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co-operative husbandry. It is probable that at first there
was no individual property, except in the actual houses
and the little plots enclosed for yards and gardens, though
there were enough " hides of land " held as a common
stock to support the members of the several households.^
Our common-field system points to a time when all the
arable land was held in undivided shares or divided
periodicallv by lot. The ancient English agriculture was
nearly identical with that which prevailed in Germany :
" the rotation of crops, the times of sowing and lying
fallow, the svstem of manurino^ and manv other asfri-
cultural customs were the same." Now in several parts
of Germany, and especially in the district round Treves
and in the valleys of the Saar and Moselle, the
peasants held all their land in common, excepting the
houses and a few private estates ; all the rest of the land
was divided by lot, the drawings for the arable having

rendered by fratrueles." Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 82. Compare
the use of " maeo - burs^ " for a villao-e belons;ins; to kinsmen, Beowulf,

1 The question as to the dimensions of the " hide " has been a fruitful
subject of controversy. It was originally that measure of land which was
considered to be sufficient for the support of one family, and its extent varied
in every district according to the local custom and according to the qualit)'-
of the soil. Bede (Hist. Eccl. i. 15) estimated the contents of the Isle
of Thanet at 600 hides, which were afterwards found to contain nearly
70 " sulings," or Kentish ploughlands, each containing 210 acres according
to the measure used in Thanet. In this instance the " hide " is shown to
have contained less than 25 acres. In a poorer district it would contain
much more. There was a later use of the word which made it equivalent
to a "ploughland," or as much arable as a team of oxen could plough in a
year: in this case the "hide" represents quantities varying, according to
the district, from 100 acres to 210 acres, or even more.

Origins of English History. 389

in some cases been annual, and in others having originally
been held once in three years but afterwards at longer
intervals.^ It is true that there is hardly any documentary
evidence to show that the arable in England was ever
divided in this way. But the pastures, and notably the
lot-meadows and dole-moors, were treated as common
property : a primitive usage determined the division of
the common-fields into strips and blocks, the rotation of
the crops, the erection of fences, and the use of the land
after harvest bv the cattle of the whole community ; we
see that the same usages prevailed in the German districts
where the ownership was certainly collective ; and w^e are
thus led to believe that the English farmers were at first
joint-owners of all the arable land as well as of the
pastures and waste-grounds in the township."

There are many popular customs of which the origin
must be attributed to a time when the villagers were united
by the sentiment of partnership and the tradition of a
common descent. The pitching and removal of the fences,

^ The works of De Laveleye, Meitzen, and Hansen, on the subject of early
tenures, contain a great number of examples of the system of dividing arable
land by lot, which was so common in Germany that in the Middle Ages it
was called Mos Theidonicus.

' It is said that the Inclosure Commissioners met with instances of arable
which was distributed by lot. See Mr. Blamire's evidence in the report of
the Commons Inclosure Committee, 1 844. In the Manor of Hackney certain
arable lands appear to have been described as " Terra lottabilis." See also
the evidence collected on the subject by Professor Nasse in his "Agricultural
Community of the Middle Ages." Compare Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 85,
where speaking of the English township, as it appears in historical times, he
concludes that " it is in every case either a body of free land-owners who
have advanced beyond the stage of land-community, or the body of tenants
of a lord who regulates them, or allov.-s them to regulate themselves, on
principles derived from the same source." Maine, Early History of Institu-
tions, 76, 77.

390 Origins of English History.

the admission of a new commoner to the customary privi-
lege, the drawing for portions in the lot-meadows and
dole-moors, were so many occasions for gathering at a
rustic feast. ^ It was not unusual for pieces of the common
land to be let to raise funds for a general ale-drinking; and
in one well-known case the village-council had the disposal
of thirteen " home-closes " of meadow^, called after the
names of such officials as the smith and the constable and
the mole-catcher, the price of the grass being paid in some
cases to the designated officers and applied in others to
public uses, as to mend bridges and gates, or "to make
ale for the merry-meeting of the inhabitants."^

Manv of the ceremonies were evidentlv survivals from
heathen times, altered in some cases to adapt them to the
seasons of the Church and in others bearing more openly
the marks of their original paganism. Of the first kind
are the Mav-games and Whitsun-ales, the bringing in of
the boar's-head at the Yule-feast, and the singing and
drinking at the holy well.'^ In the latter class we may
place the customs of whipping the fruit-trees in Spring,
of eating the " Easter-hare," of the leaping and clashing of

^ Compare the accounts, in Hazlitt's Tenures of Lands, of the shepherds'
feasts at Hutton-Conyers, the "neighbourhood-feast" at Ripon^ and the
ceremonies for making "a free-man of the common" at Ahiwick, under
the names of those places respectively.

