Early Britain eBook

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

In spite of constant wars and ravages from the northern pirates, there can be little doubt that England had been slowly advancing in material civilisation ever since the introduction of Christianity.  The heathen intermixture in the North and the Midlands had retarded the advance but had not completely checked it; while in Wessex and the South the intercourse with the continent and the consequent growth in culture had been steadily increasing.  AEthelwulf of Wessex married a daughter of Karl the Bald; AElfred gave his daughter to a count of Flanders; and Eadward’s princesses were married respectively to the emperor, to the king of France, and to the king of Provence.  Such alliances show a considerable degree of intercourse between Wessex and the Roman world; and the relics of material civilisation fully bear out the inference.  The Institutes of the city of London mention traders from Brabant, Liege, Rouen, Ponthieu, France (in the restricted sense), and the Empire; but these came “in their own vessels.”  England, which now has in her hands the carrying trade of the world, was still dependent for her own supply on foreign bottoms.  We know also that officers were appointed to collect tolls from foreign merchants at Canterbury, Dover, Arundel, and many other towns; and London and Bristol certainly traded on their own account with the Continent.

As a whole, however, England still remained a purely agricultural country to the very end of the Anglo-Saxon period.  It had but little foreign trade, and what little existed was chiefly confined to imports of articles of luxury (wine, silk, spices, and artistic works) for the wealthier nobles, and of ecclesiastical requisites, such as pictures, incense, relics, vestments, and like southern products for the churches and monasteries.  The exports seem mainly to have consisted of slaves and wool, though hides may possibly have been sent out of the country, and a little of the famous English gold-work and embroidery was perhaps sold abroad in return for the few imported luxuries.  But taking the country at a glance, we must still picture it to ourselves as composed almost entirely of separate agricultural manors, each now owned by a considerable landowner, and tilled mainly by his churls, whose position had sunk during the Danish wars to that of semi-servile tenants, owing customary rents of labour to their superiors.  War had told against the independence of the lesser freemen, who found themselves compelled to choose themselves protectors among the higher born classes, till at last the theory became general that every man must have a lord.  The noble himself lived upon his manor, accepted service from his churls in tilling his own homestead, and allowed them lands in return in the outlying portions of his estates.  His sources of income were two only:  first, the agricultural produce of his lands, thus tilled for him by free labour and by the hands of his serfs; and secondly, the breeding of slaves, shipped from

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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