Page images



chancellor under three kings, who had led the London militia at Brunan-beorh, and who at last resigned his dignities to become abbot of the ruined monastery of Croyland, is a good instance of the way in which secular offices were discharged by men who at another time would have shrunk from performing the duties of citizens. It was not in the nature of things that this should last: if religion was the path to promotion, the church would either become worldly or it would absorb the state. Both effects were in fact produced; religion was a more active principle than before; and worldly profit came to be connected with its profession. The results were seen more fully in the next reign. Neither thought nor scholarly learning could flourish amid the din of arms. But the European connections of Athelstane seem to have drawn the attention of Englishmen to the splendour and ceremonial of foreign courts; an inflated Byzantine style characterizes the charters of the tenth century; the Saxon kings call themselves basileus and imperator; while a pompous humility is affected in the style of the English clergy. If the laws of Hoel-Dda were really derived from Anglo-Saxon practice, it would seem as if the English court had affected the minute etiquette and unmeaning dignities of the emperors of the east. We may hope that English good sense a little tempered these extravagances. They are so entirely exotic, that they do not, I think, indicate the attempt of weakness to disguise itself in purple; rather they are an affectation of forms supposed to be diplomatically correct; and their chief interest is that they show in unbroken continuity the conviction which six centuries of habit impressed upon Europe, that all dominion, to be lawful, must be derived from Rome.

1 So, too, St. Odo is said to have been present, praying, though not fighting, at Brunan-beorh.-Anglia Sacra, vol. ii., pp. 80, 81.

2 Ego Elfred episcopus hoc deo instigante donum, &c. Ego Dunstan indignus Abbas hanc, &c.-Cod. Dip., vol. i., p. xcvii.

The Venedotian code gives the titles, duties, privileges, and perquisites of forty-two officers, male and female, attached to the royal household of Wales.Ancient Laws of Wales, vol. i., pp. 4-77.



FOR nearly forty years after Edred's death, the history of England is no longer that of its kings, but of a religious reformer, who forced a change of the greatest moment upon an unwilling nation; and having been the trusted servant of one king, deprived a second of half his dominions, established a third on the throne, and moulded the character both of that sovereign and of his successor. Unhappily Dunstan's biography has suffered as much from the praise of his friends, as from the censure of his enemies; and the whole history of the struggle which placed him in power, must be constructed out of conjectural criticisms. The very records of his early life are disfigured with improbable miracles, which even Catholic biographers are glad quietly to pass by.

Dunstan was born' in the reign of Edward, and is said to

1 925 A.D., is given as the date of his birth by Osbern, Anglia Sacra, vol. ii., p. 90; and A.S. Chron., A., 925. This date cannot be reconciled with the early accounts of Dunstan's life, which state that Athelstane employed him in public affairs, or with Dunstan's own speech at the Synod of Calne, 978 A.D., where he complains of being an old man. Nor does it seem likely that Edward would have offered him a bishopric, if he was only 28 in 953 A.D., the year of the bishop of Crediton's death, thirty being the canonical age at which priests' orders were given -Stevenson's Introduction to Bede, pp. ix., x. Moreover, Malmesbury says that Dunstan was abbot of Glastonbury for twenty-two years. This seems to extend down to 962 A.D., when he was made archbishop of Canterbury, the



have been of Saxon extraction, and nephew of Athelm, archbishop of Canterbury. Placed for education in the school of Glastonbury, the boy studied with so much zeal, that his nervous system was prostrated by a fever, attended with somnambulism. Through his uncle's influence, he was early introduced at court; his nature was passionate and artistic; his tastes secular; he delighted in music and ladies' society;1 his fondness for the old ballad literature exposed him to the charge of using pagan charms: the suspicion was not in itself unnatural, for many heathen rhymes had been degraded to uses of sorcery. A more likely danger for such a man as Dunstan, lay in the attractions of married life; and although destined for orders from youth upwards, and strongly urged by his uncle to make his profession, he for some time hesitated, arguing that a Christian life in the world was the higher and nobler discipline.3 At this critical period he was again visited by illness, which seemed the judgement of Heaven; his uncle improved the opportunity, and Dunstan rose from his sickbed pledged to a monastic life. He threw himself into his new vocation with all the energy of a man who feels that he has left behind him whatever of life was most valuable; and building a little cell more than half under-ground, near the church of Winchester, divided his time, as the Benedictine rule required, between prayer and manual labour, chiefly as a smith. Later legend told of the strange sounds that were heard issuing from the saint's retreat at night; and of his grim answer to the enquiring multitude, "The devil hath tried to drive me out of my cell. Beware, for if ye cannot endure his voice, how will ye bear to look upon him hereafter?"

usurpation of the pseudo-Abbas not being reckoned. Even with this allowance, it is clear that his birth must be put back several years.-De Antiq. Glas. Ecc., Gale, vol. iii., pp. 317, 319.

