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CHAPTER IX: Of the principal Events from the Reign of Egbert to the Norman Conquest. - 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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Of the principal Events from the Reign of Egbert to the Norman Conquest.
While England, by the union of the different states of the heptarchy, was emerging from barbarism, and laying the foundation of a great and powerful kingdom, a new enemy involved her in a series of fresh calamities; and contributed to retard the progress of her improvements. The inhabitants of the northern part of Germany, who retained their ancient manners, and were still much addicted to piracy, continued to infest the coasts of Britain and France, and of such other European countries as, by some advancement in cultivation, presented an inviting prospect of plunder. About the reign of Egbert, several bands of those pirates, known by the general name of Danes, landed in England; and, after committing great ravages, were generally successful in carrying off their booty. Upon the death of that prince, whose vigour<257> had kept them under some restraint, their incursions became bolder and more frequent; they made their attacks in larger parties; and, having been often victorious over the forces that could be assembled against them, they were at length encouraged to form settlements in different parts of the country. From the time when the kingdoms of the heptarchy were united, to that of the Norman conquest; a period extending to about two hundred and fifty years, and comprehending a series of nineteen monarchs; the English were, with little interruption, engaged in a course of hostilities with those invaders; and subjected to perpetual inquietude and disorder. In the reign of Alfred,1 the grandson of Egbert, the Danish arms had been so successful, and their acquisitions had become so extensive, as to threaten an entire conquest of the kingdom.
The history of that prince exhibits a pattern of the hero and statesman, equal to whatever is recorded of ancient patriotism, and even to whatever correct fiction has been able to suggest, in order to excite admiration and esteem. During the reign of Ethelred, his elder brother, by whom he was unjustly deprived of the<258> patrimony left him by his father, he discovered neither any marks of resentment for the private injury he had sustained, nor of what prevailed so universally among the princes of that age, an ambition to possess the crown; but with uniform alacrity seconded all the public measures of the king; and, while yet at an early period of life, displayed uncommon valour and talents, in opposing the enemies of his country. When he afterwards succeeded to the throne, his magnanimity and firmness were put to a severe trial in the school of adversity. Though he had been victorious over the Danes in many conflicts; yet the swarms of those invaders multiplied so fast; and from every quarter pushed their depredations with such rapidity, that the English, throughout the greater part of the kingdom, became quite disheartened, and submitted to the conquerors. His ancient subjects, the western Saxons, alone retained their fidelity, and supported the interest of their monarch: but these were incapable of resisting the torrent which broke in upon them, from the accumulated force of their enemies. After many fruitless efforts, and upon a sudden report of a new invasion<259> by a powerful body of Danes, that spread universal consternation, the king found himself almost entirely abandoned: and, being able no longer to keep the field, was obliged to disband his remaining adherents, and to provide for his present safety; he was even under the necessity of concealing himself by various artifices, and in mean disguises. The distresses to which he was exposed, and the private adventures which he met with, in that situation, appear not unworthy of notice; as they relate to a person of such eminence; and as the fate of England depended upon his surmounting the difficulties in which he was involved. In the garb of a common soldier he remained for some time unknown, in the house of one of his own herdsmen: upon which occasion, historians have mentioned a little incident, which exhibits a ludicrous picture of royalty placed in awkward circumstances without being degraded by them. While the king was one day sitting by the fireside, and trimming his bow and arrows, the woman of the house, who had no suspicion of the quality of her guest, happened to be toasting bread; and, having occasion to go about some other affairs,<260> she found, at her return, that the cakes were burned; with which being greatly provoked, she heartily scolded his majesty, telling him, that though he neglected to turn her cakes, he was always very ready to eat them.
Meanwhile the royal demesnes became a prey to the Danish forces; who being no longer restrained by the apprehension of an enemy, gave a loose to their cruelty and rapacity. Alfred, reduced in this manner, to the condition of an outlaw in his own dominions, and having collected a few faithful followers, wandered for some time from place to place, finding shelter from the woods and marshes, which covered a great part of the country, and which were of difficult access even to the natives themselves. But his principal retreat was in the middle of an extensive morass, formed by the rivers Thone and Parret in Somersetshire; which was almost entirely surrounded with water; and which afforded great plenty of fallow deer, and other wild animals fit for subsistence. In this place the king took up his residence; and erecting some fortifications, remained for near the space of a twelvemonth. Here he had leisure to reflect upon the uncer-<261>tainty of human grandeur; to weigh the real value of all human enjoyments; and to revolve in his mind those benevolent and patriotic plans, by the execution of which he came afterwards to be revered by his countrymen, and has excited the admiration of mankind. From this retreat he made many secret excursions, in order to procure information or plunder, and to revive the drooping courage and spirits of his companions.
