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SOME REMARKS ON MR. KEMBLE'S
THE recent work of Mr. Kemble at first sight holds forth a promise to fulfil what has been long required in the world of letters, viz. a diegesis of the principles of the Anglo-Saxon government under its political and social phases. The reputed sagacity of the author and his acknowledged power of elaboration over the peculiar materials which compose his task afford the presumption that the desideratum has at length been obtained. However acute and variously learned the predecessors of Mr. Kemble have been, it is certain that none of them brought to his labours such a profoundly scientific knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon dialect as that gentleman possesses.
But, notwithstanding that prima facie the requisite qualifications would seem to belong to Mr. Kemble, I entertain considerable doubts, as I will proceed to show, whether he has produced a work which has dispersed the mists or filled up the many craving hiatus of our early history, either in its ethnic or constitutional divisions.
In the first chapter of the first book Mr. Kemble gives his views of the nature and origin of the race or races composing the POPULATION of this country before the Germanic invasions of the fifth century. The aim of this section of the work is best expressed in what Mr. Kemble states as the result. He says (vol. i. p. 15),
"The object of this rapid sketch has been to show the improbability of our earliest records being anything more than ill-understood and confused traditions, accepted without criticism by our best annalists, and to refute the opinion long entertained by our chroniclers that the Germanic settlements in England really date from the middle of the fifth century."
Mr. Kemble thus admits the necessity of departing from the old worthless Keltic hypothesis, and of supposing a Germanic population of greater or less extent prior to the commonly accredited invasion from the coasts of Germany. But, notwithstanding this glimpse of truth, Mr. Kemble has recourse to a Welsh tradition, and a new interpretation of the words "LitGENT. MAG. VOL. XXXII.
tus Saxonicum," in order to supply this people. He says (vol. i. chap. i. p. 9), "The Coritani, who occupied the present counties of Lincoln, Leicester, Rutland, Northampton, Nottingham, and Derby, were Germans according to the Welsh tradition ;" and (p. 14),
"The term Littus Saxonicum has been
explained to mean rather the coast visited by or exposed to the ravages of the Saxons than the coast occupied by them; but against this loose system of philological and historical interpretation I beg emphatically to protest. It seems to have arisen merely from the uncritical spirit in which the Saxon and Welsh traditions have been adopted as ascertained facts, and from the impossibility of reconciling the account of Beda with the natural sense of the entry in the Notitia ; but there seems no reason whatever for adopting an exceptional rendering in this case; and, as the Littus Saxonicum on the main land was that district in which members of the Saxon confederacy were settled, the Littus Saxonicum per Britannias unquestionably obtained its name from a
After all, then, Mr. Kemble's notion is merely a divergence from the old popular theory. He plants a few Germans on the soil where a clearer sight might have enabled him to behold a dominant and spreading nation of the same race. With Cæsar and Tacitus by his side, he is ignorant that the sea coast was inhabited by popu lous and semi-civilised tribes of Belgæ, which, on better acquaintance, were found to have extended their progress further inland also. Having this evidence, and not finding that the Romans exterminated the natives, or made Romans of them by teaching them to lay down the speech of their fathers, may I not say that from such facts there is one conclusion only which ought to be arrived at, viz. that here we have the base of the English people. Why go to Welsh tradition and two words of doubtful and disputed import for any other inference or result?
The effect of Mr. Kemble's position is the same as that of the historians who have preceded him. It refers all things to a pure and unmixed Teutonic origin; for, if we have not a connate
strain with the Romanised Britons, we have nothing else in common with them. Their arts and their institutes would be lost and inaccessible to us upon such a supposition, though actual experience teaches that in most of the arts and many of the institutes there have been unbroken and continuous derivation and tradition. We cannot therefore in reason ascribe all things to Teutonic principles and origins. This difficulty and Mr. Kemble's theory, which is in substance (as I have observed) the old one, cannot be reconciled.
However Mr. Kemble may dally
with the Littus Saxonicum and the
Welsh tradition of the Coritani, he is at heart a Keltic theorist, as I have intimated. For he goes on to say (vol. i. p. 21),
"And we may safely appeal even to the personal appearance of the peasantry in many parts of England as evidence how much Keltic blood was permitted to subsist and even to mingle with that of the ruling Germans, while the signatures to very early charters supply us with names assuredly not Teutonic, and therefore probably borne by persons of Keltic race occupying positions of dignity at the court of Anglo-Saxon kings."
