« PreviousContinue »
verned, by the weak princes Egbert I, Rigsig, and Egbert II. The romantic story of the elevation of Guthred—a Saxon peasant-boy-to the sovereignty, is the last act of Northumbria as an independent state. It slowly was joined to Wessex, and the earl of Northumberland still represents its ancient kings.
East Anglia. Mercia.
13 BURRIED 1
3 EDMUND 1
Kent, Es. & Sus.
Year 849 850
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10
4 5 6
7 8 OSBERT 9 10 11 12 ELLA 1 13 14 15
i 16 EGBERT I 1 17 18
3 19 20 21
6 22 RIGSIG
1 CEOLWOLF 1
GUTHRUM or 1
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
DOMESTIC MANNERS AND HABITS
The Anglo-Sarons. .
It is only of late years that our Anglo-Saxon ancestors have had an interest for any but a few secluded scholars, who, as a natural result of such studies, forgot the present in the past, and seemed to imagine that sound knowlege, like wholesome food, required no seasoning to make it palatable. The general idea was,—so far as the public could be said to think at all upon the subject,—that the Anglo-Saxons were a rude and barbarous race, with whom we had no more real concern than with the savages of North America. Rude they certainly were, and perhaps even barbarous, when compared with the Roman civilization of the same period; but amidst all this barbarity and all this rudeness it has come at length to be discovered that there was much in their habits and manners, the knowledge of which would well repay the trouble of enquiry. Percy, the venerable bishop of Dromore, was the first to show us that our early ancestors, with their long cloaks and flowing beards, were not so undesirable acquaintances as the world in its ignorance had imagined. He was soon followed by Strutt, an antiquary of deeper research and profounder knowledge of the subject, but without the genius of Percy, or that almost magical power he possessed, in common with Scott and George Ellis, of infusing life into the dry bones of antiquity. Then came Sharon Turner, who may justly be styled the father of Anglo-Saxon lore, in reference to the present times. Since his day, although the sources of our information remain almost as scanty as ever, yet the more philosophical way of using them has led to a very great extension of results. It is evident that the Anglo-Saxon scholars are now in the right road, and that every step they take is really and truly a step in advance, and not, as it had often been before, a mere laborious wandering from the end they had in view. Our present object however will rather be to simplify and condense the materials thus provided than to follow in the path they have so happily struck out; but before proceeding to treat of the Manners and Domestic Habits of the Anglo-Saxons, it may not be amiss to say a few words in respect to this noble branch of the Gothic race, previously to their establishing themselves in Britain.
At an early period the Saxones were a people of no great importance, inhabiting lands on the north side of the Elbe, on the neck of the Cimbric Chersonesus, and three small islands at the mouth of the same river. But in process of time we find them forming a great confederation, that extended, when at its height, from the Elbe to the Rhine. At this period, as well as for a long time after their settlement in Britain, the Saxons were heathens, addicted to war, and more inclined to live by plundering others than by their own labours. Still we have good authority for saying that when the German tribes first engaged the attention of the Romans, they had long been reclaimed from the state of hunters, fishers, or wandering herdsmen, and assembled for the most part in villages, where they occupied themselves with agriculture and with the pasturing of cattle. At the same time it must be obvious that they sowed and reaped for their own use only, since they had no commerce, nor from their own habits were likely to have a peaceful neighbourhood, desirous of the interchange of produce.
A variety of causes, which it comes not within the limits of this essay to discuss, made them at length as terrible by sea as they had hitherto been by land. They were now able to contend with the veteran fleets of Rome, and ravaged the whole line of her sea-coast with a fury that often proved irresistible, being much the same sort of scourge to them that the North-men of a later age were to the shores, and even to the inland parts of France. It was reserved for the genius of the great Charlemagne to arrest their progress, when, as it would seem, these ferocious warriors were on the high road to the conquest of all Germany. From that time they have dwindled down into an inferior, but still warlike, power. But at present we have to notice them before their power was broken.
Like the Danes afterwards, such was their insensibility to danger or the little value they set on life, that they preferred embarking in storm and tempest for these piratical expeditions to waiting for more favourable seasons, since their attack was less likely to be expected in rough weather, and they would thus have a better
han of taking their victims by surprize. With a like indifference to danger, the barks they used on these occasions were no more than frames of osier-work covered with skins sowed together, though they had acquired from the Romans the art of building larger vessels, and more suited to the perils of the wintry ocean. But then these osier-skiffs, for they evidently deserved no better name,—were of so light a draught that no coast was too shallow, no river too small for them. They could thus ascend the stream for eighty or a hundred miles, and if beaten back could easily retreat again to the open sea whither they were little likely to be followed. Policy must have led to the adoption of this dangerous class of boats, for Holsatia abounded with timber, had they chosen to make use of it.
Such were their habits till about the time usually assigned for the invasion of the island by Hengist, and though much of the legend connected with him has been disputed by recent writers, it seems plain enough that it was not till after a long and tedious struggle that the Saxon invaders obtained a permanent settlement in Britain When that had once been effected, other invaders followed with similar views, led either by like habits, or by invitation from their countrymen already established there, who had conquered as much ground as they could well occupy, and were glad to avoid the pressure of the still unsubdued natives by having their own countrymen for neighbours. Perhaps both contributed to this result. At all events it was not long before the first Saxon settlers were followed by the nation of the Angles in Sleswick, who landed on the eastern side of the island. And here occurs another anomaly, which has never been sufficiently explained. Although the Angles were far less numerous than the Saxons, their name took precedence in the general title given to the conquerorsAnglo-Saxons and finally became that of the whole islandAnglia or England, the land of the Angles.
On the early habits of the Anglo-Saxons we may come to a tolerably safe conclusion by referring to the scanty notices that yet remain of them when in the original land of their ancestors. In all probability their first dwellings were little better than huts formed of stakes and osiers, daubed over with clay, for such were their churches, palaces, and public structures. By degrees, though we can no longer trace with distinctness the various stages of improvement, the houses of the better sort were faced at the corners with stone or brick, with which also the arches of their windows were ornamented. In fact stone was more commonly employed than brick, the making of which must have been a work of much time and labour with their imperfect means of manufacture.
But although the Saxons upon their landing in Britain, and for a long time afterwards, were unquestionably barbarians, there can be little doubt that they effected the same wholesome change upon the Romanized Britons of the island,-if we may be allowed the expression,—that they had before produced upon the Romans themselves, when they first terrified the imperial city by their appearance at its gates. To say nothing of their infusing fresh life and vigour into a degenerate race, it is quite certain that they were in the right road with regard both to morals and government. In the chaos of their barbarism were the elements of a better and freer form of society than the Romans had ever known or ever could know upon their principles; the notions of the Saxons only required development to arrive at a very different conclusion. This freedom of course, till the two races were amalgamated, was only for the conquerors; they made the commonalty of the island their slaves, and, abandoning their piratical habits, from sanguinary robbers became territorial chieftains.
Such were the people whom we must now consider as they were established over a large portion of the island, and it is their