YORKSHIRE UNDER THE SAXONS.
The form of government established in Britain after the withdrawal of the Roman legions has not been very clearly ascertained. "It would be a mistake," says Professor Rhys, "to take for granted that the people of Roman Britain, as soon as they were rid of the officials of the empire, resolved themselves into small communities or tribal states, independent of each other - a stage which the Britons had pretty well left behind them before the Roman Conquest, and it is not to be believed that the prolonged lesson of imperial centralization had been altogether lost on them. Did they proceed, then, to choose an emperor or a sole king? There is no indication whatever that anything of the kind occurred to them, and they seem rather to have simply persisted on the lines of the military leaderships which the Romans had made a reality among them." The country had become, during the three centuries of imperial rule, thoroughly Romanized in its institutions and polity, and the subjects of Romano-British birth formed no unimportant factor in the population. Rome had voluntarily withdrawn her troops, but she made no abandonment of her claim on Britain as one of her provinces, or relinquished her rights over the island; we may, therefore, reasonably suppose that no violent changes were made in the government of the country, except such as were dictated by the altered circumstances.
Gildas tells us that the Romans before their departure not only urged the Britons to defend themselves, but that, in order to help them in so doing, they had a wall built for them in the north, and gave them the fortifications to garrison; while on the south-eastern shore, which had been guarded by a Roman fleet, they built towers at intervals within sight of the sea, in order to help them in the defence of the country. Here two armies are implied, one for the protection of the north, the other for the defence of the south-east; and we may assume that their commanders were the successors of the Duke of the Britannias and the Count of the Saxon Shore. But these offices, which during Roman ascendancy had been an imperial appointment, now became hereditary, or at least confined to a family, with all the attributes of royalty, and York we may assume still retained its position as a capital.
Our knowledge of the history of this early period is derived from the writings of Gildas, Bæda, and Nennius, and from the traditions of the Welsh, that is from a British and from a Saxon source; and it is difficult, indeed often impossible, to harmonize the conflicting accounts, and identify the persons named therein. The Britons, by combination, were for a time able to repel the repeated attacks of their northern foes; but divisions and jealousies crept in, rival confederacies were formed, and thus weakened by internal dissensions they became the prey of their enemies. In this emergency, according to Bæda and the Saxon Chronicle, Vortigern, one of the British kings, sought the aid of the piratical Saxons, under which name are included the several tribes of Jutes, Angles, and Saxons from the shores of the Baltic, who had long infested the coasts of Gaul and Britain. They arrived, according to the usual chronology, in 449, under the leadership of two very mythical characters, Hengist and Horsa, sons of Wihtgils, third in descent from Wodin, whom the Saxons believed to be the sixteenth remove from Noah. The Picts and Scots were driven back to their native hills, and the two victorious leaders received for their reward the Isle of Thanet, in Kent. But, preferring the fertile fields of Britain to their own barren shore, they determined to take possession of the land they had come to protect. They complained of the inadequacy of their number, and to defend the Picts' Wall, as the Roman barrier was called, 300,000 of their countrymen were brought over. The Saxons now cast aside the mask, and, making an alliance with the Picts and Scots, turned their swords against the Britons. The natives defended their soil with desperate persistence, and under Vortemir, son of Vortigern, defeated the strangers in three battles; but the Saxons at length prevailed, and established themselves in Kent, of which Hengist became king.
These first comers were Jutes, who inhabited the marshlands of Jutland, the extreme peninsula of Denmark. Their success excited the ambition and cupidity of the neighbouring tribes, and in 477, Ella the Saxon, with a host of his countrymen, landed on the island of Selsey, and, after an arduous struggle, established the kingdom of Sussex. Another Saxon immigration took place about the year 495, under Cerdic and Cyric, and, after many sanguinary battles, effected a settlement in the district extending from Surrey to the confines of Cornwell, which was called from its position the kingdom of Wessex, or West Saxons. Some time in the sixth century - the dates are very uncertain - other hordes of barbaric Saxons came and ousted the Britons from the districts now named Essex and Middlesex, and established there the kingdom of the East Saxons. The next invaders were the Angles, who seized upon the coast around the Wash, and formed the kingdom of East Anglia. Others proceeded into the interior of the country, and, after enslaving or exterminating the natives, erected the kingdom of Mercia.
The Britons of the north, however, aided by their mountain fastnesses, maintained their independence until 547, when Ida, the Flamebearer, with a large body of Angles, landed on the coast, and took possession of the country north of the Roman Wall, which became the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia. Ten years later the country of Deira, stretching from the Tyne to the Humber, was wrested from its native owners by Ælla, one of Ida's generals, and a separate sovereignty established. Ida fixed his castle and capital at Bebbanburh, now Bamborough, but there is no mention of Ælla's capital. The Romano-Britons of York were probably able to make terms with the invaders, and so retain possession of their city for a little while longer.
