James Bryce Bryce.

The book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) online

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Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) → online text (page 46 of 55)
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of new strongholds and the restoration of
an ordered government. Edward the Elder
(000-925), aided by his sister Ethelfleda,
the lady of the Mercians, encroached
steadily upon the Danes in the midlands
and the eastern counties. Before his
death the Five Boroughs and the kingdom
of East Anglia had been incorporated with
Wessex. Athelstan (925-940) is famous
as the victor of Brunanburh, a battle


In this picture the artist, Mr. C. W. Cope, R. A., depicts a trial by jury in the early days of English history. In his
account of the reign of Alfred the Great, the historian Hume describes trial by jury as an institution " admirable in
itself and the best calculated for the preservation of liberty and the administration of justice that was ever devised by the
wit of man." Though trial by jury is generally supposed to have been founded by Alfred, the authorities are now agreed
that it was probably transplanted from Germany and introduced by the Saxons after their settlement in England.

of the first importance. It is doubtful
whether he should be regarded as the
inventor of the administrative system
which we find in the later Anglo-Saxon
period ; but his authentic acts are in
themselves sufficient to place him among
the heroes of the English nation.

The immediate successors of Alfred
(900-978) were men of more than average
ability and resolution ; and it is less their
fault than that of our authorities that the
men, apart from their deeds, live only as
shadows in the page of history. Step by
step they completed the reconquest of the


which gave him possession of Northumbria.
Edmund the Magnificent (940-946) crushed
a rebellion of the Five Boroughs, conquered
Cumberland, and gave it to Malcolm, King
of Scots, as the price of an alliance which
English vanity magnified into a submission.
Under Edgar the Peaceful (958-976) and his
able minister, Dunstan, Archbishop of
Canterbury, there was at length a respite
from warfare. The chief energies of the
government were now devoted to Church
reforms, such as the enforcement of celi-
bacy upon the clergy and the diffusion of a
strict monastic rule, and to the obliteration


of the feud between the native English
and the Scandinavian immigrants. At this
point we may pause to survey the political
institutions of the West
Saxon state, which in
this period reached their
highest point of elabora-
tion and efficiency. Unless
their nature is clearly
grasped, much of later
English history cannot be
understood, for the story
of the English constitu-
tion is one in which there
are no violent breaches
with the past, and the
influence of West Saxon
legislation remains a living
force in England long
after the close of the
Middle Ages.

The English crown was


counterpoise to the hereditary aldermen in
whose hands the government of the more
recently conquered provinces was allowed
to remain as a concession
to the spirit of local and
tribal independence. Ab-
solute, however, the king
was not, in theory or in
practice. A folk-moot of
the whole body of the
freemen was impossible in
a kingdom which extended
from the English Channel
to the Scottish border,
but in all matters of im-
portance the king was
bound to take the opinion
of his Witan, or wise men
a council composed of
aldermen, bishops, and
king's thegns. It was
through this assembly

regarded as the monopoly Driven in his younger days to seek refuge at that the national preroga-

of the house Of CerdlC the Prankish court, Egbert of Wessex there tlVC of electing and depOS-

that is, the WeSSeX kings learned many lessons that were valuable to j n g kings W3S exercised.

, ., j ,, j him on his return to England. He extended his ^i-.

-but it was admitted u;n(rf , nm anH fna , M ; ,**-, n n *h m n tor purposes of

kingdom, and fought the invading Northmen.

that as between the mem-
bers of that family the nation might exer-
cise the traditional right of election, and
that an incompetent or tyrannical king
might always be deposed. But the pro-
minent part taken by the
crown in the struggle with
the Danes, a brilliant
series of conquests, and
the moral support of the
Church, gave to the West
Saxon monarch of the
tenth century a power as
much greater in degree as
it was more extensive in
sphere than that of Ger-
man tribal sovereigns. He
had no standing army;
but a large body of thegns
held land from him as the
price of military service,
and every freeman was
bound to muster at his
summons for a defensive
war. He imposed no
taxes, but his demesnes

and Customary dues SUp- Winchesterwhen twenty-three years old, and The position of president
plied him with ample for many years he fought against the Danes. m f^e shire-moot Was

