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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Sprung from the stock of Cerdic


from it, by birth and by election

combined, proceeds the King; who then, sceptre in hand, presides in the court of justice, and in the field has the banner carried before him; he is the Lord, to whom men owe fidelity; the Guardian, to whom the public roads and navigable rivers belong, who disposes of the undivided land. Yet he does not stand originally so high above other men that his murder cannot be expiated by a wergeld, of which one share falls to his family--not a larger one than for any other of its members,--and the other to the collective community, since the prince belongs to the former by birth, to the latter by his office. Between the simple freeman and the prince appear the eorls, ealdormen, and thanes, in some instances raised above the mass by noble birth or by larger possessions, natural chiefs of districts and hundreds, in others promoted by service in the King's court and in the field, sometimes specially bound to him by personal allegiance: they are the Witan who have elected him out of his family (in a few instances they depose him); they concur in giving laws, they take part in making peace. Now the bishops take place by their side. They appear with the ealdormen in the judicial meetings of the counties: if the Gerefa neglects his duty, it is for them to step in; yet they have also their own spiritual jurisdiction. It is a spiritual and temporal organisation of small extent, yet of a certain self-sufficing completeness. Many of the present shires correspond to the old kingdoms, and bear their
names to this day. The bishops' sees often coincide with the seats of royalty; for the kings wished each to have a bishop to himself in his little territory, since they had to endow the bishopric. How many regulations still in force date from these times!

The Anglo-Saxons always had an immediate and near relation to the kingdom of the Franks.

It was with the daughter of a Frankish prince that the first impulse towards conversion came into a Saxon royal house. By the Anglo-Saxons again the conversion of inner Germany was carried out, in opposition to the same Scoto-Irish element which they withstood in Britain. Carl the Great thought it expedient to inform the Mercian King Offa of the progress of Christianity among the Saxons in Germany: he looked on him as his natural ally. Both kingdoms had moreover a common interest as against the free British populations on their western marches, who were allied with each other across the sea: decisive campaigns of Carl the Great and King Egbert of Wessex coincide in point of time, and may have supported each other.

Similarly, we may suppose that Egbert, who lived a number of years as an exile at Carl's court, and could not have remained uninfluenced by his mode of government and improved military tactics, was then also incited and enabled, after his return, to subdue the little kingdoms and unite them with Wessex: by the side of the 'Francia' of the continent he created in the island a united 'Anglia.' But still there subsisted a yet greater difference. Sprung from the stock of Cerdic, Egbert belonged to the popular royalty which we find throughout at the head of the invading Germans; he is, so far, more like the Merovingians whom Carl's predecessors overthrew, than like Carl himself; and he was almost entirely destitute of that strong groundwork of military institutions on which the Carolingians supported themselves. His rise depended much more on the fact that the old families in Mercia, Northumbria, and Kent had disappeared, and the succession in general had become doubtful; after Egbert had conquered the claimants to the throne in a great and bloody battle, he was recognised by the Witans of the several kingdoms as their common prince, and his family as that which in fact it now was,--the leading one of all. After the example of Pipin's family, whose alliance with the Papacy was the most important historical event of the epoch and founded Western Christendom, the descendants of Cerdic also got themselves anointed by the popes--for the religious movement still had the predominance over every other. The amalgamation of the tribes and kingdoms found its expression in the Church, through the prestige and rank of the Archbishop of Canterbury, almost earlier than it did in the State; the unity of the Church broke down the antipathies of the tribes, and prepared the way for that of the kingdoms. In the midst of this work of construction, so incomplete as yet, but so full of hope, of these birthpangs of a new life, the very existence of the country was threatened by the rise of a new Great Power. For so may we well designate the influence which the Scandinavian North exercised by land over Eastern Europe, and at the same time over all the Western coasts by sea.


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