Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V: The State of Property, and the different Ranks and Orders of Men, produced by the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain. - An Historical View of the English Government
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CHAPTER V: The State of Property, and the different Ranks and Orders of Men, produced by the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain. - John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government 
An Historical View of the English Government, From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688, in four volumes, edited by Mark Salber Philips and Dale R. Smith, introduction by Mark Salber Philips (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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The State of Property, and the different Ranks and Orders of Men, produced by the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain.
The distribution of property among any people is the principal circumstance that contributes to reduce them under civil government, and to determine the form of their political constitution. The poor are naturally dependent upon the rich, from whom they derive subsistence; and, according to the accidental differences of wealth possessed by individuals, a subordination of ranks is gradually introduced, and different degrees of power and authority are assumed without opposition, by particular persons, or bestowed upon them by the general voice of the society.
The progress of the Saxon arms in Britain produced an appropriation of land and moveables, by all the free members of the community. Every warrior considered himself as entitled to a share of the spoil acquired by the conquest; and obtained a number of captives,<128> a landed territory, proportioned to his valour and activity, or to the services which he had performed. It is probable that the several conquering parties were seldom at the trouble of making a formal division of their acquisitions, but commonly permitted each individual to enjoy the booty which he had seized in war, and to become master of such a quantity of land, as by means of his captives, and the other members of his family, he was enabled to occupy and to manage. Such of the ancient inhabitants, on the other hand, as remained in the country, and had preserved their liberty, were in all probability understood to retain the property of those estates of which they had been able to maintain the possession.
There is good reason to believe that, for some time after the settlement of those barbarians in England, the landed estates acquired by individuals were generally of small extent. The Saxons were among the poorest and the rudest of the German nations who invaded the Roman empire; and Britain was, on the other hand, one of the least cultivated of all its provinces; at the same time that the progress of the conquerors in the appropriation of land<129> (which from these causes must have been proportionably slow and gradual) was further obstructed by the vigorous opposition of the natives, who seem to have disputed every inch of ground with their enemies.
We accordingly find that, from the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon government, the land was divided into hides, each comprehending what could be cultivated by a single plough. This, among a simple people, becomes a natural boundary to the possession of those who live in the same house, and are jointly at the expence of procuring that useful but complicated instrument of husbandry. The general estimation of the Anglo-Saxon lands, according to this inaccurate measure, points out sufficiently the original circumstance which regulated the extent of the greater part of estates. When, by the progress of cultivation, and by future successes in war, the landed property of individuals was increased, the ancient standard of computation remained; and the largest estates, by comparing them with the smallest, were rated according to the number of hides which they contained.* <130>
While the estates possessed by the Anglo-Saxons were small, they were cultivated under the immediate inspection of the owner, his kindred or servants, who lived in his own house, and were fed at his table. But when the territory acquired by any person became too extensive, and the members of his family became too numerous, to render this mode of living any longer convenient, a part of his land was parcelled out into different farms, and committed to the management of particular bondmen, from whom, at the end of the year, he required an account of the produce. A part of any great estate came likewise to be occupied by the kindred and free retainers of the proprietor, to whom, in return for that military service which they undertook to perform, he assigned portions of land for a maintenance.
Hence the distinction between the in-land of the Saxons, and the out-land: the former was what lay next the mansion-house of the owner, and was retained in his own hands; the latter, what lay at a greater distance, and was in the possession and management either of his retainers or servants.† <131>
The out-land of every opulent person came thus to be possessed by two different sorts of people; the bond-men, who laboured their farms for the benefit of their master, and those freemen (most commonly his kindred) who had become bound to follow him in war, and upon that condition were entitled to draw the full produce of their possessions. The former have been called villeins,1 the latter vassals.
Considering the right of the latter to the lands which they possessed, in contradistinction to that of the person from whom they derived their possession, the landed estates of the Anglo-Saxons have been divided into allodial and feudal.2 The allodial estates were those of every independent proprietor. Over these the owner enjoyed a full dominion; and he had a right to alienate or dispose of them at pleasure. Upon the death of a proprietor, they descended to his heirs, according to certain rules of succession which custom had introduced; and they were not burdened with service of any kind in favour of a superior.
