« PreviousContinue »
EDGAR'S HOME GOVERNMENT.
sympathies conciliated the most turbulent portion of his subjects; and the country enjoyed a peace of sixteen years. Trade flourished, and population increased; the complaints that begin to be heard of luxury, are a proof of material wellbeing, as much at least as of a deficient moral tone. The legend of a law to restrain drunkenness, by providing that no man should drink more than a fixed measure in a tavern, was probably invented to explain the pins or pegs which the Danes placed in their cups; but true or false, the story is a fair instance of the meddlesome legislation of those times. The tax of three hundred wolves' heads, which Edgar imposed upon the Welsh, though it certainly did not extirpate the wolves, who were still a nuisance in England in the fourteenth century, shows a certain regard for the interests of agriculture. The laws of police and trade were enforced; an uniform coinage decreed; and it was ordered that weights and measures should be one throughout the kingdom. Moreover, Edgar frequently moved his court, visiting and inspecting the different provinces, and providing for the better administration of justice. Dunstan sustained the police of the country with all the powers of religion. In a transport of harsh enthusiasm, he once refused to perform mass on Whit-Sunday, till sentence of mutilation for false coining had been executed on three of his own vassals.
The party of movement in the church had triumphed, and they stamped their victory on the laws. The tithes, which were due three times a year-at the lambing season, at harvesttime, and at Martinmas-were now enforced under a ninefold penalty; and whoever failed to pay the hearth-penny or Peter's pence, was to repair in person to the throne, to be fined heavily, and in case of contumacy to forfeit all his goods. But above
I Malmesbury, lib. ii., p. 149. The origin of the regulation is perhaps confirmed by the 10th article of the Council of London, 1102 A.D.; "ut presbyteri non eant ad potationes nec ad pinnas bibant."-Wilkins, vol. i., p. 382.
* In 1281 A.D. a royal commission was issued for their destruction.-Rymer, vol. ii., p. 168. A century later, the author of Piers Plowman's Creed, 11. 913, 914, speaks of "wild were-wolves that will the folk robben."
3 This is the first authentic mention of Peter's pence. It was probably no new
RE-ACTION AGAINST CHURCH REFORMS.
all, Dunstan followed up his contest with the married canons and clergy. Not satisfied with Edgar's lavish piety, he succeeded in procuring an order (964 A.D.) that the canons of Winchester, Chertsey, and Middleton, should revert to the monastic rule or give up their stalls: they preferred expulsion, and were replaced by professed monks. Aided by Oswald, bishop of Worcester, and by Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, Dunstan carried out his reforms throughout the land. The nobles followed the king's example, or were influenced by the archbishop's zeal, and founded abbeys everywhere; nearly fifty new or reformed foundations illustrated Dunstan's success. It was ordained that married men who took orders and continued to live with their wives, should do penance as if for homicide. But the contest between enthusiasm and habit, between impulse and appetite, is not easily decided on either side. On the death of Edgar, 975 A.D., Ælfere, the ealdorman of Mercia, put himself at the head of a strong party, who opposed the succession of the eldest son, Edward, putting forward Ethelred, the young son of Elfride the queen-dowager, as a candidate. The question was really whether Dunstan should remain minister, and whether the church reforms should not be undone. By a general revolt in Mercia, the married clergy were replaced in their benefices; and so strong was party feeling, that it was unsafe for any man to be seen in the dress of a monk. But the nobles of East Anglia armed to prevent the movement from extending to their parts; and in a great meeting, Dunstan decided the witan to elect Edward. Nevertheless, the re-action was spreading in Wessex; and the landowners took part against Dunstan, disliking his violent interference with the rights of property. A council was called at Winchester, Ælfere supported the refractory clergy; while the monks declared that a crucifix on the wall had denounced the proposed backsliding. The meeting was adjourned to Calne, in Wiltshire. In the synod there held, 978 A.D., the
thing, though it was seemingly paid with reluctance; but when or why it was established cannot certainly be known. See p. 95.