We may now pause to consider the antecedents of the invaders, the nature and consequences of their settlement in Britain, and the struggle waged by the Celt against the encroachment of the Saxon. The intruders were a branch of the great Aryan family, which had migrated westward from the plains of Central Asia long before the dawn of history, and spread over the middle of Europe, displacing an earlier wave of the same great Aryan stock. They were one in race, but marked off by locality into three tribes, speaking a kindred language with dialectic variations; they were independent of each other, but combining when necessity required co-operation in the attack of a common foe. Their territories embraced Denmark, with its numerous islands, and the German coast as far as the mouth of the Rhine. Proximity to the sea changes robbers into corsairs, and thus we find them, as early as the second century, the scourges of Britain and Gaul, where their depredations were so frequent as to necessitate special provision for the protection of the coast under an officer bearing the title of Count of the Saxon Shore.
They had passed the initial stage of civilisation, and were acquainted with the alphabet in its Runic form. They had some knowledge of metallurgy, and were able to fabricate weapons of bronze and iron, and drinking vessels of the precious metals. Their ships or chiules (keels), as they called them, rudely built of oaken boards, were about 70 feet long and 9 feet broad, and were propelled solely by oars. Their favourite weapon was the sword, but they also used the bow, the spear, the battle-axe, and a club with spikes projecting from the knob at the end. They wore helmets, the metal of which descended to the ear on each side, and sometimes sent a line of protection down the forehead.
In personal appearance they were tall, fair-headed and grey-eyed, with large and stout limbs, indicative of great physical strength. Their disposition was fierce and cruel, and wherever they went their first work was to stamp out with fire and sword every trace of Roman civilisation.
Their religion was a gloomy mass of superstition, in which charms, spells, and witchcraft played a prominent part; their traditional heroes were converted into gods, and the most striking natural objects had their presiding deities. Woden the Odin of the Norsemen, whom they regarded as the god of war, and the ancestor of their princes, was the chief object of their worship. They believed that, if they could only propitiate this deity by their valour, they would be admitted into his Valhalla, and there, reposing on couches, they would feast on the fabulous boar, whose flesh never diminished, and satiate themselves with strong drink out of the skulls of their enemies whom they had killed in battle. Thunor, the thunder god, was another divinity of special worship. Him they supposed to be a warrior, who, in the paroxysms of his anger, hurled his hammer - the thunder-bolt - from the stormy clouds. The popular creed, however, was mainly one of lesser gods, such as elves, ogres, giants, and monsters, inhabitants of the mark and the fen, stories of which survive in the folk-lore or fairy tales told in many a Yorkshire village. The memory of their polytheism is perpetuated in the names of the days of the week; Sunday and Monday they dedicated to the Sun and Moon; and the others respectively to Tuisco, Woden, Thor, Free, and Seator.
To return to the Anglian conquest of the north. Two places are mentioned as the point at which the enemy landed, Bamborough, in Northumberland, and Flamborough Head, in Yorkshire; and at both are traces of ancient fortifications. Ida successfully defended the integrity of his kingdom for twelve years, but the ancient chronicles tell us little concerning him, except his pedigree, according to which he was, like all Saxon royalty, descended from Woden. Adda succeeded, and then followed Hussa, who began his reign in 567. He was opposed by four British kings, of whom Urien, who ruled over the Cumbrian Britons, was one; but where there ought to have been union and concord to combat the common enemy there were jealousy and division, and the rival Celts fell to slaughtering one another at Ardderyd, probably Arthuret near Carlisle, in 573. Theoderic, the son of Ida, supposed by some writers to be the devastator known in Welsh literature as the "Flame-bringer," reigned over Bernicia from 580 to 587. Despite the terror inspired by his cruelty, the Welsh bards sing of the vigorous and not always unsuccessful opposition he met with from Urien and his sons.
ÆTHELFRITH. - The next king in order of time was Æthelfrith, a brave but ambitious prince, of whom Bæda says that "he, more than all the other nobles of the English, wasted the race of the Britons." On the death of Ælla of Deira, he seized that kingdom, and added it to his own, and Northumbria, or the land north of the Humber, thenceforth became the name of the last-formed but most powerful kingdom of the Heptarchy.
