Imatges de pàgina

tonic speech, save in a few words used principally by women and slaves, prevailed everywhere. The Teutonic law, the Teutonic way of life, was the rule of the land. The Teutonic heathenism was unchanged. The Celtic element, whether it was larger or smaller, was absorbed and left scarcely a trace behind.


If the history of the settlement is to be gathered §3. Infrom scanty tradition, the character and institutions of stitutions the settlers have to be inferred from that which is known Settlers. of them in their own land, and from that which is known of them later in the land of their adoption. Fierce and masterful as they were, they were not barbarians except in antithesis to the civilisation of Rome. The stage which they had reached was very much that of the Homeric Greeks, if we allow for the greater inclemency of a northern sky. Each tribe was complete in itself. It had its own assembly of freemen whose voice was decisive in regulating its actions. At its head was a chief, the ealdorman, as he was named, who guided its deliberations, and who, after its arrival in England at least, headed it in war. The freemen themselves were composed of two ranks, eorls and ceorls. The eorls or nobles by birth, whose origin is lost in the mists of the past, had an honorary pre-eminence. Their voice was of greater weight, their life was of greater value, their share of booty larger. But they did not make the state, though they had doubtless much to do with its direction. In fact there was nothing that we should now call political life in existence. New legislation there was none. The old customs handed down from father to son in Germany were adhered to in England, and the only question which could arise for deliberation was whether some new expedition should be undertaken against the enemy. Outside the assembly, as well as within it, all freemen were equal, however much they might differ in



$4. Changes produced

influence or wealth. Each man had his own share of the conquered land, and his share of pasturage or woodcutting in the folkland-the common land that had been left undivided. The organisation of which he formed a part did not, as in the empire, reach from the state to the individual, but from the individual to the state. Each township which, in an ecclesiastical form, became the parish of modern days, made its appearance once a month, in the hundred mote, to decide quarrels and to witness contracts; whilst the members of the tribe met twice a year to decide matters of more general importance. As every man was a judge,—unless indeed, the practice of attending the hundred mote by a deputation of the reeve, or head man, and four best men of the township had been already adopted, so every man was a soldier. The assembly was in truth the tribe in arms, and the corls and the ealdormen could but lead, they could not constrain the will of their fellow tribes


Left in the positions which they had originally occupied, the tribes might have retained these institutions unaltered for centuries. The progress of the war necessitated expansion and amalgamation, in order that greater force might be brought to bear on the enemy. As it had been with Rome, so it was now with the English tribe. The system of popular assemblies had reached its limit. The men of Dorset or the men of Norfolk could come up without difficulty to the place of meeting. The men of a state reaching from the Severn to the borders of Sussex, could not come up. The idea of delegation, if it as yet existed at all, had not acquired sufficient strength to suggest the idea of a general collective council. Recourse was had to a different factor in the commonwealth. Of all human occupations, war requires the most complete discipline and the most prompt obedience

to a single chief. Naturally, therefore, it was the chief, the ealdorman, who gained most by the changes wrought by war. Everywhere he took the higher title of king, and in taking its title he gained a higher standing-point. He was the bond of union between many tribes. The ealdorman who now presided in the tribal assembly, derived his authority from him, even if he owed his position to an older tribal authority. At the end of the sixth century some ten or twelve kingdoms existed, and the authority of the kings would doubtless tend to increase in civil matters as they grew more successful as leaders in war.


5. The

the Witan.

Yet growing as it was, the king's authority was by no means absolute. The power which the king wielded King and could only be exercised in accordance with the wishes of the armed force, and that armed force was still in great measure composed of the contingents of the freemen of the several tribes. It is true that it was not so altogether. By an old German custom, a great man had been accustomed to entertain a body of followersgesiths as they were called in England-who attached. themselves not to the tribe, but to the person of him whom they followed and upon whose bounty they lived. For him they fought, and for him they were ready to die. They held it disgraceful to forsake him in battle, or even to leave the field alive if he were lying dead upon it. No doubt, if we possessed a history of those times, we should find that these two component parts of the king's army were also component parts of his council, and the Witan or wise men, without whose advice he did not venture to act in any important manner, were some of them the chief men of his personal following; some of them leading eorls, or landowners from the various populations which were blended together under his rule. But, however this council may have been formed, it had no



§ 6. Administra

tion of Justice.


immediate organic connection with the people. members were not elected from beneath. They became councillors, either from their own position in life, or as selected by the king. As long as there was a powerful enemy in the field, this breach in the continuity of the constitution might not be felt. But it was none the less a source of danger.

The judicial arrangements of our ancestors were those of a strong-handed but law-loving race, in which each man was ready to do himself right with his own hand, but in which there was a general understanding that feuds should not be perpetual. The notion that it was the duty of the state to punish crime, and the notion that the criminal himself was any the worse for the crime which he had committed, would have been alike unintelligible to them. All that they saw was that it was in their power to enforce upon the kindred of a murdered man, or upon him who had suffered loss of property, the acceptance of a weregild, or money payment, in satisfaction of the injury done to them, which they might otherwise have avenged by the slaughter of the aggressor. As again the power of taking vengeance was different in different ranks, as the relations of a murdered king were more likely to take effectual vengeance than the relations of an eorl or a simple ceorl, and as they therefore required more to induce them to draw back, a larger money payment was enforced in proportion to the rank of the person injured. As too the state had no interest in the matter excepting to prevent continual private warfare, it had no trained police to seize the criminal, and no trained advocates and judges to investigate evidence. It looked to the kindred of the accused person to present him before the popular assembly at which he was to be tried, or to pay his weregild in his stead. If he denied his guilt, he had to bring others to swear that he was

innocent, and the declaration of the belief of these compurgators in his favour was accepted as satisfactory. If he failed to find compurgators, he had still the resource of appealing to the ordeal, doubtless performed in heathen times in some specially sacred spot. The assembled people who acted as his judges contented themselves with seeing that the provisions of ancient customs were duly carried out.

In proportion as the kingdoms increased in size, the moral defects of such a system must have been increasingly felt. The special tie which bound the gesith to his patron summoned into existence feelings of personal honour and loyalty, which were stronger, but at the same time narrower than the patriotic sentiment which bound the freeman to the community of his fellow tribesmen. The authority of the king was further off from him than the authority of the ealdorman had been. It is true that he had still a part in the action of the state, was still liable to be called out for service in the field, and that he and his fellows might be present on important occasions at the meetings of the king and his Witan, and might be allowed to applaud with their shouts the decisions taken in higher quarters. But even if the effect of the change be left out of account, it is evident that the moral needs of the Englishman of the sixth century, were precisely opposite to those of the Roman provincial of the fourth. In the empire where all individuality was crushed out by an enlightened but overwhelming despotism, the side of Christianity which was most acceptable was its anchorage in individual faith and energy. In the Teuton, within or without the old limits of the empire, individual vigour was the prominent characteristic. Organisation of bodies of men did not go very far. The needs of extensive warfare might do something, but its work was necessarily imperfect. If


$7. Moral

Needs of

the Popu


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