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THE task which Alfred’s descendants had undertaken of creating an English nation was by no means accomplished in 954. The conquest of the Yorkshire Danes by Eadred and the final expulsion of Eric in that year completed the territorial development of the kingdom, but there still remained the harder tasks of creating a national feeling and a common law; and even a hundred years later only slight progress can be discerned in either of these important matters. For the moment however the inhabitants of England might fairly congratulate themselves on what had been achieved by the last two generations, and the prospects for the future seemed bright enough. War and the danger of war were over at least for a time; the country had become consolidated as never before, and the only trouble, which seemed at all threatening, was a certain want of robustness, which was beginning to manifest itself in the royal house. Of this weakness Eadred, despite his energy, was an unmistakable example. By all accounts he must have been, even from boyhood, a chronic invalid, and his health grew worse as he grew older. It was but little of a surprise then to his subjects that he lived to be only thirty-one, dying at Frome in Somerset somewhat suddenly in 955 while still unmarried.

Eadred’s premature death opened the succession to his nephew Eadwig, the son of Edmund, who had been passed over in 946 as too young to rule, and even now was little more than fifteen. From the very first this youth seems to have had an aversion to most of the advisers, who had surrounded his father and uncle, and to have been under the control of a party among the nobles of Wessex who resented the influence which had been exercised at court by Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury, and Eadgifu the young king’s grandmother. The result was that quarrels broke out even at the king's coronation, and within a year Dunstan was banished from England and driven to take refuge at Ghent in the abbey of Blandinium. The treatment meted out to Dunstan, together with an unwise marriage made by the king, led to a revolt breaking out in 957, apparently organized by the leading men of the Midlands. These rebels at once recalled Dunstan, and, supported by Aethelstan Half-king, the great duke of East Anglia, set up Edgar, Eadwig’s younger brother, as a rival king. For a time it seemed as if the unity of England was once more in jeopardy. Eadwig retained the support of Oda, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and still controlled Wessex; but the boy Edgar was recognized as king north of the Thames, and in 958 found himself strong enough to secure the bishopric of Worcester for Dunstan, and a little later the bishopric of London as well. Most fortunately, however, open war was avoided, and in 959 Eadwig died, whereupon Oda abandoned his hostility and Edgar, who was now sixteen, succeeded to the undivided sovereignty.

Edgar’s reign, though a period of almost profound peace and therefore dull from the narrative point of view, forms a notable epoch. It lasted some sixteen years (959-975), and is memorable not only for a considerable body of secular legislation but as a period, during which churchmen held the reins of power, and used their influence over the king and the leading nobles to promote a much needed ecclesiastical reform. This reform, whether they deliberately designed it or not, so increased the prestige and popularity of their order that, by the end of the reign, the political power and landed endowments of the English Church were not far from doubled. Ever since the coming of the vikings, notwithstanding Alfred’s remarkable efforts to provide a remedy, the English clergy, both the regulars and the seculars, had remained sunk in a deplorable condition of ignorance and lack of discipline. Whatever statesmanship had manifested itself under Alfred's successors, had come almost wholly from the warrior and princely classes. In spite of all their energy in securing the payment of tithes and church dues, few of the bishops or parish clergy had followed high ideals or set any worthy standard before their flocks. Lax conditions prevailed also among the regular clergy. Many monasteries had lost their endowments by lay encroachments, and stood practically empty and ruined, while the majority of the foundations which had survived were no longer tenanted by monks living in strict isolation from the world, but by colleges of clerks living under customs which were of varying strictness, but all involving very little of the monk’s rigorous discipline. In monasteries, such as these, the obligations of celibacy, poverty, and the common life prescribed by the Rule of St Benedict were by no means insisted on; and the clerks who enjoyed the endowments were as often as not married men living with their families in their own houses and dispensing hospitality to their friends with considerable display and luxury. No doubt there were some devout men among them; but in general their zeal in attending services in their minster churches left much to be desired, and it was difficult to get them even to reside continuously in the neighborhood of their duties, as they found hunting and travelling about far more to their taste than the solemn chanting of the ‘canonical hours’ for the public weal some six to nine times a day.

Before Edmund’s reign few protests had been raised in England over the practical disappearance of strict monasticism. St Oswald’s Abbey at Gloucester, founded by Duke Aethelred and the Lady Aethelfleda in 909, the New Minster at Winchester, founded by Edward the Elder as Alfred’s memorial, and Milton Abbey in Dorset, founded by Aethelstan, had all been organized as a matter of course as colleges of clerks; while Edmund himself in 944 made a home at Bath for fugitive clerks from Flanders who had been expelled from St Bertin’s Abbey at St Omer for refusing to accept reforms. Within the English Church the first men to realize that reform was desirable seem to have been the Danish Archbishop Oda and Aelfheah, who occupied the see of Winchester from 934 to 951. Both these churchmen had relations with the Continent and through them became imbued with the stricter ideas as to clerical and monastic life, which in Aethelstan’s time had taken hold of Western Frankland. These ideas in the first instance had emanated either from the famous abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, whence they had spread to Fleury (St Benoit­sur-Loire), regarded in the tenth century as the leading monastery in Neustria, or from Brogne near Namur, whence came St Gerard, who between 939 and 944 reformed the monasteries of Flanders. Several incidents in Oda’s career show that he favored the new ideas, and wished to spread them in England. In 942 for instance, when appointed archbishop, he decided that he ought himself to become a monk, and sent to Fleury to obtain the monastic habit. Nor was it long before he issued new constitutions for his province, and among them was one insisting that all ordained persons, whether men or women, should observe the rule of chastity. Again a few years later, when his nephew Oswald decided to become a monk, Oda advised him to go and study at Fleury, as the best house in which to prepare himself for his vocation. Bishop Aelfheah’s pre­ference for strict monasticism can be traced back still earlier, for we find him already in Aethelstan’s reign persuading Dunstan, who was his kinsman, to abandon the idea of marriage and devote himself to a life of asceticism and study. The result was that Dunstan, on his appointment to be abbot of Glastonbury by Edmund, had at once set zealously to work to convert the clerks, over whom he was called to rule, into a more disciplined society by making them share a common dormitory and refectory and by refusing to admit any more married men to the community. Glastonbury thus led the way in reform in England, and became a school of piety and learning in which many men were trained who were to make their mark in the future. The most remarkable of these was Aethelwold, a native of Winchester. He, like Dunstan, had come as a youth under the influence of Bishop Aelfheah. At Glastonbury he rose to be dean and Dunstan’s right-hand man, and about 950 by the influence of Eadgifu, the queen mother, he was selected by Eadred to take charge of Abingdon in Berkshire, one of Ine’s foundations, which had become almost desolate. Very enthusiastic by nature, Aethelwold had hardly been satisfied with the amount of discipline enforced at Glastonbury. His first act accordingly, on reaching Abingdon, was to dispatch his friend Osgar, another of Dunstan's pupils, to Fleury, so that he might be furnished with first-hand knowledge of what was being done on the Continent, and then make his abbey a model for England. Backed by Eadred’s patronage Abingdon soon grew to be a large and well endowed foundation, observing the rule of St Benedict in its most stringent form.

Nor was its progress hindered under Eadwig, who went on showering benefactions on it notwithstanding Aethelwold’s connection with Dunstan and the curtailment of his own resources by the revolt of Mercia.

The acceptance of Edgar by the West Saxons gave the advocates of reform a much freer hand, as the young king from the first relied on Dunstan as his principal adviser. In 960 he promoted him to the see of Canterbury, and shortly afterwards proclaimed himself definitely one of the reforming party by appointing Oswald, Oda’s nephew, to the see of Worcester and Aethelwold to that of Winchester. Though all three prelates were equally pledged to reform, they set about it in different ways. Dunstan, though he had a hand in the reform of Westminster and Malmesbury and perhaps of Bath, thought most of raising the tone of the laity and the parish priests, and consequently spent much of his energy in warring against drunkenness and immorality. Aethelwold on the other hand, holding that the state of the monasteries was the most crying evil, did little for the laity, and pressed on with a ruthless crusade throughout Wessex, beginning with Chertsey and the two minsters at Winchester, by which he hoped to set monks in the shoes of the collegiate clergy. He seems to have offered the clerks, whether married or not, only two alternatives, either complete acceptance of a most stringent monastic vow or instant expulsion, and at the old Minster, when argument proved of no avail, he actually resorted to violence, calling in lay assistance to expropriate his opponents from their property. In the Severn valley, the course pursued by Oswald was more tactful. Relying on example, he left the clerks of Worcester and Gloucester undisturbed, and merely established a small house for monks near Bristol at Westbury-on-Trym.

Meanwhile the king started a movement in the Danelaw to refound some of the great abbeys which had been destroyed in the Danish wars and which still lay in ruins. The chief of these were Ely, Medeshamstede and Thorney. Thanks to Aethelwold, these were all re-established and filled with monks, Medeshamstede taking the name of Peterborough. A new model abbey also arose at Ramsey in Huntingdonshire about 969. This was the joint work of Bishop Oswald and Duke Aethelwin of East Anglia, a son of Aethelstan Half-king; and it was from Ramsey a few years later that Oswald brought monks first to Winchcombe and ultimately to his cathedral church at Worcester, establishing them in his ‘familia’ side by side with the clerks, whose life interests he respected. Finally, to set the seal on these activities, Aethelwold at Edgar’s request translated the Rule of St Benedict into English for the benefit of those who were weak in Latin. He also, with the object of introducing uniformity of practice into the daily life of the monasteries, composed a new rule for English monks, known as the Regularis Concordia Anglicae Nationis, founded partly on the custom of Fleury and Ghent and partly on the ‘Capitula’ issued in 817 by Benedict of Aniane.

Another side of the ecclesiastical awakening which characterized Edgar’s reign is seen in the care with which the reforming prelates set about developing and managing the estates which the laity, encouraged by the king, on all sides pressed upon them. The best evidence of this is found at Worcester, where a number of records still survive showing how Bishop Oswald personally superintended the administration of the demesnes belonging to his church. Among them are some seventy deeds in which the bishop is seen granting out portions of the episcopal lands to persons whom he describes as his thegns, knights or milites on condition of faithful service, and side by side with these is preserved a letter, addressed by the bishop to King Edgar, in which he reports in explicit terms exactly what the nature of the bargain was and what were the services which the tenants were to render for their holdings. For the most part these leases, or ‘land-loans’ as they are called, were for the period of three lives, that is to say they were roughly tantamount to ninety-nine year leases, the first tenant having the right to name two successors, after which the land was to revert to the church; but in the meantime the tenants were to pay yearly church-scots, at the rate of a horse-load of corn for each hide of land which they held, to pay toll to the bishop when they bought or sold, to render pannage for their pigs when feeding in the bishop's woods and help their lord in his hunting, to ride on the lord's errands and fulfill all the duties of a knight or, as the letter expresses it, fulfill the “lex equitandi quae ad equites pertinent”. What makes these curious records particularly interesting is the clear implication, which they convey, that already the estates of the great English ecclesiastics were taking very much the shape of the baronies of a later day, and that we can discern in these knights, though they cannot yet be called military tenants, a class who held by a tenure which was almost feudal, and which would easily become tenure in chivalry “as soon as the tactics of war changed and the time-honored method of fighting on foot was replaced by reliance on heavy cavalry”. These documents in fact show us how in Edgar’s day, side by side with the religious reform, there developed a further drift towards feudalism, an effect of the steady accumulation of land into greater and greater estates. They show also how prominent a part in this economic evolution may be assigned to the churchmen, for though no other records of estate management have survived, as detailed as those of Worcester, there are plenty of indications that all the ecclesiastical corporations were acting in these matters more or less on uniform lines.

