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But these institutions of the Anglo-Saxons, ancient as they are, may be traced back to others yet more ancient; and the principles of law and government which they established in the island, were those of the people from whom they migrated. The islands of Britain and Ireland were first gradually peopled from the adjacent continent of Gaul; their first inhabitants having been Celts, of that branch of the Celtic race called Cymry; a name which their posterity still retain, in their native language, in Wales. They were subdued in the first century of the Christian era by the Romans; from whom they received the name of Britons,—from Prydain, or Britain, the country in which they were found.” Britain then became a province of Rome; and it so continued until the fifth century, when the invasion of Italy by the Goths forced the Romans to relinquish so distant a province; the Roman legions were called away; and in the reign of the Emperor Honorius, Britain was restored to the sway of its ancient race.” The Britons, after the departure of the Roman legions, were exposed to the incursions of pirates from the coast of Germany, and of Picts and Scots from the northern part of Britain; and being unable to defend themselves against these bold and ferocious barbarians, they obtained the aid of a party of Jutes who, under Hengist and Horsa, had landed on the coast of Kent; and finding the advantage of their assistance, they invited reinforcements of the same people. Their united strength was sufficient to repel the hostile invaders; but the new allies were not content to depart when their services were performed, nor to remain as the mercenaries of the Britons. They proceeded to establish themselves as colonists in the island; and new adventurers, consisting of Saxons, Jutes, and Angli, kindred tribes, after successive invasions, under powerful leaders, and after wars carried on for more than a century, in which the Bri1 Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. iii. ch. 25. * Palgrave's English Commonwealth, ch. 1, p. 3. * Turner's History of the Anglo-Saxons, passim.
449–828.] SUBDUED BY GERMAN TRIBES. 9
tons fiercely opposed their settlement in the island, succeeded in establishing there, seven different kingdoms known in history as the Saxon Heptarchy. The Britons were completely subdued. The greater and the more distinguished part of them retired into Wales and Cornwall, or emigrated into foreign countries. Those that remained became the domestics or the slaves of the conquerors; who substituted their own institutions, laws, and language, for those of the Britons. Christianity, which had been introduced in the time of the Romans, was superseded by, and succumbed to, the influence of Saxon paganism." The people, whose customs and institutions were brought into Britain by their hardy sons, dwelt in that part of western Europe that lies between the Baltic and the Rhine, and in the islands of the German Ocean. They were tribes of a Gothic race, which, at the commencement of the Christian era was spread over the north and centre of Europe.” It is from these nations—the Angli, Jutes, and Saxons—that the English derive their origin; although people of several other nations, especially Danes and Normans, afterwards invaded England, settled in the country, and intermingled with the Anglo-Saxon stock. The celebrated work of Tacitus, “On the Manners of the Germans,” is a remarkable record of the institutions of these people; and from it we may obtain a glimpse of the political system, and of the independent spirit, of our progenitors.
| Sir F. Palgrave considers these illustrious names of Hengist and Horsa as fabulous (English Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 396); but they have a real existence in the ‘Saxon Chronicle,” where it is said that they were invited by Wutgern, King of the Britons, to support the Britons; but they afterwards fought against them. The King directed them to fight against the Picts, and they did so, and obtained the victory whereever they came. They then sent to the Angles, and desired them to send more assistance. They described the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land. They then sent them greater support. Then came the men from three powers of Germany, the old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes.” (Saxon Chronicle, Ingram's edition, 1823, p. 14.)
* Turner's History of the Anglo-Saxons, vol. i. p. 86.
“The kings in Germany owed their election to the nobility of their birth. Their power was not arbitrary or unlimited. The chiefs were selected for their valour; and when admired for their bravery they were sure to be obeyed. In matters of inferior moment the chiefs decided; but important questions were reserved for the whole community, where all had a voice. The general assembly was summoned at stated periods; but their passion for liberty disdained compulsory attendance. They did not assemble for two or three days after the appointed time. Regularity would look like obedience, and by delay they marked their independence. Each man took his seat completely armed. Silence being proclaimed by the priests, the king opened the debate; the rest were heard in their turn, according to age, nobility of descent, renown in war, or fame for eloquence. No man dictated to the assembly; any might persuade, but none could command.