" The customs of the township of Cote and Aston have been described in
the Arclueologia, vol. xxxv. 471, and xxxvii. 383, by Dr. Giles in his History
of Bampton, and by Professor J. Williams in his lectures on " Rights of
Common," 86, 102.

^ For the connection of the boar's-head ceremony A\ith the worship of
Frea or Freyr, see Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 45 5 Kemble, Saxons, i. 3^7.
For descriptions of the Whitsun-feasts at Kidlington and Ratby, and the
** Cotsale " on the Cotswold Hills, see Hazlitt's Tenures of Land under the
names of those places.

Origins of English History. 391

swords in the "Giants' Dance " and calling on the names
of Woden and Freia.^ To these examples we may add the
customs connected with the " Epiphany-fires." In some
parts of Gloucestershire twelve of these bonfires were
lighted in a row, and round one which was larger than the
rest the farm-servants drank and shouted. In Hereford-
shire the "wassailers " made up twelve small fires, and
another of a much greater size, round which the companv
passed; after supper they adjourned to the wain-house where
the master pledged the first ox with a customarv toast ;
"the company followed his example with all the other
oxen, addressing each by its name," and a cake in the shape

^ The custom of shooting at the trees for luck prevails in parts of Devon.
Hasted describes a similar usage of "youling the trees," Hist. Kent, i. 109.
As to whipping the apple-trees at Warlingham in Surrey, see Hazlitt,
Tenures of Land, 355. The custom of catching hares at Easter for pro-
viding a public meal is best known in Pomerania : English instances are
found at Coleshill in Warwickshire and at Haloughton in Leicestershire,
Hid. 78, 141. At the latter place the profits of lands called Harecrop Leys
were applied to providing a meal \\-hich ^\•as thrown on the ground at the
" Hare-pie Bank." Nichols, Hist. Leic. ii. 630. These customs were
perhaps connected with the worship of the Anglian goddess " Eostre "
whose festivals are mentioned by Bede ; " antiqui Anglorum populi, gens
mea . . . apud eos Aprilis * Esturmonath ' quondam, a dea illorum quae
Eostra vocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrantur, nomen habuit." De Temp.
Rat. c. 13. March was called " Rhed-monat " from " Hrede," another
Anglian goddess, il'ul. Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 267, 740, 920. " In
some parts of Northern England, in Yorkshire, and especially in Hallamshire,
popular customs show remnants of the worship of Fricge (Freia). In the
neighbourhood of Dent at certain seasons of the year, especially in autumn,
the country-folk hold a procession and perform old dances, which they call
the Giants' Dance: they call the leading giant "Woden," and his wife
" Frigga," the principal action of the play consisting in two swords being
swung and clashed together about the neck of a boy," ih'id. 280. Teut.
Mythol. (Stallybrass), i. 304.

392 Origins of English History.

of a ring was placed with many ceremonies on the horns
of the principal ox."^

It is probable that many other remnants of paganism
might be found in the history of customary rents and
services for land, especially in the case of ancient charities
where the profits of particular fields are devoted to making
cakes impressed with figures of an unknown origin f and
we may compare with the flower-rents, in which Grimm
saw a heathen practice continued into Christian times, our
English instances of ancient rents in the shape of a white
bull, or two white hares, a red rose for all services, or a
chaplet of roses on the Feast of St. John.^

^ Gent. jMag. Feb. 1791 ; Hazlitt, Tenures of Land, 131, 156. Similar
customs are found in Montenegro : and a wheel-shaped cake called a holatch
is used in all the Christmas festivities \ " they go to the stall where oxen are
sleeping, and the husbandman fixes the ho/atch on the horn of the ' eldest
ox ': if he now throws it off, it is of good omen to the household." Evans,
" Christmas and Ancestor-worship in the Black Mountain." Macmill. Mag.
J 88 1, 233. Similar offerings are made to the " chief goat," and to the fowls
and fruit-trees. Hid. 228, 229. Compare TibuUus, "Nunc ad praesepia
debent Plena coronato stare boves capite." Lib. ii. Eleg. i. 7, 8.

