Unformatted text preview: tle, which raised any one to the rank of thane, except noble birth and the possession of land. The former was always much regarded by all the German nations even in their most barbarous state; and as the Saxon nobility, having little credit, could scarcely burthen their estates with much debt, and as the commons had little trade or industry by which they could accumulate riches, these two ranks of men, even though they were not separated by positive laws, might remain long distinct, and the noble families continue many ages in opulence and splendor. There were no middle rank of men, that could gradually mix with their superiors, and insensibly procure to themselves honour and distinction. If by any extraordinary accident, a mean person acquired riches, a circumstance so singular made him be known and remarked; he became the object of envy, as well as of indignation, to all the nobles; he would have great difficulty to defend what he had acquired; and he would find it impossible to protect himself from oppression, except by courting the patronage of some great chieftain, and paying a large price for his safety. PLL v5 (generated January 22, 2010) 126 http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/695 Online Library of Liberty: The History of England, vol. 1 There are two statutes among the Saxon laws, which seem calculated to confound those different ranks of men; that of Athelstan, by which a merchant, who had made three long sea-voyages on his own account, was intitled to the quality of thane;f and that of the same prince, by which a ceorle or husbandman, who had been able to purchase five hydes of land, and had a chapel, a kitchen, a hall, and a bell, was raised to the same distinction.g But the opportunities were so few, by which a merchant or ceorle could thus exalt himself above his rank, that the law could never overcome the reigning prejudices; the distinction between noble and base blood would still be indelible; and the well-born thanes would entertain the highest contempt for those legal and factitious ones. Though we are not informed of any of these circumstances by ancient historians, they are so much founded on the nature of things, that we may admit them as a necessary and infallible consequence of the situation of the kingdom during those ages. The cities appear by Domesday-book to have been at the conquest little better than villages.h York itself, though it was always the second, at least the thirdi city in England, and was the capital of a great province, which never was thoroughly united with the rest, contained then but 1418 families.k Malmesbury tells usl that the great distinction between the Anglo-Saxon nobility and the French or Norman, was that the latter built magnificent and stately castles; whereas the former consumed their immense fortunes in riot and hospitality, and in mean houses. We may thence infer, that the arts in general were much less advanced in England than in France; a greater number of idle servants and retainers lived about the great families; and as these, even in France, were powerful enough...
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This note was uploaded on 02/12/2011 for the course CHIN 101 taught by Professor Dr.yu during the Spring '08 term at University Of Southern Mississippi .
- Spring '08