Though the social and religious movements are clearly the most important things that happened in Edgar’s reign, it must not be thought that the king remained all his life a mere tool in the hands of the ecclesiastics and had no policy of his own. Like most of his immediate predecessors, he evidently, on coming to manhood, had closely at heart the due maintenance of order in all parts of his realm, and kept constantly amending and sharpening the machinery for enforcing the peace and dispensing justice. His laws no doubt show the influence of Dunstan in the minuteness with which they deal with tithe and the observance of fasts and festivals, but they are also remarkable for their precise rules as to buying and selling and the pursuit of thieves, as to the maintenance of the suretyship system of frithborhs and as to the periods when the various courts were to be held. Specially famous is his ordinance as to the local courts, which contains the first clear proof of a regular division of the shires for judicial purposes into moderate sized units called ‘hundreds’, each with its own tribunal sitting every four weeks. A further step of somewhat doubtful wisdom, as it tended to undermine the royal authority, was to place some of the hundreds, so far as the administration of justice was concerned, under the control of the reformed monasteries. Considerable districts thereby acquired the status of ecclesiastical franchises, in which the local courts were no longer held in the king's name, and in which the profits of justice went into the coffers of some minster church and not into the king's treasury. The first monastic houses to acquire these franchises, or ‘sokes’ as they were termed in the vernacular (from sócne, the Anglo-Saxon term for jurisdiction), were Peterborough and Ely; and there seems no reason to doubt the local traditions, which tell us that they obtained them from Edgar on their first foundation at the instance of Bishop Aethelwold. No formal Latin charters from the king have come down to us attesting these grants, but in either case there are some curious Anglo-Saxon records still existing which more or less explain their nature. From these we can see that Peterborough obtained judicial control over a block of eight hundreds in Northamptonshire, having Oundle as their chief town, while Ely obtained similar control not only over the two hundreds lying round the monastery, which made up the Isle of Ely, but also over a district of five hundreds in East Suffolk, known as ‘Wichlawa’, having Woodbridge on the Deben as its centre and also comprising Sudbourne with the port of Orford, an estate which Edgar had granted to Aethelwold as a reward for translating the Rule of St Benedict into English. In the sokes thus created the essential novelty was not merely the transfer of the king's rights to the monks, but the fact that by the transfer great numbers of men, both small and great, who were in no way the tenants of the monks or under their patronage by ‘commendation’, nevertheless came thus to be subjected to them for police and judicial purposes, and had, if charged with any crime, to appear before officials appointed by them, and became liable to pay to the monks fines whenever they were unfortunate enough to be convicted. In other words the creation of the sokes also created a new kind of lordship, so that the freemen of these districts for the future all had, as it were, three lords over them; first their immediate personal lord, to whom they were tied by commendation; secondly the lord of the hundred, to whom they owed soke; and thirdly the king or supreme lord, to whom they owed military service, and to whom they could still appeal as a last resort in judicial matters if the lord of the hundred persistently refused to do them adequate justice.

Here we see no small step taken, at the instance of the ecclesiastics, in the direction of feudalism, one too which was certain to be regarded by the lay magnates as a precedent justifying them in seeking similar franchises for themselves. As yet, however, we have no reason to suppose that Edgar had favored any laymen in this way; and the only other notable franchise which we can ascribe to him is one which was set up in Worcestershire in favor of Oswald, but which differed from those granted to Aethelwold’s foundations in extending only to estates which were already in the bishop's ownership, and to men who were under his lordship as tenants of the see of Worcester. Here again we can produce no genuine Latin charter in witness of Edgar’s grant; but none the less we may accept as credible the traditions enshrined in the celebrated but suspect landbook known as Altitonantis, and vouched for in the main by the account of Worcestershire given in the Domesday Survey. These authorities, if read together, tell us that Oswald was given a seignorial jurisdiction over about a third of the lands of his see, comprising 300 hides lying scattered in various parts in the valleys of the Severn and the Avon, and that he was further permitted to organize this special area into three new hundreds, which together came to be known as the triple hundred of ‘Oswaldeslau’. The creation of this soke, though in extent of juris­diction a much narrower one than those given to Peterborough and Ely, had a very disturbing effect on the local organization of Worcestershir; for the new hundreds had little geographical coherence and were in every case merely artificial aggregates of land, pieces of them lying inter­spersed among estates belonging to other lords, and pieces of them being even quite outside the proper bounds of the county and forming detached islands in Gloucestershire. The net result, therefore, was that the hundreds of Worcestershire became a sort of patchwork, and the respective jurisdictions of the king and the administrative remained ever afterwards most awkwardly intermixed. These administrative and legal changes, as well as the general character of his dooms, plainly show that Edgar was an active ruler, and there can be little doubt that he deserves to share with Dunstan the credit for the peacefulness and increase of civilization, which marked his reign and made such an impression on his contemporaries. We cannot, however, altogether commend his policy in the matter of the sokes which he created in favor of Aethelwold and Oswald; for he thereby initiated a process which could not fail in the long run to diminish the effectiveness of the central government.

Edgar died in 975, prematurely like so many of his race, being not yet thirty-three, and was buried by Dunstan at Glastonbury. He was twice married and left two sons, Edward a boy of thirteen born of his first wife, and Aethelred aged seven, the child of his second wife Aelfthryth. This Devonshire lady, the sister of the founder of Tavistock Abbey, was filled with ambition for her family, and would not acquiesce in the kingdom passing whole to her stepson, and helped by a party among the Mercian nobility who still cherished a resentment for the hard treatment that had been meted out to the clerks, attempted to obtain recognition for Aethelred. Dunstan, however, with the help of Oswald, who had become Archbishop of York in 971, though still retaining the see of Worcester, supported Edward and caused him to be elected by a witan and crowned at Kingston in Surrey. If the unity of England was to be maintained, this settlement was obviously a wise one, but it only drove the discontented party into more violent action, led by Aelfhere, the duke who had been placed in Edgar's day in control of the Severn valley. Aelfhere probably was opposed to Dunstan's continued control of the king, but his particular grievances seem to have been against Oswald, who had handed over Winchcombe Abbey to Germanus, a monk from Ramsey, and had also tried to displace the clerks from Pershore, a foundation connected with Aelfhere’s house. High-born canons, friends and kinsmen of Aelfhere, had thereby lost their incomes and were clamoring for restitution. In judging this movement no reliance can be placed on the accounts of it which have survived, for they originate without exception from the side of the monks and depict all sympathizers with the clerks as the blackest scoundrels. The only point that stands out clearly is that Aelfhere and his friends were strong enough to drive out the monks from Evesham and replace their rivals in several of the Worcestershire and Gloucestershire foundations. Meantime a somewhat similar movement had developed in the eastern Midlands in connection with the lands that had been acquired by Ramsey, Ely and Peterborough. It was alleged that many of them had been taken unjustly from their former owners. Flushed by his successes in the west, Aelfhere came over to support the malcontents, but the fenland abbeys had powerful defenders in Aethelwin, who had founded Ramsey, and in Brihtnoth, the duke of the East Saxons, who had been a liberal benefactor to Ely. These nobles raised armed forces to defend the estates of the monasteries, and eventually Aelfhere and his partisans had to retire discomfited, Aethelwin being ever afterwards styled among the monks in gratitude for his services ‘the Friend of God’. These disputes exhibit Dunstan as no longer equal to the task of maintaining order and were followed almost immediately by his downfall from power. This was brought about in 978 by the murder of the young Edward, a deed done in cold blood at Corfe in Dorset, apparently at the instigation of the ambitious Aelfthryth. If Dunstan had still retained his earlier vigor, he would have promptly taken steps to punish the conspirators; but the murder went unavenged, and Aethelred, though only ten years old, commenced unchallenged a reign which was fated to last for thirty-seven years (978­1016) and bring England untold disasters.

Aethelred’s minority was necessarily a long one, but so far as we know without any striking incidents. The leaders of Edgar’s time were all ageing and one by one passing into the background. Dunstan lived till 988, but withdrew from court in 980 and spent the rest of his days in dignified retirement, busied with ecclesiastical duties. The rivalry between the monks and clerks cooled down with the deaths of Bishop Aethelwold and Duke Aelfhere some four years later, nor did Oswald or Aethelwin again play parts of importance, although they survived till 992. The ecclesiastical fight ended in a drawn battle, for the canons retained possession of Canterbury and York, of London, Dorchester and Lichfield, of Bury St Edmunds, St Albans and Beverley, and even in Wessex kept some important churches such as Wells and Chichester. As to the king we hear that he was involved in a dispute with Aelfhere’s heir, but we do not even know who took charge of his education. His minority in fact would be almost a blank, were it not for some entries in the Chronicle which speak of renewed viking incursions. These began in 980, when raiders made descents on Chester, Thanet and Southampton. The first batch no doubt came from Ireland or Man, the others more probably from Scandinavia; but no one thought them dangerous, even though they were followed by further raids in 982 on Devon and Cornwall. In reality they were the opening of another period of trial for England, and foreshadowed Danish and Norwegian attacks not less dangerous to the security and freedom of Englishmen than those captained by Ingwar and Guthrum in the ninth century.

The position of England about the year 990, when Aethelred attained his majority, might seem at first sight less vulnerable than in Alfred’s day. The land was no longer split into rival kingdoms; it had fortresses and ships and the confidence born of former victories. But this impression of unity and strength is misleading. In reality, the West Saxon dynasty had not succeeded in assimilating its conquests further north than the river Welland. In the Five Boroughs and in Yorkshire, and still more beyond the Tees, it was from every point of view extremely weak. There is no evidence for example that Edgar, for all his popularity, ever showed his face in these parts, or that he had estates there bringing in any appreciable revenue, or that he appointed any reeves. Jarls of Danish descent ruled, quite uncontrolled, the half-Danish population in accordance with Danish laws and customs, and only gave their allegiance to the king because they were left alone. Even the Church had failed to reassert itself among the ‘holds’ and ‘socmen’. The sees of York, Lincoln and Leicester were still, as it were, only appendages of Worcester and Dorchester, rarely visited by their bishops, badly endowed and honeycombed with heathen practices only thinly veiled. Nor beyond the Welland had any attempt been made to found any monasteries of the reformed pattern. Little reliance then could be placed on the patriotism of these regions, for should Danish invaders once more get a foothold in the country, the chief land-owners would have much in common with the enemy, and might easily be enticed into joining them.

