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beside the red clover fields.^

Seven years after the Battle of Deorham, Ceawlin and
his son Cutha fought again with the Welsh on the upper
waters of the Severn: "and Cutha there was slain: and
Ceawlin took many towns and unnumbered spoil, and
wrathful he returned to his own."" It is to this time that
we may attribute the founding of the little kingdoms of
which the boundaries wxre long preserved in those of
the Bishoprics of Hereford and Worcester.^ The West-
Saxons had extended their conquests far beyond the line
of the Thames and the Somersetshire Avon to which they
were afterwards restricted, and within a generation after
Ceawlin's death these northern territories had passed to
the Kings of Mercia.^

1 Llywarch's Elegy is preserved in the " Red Book of Hergest." It
was translated by Dr. Guest, Archceol. Camlr. ix. 142, and is printed at
length in Skene's "Four Ancient Books of Wales," i. 448, 451,11.445.
Several legends of Ceawlin's wars with the Welsh are preserved in the
" Book of Llandaff." Liber Landav. 133.

^ A. S. Chron. anno 584. The battle was fought at " Fethan-lea,"
which is thought to be Faddiley, on the borders of Cheshire. Rhys, Celtic
Britain, 108.

^ The Kingdoms of the " Hwiccas " corresponded in extent with the
old Diocese of Worcester, and the state of the " Hecanas " with the
Bishopric of Hereford. Even in the small territory of the Hwiccas there
were several kings at the same time. Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 150.

* Mr. Freeman considers that the *' cession of the country of the

Origins of English History. 2)77

The reim of Ceawlin was closed bv defeat and disaster.
A coalition was formed against him between the Welsh
enemy and his own discontented subjects : and it is
thought that the plot was instigated by Ethelbert of Kent,
who had once been defeated by Ceawlin and was now to
succeed to his supremacy.^ The forces of the King of
Wessex were driven across the Wiltshire Downs, and we
are told that ''there was a great slaughter on the Woden's-
Hill, and Ceawlin was driven into exile, and in the next
year he died."^

Hwiccas and Cea\^'lin's other conquests north of the Avon " was made in
the year 628, and cites the Chronicle for that year: " Now Cynegils and
Cwichehn fought with Penda at Cirencester and made an agreement
there." Wessex was freed from the dominion of Mercia by the victory of
Cuthred over Ethelbald at Burford in the year 752. Dr. Plot gave the
following account of a local custom by which this battle was supposed to
have been commemorated. " Cuthred met and overthrew him there,
winning his banner, whereon was depicted a golden dragon; in memory
of which victory the custom of making a dragon yearly and carrying it up
and down the town in great jollity on Midsummer Eve, to which they
added the picture of a giant, was in all likelihood first instituted." Nat.
Hist. Oxford. 348. The custom is much more likely to have had a
heathen origin and to have been connected with the worship of Fre}T or

^ Will. Malmesb. Gesta, i. 17. Lappenberg, Hist. Engl. i. c. 7. The
Kentish king was defeated by the West-Saxons in the first year of his
reign. " In this year Ceawlin and his brother Cutha fought against
Ethelbert and drove him into Kent : and slew two Aldermen, Oslaf and
Cnebba, at Wibban-dun " (Wimbledon). A. S. Chron. anno 568.

^ A. S. Chron. ann. 592, 593. The place of the battle is uncertain.
The Chronicle calls it " Woddesbeorg," Florence of Worcester " Wodnes-
beorh, id est Mons Wodeni," and William of Malmcsbury places it at
"Wodnesdic," now called the . Wansdyke. It was probably fought at
Wanborough in Wiltshire. Woden, having been early identified with
Mercury, was worshipped " by the road-sides and high hills " : see the
instances collected by Kemble, Saxons in Engl. i. c. 12, and the Con-
tinental examples in Grimm's Deutsch. Mythol. c. 7. Compare Hasted's
description of the tumulus at Woodnesborough near Sandwich, where the

3/8 Origins of Ejiglish History.