^ Compare the Twickenham custom described by Lysons, Envir.
London, iv. 603, and the distribution at Biddenden in Kent of cakes
impressed with the grotesque figures of " the Biddenden Maids." See on
the subject of the baked figures, " simulacra de consparsa farina," the
Indiculus Superstitionum, sec. 26, and Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 56.
" Nomen placentis in superiore Saxonia Fladen, Oster-Jiaden, quas festis
diebus matresfamilias conficiunt." Keysler, Antiqu. Septentr. 337. Com-
pare his account of the Yule-cakes, ibid. 159, and Bede's description of
February as " Sol-monath, id est mensis placentarum quas in eo diis suis
offerunt." De Temp. Rat. c. 12.

^ Grimm, Deutsch. ]Mythol. 52. For the payment of a white bull, see
Hazlitt's Tenures of Land, under the titles of Bury St. Edmunds, Lodebrook,
and Marlborough, and for the rent of two white hares at Sheffield to be
paid on St. John's Day, //7V/. 276, and Gent. Mag. xxxiv. 329. For the

Origins of English History. 393

The sources of information as to the character of the
English paganism are of extremely various kinds, com-
prising such matters as the ancient forms for the confession
of penitents, the laws and canons against heathen practices,
traditionary spells and incantations, and legends connected
with the Runic letters and the plants used in medicine.
Other examples are found in the names of places described
in the ancient charters, and especially in those of the land-
marks by which the townships were originally defined.^
A familiar instance occurs in the names of the days of
the week, which probably date from a time long preceding
the conquest of England.- Others can be traced in the
divisions of the ancient calendar. There were three great
occasions, at the two solstices and at the end of the
harvest, when the national sacrifices were offered and the
public assemblies held.'^ The name of Yule, derived from
the turning of the sun in its annual course, was given to
the two months which preceded and followed the winter

rent of the red rose, generally payable on the same feast-day, see Hazlitt's
Tenures of land, 21, 57, 125, 295, 323 ; Rot. Pari. i. loo/-, lyS/-, 179, 4510.

^ " They furnish," says Kemble, " the most conclusive evidence that the
mythology current in Germany and Scandinavia was also current here."
Cod. Diplom. iii. introd. 13. Compare such names as that of " Thunres-
lea" in the Jutish part of Hampshire, Cod. Diplom. 1038, 1122: "Berhtan-
wyl," or the well of the water-goddess Bertha, ih'id. 311 : •' Hnices-thorn,'
referring to the Neckar, or water-goblin, \hid. 268 : and " Hildes-hlaew,"
the tomb near Wayland Smith's Cave on the Ikenild Street, ihd. 621, 1006,
1091, 1 148, 1172.

^ Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. iii, 114. The chief difficulties about the
interpretation of the names of the week-days lie in the confusion between
"Fricge" and " Freia," who may have been the same among the Germans,
though they appear as separate deities in the Scandinavian mythology,
and in the doubt whether the Germans had any god who answered to
Saturn, ih'id. 227, 276; Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 372. Compare
Schedius, de Diis Germ. 493.

" Grimm, Rechts-Alterth. 245, 745, 821, 825, Deutsch. Mythol. 38.

394 Origins of English History,

solstice J but the year began on '' mothers' night," now
Christmas Eve, when the women took part in a nocturnal
watch. ^ We cannot tell what were their " vain practices,"
which were afterwards suppressed by the Church : but we
learn that in the second week of the feast the people
dressed themselves in skins and masks to imitate various
animals." The next great festival was held in September,
or "holy month," when thanks were given for the harvest
and offerings made to secure a prosperous winter. Lastly,
covering parts of our October and November, came the
"month of sacrifice," when the temple-yards were filled
with crowds of noisy worshippers, drinking and dancing
before the gods, while the cattle were slaughtered on the

The history of the conversion is full of incidents which
illustrate the character of the English paganism. We are
told of Ethelbert's care to meet the missionaries under
the open sky, for fear of the magical influence which they
might gain by crossing his threshold ; of the king bowing
before his idol in a road-side shrine near Canterbury, and
taking part with his nobles in the offering of the sacrifices,

^ Bede, De Temp. Rat. c. 12. " Ipsam noctem nunc nobis sacro-
sanctani tunc gentili vocabulo ' Moedre Necht,' id est Matrum Noctem,
appellabant ob causam, ut suspicamur, ceremoniarum quas in ea pervigiles