At the same time it must be remembered that the Scandinavian lands had made in the last century even greater strides towards consolidation than England. Norway under Harold Fairhair (850-933) and his descendants had ceased to be a mere collection of warring chieftaincies, while Denmark under Harold Bluetooth (950-986) had grown into a fairly compact state, and imposed its sway on its neighbors. As stated in the runic inscription on the Jellinge Stone, the famous monument in Jutland which Harold erected in honor of his parents, Gorm and Thyra, he had “won all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christians”. He had made the ‘Wick’ and the south of Norway a component part of his realm; he had planted Danish outposts in Pomerania and Prussia, he had founded the great stronghold of Jómsborg in Wendland, and he had forced Häkon the Bad to hold northern Norway and the Throndlaw as his vassal. More than this, by his successes he had awakened again the old viking spirit, and set the dragon ships as of old sailing the seas in search of adventure. His closing years were not so successful as his prime. In 975 Häkon had revolted, and in 986 the old king was himself slain fighting against his son Svein, who had thrown off Christianity. His death, however, did not make the Danish power less formidable. The undutiful SveinSvein Forkbeard, as he was nicknamed, was as able as his father, and bent on reconquering Norway, or failing that extending his realm elsewhere. He had sailed all the seas as a viking and already had his eye on England. There were plenty of reasons then about 990 why Englishmen, had they been well informed about the outside world, should have had forebodings as to the future, and be wondering what manner of leader they had in the young Aethelred.


Olaf Tryggvason. The Massacre of St Brice's Day

The first raids, sufficiently serious to test Aethelred's capacity, began in 991, when Olaf Tryggvason, a famous Norwegian exile, who had claims on the throne of Norway, burned Ipswich and defeated and slew Brihtnoth, the duke of the East Saxons, at Maldon. Instead of hastening with all speed to avenge this disaster, Aethelred could think of no better counsel than to bribe the invaders to depart by an offer of £10,000. This was done with the advice of Sigeric, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other magnates, and precedents could be found for it in Alfred's reign. None the less it was a most unwise expedient, as it gave the raiders the impression that the king was a weakling and that Englishmen were afraid of fighting. Two years later Olaf went harrying along the coasts of Northumberland and Lindsey, and in 994 was joined by Svein, who for the moment had been driven from Denmark by Eric, the King of Sweden. Their design was to pillage London. The citizens, however, put up such a stout defence that the allied princes abandoned the enterprise and betook themselves to Sussex and Hampshire. There they obtained horses and ravaged far and wide. Again Aethelred and the witan thought only of buying a respite, this time with £16,000 and an offer to supply provisions. Having accepted these terms, Olaf came to Andover on a visit to Aethelred in order to be baptized a Christian, and soon afterwards sailed away to claim the throne of Norway. Successful in this adventure, he never afterwards had leisure to trouble England. Not so King Svein. He too sailed away to deal with the Swedes, and for some years was busied in securing his power in Denmark; but he still kept England in mind, and was only biding his opportunity.

Meantime lesser men continued to make yearly attacks on the coasts of Wessex, and always with such success owing to the quarrels and incompetence of the English leaders that at last Aethelred in despair determined to take some of the vikings into his pay to keep off the remainder. The chief of these was Pallig, a high-born Danish jarl, who had married Svein’s sister, Gunnhild. The immediate result, it would seem, was satisfactory, for we hear in the year 1000 of an expedition being led by Aethelred against the Norsemen of Cumberland and the Isle of Man, who had for years been a menace to Yorkshire and the land betwixt the Mersey and the Ribble. The experiment nevertheless was a very risky one, and a year later proved quite ineffective to stop a fresh force of vikings landing in Devon, which ultimately was only bought off with a promise of £24,000 after a triumphant march from Teignton and Exmouth through Somerset and Wiltshire to Southampton Water. Instead of fighting this force Pallig actually joined it with all the ships he could lay hold of, a piece of treachery which enraged Aethelred to such a degree that he lost control of himself and planned a general massacre of the Danes in his service and even of their families. This utterly barbarous and unwise piece of retaliation was carried out on St Brice's day 1002 to the shame of all chivalrous Englishmen, and among the victims was not only Pallig and his son but his wife GunnhildSvein’s sister, whom Aethelred was holding as a hostage.

The tragedy of Gunnhild’s death marks the turning point in Aethelred’s reign; for it naturally bred in Svein a desire for vengeance which was only to be satisfied after ten long years of warfare ending in the conquest of England. Of this struggle the Chronicle gives a minute account, but often in such hysterical tones that it is difficult to make out what really happened. Nor can space be given here to unravel its meaning. The bare outlines however are somewhat as follows. In 1003 Svein burnt Exeter, Wilton and Salisbury. In 1004 he sacked Norwich and Thetford, and had some hard tussles with Ulfkytel, the chief Danish jarl in East Anglia. In 1006 he ravaged East Kent, and next spring after wintering in the Isle of Wight plundered right and left through Hampshire and Berkshire. Aethelred meantime had apparently done nothing but hide in Shropshire in the company of a west-country magnate, one Eadric, nicknamed ‘Streona’ or ‘the Grasper’, an evil councilor of whom the Chronicle can hardly speak with patience. As ever Aethelred’s one idea was to offer the enemy a ransom. He accordingly patched up a truce, and persuaded Svein to take his forces back to Denmark in return for a tribute of £36,000. At the same time he placed Eadric in possession of the great estates formerly possessed by Aelfhere in the Severn valley, and made him duke of Western Mercia. After this there seems to have been a lull for two years, in which some efforts were made to organize a large naval force for the defence of the country by requiring ships to be furnished from every 300 hides of land; but when this fleet assembled at Sandwich in 1009, the quarrels between its leaders, Brihtric, a brother of Eadric, and Wulfnoth the Child, a powerful Sussex magnate, completely wrecked its utility. In 1010 the Danish fleets were back again, this time led not by Svein in person but by one of his great men, Thorkil the Tall, a famous jarl from Jómsborg. He attacked Ulfkytel, and having defeated him at Ringmere near Thetford harried all the south-east Midlands, penetrating westwards as far as Oxfordshire, and burning in turn Cambridge, Bedford and Northampton. These inland districts, which had not before suffered from the raiders, seem to have been utterly dazed. No leaders could be found to captain the local levies and no shire would help another. The inhabitants simply clamored for peace on any terms, and so in 1011 a witan advised Aethelred to offer a still larger ransom, this time no less than £48,000. It proved difficult, however, to raise so great a tribute. The disappointed vikings therefore went on ravaging, and a little later betook themselves to Kent, where they sacked Canterbury, owing to treachery on the part of the abbot of St Augustine's, and captured the Archbishop, Aelfheah (Alphege). For some months they held the primate to ransom, only to murder him in a drunken riot at Greenwich early in 1012. When at last the tribute was got together, the Danish forces broke up and some went back to Denmark; but Thorkil himself with a fleet of forty-five ships remained in England and took service with Aethelred. The plan of setting a thief to catch a thief was evidently to be tried again; but it met with no more success than in the case of Pallig, for the news, that Thorkil was obtaining power in England, immediately brought his overlord Svein upon the scene, bent upon conquering the whole country and outshining his lieutenant.

The plan of attack in 1013 was quite different to the methods hitherto adopted. Instead of raiding Wessex or East Anglia, Svein directed his fleet to the Humber, evidently counting on a friendly reception from the men of the Danelaw. Nor was he disappointed. As soon as he landed with his son Knut at Gainsborough on the Trent, Uhtred, a son of Waltheof of Bamborough, who had distinguished himself against the Scots and become jarl of the Yorkshire Danes, offered him his allegiance, and shortly afterwards all the men of the Five Boroughs submitted and gave him hostages. A good base being thus secured, where he could leave his ships in his son's guardianship, he next marched through Leicestershire across the Watling Street into Eadric’s dukedom and so south to Oxford and Winchester. Both these boroughs submitted as soon as he appeared, and it was not till he turned eastwards to London, where Aethelred lay with Thorkil, that we hear of any resistance. There was a fight, it would seem, for the possession of London Bridge in which Svein’s men were unsuccessful. Checked for the moment in the east, and uncertain how best to deal with ThorkilSvein next proceeded to Bath to secure control of Western Wessex. A hundred and forty years before this district had been the scene of Alfred’s heroic defence, but its old spirit had long departed. In a few days it submitted, after which we are told “all the people held Svein for full king”. These sweeping desertions made Aethelred realize that England as a whole was resolved not to fight for him, and that Thorkil’s forces were hardly likely for long to save him from Svein's vengeance. He accordingly took ship and sought a refuge in Normandy at the court of Duke Richard the Good, the brother of his second wife Emma, whom he had married eleven years before on the very eve of the fateful massacre of 1002.

Svein’s triumph, complete as it seemed, was destined to be only momentary. He retired to his base on the Trent to keep the Yule-tide feast with his son Knut, and had the satisfaction of receiving hostages from the Londoners, but died suddenly in February 1014, before he could be crowned King of England. His death threw the whole Scandinavian world into confusion. The fleet at Gainsborough chose the youthful Knut, though only eighteen, to be king; but he was not Svein’s eldest son, and Denmark passed to his brother Harold, while the Norwegians favored the claims of Olaf the Stout, a cousin of Olaf Tryggvason’s, who had been fighting in England with Thorkil, to rule those parts of Norway which had acknowledged Svein’s supremacy. In these circumstances it is not surprising to hear that Aethelred was called back to England, and that the jarls who stood round Knut advised a return of the fleet to Scandinavia to enable each man to look after his home interests. Knut there­fore sailed away from the Humber, and for a year was occupied in Denmark making terms with his brother.

Meantime a new force arose in England in Edmund, Aethelred’s eldest son by his first marriage. Aethelred on his return gave his confidence again to Eadric, and on his advice took steps to punish the men of the Five Boroughs for offering their allegiance to Svein. In pursuit of this object he put to death Sigeferth and Morkere, two of the leading magnates north of the Welland, and added their estates to Eadric’s territories. This was just one of those outrages which gained Aethelred the title of the ‘Redeless’ or the ‘Badly counseled’. All additions to the Grasper’s power were bitterly resented, and by none more than by Edmund, the heir to the throne. To check Eadric became the fixed purpose of the young prince. He accordingly seized and married Sigeferth’s widow, and then marched to the Five Boroughs as the avenger of the lady's wrongs and made himself master of all the lands which Eadric had coveted. This stroke was so popular in the Danelaw, that Edmund at once became a power in the land, but only at the cost of earning the undying hatred of Eadric. What this would entail was seen a few months later when Knut once more appeared in the Channel with a large fleet partly furnished by his brother. This picked force, “which contained neither thrall nor freedman”, landed at Wareham without opposition from Aethelred, who was lying ill near Portsmouth, and ravaged at will through Dorset and Somerset. To meet it Edmund and Eadric both gathered forces; but when they came face to face with the enemy in Wiltshire, Eadric promptly went over to Knut. Edmund therefore had to retire over the Thames without fighting, and the whole of Wessex submitted. In the spring of 1016 much the same happened in Mercia. Knut and Eadric came leagued together into Warwickshire, and Edmund in despair was forced to abandon the defence of Middle Anglia. The most he could do was to appeal for assistance to Uhtred, who had his own grievances against Eadric. This caused a momentary diversion; for Uhtred marched through Cheshire to attack Eadric in Staffordshire and Shropshire. But Knut meantime overran the valley of the Ouse, then went unchecked all up the east side of England to the Humber, and eventually appeared before York. When Uhtred heard of this rapid advance, he turned back from Mercia to repeat the submission which he had formerly made to Svein. Knut, however, instigated by Eadric, connived at his murder by some private enemies, and appointed his own brother-in-law Eric, who had been ruler of part of Norway, to be jarl of Yorkshire in his place. By April the position of affairs was almost the same as it had been before Svein’s death. Thanks to Eadric’s treachery, all England save East Anglia and the districts immediately round London were in the hands of the invaders. It would seem also that Thorkil had gone over to his countrymen, and so Edmund and Ulfkytel were the only important leaders with whom Knut had still to reckon. It was at this critical juncture that Aethelred died, and Englishmen had to decide whether they would abandon the struggle or choose Edmund as their king in the hope that he might prove a second Alfred and retrieve the national fortunes even at the eleventh hour.