At length the earl of Devonshire, having suddenly attacked and routed a large party of the Danes, presented to Alfred a favourable opportunity of appearing once more in the open field, and of animating his subjects to hazard another attempt for the recovery of the kingdom. Amid all the difficulties and dangers to which this monarch was exposed, he appears to have uniformly discovered a mind cool and deliberate, resolute with caution, fruitful in expedients, and dexterous in executing such measures as the singular and desperate posture of his affairs made it adviseable to adopt. On this occasion he is said to have employed a stratagem, suited to the state of discipline in the armies of that age, and<262> which recals the memory of those military adventures related in the early periods of antiquity. In the disguise of a minstrel and fortune-teller, attended only by one companion, he visited the Danish camp; and supported the character with so much address, as to afford universal entertainment, and to pass through every quarter, not excepting even the general’s tent, without incurring the least suspicion. Having thus procured every possible information, and having, by means of a previous intercourse with his nobles, suddenly collected a great body of his subjects, he found himself at the head of a powerful army, exulting in the recovery of their monarch, and eager to be revenged of their oppressors. With this force he fell unexpectedly upon the enemy; and entirely defeated them. His victory was so complete, that the Danes were incapable of any further opposition; and in a little time after were entirely subdued. Some part of them were driven out of the kingdom; the rest were under the necessity of submitting to such terms as he thought proper to impose.
The moderation and clemency of this prince, and the prudence which he displayed in the<263> improvement of these advantages, were no less conspicuous, than the vigour and abilities by which they were obtained. The Danes who submitted to him were sent to reside in East Anglia, Northumberland, and some of the neighbouring parts of the kingdom, where many of their countrymen had long been settled; and they were admitted to the enjoyment of the same privileges with his other subjects. By the zealous interposition of Alfred, they were also happily persuaded to embrace the Christian religion; a circumstance necessary to remove their prejudices against the ancient inhabitants, and to unite those different tribes of people in one community.
Upon the restoration of peace, the first attention of the monarch was employed in providing a fleet, sufficient to oppose any new invasion of the Danish pirates; in erecting fortifications upon the coasts more immediately exposed to their depredations; in making regulations for assembling the inhabitants upon any sudden emergency; in rebuilding the towns that had been destroyed; and in repairing the waste and desolation which the coun-<264>try had suffered from a long course of rapine and violence.
To compile and publish a code of statutes is, in a rude nation, a measure of the highest utility, for instructing an ignorant people in those rules by which they are to be governed; and accordingly we find that this has been the great object of almost all the distinguished princes of an early period. It appears that Alfred bestowed much labour and time upon a work of this nature; of which the greatest part is now lost. It is probable, that, from the various feudal institutions and customs, which had prevailed either in England or upon the neighbouring continent, he selected such as were accounted the most beneficial, and most adapted to the peculiar circumstances of his time and country: and that, having established these regulations by the authority of his great council, he endeavoured, in the most effectual manner, to produce a degree of uniformity in law and government, throughout the whole of the kingdom.2 We are not, however, to imagine, that all differences in the customs of different parts of the country were thus en-<265>tirely abolished. On the contrary, we find that, in consequence of the new settlements in the northern part of the kingdom, a multitude of Danish customs had been introduced; and that the people were now distinguished into three great branches, according to the varieties in the system of private law, established among the Western Saxons, the Mercians, and the Danes.