The feudal estates were those possessed by vassals upon condition of military or other ser-<132>vices: these were held originally during the pleasure of the superior, though it appears that custom had early secured the possession of the vassal for a limited time. When he had ploughed and sowed his ground, it was thought equitable that he should be allowed to reap the crop arising from his labour and expence. Thus a year came soon to be acknowledged as the shortest period, upon the conclusion of which he might be deprived of his possession. Even after this period it was not likely that a superior would think of putting away his relations and ancient retainers, with whose personal attachment he was well acquainted, and of whose valour and fidelity he had probably been a witness. The possessions, therefore, of the greater part of the vassals, though not confirmed by any positive bargain, with respect to the term of their continuance, were in fact usually retained for life; and even upon the death of the possessor were frequently enjoyed by his posterity, whom, out of affection to the ancestor, the superior commonly preferred to a stranger, or to any distant relation. When the lands of a vassal had, by a positive<133> bargain, been only secured to him for life, or for a limited period, they were called benefices.*
The differences which I have mentioned in the condition of estates, gave rise, most probably, to the celebrated distinction of boc-land and folc-land.3 The former, comprehending the estates of the nobler sort, was allodial, and being held in absolute property, was conveyed by a deed in writing; the latter was the land possessed by people of inferior condition, who having no right of property, but holding their possessions merely as tenants, for payment of rents or services, did not obtain any written title for ascertaining their rights.†
It may be remarked that boc-land might belong either to the king or to a subject, and that it implied no obligation to feudal services, in the latter case, more than in the former. It is true that subjects who enjoyed boc-land were bound to defend the kingdom from enemies by sea or land, and to build or repair bridges and castles:† but these were services which they owed to the public as citizens, not to the<134> king as vassals. These duties were imposed by a general law of the kingdom, and were laid upon the possessors of folcland as well as of boc-land, upon the clergy as well as laity, in short, upon all the free members of the community.§
Such was the original state of property in the Anglo-Saxon government; from the consideration of which, together with the early circumstances and manners of the nation, the inhabitants, exclusive of the sovereign, may be distinguished into three different ranks or orders.
1. The first and most conspicuous was that of the military people. It is probable that for some time after the settlement of the Saxons in England, this comprehended all the free men of the nation. The general character of those adventurers, and the views with which they invaded Britain, were such as disposed every man, who had the direction of his own conduct, to become a soldier, and to engage in every enterprize by which either plunder or reputation might be procured. These war-<135>riors, who in general were denominated thanes,4 came soon to be arranged in two classes; the one consisting of those heads of families who had acquired allodial property; the other of such retainers as held lands, by a military tenure, either of the king, or of any other allodial proprietor. Both these classes of people were accounted gentlemen, and were understood to be of the same rank, in as much as they exercised the honourable profession of arms; though in point of influence and power there was the greatest disparity, the vassals being almost intirely dependent upon their superior. The soldiers of this lower class appear to have received the appellation of less, or inferior thanes.*
2. The peasants composed a second order, greatly inferior in rank to the thanes of either class. They appear to have consisted chiefly of such persons as had been reduced into captivity during the long wars between the Britons and the Saxons, and had afterwards been entrusted by their masters with the management of particular farms; they were called ceorls, carles, or churles. Some of them, no<136> doubt, were kept in the house of their master, and employed in cultivating the land in his own possession; but the greater number were usually sent to a distance, and placed, as it happened to be convenient, upon different parts of his estate. The former being under his eye, and acting on all occasions from his orders, remained for a long time in their primitive servile condition; the latter, on the contrary, being withdrawn from his immediate inspection, had necessarily more trust and confidence reposed in them, and were thence enabled, with some degree of rapidity, to improve their circumstances. From their distance, the master was obliged to relinquish all thoughts of compelling them to labour, by means of personal chastisement; and as, from the nature of their employment, he could hardly judge of their diligence, otherwise than by their success, he soon found it expedient to bribe their industry, by giving them a reward in proportion to the crop which they produced. They were thus allowed to acquire property; and their condition became similar, in every respect, to that of the adscripti glebae5 among the ancient Romans, to that of the pre-<137>sent colliers and salters in Scotland, or of the bondmen employed in the mines in several parts of Europe. In this situation some of them, by industry and frugality, found means to accumulate so much wealth, as enabled them to stock their own farms, and become bound to pay a certain yearly rent to the master.
It must be acknowledged, the writers upon Saxon antiquities have generally supposed that the ceorls were never in a servile condition; that from the beginning they were free tenants, forming a distinct class of people, and holding an intermediate rank between the villeins or bondmen, and those who followed the military profession. But this supposition, so far as I know, is made without any shadow of proof: it probably took its rise from observing that the free tenants, towards the end of the Anglo-Saxon government, were very numerous, without attending to the circumstances from which they obtained their freedom. It is not likely, however, that in so rude and warlike an age any set of men, who had not been debased by servitude, and restrained by their condition, would attach themselves<138> wholly to agriculture, and be either unfit for war, or unwilling to engage in it. If the ceorls had not been originally in some degree of bondage, they would undoubtedly have been warriors; and we accordingly find that when, from the circumstances above mentioned, they had afterwards acquired considerable privileges, they were advanced to the rank and employment of thanes.
Though the peasants were chiefly employed in agriculture, they were sometimes engaged in other branches of labour, as a collateral profession. From the poverty and rudeness of the country, for some time after the settlement of the Saxons in Britain, it may easily be imagined that little encouragement was given to mechanical arts, and that artificers and tradesmen were not of sufficient consequence to become a separate order in the community. Some mechanics, even in that simple age, were doubtless necessary to procure the ordinary accommodations of life, but the demand for their work was too narrow to occupy the sole attention of any individual. Such of the bondmen as had attained a peculiar dexterity in performing any branch of manual labour,<139> were naturally employed by the master in the exercise of it, and thus were led, by degrees, to make some proficiency in particular occupations. But they were not hindered by these employments from cultivating the ground; and they obtained a maintenance in the same manner with the other peasants, either by living in the house of their master, or by the possession of separate farms upon his estate. As these mechanical employments were accounted more unwarlike and contemptible than the exercise of husbandry, there was yet less probability that any freeman would be willing to engage in them.
