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FROM COTEMPORARY WRITERS, THE ROLLS
OF PARLIAMENT, AND OTHER
By William Edward Flaherty
OXFORD AND LONDON:
JOIN HENRY AND JAMES PARKER.
M DCCC LV.
O many Histories of England already exist, that any fresh work of that class may be reasonably required to offer some new feature to establish a claim on public notice. An endeavour has been made to provide this, by devoting a larger share of attention than is usually done to the history of our island before the Norman invasion, an event which by some writers seems to be considered as almost the beginning of authentic British history. They implicitly receive the necessarily hasty and imperfect statements of Cæsar as containing all that need be known of our earlier state; pervert a passage from Milton into an authority for dismissing the events of the six hundred years of Anglo-Saxon rule as "no more worthy of attention than the combats of crows and kites;" and are content to see in the victors of
Hastings and their iron institutions, the origin of all that is desirable in a state, and the only sources of our country's elevation.
In this work different views have been taken of these matters, and as they are based on the statements of the most nearly cotemporary writers, they will perhaps be regarded as sound. The passages from Greek and Latin writers, accumulated with so much diligence by the Editors of our only National historical worka, afford most valuable corrections or elucidations of the statements of Cæsar; and the Saxon Chronicle and Anglo-Saxon Laws detail with minuteness and indisputable truth the state of our Anglo-Saxon commonwealth. These have been carefully analyzed, and the following pages contain a summary of their contents; while from Northern sources some brief notices have been drawn which may serve to correct the ordinary erroneous impressions regarding the Northmen, who had so great an influence on the fortunes of Britain for
a "Monumenta Historica Britannica," edited by Messrs. Petrie, Sharp, and Hardy. It is to be regretted that but a single volume has yet appeared of a work so well calculated to do credit to the liberality of Government, and which, if carried out in the manner proposed, will be a worthy rival to the "Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de France," on which successive rulers in France have, to their own honour and the advantage of their country, for more than a century bestowed their patronage.
many centuries, and several of whose institutions still prevail among us.
Two highly important documents, Domesday Book and Magna Charta, will be found described as fully as the limits of the work would permit ; valuable corrections of various kinds, (particularly of dates,) and some facts hitherto little known, have been derived from the Close and the Patent Rolls, from the Rolls of Parliament and Parliamentary Writs, but especially from the Statutes of the Realm; and, to meet in some measure a deficiency often felt in perusing history, brief biographies have been given of many em eminent persons.
b Since the above was written a volume of Oxford Essays has appeared, one of which, from the pen of Mr. Froude, is "On the best Means of teaching English History;" the coincidence of its main recommendation with the plan that has been followed in this work is both remarkable and gratifying :
"We recommend,” he says, “.... the study of the old Statute-book; in which, notwithstanding all that is thought and believed of the dependent position of Parliament, the true history of this English nation substantially lies buried,—a history, different indeed from any which has been offered to us as such. Every thing of greatest consequence is to be found there. All great movements, political and religious, are treated of there; and all those questionable personal transactions which have appeared so perplexing are there..... We believe, for our own part, that, for a serviceable study of English History, the Statutes are as the skeleton is to the body; that in them is contained the bone and marrow of the whole matter, and around them as a sustaining and organising structure the flesh and colour of it can alone effectually gather itself."