But the promulgation of good laws is, for the most part, and especially in a country remote from civilization, a matter of less difficulty and importance than the vigorous and impartial execution of them. When a regulation is made, the beneficial objects, which it is intended to promote, are commonly surveyed in that distant and dispassionate view which admits the full exertion of patriotic affections; but when it comes to be enforced by the punishment of transgressors, it then frequently assumes a different aspect; and the interest of the public is likely to be obscured and counteracted by the private connections, and by the partiality and prejudice of individuals: not to mention that the splendor and eclat, which accompany the temporary interpositions of the<266> legislature, do not descend to the unremitting and laborious attention, to the painful and invidious task, of those inferior magistrates who render the law effectual. It was here that the genuine virtue of Alfred appeared most conspicuous. From the long course of depredation to which England had been exposed, that country was become a scene of the utmost license and disorder; exhibiting, on the one hand, a people fierce and barbarous in their manners, accustomed to live by robbery and violence; and on the other, a set of nobles, in reality the leaders of different pillaging parties, abusing that authority and jurisdiction with which they were invested, by protecting their adherents from punishment, and by oppressing those who had fallen under their displeasure. Yet such was the attention of this monarch to the inferior departments of government, so great was his vigilance in examining the conduct of judges, and his rigour in punishing them for malversation in office, that, in a short time, these evils were in a great measure removed, and an equal and regular administration of justice was introduced. In one year of his reign no fewer than forty-four magis-<267>trates, it is said, were put to death, for misbehaviour in their judicial capacity; a proof that corruption and licentiousness had risen to an amazing pitch. There can be little doubt, that in the accounts transmitted by historians, the accuracy and regularity of the police, established by Alfred, has been greatly exaggerated; but even these exaggerations, the usual effects of wonder and admiration, may serve to convince us, that he made great improvements upon the former system. We are informed that, in order to try the success of his institutions, he caused golden bracelets to be hung up near the highway; and that no person, such was the terror of the magistrate, adventured to touch them.
By the establishment of good order and tranquillity, the people were encouraged to follow those peaceable occupations which had been totally interrupted by the preceding disorders. The king was indefatigable in his efforts to promote manufactures, and to excite the industry of his subjects; by employing artificers in great public works; by inviting foreigners to settle in the country; and by rewarding the inventors of new arts. He con-<268>tributed, in a particular manner, to the extension of foreign commerce, by protecting it with his fleet, and by bestowing marks of his favour upon such as became eminent for their skill in navigation.
He was no less attentive to the encouragement of literature, not only by his patronage, but also by his example. His ardour, in this respect, was the more remarkable, as it surmounted the disadvantages he lay under from the neglect of his early education; for, among the anecdotes which have come down to us concerning the private life of Alfred, it is related, that he was twelve years of age before he had been taught to read; and that he first felt a desire of being instructed, in this particular, from the recital of certain pieces of poetry, with which the queen his mother was much delighted. Prompted, however, by a strong inclination for literary pursuits, he soon became, not only a proficient in the Latin language, and in such branches of learning as were respected in that age, but even a writer of eminence, both in prose and in verse. As a poet, he seems to have employed himself chiefly in translating, or composing, fables, or apologues.<269> These compositions are usually the first attempts, in a rude nation, to illustrate, by simple and familiar examples, the proverbs, or maxims for the conduct of life, which observation and experience have suggested, and which, as containing important information to an illiterate people, are frequently repeated, and appealed to, in ordinary conversation. The labours of this eminent statesman appear, in that particular, to have coincided with those of the first great teacher of morality among the Greeks.3 It is probable that those two celebrated personages were directed in the choice of their subject by a similarity of character; and it may perhaps be suspected, that both of them were more remarkable for their philosophy and public spirit, than for their poetry.
Historians have mentioned the bodily accomplishments of Alfred, as corresponding to the extraordinary endowments of his mind. He was distinguished by the strength and activity, as well as by the dignity and gracefulness of his person; and while his dexterity and address, in martial exercises, excited universal applause, he gained the hearts of his subjects by an affable and engaging deportment.<270>
After all, though the history of this monarch may be accounted sufficiently authentic, to afford a solid conviction of his exalted merit; some allowance, no doubt, must be made for the colouring produced by that admiration which was due to his character, and which has been heightened by the remoteness of the period in which he lived. We need not be surprised, therefore, to meet with errors and prejudices, concerning his public transactions; and in particular, to find that he was supposed to be the author of several regulations, which he only revived, or brought to greater perfection than they had formerly attained. The great changes which he produced in the state of his country, by bringing it from anarchy and confusion into a degree of order and regularity, led his countrymen, in subsequent ages, to fix their attention upon him, as the person from whom they had derived the entire model of their constitution. He is thus held, by many historians, to have first divided the kingdom into tythings, hundreds, and shires, and to have introduced a peculiar system of policy connected with those divisions; though it seems now to be clearly proved, that these regulations<271> existed in England before his time, and that they extended to other European kingdoms. The institution of juries has, in like manner, been ascribed to this monarch; though there is good reason to believe that it arose from the general situation of the Gothic nations; and that it had a very early establishment in all of them. Alfred, in a word, has become the English Lycurgus;4 and his interposition is the great engine which politicians have employed for explaining the origin of such particulars, in the English government, as have excited uncommon attention, and are too remote, in their beginnings, to fall within the limits of authentic history.