3. A third order of men, who in this period of the English history became more and more distinguished, was that of the clergy. The numerous body of church-men introduced by the Christian religion, especially in the western part of Europe, the extensive power and authority which they gradually acquired, together with the peculiar views and motives by which they were actuated, amidst the disorder and barbarism of the feudal times, are circumstances of so much magnitude, as to deserve particular attention in tracing any modern system<140> of European policy. A few remarks, however, concerning the nature and origin of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the primitive government of the Christian church, will be sufficient, upon a subject that has been so often and so fully examined.
Of the chief Regulations attending the Establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and in the modern Kingdoms of Europe.
After the Christian religion had been extended over a great part of the Roman dominions, it was at last, in the reign of Constantine, taken under the protection of government, and obtained the sanction of public authority. The uniformity of circumstances attending the introduction of this new religion, produced throughout the whole empire an uniform set of ecclesiastical regulations.
In every province, religious teachers had taken up their residence wherever they met with encouragement; and the country was, by degrees, divided into small districts, or pa-<141>rishes, in each of which a particular clergyman had gained an establishment.
As the inhabitants of a parish were accustomed to assemble at stated times for public worship, and were by that means united in a religious society, so the zeal with which they were animated in support of their religion disposed them to inspect the conduct and theological opinions of all their members. For the regulation of these, and of all their common affairs, the heads of families, belonging to every congregation, frequently held meetings, in which their pastor was naturally allowed to preside, and gradually obtained the chief direction of their measures. Even in secular matters, the people were disposed to be guided by his judgment; and when a controversy had arisen between individuals, he was esteemed the most proper person to compose the difference; which was therefore most commonly referred by the parties to his determination.
The advancement of Christianity opened a communication between the professors of this religion belonging to different parishes, who in like manner were accustomed to deliberate upon their common religious concerns. Some<142> particular clergyman became the ordinary president in those cases; and upon that account acquiring superior consideration and rank, was at length exalted to be superintendant, or bishop, of a large district or diocese. When these diocesan meetings were greatly multiplied, the attendance of the laity being found inconvenient, and appearing to them of less consequence, was gradually neglected, so that the business came to remain entirely in the hands of the clergy.
The minister of every parish was at first maintained by the occasional bounty of those who reaped the benefit of his instructions; and such was the attachment of the primitive Christians to their teachers, and to one another, that they cheerfully made contributions not only for that purpose, but also for the maintenance of their poor. In the declining state of Rome, when the decay of knowledge, by infusing a strong leaven of superstition, had corrupted the purity of the Christian religion, the clergy found means to obtain a more independent revenue, by persuading persons upon their death-bed to make donations to the church, in order to atone for their offences.<143> In the reign of the emperor Constantine, when Christianity became the established religion of the empire, testamentary bequests in favour of societies, which had formerly been prohibited by the Roman law, came to be permitted without controul; and from this time the fashion of leaving legacies to the church for pious uses became so universal, that the clergy were enabled to accumulate large estates, both in moveables and land.
The management of these estates, as of all other matters concerning religion, was naturally devolved upon the clergy of every diocese, who assumed a discretionary power of distributing the produce in such a manner as they thought most expedient, or most conformable to the purpose of the donors. As the bishop, however, acquired more influence in ecclesiastical meetings, he was in a capacity of appropriating to his own use a greater share of that revenue which fell under their disposal. His dignity became more conspicuous; and for supporting it a suitable estate was deemed necessary. His cathedral was enlarged and rendered more magnificent, a more pompous form of worship was introduced into it, and a<144> number of clergymen were appointed to assist in the religious services, or other branches of duty, that were supposed to belong to his department.
The rise of a bishop over the clergy of his diocese may be compared to that of a rude chief over the members of his tribe; as in both cases a superiority of station, derived from personal qualities, put it in the power of a single person to acquire superior wealth, and thence to become the permanent head or leader of a society: but the original pre-eminence of the chief arose from his military talents, that of the bishop, from the veneration paid to the sanctity of his character and profession. This makes the only difference in the nature of their advancement.
While those who had the direction of religious matters were thus advancing in opulence and power, there arose a new set of fanatics, who divided the esteem and admiration of the people, and were at length admitted into the clerical profession.
