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moot-hill in Scotland means nothing but mote-hill, the hill of the mote or motte; but that moots or courts were held there, just because it had formerly been the site of a castle, and consequently a seat of jurisdiction.1
That some of these hillocks have anciently been sepulchral, we do not attempt to deny. The Norman seems to have been free from any superstitious fear which might have hindered him from utilising the sepulchres of the dead for his personal defence; or else he was unaware that they were burial-places. There are some very few recorded instances of prehistoric burials found under the hillocks of castles; but in ordinary cases, these hillocks would not be large enough for the mottes of castles. There are, however, some sepulchral barrows of such great size that it is difficult to distinguish them from mottes; the absence of a court attached is not sufficient evidence, as there are some mottes which stand alone, without any accompanying court. Excavation or documentary evidence can alone decide in these cases, though the presence of
1 Some writers give the name of moot-hill to places in Yorkshire and elsewhere where the older ordnance maps give moat-hill. Moat in this connection is the same as motte, the Scotch and Irish mote, i.e., the hillock of a castle, derived from the Norman-French word motte. As this word is by far the most convenient name to give to these hillocks, being the only specific name which they have ever had, we shall henceforth use it in these pages. We prefer it to mote, which is the Anglicised form of the word, because of its confusion with moat, a ditch. Some writers advocate the word mount, but this appears to us too vague. As the word motte is French in origin, it appropriately describes a thing which was very un-English when first introduced here.
* At York, a prehistoric crouching skeleton was found by Messrs Benson and Platnauer when excavating the castle hill in 1903, 4 feet 6 inches below the level of the ground. The motte at York appears to have been raised after the destruction of the first castle, but whether the first hillock belonged to the ancient burial is not decided by the account, "Notes on Clifford's Tower," by the above authors. Trans. York. Philosoph. Soc., 1902. Another instance is recorded in the Revue Archæologique, to which we have unfortunately lost the reference.
an earthen breastwork on top of the mount furnishes a strong presumption of a military origin. But the undoubtedly sepulchral barrows of New Grange and Dowth in Ireland show signs of having been utilised as castles, having remains of breastworks on their summits.1
1 From the report of a competent witness, Mr Basil Stallybrass.
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.2
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.1 Modern historians talk of this fort as a castle, but all the older authorities call it a town;2 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 4 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 44 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
1 Bede, H. E., iii., 16.
2 See Bede, as above, and Symeon, ii., 45 (R.S.).
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 1), 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
1 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.