For near eighty years after the death of that prince, England appears to have been successfully defended against every foreign invasion; though she experienced a variety of disturbances, occasioned by the domestic quarrels and insurrections of the Danes and other inhabitants of the country. During this period we may distinguish the reigns of Edward the elder,5 the son of Alfred, of Athelstan, and of Edgar, as remarkably vigorous; and as filled with exploits, which, if they make no very splendid<272> figure in the general scale of historical events, were, however, of considerable consequence to the peace and internal tranquillity of the kingdom.
Those princes are said to have adopted a measure, which, in that early age, appears extremely singular. They are said to have kept in pay a regular body of troops, collected from their Danish subjects; whose military character, it seems, was superior to that of the other inhabitants. Though the bulk of the people were not unfit for war, and, by their ordinary employments, were not hindered from taking the field upon very short preparation; yet the numerous piratical invasions to which they were exposed, and by which they were held in continual warfare, suggested the same sort of military establishment that has been found convenient in all civilized nations. The Danish families were employed, in preference to the English, from the same policy, which, in later times, made the inhabitants of Switzerland be engaged in the service of many European princes. As those mercenaries, however, were quartered about the country, and were probably not much under the controul of the<273> civil magistrate, they were guilty of many irregularities, and rendered themselves universally odious. They possessed all the power, and discovered, we may suppose, all the insolence of a standing army;6 unrestrained by the watchfulness of a regular government, or by the influence of civilized manners. Hence the appellation of a lurdane, or lorddane, which was bestowed upon them, came to be used as a term of reproach; and signified an idler and oppressor. Their situation led them, at the same time, to seek distinction, by the superior elegance of their dress and behaviour; and we are told, that they were accustomed frequently to change their cloaths, to comb their hair once a day, and to bathe or wash themselves every Sunday. By these effeminate arts they became the favourites of the women; and were so successful in their gallantries, as to debauch the wives and daughters of many noble families.* <274>
In the reign of Ethelred, a weak and pusillanimous prince, England was again infested by more numerous swarms of the Northern pirates; and at length was invaded by a formidable army under Sweyn, the king of Denmark, and Olave the king of Norway. Ethelred,7 unable to resist these united forces, had recourse to the ineffectual and ruinous expedient of purchasing peace by the offer of a pecuniary composition; and when those princes had returned to their own country, he excited his English subjects, to gratify their resentment against the Danes, by taking advantage of their security, and putting them to death in cold blood. The extent of this massacre, so disgraceful to the monarch, and to the nation, cannot easily be ascertained. The greater part of the historians consider it as extending to the whole of the Danish race at that time to be found in England; but the improbability of this, together with the authority of one ancient author, makes it reasonable to suppose, with Mr. Hume, that the slaughter was, for the most part, limited to those mercenaries against whom the rage of the populace was more immediately directed.<275>
To revenge an act of so much perfidy and cruelty, Sweyn, without loss of time, made another descent into Britain; and after destroying many of the towns, and desolating a great part of the country, he seems to have meditated an entire conquest of the kingdom. He did not live to complete his designs; but these were prosecuted by his son Canute;8 who met with little opposition; and in a short time added the English monarchy to that of Denmark, which he possessed by inheritance. This prince, by his abilities, by the prudence and lenity of his administration, and by the extent of his dominions, was justly entitled to the appellation of great, which he has received from posterity. In England, after the first effects of the conquest were over, he endeavoured to procure the good-will of his subjects, by reducing the English and Danish inhabitants under the same laws, and by abolishing all distinctions between them. He published a collection of laws, which has been preserved.9 After this monarch, two of his sons reigned successively in England; but, as they died without issue, the crown was restored to a prince of the Saxon line, known by the name of Edward the Confessor.10 <276>
The conquest of England by the Danes appears to have been productive of no other political consequences, beside the interruption given to improvements, by the bloody and destructive wars with which it was attended. When Britain was deserted by the Romans, and fell under the Anglo-Saxon government, the country, which had made considerable progress in arts and civilization, was, of a sudden, reduced into a state of barbarism, and underwent a total revolution of its political system. By the Danish conquest, one set of barbarians were subjected to another, of kindred origin and manners; so that the sceptre was placed in different hands, without any alteration in the maxims by which it was swayed, or the authority by which it was maintained.
