom happen but that the bond, either on the side of the lord or dependant, was perpetuated, some families must have been distinguished by a long continuance of this relation, and have been therefore looked upon in an honorable light, from that only circumstance from whence honor was derived in the Northern world. Thus nobility was seen in Germany; and in the earliest Anglo-Saxon times some families were distinguished by the title of Ethelings, or of noble descent. But this nobility of birth was rather a qualification for the dignities of the state than an actual designation to them. The Saxon ranks are chiefly designed to ascertain the quantity of the composition for personal injuries against them.

But though this hereditary relation was created very early, it must not be mistaken for such a regular inheritance as we see at this day: it was an inheritance only according to the principles from whence it was derived; by them it was modified. It was originally a military connection; and if a father loft his son under a military age, so as that he could neither lead nor judge his people, nor qualify the young men who came up under him to take arms,—in order to continue the cliental bond, and not to break up an old and strong confederacy, and thereby disperse the tribe, who should be pitched upon to head the whole, but the worthiest of blood of the deceased leader, he that ranked next to him in his life?[54] And this is Tanistry, which is a succession made up of inheritance and election, a succession in which blood is inviolably regarded, so far as it was consistent with military purposes. It was thus that our kings succeeded to the throne throughout the whole time of the Anglo-Saxon, empire. The first kings of the Franks succeeded in the same manner, and without all doubt the succession of all the inferior chieftains was regulated by a similar law. Very frequent examples occur in the Saxon times, where the son of the deceased king, if under age, was entirely passed over, and his uncle, or some remoter relation, raised to the crown; but there is not a single instance where the election has carried it out of the blood. So that, in truth, the controversy, which has been managed with such heat, whether in the Saxon times the crown was hereditary or elective, must be determined in some degree favorably for the litigants on either side; for it was certainly both hereditary and elective within the bounds, which we have mentioned. This order prevailed in Ireland, where the Northern customs were retained some hundreds of years after the rest of Europe had in a great measure receded from them. Tanistry continued in force there until the beginning of the last century. And we have greatly to regret the narrow notions of our lawyers, who abolished the authority of the Brehon law, and at the same time kept no monuments of it,—which if they had done, there is no doubt but many things of great value towards determining many questions relative to the laws, antiquities, and manners of this and other countries had been preserved. But it is clear, though it has not been, I think, observed, that the ascending collateral branch was much regarded amongst the ancient Germans, and even preferred to that of the immediate possessor, as being, in case of an accident arriving to the chief, the presumptive heir, and him on whom the hope of the family was fixed: and this is upon the principles of Tanistry. And the rule seems to have taken such deep root as to have much influenced a considerable article of our feudal law: for, what is very singular, and, I take it, otherwise unaccountable, a collateral warranty bound, even without any descending assets, where the lineal did not, unless something descended; and this subsisted invariably in the law until this century.

Thus we have seen the foundation of the Northern government and the orders of their people, which consisted of dependence and confederacy: that the principal end of both was military; that protection and maintenance were due on the part of the chief, obedience on that of the follower; that the followers should be bound to each other as well as to the chief; that this headship was not at first hereditary, but that it continued in the blood by an order of its own, called Tanistry.

All these unconnected and independent parts were only linked together by a common council: and here religion interposed. Their priests, the Druids, having a connection throughout each state, united it. They called the assembly of the people: and here their general resolutions were taken; and the whole might rather be called a general confederacy than a government. In no other bonds, I conceive, were they united before they quitted Germany. In this ancient state we know them from Tacitus. Then follows an immense gap, in which undoubtedly some changes were made by time; and we hear little more of them until we find them Christians, and makers of written laws. In this interval of time the origin of kings may be traced out. When the Saxons left their own country in search of new habitations, it must be supposed that they followed their leaders, whom they so much venerated at home; but as the wars which made way for their establishment continued for a long time, military obedience made them familiar with a stricter authority. A subordination, too, became necessary among the leaders of each band of adventurers: and being habituated to yield an obedience to a single person in the field, the lustre of his command and the utility of the institution easily prevailed upon them to suffer him to form the band of their union in time of peace, under the name of King. But the leader neither knew the extent of the power he received, nor the people of that which they bestowed. Equally unresolved were they about the method of perpetuating it,—sometimes filling the vacant throne by election, without regard to, but more frequently regarding, the blood of the deceased prince; but it was late before they fell into any regular plan of succession, if ever the Anglo-Saxons attained it. Thus their polity was formed slowly; the prospect clears up by little and little; and this species of an irregular republic we see turned into a monarchy as irregular. It is no wonder that the advocates for the several parties among us find something to favor their several notions in the Saxon government, which was never supported by any fixed or uniform principle. To comprehend the other parts of the government of our ancestors, we must take notice of the orders into winch they were classed. As well as we can judge in so obscure a matter, they were divided into nobles or gentlemen, freeholders, freemen that were not freeholders, and slaves. Of these last we have little to say, as they were nothing in the state. The nobles were called Thanes, or servants. It must be remembered that the German chiefs were raised to that honorable rank by those qualifications which drew after them a numerous train of followers and dependants.[55] If it was honorable to be followed by a numerous train, so it was honorable in a secondary degree to be a follower of a man of consideration; and this honor was the greater in proportion to the quality of the chief, and to the nearness of the attendance on his person. When a monarchy was formed, the splendor of the crown naturally drowned all the inferior honors; and the attendants on the person of the king were considered as the first in rank, and derived their dignity from their service. Yet as the Saxon government had still a large mixture of the popular, it was likewise requisite, in order to raise a man to the first rank of thanes, that he should have a suitable attendance and sway amongst the people. To support him in both of these, it was necessary that he should have a competent estate. Therefore in this service of the king, this attendance on himself, and this estate to support both, the dignity of a thane consisted. I understand here a thane of the first order.

