Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.

 [2] He was buried at St. Peter’s, and his tomb still exists
     in the remodelled building.  Baeda quotes the inscription in
     full, and quotes it correctly; a fact which may be taken as
     an excellent test of his historical accuracy, and the care
     with which he collected his materials.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that while Christianity made great progress, many marks of heathendom were still left among the people.  Well-worship and stone-worship, devil-craft and sacrifices to idols, are mentioned in every Anglo-Saxon code of laws, and had to be provided against even as late as the time of Eadgar.  The belief in elves and other semi-heathen beings, and the reverence for heathen memorials, was rife, and shows itself in such names as AElfred, elf-counsel; AElfstan, elf-stone; AElfgifu, elf-given; AEthelstan, noble-stone; and Wulfstan, wolf-stone.  Heathendom was banished from high places, but it lingered on among the lower classes, and affected the nomenclature even of the later West Saxon kings themselves.  Indeed, it was closely interwoven with all the life and thought of the people, and entered, in altered forms, even into the conceptions of Christianity current amongst them.  The Christian poem of Caedmon is tinctured on every page with ideas derived from the legends of the old heathen mythology.  And it will probably surprise many to learn that even at this late date, tattooing continued to be practised by the English chieftains.

CHAPTER XII.

THE CONSOLIDATION OF THE KINGDOMS.

With the final triumph of Christianity, all the formative elements of Anglo-Saxon Britain are complete.  We see it, a rough conglomeration of loosely-aggregated principalities, composed of a fighting aristocracy and a body of unvalued serfs; while interspersed through its parts are the bishops, monks, and clergy, centres of nascent civilisation for the seething mass of noble barbarism.  The country is divided into agricultural colonies, and its only industry is agriculture, its only wealth, land.  We want but one more conspicuous change to make it into the England of the Augustan Anglo-Saxon age—­the reign of Eadgar—­and that one change is the consolidation of the discordant kingdoms under a single loose over-lordship.  To understand this final step, we must glance briefly at the dull record of the political history.

Under AEthelfrith, Eadwine, and Oswiu, Northumbria had been the chief power in England.  But the eighth century is taken up with the greatness of Mercia.  Ecgfrith, the last great king of Northumbria, whose over-lordship extended over the Picts of Galloway and the Cumbrians of Strathclyde, endeavoured to carry his conquests beyond the Forth, and annex the free land lying to the north of the old Roman line.  He was defeated and slain, and with him fell the supremacy of Northumbria.  Mercia, which already, under

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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