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LECTURE V.: THE CHIEF AND HIS ORDER. - Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Lectures on the Early History of Institutions 
Lectures on the Early History of Institutions, 7th edition (London: John Murray, 1914).
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THE CHIEF AND HIS ORDER.
Nothing seems to me to have been more clearly shown by recent researches than the necessity of keeping apart the Tribe and the Tribal Chief as distinct sources of positive institutions. The lines of descent are constantly entwined, but each of them is found to run up in the end to an independent origin. If I were to apply this assertion to political history, I should be only repeating much of what has been said by Mr. Freeman in his excellent work on ‘Comparative Politics.’ Confining myself to the history of private institutions, let me observe that the distinction which I have drawn should be carefully borne in mind by those who desire to penetrate to the beginnings of Property in Land. The subject has been greatly obscured by the practice, now brought home to the early writers on feudal law, of systematically passing over or misconstruing all forms of proprietary enjoyment which they could not explain on their own principles; and hitherto the truth has only been directly seen through some of the rules of tenure. It may now, however, be laid down without rashness that Property in Land, as known to communities of the Aryan race, has had a twofold origin. It has arisen partly from the disentanglement of the individual rights of the kindred or tribesmen from the collective rights of the Family or Tribe, and partly from the growth and transmutation of the sovereignty of the Tribal Chief. The phenomena attributable to the double process seem to me easily distinguishable from one another. Both the sovereignty of the Chief and the ownership of land by the Family or Tribe were in most of Western Europe passed through the crucible of feudalism; but the first reappeared in some well-marked characteristics of military or knightly tenures, and the last in the principal rules of non-noble holdings, and among them of Socage, the distinctive tenure of the free farmer. The status of the Chief has thus left us one bequest in the rule of Primogeniture, which, however, has long lost its most ancient form; another in the right to receive certain dues and to enforce certain monopolies; and a third in a specially absolute form of property which was once exclusively enjoyed by the Chief, and after him by the Lord, in the portion of the tribal territory which formed his own domain. On the other hand, several systems of succession after death, and among them the equal division of the land between the children, have sprung out of tribal ownership in various stages of decay; and it has left another set of traces (not quite so widely extended), in a number of minute customary rules which govern tillage and occasionally regulate the distribution of the produce.
The fate of this double set of institutions in Eng- and in France appears to me most instructive. I have frequently dwelt in this place on the erroneousness of the vulgar opinion which dates the extreme subdivision of the soil of France from the first French Revolution, and from the sale of the Church lands and of the estates of the emigrant nobility. A writer—I was going to say as commonly read as Arthur Young, but certainly as often mentioned as if he were commonly read—notices this morcellement, on the very eve of the French Revolution, and immediately after it, as the great feature which distinguished France from England. ‘From what we see in England,’ he says, (‘Travels in 1787, ’88, and ’89,’ p. 407) ‘we cannot form an idea of the abundance in France of small properties, that is, little farms belonging to those who cultivate them.’ He estimates that more than a third of the kingdom was occupied by them—a very large proportion, when the extent of Church land in France is taken into account; but recent French investigations have shown reasons for thinking that the true proportion was still larger, and that it was rather growing than diminishing, through that extravagance of the nobles which Court life fostered, and which compelled them to sell their domains to peasants in small parcels. Young clearly saw that this subdivision of the soil was the result of some legal rule; and strongly dissenting from the Revolutionary leaders who wished to carry it farther, he declared that ‘a law ought to be passed to render all division below a certain number of arpents illegal.’