Edmund Ironside. Battle of Ashington

The Londoners to their credit decided for Edmund; and soon the courage of many parts of England began to revive, for Edmund at once showed his countrymen that he meant to take the offensive. For this purpose he realized that he could not do better than begin where Alfred had set the example. He therefore hurried down to Somerset, leaving London to stand a siege at the hands of the fleet which Knut had brought round from Southampton to Greenwich. His appearance in the west soon brought men to his standard, and in a week or two he was strong enough to advance eastwards to Sherston, near Malmesbury, and attack Thorkil and Eadric, who had been detached by Knut to intercept him. The fight proved indecisive, but Edmund must have had the advantage, as the Danes retreated on London, and left him free to march into the Chiltern country and raise larger forces. With these he relieved London and, after forcing a passage over the Thames at Brentford, had the satisfaction of seeing the Danish fleet retire to the Orwell in search of supplies. Their land-forces meanwhile went into Kent; but again Edmund followed, and having defeated them at Otford drove them into Sheppey and thence into Essex. This series of successes seemed to show that the luck was turning and led Eadric to pretend at any rate that he wished to change sides. Unluckily Edmund believed him, and allowed him to join his army with a body of men from Herefordshire. The two then moved together into Essex and threw their forces on the Danes at Ashington, near Shoebury. By this time Edmund had far the larger and more confident army, and should have won again; but in the middle of the fight Eadric played the traitor once more and gave Knut a hard-won victory, the list of the slain including the gallant old Ulfkytel of East Anglia and many of the leading men of Eastern Mercia. So costly a defeat forced Edmund once more to fall back westwards. He was, however, by no means beaten, and Knut was by this time convinced that he had better come to terms with him. A meeting was accordingly proposed between the two young kings. This took place under Eadric’s auspices at Olney in Gloucestershire, and there it was arranged that the realm should be divided, Edmund taking his ancestral inheritance of Wessex, while Knut obtained all Mercia and the Danelaw, on the condition that he forwent all vengeance on the Londoners and gave them his peace. Knut's object in consenting to this treaty was, no doubt, to obtain a breathing space and allow time for reinforcements to reach him from Scandinavia. It might, however, quite well have opened the way for Edmund to play over again the part of Edward the Elder, now that he had restored the prestige of his house, and won for himself the name of ‘Ironside’ by his audacity and doggedness in an almost desperate situation. Englishmen at any rate now had a rallying point and a leader. Fate, however, willed it otherwise. Only a few weeks after the treaty Edmund died at Oxford unexpectedly, if not by foul play, when still only twenty-two. His loss at once destroyed the reviving spirit of the West Saxons. They might perhaps have turned to Eadwig, Edmund’s brother, the sole surviving male of Aethelred's first family, but their dread of the Danes was too great, and so Knut was hailed King of all England early in 1017 without further opposition.

Knut ruled England for eighteen years (1017-1035). Through his mother half a Pole, he was at his accession about twenty-two years old, and already had two sons by an English wife called Aelfgifu of Northampton. His first act, however, was to repudiate this lady and take to wife Emma of Normandy, Aethelred’s widow, who was thirteen years his senior. This stroke of policy freed him from all fear of the young Alfred and Edward, her children by Aethelred, who were left at Rouen to be educated as Frenchmen under the charge of their uncle Duke Richard. To his new subjects Knut must have seemed the typical viking raider. He proved, however, altogether different as a king to what men expected. From the very outset he put off the barbarian and did his utmost to make his subjects forget that he was their conqueror. He had of course to take some steps of a drastic kind to secure himself against possible risings and treachery, but, when once his power was fully established, he developed into a most humane and conciliatory ruler, and gave England peace and justice such as it had not enjoyed since the death of Edgar. King at first only of England, in 1018 he acquired Denmark as well by the death of his brother, and ultimately a considerable Scandinavian empire, but he ever considered England his first care and made it his chief residence. A rapid recovery of prosperity therefore followed his accession, and Englishmen had little cause to regret the change of dynasty.

Knut’s first task, after sending Edmund's infant sons out of the realm and hunting down their uncle Eadwig, was to appoint a trusty band of dukes, or ‘earls’ as they now come to be called, using the Danish term, to help him in controlling the various provinces of the kingdom. Full details for all England are not available, but the lists of witnesses to his land-books, coupled with entries in the Chronicles, show that his scheme was somewhat as follows: south of the Thames he kept the bulk of the country in his own hands, leaving, however, an Englishman called Aethelweard in charge of part of Western Wessex. In East Anglia and Yorkshire he relied on Scandinavians, giving the former to Thorkil the Tall and the latter, as already noted, to his Norse brother-in-law Eric, said to be the most chivalrous of the vikings. In Bernicia he left the native line of high-reeves of Bamborough undisturbed, and even put his confidence eventually in the murdered Uhtred’s son Ealdred. In Western Mercia he could hardly do otherwise at first than recognize Eadric; but it was impossible to trust such a dangerous turncoat, and so it is not surprising to find that within a year Knut charged him with treachery and allowed Earl Eric to put him to death. In his place Knut set up as Earl of Mercia another Englishman called Leofwine, whose family had great possessions round Lichfield and Coventry, but he apparently did not give him Eadric’s great estates in Gloucestershire or along the middle Severn, for shortly afterwards both Worcestershire and Herefordshire appear as separate earldoms. Over these he set Scandinavians, the former district going to his nephew Häkon, the son of Eric, and the latter to Eglaf, son of Thorgils Sprakaleg, whose elder brother Ulf was married to Estritli, Knut’s half-sister. What was done in the case of the London districts and the Five Boroughs is not recorded. The names of the above earls, however, sufficiently indicate Knut's general idea, which was to employ English magnates as far as he could, but simultaneously to give sufficient rewards to his more important kinsmen, whether Danish or Norse, so that they in their turn might be able to reward their military followers. As a result a very considerable sprinkling of new Scandinavian families settled in different parts of England, but at the same time there was no systematic forfeiture of lands, and in particular very little ousting of English peasantry to make way for fresh Scandinavian freedmen.

Having once begun a conciliatory policy, Knut adhered to it steadily. In 1018 he held a great gemot at Oxford in which he declared his intention of governing in accordance with the law of Edgar, and the same year he paid off the bulk of his Scandinavian forces and sent them back to Denmark, retaining only forty ships in his service, whose crews afterwards came to form a kind of royal body-guard, known as the hus-carls. The next year he was abroad, securing his hold on Denmark, but signalized his return in 1020 by two acts which showed still further his trust in his English subjects. The first was the appointment of a Sussex magnate called Godwin to be Earl of Wessex, and the second the issue of a remarkable proclamation declaring that he meant in future to carry on his government in strict conformity with the wishes of the English bishops. Here in fact we have the keynote of his internal policy for the rest of his life. Like Edgar he became a devout son of the Church, a liberal ecclesiastical benefactor and a patron of the monastic or reforming party. More and more he allowed himself to be guided by ecclesiastical advisers, men like Aethelnoth, whom he made Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lyfing, whom he promoted to be abbot of Tavistock and, later, bishop of Crediton. The most notable of his works of piety are perhaps the rebuilding of the minster of Bury St Edmunds, and its conversion from a college of canons into a house of monks; the foundation of the monastery of St Benet at Holme in Norfolk; and the presentation of the port of Sandwich and other gifts to Canterbury to atone for the murder of Archbishop Aelfheah. There were few minsters in fact which Knut did not enrich, for he wished to pose as the great Christian king and civilizer of his people, and he firmly believed that the Church was the only instrument which could effect his purpose.

Meantime across the North Sea, Knut was gradually extending his influence. In 1022 we hear of an expedition to Witland in Esthonia, and a little later, of demands on Olaf the Stout that he should hold Norway as Knut’s vassal and pay a tribute. This led to an alliance between Olaf and Anund Jacob, the King of Sweden, who together in 1026 invaded the Danish realm, taking advantage of a dispute which had arisen between Knut and his brother-in-law Ulf. The danger brought Knut over to Denmark. He found the allied kings ravaging Scania, but so damaged their fleets in a fight at the mouth of the Helge River that they had to give up their enterprise. He next had Ulf put to death, whether justly or in a fit of passion it is difficult to say, and then in 1028, after a pilgrimage to Rome to witness the coronation of the Emperor Conrad II, invaded Norway with a considerable force including an English contingent. The result was that Olaf was driven out, his constant efforts since 1015 to Christianize his subjects having rendered him unpopular. From this time onwards Knut could call himself King of England, Denmark, Scania, Witland, and Norway. Olaf, however, returned in 1030, but only to be defeated and slain at Stiklestad, near Throndhjem, after which Knut placed his eldest son Svein in charge of Norway under the guardianship of his mother Aelfgifu of Northampton. The remainder of Knut's reign need not detain us. The king lived constantly in England and busied himself energetically with legislation designed to reinforce Edgar’s laws and stamp out any remains of heathenism which still lurked in the country. It would seem too that he received some kind of homage from Malcolm II of Scotland, who in 1018 had driven the Bernician earls out of Lothian by a decisive victory at CarhamKnu’s interference, however, did not really retrieve that disaster or prevent the River Tweed becoming henceforth the permanent northern limit of England.

Knut died at Shaftesbury in 1035, when still under forty, and was buried in the old minster at Winchester. At once his newly formed empire fell to pieces. He had apparently intended that England and Denmark should remain united under Harthacnut, his son by Emma of Normandy, even if Svein, his son by Aelfgifu, obtained Norway. But the choice of Harthacnut, who was at the moment his representative in Denmark, did not commend itself either to the corps of hus-carls or the Mercians or the men of Yorkshire or East Anglia. Godwin, the Earl of Wessex, now the most important man in England, alone championed his cause strongly. Nor were the men of Norway willing to bow to Svein. Knut's arrangements, therefore, fell to the ground except in Denmark, and the upshot was that the English witan at Oxford, led by Leofric, the son of Earl Leofwine, who had now become Earl of Mercia, declared for Harold Harefoot, the younger son of Aelfgifu of Northampton, who was in England; while the Norwegians set up Magnus the son of their old national champion Olaf the Stout, and recovered their independence. This settlement of the succession persisted, so far as it affected England, for five years, despite Harold's worthlessness and the strong opposition of Queen Emma and Archbishop Aethelnoth. For Harthacnut remained in Denmark, fully occupied in beating off attacks from Magnus, and Godwin with his partisans, disappointed at his non-appearance in England, deserted his cause. There is nothing, however, to record concerning Harold’s reign (1035-1040) except a number of acts of cruelty, the most notable being the murder of Alfred, Queen Emma's eldest son by her first husband King Aethelred, who with his younger brother Edward had been living peaceably in Normandy during the seventeen years of Knut’s rule. This young prince landed in England in 1035 with a small following, perhaps to make a bid for the throne, but was seized by Godwin at Guildford and then handed over to Harold, who had him blinded with such barbarity that he died. For this act Godwin got nearly all the blame. Meantime Queen Emma took refuge at Bruges with the Count of Flanders, and it was only in the autumn of 1039 that she at last succeeded in stirring up her son Harthacnut to collect a fleet of some 60 ships for an attack on his half-brother. Before he could reach England, Harold died, whereupon Harthacnut was offered the crown peaceably. He landed at Sandwich in June 1040, but soon showed himself a bloodthirsty tyrant. He began by imposing a heavy tribute on his new subjects to pay the crews of his fleet. This led shortly afterwards to the harrying of Worcestershire for impeding the king's hus-carls in the collection of the tax. A little later he slew Eadulf, the Earl of Northumberland, by treachery and gave his earldom to Siward, the Earl of Yorkshire. He also took to selling vacant bishoprics. Luckily his reign lasted less than two years, terminating with his sudden death in June 1042 at a wedding banquet “as he stood at his drink”.