The erroneous notions entertained in the dark ages, concerning the Supreme Being; the supposition that he is actuated by anger<145> and resentment, in a literal sense, against those who transgress his laws, and that these passions are to be gratified by the mere suffering of his creatures; suggested to persons impressed with a strong feeling of their own guilt, and tortured upon that account with sorrow and remorse, the idea of submitting to voluntary penances, in order to appease an offended Deity, and to avert that future punishment which they were conscious of having deserved. From views of this kind, particular persons became disposed to retire from the world, and to deny themselves almost all the comforts and enjoyments of life: societies were afterwards formed, the members of which expressly bound themselves not only to submit to actual punishments, but to renounce all those pleasures and gratifications to which mankind have the greatest propensity, and for this purpose came under the vows of poverty, of chastity, and of obedience to the rules of their community. As Christianity took a firmer hold of the mind than any of the religions which had been formerly established, this perversion of its doctrines was attended with consequences proportionably more extensive.<146>
These misguided votaries to mortification6 being originally poor, were supported either by alms or by their manual labour; but their exemplary lives, and the austerities which they practised, having excited universal admiration, enabled them to follow the example of the secular clergy, by procuring donations from the people; and hence, notwithstanding the poverty still professed by individuals, their societies acquired the possession of great riches. The members of these communities were by degrees admitted into holy orders; and became no less instrumental in promoting the influence of the church, than in communicating religious instruction.
As the affairs of a diocese had fallen under the chief direction of a bishop, those of a monastery were conducted by an abbot, who presided in the meetings of the society, and who, by obtaining authority in consequence of that distinction, was at length permitted to assume the distribution and disposal of their property.
Although the authority and jurisdiction of the church in this early period of Christianity, and the subordination among different ranks of<147> churchmen, proceeded in good measure from the nature of the business committed to their care, and the influence derived from their profession, yet the general fabric of ecclesiastical government was likewise a good deal affected by the political circumstances of the Roman empire. The person exalted to the head of a diocese was very often the minister of the most considerable town of that district, who from the greater weight and importance of his flock enjoyed a proportionable consideration among his brethren of the clergy. As by the civil policy of the empire many of those districts were united in what, according to the later division of the country, was called a province, the clergy of this larger territory were led frequently to hold provincial synods, in which the bishop of the capital city, acquiring respect from his residence near the seat of government, became the regular president, and was thence exalted to the dignity and title of a metropolitan or archbishop. In the yet more extensive divisions of the empire, which were called jurisdictions, the clergy were induced, upon some occasions, to deliberate; and in those greater meetings the right of presiding<148> was claimed by the bishop, who resided in the same city with the governor of each respective jurisdiction. Hence there arose a still superior rank in the church, that of an exarch or patriarch, who obtained certain prerogatives over the clergy of that great division. Of all the patriarchs in Christendom those of Rome and Constantinople, the two great capitals of the empire, became soon the most distinguished, the former of which enjoyed a pre-eminence over all the clergy in the western, the latter over those in the eastern provinces.
Upon the conquest of the western empire by the barbarous nations, the ancient inhabitants, who had for a long time been declining in arts and knowledge, experienced at once a violent change of situation, and were suddenly plunged into the darkness and barbarism of their conquerors. As those conquerors, however, embraced the Christian religion, they submitted implicitly to the discipline of the church, and to all the forms of ecclesiastical government which they had found established. The Roman clergy, therefore, remained upon their former footing, and were far from losing any of their former privileges; they even en-<149>deavoured, amidst the general destruction of science, to preserve a degree of that literature which, in order to propagate and defend the tenets of their religion, they had been under the necessity of acquiring, and which was the great support of their influence and popularity. With this view, and for the instruction of the people, more especially of those that were to be admitted into holy orders, they erected schools in their cathedrals and monasteries, and thence laid the foundation of those communities, possessed of ecclesiastical powers and privileges, which have received the exclusive appellation of colleges.
From these two circumstances, from the gross ignorance and the consequent superstition of the people, and from the comparative knowledge and abilities of the clergy, the latter were enabled to reap the utmost advantage from their situation, and to acquire an almost unlimited ascendency over the former. Hence the doctrines of the church concerning her influence in the remission of sins, and concerning the distribution of rewards and punishments in a future state, came to be modelled in such a manner as was plainly calculated to<150> promote her temporal interest. From this period, therefore, the donations of land to the church were greatly increased, and the bishops, abbots, and other dignified clergymen,7 who reaped the chief advantage from these benefactions, became possessed of estates, which enabled them in some degree to rival the greater thanes of the country. From the same causes the contributions made by every congregation for the support of their minister, were gradually augmented. To augment these contributions, and to render them permanent, the church employed the utmost address and influence of all her members. What was at first a voluntary offering came afterwards, by the force of custom, to be regarded as a duty. Having gradually raised this taxation higher and higher, the clergy, after the example of the Jewish priests, demanded at length a tenth part of the annual produce of land, as due to them by divine appointment. Not contented with this, they in some places insisted upon the same proportion of the annual industry; and it came to be maintained, that they had even a right to the tenth part of the alms given to beggars, as well as of the<151> hire earned by common prostitutes in the exercise of their profession.* To inforce the obligation of submitting to these monstrous exactions, was for a long time, it is said, the great aim of those discourses which resounded from every pulpit, and of the pious exhortations delivered by each ghostly father in private. The right of levying tythes,8 which was first established in France, and which afterwards made its way through all the western parts of Christendom, created to the church a revenue of no less value than what she derived from her landed possessions.† The tythes of every parish were collected by its own minister, but a large proportion of those duties came to be demanded from the inferior clergy by the bishop of the diocese.