At the end of the 6th century Wessex had been restored
in dignity and importance by Ceolwulf, another prince of
Cerdic's Une, who began to reign in the year of Augustine's
mission, and who fought and strove continually "against
the Angles and Welsh, and against the Picts and Scots." ^

The power of Ethelbert was predominant in the East
as far as the ^borders of Northumbria. The states of the
East-Saxons acknowledged the supremacy of his nephew
Sasberht : but he enjoyed no real independence, in spite of
his dignity as the descendant of " Saxnoth " and as the
nominal master of London,'- The two East-Anglian

neio-hbouring hamlet of " Cold Friday " retains a trace of the name of
" Woden's wife." Hist. Kent, iv. 230.

1 A. S. Chron. aJiiio 597. Ceolwulf died in 61 1, and was succeeded by
Cynegils, in whose reign Wessex was converted to Christianity by the
labours of Birinus. The Bishop was sent to the parts " beyond the
English," where no preacher had ever gone before ; " sed Britanniam
perveniens ac Gevissorum gentem ingrediens, cum omnes ibidem paganis-
simos inveniret, utilius esse ratus est ibi potius verbum prtedicare." Bede,
Hist. Eccl. iii. 7.

" See Bede's account of the conversion of Essex by JNIellitus ; " pro-
vinciae Orientalium Saxonum quorum metropolis Lundonia civitas est
.... in qua videlicet gente Saberct, nepos CEdilbercti ex sorore Ricula,
regnabat quamvis sub potestate positus ejusdem CEdilbercti." Hist. Eccl.
ii. 3. According to some accounts Ercenwine or CEscwine was the first
to acquire the supreme power over all the East-Saxon communities.
William of JMalmesbury considered that Sledda, father of Sseberht, who
died in 597, was the first who could be said to have reigned : " Primus
apud eos regnavit Sledda, a Wodenio decimus." Gesta, i. 98. His
fabled genealogy is traced in the Appendix to the Chronicle of Florence
of Worcester. Saxnoth was a god of the Continental Saxons and was one
of the three deities mentioned in the " Renunciation " imposed on them
after their defeat by the Franks. He is usually identified with "Tiw," to
whom Tuesday, or "Dies Martis," was appropriated. Grimm, Deutsch.
Mythol. 184. For names of places derived from him, see Kemble, Saxons
in England, i. 351 j Cod. Diplom. iii. introd. Compare the name
" Tiowulfinga-ceestir," Bede, Hist. Eccl. ii. 16.

Origins of English History. 379

" Folks " were governed by Redwald the Uffing, a prince
at that time subordinate like the rest to King Ethelbert,
but destined within a few years to succeed to his wide
prerogative.^ The great Kingdom of Mercia was not yet
constituted ; in its place stood a number of independent
states of which little more than the names has been
preserved. There were " North-Gyrvians " round Peter-
borough, and " South-Gyrvians " in the Cambridgeshire
Fens.- The kings of the " Lindisfaras " ruled the region of
Lindsev, near Lincoln, and claimed a descent from " Winta"
another of the sons of Woden. The Mercians of the North,
who became in time the masters of all the rest, were at
this time holding the march-lands against the Welshmen
of Loidis and Elmet f and there were also Angles of
the West and South, and Middle-AngHans whose country
was conterminous with the ancient Diocese of Leicester,

^ The settlement of East Anglia is said to have begun in the year 526,
but there was no "head-king " before 571, when the dynasty of the Uffings
was founded by Offa the grandfather of Redwald. William of Malmes-
bury treats Redwald as the first who could be called a king: "Primus
idemque maximus apud Orientales Anglos rex fuit Redwaldus, a Wodenio
ut scribunt decimum genu nactus : omnes quippe australes Anglorum et
Saxonum provinciae citra Humbram fiuvium cum suis regibus ejus nutum
spectabant." Gesta, i. 97.

- Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 83, 84. These districts were a border-
land belonging in part to the East Anglians and in part to the Gyrvians.
Great numbers of Britons seem to have taken refuge ui the "wild fens/' if
we may rely on the monastic complaints of the continual incursions of
"Welsh thieves." Vita Guthlac. Acta Sanct., April, ii. 435 History of
Ramsay, 444 j Palgrave, Engl. Comm. i. 462. The genealogy of the Kings
of Lindsey is preserved in the Appendix, to the Chronicle of Florence of

^ Elmet was an independent British state near Leeds, -which was long
dependent on the Kingdom of Westmere or Westmoreland : its hist king
was expelled by Edwin of Northumbria. Nennius, Hist. Brit. 6^.

380 Origins of English History.

with "Peak-settlers" and " Chiltern-settlers " and many
other tribes whose positions can no longer be identified.^

The foundation of Mercia was the work of the valiant
Penda, the last champion of paganism and the destroyer of
so many of the Christian kings. " Like a wolf in the
sheep-fold," it was said, '' he arose and raged against
them." He perished in the year 655 at the Battle of
Winwidfield, " and with him thirty royal leaders fell and
some of them were kings": "and in Winwid's stream,"
according to the ancient tale, " the death of Anna was
avenged, and the deaths of Sigbert and Egrice, and the
deaths of St. Oswald and Edwin the Fair.""

Somewhat more is known of the earlv historv of North-
umbria. The pedigree of King Edwin shows how his
ancestor " Sasmil son of Sigefugel " first divided Bernicia
from Deira.^ Both countries were governed by judges,
presiding over ten associated districts, until Ida set up a

^ Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 80, 84 ; Freeman, Norm. Conqu. i. 25,
37. Compare also the list called " N'umerus Hidarum" under '' Hida"
in Spelman's Glossary, and Gale, i. 748.

^ There were kings of the North-Mercians before Penda: but he was
the first ruler of the united Midland Kingdom. Henr. Huntingd. Hist.
Angl. ii. 37; Bede, Hist. Eccl. ii. 14. " Penda quidam a Wodenio decimus,
stirpe inclytus, bellis industrius, idemque fanaticus et impius, apud
Mercios regis nomen praesumpsit . . . Quid enim non auderet qui lumina
Britanniae Edwinum et Oswaldum reges Northanhimbrorum, Sigebertum
Egricum Annam reges Orientalium Anglorum, in quibus generis claritas
et vitae sanctitas conquadrabant, temeritate nefaria exstinxit ? " Will.
Malmesb. Gesta, i. 74. Compare Henry of Huntingdon : " insurrexit
igitur exercitui perituro regis Annae, insurrexit et infrenduit, ' Ut lupus ad

caulas Sic super attonitos fertur Rex Penda propinquos.' Devorati

sunt igitur Anna rex et exercitus ejus ore gladii in memento." Hist. Angl.
ii. 23- Penda came to the throne in the year 626, and was killed at the
battle on the Are or " Winwed " near Leeds in the year 655.

^ See the " genealogies " appended to the history of Nennius. Hist.
Brit. ^6, 57, 62.

Origins of English History. 381

kingdom in Bernicia, and built himself a royal citv at
Bamboroueh "which at first was enclosed bv a hedsie and
afterwards by a wall."^ In those days, we are told, a
prince called Dutigirn fought bravely against the nation of
the Angles, and Aneurin and Taliessin and Llywarch the
Aged became famous for their bardic poems. The elegies
ascribed to their names, of which the substance remains
though the form and language have been modernised,
contain allusions to many incidents in the wars of the
Britons with the Bernicians. We are shown Theodoric
*'the Flame-bearer," one of Ida's sons, advancing with four
hosts to fight with the Princes of Annandale: the "Death-
song of Owain " bewails the death at the Flame-bearer's
hands of "the chieftain of the glittering West"; and the
minstrel boasts over the white-haired Saxons, and sings
the praises of Urbgen, chief of the thirteen kings who
commanded the armies of the North. ^

