History of England, Part I For the use of Middle Forms of Schools

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER III: The English Conquest and Settlement.

1. [1] For more than a century the SAXONS and other Teuton tribes had ravaged Roman Britain, and latterly made small settlements upon the south and east coasts, but now that the Romans were gone, seeing the

"nothingness of the Britons and the goodness of the land,"

they came in large bodies to settle, bringing their wives and children and cattle with them in their keels, and took up their abode here for ever, slaying the chiefs and warriors of the Welsh (as they called the Britons), or driving them before them into the west.

This conquest took two hundred years, and we can see that it came about bit by bit in- two stages as it were. In the first () the invaders won the greater part of the east and south coasts of Britain, and set up small kingdoms along them.

The JUTES in , , and the Hants coast. The SAXONS in , , Essex, and Middlesex. The ENGLISH (from whom the whole land was called England) in East England, Middle England, Lindesey, Deira, and Bernicia (the Welsh names for the country round and Bamborough, meaning the Water-land and the Brigantians'-land).

Then there came a check, caused perhaps by the bravery of of Cumbria, Head-King of the Britons, who seems to have had a regular army after the Roman fashion. But the growing numbers of the English, who still flocked across the North Sea to the new settlements, and the death of , brought on the second stage of conquest (), when there pushed forward- From WESSEX the Wiltsetas, Dorsetas, Somersetas, Magesetas (round Hereford), and Hwiccas (round Worcester). From the ANGLIAN or ENGLISH kingdoms the Marchmen (Borderers), who built up a great kingdom in the Midlands. The steps of this stage are marked by the battles. In the West Saxons won Salisbury, in the victory at Bedford gave them the country up to ; in , by the famous fight at Dyrham, they also won the three great cities of Gloster, Cirencester, and Bath, cut off the Welsh of Cornwall from the Welsh of Wales, reached the Western Sea, and began to win and settle the Severn valley; finally, by the great battle at Chester, , the Northumbrians also reached


the Irish Channel, and divided the Cumbrian Welsh (who held the east coast from Chester to Dumbarton) from their kinsfolk in Wales. The whole of the west slope and centre valleys of Britain were now in the hands of the English, and the three Welsh kingdoms were never able to unite again to withstand them.

The chief things which weakened the Welsh and enabled the English to overcome them were a terrible famine which took place in the fifth century, the lack of many of their best soldiers, who were away in with their leaders, and did not come back to stop the invasion of their own land; but still more the selfish wickedness and never-ceasing quarrels of the Welsh princes.

The struggle was throughout very cruel and deadly, for the Welsh and English were of different tongues and faiths, and would never mix with each other as had happened in other parts of the Roman empire (for instance, in , where the conquering Franks and the conquered s became one people, using the Latin tongue). Hence, too, the English kept their own tongue and ways unchanged.

All the villages and many towns in East Britain were broken down, fired, and left waste, like Anderida (Pevensey), Uiriconium (Wroxeter), and Chester; but others, like London and , were spared and settled by the English chiefly for convenience of trade, for it was not till much later that the English became a nation of townsfolk.

2. [2] The history of these two hundred years of conquest must be pieced together out of different sources, for when the English became Christians they grew ashamed of their heathen forefathers, and the Welsh stories have mostly perished. But two famous legends, that of the and the , have come down to us. The first tells how , Duke or King of Britain, sent (after the Roman fashion of fighting barbarians by barbarian aid) to two Jute wickings [sea-rovers], and , praying them to help him against the Picts and Scots. They came and defeated his foes and then made up their minds to win part of Britain for themselves, so they sent home for help, which soon came, and wintered in the Isle of Thanet. Then , for love of Romwen, 's daughter, betrayed his country and gave them the kingdom of ; but Vortimer and Catigern, his valiant sons, fought four battles against them, in one of which, at Epsford, Catigern and fell in hand-to-hand fight. But at Vortimer's death the Britons fled like fire, leaving lord of , and he won still more land; for having entrapped


and the British princes to a great feast, he slew them by treachery, forcing the king to ransom himself by giving up London and a great part of his kingdom. Merlin the wizard set up the huge blocks of , bringing them from Ireland to Salisbury Plain to stand as a memorial over the murdered nobles. The wicked , spurning the warnings of S. Germanus, the Gallic missionary Bishop of Auxerre, who rebuked him for his sins, was at last destroyed in his palace by fire from heaven.

Better known and grander, but mixed up with other stories so that it is difficult to get any fact out of them, are the tales of the last mighty British king, who beat the English in twelve pitched battles in the north, stemming the tide of invasion by his prowess and that of his good knights Kay and Bedivere and Gawain and Owain, but perishing in the end at the hands of a traitor kinsman: in life and death alike the very type of a Keltic hero.

