Imatges de pàgina
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presence, as he was levelling distinctions of rank by his creed.

CHAP.
II.

So it came about that Church and State worked together harmoniously in England as they did nowhere else in Europe. The bishops and clergy had no memories of an older civilisation to defend, no conquered population to protect. The same English people were governed in one way for certain purposes, as they were governed in another way for other purposes. Very soon the entire clergy of England was English by birth and speech. Church and State acted and reacted on one another. The ideas of a higher and better order promulgated by the church, found their way insensibly into the minds of laymen. The lay state, with all its incongruities, did not appear so utterly incompatible with that better order as it would have seemed to priests who had not grown up in English homes and who did not converse in the English speech. This activity without disruption of harmony soon found its expression in

In some sort the work of the Christian Church was a

$12. The Church

with the

repetition of the work done by the legislators of the compared Empire. They too had set themselves to sweep away Empire. differences, and to impose unity upon populations separated by far more deep-seated distinctions than those which kept apart the inhabitants of England. But whilst the Roman imposed his unity from. without and from above, the Church sought to found it upon the heart and conscience. Grand and imposing as her institutions were, they blended with the civil institutions at the base. If the archiepiscopal presidency of Canterbury or York and the august supremacy of Rome had no parallel in the civil world, the parishes were simply ecclesiastical townships, and the bishoprics were conterminous with the kingdoms, or with the divisions of the kingdoms, which represented the older tribes.

§ 13.

Church and

State.

CHAP. 11.

$14. Union of

doms under Egbert.

literature and in increased exertion. Cædmon sang his song of the Creation. Bede, with English heart if with Roman speech, told the tale of the conquest, and the foundations were laid of the great Chronicle, which was to carry down to posterity the story of a people who were working out a history worthy of the telling. When the eighth century came, England had vigour to spare for other countries as well as for herself. English missionaries poured forth to carry the message of the gospel to the heathen, and, under the name of St. Boniface, the English Winfrid is still revered as the apostle to whom large populations in Germany owed their conversion.

If the example of the Church contributed to draw the peoples more closely together, the incidents of warfare. tended in the same direction In the early part of the seventh century four small kingdoms, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, and Sussex, divided the south-east of England. The other three, on whom lay the burden of contending against the yet unconquered Celts of the West, Northumberland, Mercia, and Wessex, had far wider territories. The frontier was gradually pushed westward, and the effect of the Christian teaching was seen in the milder treatment of the conquered. The kings of these larger kingdoms, as the conflict with the Celts drew to a close, turned their arms upon one another. Sometimes Northumberland, sometimes Mercia, showed itself stronger than the rest. Then came the turn of Wessex. In the beginning of the ninth century, Egbert, King of the West Saxons, obtained the acknowledgment of his over-lordship from the whole English-speaking race, from the Channel to the Forth. Egbert's rule was not founded, like the dominion of the conquerors of Rome, upon the warlike predominance of a superior race. Neither was it founded on the voluntary amalgamation of many races.

It was rather an aggregation of many kingships into one.
The old kings either retained their positions under
Egbert as under-kings, or gave place to ealdormen from
Egbert's own family, who fulfilled the kingly functions
in more direct subordination to himself.

Such a union was a frail one. It would probably have broken down as the less successful efforts of the Northumbrian kings in the same direction had broken down before, but for the new flood of invasion which poured over England. As fierce as the ancestors of Englishmen themselves had been four centuries before, the Danish pirates had begun, even before Egbert's time, to harry the coasts of England. In the time of one of Egbert's sons they took up permanent quarters in England. The north and centre of the land fell easily into their hands. At the beginning of the reign of Alfred, the youngest and greatest of Egbert's grandsons, it seemed as if the whole would come permanently under their dominion. At last in 878, after an heroic struggle, he succeeded in imposing upon the invaders the Treaty of Wedmore, which saved from their grasp the country south of the Thames together with that part of Mercia which lay to the south-west of the Watling Street. For the rest their kings gave a vague acknowledgment of Alfred's over-lordship, an acknowledgment which he was in no position to interpret strictly. To the north of the line of partition the Danes settled at will. The Danish termination -by in such names as Derby and Ashby, Grimsby and Whitby, still marks the place of their settlements on the map of England.

To Alfred and his house the half was more than the. whole. In the struggle which his descendants, the West Saxon Kings carried on against the Danes they had what Egbert had not had, a national sentiment at their back. Gradually the frontier was pushed farther north.

CHAP.
II.

$15. The

Danish

Wars.

§16. The the WestStruggle of

Saxon

Kings with the

Danes.

CHAP.

II.

Before Alfred's son Edward died, the whole of Mercia was incorporated with his immediate dominions. The way in which the thing was done was more remarkable than the thing itself. Like the Romans, he made the fortified towns the means of upholding his power. But unlike the Romans, he did not garrison them with colonists from amongst his own immediate dependents. He filled them, as Henry the Fowler did afterwards in Saxony, with free townsmen, whose hearts were at one with their fellow countrymen around. Before he died in 924, the Danish chiefs in the land beyond the Humber had acknowledged his over-lordship, and even the Celts of Wales and Scotland had given in their submission in some form which they were not likely to interpret too strictly. His son and his two grandsons, Athelstan, Edmund, and Edred completed the work, and when after the short and troubled interval of Edwy's rule in Wessex, Edgar united the undivided realm under his sway in 958, he had no internal enemies to suppress. He allowed the Celtic Scottish King who had succeeded to the inheritance of the Pictish race to possess the old Northumbrian land north of the Tweed, where they and their descendants learned the habits and speech of Englishmen. But he treated him and the other Celtic kings distinctly as his inferiors, though it was perhaps well for him that he did not attempt to impose upon them any very tangible tokens of his supremacy. The story of his being rowed by eight kings on the Dee is doubtless only a legend by which the peaceful king was glorified in the troubled times which followed.

$17.

Kingly Authority.

Such a struggle, so successfully conducted, could not Growth of fail to be accompanied by a vast increase of that kingly authority which had been on the growth from the time. of its first establishment. The hereditary ealdormen, the representatives of the old kingly houses, had passed

away. The old tribes, or-where their limitations had been obliterated by the tide of Danish conquest, as was the case in central and northern England-the new artificial divisions which had taken their place, were now known as shires, and the very name testified that they were regarded only as parts of a greater whole. The shire mote still continued the tradition of the old popular assemblies. At its head as presidents of its deliberations were the ealdorman and the bishop, each of them owing their appointment to the king, and it was summoned by the shire-rceve or sheriff, himself even more directly an officer of the king, whose business it was to see that all the royal dues were paid within the shire. In the more general concerns of the kingdom, the king consulted with his Witan, whose meetings were called the Witenagemot, a body which, at least for all ordinary purposes, was composed not of any representatives of the shire-motes, but of his own dependents, the ealdormen, the bishops, and a certain number of thegns whose name, meaning 'servants,' implied at least at first, that they either were or had at one time been in some way in the employment of the king.

Such a change looks, as long as we attend only to words and forms, as if the kingship were acquiring something like absolute power. No conclusion could be more delusive. Absolute power is gained by kings who put themselves at the head of a popular movement against an oppressive aristocracy, at a time when the people are not prepared to combine in order to carry' out under their own inspection the reforms which they need. Under such circumstances, a successful king, like the early Emperors, can do very much as he pleases to individuals. Nothing of the kind is to be found in our early English history. What the English freeman wanted was not to be avenged upon his richer

CHAP.
II.

$18.

Growth of

a Military

Aristo

cracy.

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