[Sidenote: Hallmote, or Court-Baron.]

Every thane, in the distribution of his lands, had two objects in view: the support of his family, and the maintenance of his dignity. He therefore retained in his own hands a parcel of land near his house, which in the Saxon times was called inland, and afterwards his demesne, which served to keep up his hospitality: and this land was cultivated either by slaves, or by the poorer sort of people, who held lands of him by the performance of this service. The other portion of his estate he either gave for life or lives to his followers, men of a liberal condition, who served the greater thane, as he himself served the king. They were called Under Thanes, or, according to the language of that time, Theoden.[56] They served their lord in all public business; they followed him in war; and they sought justice in his court in all their private differences. These may be considered as freeholders of the better sort, or indeed a sort of lesser gentry therefore, as they were not the absolute dependants, but in some measure the peers of their lord, when they sued in his court, they claimed the privilege of all the German freemen, the right of judging one another: the lord's steward was only the register. This domestic court, which continued in full vigor for many ages, the Saxons called Hall mote, from the place in which it was held; the Normans, who adopted it, named it a Court-Baron. This court had another department, in which the power of the lord was more absolute. From the most ancient times the German nobility considered themselves as the natural judges of those who were employed in the cultivation of their lands, looking on husbandmen with contempt, and only as a parcel of the soil which they tilled: to these the Saxons commonly allotted some part of their outlands to hold as tenants at will, and to perform very low services for them. The differences of these inferior tenants were decided in the lord's court, in which his steward sat as judge; and this manner of tenure probably gave an origin to copyholders.[57] Their estates were at will, but their persons were free: nor can we suppose that villains, if we consider villains as synonymous to slaves, could ever by any natural course have risen to copyholders; because the servile condition of the villain's person would always have prevented that stable tenure in the lands which the copyholders came to in very early times. The merely servile part of the nation seems never to have been known by the name of Villains or Ceorles, but by those of Bordars, Esnes, and Theowes.

[Sidenote: Tithing Court.]

As there were large tracts throughout the country not subject to the jurisdiction of any thane, the inhabitants of which were probably some remains of the ancient Britons not reduced to absolute slavery, and such Saxons as had not attached themselves to the fortunes of any leading man, it was proper to find some method of uniting and governing these detached parts of the nation, which had not been brought into order by any private dependence. To answer this end, the whole kingdom was divided into Shires, these into Hundreds, and the Hundreds into Tithings.[58] This division was not made, as it is generally imagined, by King Alfred, though he might have introduced better regulations concerning it; it prevailed on the continent, wherever the Northern nations had obtained a settlement; and it is a species of order extremely obvious to all who use the decimal notation: when for the purposes of government they divide a county, tens and hundreds are the first modes of division which occur. The Tithing, which was the smallest of these divisions, consisted of ten heads of families, free, and of some consideration. These held a court every fortnight, which they called the Folkmote, or Leet, and there became reciprocally bound to each other and to the public for their own peaceable behavior and that of their families and dependants. Every man in the kingdom, except those who belonged to the seigneurial courts we have mentioned, was obliged to enter himself into some tithing: to this he was inseparably attached; nor could he by any means quit it without license from the head of the tithing; because, if he was guilty of any misdemeanor, his district was obliged to produce him or pay his fine. In this manner was the whole nation, as it were, held under sureties: a species of regulation undoubtedly very wise with regard to the preservation of peace and order, but equally prejudicial to all improvement in the minds or the fortunes of the people, who, fixed invariably to the spot, were depressed with all the ideas of their original littleness, and by all that envy which is sure to arise in those who see their equals attempting to mount over them. This rigid order deadened by degrees the spirit of the English, and narrowed their conceptions. Everything was new to them, and therefore everything was terrible; all activity, boldness, enterprise, and invention died away. There may be a danger in straining too strongly the bonds of government. As a life of absolute license tends to turn men into savages, the other extreme of constraint operates much in the same manner: it reduces them to the same ignorance, but leaves them nothing of the savage spirit. These regulations helped to keep the people of England the most backward in Europe; for though the division into shires and hundreds and tithings was common to them with the neighboring nations, yet the frankpledge seems to be a peculiarity in the English Constitution; and for good reasons they have fallen into disuse, though still some traces of them are to be found in our laws.

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