3. [3] The English were a nation of franklins or freeholders, living by their land and cattle, every man in his own homestead. A knot of neighbouring homesteads owned by men of the same kindred formed a village called by the family name (Wallingford= the ford of the Wallings, Buckingham=the home of the Bockings, Billing=the Billings'). House and yard and cattle were the property of the household, but the tilth meadow and pasture of the village were held in common by all, being divided afresh every year so that each household should have its fair share. This and all other village business was settled by the village moot or meeting of the heads of households (much as in New England now) and their chosen officers, the village-reeve, the pinder, the beadle, and the like. A number of villages were grouped into a hundred, so called because at first it was made up of one hundred and twenty households, each sending one armed man to court, council, or war. In the hundred-moot, the criminal court of the district, which met at least four times a year, disputes between man and man were settled and measures taken against crime; musters of the district or war-levy were also held. A hundred-elder presided at it. The chief court of the whole tribe, above all these, was the or tribe-parliament, which met twice a year to settle great matters, such as war and peace, law-making, choosing or putting down kings, appeals, disputes between noblemen, quarrels between different villages and hundreds, and so on. The king was the head of this meeting, the nobles and gentlefolks


spoke, but every point was carried or thrown out by the votes of the freeholders present.

Afterwards, when several smaller kingdoms were brought together under the rule of head-kings, they used to hold a meeting of the greatest men of all their under kingdoms, called or Wise Men's meeting, which dealt with matters touching their whole dominions. The folk-moot was still the chief court for each separate little kingdom, and was held by an alderman or viceroy of the head-king, who sent a shire-greeve [sheriff] as his steward to sit with him and see that the royal property was properly looked after.

4. [4] An old English moot dealing with criminal law was like a public meeting of to-day, with its chairman, the king or alderman, who kept order, "spoke" or declared the law, and saw the wish of the meeting carried out; its committee, the sworn witnesses or grand jury chosen from the body of the meeting to accuse evil-doers, hear evidence, and say on which side the burden of proof lay; its speakers and their seconders, the plaintiff and defendant with their witnesses and bailsmen. Proof was taken by ordeal of fire or water (in which the accused had to carry a piece of red-hot iron or dip his arm in boiling water, being held guiltless if after seven days he had not suffered), or by compurgation (where a man had to get a certain number of people differing according to their rank or his offence to swear to his innocence). The courts were held in the open air, generally on a hill where all could see and hear. Offences were punished by fine or in worse cases by outlawry (when the criminal was put outside the pale of the law and might be killed like a wolf). Only murder [secret killing], witchcraft, and treason were punished by death (hanging for men, drowning for women). Slaves and vagabonds were whipped or put in the stocks.

5. [5] There were three classes among the old English; two free, gentle () and simple (), and one unfree, slave (), each with its [man-price] payable to the kindred or master of any one who killed a man. If a gentleman was a knight of the king's () or his henchman () his were-gild was higher. Most freemen lived on their own homesteads, but some would take service as henchmen with the king or aldermen or rich gentlemen, whose pride it was to have a body of retainers about them, to guard them in peace, follow them in war, and be standing proof of their riches and bounty; for they fed, clothed, and armed them, paying them by gifts


of weapons, gold rings, cattle, and sometimes farms (for no man's wages were paid in money in those days). Hence the old English poets call kings and princes Lord (loaf-giver) and , and love to sing of the faithfulness of the hench-man and the generosity of his patron. Some landless freemen took up trades and crafts, and were smiths, carpenters, fishermen, huntsmen, or merchants; others worked on or farmed richer folk's land. For though at first in the villages every household had its ethel or share, yet in time the arable land got divided for ever among them nearly everywhere once for all instead of being shared out year by year; and so some became better off than others. Moreover, in each kingdom were large spaces of unenclosed land, commons, belonging to the tribe and not yet parcelled out; pieces of this the king and wise men from time to time granted or booked to churches or king's henchmen, to hold as their own, so that, as nowadays, some men had large estates. In Christian times the monks were great landowners, and many people were employed, free and bond, on their estates.

Slaves worked on their master's land or in his house, like our servants, the men as swineherds, neatherds, or labourers; the women grinding the corn in stone querns, and looking after the milking, cooking, and household drudgery. In the east of England slaves were few, but there were many in the west, chiefly captive Welsh. A man might fall into slavery for some crime that he had done, or he might sell himself for bread in time of famine or distress. There was a regular slave-trade carried on between and Ireland and London and , some men being so wicked as even to sell their own children into bondage.

6. [6] The best way of showing what old England was like will perhaps be to describe one of the larger homesteads with its indwellers and their daily life. The house is a group of high-gabled one-storied timber buildings thatched or tiled--the hall a general eating and living room, the or women's room, besides kitchens, cow-byres, stables, and storehouses--all standing in a square yard fenced about with a bank and hedge, and perhaps a moat round the whole.