Another kingdom was founded in Deira by ^Elle the
father of Edwin : but on his death the whole of North-
umbria was seized by ^thelfrith the Cruel. " Of him,"
wTites Bede, "it might be said that like Benjamin he
should ravin as a wolf, and that in the morning he should
devour the prey and at night divide the spoil ; for never in
the time of the Tribunes, and never in the time of the
Kings, did any one by conquering or driving out the
Britons bring more of their lands under tribute, or make
them empty for the habitation of the Angles."'^ In the

^ A. S. Chron. anno 547. For Ida's pedigree see the same passages, and
AVill. Malmesb. Gesta, i. 44. There was a king of Bamborough as late as
the reign of Athelstane. A. S. Chron. anno 926.

^ Skene, Four Anc. Books, 348, 3^50, '^dd.

^ Bede, Hist. Feci. i. 34; Nennius, Hist. Brit. 6';',. ^thelfrith, surnamed
by the Welsh " the Destroyer," was son of iEtheh-ic, one of the sons of

382 Origins of English History.

year 606 he led an army to the Dee, and slew ''unnum-
bered Britons" and desolated the City of Legions: "and
so," it was said, " was fufilled the word of Augustine, that
if the Welsh will not be at peace with us they shall perish
at the hands of the Saxons."^

If we try to picture to ourselves the immediate effect of
the Conquest, and to know how the people lived before
their conversion from paganism, we shall find that more is
to be learned from the traditions preserved in old poems
and Sagas, in charters and records of ancient custom, than
from any bede-roU of the chiefs and kings whose wars are
entered in the Chronicles. The annalist summed up the
bare result of the struggle, and was content to note that
Port, when he landed at Portsmouth, "slew a noble young
prince of the Britons," or that Wihtgar, when his wars
were ended, was buried in Wihtgar's-Burg.- But in the
Song of Beowulf or in the poems of the " Exeter Book,"
we find the image of an actual conflict. There is the fleet
of long war-galleys, swan-necked or dragon-prowed, sailing
towards the headlands and "shining cliffs" of Britain:
the Warden of the Shore stands with his rustic guard to
prevent the landing of the corsairs.^ As the ships are
beached the shields are lifted from the gunwale, and the
raven-flag is raised that betokens the presence of the war-
god ; the pirates charge on with their " brown shining

Ida, who in 588 had succeeded in his old age to the inheritance which jElle
had usurped. Will. Malmesb. Gesta, i. 46.

■^ A. S. Chron. anno 606. This was the occasion of the massacre of
the monks of Bangor : " there were also slain there two hundred priests
who came thither that they might pray for the army of the Welsh." Bede,.
Hist. Eccl. ii. 2.

^ A. S. Chron. ann. 501, 530.

^ Beowulf, 219, 229, 231.

Origins of English History. 383

swords " and long rough-handled spears, " and over the
face the likeness of a boar, of divers colours, hardened in
the fire, to keep the life in safety." ^ They were ready to
ransack a province and to return with their ships filled
with "goods from the homesteads of the land-kings," and
were equally prepared, if the chance came in their way, to
hold the land for themselves, and to send for their families
to join them in a new home across the sea.

Sidonius saw such crews on his visit to King Euric at
Bordeaux, and his letters contain bright descriptions of
the Saxons, with their faces daubed with blue paint and
their hair pushed back to the crown to make the forehead
seem larger." The masters of the sea appeared shy and
awkward among the hosts of courtiers who were devouring
the wealth of Aquitania ; but when they were once on
their clumsy galleys all was turbulence and freedom again.
"One would think," said the Bishop, "that each oar's-man
was the Arch-pirate himself, for they are all ordering and
obeying and teaching and learning at once." Their ships
were like the half-decked craft which were used by the
later Vikings, in which the rowers sat on eitheir side of a
long gangway, the best of the fighting-men being posted
in the forecastle or round the chieftains on the quarter-
deck. In a description of a sea-fight in the North we
read how the King steered till the action began, and then

^ Beowulf, 303, 305, 1229. Compare the account of the customs of the
"j^Estyi " : "they wore the images of wild boars as the sign of their belief
in the Mother of the Gods ; and this, as they thought, without the aid of
word or shield, would give safety to the servants of the Goddess, even in
the midst of their foes." — Tac. Germ. 45. Compare also the figures of
warriors with the boar-crests, found in 1870 at Bjornhofda in Sweden.
Montelius, Civilis. Sweden (Woods), 162.