When the provinces of the western empire were broken into a number of independent kingdoms, it might have been expected that the church establishment in those countries would experience a similar revolution, and that the clergy of every separate kingdom, being<152> detached from those of every other, would form a separate ecclesiastical system. It is not difficult, however, to discover the circumstances which prevented such a separation; and which, notwithstanding the various oppositions of civil government, united the church of all the western countries of Europe in one great ecclesiastical monarchy.
The patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople, of whom the one, as has been already observed, became the head of the western, and the other of the eastern part of Christendom, were in a different situation with respect to the establishment of their power and dignity. The patriarch of Constantinople, from his connection with the principal seat of government, appears for some time to have been exalted above his western rival, and to have enjoyed superior authority. But after he had attained a certain pitch of exaltation, the very circumstance which had hitherto promoted his advancement, tended immediately to stop the progress of it; for no sooner did he become an object of jealousy to the civil power, than the vicinity of the imperial residence contributed the more effectually to thwart and controul every pro-<153>ject for the extension of his privileges. The Roman pontiff, on the other hand, when he had risen to such opulence and dignity as might have excited the envy and disgust of the civil magistrate, was, by the dissolution of the western empire, freed from the troublesome inspection of monarchs, who probably would have checked the growth of his power; and being placed in the situation of an independent prince, was at full liberty to put in practice every politic measure which might either enlarge his temporal dominions, or extend his authority over that numerous body of clergy who already owned his supremacy.
It may further explain the history of the western church to observe, that while the bishop of Rome was thus in a condition to avail himself of that superiority which he had acquired, the circumstances of the clergy were such as made it their interest to unite in one body, and to court his protection. The character of churchmen was, from the nature of their profession, a good deal different from that of the laity, and incited them to very opposite pursuits. The former, in a military and rude age, were generally drawn from the inferior<154> ranks of life; at the same time that, from the prevalence of superstition, they possessed great influence over the minds of the people, and were daily advancing their claims to power and emoluments. By the ancient nobility, therefore, or leading men of every country, and still more by the sovereign, the haughtiness, the insolence, and the rapacity of these upstarts, was often beheld with indignation and resentment, and produced continual jealousies and disputes between those different orders; the latter endeavouring to maintain and to extend a set of immunities and privileges, which the former were no less eager to restrain. In such a contest the ecclesiastics of any particular kingdom were as much inferior to their adversaries in direct force, as they were usually superior in skill and dexterity; and their situation naturally pointed out the expedient of soliciting assistance from their brethren in the neighbouring kingdoms. That assistance they very seldom failed to procure. The controversy of every individual was regarded as the common cause of the whole order. By adhering to one another, however disjoined in point of civil government, they became sufficiently power-<155>ful, not only to avoid oppression, but even to defend their usurpations; and by combining, like the soldiers of an army, under one leader, their forces were directed to the best advantage.
The opportunities which this great leader enjoyed, of augmenting his revenue, and of increasing his power, may easily be conceived. In the multitude of disputes which occurred between the clergy and laity in the different nations of Europe, the former, in order to obtain his protection, were obliged to submit to various taxes, and to the extension of his prerogatives. Hence the payment of the first fruits, and such other impositions upon the livings of churchmen, were established in favour of the holy see.
In like manner, during the wars that were carried on between the different potentates of Europe, the contending parties, finding that the countenance and approbation of the Roman pontiff would give great weight and popularity to their cause, were sometimes under the necessity of purchasing his favour, by ratifying his titles, and permitting the exercise of his claims over their subjects. From the same circumstances, the temporal dominions of the<156> pope in Italy were greatly enlarged, and his authority, as an independent sovereign, was recognized. Upon the conquest of Lombardy by the king of France, his holiness, who had thrown his whole influence into the scale of that monarch, was rewarded with a great proportion of the conquered territory; and, at the same time, was enabled to assume the privilege of conferring the imperial dignity upon the conqueror.9
The disputes among the clergy themselves, more especially between the secular and regular clergy, were another source of the papal aggrandizement. Every society of monks was subject originally to the bishop within whose diocese their monastery was situated; but as they advanced in riches and popularity, they were led to assert their independence; and in supporting their pretensions, having to struggle with the whole body of secular clergy, they were induced to court the head of the church, by such obedience and compliances as were likely to gain him over to their interest.
In the eastern church, where these causes did not operate in the same degree, neither the authority of the clergy, nor that of the<157> patriarch of Constantinople, rose to the same height. The payment of tythes, though it was there warmly asserted by churchmen, as well as in the west, was never inforced by public authority; nor was the head of the church in that part of the world in a condition to establish such an extensive revenue as had been acquired by the Roman pontiff.