It seems to have very generally escaped notice that the law of equal or nearly equal division after death was the general law of France. The rule of primogeniture was of exceptional application, and was for the most part confined to lands held by knightly tenure; indeed, in the South of France, where the custom of equal division was strengthened by the identical rule of the Roman jurisprudence, the privileges of the eldest son were only secured by calling in the exceptional rules of which the Roman Law gives the benefit to milites (or soldiers on service) when making their wills or regulating their successions, and by laying down that every chevalier, and every noble of higher degree, was a miles within the meaning of the Roman juridical writers. The two systems of succession and the two forms of property lay side by side, and there were men alive quite recently who could remember the bitter animosities caused by their co-existence and antagonism. A very great part of the land held by laymen belonged to the peasantry, and descended according to the rule of equal division, but eldest son after eldest son succeeded to the signory. Yet it was not the rule of primogeniture followed in noble descents which was the true grievance; at most it became a grievance under the influence of the peculiar vein of sentiment introduced by Rousseau. The legacy from tribal sovereignty to signorial privilege, which was really resented, was that which I placed second in order. The right to receive feudal dues and to enforce petty monopolies, now almost extinguished in England by the measures to which the Copyhold Commission has given effect, had ceased long before the end of the last century to be of any considerable importance to the class which was invested with it; but M. de Tocqueville has explained, in his ‘Ancien Régime’ (i. 18), that it made up almost the entire means of living which the majority of the French nobility possessed. A certain number of noblemen, besides their feudal rights, had their terres, or domain, belonging to them in absolute property, and sometimes of enormous extent; and the wealthiest members of this limited class, the grands, who so frequently appear in French Court history, but who, away from the Court, were much the most respected and beloved of their order, formed the counterpart, from the legal point of view, of the English landed proprietary. The rest of the nobles lived mainly, not on rent, but on their feudal dues, and eked out a meagre subsistence by serving the King in arms. The sense of property in the soil was thus not in the lord but in the peasantry; and the peasantry viewed the exercise of signorial rights with a feeling closely akin to that which is inspired by a highly oppressive tax. The condition of sentiment produced by it is even now a political force of some moment in France; and a similar, though a far weaker, repulsion is known to have been caused in this country by the taking of tithes in kind. It is a significant fact that, where the ownership is acknowledged to reside in the superior holder, the exaction of even an extreme rent from the tenants below has very rarely been regarded with the same bitterness of resentment.
The change, therefore, which took place in France at the first Revolution was this: the land-law of the people superseded the land-law of the nobles. In England the converse process has been gone through, and what has occurred is obviously in harmony with much else in English history. The system of the nobles has become in all essential particulars the system of the people. The rule of primogeniture, which once applied only to knightly holdings, came to apply to the great bulk of English tenures, except the Gavelkind of Kent and some others of merely local importance. This part of the change took place at a remote epoch, and its circumstances are involved in much obscurity; and we know little more of it with certainty than that it was rapidly proceeding between the time at which Glanville and the time at which Bracton wrote. Glanville, probably not earlier than the thirty-third year of Henry the Second’s reign, expresses himself as if the general rule of law caused lands held by free cultivators in socage to be divided equally between all the male children at the death of the last owner; Bracton, probably not later than the fifty-second year of Henry the Third, writes as if the rule of primogeniture applied universally to military tenures and generally to socage tenures. But another branch of the process was postponed almost to our own day. Possibly not many Englishmen have recognised with as much clearness as a recent French writer (Doniol, ‘La Révolution Française et la Féodalité) that the transmutation of customary and copyhold into freehold property, which has been proceeding for about forty years under the conduct of the Copyhold and Enclosure Commissioners, is the peaceful and insensible removal of a grievance which did more than any other to bring about the first French Revolution and to prevent the re-establishment of the ancient political order. But long before there was a Copyhold Commission, the great mass of English landed property had assumed certain characteristics which strongly distinguished it from the peasant property of the Continent as it existed before it was affected by the French Codes, and as it is still found in some countries. This last form of proprietorship was very generally fettered by the duty of cultivation in some particular way, and, as a rule, could not be dealt with so as to bar the rights reserved to the children and widow of the owner by the law of succession. The traces of a similar species of ownership, probably once widely diffused, may still be here and there discerned through the customs of particular English manors. I repeat the opinion which I expressed three years ago, that our modern English conception of absolute property in land is really descended from the special proprietorship enjoyed by the Lord, and more anciently by the tribal Chief, in his own Domain. It would be out of place to enter here on a discussion of the changes which seem to me desirable in order to make the soil of England as freely exchangeable as the theory now generally accepted demands; but to the principle of several and absolute property in land I hold this country to be committed. I believe I state the inference suggested by all known legal history when I say that there can be no material advance in civilisation unless landed property is held by groups at least as small as Families; and I again remind you that we are indebted to the peculiarly absolute English form of ownership for such an achievement as the cultivation of the soil of North America.
