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The boat under the mountain.
On the prow stept.
The warriors bore
The men pressed forth,
By the wind impelled,
To a bird most like.'*
Not much larger, it is probable, were the vessels in which the Teutonic conquerors of Britain arrived. The traditions which have assigned a few precise dates to the migration that must have proceeded slowly and steadily through some centuries would lead, if we accept them, to a different conclusion. Hengist and Horsa are said to have come, in 449, with three long ships or keels; Ella and his sons, in 477, with three others; Cerdic and Cynric, in 495, with five; Port and his two sons, in 501, with two; and the leaders of the West Saxons, in 514, with three.f But we have no ground for supposing that any Anglo-Saxon “wave-traverser” before the time of Alfred the Great, whether styled a ship or a keel, a hulk or a boat, was of more than fifty tons' burthen, or had room for more than half a hundred men. All appear to have been built after the same fashion, with planks laid one over the other, and stretching from prow to stern. Both prow and stern rose high above the middle part of the vessel, the former, or sometimes both, being adorned with a rude figure-head, and the latter being provided with a long broad oar, to be used by the captain or pilot in directing the course of the voyage. Rowers were placed at the sides, and, with a favourable wind, the progress was greatly aided by a large square sail suspended from a yard at the top of a single slender mast, and fastened at the bottom to the edges of the vessel. The keels, apparently, were longer and narrower, lighter and swifter than the ships, while the bulks were broader and more compact, being intended for the transport of stores and merchandize, and the boats were adapted for river-transit and passage between the larger crafts. We find no mention, however, of vessels too large to be rowed by one or two dozen men, or to be pushed by hand from the shore when they were required for use.*
* BEOWULF, ed. by THORPE (1855), lines 399, 400, 420—442. † Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. by THORPE (1861), sub annis.
It was in vessels of this sort that the people whom
* STRUTT, Chronicle of England (1777), vol. i., p. 337; NICOLAS, History of the Royal Navy (1847), vol. i., pp. 8–11. “A very interesting account,” says the latter authority, " is given by the northern historians of the Danish fleets which so frequently harassed this country. The crews obeyed a single chief, whom they styled their king, and who also commanded them on land; who was always the bravest of the brave; who never slept beneath a raftered roof, nor ever drained the bowl by a sheltered hearth-a glowing picture of their wild and predatory habits. To these qualities a celebrated sea-chieftain, called Olaf, added extraordinary eloquence and great personal strength and agility. He was second to none as a swimmer, could walk upon the oars of his vessel while they were in motion, could throw three darts into the air at the same time and catch two of them alternately, and could, moreover, hurl a lance with each hand; but he was impetuous, cruel, and revengeful, and 'prompt to dare and do.'”
we call Anglo-Saxons came to our shores during the fourth and fifth centuries; and the vessels in which they were attacked, during the ninth and tenth centuries, by their rougher kinsmen, known as Danes, were of the same description.* King Alfred has the credit of effecting the first great improvement in English shipping. In 897, says the contemporary historian, he caused long ships to be built. “They were twice as long as the others. Some had sixty oars, some had more.
They were swifter, steadier, and higher than the rest, shapen neither like the Frisian nor like the Danish, but as seemed to him most useful.”+ But even the new large ships were so small and light that they could, at high tide, sail in water which, when it ebbed, left them dry upon the shore; and from the frequent records of their foundering, we must infer that they were neither very well managed nor very manageable.
Alfred's zeal in naval matters was inherited by several of his successors. Athelstan not only obtained such a thorough victory over the Danes, in 937, that they gave no further trouble to the English for half a century, but he was able, in 933, to invade Scotland by sea, and, in 939, to send a fleet to the King of France for the purpose of resisting his rebellious nobles and the King of Germany. Yet more famous was Athelstan's son Edgar, of whom it is said that, in 973," he led all his ship-forces to Chester, and there came to meet him six kings, and they all plighted their troth to him that they would be his fellow-workers by sea and by land.” To that fact the mediæval chroniclers added the fiction of his having been rowed up the Dee by the Kings of Scotland, Cumberland, Anglesea, Wales, Galloway, and Westmoreland; and out of both fact and fiction have been constructed wonderful reports of Edgar's maritime greatness. But no fables were needed to exalt his fame as a naval reformer.
* A boat, supposed to have been used by the Danish or Norman freebooters in France—“heavy, stout, and clumsy, the keel hollowed out of a single piece of timber"- was found in the valley of the Seine, near Paris, in 1806.–PALGRAVE, History of Normandy and England, vol. i., pp. 615, 747.
† Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub anno. 1 Ibid.
“ Was no fleet so insolent,
No host so strong,
Took from him aught
Ruled in the royal seat." + Even Ethelred the Unready has a place in naval history. Though he was unable to put it to good use, he collected, in 1009, a fleet of nearly eight hundred vessels, “ so many as never before had been among the English nation in any king's days."$ The levying of ship-money by which this was effected, being continued by Canute and his sons, enabled them to make further improvement in English shipping, and to leave it in a state from which there appears to have been little fresh advance for nearly a century and a half.
The ship-money was abolished by Edward the Confessor ; but when William the Norman conquered Eng.
* Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub anno.
land, he found and kept in force certain provisions for naval service. The burgesses of Dover, for instance, were bound to provide twenty ships, carrying twentyone men each, for fifteen days each year, in return for exemption from sac and soc and from toll throughout all England ; and by the people of Sandwich similar services were rendered in return for similar privileges. Every time that the King sent ships to sea, the burgesses of Lewes had to contribute twenty shillings towards the wages of the crews. Warwick had to find four seamen, or pay four pounds in lieu, and twenty burgesses of Oxford had to attend the King on each expedition, or, in default, twenty pounds were to be paid for substitutes. Lands were held in the hundred of Maldon, in Essex, on agreement to supply wood for building the King's ships, and Gloucester had to furnish iron for nails to be used in making the same.* Of like sort were many other miscellaneous imposts, some of which continue, in modified forms, to the present day, the most important of all being the scheme of service by which the Cinque Ports were enabled to take an influential part in English maritime history throughout the middle ages.
The origin of these Cinque Ports is referred to a period long antecedent to the Norman Conquest. The Romans are supposed to have established five fortresses under a Comes Littoris Saxonici—Regulbium, near the site of Reculvers in Thanet; Rutupiæ, now
* Domesday Book, pussim; MACPHERSON, Annals of Commerce (1805), vol. i., pp. 293–297 ; NICOLAS, vol. i., pp. 24, 25.