The owner of such a place is dressed in linen shirt and hose spun and woven at home, and a short frock reaching the knee of fine red or blue cloth embroidered at the edges and fastened round the waist with a leathern belt, to which hung a sheath knife with carved hilt. On his feet are black leather shoes, and bands of linen like Indian are


twisted round his leg from ankle to knee. His head is bare, his hair long and braided, his beard forked, his throat and breast tattooed; on his arms and wrists are three or four armlets of gold, and on his finger a gold ring with his name or a charm cut round it. If he were going on a journey he would take his sword and round wooden buckler, and if he rode, a ten-foot ashen iron-headed spear. In bad weather he wears a short rough cloak clasped at the shoulder with a large brooch of wrought gold or yellow bronze. In war a mail shirt covers his body and a leathern or metal helmet, with the figure of a boar on it, his head. His servants are dressed in the same style but less richly; if slaves, they are barefoot with cropped heads, long hair being a sign of freedom.

The housewife also wears linen clothes and over them a gown of bright cloth, worked over with needlework in fine patterns, and in winter a mantle with two brooches at the neck; her head is covered with a linen veil (only unmarried girls go bareheaded); at her girdle hangs her pouch for needles and thread and her keys ; in her hand is her distaff.

Masters and servants all dine together (before noon) at the long hall tables served by the women; the meat is handed round on spits, and the cups and drinking-horns filled from wooden buckets on a sideboard. Every man has his own loaf and uses his own knife and wooden spoon. Porridge and milk (cows' or ewes') and barley bread were the staple food; but a rich man's table never lacked beef and mutton in the summer, and salt meat, pork, or game in the winter. In the heathen times horse-flesh was eaten at the sacrificial feasts; but this was forbidden when Christendom came, and fish then became the regular food twice a week on fast-days. Ale and mead were the commonest drinks, but kings and nobles often drank wine brought from abroad.

There was not much furniture in the house, a few curtains and hangings of needlework, trestle tables, benches, large carved chests for clothes, linen, and plate, two or three bedsteads (the servants slept on the benches or the floor), and a high carved chair for the head of the house. The fires were on hearths in the middle of the floor, and the smoke got up through a hole in the roof. There were a few windows under the eaves and gables, these were covered with skin or linen dipped in oil.

There was plenty to do on the farm all the year round. The master would be out all the morning with his sons and men, and after dinner and an hour's rest would go back to work


till sunset, when there would be supper and all would go to bed. The women were cooking and baking and spinning under the mistress's eye. Ploughing and sowing and harrowing, hedging and ditching, were the first outdoor labours of the year; then after the lambing season was over and the winter cut wood had been carted and stacked, hay-making set in; then came the harvest. When the corn was carried, hawking and hunting began, and the herds of swine were driven to the woods to fatten on the mast and acorns; when the leaves had fallen, the corn was thrashed and winnowed, beer was brewed, and cattle and pigs killed and salted for the winter. At Yule there was feasting and holiday for a fortnight. In the spring people went maying and set up Maypoles. Midsummer was a time for merry-making and gatherings of all kinds, fairs, markets, races, horse-fights, and games. The courts were held at such seasons, and in heathen times the sacrifices. Till the Christian calendar came in the week was of five days, and there was no day of rest like our Sunday.

7.[7]  The English believed in many gods. , bluff and red bearded, whose car rattled in the storm as he hurled his lightning hammer at his foes the giants; , father of victory, wisest of gods and men, knowing all things past and to come, since he sold one of his eyes (by the lack of which he was known when he walked in disguise among men) for the Water of Wisdom; , bravest of the gods, who gave his right arm to save the heavenly powers from hurt; , bestower of riches and good seasons; , the giant god, father of mankind; , the cruel sea-god that takes down drowning men; , his wife, who catches them in her net; , the beautiful goddess whose magic necklace, love-inspiring, was the most precious of jewels , lady of war; the , goddesses of fate, strongest of all; and , the black giantess that kept the souls of the wicked in her cold, dark, snake-haunted caves. All these and more they feared or loved, besides believing in [giants], ogres, and such monsters as the two Wolves that are ever chasing the sun and moon, and sometimes grip hold of them for a space, so causing eclipses; , little clever spiteful beings

"that ever dwell beneath the ground nor dare behold the sun,"

making magic weapons and charmed rings, and digging out the treasures of the earth; and elves, fairies of the woods and meadows and wells.

The English buried or burned their dead carefully for fear their angry souls should haunt the spot where the uncared-for


body lay; and as they thought the after life was just like this one, they put food and drink and weapons and horses into the grave with him that the soul might pass its spirit-life happily hunting by night in the woods and feasting by day inside the .