resources for his ordinary shared by the bishop, the

sheriff, or royal steward of the shire,
and the alderman, who was in theory

The name and fame of King Alfred will never
pass from the grateful remembrance of the
English people. Born in 849, he was crowned at

government the whole of
England south of the Mersey and the
Humber was divided into shires, of
which some, such as Kent and Essex,
represented kingdoms of the so-called
Heptarchic period, others
were provinces of the
old West Saxon state,
while a third class were
of more recent origin, the
creation, as it would seem,
of Alfred and his imme-
diate successors. New
or old, each shire possessed
a folk-moot which met in
full session three times in
the year, to act partly as
a local parliament and
partly as a law court. For
judicial purposes it might
be summoned specially at
other seasons, when only
those immediately inter-
ested as judges or parties
to the suits in progress
expected to attend.

needs. The old nobility of birth (eorls)
had become extinct or had lost its former
consequence ; and the king's thegns, who
now counted as nobles, were no mean


elected by the Witan, but
was a hereditary official.

in practice
The sheriff




This notable example of ancient cloisonn enamelling' was found at Athelney in Somersetshire in 1693, and it is con-
sidered possible that the jewel, or, at any rate, the enamelled part, was brought from the East, and is not an example
of Saxon workmanship. Around its edge is the legend, "Aelfred mec heht gew rcan " Alfred ordered me to be made.

administered the royal demesnes, collected
the king's customary dues in kind or money,
and enforced the three primary obligations
of the freeman that is to say, service in
the field, repair of fortresses, and mainten-
ance of bridges. The alderman led the
militia of the shire to the

and received in

the third P enn Y of
the profits arising from the

shire court. The shires were divided into
districts, known by the name of hundreds,
which appear to be in many cases of great
antiquity, representing the original settle-
ment of a single clan or military unit. In
the tenth century the hundred is important
for purposes of justice and police. Minor
disputes and infractions of the peace were
settled in the monthly hundred court ;
malefactors were pursued by the hue and
cry of all the lawful men within the

The efforts of the hue and cry to suppress
wrongdoing were supplemented by a system
of sureties. Every lord was responsible
for his men, and the inferior ranks of the
population both in the country and in
boroughs were divided into groups or
tithings, in each of which each member was
responsible for the good conduct of the
rest. Often the tithing was coincident
with a village. This system of frank-pledge


is the chief purpose for which the village
community is recognised in Anglo-Saxon
law. Yet there is evidence to show that
villages, whether they still remained free,
or whether they had fallen under the
dominion of a lord, were communities with
a truly corporate feeling. The common-
field system of agriculture necessitated
universal conformity to. the traditional
methods of cultivation ; and private
owners were thus debarred from making
special profits by the development of
improved methods. Hence it was only by
trade, and in the towns, that capital could
be accumulated. Of towns there were a
fair number in the tenth century ; and
we have evidence of some degree of foreign
trade with Normandy, Flanders, and the
Rhine lands. But the towns had been
founded, as a rule, more with a view to
military requirements than to the con-
venience of buyers and sellers. Though
they received the privilege of
special law courts, managed by
their own portreeves, and of
markets under the protection
of the king's special peace, their pros-
perity developed slowly except in the
southern and eastern counties. Glouces-
ter, Winchester, and London were im-
portant as royal residences ; Exeter,
Bristol, and London, possessed some

the Kings


foreign trade, and Norwich was begin-
ning to attain prosperity. But London
alone had any pretensions to influence
the policy of the government.

In the institutions which we have
described there is nothing of importance

which can be ascribed either
Chnshamty s t() a Roman Qr & Kdtic

on Lr"ltivM mode1 ' An 4 what is true of
n institutions is also true in the

main of private law, so far as it is preserved
for us in the legislation of Alfred and
his descendants. No doubt Christianity
brought with it some maxims of the Code
and Digest the law relating to ecclesi-
astical persons and cases was constructed
upon this foundation ; we may also trace
to the same source the right of testa-
mentary bequests of movable property,
and one form of real estate (" bocland ").
But the main substance of the customary
law is Germanic. In the districts colonised
by the Danes it received a Scandinavian
tinge, as the very name of the Danelaw
denotes ; even under the rule of Edgar
there was no attempt to impose one uni-
form law upon the local courts. In the
Danelaw also we find some peculiar modi-
fications of the Teutonic administrative

system ; a patriciate of " lawmen " appears
to exercise considerable influence in the
Danish boroughs, and some of the eastern
shires are divided, not into hundreds,
but into ridings and wapentakes.