From the beginning to the end of the period, which is the immediate subject of this review, the circumstances of the kingdom were such, as contributed to render the government more and more aristocratical.
It has been already observed, that the landed estates, originally occupied by the Saxon conquerors of England, were of moderate extent;<277> for which reason there came to be a great number of allodial or independent proprietors. This was what might be expected, from the very limited power and opulence of the several heads of families who settled in the country, and from their want of the knowledge and experience requisite for the management of extensive possessions. During the continuance of their settlement, however, and the consequent improvement of their circumstances, the industry and abilities, or the good fortune, of individuals, were attended with gradual accumulations of wealth, and with proportional differences in the distribution of landed property.
From the reign of Egbert, when England became an extensive kingdom, the sovereign was necessarily removed to a distance from a great part of his subjects; who, for that reason, were equally beyond the reach of his protection, and of his authority. For putting a stop to those predatory incursions, by which the inhabitants of different districts were frequently harassing and injuring one another, the forces employed by the crown could seldom be brought to act, either with sufficient<278> quickness to relieve the sufferer, or with sufficient perseverance to chastise the offender. It was necessary, therefore, when the property of any person was invaded, or threatened with invasion, by a superior power, that the owner should not, in many cases, depend upon the interposition of the sovereign or public magistrate, but should endeavour to procure the immediate assistance of some of his neighbours. As the reciprocal acts of hostility, which were frequently committed, gave rise to hereditary feuds among particular families; so they occasioned, among other families in the same neighbourhood, a variety of combinations and alliances for mutual defence and security. When the parties, who thus formed a defensive alliance, had been exposed to the same difficulties, and expected to derive an equal benefit from their agreement, they were led to unite upon equal terms, and remained in a state of independence. Of the societies formed in this manner, we have many instances, both in England, and in the other countries of Europe.* <279>
But it happened more frequently that small proprietors, being exposed to continual oppression, and to every sort of injustice, from persons of greater opulence, were obliged to solicit the aid of one powerful neighbour, in order to shelter them from the attacks of another.11 In such a situation they could not pretend to form an alliance upon the footing of equality; but were commonly reduced to the necessity of purchasing protection by the offer of submission and services. As they were to obtain, from their protector, the same advantages which he bestowed upon his ancient military servants, it was reasonable that they should, in like manner, acknowledge his jurisdiction, and contribute to the advancement of his power and authority. Thus, in some cases, by a formal agreement, in others, perhaps, by a long and uniform submission to the feudal services, many renounced that allodial property which they were no longer able to maintain; and, from the prospect of living in greater security, allowed themselves to be degraded into the state of military retainers or vassals.
From a similarity of circumstances, these transactions were often repeated in different<280> parts of the country, and were gradually extended over the whole kingdom. The more the demesnes of particular barons had been increased by such voluntary resignations, the remaining proprietors of small estates were the less able to retain their independence; and found it the more expedient to provide for their own safety, by incorporating themselves in some great feudal dependency. The allodial proprietors were, in this manner, continually diminishing; the landed property of England was daily accumulated in fewer hands; and the districts possessed by particular barons, who profited by the reduction of their neighbours into a state of subordination, were proportionably enlarged.
