Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 210 pages of information about Early Britain.

From the moment of their landing in Britain the savage corsairs of the Sleswick flats seem wholly to have laid aside their seafaring habits.  They built no more ships, apparently; for many years after Bishop Wilfrith had to teach the South Saxons how to catch sea-fish; while during the early Danish incursions we hear distinctly that the English had no vessels; nor is there much incidental mention of shipping between the age of the settlement and that of AElfred.  The new-comers took up their abode at once on the richest parts of Roman Britain, and came into full enjoyment of orchards which they had not planted and fields which they had not sown.  The state of cultivation in which they found the vale of York and the Kentish glens must have been widely different from that to which they were accustomed in their old heath-clad home.  Accordingly, they settled down at once into farmers and landowners on a far larger scale than of yore; and they were not anxious to move away from the rich lands which they had so easily acquired.  From being sailors and graziers they took to be agriculturists and landmen.  In the towns, indeed, they did not settle; and most of these continued to bear their old Roman or Celtic titles.  A few may have been destroyed, especially in the first onset, like Anderida, and, at a later date, Chester; but the greater number seem to have been still scantily inhabited, under English protection, by a mixed urban population, mainly Celtic in blood, and known by the name of Loegrians.  It was in the country, however, that the English conquerers took up their abode.  They were tillers of the soil, not merchants or skippers, and it was long before they acquired a taste for urban life.  The whole eastern half of England is filled with villages bearing the characteristic English clan names, and marking each the home of a distinct family of early settlers.  As soon as the new-comers had burnt the villa of the old Roman proprietor, and killed, driven out, or enslaved his abandoned serfs, they took the land to themselves and divided it out on their national system.  Hence the whole government and social organisation of England is purely Teutonic, and the country even lost its old name of Britain for its new one of England.

In England, as of old in Sleswick, the village community formed the unit of English society.  Each such township was still bounded by its mark of forest, mere, or fen, which divided it from its nearest neighbours.  In each lived a single clan, supposed to be of kindred blood and bearing a common name.  The marksmen and their serfs, the latter being conquered Welshmen, cultivated the soil under cereals for bread, and also for an unnecessarily large supply of beer, as we learn at a later date from numerous charters.  Cattle and horses grazed in the pastures, while large herds of pigs were kept in the forest which formed the mark.  Thus the early English settled down at once from a nation of pirates into one of agriculturists. 

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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