^ Kemble cites the chapter in the "Penitential of Theodore " devoted to
a description of the heathen practices. " Qui grana arserit ubi mortuus
est homo &c. Siquis pro sanitate fihoH per foramen terrse exierit, illudque
spinis post se concludit &c. Siquis in Kal. Januar. in cervulo vel vitula
vadit, id est in ferarum habitus se communicant, et vestiuntur pelHbus
pecudum et assumunt capita bestiarum: qui vero tahter in ferinas species
se transformant .... quia hoc dacmoniacum est." Saxons in England,

5. 525, .528.

* Bede, De Temp. Rat. c. 12; Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 32,34,355
Vigfusson and Powell, Corp. Poet. Boreal, i. 429.

Origins of English History. 395

and of Augustine in his journey to the West breaking
to pieces the image of an idol adored by the villagers/
Ancient traditions preserve the remembrance of the
Woden-Hill within sight of the missionaries' landing-
place, and of a temple on the site where Westminster
Abbey stands, once " a place of dread " on the march-land
where several kingdoms joined, but dedicated to the ser-
vice of St. Peter by the wealthy " King of London," at
the request of his protector Ethelbert.' Bede records
the power of the priests, and the rules by which they
were restrained from active service in war.^ His friend
Aldulf was a personal witness to the Samaritan indifference
of King Redwald, whose temple contained a Christian
altar beside the blood-stained stone on which the cattle

^ Bede, Hist. Eccl. i. 25, Thorn's Chronicle, Dec. Script. 1760.
" Cerne Abbey was built by Austin, the English apostle, when he had
dash'd to pieces the idol of the pagan Saxons called He'il, and had
delivered them from their superstitious ignorance." Camden, Britannia
(Gibson), i. ^6 ; Will. Malmesb. Gesta Pontificum, 142.

- AVoodnesborough stands on a high water-shed near Richborough.
Compare Kemble's account of Wanborough on the Hog's-back. Saxons
in England, i. 344. The legends as to the foundation of Westminster
Abbey are very conflicting. The story that Ssebert of Essex was the
under-king of London appears in a charter of King Edgar, of which the
authenticity was doubted by Kemble. " Imprimis ecclesiam B. Petri quae
sita est in loco terribili qui ab incolis Thorneye nuncupatur, ab occidente
scilicet urbis Londoniae, quae olim, i.e. a.d. 604, B. iEthelberti hortatu,
primi Anglorum regis Christiani, destructo prius ibidem abhominationis
templo regum paganorum, a Sabertho praedivite quodam sub-regulo
Londoniae, nepote videlicet ipsius regis, constructa est." — Cod. Diplom. 555,
969 3 MSS. Cotton. Titus, A. viii. 4 5 Stowe, Survey of London, 850 3 Dugd.
Monast. i. 265, 291 3 Stanley, Mem. Westm. Abbey, 10.

^ " Mellitum vero Lundonienscs episcopum recipere noluerunt, idolatris
magis pontificibus servire gaudentes." Bede, Hist. Eccl. ii. 6. " Non
licuerat pontificem sacrorum vel arma ferre vel praeter in equa cquilare,"
Und. ii. I C.

396 Origins of English History.

were offered to Woden/ The Northumbrian Annals
supphed the historian with his picture of the destruction
of idols at Godmundham. " The place is still shown," he
says, "not far from York towards the East, beyond the
River Derwent, where the king's chief-priest polluted and
destroyed the altars which he himself had blessed." Edwin
had assembled his Witan, as was usual in such cases, to
deliberate on the proposed change of religion. The high-
priest spoke throughout as one of the royal officers, and
complained that others had received more favours and
dignities, though no one had ever applied himself more
carefully than he to the service of the ungrateful gods. "It
is for you, oh king ! to look into this new doctrine ; but I
confess my own firm belief that there is nothing good or
useful in the religion which we have hitherto held. If our
gods were good for anything they would have helped me,
who have always done my best to serve them." And so,
girding himself with a sword and taking a lance in his
hand, he mounted the king's war-horse ; and first he pro-
faned the temple by casting the lance against its wall, and
then proceeded with his companions to destrov and burn
the altars and the idols' shrines, and all the hedges and
palisades with which the sanctuary had been surrounded.^