“In this council of state, accusations were exhibited and capital offences prosecuted. Pains and penalties were proportioned to the nature of the crime. For treason and desertion the sentence was, to be hanged on a tree. He who was convicted of transgressions of an inferior nature, paid a mulct of horses or of cattle. Part of this fine went to the king or the community, and part to the person injured, or his family. It was at these assemblies that the king was chosen, and chiefs elected to act as magistrates in the several cantons of the State. To each of these judicial officers, assistants were appointed from the body of the people, to the number of a hundred; who attended to give their advice and strengthen the hands of justice."
If it should be considered fanciful to trace our constitution to an origin so remote, it must needs be admitted that in this account of the ancient Germans, we discover much of the genius and spirit of our present matured institutions,—a king with limited power, a body of chiefs or nobles, and a popular assembly having authority over all
* Abridged from Tacitus, ‘De Moribus Germanorum, Murphy's translation, ss. 7, 11, 12.
820.] SAXON HEPTARCHY UNITED. 11
important affairs; the judicial power entrusted to magistrates appointed by the general assembly; and principles and modes of punishment in which we may recognize the features of our present penal system." Egbert, King of Wessex, succeeded in making the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy subordinate to his own. But, according to modern historians, it was not until the reign of Athelstan that the distinctions of the Heptarchy were abolished. In his reign, however, if not before, the kingdoms of the Heptarchy were united under one government; and the country received the name, and the sovereign the title of King, of England.” The scope of our plan neither requires nor admits of much attention to Anglo-Saxon lore; and no more will be attempted than to show the existence of institutions, civil and religious, which have some analogy to our own; or which have been carried down, modified by time and circumstances, to the present day. Even these cannot be described with more than conjectural accuracy, so complicated and uncertain is Anglo-Saxon constitutional history.”
* Sir F. Palgrave observes, that “the statement of Tacitus must be considered only as a general outline of the institutions of the barbarians, derived from report and hearsay, and adorned by imagination and eloquence.” (English Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 87.) But Montesquieu and Blackstone refer the origin of the constitution to the German institutions. “In the treatise on the Manners of the Germans, an attentive reader may trace the origin of the British constitution. That beautiful system was found in the forests of Germany.” (Spirit of Laws, vol. xi. 6.) “These originals [of our laws] should be traced to their fountains, as well as our distance will permit; to the customs of the Britons and Germans, as recorded by Caesar and Tacitus.” (Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. i. p. 35.) Mr. Hallam throws no doubt on the accuracy of Tacitus' description of the ancient Germans; “although (in reference to Gaul) after the lapse of four centuries between the ages of Tacitus and Clovis, some change may have been wrought, yet the foundations of their political system were unshaken.” (Middle Ages, 8th edit. vol. ii. p. 97.)
* Turner's History, vol. i. p. 422.
* Sir F. Palgrave, in his learned and laborious work, observes that,
12 THE CYNING.—THE witTENA-GEMOTE. [CH. II.
The chief authority was in the Cyning, or King. Like the German king described by Tacitus, his power was not arbitrary or unlimited; nor was hereditary succession so established as not occasionally to give way to expediency. In times like those, when the country as well as the throne had to be defended by personal prowess, or by unwearying vigilance, the government could not safely be committed to a child or incapable heir; and there are many instances in Anglo-Saxon history, of hereditary right being set aside in favour of a more competent successor. The great king Alfred did not obtain his throne by hereditary succession. He founded his title on the will of his father, and the consent of his elder brother, but more especially upon the consent of a large proportion of the people of the kingdom of Wessex.' But the royal authority was never allowed to be separated from the royal race; no subject could aspire to the sovereign rank.”
The pervading principle of the Anglo-Saxon government was Aristocracy. The Anglo-Saxons, like their German ancestors, controlled the power of their king by a council of their chiefs or nobles, called the WITTENA-GEMOTE, or meeting of wise men. No authentic documents exist from which any certain information can be obtained concerning the constituent elements of the Saxon council; but it is generally supposed to have consisted of the Abbots and
“in investigating the constitutional history of the Anglo-Saxons we are involved in perplexity.” “No labour or sagacity can entirely unravel its enigmas.” (English Commonwealth, pp. 60, 61.) To its general value, however, Lord Campbell testifies:—“It has been too much the fashion to neglect our history and antiquities prior to the Norman Conquest. But to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors not only are we indebted for our language, and for the foundation of almost all the towns and villages in England, but for our political institutions; and to them we may trace the origin of whatever has most benefited and distinguished us as a nation.” (Lives of the Lord Chancellors, 4th edit. vol. i. p. 29.) * Spelman, Vita Alfredi, Appendix. * Palgrave's Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 10. * Reports from the Lords' Committees touching the Dignity of a