clerical party brought forward a foreign champion, Beornhelm, whose eloquence and arguments proved more than equal to Dunstan's.1 The practice, which had crept in loosely, was now defended as apostolical, on the precedent of St. Peter; and the charge of Manicheism was brought against the promoters of celibacy. The charge was certainly false; a belief in the eternity of matter could hardly be ascribed to men whose contempt for the body was based on its perishable nature; but a certain advantage always rests with those who can call their brothers Raca with a degree of logical plausibility. Nor can we doubt that to the secular clergy it was a real benefit to have a moral standing-point. At once clamoured and argued down, Dunstan gave up the unequal controversy in despair, declaring that he referred his cause to God's judgement. Suddenly the overcrowded building gave way; the mass of the meeting were killed or maimed in the general crash; while Dunstan escaped by clinging to a beam. The incident was considered decisive; God had answered his servant by a miracle; and the Anglo-Saxon priests were compelled henceforth to allow that marriage was wrong, and to practise it with a sense of guilt.
But Dunstan's hopes were again dashed by the news of Edward's death. The young king, returning from the chase, had visited his step-mother at Corfe Castle, and had been stabbed in the back by Elfride's orders, 978 A. D., while he drank the stirrup-cup.3 The crime was no doubt the work of a faction; Ælfere of Mercia is said to have had a share in it; Dunstan expressed the public suspicions on the day of the
1 Beornhelm was Scotorum Pontifex.-Osbern, Anglia Sacra, vol. ii., p. 112. Another champion of the clergy was Fothad.-Wright's A. S. Literature, p. 456. 'I agree with Mr. Hallam, in opposition to Dean Milman, in thinking the accident better explained by the defective mechanics of the time, than by any plot. Setting aside the moral improbabilities, which I think conclusive against Dunstan's share in it, it is difficult to understand how the props of a floor could be so sawn away, as to support a large meeting till a preconcerted signal should be given, and should fall so as not to endanger the primate.
3 Edward's name of "the Martyr," was derived from the miracles said to be wrought by his body.-Wendover, vol. i., pp. 419, 420.
FATE OF EDWARD'S MURDERERS.
coronation, when he stood up in the spirit of prophecy, and declared that such woes should come upon England and its blood-bought royalty as the land had never yet known. Nevertheless, the primate maintained his ascendancy, and the education of the young king, a boy only ten years old, was completed by monks. It seems as if public feeling had been stirred in all its depths by the late murder. Men said that the guilty Ælfere died the death of Herod, eaten by worms; and Elfride, crushed by the public horror at her guilt, at last retired to a convent, and spent her last days in expiating the misdeeds of her life the betrayal of a first husband, adultery, and assassination.
THE DANISH CONQUEST.
EFFECTS OF DUNSTAN'S POLICY.-RENEWED DANISH INVASIONS.-WORTHLESS
How fatal the triumph of an idealist can be to the interests which he himself has at heart, may be seen from the issue of Dunstan's political career. He remained to the end of his life supreme in the church, and the chief man in the state. To him it is due that the celibacy of the regular clergy was henceforth enforced more or less rigidly in England, and that theory was in favour of extending that rule to the secular clergy, as was done about a hundred years later. But he himself must have felt that the battle was only half won, while livings, and even bishoprics, were enjoyed by married men;1 and he himself would probably have thought that feudalism had been shut out of the church at too great a cost, had he lived to see the un
1 "Almar, bishop of Elmham, (at the Norman Conquest) was a married man, and held the manor of Blofield in right of his wife, before and after he was made bishop."-Munford's Domesday of Norfolk, p. 94. As late as 1194 A.D., "the incumbents of Dunston held the church by inheritance." "Pope Pascal (1107 A.D.), while using his utmost endeavours to prohibit the marriage of the priesthood, was compelled to allow that the sons of the clergy should be instituted to ecclesiastical benefices."-Palgrave's Introd. Rot. Cur. Regis., pp. xxviii.-xxx. "It seems to yourselves that ye have no sin in so living in female intercourse as laymen.”Elfric's Pastoral, s. 32; A. S. Laws, vol. ii., p. 377. Lichfeldensis episcopus cui uxor publica habita filiique procreati.-Lanfranc, Epist. 4, vol. i., p. 22. I know not if it was a wife with whom Walter bishop of Hereford lived, 1075 A.D. Hic infamiâ cujusdam mulieris statum suum multum denigravit."-B. de Cotton. de Episc., p. 407.