This be true; but until Mr. Kemble defines these numerous parts of England, to which he refers, all critics must withhold their assent to his proposition. For it is necessary to bear in mind that he speaks of a commingling of the blood of Anglo-Saxons and Kelts in Anglo-Saxon times, and cannot therefore allude to the population of Devon, Cornwall, or Cumberland, which have been Teutonized at periods long succeeding the Norman Conquest.
Mr. Kemble proceeds to say (vol. i. p. 33),
"Far less in the fabulous records adopted by historians than in the divisions of the land itself according to the populations that occupied it, and the rank of their several members, must the truth be sought. The names of the tribes and families have survived in the localities where they settled."
I confess, I do not see how this can help Mr. Kemble's theory. The conqueror settled in the open country, and imposed his own name upon his
house or manoir. This was well known before, though it has never been so philologically demonstrated as by Mr. Kemble in the present work.*
The next subject upon which I will trouble the reader with a few observations is the mode in which Mr. Kemble deals with that important institution of our forefathers-the WITENAGEMOT.
That_gemot arrests the attention of every Englishman, however slightly tinctured he may be with the blue of archeology, for he knows, or at least believes, although he may not be able to trace out each step of the transition, that the present parliament of his country is but a modified continuation of that archaic assembly. But if he seeks for antiquarian lights on this point, Mr. Kemble (I am apprehensive) will not afford them, nor assist him far on in his researches.
Mr. Kemble justly, though tritely, observes (vol ii. p. 196), "It has always been a question of deep interest in this country what persons were entitled to attend the gemot; and, in truth, very important constitutional doctrines depend upon the answer we give to it." (Why?)
The question as to who sat in this primitive house of parliament is therefore put forward clearly and distinctly by Mr. Kemble; and it is on this point alone that a difficulty exists, for the limits of its power and the subjects of its discussion and enactment have been tolerably well ascertained prior to Mr. Kemble's time.
Let us hear Mr. Kemble again (vol. ii. p. 201):
"But in a system so elastic as the Saxon it is conceivable that an ealdorman, bishop, or other great wita may have occasionally carried with him to the gemot
some friend or dependant whose wisdom he thought might aid in the discussion, or whom the opinion of the neighbourhood designated as a person well calculated to advise for the general good-a slight trace, but still a trace, of the ancient popular
* Mr. Kemble's merit clearly lies in philology. His demolition of the theory of the Bretwalda (vol. ii. p. 20), although supported by authors of eminence, is complete. But it only rested on a word, and that word he has dissected and elucidated in a manner evincing both acuteness and learning.
right to be present at the settlement of public business."
This is Mr. Kemble's answer to the question which he himself puts. But can it be called an answer? Does not Mr. Kemble know that in a semicivilized state of society, such as was that of the Anglo-Saxons throughout their dynasty, privileges are rigidly defined and jealously maintained; for they form the demarcating line between the conquered and the conquerorsthe plebs and the populus.
It is absurd to call the AngloSaxon system elastic in the sense in which Mr. Kemble applies that epithet. It has undoubtedly developed into institutions of greater liberality and wisdom; but this elasticity, or rather power of developement, was not then patent, though its latent potentiality, after a lapse of time, became an overt and obvious actuality. The assumption of Mr. Kemble is unauthorised and illogical; and he would have found in the pages of this Magazine a contribution from one of its correspondents which would have brought him nearer to the discovery of what constituted membership of a Parliament presided over by King Alfred or St. Edward.*
Mr. Kemble, referring to the same point, further says (vol. ii. p. 237),
"Although the dignified clergy, the ealdorman or gerefan, and the thegnas, both in counties and boroughs, appear to have constituted the witenagemot properly so called, there is still reason to suppose that the people themselves or some of them were very often present. fact a system gradually framed, as I suppose that of our forefathers to have been, and indebted very greatly to accident for its form, must have possessed a very considerable elasticity. The people who were in the neighbourhood, who happened to be collected in arms during a sitting of the witan, and who thought it worth while to attend their meeting, were very probably allowed to do so, and to exercise at least a right of conclamation."