Once more the English magnates had an opportunity of selecting a king, uninfluenced by pressure from an invading army. The choice lay between a Danish or an English succession. If the Danish line was to be maintained, the most promising heir was Knut's nephew Svein, the son of his sister Estrith and the murdered Ulf, whom Harthacnut had left as viceroy in Denmark to contend with Magnu; but if the English line was to be restored, the only possible candidate was Edward, the surviving son of Emma and Aethelred, whom Harthacnut had allowed to return to England. As Earl Godwin was married to Gytha, Ulf’s sister, and had been concerned in the death of Edward’s brother, Alfred, only a few years before, the West Saxon leader might well have given his support to Svein. He did not however do so, for Svein at the moment was making no headway in Denmark. Accordingly after a short period of indecision, Edward was chosen king by the voice of all the folk of England, and crowned nine months later on Easter Day 1043.

The restoration of Aethelred’s line in the person of Edward, known to later generations as Edward the Confessor, freed England from one set of foreign influences, only to introduce another; for Edward, in spite of his direct male descent from Alfred, was half a Norman in blood and almost wholly a Norman in training. When, in 1041, he returned to England, after an exile of more than a quarter of a century, he was already approaching his fortieth year; and he was a man whose habits and ways of thinking had long been fixed. By all who knew him he was accounted a mild-mannered, conscientious person and a confirmed bachelor. He loved hunting, but not fighting. In France a great deal of his life had been spent at Jumièges and other monasteries under the influence of Norman ecclesiastics; and among these surroundings he had acquired a taste for a comparatively cultured life and a tendency to lean on clerics for guidance. He probably thought in French and disliked speaking English, and he was at little pains to conceal the fact that he found the manners of his countrymen uncongenial and their ideas boorish and behind the times. When the English magnates decided to accept him as their king, they probably thought that they had gauged his character and reckoned that with his ignorance of English ways he would be unable to direct affairs, and that all real power would consequently slip by degrees into their hands. Such a forecast, however, was not realized quite in the way the magnates expected. For Edward was no sooner seated on the throne than he began to fill his court with sundry Normans, Flemings and Bretons, who looked for honors and careers in England, and were by no means prepared to play the part of mere courtiers. Their numbers, too, year by year increased, and Edward never hesitated to show that he preferred their cleverer and more polished society to the ruder ways of English and Danes, however high-born or wealthy. Just at first, of course, he had to rely for support on the native nobles and churchmen, who had favored his accession, and especially on Earl Godwin, who was by far the most powerful territorial magnate in southern England, and who had been chiefly responsible, with Bishop Lyfing of Crediton, for making him king. Edward, however, was astute enough to perceive that Godwin's predominance was much resented in the Midlands and in the North, and that in every district the great landowners were exceedingly bitter in their jealousies and rivalries, and might easily be pitted one against the other in such a manner that the king might, after all, more or less get his own way if he played his cards skillfully. We find Edward accordingly before long turning for support to Earl Leofric of Mercia and Earl Siward of Northumbria, whenever he felt himself too much in the grip of Earl Godwin.

At the same time he went to work systematically to contrive openings for placing his foreign friends in positions of influence. Being a man without much energy Edward planned no sudden coup d’état, nor did he achieve any dramatic success in asserting himself; but he did enough, by persistently adhering to the same tactics, to make his reign a period of continual struggle between rival aspirants for ascendancy in his counsels, and he managed so to manipulate events that a French-speaking element in a few years gained a firm foothold in the ranks of the nobility and in the Church, and gradually acquired considerable territorial influence in many parts of central and southern England. It is, of course, easy to arraign this policy as unpatriotic; and, as it ultimately led to the conquest of England by the Normans, Edward has sometimes been denounced as the most worthless of the old English kings. The introduction from abroad of more civilized manners and ideas was in itself, however, no bad thing, and Edward ought rather to be praised for it. It must be remembered, too, that at the outset of his reign England had clearly fallen behind the Continent in many ways, and required to be re­awakened. It seems, then, rather beside the mark to charge Edward with want of patriotism because he attempted to supply new educative influences in the only way open to him, and altogether inaccurate to picture him, as has sometimes been done, as a saintly nonentity entirely at the beck and call of foreign ecclesiastics, and without any policy of his own. The truer picture seems to be that he was neither unpatriotic nor over-saintly, in spite of the grotesque stories handed down about him by monkish biographers of the next generation; he was rather a well-intentioned man of mediocre talent, thrust late in life and unexpectedly into an extremely difficult position, and unfortunately not strong enough to play the king's part with credit to himself or advantage to his subjects.

It is not surprising, then, to find that nothing was done in his long reign of twenty-three-and-a-half years (1042-1066) to weld England together into a more compact state or to retard the growth of feudalizing tendencies, and that when he died, leaving no direct heir, the quarrelsome magnates, who had tried unceasingly to overshadow him during his lifetime, held hopelessly divergent views about replacing him.

The outstanding feature of Edward’s reign during his earlier years is undoubtedly the constant growth of Godwin’s territorial power, and the persistency with which the earl sought to aggrandize himself and his family, not only in his own province of Wessex, but also in Mercia and East Anglia. Godwin’s first great success was obtained in 1045, when he induced Edward, in spite of his known preference for celibacy, to marry his daughter Edith and endow her with important estates in many parts of England. As the king's father-in-law, Godwin thus acquired precedence over the other earls. His ambition, however, was by no means satisfied with this advancement, and we next find him working for the advancement of his sons. Again Edward proved compliant, and Godwin secured in quick succession an earldom in the Severn valley for his eldest son Svein, who had hitherto been content with a subordinate earldom under his father in Somerset and Dorset, another in East Anglia for his second son Harold, and a third in the Midlands for his nephew Beorn. By what means sufficient lands were at the king's disposal to make these promotions possible we do not know. Presumably Edward must have got into his hands most of the estates which Knut had formerly bestowed on his Danish jarls, EglafHákon and Thorkil the Tall. Some evidence also exists that considerable property was surrendered at this time under pressure by Emma, the queen mother, and also some by the king himself; for later, Harold is found in possession of at least twenty manors in Essex and Hertfordshire which have all the characteristics of crown land, while the king is returned as owning hardly any property in those counties.

Meantime Edward was active, as occasion offered, in introducing his own particular friends into lay and ecclesiastical posts, to act as checks on Godwin’s increasing power. The leading clerical examples were Robert, Abbot of Jumièges, one of his closest friends in Normandy, whom he made bishop of London in 1044, and another Norman called Ulf, who became bishop of the wide-spreading diocese of Dorchester. These ecclesiastical appointments passed unresented, as they were set off by others which went to Godwin's party, such as the coadjutorship of Canterbury to Siward, Abbot of Abingdon (who died in October 1048), and the bishopric of Winchester to Stigand, a wealthy landowner in Norfolk and Suffolk, who had been an important king's chaplain in Knut's day and was high in favor with Queen Emma. Less satisfactory to Godwin was the promotion of the king’s nephew Ralf to a position of influence. This young Frenchman, who was the son of Goda, Edward’s sister, by her marriage with Drogo of Mantes, Count of the Vexin, was given an earldom in Herefordshire which acted as a counterpoise to Svein's earldom; and at the same time two Breton lords, Robert the son of Wimarc and Ralf of Guader near Rennes, were endowed with considerable fiefs in Essex and East Anglia to act as checks on Harold. To distinguish him from Ralf of Mantes this second Ralf is usually styled Ralf the Staller, from the important quasi-military office of constable in the royal household, which Edward also bestowed on him.

Godwin must have realized from these measures that his hold over Edward was precarious, and soon afterwards it was almost destroyed owing to the misdeeds of his son Svein, who first offended the Church by abducting the abbess of Leominster, and then alienated the nobles by murdering his cousin Earl Beorn. Godwin with great stupidity condoned these outrages, but his attempts to shield his son so damaged his influence, even in his own earldom of Wessex, that Edward plucked up courage in 1050, when Eadsige of Canterbury died, to set aside Godwin's kinsman, the elected Aelfric, and promote Robert of Jumièges to be primate of the English Church. Nor could Godwin obtain the bishopric of London, thus vacated, for his friend Spearhafoc of Abingdon, as Robert of Jumièges maintained that his elevation was forbidden by the Pope, and backed the king in appointing another Norman cleric, named William, in his stead.

A definite breach thus arose between Edward and his father-in-law, leading, a year later, to a serious crisis. This developed out of a visit which Eustace, the Count of Boulogne, paid to Edward in 1051. Eustace had recently married the king’s sister Goda, the widowed mother of the Earl of Hereford, and he seems to have come to England on an ordinary family visit or perhaps to look after his wife’s English lands. His stay with his brother-in-law at the English court went off quietly enough, but on his return journey his retinue provoked a riot at Dover which resulted in some of the count’s men being killed, as well as some of the townsmen. Count Eustace regarded this broil as the fault of the burghers, and immediately demanded reparation for the insult; whereupon Edward called upon Godwin in his capacity of earl of the district to punish the men of Dover. Godwin, however, refused. This gave Edward an opportunity of asserting his authority; he accordingly summoned Godwin to appear before a court at Gloucester to defend his action. At the same time Robert of Jumièges advised Edward to rake up against Godwin the old charge that fifteen years before he had been accessory to, if not the prime mover in, the death of Alfred, the king’s brother. Godwin, suspecting that the plan was to involve him in a blood-feud, replied by summoning a large force of his own thegns to a rendezvous at Berkeley within easy reach of Gloucester, and by calling upon his sons Svein and Harold also to come with their forces to his help. As a set-off to the attack of the Kentish men on the French count, he also preferred charges against Ralf of Hereford, alleging that Hairs French followers had been guilty of many acts of cruelty and oppression towards Englishmen, and further, that, following the French fashion, he had erected a private castle in his earldom, which was a danger to English liberties, such a building being quite unexampled on English soil, where the only fortifications hitherto built were the national boroughs maintained in the king's name for defence against the Danes.

