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Unformatted text preview: ent author,x by which it appears, that a person of very noble birth, even one allied to the crown, was not esteemed a princeps (the term usually employed by ancient historians when the Wittenagemot is mentioned) till he had acquired a fortune of that amount. Nor need we imagine, that the public council would become disorderly or confused by admitting so great a multitude. The landed property of England was probably in few hands during the Saxon times; at least, during the later part of that period: And as men had hardly any ambition to attend those public councils, there was no danger of the assembly’s becoming too numerous for the dispatch of the little business, which was brought before them. It is certain, that, whatever we may determine concerning the The Aristocracy. constituent members of the Wittenagemot, in whom, with the king, the legislature resided, the Anglo-Saxon government, in the period preceding the Norman conquest, was become extremely aristocratical: The royal authority was very limited; the people, even if admitted to that assembly, were of little or no weight and consideration. We have hints given us in historians of the great power and riches of particular noblemen: And it could not but happen, after the abolition of the Heptarchy, when the king lived at a distance from the provinces, that those great proprietors, who resided on their estates, would much augment their authority over their vassals and retainers, and over all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Hence the immeasurable power assumed by Harold, Godwin, Leofric, Siward, Morcar, Edwin, Edric and Alfric, who controlled the authority of the kings, and rendered themselves quite necessary in the government. The two latter, though detested by the people, on account of their joining a foreign, enemy still preserved their power and influence; and we may therefore conclude, that their authority was founded, not on popularity, but on family rights and possessions. There is one Athelstan, mentioned in the reign of the king of that name, who is called alderman of all England, and is said to be halfking; though the monarch himself was a prince of valour and abilities.y And we find, that in the later Saxon times, and in these alone, the great offices went from father to son, and became, in a manner, hereditary in the families .z The circumstances, attending the invasions of the Danes, would also serve much to encrease the power of the principal nobility. Those free-booters made unexpected inroads on all quarters; and there was a necessity, that each county should resist them by its own force, and under the conduct of its own nobility and its own magistrates. For the same reason, that a general war, managed by the united efforts of the whole state, commonly augments the power of the crown; those private wars and inroads turned to the advantage of the aldermen and nobles. PLL v5 (generated January 22, 2010) 124 http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/695 Online Library of Liberty: The History of England, vol. 1 Among...
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- Spring '08