(What constitutional right is this?) Further on, Mr. Kemble says, with a total abnegation of logic,
"But whether expressions of this kind [viz. judicio totius populi] were intended
Feb. 1847, p. 137, "On the Constitution of the Witenagemot."
to denote the actual presence of the people on the spot, or whether populus is used in a strict and technical sense that sense which is confined to those who enjoy the full franchise, those who form part of the politeuma; or, finally, whether the assembly of the witan making laws is considered to represent in our modern form an assembly of the whole people, it is clear that the power of self-government is recognised in the latter."
This is a specimen of pure non-sequitur. If the populus of the witenagemot means the section composed of the race of patricians who held the reins of government in their sole and exclusive grasp, how can it logically follow that the use of this word implies the right of self-government in the plebs or governed section. Mr. Kemble gives a list of the witenagemots as he finds them recorded, and distributes the powers of the witan in the following manner.
1. A consultative voice and a right to consider every public act which could be authorised by the King.
2. Deliberation upon the making of new laws, which were added to the existing folcriht.
3. The power of making alliances and treaties of peace.
4. The power of electing the King. 5. The power of deposing the King. 6. The power with the King of appointing Bishops to vacant sees.
7. The power of regulating ecclesiastical matters.
8. The power of levying taxes. 9. The power with the King of raising land and sea forces.
10. The intervention in the conversion of folcland into bocland.
11. The power of adjudicating the lands of offenders and intestates to be forfeited to the King.
12. The acting as a supreme court of justice both in civil and criminal
At the first blush this seems a full and particular table enough, but a nearer view brings out both deficiencies and inaccuracies.
In the first place, according to Mr. Kemble's opinion, all witenagemots are the same; but, on the other hand, clear and important distinctions are pointed out in the paper to which I have before alluded, and I cannot conceal my surprise that these distinctions have
remained unknown to Mr. Kemble, In historic times, as appears clearly by that paper, the ordinary witenagemot was composed of the King's thegnasof his leudes. But when an interregnum succeeded the death of a King, a gemot of all the witan would appear to have met for the purpose of a new election, and it would also seem that all thegnas attended at this assembly. But this is clearly not a gemot of the witan in any other sense than that of an extraordinary convention, or rather of a tumultuary assembly. Again, Mr. Kemble has sadly confused the topics upon which the witan deliberated or determined. The first, second, and third, are strictly correct positions; but, whatever the fourth might be, it is inaccurate to speak of the fifth as a legal power of any assembly;
when such a thing was done it would be, not a parliament but a convention-the illegal meeting of rebellious or exasperated subjects; and the tenth position applies to a different kind of gemot altogether, viz. a species of privy council of the time. The two remaining positions are only true of King's thegnas, of whom the assembly was composed, and who, by a well-understood principle of AngloSaxon law, could not be tried by the ordinary tribunals.
I leave the reader of the aforegoing remarks to determine whether Mr. Kemble has fully met and satisfied the expectations of the public in such portions of his work as deal with the two important questions to which I have directed his attention. C.
HISTORICAL NOTES ON BEDFORD.
(In continuation from June, p. 601.)
The first authentic mention of Bedford is in the year 571, when Cuthwulph fought with the Britons (Britwealas) at Bedicanford, and afterwards took four towns, whose identity is not certain, but they are supposed to have existed between this neighbourhood and Oxford.
Offa the well-known king of Mercia had some connection with Bedford. It would seem from Spelman's "Concilia," i. 379, that he designed some gifts for a church (collegiate or monastic probably) here; but the passage is so obscure that the word Bedford may be a mistake. He was however interred here, according to his wish, in 784, in a chapel on the banks of the Ouse, "because the exigency of the times at that juncture required it." But this chapel was washed away, or drowned (submersa) by a. flood; and Matthew Paris, who is followed by
*1827, 4to. and royal 4to. with six views in different parts of the county. Only 400 copies were printed.
Rowse and Stowe, tells us that the strong sarcophagus of lead" in which the body was inclosed was often seen by the inhabitants when bathing in the summer time, in the middle channel of the river, but at other times eluded pursuit, like an enchanted thing (res fatalis). The former, however, reduces it to sobriety by bitterly reproaching the monks of St. Alban's for not rescuing and re-interring the bones of their founder, which seems a very reasonable rebuke.