Jealous of so formidable a neighbour, Aidan, King of the Scots, assisted by the Picts, the Irish, and the Cumbrian Britons, made war upon the aggressive Æthelfrith. The two armies met at a place called by Bæda Dagaston, supposed by some to be Dalston, near Carlisle, and by others Dawstone, near Jedburgh. The battle was long and obstinate; but, though one wing of the English was utterly destroyed, and its commander, Theobald, the king's brother, slain, victory ultimately declared for the Northumbrians. The greater part of the Scots were immolated to their vengeance; and Aidan with a small number of followers narrowly escaped. This disaster proved an instructive lesson to his successors, and for more than a century, says the Chronicle, no King of Scots dared meet the Northumbrians in battle.
Ælla had left a son, a child of three years, named Eadwine, who, to prevent his falling into the hands of the tyrant, was placed under the protection of Cadvan, King of North Wales; but when he learned the place of the boy's retreat he marched his army into the dominions of Cadvan, and met the Welsh in the vicinity of Chester. A body of 1,200 monks from Bangor had assembled on a neighbouring height to pray for the success of Cadvan; and, when Æthelfrith beheld them, he ordered a detachment of his army to put them to the sword, and only fifty escaped. The Welsh were defeated, Chester was taken, and Bangor demolished. Eadwine, after wandering about the country in disguise, at length found an asylum with Redwald, King of East Anglia.
Æthelfrith sought to obtain possession of the young prince, first by bribes, and then by threats. Redwald was on the point of delivering up the fugitive, when a friend, who had discovered the intention of the king, counselled Eadwine to flee, for danger was at hand. "I have known too much misery," replied the young prince, "to be anxious for life. If I must die, no death can be more acceptable than that which is inflicted by royal treachery." The queen, struck with the magnanimity of young Eadwine, urged her solicitations in his behalf, and succeeded in dissuading the king from his cowardly purpose. Æthelfrith now determined to effect by force of arms what he had failed to achieve by bribes and threats. He marched with his army into the kingdom of Redwald, and met the East Anglian forces on the banks of the Idel, in Nottinghamshire. Success for a time favoured the Northumbrians. In the first onslaught, Rainer, Redwald's son, and the division under his command were destroyed, but the East Anglian host, which still outnumbered their opponents, redoubling their energies, ultimately routed the Northumbrians, leaving Æthelfrith dead on a mound of slain that had fallen beneath his sword. The conquerors hastened to improve the occasion; Eadwine was placed on the united thrones of Bernicia and Deira, A.D. 617, and the sons of Æthelfrith fled for protection to the Scots.
EADWINE was a bold and skilful general, but an aggressive and ambitious prince. No sooner was he firmly seated on the throne than he began to extend his dominions. Among his first conquests were the two small kingdoms of Loidis and Elmet, of which the Britons appear to have retained possession. These places have left their names at Leeds and Barwick-in-Elmet, in the West Riding. He reduced the Cumbrian Britons to a tributary position; he conquered the islands of Man and Mona, the latter of which came to be henceforth known in English as Anglesey, that is Isle of the Angles; and obliged Cadwallon, King of North Wales and son of Cadvan, his former protector, to flee for safety to Ireland.
His next triumphs were over the kings of the Heptarchy, all of whom, except Eadbald of Kent, his brother-in-law he reduced to submission, and was the first to assume the title of Bretwalda that is, Britain-weilder, in token of his supremacy.
In 627 Eadwine discarded paganism, and was received into the Christian Church. The story of his conversion has been preserved by that ornament of the early English Church, the Venerable Bede. In the ninth year of his reign Eadwine had married Ethelburg, daughter of Ethelbert, the first Christian King of Kent. Ethelbald or Eadbald, her brother, who then ruled over that kingdom, had stipulated that his sister should enjoy the free exercise of her religion, and had obtained from Eadwine a promise that he would himself examine the evidences of the Christian faith. The queen was accompanied by Paulinus, a Roman missionary, who had lately been consecrated a bishop. Eadwine kept his word so far as the practice of Christianity by Ethelburga went, but he showed no inclination to embrace it himself. It was in vain that Paulinus preached, that the queen entreated, that Pope Boniface sent letters and presents. He still appeared immovably attached to the religion of his fathers.
There ruled over Wessex at this time a king named Cwichelm, of dark and jealous mood, who bore with impatience the superiority assumed by Eadwine; and as he dared not dispute his overlordship in fair and open battle, he determined to rid him by assassination. Eomer, who undertook to accomplish the deed of blood, appeared before the royal residence on the Derwent (supposed by some to have been the Roman city of Derventio, and by others Londesborough), and demanded an audience of the king as a messenger from Cwichelm. Concealed under his clothes was a poisoned dagger, and while Eadwine was listening to his discourse, he suddenly drew forth the weapon and aimed a blow at his heart. Lilla, a noble thane who stood by, perceiving the intention of the assassin, rushed forward and received the blow, which was driven with such force that the dagger penetrated through his body and wounded the king. Every sword was instantly drawn, but with such desperate energy did Eomer defend himself, that he was not overpowered until he had added a second victim to his villainy.
