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but such as was accorded them by their fellow-tribesmen, though when once constituted they had a power co-ordinate with that of the folk-moot. They were chosen usually from families whose blood was thought purest. Their sway now, however, prevailed in times of peace as well as war; or rather, since in the subjugation of the great island war never died out, though it might have intervals of slumber, their authority became constant. The principle of heredity began to have more distinct recognition. The Cyningas, Kings, soon claim descent from Odin, barbarous people turning readily to the mythical. The qualities which made a great leader conspicuous would be likely to be found in his line. Some kinsman, therefore, by no means necessarily the son, — for heirs weak and wicked were for centuries passed over, – would be chosen to succeed when the great leader had played his part. The comitatus, too, acquires in the conquest greater definiteness, com- Origin of the posed of youths desiring education in arms, unpaid, but accepting entertainment and gifts of horses and weapons. From these proceeds the class of thegns, — as regards the King, servants and retainers; as regards the people, an upper class supplanting the ancient æthelings, and from the thegns, as will be presently seen, a memorable development will one day flow.

In the almost speechless past in which the AngloSaxon conquest is involved, the lispings of history became at last audible. Pope Gregory at Rome, beholding in the slave market, among the captives from foreign lands, the blonde Angles, finds it possible to beatify them by so simple a process as the insertion


Conversion of
the Anglo-
Saxons to

of a letter.1 Augustine accomplishes his great con

version. The seething discord of the earliest years crystallizes into the Heptarchy,

and in the Heptarchy at last, the vigor of Egbert achieves the supremacy of Wessex. Up to this time, the beginning of the ninth century, the church, the two archbishops of Canterbury and York at the head, has been the only unity among the distracted English; for so we may now call them. With the rise of Wessex comes about a political unity. Throughout these confused centuries no great change in institutions takes place, though names are transferred, and a general consolidation can be noticed. What in the seventh century was a state becomes, in the tenth, a shire, while the shire of the seventh century drops in the tenth into the position of the hundred. The King, partly elective and partly hereditary, is at the top; below him the land-owning freemen, in whose tun-scipes the tie of neighborhood seems entirely to have replaced the earlier tie of kinship. The tun-moots are primary assemblies, the moots of hundred and shire to a considerable extent representative. A nation has come into existence, far larger, both as regards territory and numbers, than the Teuton invaders have before known. Since a gathering of freemen into a great folk-moot has become

no longer possible, in its place is found

the witenagemote, meeting of the wise, the witan consisting of the King's wife and sons, the bishops, the ealdormen of the shires, and a number of the King's friends and dependents. No formal denial of the right to be present is ever made as

The witenagemote.

1 “Non Angli, sed angeli."


regards the masses of the ceorls, but it comes about that only the rich and powerful usually appear. The witenagemote inherits much of the power of the folk-moot, choosing for example the King. Following the principle of hereditary succession, which is never set aside except in extraordinary emergencies, the kingship is restricted to one family, the best qualified person who stands in close relationship to the last King being chosen. For ages to come, however, the acknowledgment or recognition by a crowd of plain men gathered about the coronation chair, expressed in some tumultuous way, is never omitted a more or less informal but quite essential supplement to the action of the witan.

In America, to-day, the President once chosen, and the Upper House with the long term of its members, form a much-valued counterpoise to the action of the popular will in the eyes of observers who may be regarded as impartial.2 So, probably, in the later Anglo-Saxon constitution, the King and the witan formed often a salutary counterpoise to the democracy. Radical changes from the ancient ways do not appear, though new applications of old forms and methods are not rare. If grave

innovations are threatened, some conservative ruler is sure to restore things as nearly as possible to the Alfred. ancient course. This was notably the case with Alfred, at the end of the ninth century, whose greatness more than aught else consisted in this, that he knew the value of the free institutions of his country.

Work of

1 Freeman: Growth of the English Constitution, p. 60, etc.

2 Sir H. Maine: Popular Government, article on the American Constitution. Bryce: American Commonwealth, I.

He sought not to make new laws of his own devising, " when it was unknown to him what of them would be liked by those who should come after him," but gave all his efforts toward the re-invigoration, so far as circumstances permitted, of the primitive institutions 1

It cost a fierce struggle to maintain this polity against enemies within, a still fiercer struggle to maintain it against enemies without. From a station in the west of England once, as the train paused for a moment, I looked across a league or more of country, to where a hill sloped steeply up from the plain. Standing out against the deep green turf could be seen in clear outline the white figure of a horse, each detail remarkably perfect from the distance at which it was beheld. A thousand years or more had passed since the surface soil had been scraped away, allowing the chalk substratum to appear through in the gigantic delineation; for it is said to have been done by the hands of Alfred's Saxons, victorious close by over an army of Danes. But the Danes were not always vanquished, and at last succeeded in seating upon the English throne princes of their own stock. Closely allied with the Saxons though they were in blood, tongue, and institutions, attachment to the ancient order seems to have been less deeply stamped

in their grain; and under their domination

may be observed the threatening progress of an innovation which was destined before long supersede utterly, to all appearance, Anglo-Saxon freedom. Each heretoga had had, from the earliest times, as we have seen, his gesith, or comitatus, the

1 Taswell-Langmead : English Constitutional History, p. 43.

Influence of the Danes.

company of warlike youths who followed his banner, devoting to him their labor and valor, while they received in return from him entertainment and protection. In the time of the Danes it became clear that the gesith was the germ of a growth so portentous as the feudal system. In the wars, at this time especially sharp, the ceorls were forced to “commend” themselves in great numbers to thegns, receiving protection in return for service, now with the ploughshare, now with the spear, in the fitful alternation of peace with strife. Thus the ceorls sank from the condition of pure freemen and became bound to soil and lord. The change by no means involved an entire destruction of their old rights: they retained their land free as against all men but their lords, and continued to regulate their own affairs as before in the moots of tun, hundred, and shire. There was a liability, however, as never before, to interference, a liability that increased; for the hour of

Incipient feu. feudalism was at hand. In the time of dalism. Edward the Confessor the air was full of change. The popular elements of the polity were becoming more and more depressed; the great thegns, dependents of the Sovereign, pushed aside or quite superseded the ancient ætheling; the witenagemote became more and more a royal council, to which gathered only the great officers of the realm. Nevertheless, a remnant of the old order remained. When the witan had elected the King, it was not felt that the action was confirmed until the ring of citizens at Westminster or Winchester had shouted their acknowledgment about the coronation chair. At Edward's death, the nation

1 Green : Short History of the English People, p. 245.

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