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We have pointed out in the preceding chapter that when it is asked whether the earthworks of the moated mound-and-court type were the work of the AngloSaxons, the question resolves itself into another, namely, Did the Anglo-Saxons build castles ?
As far as we know, they did not; and although to prove a negative we can only bring negative evidence, that evidence appears to us to be very conclusive. But before we deal with it, we will try to find out what sort of fortifications the Anglo-Saxons actually did construct.
The first fortification which we read of in the AngloSaxon Chronicle is that of Bamborough, in Northumberland. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 547 Ida began to reign in Northumberland, and adds that he built “ Bebbanburh,” which was first enclosed with a hedge, and afterwards with a wall. Unfortunately this celebrated passage is merely the interpolation of a 12th-century scribe, and is consequently of no authority whatever, though there is nothing improbable in the statement, and it is supported by Nennius.?
1 Earle, Two Saxon Chronicles Parallel, Introd., xxiii.
2 Nennius says that Ida “unxit (read cinxit) Dynguayrdi GuerthBerneich "=a strength or fort of Bernicia. Mon. Hist. Brit., 75. Elsewhere he calls Bamborough Dinguo Aroy. It is quite possible that there might have been a Keltic din in a place so well fitted for one as Bamborough.
Ida's grandson Ethelfrith gave this fortress to his wife Bebba, from whom it received the name of Bebbanburh, now Bamborough. It was built without doubt on the same lofty insulated rock where the castle now stands; for when it was attacked by Penda in 633, he found the situation so strong that it was impossible to storm it, and it was only by heaping up wood on the most accessible side that he was able to set fire to the wooden stockade. Modern historians talk of this fort as a castle, but all the older authorities call it a town; nor is there any mention of a castle at Bamborough till the reign of William II. The area of the basaltic headland of Bamborough covers 48 acres, a site large enough for a city of Ida's day. The church of St Peter was placed on the highest point. The castle which was built there in Norman times does not seem to have occupied at first more than a portion of this site, though it is probable that eventually the townsmen were expelled from the rock, and that thus the modern town of Bamborough arose in the levels below. Although 4* acres may seem a small size for an urbs, it was certainly regarded as such, and was large enough to protect a considerable body of invaders.
Strange to say, this is the only record which we have of any fortress-building by the invading Saxons. Until we come to the time of Alfred, there is hardly an allusion to any fortification in use in Saxon times. It
* Bede, H. E., iii., 16.
3 We infer this from the strong defences of what is now the middle ward.
4 The fact, however, that the Trinoda Necessitas, the duty of landholders to contribute to the repair of boroughs and bridges, and to serve in the fyrd, is occasionally mentioned in charters earlier than the Danish wars, shows that there were town walls to be kept up even at that date. See Baldwin Brown, The Arts in Early England, i., 82.
SCANTINESS OF RECORDS
is mentioned in 571 that the Saxons took four towns (tunas) of the Britons, and the apparent allusion to sieges seems to show that these British towns had some kind of fortification. The three chesters, which were taken by the Saxons in 577, Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath, prove that some Roman cities still kept their defences. In 755 the slaughter of Cynewulf, king of the West Saxons, by the etheling Cyneard, is told with unusual detail by the Chronicle. The king was slain in a bur (bower, or isolated women's chamber"), the door of which he attempted to defend; but this bur was itself enclosed in a burh, the gates of which were locked by the etheling who had killed the king, and were defended until they were forced by the king's avengers. Here it seems to be doubtful whether the burh was a town or a private enclosure resembling a stable-yard of modern times. The description of the storming of York by the Danes in 867 shows that the Roman walls of that city were still preserved. These passages are the solitary instances of fortifications in England mentioned by the Chronicle before the time of Alfred. The invasions of the Danes led at last to a great fortifying epoch, which preserved our country from being totally overwhelmed by those northern immigrants.
The little Saxon kingdom of Wessex was the germ of the British Empire. When Alfred came to the throne it had already absorbed the neighbouring kingdoms of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, and the issue hanging in the balance was whether this small English state would survive the desolating flood of pagan barbarism which had already overwhelmed the sister kingdoms of the
I See Wright, History of Domestic Manners, p. 13.
2 The Danish fortress of Nottingham is mentioned by the Chronicle in 868, but we are speaking now of purely Anglo-Saxon fortresses.
Midlands and the North. It was given to Alfred to raise again the fallen standard of Christendom and civilisation, and to establish an English kingdom on so sound a basis that when, in later centuries, it successively became the prey of the Dane and the Norman, the English polity survived both conquests.
The wisdom, energy, and steadfastness of King Alfred and
, his children and grandchildren were amongst the most important of the many factors which have helped to build up the great empire of Britain.
We are concerned here with only one of the measures by which Alfred and his family secured the triumph of Wessex in her mortal struggle with the Danes, the fortifications which they raised for the protection of their subjects. From the pages of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle we might be led to think that Alfred's son and daughter, Edward and Ethelfleda, were the chief builders of fortifications. But there is ample evidence that they only carried out a systematic purpose which had been initiated by Alfred. We know that Alfred was a great builder.
“What shall I say,” cries Asser, “of the cities and towns which he restored, and of others which he built which had never existed before ! Of the royal halls and chambers, wonderfully built of stone and wood by his command!”1 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notices the restoration of London (886), about which two extant charters are more precise. It also mentions the building of a work (geweorc) at Athelney,
1 Asser, ch. 91, Stevenson's edition.
2 “That same year King Alfred repaired London ; and all the English submitted to him, except those who were under the bondage of the Danish men ; and then he committed the city (burh) to the keeping of Ethelred the ealdorman." A.-S. C., 886. The word used for London is Londonburh. Asser says: “Londoniam civitatem honorifice restauravit et habitabilem fecit," p. 489.
3 Birch's Cartularium, ii., 220, 221.
FORTIFICATIONS OF ALFRED
and another at Limene-muthan (doubtless a repair of the Roman fort at Lympne), and two works built by Alfred on the banks of the river Lea. William of Malmesbury tells us that in his boyhood there was a stone in the nunnery of Shaftesbury which had been taken out of the walls of the town, which bore this inscription : “Anno dominicæ incarnationis Alfredus rex fecit hanc urbem, DCCCLXXX, regni sui VIII.”2 Ethelred, Alfred's son-in-law, built the burh at Worcester in Alfred's lifetime, as a most interesting charter tells us.'
It may be safely assumed, then, that when Edward came to the throne he found Wessex well provided with defensive places, and that when he and his sister signalised their conquests in the Midlands by building strongholds at every fresh step of their advance, they were only carrying out the policy of their father.
At the time of Alfred's death, and the succession of Edward the Elder to the crown (901), Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred, was the wife of Ethelred, ealdorman of Mercia, who appears to have been a sort of underking of that province. On the death of Ethelred in 912,5 Edward took possession of London and Oxford and “of all the lands which owed obedience thereto ". in other words, of that small portion of Eastern Mercia which was still in English hands; that is, not only the present Oxfordshire and Middlesex, but part of Herts,
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 878, 893, 896. According to Henry of Huntingdon, the work on the Lea was the splitting of that river into two channels ; but I am informed that no trace of such a division remains.
2 Gesta Pontificum, 186. See Appendix C. 3 Birch's Cartularium, ii., 222; Kemble's Codex Diplomaticus, V., 142.
4 He signs a charter in 889 as “subregulus et patricius Merciorum," Kemble's Codex Diplomaticus. See Freeman, N. C., i., 564; and Plummer, A.-S. C., i., 118.
6 The dates in this chapter are taken from Florence of Worcester, who is generally believed to have used a more correct copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle than those which have come down to us.