It may be observed, on the other hand, that the same circumstances which produced an independent ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Christendom, have been productive of similar effects in other religions, and in different parts of the world. Among illiterate nations, the clergy, by explaining the will of the Deity, or by directing mysterious rites and ceremonies, are naturally raised to great importance; and if many such nations profess a common religion, and maintain an intercourse with one another, their spiritual guides, by extending their ideas of a common interest beyond the bounds of a single kingdom, are easily reduced under one great ecclesiastical leader. Hence an independent system of church government is likely to arise.
This was formerly the situation of the Celtic<158> nations, who inhabited a great part of Europe: they were under the influence of a common religion, the ministers of which are said to have possessed a jurisdiction superior to that of the civil magistrate. These druids were, at the same time, united in one society, independent of the different political states to which they belonged; and were under the direction of a chief druid, who resided in Britain, and whose authority extended over the laity as well as the clergy, in all the nations of Celtic original.10
The authority of the grand Lama or high-priest of the Tartars, which is acknowledged by many tribes or nations totally independent of one another, had, in all probability, the same foundation. This ecclesiastical monarch, who resides in the country called Little Thibet, is also a temporal prince. The numerous clergy, in the different parts of Tartary, who acknowledge his supremacy, are said to be distinguished into different ranks or orders, somewhat analogous to those which take place in Christendom; and the ordinary priests, or lamas, are subjected to the authority of bishops, whose jurisdiction is subordinate to that of the sovereign pontiff. Without pretending to ascer-<159>tain, with any degree of accuracy, the church-history either of the Celtic or Tartar nations, we cannot avoid remarking the general analogy that appears in the origin and constitution of all these different Hierarchies.
The Establishment of Christianity in Britain, under the Roman Dominion, and in the early Government of the Anglo-Saxons.
Christianity made its way into Britain, in the same gradual manner as into all the other parts of the Roman empire. It is supposed to have obtained a permanent footing in the country, under the government of Marcus Aurelius,11 at which time a bishop of Rome is said, upon the application of Lucius, a British king,12 to have sent over, to this island, several learned men, to preach and propagate the gospel. But whatever degree of credit may be due to this account, it is certain that, in the reign of the emperor Constantine,13 this religion was taken under the protection of<160> government, in Britain, as well as in all the other provinces of Rome; and that it continued in this situation until the island was abandoned by the Romans. During this period the Christian church had received the same form as in all the other parts of the empire. Particular clergymen had obtained a settlement in small districts or parishes, according to the number and situation of the inhabitants.* Many of these districts were united under the inspection of a bishop, the minister of a cathedral church; and a metropolitan, or archbishop, was exalted over the whole clergy of a province. But though it is probable that this ecclesiastical establishment was modelled according to the situation of the great towns, and the chief divisions introduced by the civil government of the country; yet neither the number of the British prelates, nor the churches in which they were settled, appear to be known with any degree of certainty.† Men-<161>tion is made of three archbishops, who, it should seem, corresponded to three of the provinces, in the late arrangement which the Romans made of their British territories. The first resided in London; the second in York; and the third, whose jurisdiction extended over Wales, appears, at different times, to have had a different place of residence.* That the Hierarchy had early acquired a settled condition in Britain, and that its bishops held some rank among those of other churches, is evident from their sending representatives to the council of Arles, called in the year 314, and to other remarkable councils, that were afterwards convened in different parts of Christendom.†
The arrival of the Saxons in this island was productive of great disorder in the religious, as well as in the civil establishment. In those parts of the country which fell under the dominion of the Saxons, the Christian churches<162> were frequently demolished; the public worship was interrupted; and the clergy, in many cases, could neither be provided with a maintenance from the public, nor continue the regular exercise of their jurisdiction. The altars of Thor, and Woden, were often substituted for those of Jesus Christ; and the life and immortality which had been brought to light by the gospel, were obscured and eclipsed by the fictions of Hela’s dreary abode, and Valhalla’s happy mansions, where heroes drink ale and mead from the sculls of enemies whom they have slain in battle.14
Wherever the ancient inhabitants were able to preserve their independence, their ecclesiastical policy remained without any alteration. This was particularly the case in the whole western part of the island, from the southmost point of Cornwall to the Frith of Clyde; not to mention the country to the northward, which the arms of the Saxons had not penetrated. In the territories where that people had formed their settlements, there is ground to believe that, after the tumult and violence attending the conquest had subsided, the two nations frequently maintained an amicable<163> correspondence, were in some measure united in one society, and enjoyed the free exercise of their religion.* As their long neighbourhood produced, by degrees, a communication of civil institutions and customs, it was likewise, in all probability, attended with some approximation of religious opinions and observances; and in this particular, it can hardly be doubted that the regular and well-established system of Christianity, to say nothing of its genuine merit in other respects, would have great advantage over the unformed and loosely connected superstition of the barbarians. In the ardour of making proselytes, and in the capacity of propagating their tenets, the professors of the former must have greatly surpassed those of the latter; and it was natural<164> to expect that the Saxons in England would at length follow the example of all the rude nations, who had settled in the provinces upon the continent, by adopting the religion of the conquered people.