^ "Atque in eodem fano et altare haberet ad sacrificium Christi et
arulam ad victimas daemoniorum." Bede, Hist. Eccl. ii. 16. The actual
procedure at a sacrifice is only known from the Norse authorities. Grimm,
Deutsch. Mythol. 48. The King, or some noble acting as his deputy,
presided ; " all kinds of cattle as well as horses were slaughtered, and the
blood was called hiaut ; ' h/aut-stayes' were made, like sprinkling-brushes,
with which the whole of the altars and the temple-walls both outside and
inside were sprinkled ov^er, and the people also were sprinkled with
the blood; but the flesh -was boiled into savoury meat for those who
were present." Heimskringla, Hakon's Saga, c. i6j Eyrbyggia Saga, c. 10 j
Laing, Sea-Kings of Norway, i. 329.

- Bede, Hist. Eccl. ii. 13 ; Grimm, Deutsch. Mythol. 72.

Origins of English History. 397

Another story of the heathen times is told in the Life of
St. Wilfrid. The Bishop was crossing from the French
coast to Sandwich, when his little vessel was caught in a
storm and cast upon the shore of Sussex. The king of
the district hurried down with his soldiers to claim the
spoil and wreck. In the battle that ensued the chief-
priest of the pagans took his stand on a high mound,
cursing the strangers and striving to bind their arms by
his spells. But one of the Bishop's companions took a
stone and slung it, "and smote this Goliath in the forehead,"
so that the magician fell dead upon the sand as he raved
his curses at the Christians ; and after a time the tide
came in and lifted the boat again, and so they escaped
the danger.^ But Wilfrid returned soon afterwards to
accomplish the conversion of his enemies ; and the pagans
of both sexes, some of their own accord and others com-
pelled by the king, abandoned their idols, and confessed,
and were baptized."^

During the greater part of the century which followed
the coming of Augustine, the people of each kingdom
relapsed into paganism as often as their careless rulers
allowed them a greater liberty, or a pestilence or a defeat
in battle recalled the power of the ancient gods. Even in
Kent the heathen temples were not formally abolished
until the year 640, and it is recorded that five years before
that time not a single church or outward sign of Chris-
tianity had been set up in the whole kingdom of Bernicia.^

^ " Quern .... sicut Goliatum in arenosis locis mors iiiccrta pracvenit."
^dde. Vita Wilfrid. Dec. Script. 57.

^ ^Edde, Vita Wilfrid. Dec. Script. 72. The King and Queen had been
previously baptized, the one in Mercia and the other at her home in Hwiccia.
Bede, Hist. Eccl. iv. 12.

* Bede, Hist. Eccl. i. 30 ; ii. 5, \^; iii. 3 ; iv. 27 ; Epist. ad Ecgbcrt, 5

398 Origins of English History.

It seemed as if paganism had only changed its name,
while the wooden temples were used as churches, and the
rustics still built their booths round the holy sites, and
brought their oxen to be killed for a dedication-feast, as
once without much outward difference the sacrifices had
been offered to the idols. When the prospect seemed
darkest a new conversion was effected by the zeal of the
Irish missionaries. But they in their turn had to yield
to the stronger claims of Rome ; the men who had finally
prevailed against heathenism were overthrown in the
Synod of Whitby; and England, at last united under the
rule of one spiritual obedience, was ready to take the lead
in the conversion of the neighbouring barbarians, and to
assert her claim to an important place among the civilised
nations of the West.

Gregorius, " Ad MelHtum," Epist. xi. 76. For the defeat of the Irish monks
at Whitby in a.d. 664, see Bede, Hist. Eccl. iii. 35.



Extracts relating to the

voyage of Pytheas.

C. Julius Caesar.

Diodorus Siculus.


Pomponius Mela.

C. Plinius Secundus.

7. Cornelius Tacitus.

8. C. Julius Solinus.

9. Dionysius Periegetes.

10. Rufus Festus Avienus.

11. The Ravenna Geographer.

12. Dicuil.

13. Gassendi.

400 On'giJis of Eiiglisli History



a. CosMAS Indicopleustes. (Montfaucon. Coll. Patr. ii. 149.)

ITu^ea'? 6 Ma(Tcra./\,(coT?7? Iv Tol

Online LibraryCharles Isaac EltonOrigins of English history → online text (page 33 of 38)