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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

That the Anglo Saxon nature took firm and lasting form


may have been the most influential,

yet there were other motives also which touched the very essence of the matter. Men wished to belong to the great Church Communion which then in still unbroken freedom comprehended the most distant nations.[6] They preferred the bishops whom the kings appointed (with the authorisation of the Roman See), to those over whom the abbot of the great monastery on the island of Iona exercised a kind of supremacy. Here there was no question of any agreement between the German king and the bishops of the land, as under the Merovingians in Gaul; they even avoided restoring the bishops' sees which had flourished in the old Roman times in Britain. The primitive and independent element manifests itself in the decision of the princes and their great men. In Northumberland, Christianity was introduced by a formal resolution of the King and his Witan: a heathen high priest girt himself with the sword, and even with his own hand threw down his idols. The Anglo-Saxon tribes in fact passed over from the popular religion and mythology of the North and of Germany, which would have kept them in barbarism, to the communion of the universal religion, to which belonged the civilisation of the world. Never did a race show itself more susceptible of such an influence: it presents the most remarkable example of how the old German ideas, which had now taken living root in this soil, and the Roman ecclesiastical culture, which was vigorously embraced, met and became intertwined. The first German who made the
universal learning, derived from antiquity, his own, was an Anglo-Saxon, the Venerable Beda; the first German dialect in which men wrote history and drew up laws, was likewise the Anglo-Saxon. Despite all their reverence for the threshold of the Apostles they admitted foreign priests no longer than was indispensable for the foundation of the new church: in the gradual progress of the conversion they were no longer needed, we soon find Anglo-Saxon names everywhere in the church: the archbishops and leading bishops are as closely related to the royal families, as the heathen high priests had been before.

It was exactly through the co-operation of both principles, originally so foreign to one another, that the Anglo-Saxon nature took firm and lasting form.

The Kelts had formerly lived under a clan system which, extending over vast districts, yet displayed in each spot characteristic weaknesses which the hostility of every neighbour rendered fatal. Then the Romans had introduced a military administrative constitution, which displaced this tribal system, while it also subjected Britain to the universal Empire, of which it formed only an unimportant province. A characteristic form of life was first built up in Britain by the Anglo-Saxons on the ruins of the Roman rule. The union into which they entered with the civilised world was the freely chosen one of the religion of the human race; they had no other connexion to control them. Their whole energies being concentrated on the island, they gave it for the first time, though continually at war with each other, an independent position.

Their constitution combines the ideas of the army and the tribe: it is the constitution of armies of colonists bringing with them domestic institutions which had been theirs from time immemorial. A society of freemen of the same stock, who divided the soil among themselves in such a manner that the number of the hides corresponded to that of the families (for among no people was there a stronger conception of separate ownership), they composed the armed array of the country, and by their union maintained that peace at home which again secured each man's life and property. At their head stands a royal family, of the highest nobility, which traces its origin to the gods, and has by far the largest possessions;


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