But the Danes, although by no means
such barbarians as their enemies would
have us believe, were inferior to the
English in political intelligence ; their
fusion with the English race was more
important for its invigorating effect upon
the national type of character than for
any changes of political theory which it
produced. It must, however, be re-
membered that the struggle with the Danes
accelerated the growth of a tendency
towards feudalism which was inherent in
the English, as in all other Germanic
societies. During the period of invasions
it became increasingly common
for the poor freeholder to ' ' com-
mend" himself and his land to
the protection of a powerful lord.
Society began to crystallise into groups,
within which the bond of union was the tie
of personal fidelity to a common superior.
But, independently of the invasions, royal
policy and the natural pressure of economic
development did much to promote the





This celebrated stone, on which some of England's earliest kings were crowned, stands at Kingston-on-Thames,
in Surrey, and, as shown in the illustration, is protected by a stout iron railing. The kings crowned on this stone
were Athelstan in 925, Edmund I. in 940, Edred in 946, Edward the Martyr in 975, Ethelred II. in 978, and
Edmund II. in 1016. Under each of the columns surrounding the stone is a penny of one of the kings mentioned.



growth of feudalism. The crown was
always ready to utilise the feudal tie for
purposes of police, by making the lord
responsible for the good conduct of his
men ; and a bad harvest probably did as
much as the worst of Danish raids to
swell the ranks of the dependent class.

The last and the worst of the conflicts
with the Northmen had still to come.
In 980, immediately after the accession of
Edgar's younger son, Ethelred the Un-
ready really Unrede, redeless or ill-
advisednew hordes made their appear-
ance on the English coast ; in 991

geld ") was introduced. The subsequent
attempts of the king to collect a fleet
were frustrated' by the dissensions or
treachery of his aldermen ; and when, in
994, Olaf Tryggvesson, king of Norway,
and Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark,
descended upon England, with designs
of conquest and lasting colonisation, they
found the country an easy prey. Their ships
were repulsed from London by the valour
of the citizens, .and they were bribed by
Ethelred to accept a truce ; but they
withdrew from one point of the coast,
only to reappear upon another. The

Known as the Peaceable, King Edgar brought a time of tranquillity to his kingdom to which it had long been a
stranger. He reigned for thirteen years before his coronation took place, and it is said that when he visited Chester
shortly after the ceremony, he was rowed on the Dee from the city to the Minster of St. John by his eight vassal
princes, Kenneth of Scotland, Malcolm of Cumberland, Maccus of the Isles, and five Welsh princes. Edgar was
canonised after his death, at the age of thirty-two years, and miracles are said to have been worked at his shrine.

Brihtnoth, the heroic alderman of Essex,
was defeated and slain at Maldon by
Norwegian pirates, his household thegns
falling to a man around the body of their
lord. Their loyalty inspired the noblest of
Anglo-Saxon ballads, and presaged success
for their country in the coming struggle :

Mind shall the harder be, heart shall the

keener be,
Mood shall the more be, as our might lessens.

But the sequel was not worthy of the pre-
lude. Ethelred made peace with the
invaders, giving them a bribe of ten
thousand pounds of silver, and thus the
fatal practice of paying blackmail (" Dane-


central government lay in the hands of
Mercian favourites, who were mistrusted
by the men of other provinces.

Combined preparations for defence were
frustrated by provincial jealousies and by
the shortsighted selfishness of the shire
militias, who would arm only to defend
their own homes. The English foot soldiers,
moreover, toiled vainly in pursuit of the
marauders, who seldom failed to obtain
horses when they disembarked. Such was
the discouragement of the English that
small bands of Danes roamed freely
through the length and breadth of the
kingdom. Again and again the country


The thousandth anniversary of Alfred's death was celebrated in 1901 at Winchester, England's ancient capital, and thia
striking statue of the great king, the work of the sculptor, Mr. William Thornycroft, was then erected.