Before describing to you the new light which the Ancient Laws of Ireland throw on the primitive condition of the institutions of which I have been speaking, let me give you one word of caution as to the statements of modern Irish writers respecting the original relations of the Irish Tribe and of the Irish Tribal Chief. Unhappily the subject has been discussed in the spirit of the later agrarian history of Ireland. On the one hand, some disputants have thought to serve a patriotic purpose by contending that the land of each Tribe belonged absolutely to itself and was its common property, and that the Chief was a mere administrative officer, rewarded for his services in making a fair distribution of the territory among the tribesmen by a rather larger share of its area than the rest, which was allotted to him as his domain. Contrariwise, some writers, not perhaps actuated by much kindliness to the Irish people, have at least suggested that they were always cruelly oppressed by their superiors, and probably by their natural chiefs more than any others. These authors point to the strong evidence of oppression by the Chiefs which the books of the English observers of Ireland contain. Edmund Spenser and Sir John Davis cannot have merely intended to calumniate the Irish native aristocracy when they emphatically declared that the ‘chiefs do most shamefully rackrent their tenants,’ and spoke with vehement indignation of the exactions from which the tribesmen suffered, the ‘coshering,’ and the ‘coin and livery,’ which occur over and over again in their pages. A third school, of a very different order from these, has representatives among the most learned Irishmen of our day. They resent the assertion that the land belonged to the tribe in common as practically imputing to the ancient Irish that utter barbarism to which private property is unknown. They say that traces of ownership jealously guarded are found in all parts of the Brehon laws, and they are on the whole apt to speak of the vassalage to the Chief which these laws attribute to the tribesmen as if it implied something like modern tenancy in the latter and modern ownership in the former. But they say that the relation of landlord and tenant was regulated by careful and kindly provisions, and they ascribe the degradation of the system, like the other evils of Ireland, to English cupidity and ignorance. The Norman nobles who first settled in Ireland are well known to have become in time Chieftains of Irish Tribes; and it is suggested that they were the first to forget their duties to their tenants and to think of nothing but their privileges. Nor is there anything incredible in this last assumption. An English settler in India who buys land there is often reputed a harder landlord than the native zemindars, his neighbours, not because he intends to be harsher (indeed in some things he is usually far more considerate and bountiful), but because he is accustomed to a stricter system and cannot accommodate himself to the loose and irregular play of relations between native landowner and native tenant.
I cannot wholly concur in any one of these theories concerning Chief and Tribe. Each seems to me to contain a portion of truth, but not the whole. Let me first say that the whole land-system shadowed forth in the Brehon laws does seem to me to have for its basis the primary ownership of the tribe-land by the Tribe. It is also true that the Chief appears to exercise certain administrative duties in respect of this land, and that he has a specific portion of the tribeland allotted to him, in the vicinity of his residence or stronghold, for the maintenance of his household and relatives. But this is not all. As we see the system through the law, it is not stationary, but shifting, developing, disintegrating, re-combining. Even according to the texts apparently oldest, much of the tribal territory appears to have been permanently alienated to sub-tribes, families, or dependent chiefs; and the glosses and commentaries show that, before they were written, this process had gone very far indeed. Whatever, again, may have been the original dignity and authority of the Chief, they are plainly growing, not merely through the introduction of alien principles and ideas, but from natural causes, more or less operative all over Europe. The general character of these causes is very much the same as in the Germanic countries. The power of the Chief grows first through the process which is called elsewhere ‘commendation,’ the process by which the free tribesman becomes ‘his man,’ and remains in a state of dependence having various degrees. It farther grows from his increasing authority over the waste-lands of the tribal territory and from the servile or semi-servile colonies he plants there; and lastly, it augments from the material strength which he acquires through the numbers of his immediate retainers and associates, most of whom stand to him in more or less servile relations. But the Brehon law tells us much that is novel and surprising concerning the particular course of these changes and their nature in detail. It furnishes us with some wholly new ideas concerning the passage of society from inchoate to complete feudalism, and helps us to complete the account of it derived from Germanic sources. In this, as it seems to me, the greatest part of its interest consists.
With the Chieftaincy of the Tribe the early history of modern Aristocracy and modern Kingship begins. These two great institutions had, in fact, at first the same history, and the Western world long continued to bear the marks of their original identity. The Manor with its Tenemental lands held by the free tenants of the Lord, and with its Domain which was in immediate dependence on him, was the type of all the feudal sovereignties in their complete form, whether the ruler acknowledged a superior above him or whether he at most admitted one in the Pope, or the Emperor, or God himself. In every County, or Dukedom, or Kingdom there were great tenants holding directly of its head and on some sort of parity with him; and there was a Domain under his more immediate government and at his immediate disposal. There is no obscurer and more difficult subject than the origin of the class whose power was the keystone of all these political and proprietary constructions, and none on which the scantiest contributions to our knowledge are more welcome.