^ Sidon. Apoll. Epist. viii. 3, 13.

384 Origins of English History.

sat on deck in his scarlet cloak : and when the swords
became notched and blunted "he went down into the fore-
hold and opened the chests under the throne and took out
many sharp swords and handed them to his men."^ The
scene recalls the descriptions of Beowulf and his thanes,
and the simplicity of that ancient time when the chieftain
on the ale-bench dealt round to each " companion " a sword
or "the blood-stained and conquering spear.'"' Historians
and poets alike have celebrated the closeness of the tie
between the captain of the "free company" and the
retainers, who in return for their food and equipment
were bound to guard him and to fight for his renown.
A poem preserved in the " Exeter Book " describes the
misery of an exile who had lost his lord. " When sorrow
and sleep," said the Wanderer, "the lonely one bind, his
lord in thought he embraces and kisses and on his knee
lays his hand and head, as when of old his gifts he
enjoyed : then wakes the friendless one, and sees before
him the fallow sea-paths, the ocean-fowl bathing and
sprinkling their wings, frost and snow falling mingled with
hail, and then all the heavier are the wounds of his heart,
and sore after dreaming is sorrow renewed."^ We are
shown in the " Germania " the beginnings of the institution
which was destined in its later development to change the
whole fabric of society. It stood for rank and power,
among the nations described by Tacitus, to be surrounded
by a troop of young men, " their leader's glory in peace
and his safeguard in war." The commander of such a

1 See the description of the great sea-fight in King Olaf's Saga. Heims-
kringla, vi. cc. 114, 119 ; Laing, Sea-kings of Norway, i. 139, 475, 480.
- Tac. Germ. 14; Beowulf, 2633, 2709.
^ Thorpe, Cod. Exon. 2S6.

Origins of English History. 385

band was honoured at home and abroad, and enriched with
pubhc gifts, " armlets and raiment and rings." Even the
young nobles, the " eorls " who might claim to be kinsmen
and ministers of the gods, were content to serve under a
successful soldier, to live by his bounty, and to take such
rank as his favour allowed. "When it came to war, it
was shameful for the leader to be excelled in couraee or
for the followers not to equal their captain in daring. It
was a lifelong infamy to quit the field where he fell ; and
it was the first and holiest of their duties to guard and
protect him and to add their own brave deeds to the
credit of his renown," ^

On the conquest of a new territory, a rare event before
the disruption of the Western Empire, the leader would
naturally reward his followers with gifts of land, if onlv
for the maintenance of the cattle and slaves that formed
their share of the booty. But a conquest would seldom
be so complete that all fears of future resistance and all
hopes of future plunder were at an end, and while the
military relationship subsisted the follower could only hold
his estate on the condition of fulfilling his service. On
the tenant's death the land must in most cases have re-
verted to the lord with the horse and armour and the rest
of the warlike equipment which his bounty had provided.
The tenant of such a precarious estate could confer no
better title on his own dependents ; and thus would arise
a class of half-free retainers with nothing that could pro-
perly be called their own. The English thanes, or " nobles
by service," who in course of time took the place of the
"nobles by blood," appear at first as the followers of a
successful chieftain to whom land had been allotted as a
1 Tac. Germ. 13, 145 Beowulf, 1195, npfj, 12 18.