A natural son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, the Conqueror
was born at Falaise in 1027 and in 1066 invaded England.

was oppressed with taxes
to provide new Danegelds,
which resulted in encourag-
ing new visits.

In 1002 the English king
sought to strengthen an
alliance with Richard II.
of Normandy by marrying
Emma, the sister of the
duke ; he was successful
in his immediate object of
excluding the pirates from
the harbours of this Scan-
dinavian colony, which had
enjoyed since the year 912
a recognised position as a
dependency of the crown of
France. The later results
of the Norman alliance
were portentous, and it
at once produced a new
phase in the Danish wars.
The marriage emboldened
Ethelred to command the
massacre of St. Brice's Day
November nth, 1002
in which a number of
the more recent Danish
settlers in England were
slaughtered during a time
of truce. But Sweyn, now
king of Denmark, returned
with an overwhelming force
to avenge his countrymen ;
and a protracted war ended
with the flight of Ethelred

dom at the feet of Sweyn. The death of the
conqueror in the same year enabled Ethel-
red to return and continue the struggle
till his death in 1016. His son and successor,
Edmund Ironsides, proved a warrior of no
mean skill and fortune, but met his equal
in Knut, or Canute, the son of Sweyn,
and died, worn out, perhaps, with the
strain of five pitched battles in six months,
at the moment when his enemies had been
forced to compromise with him for the par-
tition of the kingdom. Upon his death
Canute was elected king by the Witan,
since all were weary of a struggle which
now seemed hopeless. The remaining
children of Ethelred and Emma found a
shelter at the Norman court.

Under Canute and his sons Harold and
Harthacnut (1016-1042), England became
the leading province in a Scandinavian
empire, which included Norway, Denmark,

The coronation of the Conqueror at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066,
witnessed an outburst of ill-feeling- between the two peoples. When the Saxons
within the Abbey shouted their assent to the coronation, according to time-

x T . , honoured custom, the Normans outside mistook the noise for an attack on their

tO iSormandy in IOI4 and leader and set upon them. The nobility rushed from the Abbey in alarm, and
tho T>rrctratirm rf Viic Irina t was with considerable difficulty that William was able to quell the tumult

tne prostration 01 nis Kin-

Froro , he picture by John cross


The extraordinary piece of needlework, 214 feet long, known as the Bayeux Tapestry, from which the above illustrations
are reproduced, is said to have been worked by, or under the superintendence of, Matilda, the Conqueror's queen.
It contains a detailed representation of the events connected with the invasion and conquest of England, and it is
now preserved in the Library Museum at Bayeux, where it had for centuries been kept in the Cathedral, to which
Matilda had presented it. As a historical document the tapestry is of the utmost value and it is wonderfully preserved.



and the south of Sweden. In Europe
Canute held a position second only to that
of the Emperor Conrad II. ; and by his
presence at Rome on the occasion of
Conrad's coronation in 1027 the Danish
sovereign proclaimed his desire for friend-
ship and peaceful intercourse with the
chiefs of Christendom. He aspired to
complete the conquest of Scandinavia,
but it was in England that he fixed his
residence. Norway and Denmark were
left to be ruled by his sons or other
viceroys, and he attempted to civilise
these countries on the English model. He
endeavoured, not without success, to win
the favour of his English subjects, dis-

and Harold, son of Godwin. It appears
that he resisted the temptation of colonis-
ing England with his countrymen. The
acts of treachery and injustice with which
he is charged fell entirely on the few great
families which were dangerously powerful.
But his early death, in 1035, and the un-
popularity of his sons snapped the tie with
Scandinavia. On the death of Harthacnut,
in 1042, there being no obvious Danish can-
didate for the vacant throne, Edward, the
sole surviving son of Ethelred, was recalled
from Normandy and elected by the Witan,
acting under the suggestion of Earl Godwin.
From this point to the year 1066, the
government was in dispute between the