By these changes, the nobility, it is evident, must have obtained more weight in the scale of government. While the landed estates of individuals were so small as barely to supply the necessaries of life, the owners were too inconsiderable to procure influence over others, and too numerous to prosecute an uniform plan for the advancement of their common interest. But in proportion as particular persons had acquired extensive possessions, they were ena-<281>bled to maintain a train of dependants and followers, directed on all occasions by the will of their feudal superior, and inured, by long habits, to scruple at nothing in order to gratify his ambition, or to exalt his dignity. From the smallness of their number, these great proprietors might, at the same time, be combined with more facility, in opposing the exertions of the prerogative.
The sovereign, we may suppose, was not an idle spectator of these alterations in the condition of his subjects. As every opulent baron obliged his poorer neighbours to become his vassals, the king also exerted himself in the protection of such as resided near the royal demesnes, and acquired over them the rights of a feudal superior. But the accessions acquired in this manner, to the revenue of the crown, and to the number of crown vassals, were probably not sufficient to counterbalance the vast accumulation of landed property under the lords of particular districts. We find accordingly, that about the reign of Edward the Confessor, a Godwin, earl of Wessex, a Leofric, duke of Mercia, a Siward, duke of Northumberland, with a few more barons, had become so powerful, as to be the objects of constant<282> alarm and jealousy to the crown, and in a great measure masters of the government.
The authority of the Anglo-Saxon princes was, on the other hand, weakened, in many cases, and prevented from acquiring stability by the defects of their title to the sovereignty.
The rules of succession to the crown appear, in all countries, to have been founded upon the same principles which govern the inheritance of private estates. According to the primitive notions of mankind, it was held, that, upon the death of any person, his estate should belong to his nearest relations, who, by being members of the same family, appeared to have the most intimate connexion with the family goods, of which they had formerly been a sort of joint possessors with the deceased. But in that state of the world, in which every family required a military leader to provide for their defence, the person invested with this office was by degrees permitted to assume the management, and at length to acquire the property, of that family-estate which was committed to his protection. Hence the right of primogeniture in succession; which, in opposition to the feelings of natural justice, has<283> been introduced from considerations of expediency. The eldest of the sons, being commonly the first who acquired experience and reputation in war, was, upon the death of the parent, admitted to be the leader and heir of the family; and when a general practice in his favour had once been established from the ordinary course of things, it was maintained by the force of custom, even in singular cases, where he had not the same superiority. In the succession to a monarchy there occurred a double reason for introducing this right of primogeniture; as the monarch was not only the leader and representative of the nation, but also the heir of that private estate, which had been the original source, and was the principal support of his dignity. But in kingdoms of great extent, and which had made but small progress in the arts of government, the indivisible succession of the crown was often maintained with greater difficulty than occurred in the transmission of private estates; because the several districts of an extensive monarchy, being at a great distance, and feebly united, were apt, upon the death of a monarch, to fall asunder, and to embrace the<284> party of those different members of the royal family, who might be tempted to aim at the sovereignty.
The rules of succession to the crown of England appear, in the period now under examination, to have been gradually advancing towards a regular standard; but were far from having yet attained a perfect uniformity. Among the nineteen princes who reigned from the union of the Heptarchy to the Norman conquest, we meet with no fewer than eight, who, according to the notions of the present age, must be regarded as usurpers; and several of these obtained the crown by titles, which, though considered as in some degree irregular, had not, in that rude age, been entirely exploded.