When it became known that Godwin had appealed to arms, Earl Leofric of Mercia and Earl Siward of Northumbria also gathered their forces and came south to the support of the king. The upshot was that Godwin found himself outmatched and, fearing defeat, agreed to disband his forces; whereupon the king summoned another witan to meet at London, which boldly decreed outlawry for Godwin and all his sons. In these circumstances the earl thought it safest to take refuge with his friend Baldwin of Lille, the Count of Flanders, and wait for time to break up the king’s party. He accordingly sailed for Bruges, taking his sons Svein and Tostig with him, the latter of whom had married Baldwin’s daughter, while his sons Harold and Leofwine rode for Bristol and took ship to Ireland. The direction of affairs in southern England after Godwin’s departure seems to have fallen largely into the hands of the king’s foreign friends. Greedy to obtain a share of Godwin’s lands and honors, fresh troops of Normans and Bretons soon came flocking to England, and the king’s wife Edith was deprived of her estates and sent in disgrace to the nunnery of Wherwell. Earl Leofric, however, was by no means backward in pushing his own interests, and used the crisis to consolidate his position in Mercia by obtaining a grant of Beorn’s estates for himself, while his son Aelfgar stepped into Harold’s shoes as Earl of East Anglia. As for Svein’s estates, in Somerset, Dorset, Devon and the Severn valley, they seem to have passed to a new earl, Odda, whose patrimony lay chiefly in the neighbourhood of Pershore and Deerhutht.

The fall of Godwin’s house was thus for the moment pretty complete. His exile, however, lasted but a short time, as a reaction set in when the English thegns realized that Normans and Bretons were the chief gainers by Godwin’s absence; and it quickly gathered strength when the news went round that a yet more powerful foreigner than any who had hitherto come was to visit Edward’s court. This was Edward’s kinsman William, the young Duke of Normandy. This prince made little secret of the fact that he regarded himself as a possible claimant to the English throne, should Edward die childless, and those who knew what the Normans were now doing in southern Italy naturally regarded him as coming to England to spy out the nakedness of the land, and shook their heads over his advent. His visit, as a matter of fact, was quite uneventful; but Edward had none the less blundered, so that in 1052 Godwin found himself in a position to return and claim back his lost possessions. Landing at Southwark, without having met with any effective opposition in the Thames from the king’s ships under Earl Ralf and Earl Odda, he found the Londoners actively on his side as were also the prelates of English birth, led by Stigand, who aimed at obtaining the archbishopric of Canterbury. Neither Leofric nor Siward would now help Edward, and without them he could offer practically little resistance. The result was a panic among his foreign followers, many of whom, headed by Robert the Archbishop and Ulf of Dorchester, fled from London to a castle in Essex, which Robert the son of Wimarc was then building, and thence by way of the Naze to the Continent. Others fled westward into Herefordshire, hoping to find security in another castle, which Osbern Pentecost, one of Earl Ralf's men, was erecting on the Welsh border, probably at Ewyas. These hurried flights made it clear to everyone that Edward's attempt at independence had failed. A fresh witan accordingly was assembled, which formally outlawed many of the foreigners and restored Godwin and his family to their former possessions. Edith also came back to court from Wherwell, while Stigand obtained the see of Canterbury in the place of the fugitive Robert and proceeded to hold it in plurality with Winchester, not to mention many other preferments, such as canonries, all over his province.

For the rest of his life Edward was never able to shake himself free from the domination of the house of Godwin. The great earl, it is true, did not himself long enjoy his restoration to power. He died in 1053, quite suddenly, while attending a banquet at Winchester. His honors and estates thereupon passed to his second son Harold, his ill-fated eldest son Svein having died a few months earlier at Constantinople while making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to atone for his crimes.

The character of the reign changes sensibly after Godwin’s death. The king still continued fitfully to play the magnates off against each other, reappointing Aelfgar, for example, to the earldom of East Anglia after Harold’s transfer to Wessex. But Edward was fast becoming elderly; and as his energy declined, he centered his attention more and more on sport and church matters to the neglect of politics. Harold, on the other hand, though full of ambition and energy, being little over thirty, was more cautious and better liked than his father, and was always careful to keep on terms with Earl Leofric and the Mercians. There was for a time, therefore, a quiet interval, the only incident of note in 1054 being a Northumbrian expedition beyond the Forth undertaken by Earl Siward in the interests of his Scotch grandson Malcolm Canmore. This young prince on the paternal side was great-grandson of Malcolm II, the victor of Carham, and was being kept out of his patrimony by Macbeth, the famous Mormaer (or Earl) of Moray immortalized by Shakespeare. Some years before Macbeth had slain Malcolm's father, Duncan I, and then usurped the crown. For a number of years Malcolm had lived in Siward’s household, becoming quite a Northumbrian in speech and education, but by 1054 he was grown up and eager to regain his crown. The expedition was well managed by Earl Siward, who obtained a notable victory at Dunsinane near Perth, but it was not till three years later that Macbeth was killed and Malcolm III (1057-1093) finally set upon the throne. Siward’s intervention beyond the Tweed was of great moment for Scotland, as Malcolm’s restoration inevitably brought a great access of power to the Anglo-Danish element in the kingdom, and transferred the centre of the realm from the Celtic districts beyond the Forth to the English-speaking province of Lothian. And this in its turn was of great importance to England; for it turned the ambitions of the Scotch kings more definitely southwards, and led them to covet the Tees for their frontier instead of the Tweed.


Rivalry of Earl Harold and Earl Aelfgar

Siward died in 1055, the year following the fight at Dunsinane. As he had lost his eldest son in that battle and as his younger son Waltheof was still a child, a difficulty arose as to the succession to the Northumbrian earldom. The natural course would have been to select some member of the house of Bamborough for the office, or at any rate some Anglo-Dane possessing territorial influence north of the Humber. Harold, however, considered the appointment an opportunity too good to be lost for extending the influence of his own family. He therefore advised Edward to appoint his brother Tostig to the earldom, in spite of the obvious risk of placing a West Saxon over the Northerners. Edward acquiesced in this plan, partly because he had a real liking for Tostig, and partly because he hoped to pit the brothers against each other and so free himself to some extent from Harold's tutelage. Beyond the Humber Tostig's elevation was accepted at first with sullen indifference, but further south it led at once to trouble, being much resented by Earl Aelfgar, who regarded it as a menace to the Mercian house. Aelfgar’s opposition went so far that Harold was able to represent his conduct as treasonable, and in the upshot obtained the consent of a witan to his outlawry. Thereupon Aelfgar, as Harold had done in similar circumstances, withdrew to Ireland, where he soon recruited a fleet manned by adventurous Irish and Danes, and then, eager for revenge, offered his services to the Welsh for an attack on those who had driven him out of England.

The ally to whom Earl Aelfgar turned was Gruffydd (Griffith) ap Llywelyn, prince of North Wales, a remarkable man, who had ascended the throne of Gwynedd in 1039 and gradually extended his sway over Deheubarth and the rest of the Welsh principalities. His power had long been a menace to the men of Herefordshire: in 1052 he had led a raid against Earl Ralf and defeated his forces near Leominster. Having just compassed the death of a dangerous South Welsh rival, Gruffydd was now ready to attack again and was delighted to join forces with Aelfgar. The pair accordingly marched upon Hereford in the autumn of 1055, and having driven off Ralf's levies, who were mounted, we are told, in the French fashion, sacked the borough, and burnt the newly-built minster, at the same time killing several of the canons. The alarm caused in the Severn valley by this exploit was so great that Earl Harold himself had to hurry to the west with assistance. He was unable, however, to punish the invaders, and had to patch up a peace at Billingsley in Archenfield, by which Aelfgar regained his position as Earl of East Anglia. Two years later, in 1057, Leofric, the old Earl of Mercia, died, and also Earl Ralf. Aelfgar thereupon succeeded to Mercia, but only on the understanding that East Anglia should pass to Harold's brother Gyrth, that sundry Mercian districts near London, such as Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, should be formed into a new earldom for Leofwine, another of his brothers, and that Herefordshire should fall to Harold himself. As Somerset and Dorset had been reunited to Wessex upon Odda’s death in 1056, these territorial rearrangements meant that the sons of Godwin held the earldoms throughout England with the exception of the curtailed earldom of Mercia, and men began to speculate whether even this exception would be long maintained. The central earldom still formed a good-sized jurisdiction, stretching across the northern Midlands from the Welsh borders to the North Sea, but few could doubt that Harold was aiming at its dismemberment, so that whenever Edward should die there might be no power left in England sufficiently strong to compete with him, if he decided to be a candidate for the throne. This ultimate object, it is true, was not yet avowed; but the thorny question of the succession was beginning to be discussed, as Edward was well over fifty and his only near kinsman was the baby grandson of Edmund Ironside, known to history as Edgar the Aetheling. According to the accepted traditions of the English this child would for many years be far too young to be elected king, and, further, he had no support in the country; for his father had been exiled by Knut in infancy, and having spent almost his whole life in Hungary, had never acquired any territorial position in England. As events turned out, no convenient opportunity for dismembering Mercia occurred; for Aelfgar, to protect his family's interests, gave his daughter Ealdgyth to Gruffydd in marriage, and so could count on the support of sturdy Welsh allies. Harold, therefore, left him unmolested till his death in 1062, when the Mercian earldom passed to his son Edwin.

Meanwhile King Gruffydd, presuming on his Mercian connection, kept on harassing Harold’s Herefordshire lands. As a counter-blow, early in 1063 Harold made a raid into North Wales and attacked Rhuddlan, hoping to find Gruffydd unprepared. The Welsh king got away by sea, but was not fated to enjoy his good fortune much longer; for Harold was determined to crush him, and so deprive the young Edwin of the outside support that his father had relied on. To this end Harold summoned Tostig to join him with a Northumbrian levy, and then both brothers pushed into Wales beyond Rhuddlan and chased the Welsh prince from one hill fortress to another. In this extremity Gruffydd was deserted not only by the Mercians but also by his own men, and was shortly afterwards assassinated. His fall, accompanied as it was by the restoration of considerable tracts along the marches to English rule, brought Harold undoubted prestige ; but it must not be supposed that the Welsh were in any sense conquered. Their unity was once more broken up. Within their own borders, however, various Welsh chieftains remained as independent as ever.

During the course of the next year an untoward mishap befell Harold. For some reason or other he had occasion to take a sea trip in the Channel, and, as he was sailing from his paternal seat at Bosham in Sussex towards Dover, a storm caught him and drove his ship ashore on the coast of Ponthieu in France. Guy, the count of the district, when he heard of the wreck, gave orders for Harold's arrest, and being a vassal of William, the Duke of Normandy, handed him over to his overlord at Rouen as a captive. Harold thus became an unwilling guest at the Norman court. As such he accompanied the duke on a campaign into Brittany, but though he was outwardly treated with honor, he was informed that he would not be allowed to return to England unless he would become the duke's man and take an oath to assist William in the future, should he make a claim to the English throne on Edward's death. Seeing no other way of regaining his liberty, Harold had perforce to take the oath demanded of him, whereupon he was permitted to sail for England. On his return he made as little as possible of the misadventure, and no doubt regarded the oath extracted from him by force as of no validity; but he had none the less placed himself in a very false position, considering his own aspirations to be Edward’s successor.

Harold came back to find a very disturbed state of affairs in the north of England. For nine years his brother Tostig had been Earl of Northumbria, but he had ruled harshly and had especially provoked discontent by treacherously causing the deaths of Gamel, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, two members of the old Bamborough house, and appropriating their estates. The result was that the kinsmen of the murdered men started an intrigue with the young Edwin of Mercia, and in 1065 broke into open insurrection.  A little later they seized York and declared Tostig outlawed. They then elected Morkere, Edwin’s younger brother, to be earl in Tostig’s place, and putting him at the head of the Northumbrian forces, advanced into Mercia, where they were joined by Earl Edwin and his thegns and also by a body of Welshmen. Marching further south, the combined armies overran in succession Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, until at last they were met by Harold in the Thames valley. All this time Tostig had remained well out of the way, hunting in Clarendon forest in Edward's company. Harold intervened, it appears, with insufficient forces to risk a battle, and being reduced to negotiate had to accept the conditions demanded by Edwin and his Yorkshire allies.

