Early Britain eBook

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

But the removal to Britain effected one immense change.  “War begat the king.”  In Sleswick the English had lived within their little marks as free and independent communities.  In Britain all the clans of each colony gradually came under the military command of a king.  The ealdormen who led the various marauding bands assumed royal power in the new country.  Such a change was indeed inevitable.  For not only had the English to win the new England, but they had also to keep it and extend it.  During four hundred years a constant smouldering warfare was carried on between the foreigners and the native Welsh on their western frontier.  Thus the townships of each colony entered into a closer union with one another for military purposes, and so arose the separate chieftainships or petty kingdoms of early England.  But the king’s power was originally very small.  He was merely the semi-hereditary general and representative of the people, of royal stock, but elected by the free suffrages of the freemen.  Only as the kingdoms coalesced, and as the power of meeting became consequently less, did the king acquire his greater prerogatives.  From the first, however, he seems to have possessed the right of granting public lands, with the consent of the freemen, to particular individuals; and such book-land, as the early English called it, after the introduction of Roman writing, became the origin of our system of private property in land.

Every township had its moot or assembly of freemen, which met around the sacred oak, or on some holy hill, or beside the great stone monument of some forgotten Celtic chieftain.  Every hundred also had its moot, and many of these still survive in their original form to the present day, being held in the open air, near some sacred site or conspicuous landmark.  And the colony as a whole had also its moot, at which all freemen might attend, and which settled the general affairs of the kingdom.  At these last-named moots the kings were elected; and though the selection was practically confined to men of royal kin, the king nevertheless represented the free choice of the tribe.  Before the conversion to Christianity, the royal families all traced their origin to Woden.  Thus the pedigree of Ida, King of Northumbria, runs as follows:—­“Ida was Eopping, Eoppa was Esing, Esa was Inguing, Ingui Angenwiting, Angenwit Alocing, Aloc Benocing, Benoc Branding, Brand Baldaeging, Baeldaeg Wodening.”  But in later Christian times the chroniclers felt the necessity of reconciling these heathen genealogies with the Scriptural account in Genesis; so they affiliated Woden himself upon the Hebrew patriarchs.  Thus the pedigree of the West Saxon kings, inserted in the Chronicle under the year 855, after conveying back the genealogy of AEthelwulf to Woden, continues to say, “Woden was Frealafing, Frealaf Finning,” and so on till it reaches “Sceafing, id est filius Noe; he was born in Noe’s Ark.  Lamech, Mathusalem, Enoc, Jared, Malalehel, Camon, Enos, Seth, Adam, primus homo et pater noster.”

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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