The gods' temples were large halls inside a wooden fence into which no armed man might come. The wooden stocks which stood for the images of the gods, the holy ring on which oaths were sworn, the blood-stone on which the beasts were slain for sacrifice, were kept there. Here the hallowed feasts were held with the flesh of the horses and boars offered to the idols, and fresh-brewed ale in which toasts were drunk to the gods' honour. The temple-keepers, many of whom were women, had no power like the Druids, every householder being priest for his household, and the king for the tribe; but they were consulted as soothsayers, and would go round the country from house to house practising their witchcraft, pretending to make spirits show themselves to men to foretell the future, and " sitting out" in desert places to raise the dead to answer the questions of the living. A tenth of war-spoil was given to the gods, and probably temple-dues paid.

8. [8]  The English were fond of poetry and singing to the harp. Every king had his gleeman, who was loved and honoured by all, for on him it depended whether a man's brave deeds should go down to those that came after him. One of the ways the missionaries found most powerful in getting the people to listen to the Gospel was the putting of Latin hymns into English and singing them in the streets. The church chanting, which was strange to them, also pleased the people much. Old English verse was not like ours, rhymed, but alliterative or -one stressed word in each half of a line must begin with the . The piece given below will show how it was. Their poetry was either , telling stories of gods or heroes, or , teaching useful knowledge, often by proverbs (for the heathen English had no books). The heathen poems are unhappily lost, though we know some of the stories they told about , the cunning smith, his brother, , the mighty archer, and , with his magic boat; , that slew the dragon and got the golden hoard; , and his feats of war; , and the fight at Finnsboro', his hall, and others. One whole poem written by a Christian about a heathen hero is left, and it shows what these older poems were like; it tells


the life and deeds of the Gaut, who rid the Danish king of two fearful ogres, Grendel and his mother, reigned long and well in his own land, and died at last of the wounds he got in killing a firedrake.

9. [9] The old English could write in heathen days, but they only used writing for marking their weapons and goods, or for charms. This line upon a large golden horn found in the old home of the English at Gallehus was written about A.D. , and is the oldest bit of English known- [I Hlewgast the Holting the horn made.] It is written in runes, the letters of an alphabet the Teutons borrowed and adapted from the Greek,perhaps through . This is part of a poem of , made more than three centuries later, and engraven upon a stone cross at Ruthwell, before the year -

Rod wæs ic aræred : ahof ic riicne cuninge

[A-cross was I reared lifted-I the-mighty king,]

>heafunæs hlafard : hælda ic ni darstæ

[the heaven's lord bend I-durst-not]

>bismærædu ungcet men ba ætgadre : ic wæs midh blodæ bistemid.

[mocked us-two men both together I was with blood moistened.]

One can see by these verses that the old English tongue was fully inflected like Latin and Greek, with nouns, adjectives, and verbs declined in many forms, while the bodies of many of the words were almost the same as ours now, only more broadly, slowly, and clearly spoken, though others of them are now disused and forgotten.

10.[10]  The old English are described as brave, hard-working, earnest, truthful, and law-abiding people, cruel and bloodthirsty especially towards foreigners, and too apt when their work was done to give themselves up to gross eating, hard drinking, and deep play. In look they were tall and stout, round headed, with fine thick yellow or brown hair, grey or brown eyes, large teeth, clear ruddy skins, and pleasing faces. Their hands and feet rather big but well shapen. They could bear great fatigue and toil, and were not easily turned back from anything they had once begun.

11.[11]  While the English were conquering Britain a body of Scots from Ireland under landed on the west coast of about A.D. and set up a little kingdom there, which went on fighting


with the Picts till about , when, their royal families having intermarried, Kenneth MacAlpin became heir to both crowns, and from that time the kingdom of Picts and Scots began to be called Scotland and all its people Scots. Kenneth and his descendants ruled as far south as the line of . Their royal dun was at Perth, but they were crowned on the Holy Stone at Scone, which was said to have brought from Ireland. The Scots were Christians, for Ireland had, we know, been converted a generation before they left it. In there came to one of their islands, Hy, now called , a noble Irish monk named , who had left his own land for a penance. He drew many disciples round his cell, and founded a monastery, which became famous for the holiness and learning of its monks, and for the missionaries it sent forth among the heathen Picts in , and the heathen English of . The border between Scots and English was fixed in by the battle of Dawston or Catterick.


[1] The English Conquest.

[] [400-613.]

[2] Legends of the Conquest.

[3] The English people. Their government.

[] [400-900.]

[4] Law.

[5] Ranks.

[6] An old English homestead.

[7] Religion

[8] Poetry.

[9] Tongue.

[10] Look and mind

[11] The Scots

  • In-text illustrations for this text are cataloged in MS004/002.001#DO01.
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