386 Origins of English History.

reward for service. As the chiefs increased in dignity, the
position of their " companions " was altered for the worse.
Thev stood to their lords in the relation of servants, bound
not only to fight when required, but to ride on errands and
to act as butlers and grooms. But in relation to their own
tenants they were lords themselves, exacting service and
labour and exercising jurisdiction in their turn, so that
their estates from the first resembled nothing so much as
manors of the mediaeval kind. When the kings learned
to imitate the majesty of the Empire, it was natural that
their officers and chamberlains should be exalted in a pro-
portionate degree; the power of the prince was multiplied
by the gifts which he lavished upon his followers ; and
freedom at last disappeared when all lands were holden of
some superior power, and every man was bound to have
some lord to whom he owed obedience and from whom
he might claim protection.-^

The whole country passed in time under the power of
the King, the Church, and the Thanes ; and, as the juris-
diction of the lords was gradually converted into owner-
ship of the lands in their districts, the descendants of the
free men fell under onerous rents and services, and in
many cases became serfs and bondsmen. Where the tenure
was easiest they had to work on their lord's estate or to
pay rents of food and other provisions, as the usage of the
district required : and where it was worst they could call
nothing their own, but were taxed high and low as the
lord pleased, "to redeem their flesh and blood.""

^ Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 178, 183 ; Freeman, Norman
Conquest, i. 45.

^ Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 322 ; Cod. Diplom, 461, 1077. See
also the " Rectitudines singularum personarum," in the editions of Thorpe
and Leo. For a description of most of the agricultural services, see

Origins of English History. 387

The degradation of the peasantry began so soon, and
spread so far, that it is difficult to realise the life in the free
townships into which the original settlements were divided.
We know that the villagers, and even the inhabitants of
larger districts, were regarded as groups of kinsmen : and
the theory of a blood-relationship may account for such
customs as that a change of house should be followed by
a feast for the neighbours, or that the next householders
should have a preferential claim to the purchase of a
vacant holding.^ The same belief was connected with

Somner's Treatise on Gavelkind, c. i. The following examples will illus-
trate what has been said as to bondage-tenure. In the Pleas of the
Curia Regis, Trin. 18 Edw. I. Cor. Reg. rot. 12, this entry occurs: "T. R.
is the villein of one Folliott, wherefore the latter can tax him de alto et de
lasso, and he must pay a fine of mercketum for his flesh and blood " : the
same fine was paid at Aulton in Hampshire by every villein on the
marriage of his daughter or the sale of his horse. 14 J oh. rot. i, 85.
At Fiskerton, in Notts, the custom was for natives and cottagers to
plough &c., " and if any ale-wife brewed ale to sell she must pay a fine:
if any native or cottager sold a male youngling after it was weaned he
paid four-pence to the lord as a fine, or if he killed a swine above a year
old he paid a penny : every female native that married paid for the redemp-
tion of her blood ^s J[d to the lord." When any customary tenant at Bury
in Salop died, "the Bishop was to have his best beast, all his swine, bees,
whole bacon, a young cock, a whole piece of cloth, a brass pan, a runlet
of ale, if full, and if he married his daughter out of the fee he was to give
three shillings." Hazlitt, Tenures of Land, 45, 123.

^ This custom is mentioned in the case of Rowles v. Mason, Brownl. i.
132 ; ii. 85, 192. " A law," says Professor Nasse, "existed in the German
villages, by which the villagers had a preference over strangers in the
purchase of land, a law which existed in some German towns up to our
own times, and has only been abolished by legislation." Nasse, " Village
Communities," Contemp. Rev. May, 1872, p. 745. The tribal origin of
the village societies is indicated by Bede's use of the word " ma^gth " or
" kindred " to signify a province or region, and by the patronymic forms
of place-names. " The gdondan, or those who occupied \\\c same land,
were taken to be connected by blood. In MS. glossaries wc find gclondan

25 *

388 Origins of English History.

the primitive communism by which all the lands in a
township were treated as one farm, to be managed by a

Online LibraryCharles Isaac EltonOrigins of English history → online text (page 32 of 38)