Instead of the eldest son inheriting the estate of a family, it is common, in early ages, that the children should be altogether supplanted by the brothers and other collateral relations; who, by having arrived at a greater maturity, and possessing superior prowess, are enabled to put themselves at the head of their kindred. Thus in many of the hordes, or petty nations, upon the coast of Guinea, the children are said<285> to inherit nothing from their father but his arms; his other effects are carried off by the older relations of the family. In the succession of the ancient kings of Numidia,12 though a country far advanced beyond the state of primitive barbarism, the brother, as we are informed by Livy,13 was preferred to the children of the preceding monarch. A similar practice may be discovered in several parts of the eastern world. It obtains at present in the Ladrone island;14 as it formerly regulated the transmission of the crown in the kingdom of Siam, and in some dynasties of the Chinese empire. Of this preference of the brothers, or other relations, to the direct descendants, there are many traces in the early history of modern Europe; and among the Anglo-Saxon kings, even after the reign of Egbert, we meet with four instances of it; in the person of Alfred the Great, of Edred, of Ethelred, and of Edwy; the three first of whom succeeded to a brother; the last to an uncle; and all of them, in prejudice to the children of the predecessor. To these may be added, Edgar, surnamed the Peaceable, by whom Edwy his brother was dethroned.15 <286>
According to the manners of a rude people, there is frequently little difference, with regard to the right of succession, between the children produced by a concubine and those who are born in marriage. It is the circumstance of living in the father’s house, and having a sort of joint possession of the family estate, that is apprehended chiefly to bestow upon the children a title to the inheritance; and, in a country so destitute of refinement or delicacy, that the wife is indifferent about the fidelity of her husband, or is of so little consequence that her jealousy is not regarded, his bastards are likely to be often brought up under his own eye, and to receive a promiscuous maintenance with his legitimate offspring. This observation may be illustrated from the history of early nations, both ancient and modern, and in all quarters of the world. It is remarkable that, among the Israelites, in the time of their judges, the lawful children of Gilead had, apparently, no other way of preventing Jephthah, their bastard brother, from succeeding to the father’s estate, than by driving him out of the family.* <287>
The strictness of morals introduced by christianity, contributed in Europe to diminish the privileges of bastard children. It does not, however, appear, that, even so late as the time of the Norman conquest, they were understood, in any European country, to be totally disqualified from inheriting estates. In England, not to mention the instances that might be collected among the kings of the Heptarchy, we find that Athelstan, the natural son of Edward the elder, was permitted to mount the throne, in preference to the lawful children of his father.16
The accession of Canute was merely the effect of conquest; though that prince endeavoured to support his claim by means of a stipulation, real or pretended, with the former king. Upon the restoration of the Saxon line, the nobles had acquired so much power as enabled them to dispose of the vacant throne. To their favour Edward the Confessor, who usurped the right of the lineal heir, was principally indebted for the crown; and the advancement of Harold had confessedly no other foundation.
By these numerous deviations from the re-<288>gular course of succession, the monarch was prevented from acquiring that accumulation of hereditary influence, which is the effect of an uninterrupted and long-continued lineal descent; at the same time that those princes who obtained the crown in an irregular manner were, upon that account, subjected to difficulties, from which they were obliged to extricate themselves by courting the nobility, and by making such concessions as tended to alter the balance of the constitution.17
From a singular incident, in the reign of the first Edmund, and which occasioned the death of that prince, we may easily discover that the Anglo-Saxon kings depended, in a great measure, upon the arbitrary assistance of their followers, for maintaining the dignity and authority of the crown; and were far from being provided with proper resources for securing a decent respect and obedience to their commands. “As Edmund, one day, was solemnizing a festival in the county of Glocester, he remarked, that Leolf, a notorious robber, whom he had sentenced to banishment, had yet the boldness to enter the hall where he dined, and to sit at table with his attendants.<289> Enraged at this insolence, he ordered him to leave the room; but on his refusing to obey, the king, whose temper, naturally choleric, was inflamed by this additional insult, leaped on him himself, and seized him by the hair; but the ruffian, pushed to extremity, drew his dagger, and gave the king a wound, of which he immediately expired.”* <290>
[1. ]Alfred the Great, king of Wessex (r. 871–99): the youngest son of Athelwolf, king of Kent and Wessex (r. 839–55), succeeded his elder brothers Athelbald, king of Wessex (r. 855–60), Athelbert, king of Kent and Wessex (r. 860–65/6), and Ethelred I (r. 865/6–71). Alfred’s reign is traditionally represented as an Anglo-Saxon golden age due to his military, administrative, and cultural accomplishments.
[2. ]Alfred’s law code was presented at some time between 878 and 885, and was an extensive revision of the law code issued in the reign of Ina.
[3. ]Presumably Aesop. See p. 789, note 3. Hume, following the Life of King Alfred by Asser (d. 909), writes that Alfred both disseminated existing parables and invented others, while also translating Aesop. See HE, 1:80.
[4. ]Lycurgus is traditionally thought to have established Sparta’s legal and governmental institutions in the ninth century Millar regards Lycurgus as an example of the mythic figure of the Legislator. For an earlier attack on this myth, including mention of both Lycurgus and Alfred, see DR, 6.