1 Bridferth, Acta Sanct., Mai. 19.

2 Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie, pp. 1180-1182.

3 Respondit ille excellentioris gratiæ esse, qui in sæculo consenuit, et tamen quæ monacho digna sunt fecit.-Osbern, Anglia Sacra, vol. ii., p. 95.

He is said to have made two large bells for Abingdon monastery.-Monasticon, vol. i., p. 516.



It is easy to understand that Dunstan's solitude, like that of Luther at the Wartburg, was peopled by the creations of a disordered fancy; and that the struggle between good and evil, intensified by his solitary life, would present itself in a dramatic embodiment to one who believed that the angels of God and Satan were always watching around him.

Under Edred, Dunstan speedily rose into notice and dignity. By his own wish, for a bishopric was offered him, he remained abbot of Glastonbury. His intention no doubt was to reform the monastic rule; which had gone through several phases of prosperity and decline. The first missionaries to the Saxons had been monks, and a central conventual establishment, from which priests went out on circuits to the remote parishes, had formed the nucleus of every diocese.1 Gradually monasteries had been established on a rule resembling the Benedictine, but modified as he thought best by their English founder, Bennet. Unfortunately the ideas of the eighth century, while they made the alienation of public land for private purposes difficult, favoured it in the interests of religion; and it became the custom for the great nobles to obtain grants from the witan on condition of founding monasteries or convents, over which they themselves presided, superintending the discipline, but living within the walls with their wives and families. We scarcely need Bede's evidence to be assured that this practice gave rise to gross irregularities, especially when convents were the frequent resting-places of rich and royal travellers. It was a minor but a great evil, that the state was thus deprived of its means for maintaining and rewarding soldiers, and the fact helps to explain the repeated triumphs of invaders. When the country at last recovered itself under Alfred, the Christian church had almost to be reconstructed; it was no question at first of restoring monasteries, but of providing parish priests and schoolmasters. A liturgical service like that of the missal, has the great advantage that it makes no

1 Kemble's Saxons in England, vol. ii., pp. 414, 415.

[blocks in formation]




high demands upon intellect; a number of untrained men were hastily ordained to supply vacancies; and were allowed to retain their wives by a breach of early custom. Similarly, but with less reason, the members of the old monasteries transformed themselves into canons, and asserted their right to marry. The innovation was probably on the whole beneficial to public morality; for there is evidence, too full to be doubted, and too monstrous to be detailed, that the enforcement of celibacy among men with the passions of savages, and without the restraining influences of civilized life and public opinion, had produced a fearful harvest of crime. But the change had sprung from circumstances, not from conviction; it had never been sanctioned by the church; the conscience of the best men of the time was against clerical marriages; and a certain sense of guilt seems accordingly to have demoralized those who accepted the new privilege; they even appear to have availed themselves of the doubtful legality of their marriage contracts to annul them at pleasure and take second wives. Moreover, earnest men complained that the priest no longer thought of enriching the church, but of providing for his family; and without reference to the questionable duty of endowing the establishment, it is easy to see that the incomes calculated to support single men, would leave little margin for charity, when strained to sustain households. Lastly, the tendency of those times on the continent and in England was to feudalism: the fiefs, granted in theory for a life's service, in practice became everywhere hereditary. No good man could desire to see hereditary bishops and abbots, enjoying the highest rewards of learning and piety. Merely from a political point of view, to preserve a counterpoise to the state, and an outlet for the intellectual energy of the lower classes, it was of the highest importance that the church should not be feudalized. The most certain means to save it was to hew down the evil,

1 The tendency to this change was very general.-Alcuini Epist., 23, 158; Asser, M. B., p. 493.

2 Ethelred, ii., 5; A. S. Laws, vol. i., p. 317. "Some priests have two wives and more."-Wolstan, 614, quoted by Lingard, A. S. Church, vol. ii., p. 296.

« PreviousContinue »