Paulinus did not omit the opportunity of ascribing the king's preservation to the protection of Christ, whose resurrection had that day been celebrated by the queen. The discourse made an impression on Eadwine's mind, and he promised to become a Christian, if he returned victorious from his expedition against the perfidious king of Wessex. At the head of a powerful army he marched into the territory of his enemy, whom he overthrew with great slaughter, leaving Cwichelm and his brother Cynegils among the slain. Eadwine returned in triumph to his royal city, and being reminded of his promise, he abstained from the worship of the pagan gods, but still hesitated to embrace Christianity. To change his religion meant to change the religion of his kingdom; such an act was too momentous for his individual decision, and he summoned to his aid his witan. The council met on the banks of the Derwent, for these folk-moots were always held in the open air at some sacred spot, and the first to speak was Coifi, high priest, who counselled the adoption of the new creed, as few, he said, had served the pagan gods more faithfully than he, and yet few had been less fortunate. To this profound theologian succeeded a noble thane who thus spoke :- " Often, 0 king, in the depth of winter, while you are feasting with your thanes, and the fire is blazing on the hearth in the midst of the hall, you have seen a bird, pelted by the storm, enter at one door and escape by the other. During its passage it was visible, but whence it came, or whither it went, you know not. Such to me appears the life of man. He walks the earth for a few years, but what precedes his birth, or what is to follow after his death, we cannot tell. Undoubtedly, if the new religion can unfold these important secrets, it must be worthy our attention." After the king had heard the views of his witan, Paulinus was introduced to the assembly and expounded the principal doctrines of Christianity. All present declared their readiness to accept the new creed, and Coifi led the way by hurling his lance in derision at the pagan temple of Godmundingham, now Goodmanham, near Market Weighton, and then firing it with a torch. To the surprise of the crowd that witnessed the act, and expected instant retribution to follow, the gods did not avenge the insults. Thereupon, King Eadwine, with all his nobles and most of the common folk of the nation were converted to the faith in the year of grace 627. The king and his nobles received the waters of holy regeneration at York, in a church hastily built of wood, and 10,000 of his subjects followed their example, and were baptized by Paulinus in the river Swale.
Eadwine survived his conversion only six years, when he fell at Hatfield chase fighting against the combined armies of Penda, King of Mercia, and Cadwallon, King of North Wales. Paulinus, with the queen-widow and her children, escaped by sea to Kent, where they found an asylum at the court of Eadbald, and the see of Rochester being then vacant, Paulinus was appointed to it by his friend, Honorius, whom he had himself consecrated.
Northumbria now became the prey of factions, and the union was for a time dissolved. Eanfrith, the son of Æthelfrith, returning from his Caledonian retreat, was acknowledged king by the Bernicians, whilst the Deiri, who still cherished the memory of Ælla, placed their sceptre in the hands of Osric. Both these princes had formerly accepted the Christian faith, the former receiving baptism from the monks of St. Columba, at Icolmkill, and the latter from the hands of Paulinus, but they had again relapsed into the errors of paganism.
Cadwallon still continued his ravages, and Osric, with a small but courageous band of followers, attempted to surprise him in the city of York. Though a man of much military experience, he was out-generalled by Cadwallon, and perished in an unexpected sally of the enemy. Eanfrith, awe-stricken by the devastation which marked the path of the Welsh, sought to propitiate Cadwallon by a humble submission. Accompanied by twelve followers he appeared before the Briton in the city of York, and solicited peace, but was treacherously killed during the parley. Cadwallon was now master of Northumbria, but his sway was destined to be of short duration.
Upon OSWALD, the younger brother of Eanfrith, fell the duty of avenging the deaths of his family, and restoring the lost prestige of his country. Like his brother, he had spent many years in banishment in Scotland, where he had been brought to the knowledge of the Christian religion; but, unlike him, he did not apostatise on his return. At the head of a small but resolute band he undertook to reconquer the country, and did not hesitate to carry on the struggle against the superior forces of the formidable Briton, nor even to attack him in a pitched battle. The two armies met near the Roman Wall, in the vicinity of Hexham. The battle began early in the morning; ere sundown the hitherto invincible army of Cadwallon bad been annihilated, and the hero of forty battles and sixty single combats perished on the banks of the Beneburn.