[5. ]Edward the Elder, king of Wessex (r. 899–924); Athelstan I, king of Wessex (r. 924–39); and Edgar the Peaceable, king of Wessex (r. 959–75).
[6. ]In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain, as well as in the American colonies in their struggle for independence, there was considerable fear that “standing armies” (i.e., professional armies maintained in times of peace) were an instrument of tyrannical government.
[* ]“Habebant etiam ex consuetudine patriae unoquoque die comam pectere, sabbatis balneare, saepe etiam vestituram mutare, et formam corporis multis talibus frivolis adjuvare; unde et matronarum castitati insideabantur, et filias etiam nobilium concubinarum nomine detinebant.” Chron. Joan. Wallingford. [[“They had also from the custom of their country the habit of combing their hair every day, of bathing on Sundays, even of changing their clothing frequently, and of enhancing their physical attractiveness with many frivolous devices of this sort. By this means they laid snares for the chastity of married women and kept the daughters even of noblemen as concubines.” The Chronicle Attributed to John of Wallingford, ed. Richard Vaughan (London: Royal Historical Society, 1958), 60.]]
[7. ]Ethelred II, the Unready: king of England (r. 978–1013, 1014–16). He paid this “pecuniary composition” or Danegeld to Svein I Haraldson, “Forkbeard,” king of the Danes (r. 986–1014) and Olaf I Tryggvason of Norway (r. 995–1000). The St. Brice’s Day massacre ordered by Ethelred occurred on 13 November 1002, and prompted the return of Svein I and Olaf I to Britain. Haraldson would reign as king of England by conquest for several months until his death in 1014, at which time Ethelred returned to power.
[8. ]Cnut the Great: king of Denmark, Norway, and England (r. 1016–35), and son of Svein I Haraldson. Cnut conquered England in 1015, and gained entire control in 1016 after the death of Edmund II “Ironside” (r. 1016), with whom he had agreed to share the kingdom. He was succeeded by his sons Harold Harefoot (r. 1037–40) and Harthacanute (r. 1040–42).
[9. ]Cnut’s law codes, I and II Cnut, were issued in 1018.
[10. ]Edward the Confessor (r. 1042–66).
[* ]They have been called sodalitia, fraternitates. [[Clubs; brotherhoods. Dr. Hickes, Diss. Epist. p. 21.]]
[11. ]Millar contends the feudal tenures grew because smaller allodial (or independent) proprietors were forced to ask for aid from their more powerful neighbours, who granted protection on the basis of feudal service. As a result, feudal tenures increased at the expense of allodial ones, and, as more land was brought into fewer hands, the nobility consolidated its power.
[12. ]Numidia: an ancient country of northwest Africa (near present-day Algeria) that flourished in the first centuries and
[13. ]Livy, or Titus Livius (59 –17 ): Roman historian, author of the History of Rome which he wrote in installments over the course of his life.
[14. ]Ladrone Island: an older name for the Northern Mariana Islands in the west Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines; Siam is an older name for Thailand.
[15. ]Eadred (r. 946–55) succeeded his brother Edmund I, the Magnificent (r. 939–46); Ethelred II succeeded his brother Edward the Martyr (r. 975–78); Edwy (r. 955–59) succeeded his uncle Eadred and was himself succeeded by his younger brother Edgar, the Peaceable.
[* ]See Judges, chap. xi. [[ Judges 11:1–2, 4–11.]]
[16. ]Edward the Elder, king of Wessex, had eighteen children by three wives, but the legitimacy of his first marriage, to Egwina, the mother of Athelstan I, is unclear. Thus, Athelstan’s claim to the throne was legally less compelling than those of his clearly legitimate brothers.
[17. ]The reign of Edward the Confessor, son of Ethelred the Unready, marks the restoration of the Saxon line upon the death of Harthacanute. Edward’s accession was strengthened by the support of Godwin, earl of Wessex, chief among the nobles to whom Millar refers. Harold II, Godwin’s son and chief adviser to Edward, rose to power after Edward’s death by the influence of his father. William of Normandy contested his succession, and successfully invaded in 1066.
[* ]Hume’s History of England. [[For this quoted passage from Hume, see HE, 1:89.]]