There is one view of the original condition of privileged classes which, though held by learned men, has been a good deal weakened of late by German research, and seems to me still farther shaken by portions of the Brehon law. This is the impression that they always constituted, as they practically do now, a distinct class or section of the community, each member of the class standing in a closer relation to the other members than to the rest of the national or tribal society to which all belong. It cannot be doubted that the earliest modern aristocracies have as a fact, when they are first discerned, this particular aspect. Mr. Freeman (‘Norman Conquest,’ i. 88) says that the ‘difference between eorl and ceorl is a primary fact from which we start.’ Tacitus plainly distinguished the noble from the non-noble freeman in the Germanic societies which he observed; and Cæsar, as I stated in another Lecture, divides all the Continental Celtic tribes into the Equites and the Plebs. We can understand that a spectator looking at a set of tribal communities from the outside would naturally class together all men visibly exalted above the rest; but nevertheless this is not quite the appearance which early Germanic society wears in the eyes of enquirers who follow the method of Von Maurer and Landau. Each Chief or Lord appears to them to have been noble less with reference to other noblemen than with reference to the other free tribesmen comprised in the same group with himself. Nobility has many diverse origins; but its chief source seems to have been the respect of co-villagers or assemblages of kinsmen for the line of descent in which the purest blood of each little society was believed to be preserved. Similarly, the Brehon law suggests that the Irish Chiefs were not the class by themselves which the corresponding order among the Continental Celts appeared to Cæsar to be, but were necessarily the heads of separate groups composed of their kindred or of their vassals. ‘Every chief,’ says the text which I quoted before, ‘rules over his land, whether it be great or whether it be small.’ And while the Irish law describes the way (as I shall point out) in which a common freeman can become a chief, it also shows that the position to which he attains is the presidency of a group of dependants. Nevertheless the persons thus elevated undoubtedly tend to become, from various causes, a class by themselves and a special section of the general community; and it is very probable that the tendency was at work from the earliest times. It is farther to be remarked that some aristocracies were really a section of the community from the very first. This structure of society is produced where one entire tribal group conquers or imposes its supremacy upon other tribal groups also remaining entire, or where an original body of tribesmen, villagers, or citizens, gradually gathers round itself a miscellaneous assemblage of protected dependants. There are many known instances of both processes, and the particular relation of tribal groups which the former implies was certainly not unknown to the Celtic societies. Among the Scottish Highlanders some entire septs or clans are stated to have been enslaved to others; and on the very threshold of Irish history we meet with a distinction between free and rent-paying tribes which may possibly imply the same kind of superiority and subordination.
The circumstance of greatest novelty in the position of the Chief which the Brehon law appears to me to bring out is this: Whatever else a Chief is, he is before all things a rich man; not, however, rich, as popular associations would lead us to anticipate, in land, but in live stock—in flocks and herds, in sheep, and before all things in oxen. Here let me interpose the remark, that the opposition commonly set up between birth and wealth, and particularly wealth other than landed property, is entirely modern. In French literature, so far as my knowledge extends, it first appears when the riches of the financial officers of the French monarchy—the Superintendents and Farmers-General—begin to attract attention. With us it seems to be exclusively the result of the great extension and productiveness of industrial undertakings on the largest scale. But the heroes of the Homeric poems are not only valiant but wealthy (Odyss. xiv. 96-106); the warriors of the Nibelungen-Lied are not only noble but rich. In the later Greek literature we find pride of birth identified with pride in seven wealthy ancestors in succession, ἕπτα πάπποι πλούσιοι; and you are well aware how rapidly and completely the aristocracy of wealth assimilated itself in the Roman State to the aristocracy of blood. Passing to the Irish Chief, we find the tract called the ‘Cain-Aigillne’ laying down (p. 279) that ‘the head of every tribe should be the man of the tribe who is the most experienced, the most noble, the most wealthy, the most learned, the most truly popular, the most powerful to oppose, the most steadfast to sue for profits and to be sued for losses.’ There are many other passages to the same effect; and on closely examining the system (as I propose to do presently) we can perceive that personal wealth was the principal condition of the Chief’s maintaining his position and authority.