The sovereignties of Bernicia and Deira were again united in the person of Oswald, who claimed his descent from Ida, the Man of Fire, through his father, and from Ælla, of Deira, through his mother. By what steps he attained to the overlordship of the whole kingdom we are not told; possibly it may have been conceded to him as the successor of Eadwine, who last held supreme authority over the whole heptarchy. Certain it is that he was styled Emperor of all Britain, and bore the title of Bretwalda, before whom was carried the tufa, or tuft of feathers, the emblem of supreme authority, and which, after this, was used by none save by the Northumbrian kings.
Oswald fixed his residence at York and completed the erection of the church which had been begun by Eadwine. One of his first cares after he had firmly established his throne, was to rekindle the flickering flame of Christianity within his dominions. To accomplish this he called to his aid Pictish missionaries, from Iona, whom he had known during his sojourn in Scotland. Aidan, a monk, having first received episcopal ordination, was sent, with a few companions, to his assistance, and the isle of Lindisfarne being allotted to them for an abode, a monastery was erected, and Aidan established there his see. He was at first unacquainted with the language of the Angles, and Oswald accompanied him on his missionary journeys, interpreting to the people the instructions he delivered.
Unfortunately, the reign of Oswald, begun under such happy auspices. and so far fraught with such beneficial results, was doomed to be of short duration, Penda, the Mercian, though advanced in years, still cherished his deep-rooted antipathy to all his fellow-countrymen who had forsaken their fathers' heathen deities for the worship of the one true God. The King of Wessex he had driven from his throne, and forming an alliance with his old friends the Britons, for two years he harassed Northumbria. Oswald met the united forces on the borders of Mercia and Northumbria. The struggle was fierce; the brother of Penda perished in the fight; but victory declared for the pagan, and Oswald, the benevolent and much-loved Oswald, fell, pierced by a forest of arrows and lances, in the eighth year of his reign, and the thirty-eighth year of his age (A.D. 642). The locality of this battle is a subject of dispute among writers. Bede says the place was called in the English tongue, Maserfeith, which has been variously supposed to be Mirfield, in Yorkshire; Oswestry, formerly Muserfeld, in Shropshire; and Makerfield, near Winwick, in Lancashire. There is a preponderance of evidence in favour of the last named-place. Penda continued his march to the north, and laid siege to the royal city of Bamborough; but it was defended with such stubborn resistance that he drew off his army, devastated the country around, and then led back his troops to their Mercian home.
OSWY, the brother of Oswald, was now selected by the Northumbrian thanes to fill the vacant throne; but scarcely had he obtained firm possession before a dangerous rival appeared in Oswin, the son of Osric, of the house of Ælla. Fearing to dispute the claims of this competitor he effected a compromise, and allotted to him the province of Deira. But Oswin, distinguished alike for his tall, graceful stature, and his humanity, seems to have been better fitted for the cloister than for a military leader; and when, after six years, Oswy sought to break the compact by open hostilities, Oswin disbanded his army, and, with one attendant, concealed himself in the house of Hunwald the ealdorman, on whose fidelity he relied. But the perfidious thane betrayed him to the enemy, and nothing less than death would satisfy the jealousy of Oswy. The Deirians, however, still maintained their independence, and placed Adelwald, the son of Oswald, on the throne.
The implacable old heathen, Penda, was again in the field, and had marched his army into the very heart of Northumbria, burning every village on his way. With his small force of Bernicians Oswy knew it was useless to contend against the overwhelming host of Mercians, and he, therefore, purchased peace by a humble submission and the payment of tribute. But forbearance so obtained is seldom of long duration, and in 655, Penda, with the laurels of a recent victory still fresh on his brow, was again on his way to Northumbria, vowing to exterminate the whole nation. Proffered submission and presents were vain; a holocaust of Christian blood alone could appease the wrath of the implacable pagan. Despair at last nerved the courage of Oswy. With a small but resolute force he advanced to meet the enemy, among whom were Adelwald, King of Deira, and thirty vassal chieftains, Saxon and British. The battle began, but Adelwald and the Deirians withdrew to a neighbouring eminence, and there remained neutral spectators of the fight. This secession animated the Bernicians; Penda was defeated, and, being captured in his flight, was put to death. The battle took place at Winwidfield, near Leeds, and an inundation of the Winwid, now the Aire, swept away more of the Mercians in their flight than had fallen by the sword.
Oswy followed up his success; he overran East Anglia and Mercia, which he entirely subdued. The latter he divided into two portions, and invested Peada, the son of Penda, who had been previously converted to the Christian faith, with the sovereignty of the southern part.