In the year 919 King Edward the Elder, son of the great and good Alfred, visited Bedanford, and received its submission, for which he had been invited by most of the principal inhabitants the previous year. He stayed at Bedford four weeks, and ordered the town to be repaired and fortified; or, according to others, a city or castle to be built, on the south side. Cruttwell's and Walker's Gazetteers state that this part had been previously called Mike's-gate, and that the two were first united in this reign; but gives no clue to the authority.
In 921 the Danes from Huntingdon and East Anglia built a fortification at Temesford, which they thought would lead to extensive conquests; but, having made an expedition to
Bedford, the inhabitants went out to meet, and routed them, killing a "good great" part.
In 970 an archbishop of York was buried at the monastery here, because the Abbot Thurkytel was his relation. His name was Oskytel; he had been twenty-two years archbishop, having been transferred from Dorchester, and died on All Hallow-mas, ten days before Martin-mas, at Tame. (The see of Dorchester [Oxfordshire] was removed to Lincoln in 1070, by St. Remigius, of Feschamp.)
In the year 1010, in the unhappy reign of Ethelred; after the great “Armada" of ships—a galley for every 310 hydes of land, and a suit of armour with a helmet for every 8— had proved ineffectual, through tempest and defeat; this quarter of the kingdom suffered severely. The Danes, having burnt Thetford (Theodford), and Cambridge (Grantabrycge), advanced to the Thames, and afterwards made an incursion through Oxnafordscire and Bucingamscire, and along the Usc, till they came to Bedanford and Temesanford, "burning whatever places they came to." Canute also passed through here to Huntingdon and Lincoln in 1016.
Bedford Castle was built by Pagan de Beauchamp, to whom William Rufus-a monarch abominated by the Saxon Chronicle-gave the barony. It was first besieged, by King Stephen, on Christmas Eve and Day, 1137, which was held a great irreverence in him, on which he said that no opportunity should be omitted against the enemy." Milo de Beauchamp, who had refused to surrender it to the king-chosen husband of his sister, marched out, after thirty days, on honourable terms. In the early part of the thirteenth century, it sustained the celebrated siege against Faulkes de Breant, an insurgent baron, which is so fully described in the Chronicle of Dunstaple. The borough, although it had granted to the king an aid of 10l., was fined 201. for the presence of some
* Translated in the writer's publication; with additions from Matt. Paris, Holinshed, and Robert of Gloucester, and explanations of the engines from Grose, Strutt, and Meyrick, &c.
of the burgesses amongst the besieged.* The ruins were 66 grandly impending over the river" in Camden's time, but have long since disappeared. The site of the keep is at the back of the Swan Inn.
The Corporation dates its first charter in 1165, and the last, which made the number fourteen, in 1666. The privileges were extensive, and so similar to those of Oxford, that they were accustomed to send there, when in doubt, for advice. There was a "merchant guild," and their exemptions extended to the sea and Normandy-" by land and by strand."
Matthew Paris relates that, in 1256, Bedford, with other places, was visited by a terrible storm of rain, lightning, and thunder (on Saint Ciriac's Day). The mill wheels were torn from their axles and dashed against neighbouring houses, and the windmill sails were broken by the wind. Piles of bridges, hayricks, fishermen's cottages, with nets and punts, and even children in their cradles, were washed away," so that Deucalion's deluge seemed restored." There was another great flood in 1570.
The last Bridge was built early in the thirteenth century; there is supposed to have been a prior one. It was only 13 ft. wide, and had five circular arches, and two gatehouses, which were removed many years before its demolition. It is styled by Lambarde one of the "fayre stone bridges of England;" but was not equal to the present one at Huntingdon. There is a good view of it, and another of St. Paul's Church, by Hearne and Byrne.
The date of St. John the Baptist's Hospital, which had been disputed, appears from a MS. in the British Museum, described to the writer as of the era of Elizabeth, to be 980; the MS. referring to a prior one. The parish church has been always connected with it.
The annals and valuations of the different Religious Houses afford nothing very interesting; unless that it appears from a plea of "quo warranto,' temp. Ed. III. that there was then an assize of bread and beer; offences
* Madox's Hist. of Exchequer.