But while the Brehon laws suggest that the possession of personal wealth is a condition of the maintenance of chieftainship, they show with much distinctness that through the acquisition of such wealth the road was always open to chieftainship. We are not altogether without knowledge that in some European societies the humble freeman might be raised by wealth to the position which afterwards became modern nobility. One fact, among the very few which are tolerably well ascertained respecting the specific origin of particular modern aristocracies is, that a portion of the Danish nobility were originally peasants; and there are in the early English laws some traces of a process by which a Ceorl might become a Thane. These might be facts standing by themselves, and undoubtedly there is strong reason to suspect that the commencements of aristocracy were multifold; but the Brehon tracts point out in several places, with legal minuteness, the mode in which a peasant freeman in ancient Ireland could become a chief. There are few personages of greater interest spoken of in these laws than the Bo-Aire, literally the ‘cow-nobleman.’ He is, to begin with, simply a peasant who has grown rich in cattle, probably through obtaining the use of large portions of tribe-land. The true nobles, or Aires—a word striking from its consonance with words of similar meaning in the Teutonic languages—are divided, though we can scarcely believe the classification to correspond with an universal fact, into seven grades. Each grade is distinguished from the others by the amount of wealth possessed by the Chief belonging to it, by the weight attached to his evidence, by his power of binding his tribe by contracts (literally of ‘knotting’), by the dues which he receives in kind from his vassals according to a system to be presently described, and by his Honor-Price, or special damages incurred by injuring him. At the bottom of the scale is the chief or noble called the Aire-desa; and the Brehon law provides that when the Bo-Aire has acquired twice the wealth of an Aire-desa, and has held it for a certain number of generations, he becomes an Airedesa himself. The advantage secured to wealth does not, you see, exclude respect for birth, but works into it. ‘He is an inferior chief,’ says the ‘Senchus Mor,’ ‘whose father was not a chief;’ and there are many other strong assertions of the reverence due to inherited rank. The primary view of chieftainship is evidently that it springs from purity or dignity of blood, but noble birth is regarded as naturally associated with wealth, and he who becomes rich gradually climbs to a position indistinguishable from that which he would have occupied if he had been nobly born. What is thus new in the system is the clear account of nobility as a status, having its origin in the organic structure of ancient society, but nevertheless in practice having perpetually fresh beginnings.
The enormous importance which belongs to wealth and specially to wealth in cattle, in the early Aryan society reflected by the Brehon tracts, helps, I think, to clear up one great difficulty which meets us on the threshold of an enquiry into the origin of aristocracies. I suppose that the popular theory on the subject of the privileged class in modern communities is that it was originally indebted for its status, if not for its power or influence, to kingly favour. An Englishman once questioned the Emperor Paul of Russia on the position of the Russian nobility. ‘The only man who is noble in my dominions,’ said the Czar, ‘is the man to whom I speak, for the time that I am speaking to him.’ I merely take these words as the strongest possible statement of the view to which I am referring; but they were used by a monarch with a disturbed brain, whose authority had contracted something of an Oriental character from its long subordination to Tartar power, and they were never absolutely true even of Russia. Among ourselves, however, the favourite assumption seems certainly to be, however slight may be the practical consequences we draw from it, that all aristocratic privilege had its origin in kingly grace; and this appears, on the whole, to be the theory of English law. But the institutions of many parts of the Continent long retained the traces of a different set of ideas, and these were found where kingly power was actually much greater than in England. The French Noblesse, before the Revolution, would as a body have resented the assertion that they were a creation of the King, and the Kings of France more than once admitted that they were only the most exalted members of a class to which their own nobility belonged.