In fulfilment of a vow made the night before the battle, Oswy dedicated his infant daughter to the service of God. At the age of one year she was intrusted to the care of Abbess Hilda, whose convent was on the banks of the Hart where Hartlepool now stands. With the child, Hilda received a dower of 120 hides of land in Bernicia, and the same quantity in Deira. With this she founded and endowed the monastery of Streoneshalh (Whitby), whither she removed with Ethelfleda, her infant charge, who ruled the monastery after Hilda's death. He also founded several other monasteries, among which was one at Ingethingum, the spot where Oswin had been murdered, supposed to be Gilling, that the monks might daily prey for the souls of the murdered and the murderer.
Oswy's dominions were now more extensive than any other kingdom of the heptarchy, and he, therefore, held with undisputed possession the title of Bretwalda. His long and generally glorious reign was not, however, without its dark shadows, and the murder of Oswin must ever remain a foul blot upon his character. Troubles, too, arose in his own family; the sword of rebellion was raised against him by Alchfrid, his eldest son, whom he conciliated by investing him with the sovereignty of Deira, which province had again been annexed to Bernicia on the death of Adelwald.
Christianity had now taken root in every kingdom of the heptarchy except that of the South Saxons, who still obstinately held aloof; but though there was unity of doctrine there was diversity of discipline between the two branches, if we may so speak, of the Christian Church in this country, as represented by Rome and Jona, and much dissension in the religious world was the inevitable result. The most vital points of difference were the form of the tonsure and the celebration of Easter. The former was worn by the. Scoto-Irish priests in the form of a crescent, for which they claimed the authority of St. John, whilst the Roman missionaries shaved the crown of the head, leaving a circle of hair to represent the wreath of thorns with which the head of Christ was encircled. For this, the canonical form, they appealed to the authority of St. Peter. The celebration of Easter was productive of even greater dissension and much more inconvenience. With both parties it was a movable festival whose incidence was regulated by the equinoctial moon, but there was a difference of opinion as to the commencement of that lunation. According to the Roman astronomers it might begin as early as the fifth of March, but according to the Alexandrian it could not commence before the eighth. The British and Irish Christians, and those Saxons who had received the faith from them, followed the latter rule; the consequence was, that the festival of Easter, and all the feasts depending on that solemnity, were celebrated at different times by the Saxon Christians, according as they had been instructed by Scottish or by Roman and Gallic missionaries.
To restore uniformity Oswy summoned the champions of the two parties to meet at Whitby, in 664, to discuss the merits of their respective customs. The Scoto-Irish priests were championed by Colman, Bishop of Lindisfarne, and the Romans by Wilfrid, afterwards Bishop of York. Colman appealed to the sanctity and approbation of St. Colomba, whilst Wilfrid rested his cause on the authority of St. Peter. Oswy, though he had received the faith from the monks of Iona, exclaimed, "I will never offend the saint who holds the keys of heaven," and the meeting shortly decided in favour of the Roman rule. Many of the Scottish monks at once conformed to the practice of their opponents, and the others returned in silent discontent to their parent monastery. From that time until the Reformation the English Church remained in close communion with the See of Rome. " Whatever may be our ecclesiastical judgment of this decision," says Grant Allen, in his "Anglo-Saxon Britain," "there can be little doubt that its material effects were most excellent. By bringing England into connection with Rome, it brought her into connection with the centre of all then-existing civilisation, and endowed her with arts and manufactures which she could never otherwise have attained. The connection with Ireland and the north would have been as fatal, from a purely secular point of view, to early British culture, as was the later connection with half-barbaric Scandinavia. Rome gave England the Roman letters, arts, and organisation; Ireland could only have given her a more insular form of Celtic civilisation."
Oswy's power had for some years been declining. After the death of Peada, who was murdered, it is said, by his wife, the daughter of Oswy, the Mercian chiefs rose in rebellion against the authority of the Northumbrian, and expelled all his officers. Wulphere, the youngest son of Penda, who had been nurtured in secrecy, was brought forth and the sceptre placed in his hands. In defiance of Oswy, he not only maintained his authority, but considerably extended the limits of his kingdom. Oswy died in the year 670, after a reign of 28 years, and with him expired the title and authority of Bretwalda.