As a result Morkere was officially recognized by King Edward as earl north of the Humber, whereupon Tostig retired in high dudgeon to Flanders to seek assistance from his father-in-law, Count Baldwin V (1036-1067). As part of the resettlement the youthful Waltheof, the son of Earl Siward, was made Earl of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, as some compensation for the fact that his hereditary claims to Northumberland were a second time ignored. Harold’s share in these transactions has sometimes been represented as an act of justice to the Northerners, done at the expense of his family's interests without any real necessity. Be that as it may, Tostig never forgave him for not rendering more effective support, and from this time forward became his bitterest enemy. It certainly looks as if Harold was thinking more of his own interests than Tostig’s, and saw in Tostig’s fall an opportunity of making the house of Mercia more friendly to himself in the future and less inclined to oppose him, should he make a bid for the crown. For now it was hardly concealed that Harold and his friends, in the event of the king's death, would seek to set aside the direct line of the house of Alfred and would propose that the house of Godwin should be put in its place. If, however, this was to be effected by general consent, without an appeal to force, it could only be by the action of the national assembly, in which Edwin and Morkere and their supporters would have a very influential vote. Harold, therefore, had very good reasons for making terms with them, as it clearly would be more advantageous to him to win the crown by consent than by force.

Questions as to Harold’s motives are, however, a problem so complex as to defy our best efforts to unravel them, and all that can be said with certainty is that events were soon to show that, in abandoning Tostig's cause and favoring the Mercian aspirations, he had taken the most prudent course. For in the winter following Tostig's fall Edward became seriously ill while superintending the building of the new abbey at Westminster, which he had recently founded. And here, in his manor house on the banks of the Thames, he died on 6 January 1066, leaving the succession an open question. To his own contemporaries he was never the saintly person that later historians have depicted, but just a pious and often misguided ruler, who had attempted to bring the English into closer connection with their continental neighbors than was desirable, and had rather willfully undermined the insularity of his dominions without knowing how to bring them peace and security. It was only by later generations, who venerated him as the last of the line of Cerdic and Alfred, that he came to be honored as a saint, and it was only in 1161 that the bull was issued by Pope Alexander III which conferred on him the title of ‘Confessor’ which has become so familiar.

In tracing the political developments under Aethelred, Knut and Edward, little has been said about the economic or social side of English life; but it must not be thought that the period of ninety years from 975 to 1065 was a period devoid of social developments, or that materials are lacking for forming an estimate of the amount and character of the changes which were going on. On the contrary, did space permit, much might be said on such topics as the distribution of wealth and territorial power, the density of the population in different districts, the ranks and grades of society, the methods of tillage and industry, and the condition of the urban centers. Information as to some of these, if not very clear, is comparatively ample; for in addition to the laws and charters and a fair amount of literary evidence, we can use as the groundwork for our picture the very detailed description of England in 1065, which is preserved in the Domesday Survey. Primarily of course this Norman survey is concerned with the condition of the country twenty years later; but the local jurors, who furnished the returns, were also required to state how matters had stood “on the day when King Edward was alive and dead”, and there is no reason to doubt the general accuracy of their answers, even though some allowance has to be made for their recollection of the earlier period being somewhat blurred.

The most important feature which stands out in all the sources alike is that there was just as little uniformity in England at the end of the Anglo-Saxon period in social and economic matters as in political conditions. In spite of the fact that the country had been nominally a single kingdom for over a century, each province in 1065 still retained its own traditions and customs in social matters, and there were not only fundamental differences between the English and Danish districts, but also between the valley of the Thames and the valley of the Severn, between Kent and Wessex, between Wessex and Mercia and between the northern and the southern Danelaw. Any attempt, therefore, to give a picture of a typical village or a typical estate would be misleading, for everywhere there were startling variations (even within the limits of a single shire there were frequently several types of organization) not to speak of differences in nomenclature and differences in land measures and monetary units. There are however some generalizations which can be accepted confidently, and to these we must chiefly confine ourselves.

The first most obvious economic feature is that the density of the population decreased as one passed from east to west. In 1065 Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk were by far the most thickly populated shires. Were the population of these three counties left out of account, we should be leaving out of account not much less than one-sixth of the whole English nation. The least thickly populated districts south of the Humber and the Ribble were apparently Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cornwall, but men were also sparse in Devon and in all parts of the Severn valley. Another clear feature is that the land was much more valuable in the east than in the west, partly of course because of geological differences and the variation of soils, but largely because the denser population of the east facilitated a more intensive working of the land and the maintenance of a far greater head of cattle and sheep. Yet another great contrast between the east and the west, of critical economic importance, arose from the fact that the east was the home of liberty. In the Danish districts the peasantry, whether English or Danish by descent, were far less exploited in the interests of the upper classes than in the English districts. To begin with, there were far fewer actual slaves or ‘theows’ in these parts than elsewhere. In East Anglia the slaves formed only 4 per cent, of the population, whereas in the Midlands they formed 14 to 15 per cent., on the Welsh border 17 per cent, and in Cornwall 21 per cent. But this is not the whole story. In the Danish districts considerable sections of the inferior cultivating classes rendered far lighter dues for their holdings, and performed far fewer services for their lords than in the Midlands or in Wessex. One reason for this was that the overlordship of the soil was far more divided and broken up in the Danelaw than in the south and west. In the Chiltern districts, in Kent and in Wessex generally, it was fairly common for a village to have only one lord; but in the Danelaw, as often as not, four or five lords were concurrently interested in even quite small villages, and it is not impossible to point to instances in which a village was shared between as many as nine or ten. At the same time, in the Danelaw the tie between a lord and his men was far looser as regards a large section of the peasantry than in Mercia or Wessex, for considerable numbers of the classes described in the Domesday Survey as ‘liberi homines’ and ‘sochemanni" still had the right of choosing their lords and, from time to time, of transferring their allegiance from one lord to another. As the phrase runs in the Domesday Survey, “they could recede from their lord without his license and go with their land where they would”. The natural consequence followed that it was difficult for the lord, whose patronage they did acknowledge, to get any burdensome rents or services out of them.


The Rectitudines Singularum Personarum

Let us now turn to consider what is known about the ranks of English society outside the Danelaw in the earlier years of the eleventh century. One has to admit that this is an obscure subject, but some direct light is thrown on it by the Rectitudines Singularum Personarum. This Anglo-Saxon tract is unfortunately undated, and nothing is known of its origin; but it seems to be a memorandum drawn up by the land-agent of a monastic or episcopal estate, comprising in all probability several villages, in order to keep a record of the services due from the various grades of tenants who were under his management. It is thought to have been put together about 1025, and along with it is found a second tract, which sets forth the duties of the land-agent, calling him at one time a gerefa or reeve and at another a scyrman. The occurrence of this second term has led some commentators to think that the writer of the tracts might have been a shire-reeve, but scyrman carries no such implication, being used indifferently of any official person. The author of the Rectitudines begins his treatise by describing the services of the thegn. By that term he clearly did not mean a king’s thegn or man of much importance, nor did he mean the lord of the estate, who was probably some bishop or abbot, but only a lesser thegn, the mediocris tainus of Knut’s laws. In the Domesday returns relating to 1065 such lesser thegns are frequently mentioned.  They occur most commonly on large ecclesiastical manors, their holdings being termed tainlands, and on them lay the burden of providing the military and other services due from the churches to the king.

In the Rectitudines the thegn’s duties are similar, the main ones specified being :

fyrdfoereldburhbote and brycgeweorc,

that is to say the well-known “trinoda necessity” together with all other burdens arising at the king’s ban, such as the provision of ship-service and coastguard service and the building of deer-hays for the king’s use when he came into the district. Here then, we seem for the first time in our sources to meet with a definite military tenure, but it differed from the later knight’s service in that the thegn fought on foot and not on horse-back, and performed his service on behalf of his lord’s estate and not in respect of his own holding. As to the size of the thegn’s holding, the Rectitudines are silent, but tell us that the thegn was worthy of his book-right. No doubt he was also, as his name implies, a “dear-born” man with a wergeld of 1200 shillings. We cannot, however, picture him as more than a petty squire, for in Domesday the assessment of the ‘tainland’, though sometimes five hides or more, is often no more than one hide. It was not, however, always a compact tenement but might be made up of parcels lying in several villages.

Having described the thegn, the author of the Rectitudines passes next to the ceorl class and sets before us three distinct grades, called respectively geneatasgeburas and cotsetlas. The differences between them were clearly in the main economic and not due to differences of legal status. In the eyes of the law all alike were twihyndemen, and had wergelds of 200 shillings. Even the cotsetlas, who were the poorest, paid their ‘hearthpennies’ on Holy Thursday, ‘as every freeman should’. What marked these grades off from one another was the nature of the dues which could be claimed from them by their lords. The cotsetlas or cottage tenants, having as a rule no plough-oxen, may probably be regarded as the lowest of the three in the social scale. They worked every Monday throughout the year for the lord on his inland, or demesne portion of the estate, and three days a week at harvest-time. They paid church-scot at Martinmas, but did not normally pay landgafol or rent in money. Their holdings in the arable fields were usually five acres more or less. Next in order in the village hierarchy came the geburas or boors, whose name itself, used as it is in most Germanic tongues for a peasant of any kind, and still familiar to us in a disguised form in the term ‘neighbor’, seems to imply that they were the commonest and most widespread class. To these tenants our author devotes about a quarter of his treatise, admitting however that he cannot be very precise about their services, as they varied in details from place to place. Their holdings, described as gesettesland, that is, land ‘set to gafol’ as contrasted with the inland retained by the lord for his own use, were known as ‘yardlands’ or gyrde. Each of these comprised a farm-stedding or toft with some thirty acres of arable, scattered in acre and half-acre strips in different parts of the village fields, together with a share in the hay meadows and pastures. In return for their yardlands the services of the geburas to the lord were far heavier than those of the cotsetlas, being three days’ work a week on the inland from Candlemas (2 February) to Easter, three days’ work a week in harvest-time and two days’ work a week at other seasons. Moreover, as a part of this week-work (wicweorc) they had specially to assist the lord with their own oxen and labor in ploughing his inland. They had also to pay divers gafols or rents, some in money and some in kind. For example, they might have to feed the lord’s hounds, or find bread for his swineherds, while some provided hens and lambs and some paid ‘honeygafol’ and some ‘ale-gafol’. Their beasts also had to lie at the lord’s fold from Martinmas to Easter. When first admitted, or set to their holdings, they received an outfit of live-stock and seed from the lord, which had to be returned at their death, a custom which has survived together with the yardland in a modified form even to modern times1 under the name of the heriot.