Kings have everywhere nowadays, and in many countries have had for centuries, a monopoly of the power of ennobling. This road to nobility has been so long trodden, that men in general have almost forgotten there ever was another route. Yet historical scholars have long known that nobility conferred by royal grant was, in one sense, a modern institution, though they have not succeeded in completely explaining how it came to supplant or dwarf the institution upon which it was engrafted. There seems to be no doubt that the first aristocracy springing from kingly favour consisted of the Comitatus, or Companions of the King. Although there is a good deal of evidence that the class was at first considered in some way servile, it gradually became in some countries the type of all nobility. A few tolerably familiar facts may serve to remind us how remarkable has been the fortune of the royal households all over Western Europe. The Mayor of the Frankish Palace became King of the Franks. The Chamberlain of the Romano-German Emperors is now the German Emperor. The blood of the Steward of Scotland runs in the veins of the Kings of England. The Constables of France repeatedly shook or saved the French throne. Among ourselves the great officers of the Royal Council and Household still take precedence either of all Peers or of all Peers of their own degree. Whence, then, came this great exaltation of the Mayor or Count of the Palace, of the great Seneschal or Steward, of the High Chancellor, the Great Chamberlain, and High Constable—titles which, when they do not mark an office originally clerical, point to an occupation which must at first have been menial?
It seems certain that the Household sprang from very humble beginnings. Tacitus describes the companions of the Germanic chief as living with him in his house and supported by his bounty. Mr. Stubbs when stating (‘Constitutional History,’ p. 150) that ‘the gesiths of an (English) king were his guard and private council,’ observes that the ‘free household servants of a ceorl are also in a certain sense his gesiths.’ The Companions of the King appear also in the Irish legal literature, but they are not noble, and they are associated with the king’s body-guard, which is essentially servile. The King of Erin, though he never existed (strictly speaking), save for short intervals, yet always, so to speak tended to exist, and the Crith Gablach, a Brehon tract of which a translation is given at the end of Sullivan’s edition of O’Curry’s Lectures, contains a picture of his palace and state. The edifice intended to be described is apparently very much the same as the great Icelandic house of which Mr. Dasent, in the ‘Story of Burnt Njal,’ has attempted to give a drawing from the descriptions found in Norse literature. In it the King feasts his guests, from kings and king’s sons to a ghastly company of prisoners in fetters, the forfeited hostages of subject-chiefs or sub-septs who have broken their engagements. The Companions are there also, and they are stated to consist of his privileged tenantry and of his bodyguard, which is composed of men whom he has delivered from death, jail, or servitude, never (a significant exception) of men whom he has saved on the battle-field. I am afraid that the picture of Irish society supplied by the Crith Gablach must throughout be regarded as to a great extent ideal or theoretical; at any rate, there is much testimony from English visitors to Ireland that many considerable Irish Chiefs were much more humbly furnished out than the King of Erin at Tara. Yet it is very likely that they all had Companions attending them, and I suspect that the obligation of maintaining a little court had much to do with that strange privilege which in later times had a deplorable history, the right of the Chief to go with a following to the dwellings of his tenants and there be feasted at the tenant’s expense. That even petty Chiefs of the Scottish Highlands had a retinue of the same character is known to all who can recall that immortal picture of Celtic society which for the first time brought it home to men who were nearly our contemporaries that ancient Celtic life and manners had existed almost down to their days—the novel of ‘Waverley.’
It seems extremely probable that, in a particular stage of society, this personal service to the Chief or King was everywhere rendered in expectation of reward in the shape of a gift of land. The Companions of the Teutonic kings, in Continental Europe, shared largely in the Benefices—grants of Roman provincial land fully peopled and stocked. In ancient England the same class are believed to have been the largest grantees of public land next to the Church; and doubtless we have here part of the secret of the mysterious change by which a new nobility of Thanes, deriving dignity and authority from the King, absorbed the older nobility of Eorls. But we are a little apt to forget the plentifulness of land in countries lying beyond the northern and western limits of the Roman Empire, or just within them. Mr. Thorold Rogers, writing of a period relatively much later, and founding his opinion on the extant evidence of returns from manor-lands, speaks of land as the ‘cheapest commodity of the Middle Ages.’ The practical difficulty was not to obtain land, but the instruments for making it productive; and hence, in a society older relatively than any Teutonic society of which we have any distinct knowledge, that very society which the Brehon tracts enable us to understand, it may very well have been that the object of suit at court was much less to obtain land than to obtain cattle. The Chief, as I have already said, was before all things rich in flocks and herds. He was military leader, and a great part of his wealth must have been spoil of war, but in his civil capacity he multiplied his kine through his growing power of appropriating the waste for pasture, and through a system of dispersing his herds among the tribesmen, which will be described in the next Lecture. The Companion who followed him to the foray, or was ready to do so, cannot but have been enriched by his bounty; and thus, if already noble, he became greater; if he was not noble, the way to nobility lay through wealth. The passage which I am about to read to you may serve to illustrate what probably took place, though there is nothing except common humanity to connect the tribes of whose customs it speaks with the primitive Teutons and Celts. The Rev. H. Dugmore, in a most interesting volume, called a ‘Compendium of Kafir Laws and Customs,’ and published at the Wesleyan Missionary Press, Mount Coke, British Kaffraria, writes thus of much the most advanced of the South African native races, the Kafirs or Zulus (p. 27): ‘As cattle constitute the sole wealth of the people, so they are their only medium of such transactions as involve exchange, payment, or reward. The retainers of a chief serve him for cattle; nor is it expected that he could maintain his influence, or indeed secure any number of followers, if unable to provide them with what at once constitutes their money, food, and clothing. He requires, then, a constant fund from which to satisfy his dependants; and the amount of the fund required may be judged of from the character of the demand made upon him. His retinue, court, or whatever it is to be called, consists of men from all parts of the tribe, the young, the clever, and the brave, who come to do court service for a time, that they may obtain cattle to furnish them with the means of procuring wives, arms, or other objects of desire. On obtaining these they return to their homes and give place to others. Thus the immediate retinue of a chief is continually changing, and constitutes a permanent drain on his resources.’ Mr. Dugmore goes on to state that the sources of the chief’s wealth are the inherited cattle of his father, offerings made to him on the ceremony of his circumcision, benevolences levied from his tribe, fines and confiscations, and the results of predatory excursions.
The remarkable part played by kine in ancient Irish society will, I hope, be made more intelligible in the next Lecture. Meantime, let me observe that the two Celtic societies included in these islands which longest retained their ancient usages were both notoriously given to the plunder of cattle. Lord Macaulay, in speaking of Irish cattle-stealing, sometimes, I must own, seems to me to express himself as if he thought the practice attributable to some native vice of Irish character; but no doubt it was what Mr. Tylor has taught us to call a survival, an ancient and inveterate habit, which in this case continued through the misfortune which denied to Ireland the great condition of modern legal ideas, a strong central government. The very same practice, among the Celts of the Scottish Highlands and the rude Germanic population of the Lowland Border, has almost been invested by one man’s genius with the dignity of a virtue. Again, turning to ‘Waverley,’ I suppose there is no truer representative of the primitive Celtic chief than Donald Bean Lean, who drives the cattle of Tully Veolan, and employs a soothsayer to predict the number of beeves which are likely to come in his way. He is a far more genuine ‘survival’ than Fergus McIvor, who all but deserts his cause for a disappointment about an earldom.
It has been pointed out that the status of the King’s Companions was at first in some way servile. Whenever legal expression has to be given to the relations of the Comitatus to the Teutonic kings, the portions of the Roman law selected are uniformly those which declare the semi-servile relation of the Client or Freedman to his Patron. The Brehon law permits us to take the same view of the corresponding class in Celtic societies. Several texts indicate that a Chief of high degree is always expected to surround himself with unfree dependants; and you will recollect that the retinue of the King of Erin was to consist not only of free tribesmen but of a bodyguard of men bound to him by servile obligations. So far as it goes, I quite agree with the explanation which Mr. Freeman has given of the original connection between servile status and that nobility with which the primitive nobility of birth has become mixed up and confounded. ‘The lowly clientage,’ he says, ‘of the Roman Patrician and the noble following of the Hellenic and Teutonic leader may really come from the same source, and may both alike be parts of the same primeval heritage.’ (‘Comparative Politics,’ p. 261.) But perhaps we may permit ourselves to go a step beyond this account. The Comitatus or Companions of the Chief, even when they were freemen, were not necessarily or ordinarily his near kindred. Their dependence on him, carrying with it friendship and affection, would in modern societies place them in a position well understood, and on something like an equality with him; but in the beginning of things one man was always the kinsman, the slave, or the enemy of another, and mere friendship and affection would, by themselves, create no tie between man and man. In order that they might have any reality, they would have to be considered as establishing one of the relations known to that stage of thought. Between equals this would be assumed or fictitious kinship. But between the Chief who embodied purity of tribal descent and his associates, it would have more or less to follow the pattern of the slave’s dependence on his master, and, where the Companion was not actually the Chief’s slave, the bond which connected them would very probably be adapted to the more honourable model furnished by the relation between ex-slave and ex-master.