EGFRID, the eldest surviving son of Oswy, succeeded to the united Kingdom of Northumbria. Young and inexperienced, the Picts seized the opportunity to attempt the regaining of their independence. Collecting a large army, Bernhaeth, their general, carried the horrors of war into Egfrid's dominions, but met with a crushing defeat, in which he was slain, and the Picts compelled to acknowledge the superior power of Northumbria. Egfrid then led his victorious army against Wulphere, of Mercia. The combatants met, and again victory declared for Northumbria. Wulphere died soon afterwards, and Egfrid seized his dominions, but restored them to Ethelred, who had married his sister. But matrimonial alliances in those rough old days were but a slender protection against aggressive ambition. Egfrid marched his Northumbrians into the Mercian territory; the two armies met on the banks of the Trent, victory was doubtful, but Egfrid lost his brother Ælfwin in the conflict. At the solicitation of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, the combatants sheathed their swords, and Egfrid accepted a pecuniary payment as compensation for the death of Ælfwin.
Egfrid's first wife was Ethelreda, the pious daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles. At an early age she had consecrated her virginity to God, but notwithstanding her entreaties, she was compelled by her friends to become the unwilling wife of Tondbercht, a powerful nobleman. Through the piety, or it may be, the indifference of her husband, she was permitted to preserve her chastity. At his death she was demanded by Oswy for the bride of his son Egfrid, a youth of fourteen years, and in spite of her remonstrances she was conducted a reluctant victim to the Northumbrian Court. She persisted in her former resolution, and after twelve years, amid the pleasures of a court and the solicitations of her husband, yet still intact, she obtained his permission to take the veil at Coldingham
In the year preceding his death, Egfrid sent an expedition to Ireland, which cruelly ravaged the coast from Dublin to Drogheda. It is not easy to conjecture his motives for this invasion. Bede assures us that the Irish were a harmless and friendly people, to whom the English were accustomed to resort in search of knowledge. Probably he suspected that they had given assistance to the Picts, when the latter invaded his dominions.
Next we find him endeavouring to extend his rule beyond the Forth. At the head of his army he marched into the Pictish territory. Brude, the King, prudently retreated before him, and when the Northumbrians were entangled amidst the defiles of the mountains, the Picts fell suddenly upon them, killed Egfrid, and almost annihilated the whole army. This battle took place at Dun Nechtan, supposed to be Dunnichen, in Forfarshire.
Egfrid leaving no issue his illegitimate brother, Aldfrid, succeeded to the sovereignty by the consent of the thanes. When his brother Egfrid ascended the throne, he had retired into the Western Isles, and had there devoted himself to study under the instruction of the Scottish monks. His reign of seventeen years was one of comparative peace, during which he was respected by his neighbours, and beloved by his people. At his death, in 705, he was succeeded by his son
OSRED, a child of eight years. Eadulf, an ealdorman, usurped the sceptre, and beseiged the royal infant and his guardian in the fortress of Bamborough. The nobles espoused the cause of the child, and Eadulf had enjoyed the dignity only two months when he paid the forfeit of his treason. During the youth of Osred the Picts made an inroad into his kingdom, but were defeated by Brithric, his guardian, in the plain of Manaw, a little beyond the Wall. Osred soon emancipated himself from the tutelage of Brithric, and though still a mere youth, his character was so infamous as to excite the hatred of his subjects. At the age of nineteen he was assassinated on the banks of Windermere, by his kinsmen, Cænred and Osric, each of whom successively reigned after him, the former two years, and the latter for eleven years.
CEOLWULPH, a lineal descendant of Ida, by Acca, his eldest illegitimate son, succeeded to the throne in 731. He was learned and pious, but the turbulence of the times in which he lived required in a ruler vigour, firmness, and promptitude, qualities which he did not possess. After a reign of eight years he voluntarily resigned the throne, and entered the monastery, where some of his early years had been spent.
EADBERT, his cousin, was selected by the thanes as his successor. During his predecessor's short and impotent reign several of the tributary states had declared their independence; but Eadbert quickly roused the Northumbrians from their lethargy, led his army into the land of the southern Picts and reduced them to submission. He next turned his arms against Mercia, which he caused to feel his superiority. He enlarged his territory, and for a while revived the ancient glory of Northumbria. Wearied with the cares and anxieties of sovereignty, and disgusted with the frivolities of the world, he resigned the sceptre and retired into the peaceful seclusion of the cloister.
OSWULF, his son, ascended the throne in 759, but was treacherously murdered shortly after his accession. Northumbria, which had for many years been the most powerful kingdom of the heptarchy, and whose supremacy was acknowledged, however unwillingly, by the other states, had now fallen from her high position; nor did she ever again recover her lost glory. The fifty years which followed the death of Oswulf, were marked by jealousies and disunion among the thanes, and by a series of quarrels, treachery, and murders among those who had any claim to the throne. Of those who held the sceptre during this period it is unnecessary to speak. Their reigns were characterised by internal discord, which afforded the Danes an opportunity of making a descent on our northern shore, and ravaging the towns and villages along the coast. During the last century of Northumbrian rule "fourteen kings had assumed the sceptre, and yet, of all these, one only, if one, died in the peaceable possession of royalty. Seven had been slain, six had been driven from the throne by their rebellious subjects," and the Northumbrian dynasty was finally extinguished when Ella and Osbriht were slaughtered by the Danes at the storming of Cork, in 867.