What laid the foundation for a general and rapid conversion of the Saxons, was an event, which happened about an hundred and fifty years after their settlement in Britain. Ethelbert, the sovereign of Kent, having married Bertha,15 the daughter of a king of the Franks; this princess, already a Christian, made open profession of her religion, and brought over a French bishop to reside at the Kentish court. This incident suggested to the Roman pontiff, Gregory the great,16 a man of unbounded ambition, the idea of converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, and, at the same time, of establishing his authority over the British clergy, who had hitherto neither acknowledged the papal jurisdiction, nor yielded an exact conformity to the tenets and observances of the Roman church. For these two purposes, he gave a commission to Augustine,17 one of the monks of a convent at Rome, with about forty assistants, to preach and propagate the gospel in<165> Britain.* By the industry of these, and of succeeding missionaries, the Christian religion was, in the course of about half a century, established universally in all the kingdoms of the Heptarchy. The authority of the church of Rome went hand in hand with Christianity; and though the British clergy struggled for a considerable time to maintain their independence, and their peculiar doctrines, they were at length borne down by the prevailing system, and reduced into a subordinate branch of the Roman Hierarchy.†
The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons has been commonly regarded as an entirely new plantation of the gospel, in the territories which fell under the dominion of that people; and it seems to be imagined, that when Augustine entered upon his mission, there were no traces of Christianity remaining in those parts of the country. This opinion appears to have arisen, partly from the supposition, that the settlement of the Anglo-Saxons was<166> accompanied with a total expulsion of the ancient inhabitants, and partly from a disposition in subsequent ecclesiastical writers to undervalue that system of church-discipline and faith which had obtained in Britain, before it was fully subjected to the papal jurisdiction.
With respect to the general extirpation of the Britons, it seems to be a perfect chimera. Neither is there any reason to believe that they underwent any persecution from the Saxons upon account of their religion. The rude polytheism, professed by those conquerors, does not seem to have taken a firm hold of their minds, or to have inspired much animosity against foreign deities or modes of worship; and if, during the immediate conquest of the country, the British clergy were sometimes plundered or massacred, this, in all probability, proceeded from no peculiar enmity to their religion, but from the ferocity natural to barbarians, who, in the heat of a military enterprize, could not be expected to shew much regard to the distinction of characters or professions. The effect of these disorders, however, was only partial and temporary. It appears that, even in those parts of the country<167> where the Saxons had remained the longest, the ancient church buildings were far from being entirely destroyed; for we learn from Bede,18 that, upon the arrival of Augustine in Kent, he first preached in a church, which had been erected by the Romans in honour of St. Martin, and that soon after, when the monarch of that kingdom had been baptized, orders were given to build or repair churches, for the accommodation of the Christian missionaries.*
Upon the full restoration of Christianity in those parts of the country where it had been corrupted by the mixture of Saxon superstition, the religious establishments, which had been introduced under the dominion of the Romans, and which had always been preserved in the unconquered parts of the island, were completely revived; with this difference, that the British churches, in the degree of their submission to the papal authority, were brought into a greater conformity with the churches upon the continent. It is probable that the ancient parochial divisions had not been entirely lost; more especially in those districts,<168> which the Anglo-Saxons had but recently subdued when they embraced the religion of the former inhabitants.†
The number of bishops, it is natural to suppose, and the extent of their jurisdiction, were likewise directed, in some measure, by the antecedent arrangements in the provincial government of Britain; though, from the changes produced in the state of the country, many variations were, doubtless, become necessary. Of the three archbishops, who had formerly acquired a pre-eminence over the whole of the British clergy, one appears to have been sunk by the disjunction of Wales from the English monarchy; so that there came to be only two metropolitans under the Saxon establishment. The archbishop of the northern department resided, as formerly, at York; but the seat of the other, from the residence of Augustine, who obtained the chief ecclesiastical dignity, was transferred from London to Canterbury.†
The revenue for maintaining the clergy was the same in Britain as in all the churches<169> acknowledging the jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff. It consisted, partly of contributions levied in every parish; and partly of landed estates, which the superstition of the people had led them to bequeath for pious uses: but the former of these funds remained longer than in the more southern parts of Europe, before it was converted into a regular tax, and exalted to a tenth of the whole yearly produce.<170>
[* ]See Spelm. Gloss. v. Hyda.
[† ]See Spelman on Feuds and Tenures by Knight-service, ch. 5. [[Millar refers to the definitions in Sir Henry Spelman’s Treatise of Feuds and Tenures by Knight-Service (1639). See The English Works of Sir Henry Spelman (London, 1723), vol. 2, chap. 5: “What Degrees and Distinctions of Persons Were Among the Saxons, and What Condition Their Lands Were,” 12.]]