These two men, Edmund Ironsides and Canute, were engaged in a bitter struggle for the possession of English
territory, and the outcome of the duel was that the country was partitioned between them in 1016. On the death
of Edmund, Canute was proclaimed king of all England, which became the leading province in a Scandinavian empire.

house of Godwin and the rival house of
Mercia. The king was a puppet in the
hands of these two families ; he had little
taste for political affairs, made it his chief
ambition to provide for his Norman
favourites, and -incidentally earned the
title- of Confesso^ by attempting to infuse
something of the austere Norman discipline
into the degenerate English Church. He
married Godwin's daughter, and lent him-
self to that ambitious statesman's plans of
self-aggrandisement. Earldoms old and
new were conferred upon the queen's
relations, until only Mercia and North-
umbria lay beyond the range of Godwin's
influence. But the king chafed against

missed the greater part of his fleet,
retaining only a small force of huscarls as
a bodyguard, enforced the best laws of
his predecessors, and, as his position
became better established, relied more and
more upon Englishmen as ; his assistants.
Of the four great earldoms ,into which he
divided England, the most important, that
of Wessex, was entrusted to the English-
man, Godwin.

The introduction of regular , taxation
was his one unpopular measure. Under
the name of Danegeld he introduced an
impost of 50 cents on the hide of land (120
acres) ; but the tax was continued by his
English successors, Edward the Confessor,



When he became king of all England, on the death of Edmund Ironsides, Canute ruled with wisdom and with power,
winning and subduing men by the greatness of his personality, and he gave to the distracted country eighteen years of
>eace and order. Troubled by obsequious courtiers, Canute, it is said, took them to the seashore, and rebuked their
attery by showing them that the advancing waves would not retire at his word and had no regard for his kingship.

The story goes that

but 'hung it on the head of the crucified Lord.

. n s wo rave roers e w many o er

t acts of William the Conqueror after bis coronation was to build a convent at Senlac.


the yoke and resented the attempts of
Godwin to deprive him of his Norman
favourites. In the middle of the reign,
in 1051, the earl and his family were expelled
by a coalition between Edward and the
house of Mercia. Godwin returned in a
few months, leading a host which he had
raised by the help of his allies, the King of
Leinster and the Count of Flanders.

In tjie meantime the king had received a
visit from his cousin, William the Bastard,
Duke of Normandy, and this prince had
obtained promises of the reversion of the
English crown, which, although destitute
of any legal value, sufficed to mark him
out as the future rival of the house of
Godwin. The West Saxon earl signalised
his return to power by expelling the most
dangerous of the foreign favourites, but
compromised himself in the eyes of the
devout by substituting an English arch-
bishop, Stigand by name, for the Norman
nominee of the king. It was a mistake,
for which he partially atoned by adopting
a conciliatory attitude towards his Mercian
rival. But his son Harold, who succeeded
him in the earldom of Wessex in 1053,
pursued a policy which sowed dissension
in the kingdom and in his own
family. He thrust his brother
Tostig into the earldom of
Northumbria, and
vainly endeavoured
to outlaw Earl
/Elfgar of Mercia;
then, in 1065,
alarmed perhaps

by the imminence of Edward's death, he
reversed his policy, allowed the Northum-
brians to expel Tostig, and acquiesced in
their choice of an earl from the Mercian
family. Harold was still strong enough to
procure his own election by the Witan, when
the Confessor died without issue on January
5th, 1066. But he was accepted only as
an alternative to the dreaded Norman.

He was attacked almost simultaneously
from two quarters : from the north by the
exile Tostig and Tostig's brother in arms,
Harald Hardrada, the king of Norway ; from
the south by William of Normandy, who
came, supported by the blessing of the Pope
and the treasures of his father-in-law, the
Count of Flanders, to reform the English
Church and to claim the inheritance of
the Confessor. Over the northern army
Harold won a signal victory at Stamford
Bridge ; Tostig and the king of Norway
were left upon the field. But at the battle
of Senlac. unsupported by the northern
earls, Harold fell in his turn before the
Norman duke. The country was paralysed
by a disaster which probably affected
only a fraction of its fighting force.

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) → online text (page 46 of 55)