After the decline of Northumbria, Mercia rose to a preponderance of power, and for a time exercised supremacy over the other kingdoms. This, in turn, gave place to Wessex, and Egbert, its king, skilled in the arts of war and government, which he had learned under Charlemagne, brought all the other states under tribute to him. This was the first step towards the consolidation of the kingdoms, which was finally effected by Edward the Elder, the son of Alfred the Great, or, as some maintain, by Athelstan, his successor.
From these scenes of treachery and bloodshed we turn with pleasure to the humanising and civilising work which was being carried on, slowly, it is true, but steadily, by the monastic orders. The beneficial influence of the monasteries can scarcely be over-rated; had it not been for them the dark cloud of ignorance and barbarism would have overshadowed the land through many succeeding centuries. "Secure in the peace conferred upon them by a religious sanction, the monks became the builders of schools, the drainers of marsh-lands, the clearers of forest, the tillers of heath. Many of the earliest religious houses rose in the midst of what had previously been trackless wilds. . . . In every case agriculture soon turned the barren heath into orchards and cornfields, or drove drains through the fens, which converted their marshes into meadows and pastures for the long-horned English cattle. Roman architecture, too, came with the Roman Church., * The art of building among the Saxons had not passed the stage of wood and wattle; but the monks taught them to build churches and palaces of stone, to make glass, and to work more artistically in gold, silver, bronze, and iron.
In the sixth and seventh centuries Northumbria occupied the foremost place in Teutonic Britain, not in military prowess alone, but as the chief seat of learning;
*"Anglo-Saxon Britain," by Grant Allen, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. and whatever literature has come down to us from that period was penned by Northumbrian monks amid the quiet and seclusion of their convents. It was then that the Venerable Bede lived, to whom we owe all the knowledge we possess of that period. Born at Wearmouth in 672, at the age of seven years he was entrusted to the care of the monks of Jarrow, a convent on the banks of the Tyne. There he spent sixty-two years of his life, devoting his time, as he tells us, to the study of the Holy Scriptures for the improvement of himself or of others. His knowledge was as varied as it was extensive; not a science that had survived the ruin of the Roman empire escaped his inquisitive mind, and his familiar acquaintance with the Latin language and classical literature show that the library at Jarrow must have been extensive and valuable. Of his several works the most important is his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People," the authority from which we derive almost all our knowledge of early Christian England. He also translated the Gospel of St. John into his native Northumbrian tongue. wrote a Life of St. Anastasius, the History of his own Abbey, a treatise De Natura Rerum, and several pieces of Latin verse. Alcuin was another famed Northumbrian scholar, whose reputation attracted to his school in York students from Gaul and Germany. At the solicitations of Charlemagne, Emperor of France, he went to reside at that court, and diffused a taste for learning through all the provinces of the empire.
About this period, too, lived Ceadmon, a monk of Streoneshalh (since known by its Danish name of Whitby), on whose lips "Anglo-Saxon speech first bursts into poetry." The first development of his poetic genius was certainly marvellous, if not indeed miraculous. He occupied the lowly position of swineherd, and was unlettered and totally devoid of any musical ability. At festive gatherings when the harp passed round from guest to guest, as was the custom, not only among the early Britons, but also among the Saxons, Ceadmon, through very shame, would quit the feast, and retire to his humble shed to sleep beside the cattle. On one of these occasions, during his slumber, a voice called him by name, and said "Sing me something," to which he replied, "I cannot sing, and that is the reason why I left the feast and am come hither." " Sing notwithstanding," said the voice. "But what then shall I sing?" "Sing the beginning of the world, the Creation." He felt the "Divine afflatas," and immediately began singing verses of which he had no previous knowledge, in praise of the glory and power of the Creator." He was received into the convent then under the rule of Abbess Hilda, and became a simple monk. Unable himself to read, the brothers narrated to him the Scripture text, and, when he had made himself master of the various incidents related, he transformed it into songs so beautiful, that all who listened to them were delighted. In this way he converted the whole Bible story from the Creation to the Ascension into Teutonic verse.
Data transcribed from:
Bulmer's East Riding
Scan, OCR and html software by Colin Hinson.
Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.