« AnteriorContinuar »
still in the town, and not improbably among the groups on the beach.
It was in a different way that a prince from France landed at the same spot eight hundred years ago. Had I stood then on the shore looking Landing of southward through precisely such Septem- the Normans ber mist upon a motionless sea, I should have seen countless sails floating up in the offing; and, in the front of the fleet, an ornamented bark, with a great cross on its flag, a sail marked with a coat of arms of three lions, and on the prow a brazen child holding an arrow and a bow bent to shoot. The chronicler, William of Malmesbury, says the sails of the vessel were crimson. These were kept turned to the wind and aided by oars until finally the keel grated upon the shore; and the multitude of craft that followed, bringing sixty thousand men, ranging eastward and westward for miles on either hand, were beached one after another by their crews in a similar manner. Over their sides instantly sprang a multitude of archers; then of knights; then from the holds of the ships were led the horses, full of mettle from their long confinement, which pranced on the sand and filled the air with their neighing. Lastly, on the ship whose prow bore the brazen child, a tall, strong man approached the side. His hair and beard were light, his face florid. It had power and decision, bespeaking a character fearless, enterprising, cruel. As he leaped down in his armor from the low vessel upon the wet sand, his foot slipped, and he fell forward upon his two hands. The thousands watching him from the decks of the vessels and from the beach sent up at
Appearance of Duke Wil
of making their local laws. The burh, or borough, was only a more strictly organized tun-scipe, with a ditch or rampart of earth instead of the hedge or paling. The hundred, or wapentake, was a union of townships. These again were collected into divisions called in the North ridings, in Sussex rapes, in Kent lathes; the shire at last comprehended all, the chief officers of which were the shire-reeve, and the ealdorman, officials originally elective, but tending, as time goes forward, to become hereditary.1
The most important change to be noticed, as the German invaders make their new homes, is that the King appears. In some tribes of the TeuAppearance of kingship. tons there had been in the earliest historic day a shadowy functionary, in a certain sense an over-lord through the suffrages of the freemen. The conquerors of Britain were not among these tribes, the folk-moot being supreme. Still, in carrying on war, the army-chiefs, heretogas, elected from among the æthelings by the people, each surrounded by a personal retinue of warlike youths attracted by his prowess, headed the military expeditions. As the necessity for one-man power became pressing in order to make effective the extraordinary undertakings upon which the barbarians at length entered, more and more authority was given to that heretoga who showed himself valiant and wise, until in chieftains like Hengist, Horsa, Ella, and Cerdic, personages stepped forth among them in a character quite new. Like the old heretogas, they possessed no authority
1 In the constitutional sketch, Stubbs at present is mainly followed, with side-lights, however, from a number of other authorities.
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, thegns. 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
of a letter.1 Augustine accomplishes his great conversion. 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 mote. 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
1 "Non Angli, sed angeli."
regards the masses of the ceorls, but it comes about that only the rich and powerful usually appear.1 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 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 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.
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.