Highest in the scale above the geburas came the geneatas. They were altogether freer men who, though they had to pay landgafol and other dues and had to reap and mow for the lord at harvest time, had no fixed week-work to do. The essential feature in fact about their tenure was that their services were occasional and not fixed to definite days. Their main duties were to ride on the lord’s errands far and near, to carry loads and do carting when called upon, to reap and mow at harvest time, to act as the lord’s bodyguard, to escort travelers coming to the lord, and to maintain the walls and fences round the lord’s ‘burg’ or dwelling-house. Exceptional types of rent-paying ceorls are next described, such as the beo-ceorl in charge of the lord’s hives, and the gafol-swan in charge of his pigs; and then to complete the picture we have the various sorts of praedial slaves, the theowan or servi and theowan-wifmen or ancillae. Of these unfree hinds nearly a dozen types are mentioned, such as ox-herds, shepherds, goat-herds, cheese-makers, barn-keepers, woodmen, hedgers and so on; but not much is told about them individually, except details as to the cost of their maintenance.

The remarkable fullness of the details, furnished by the author of the Rectitudines, and the great interest of his account as the earliest known picture of a large English landed estate, naturally lead us to speculate how far it is to be considered a valid picture for England generally. The answer seems to be, that it had little application outside Wessex and Mercia, and even in those provinces it is difficult to make it altogether tally with the conditions found in the majority of the counties a generation or two later on, as depicted in the Domesday Survey. It fits best in fact, when compared with Domesday, with the counties along the Welsh border from Gloucestershire to Cheshire; for there is an obvious parallel between these geneatas of the Rectitudines with their riding services and those radmanni or radchenistres who were prominent in those counties in 1065, and who were clearly riding men after the style of the ‘equites’ set up by Oswald on the estates of the church of Worcester in Edgars day. It agrees also remarkably well with an account we have of the labor customs in use at Tidenham in the Fores of Dean, drawn upabout 1060. This village lies in the triangle formed by the junction of the Wye with the Severn, and in Edward’s reign belonged to the monks of Bath, who had sublet it to Archbishop Stigand for his life. It was an extensive estate divided into several hamlets and was assessed for taxation at 30 hides; nine of these hides were inland and twenty-one gesettesland, divided into yardlands occupied some by geneatas and some by geburas. The account speaks of these yardlands as gyrda gafollandes; and then sets out the services of the two classes of tenantry, remarking that “to Tidenham belong many labour services”. As in the Rectitudines, the geneat’s chief duty was to act as an escort, take messages and do carting, while the gebur had not only many gafols to render but owed heavy week-work and ploughing services.

It looks then as if the Rectitudines must apply primarily to this part of Mercia, and as if the tract probably had its origin on one or other of the great church fiefs which dominated the valley of the Lower Severn.

On the other hand it is impossible to suppose that the main conditions on the larger ecclesiastical in Wessex were not to some extent the same; for geneat and geburyardland and gesettesland, are all mentioned as West Saxon institutions in the laws of Ine, together with the gafol geldu, the lord’s gerefa and the taking up of land to weorc and to gafole. We know too that King Alfred had his geneatas, and the abbeys of Glastonbury and Abingdon had their tainlands and geburlands in the ninth and tenth centuries; while yardlands, half-yardlands and cotlands formed the basis of village organization in all the southern shires except Kent and Cornwall from the Norman Conquest onwards until rendered obsolete by the enclosures in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We must suppose then that, though radchenistres are hardly alluded to at all in Wessex in the Domesday returns (they appear once in Berkshire and twice in Hampshire), they must none the less have existed there in the days of Knut and Edward, and we must account for the silence of Domesday about them by the hypothesis that the jurors for the West Saxon hundreds in 1055 were not asked to distinguish between the two classes of ceorlas and therefore merged them together under the vaguer title of tunesmen, a term which occasionally appears in Anglo-Saxon documents and which Latin scribes rendered by the word villanus. We cannot, however, postulate more than a general similarity of system on the various estates, whether of Wessex or Mercia; for the leading characteristic of rural organization in England has ever been that each village has been free to regulate its own farming and develop its own special customs as to tenure and tillage. Provided this fundamental limitation is kept steadily in view, we may fairly take the sketch furnished by the Rectitudines as an approximately valid picture of all the greater estate-units south and west of Watling Street in the days of Knut and Edward; but at the same time we must remember that the writer of the Rectitudines was not attempting a description of the smaller estates of the ordinary thegns. His treatise is clearly restricted to lordly territories, where elaborate differentiation of classes and minute subdivision of services were both natural and feasible. It may well be then that the comparatively heavy rents and services, recorded in the Rectitudines, were by no means characteristics of the ordinary thegn’s estate, and that it was only on the larger ecclesiastical estates, where the lords had power to bind men’s souls as well as their bodies, that the exploitation of the tenantry had been carried to any extreme lengths.

Enough evidence has now been presented to give a general idea of the economic and seignorial relations existing between the landowning classes and the mass of the cultivators in the first half of the eleventh century. One question however of considerable importance still remains to be considered, and that is, had the landlords as a class judicial authority over their tenants merely as landowners? In other words, could they set up petty courts on their estates, similar to the manorial courts of a later day, and compel their men to try their disputes in them, at any rate in matters of civil justice, provided the cases did not involve persons who were tenants under other lords? The evidence at our disposal is perhaps too fragmentary and too lacking in precision to enable us to say how matters stood in all parts of England; but two things at any rate seem clear. First, there certainly was a very considerable number of lords in Edward’s day who were holding their own private courts or hallmoots (halimotes) in competition with the national hundred moots; and secondly, there was no general law or custom as yet recognised, which entitled landlords to hold such courts, but in all cases, where hallmoots had sprung up, the right to hold them rested on some special grant from the Crown and was in the nature of a franchise or special privilege. The conclusion, that hallmoots had become fairly common institutions by 1050, is not reall open to question, being based on the collective evidence of hundreds of passages scattered up and down the Domesday Survey, which tell us that some church magnate or some fairly important layman had enjoyed the privilege of ‘sake and soke’ (saca et soca) over this or that estate, or over this or that group of men, in the days of King Edward. But this technical term, which stands for the Anglo-Saxon saca and socne, is only a pleonastic phrase for sócn; and as we have already seen soon is the Anglo-Saxon term for jurisdiction and implies the right to do justice and, if need be, to hold a court for the purpose. As it is only possible here to give a few examples of these passages, we must content ourselves with observing that there are very few sections of the survey from which they are entirely lacking, though in different counties they assume different forms. It is clear too that they imply several different types of hallmoots, according as the jurisdiction granted had been extensive or restricted. The simplest but least instructive references to sake and soke are found in certain schedules, which merely record the names of persons who had been entitled to sake and soke under King Edward. For example, we have a list of fifteen persons who had enjoyed the franchise in Kent, a list of nineteen who had enjoyed it in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and a list of thirty-five who had enjoyed it in Lincolnshire. But we cannot from such lists infer with any certainty that these privileged persons had exercised the right over all their lands lying in these counties and still less over their lands in other districts. Elsewhere the information as to sake and soke is more often given in respect of particular places. We read for example under Essex, that Robert, son of Wimarc, the king’s staller, had sake and soke over the half-hundred of Clavering; under Suffolk, that Ulwyn of Hedingham had sake and soke over his estates at Lavenham, Burgate and Waldingfield, and under Warwickshire; that Ealdred, the Bishop of Worcester, had sake and soke over seven and a half hides of land at Alveston near Stratford-on-Avon. Or again we are told that the soke was restricted and only applied to some particular class of tenant. For example, at Reedham in Norfolk the Abbot of Holme had sake and soke but only over those who were bound to use his sheepfold. At Buxhall in Suffolk Leswin Croc had sake and soke but only over his hall and his cottage tenants. In some cases again the soke is attributed not to the immediate landlord but to his overlord. For example, Uggeshall near Dunwich is entered as owned by Osketel Presbyter, but the survey goes on to say “Ralf the Staller had sake and soke over this estate, and over all other estates owned by Osketel”.

From these various examples it is easy to see that sake and soke, though not a rare privilege, had not under Edward become a right common to all landowners, for it would be pointless to give lists of those who were exercising it, if all landowners were free to do so. It is clear on the contrary from hundreds of other passages that the wielding of soke was regarded as primarily a royal right, and the general rule of the land still enjoined that all men should attend the hundred moots, and that these should be held under the presidency of officials appointed by the king and the earl, who shared the profits of jurisdiction between them, the king taking two-thirds of the fines and the earl one-third. Further, even where landowners had acquired some measure of soke over their estates, the resulting franchises were regarded primarily as subdivisions carved out of the hundreds by leave of the Crown, and consequently men could still conceive of seignorial justice as being merely a variant of the general scheme of national justice, and not as a distinct and rival type of jurisdiction to be feared by the Crown and suppressed whenever there was an opportunity. There was in fact no idea at all as yet that these franchises constituted encroachments on the powers of the Crown.

If we inquire into their origin we do not find that their existence can be put down chiefly to Edward0s being a complaisant ruler, inclined to placate his more ambitious subjects by offering them bribes in the form of judicial concessions. Doubtless, Edward was rather lavish with his grants of sake and soke, and many English writs have survived which testify to his activities in this direction; but there is plenty of evidence to show that he was no innovator and only followed the practice of his predecessors. For in this connection we have only to turn to Knut’s laws to be convinced that private sokes were plentiful in his day; for, if not, certain famous sections in them which declare that the king ought to have certain important pleas over all his subjects, unless he has expressly granted them away, would be meaningless. Nor does this conclusion depend solely on inferences; for a writ of Knut still survives which was issued about 1020 in favour of the Archbishop of Canterbury, proclaiming to all the king’s lieges that the archbishop was to be worthy throughout his lands of:

 sake and soke, grithbrice, hamsocn, foresteal, infangennethef and fymena-fyrmth,

and these specially mentioned rights turn out to be just the very pleas that the laws say ought to be reserved to the king except in very exceptional circumstances. There is nothing about this writ to lead us to question its genuineness. On the contrary it is quite on all fours with Knut’s general policy of favoring the Church, and fits in well with some other evidence which shows that this was not the only case in which he was willing to give away the reserved pleas.

The evidence which can be quoted to prove this is not indeed contemporary, but seems perfectly trustworthy, and consists in certain later writs issued by Norman kings which imply that Knut granted his wife Emma sake and soke over eight and a half hundreds in West Suffolk and that the grant carried with it grithbrice, hamsocn, foresteal, aeberethef, flitwite and fihtwite. From some points of view this grant to his wife is more novel and important than the grant to the archbishop; for it is the earliest clear instance on record of a wide stretch of territory passing into the hands of a lay subject, and shows that sokes had already ceased to be regarded as specially ecclesiastical privileges at least twenty years before Edward came to the throne. None the less this great franchise did ultimately come into the hands of the Church; for Emma’s estates were all confiscated in 1043, soon after her son’s accession, and this gave Edward the opportunity to transfer the jurisdiction over the eight and a half hundreds to the monks of St Edmund’s Bury, who continued to enjoy the franchise right down to the Reformation. How much further back it would be possible, to trace these franchises, were documents of Aethelred’s reign available, it is impossible to say; but there seems no reason for supposing that Knut was an innovator. Like all rulers he more often than not followed precedents, and after all he had excellent precedents for such sokes as he created in the sokes which Edgar had set up in the tenth century. The really obscure problem is not so much the origin of the larger franchises granted to the magnates, as the origin of the practice of allowing quite small men to exercise sake and soke over petty estates. As to these we can never hope to attain any certainty; but it is interesting to note that the phrase saca and socne is even older than the reign of Edgar, being found in a charter issued by Eadwig in 958 which is apparently genuine and which relates to Southwell in Nottinghamshire.