[1. ]A class of serf entirely subject to a manorial lord.
[2. ]Allodial lands were held in absolute ownership, in contrast to feudal lands, for which rents or services were due.
[* ]V. Feud. Consuet. lib. i. tit. i. §. 1. 2.
[3. ]Millar again cites Spelman’s Treatise, which states that “[boc-land] carried with it the absolute inheritance and propriety of the Land, and was therefore preserved in writing, and possess’d by the Thanes and Nobler sort. ... Focland was Terra vulgi, the land of the vulgar people, who had no Estate therein, but held the same (under such Rents and Services as were accustomed or agreed of) at the will only of their Lord the Thane.” The English Works of Sir Henry Spelman, 2:12.
[† ]Spelm. on Feuds and Tenures by Knight-service, chap. 5.
[† ]Expedition, Burghbote, and Brigbote.
[§ ]See Spelman on Feuds and Tenures by Knight-service, chap. 8. 9. 10. 11.
[4. ]In Anglo-Saxon England, thanes held land from their superior in return for military service.
[* ]Spelman, in the treatise above quoted.
[5. ]To be tied to the soil; the condition of serfdom. Workers in Scotland’s coal and salt mines were in a condition of virtual slavery until their emancipation in 1799.
[6. ]The reference is to monks and the monastic orders.
[7. ]Dignified clergy refers to the higher ranks of the clergy, or those holding “dignities” of the church.
[* ]F. Paul’s History of Benefices.
[8. ]The tithe was an amount, comprising 10% of the annual produce of agriculture, considered proper payment for the support of the clergy or of religious establishments.
[† ]The council of Mascon, in 585, excommunicated all those who refused to pay tythes. Ibid.
[9. ]Charlemagne conquered Lombardy in 773 and was crowned by Pope Leo III in 800.
[10. ]Celts is a broad term encompassing early non-Germanic peoples across northern Europe who were driven westward by the Germanic tribes into Gaul and Britain. Druids were an order of Celts of Gaul and Britain who according to Caesar were priests and teachers, but who figure in Irish and Welsh legend as magicians or soothsayers.
[11. ]For Marcus Aurelius, see p. 22, note 8.
[12. ]Lucius: legendary British king, reputed to have written to Pope Eleutherius in the second century, desiring assistance in his conversion to Christianity.
[13. ]For Constantine, see p. 22, note 10.
[* ]Gildas.—Also Whitaker, Hist. of Manchester.
[† ]According to the monkish tradition, there were twenty-eight bishops in Britain, during the Roman government of that island. These corresponded to the twenty-eight considerable cities in the province. See Ranulph. Higden. lib. i.—This number of British cities is mentioned by Gildas, Bede, and others; and their names are transmitted by Nonnius.
[* ]Ranulph. Higden. lib. i. [[Millar cites Ranulf [Ranalph] Higden. See Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden Monachi Cestrensis, ed. Churchill Babington, 49 vols., Rolls Series (London, 1865–89; repr. Kraus, 1965), 2:110–13. Augustine changed the archbishopric from London to Canterbury when Pope Gregory died.]]
[† ]Stillingfleet, Orig. Britan.
[14. ]In Nordic mythology, Odin is the supreme god and creator. Thor is his son, the god of thunder, agriculture, and weather. Hela is the goddess of the dead, commonly represented as living in a cavern. Valhalla is the great hall of the gods in the Nordic pantheon.
[* ]This was so much the case, that among the East Angles, according to the testimony of Bede, the Christian worship, and the Saxon idolatrous rites, were performed in one and the same church; such good neighbourhood was maintained between the two religions. “Atque in eodem fano et altare haberet ad sacrificium Christi et Arulam [[sic: arulam ad victimas daemoniorum. Quod videlicit sic: videlicet fanum, ex sic: rex ejusdem provinciae Alduulf, qui nostra aetate fuit, usque ad suum tempus perdurasse, et se in pueritia vidisse testabatur.” Bed. Hist. Eccl. lib. ii. ch. 15. “In the same temple he had one altar for the Christian sacrifice and another small altar on which to offer victims to devils. Ealdwulf, who was ruler of the kingdom up to our time, used to declare that the temple lasted until his time and that he saw it when he was a boy.” Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 191.]]
[15. ]Bertha (d. after 601): queen of Kent.
[16. ]Pope Gregory I, the Great (590–604).
[17. ]St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604): Italian churchman and first archbishop of Canterbury. Augustine’s mission to Britain commenced in 596. For the discussion in Bede that Millar cites, see Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, 69–73.
[* ]Bed. Hist. Ecclesiast. lib. i. c. 23. 25.
[† ]Bed. Hist. Eccles. lib. ii. seq.—Stillingfleet, Origin. Brit.—Henry’s Hist. of Great Britain.
[18. ]See Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, 77.
[* ]Hist. Eccles. l. i. c. 26.
[† ]Whitaker, Hist. of Manchester; and the authorities quoted by him.
[† ]Ranulph. Higden. lib. i.