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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!" The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notices the restoration of London (886),2 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.1 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.3
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,
1 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. 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.
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.
part of Bedfordshire, all Buckinghamshire, and the southern part of Northants. The Watling Street, which runs north-west from London to Shrewsbury, and thence north to Chester and Manchester, formed at that time the dividing line between the English and Danish rule.1 It would seem from the course of the story that after Ethelred's death there was some arrangement between Ethelfleda and her brother, possibly due to the surrender of the territory mentioned above, which enabled her to rule English Mercia in greater independence than her husband had enjoyed. Up to this date we find Edward disposing of the fyrd of Mercia; this is not mentioned again in Ethelfleda's lifetime. Nothing is clearer, both from the Chronicle and from Florence, than that the brother and sister each "did their own," to use an expressive provincial phrase. Ethelfleda goes her own way, subduing Western Mercia, while Edward pushes up through Eastern Mercia and Essex to complete the conquest of East Anglia. A certain concert may be observed in their movements, but they did not work in company.
The work of fortification begun in Alfred's reign had been continued by the restoration of the Roman walls of Chester in 908, by Ethelred and his wife; and Ethelfleda herself (possibly during the lingering illness which later chroniclers give to her husband) had built a burh at Bremesbyrig. During the twelve years which elapsed between Ethelred's death and that of Edward in 924, the brother and sister built no less than twenty-seven burhs, giving a total of thirty, if we add Chester and Bremesbyrig, and Worcester, which was built in Alfred's reign. Now what was the nature of these fortifications, which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle uniformly calls burhs?
THE WORD BURH OR BOROUGH
There is really not the slightest difficulty in answering this question. The word is with us still; it is our word borough. It is true we have altered the meaning somewhat, because a borough means now an enfranchised town; but we must remember that it got that meaning because the fortified towns, the only ones which were called burhs or burgi, were the first to be enfranchised, and while the fortifications have become less and less important, the franchise has become of supreme importance.
Bede, in the earliest times of our history, equated burh with urbs, a city; Alfred in his Orosius translates civitas by burh;1 the Anglo-Saxon gospels of the 11th century do the same; and the confederacy of five Danish towns which existed in Mercia in the 10th century is called in contemporary records fif burga, the five boroughs.2
Burh is a noun derived from the word beorgan, to protect. Undoubtedly its primitive meaning was that of a protective enclosure. As in the case of the words tun, yard, or garth, and worth or ward, the sense of the word became extended from the protecting bulwark to the place protected. In this sense of a fortified enclosure, the word was naturally applied by the AngloSaxons to the prehistoric and British " camps" which they found in Britain, such as Cissbury. Moreover, it is clear that some kind of enclosure must have existed round every farmstead in Saxon times, if only as a protection against wolves. The illustrated Saxon manuscripts show that the hall in which the thane dwelt, the
1 New English Dictionary, Borough.
2 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 942. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has three words for fortifications, burh, faesten, and geweorc. Burh is always used for those of Edward and Ethelfleda, faesten (fastness) or geweorc (work) for those of the Danes.
ladies' bower, the chapel and other buildings dependent on the hall, were enclosed in a stockade, and had gates which without doubt were closed at night.1 This enclosure may have been called a burh, and the innumerable place-names in England ending in borough or bury2 seem to suggest that the burh was often nothing more than a stockade, as in so many of these sites not a vestige of defensive works remains. We may concede that the original meaning of an enclosure was never entirely lost, and that it appears to be preserved in a few passages in the Anglo-Saxon laws. Thus Edmund speaks of mine burh as an asylum, the violation of which brings its special punishment; and Ethelred II. ordains that every compurgation shall take place in thaes kyninges byrig; and the Rectitudines Singularum Personum tells us that one of the duties of the geneat was to build for his lord, and to hedge his burh. it is absolutely clear that even in these cases a burh was an enclosure and not a tump; and it is equally clear from the general use of the word that its main meaning was a fortified town. Athelstan ordains that there shall be a mint in every burh; and his laws show that already the burh has its gemot or meeting, and its reeve or mayor. He ordains that all burks are to be repaired
1 See the illustrations in Wright, History of Domestic Manners. 2 Bury is formed from byrig, the dative of burh.
3 Professor Maitland observed: "To say nothing of hamlets, we have full 250 parishes whose names end in burgh, bury, or borough, and in many cases we see no sign in them of an ancient camp or of an exceptionally dense population." Domesday Book and Beyond, 184.
Schmid, Gesetze der Angelsachsen, pp. 176, 214, 372. It is not absolutely certain that the burh in these three cases does not mean a town.
Schmid, 138. Professor Maitland says: "In Athelstan's day it seems to be supposed by the legislator that a moot will usually be held in a burh. If a man neglect three summonses to a moot, the oldest men of the burh are to ride to his place and seize his goods." Domesday Book and Beyond, 185. "All my reeves," are mentioned in the Preface to Athelstan's Laws, Schmid, 126.