Early Britain eBook

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

York (Eoforwic), the capital of the North, had its own archbishop and its Danish internal organisation.  It seems to have been always an important and considerable town, and it doubtless possessed the same large body of handicraftsmen as Winchester.  During the doubtful period of Danish and English struggles, the archbishop apparently exercised quasi-royal authority over the English burghers themselves.

Among the cathedral towns the most important were Canterbury (Cant-wara-byrig), the old capital of Kent and metropolis of all England, which seems to have contained a relatively large trading population; Dorchester, in Oxfordshire, first the royal city of the West Saxons, and afterwards the seat of the exiled bishopric of Lincoln; Rochester (Hrofes-ceaster), the old capital of the West Kentings, and seat of their bishop:  and Worcester (Wigorna-ceaster), the chief town of the Huiccii.  Of the monastic towns the chief were Peterborough (Burh), Ely (Elig), and Glastonbury (Glaestingabyrig).  Bath, Amesbury, Colchester, Lincoln, Chester, and other towns of Roman origin were also important.  Exeter, the old capital of the West Welsh, situated at the tidal head of the Exe, had considerable trade.  Oxford was a place of traffic and a fortified town.  Hastings, Dover, and the other south-coast ports had some communications with France.  The only other places of any note were Chippenham, Bensington, and Aylesbury; Northampton and Southampton; Bamborough; the fortified posts built by Eadward and AEthelflaed; and the Danish boroughs of Bedford, Derby, Leicester, Stamford, Nottingham, and Huntingdon.  The Witena-gemots and the synods took place in any town, irrespective of size, according to royal convenience.  But as early as the days of Cnut, London was beginning to be felt as the real centre of national life:  and Eadward the Confessor, by founding Westminster Abbey, made it practically the home of the kings.  The Conqueror “wore his crown on Eastertide at Winchester; on Pentecost at Westminster; and on Midwinter at Gloucester:”  which probably marks the relative position of the three towns as the chief places in the old West Saxon realm at least.  Under AEthelstan, London had eight moneyers or mint-masters, while Winchester had only six, and Canterbury seven.

As regards the arts and traffic in the towns, they were chiefly carried on by guilds, which had their origin, as Dr. Brentano has shown with great probability, in separate families, who combined to keep up their own trade secrets as a family affair.  In time, however, the guilds grew into regular organisations, having their own code of rules and laws, many of which (as at Cambridge, Exeter, and Abbotsbury) we still possess.  It is possible that the families of craftsmen may at first have been Romanised Welsh inhabitants of the cities; for all the older towns—­London, Canterbury, York, Lincoln, and Rochester—­were almost certainly inhabited without interruption from the Roman period onward.  But in any case the guilds seem to have grown out of family compacts, and to have retained always the character of close corporations.  There must have been considerable division of the various trades even before the Conquest, and each trade must have inhabited a separate quarter; for we find at Winchester, or elsewhere, in the reign of AEthelred, Fellmonger, Horsemonger, Fleshmonger, Shieldwright, Shoewright, Turner, and Salter Streets.

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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