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قراءة كتاب Landholding in England

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‏اللغة: English
Landholding in England

Landholding in England

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 4

The prosperous "Britons," who were left by the Romans in possession of the island, were but feeble representatives of those who, under Caractacus and Boadicea, did not shrink from combat with the legions of Caesar. Uninured to arms, and accustomed to obedience, they looked for a fresh master, and sunk into servitude and serfdom, from which they never emerged. Yet under the Romans they had thriven and increased in material wealth; the island abounded in numerous flocks and herds; and agriculture, which was encouraged by the Romans, flourished. This wealth was by one of the temptations to the invaders, who seized not only upon the movable wealth of the natives, but also upon the land, and divided it among themselves.

The warlike portion of the aboriginal inhabitants appear to have joined the Cymri and retired westward. Their system of landholding was non-feudal, inasmuch as each man's land was divided among all his sons. One of the laws of Hoel Dha, King of Wales in the tenth century, decreed "that the youngest son shall have an equal share of the estate with the eldest son, and that when the brothers have divided their father's estate among them, the youngest son shall have the best house with all the office houses; the implements of husbandry, his father's kettle, his axe for cutting wood, and his knife; these three last things the father cannot give away by gift, nor leave by his last will to any but his youngest son, and if they are pledged they shall be redeemed." It may not be out of place here to say that this custom continued to exist in Wales; and on its conquest Edward I. ordained, "Whereas the custom is otherwise in Wales than England concerning succession to an inheritance, inasmuch as the inheritance is partible among the heirs-male, and from time whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary hath been partible, Our Lord the King will not have such custom abrogated, but willeth that inheritance shall remain partible among like heirs as it was wont to be, with this exception that bastards shall from henceforth not inherit, and also have portions with the lawful heirs; and if it shall happen that any inheritance should hereafter, upon failure of heirs-male, descend to females, the lawful heirs of their ancestors last served thereof. We will, of our especial grace, that the same women shall have their portions thereof, although this be contrary to the custom of Wales before used."

The land system of Wales, so recognized and regulated by Edward I., remained unchanged until the reign of the first Tudor monarch. Its existence raises the presumption that the aboriginal system of landholding in England gave each son a share of his father's land, and if so, it did not correspond with the Germanic system described by Caesar, nor with the tribal system of the Celts in Ireland, nor with the feudal system subsequently introduced.

The polity of the Romans, which endured in Gaul, Spain, and Italy, and tinged the laws and usages of these countries after they had been occupied by the Goths, totally disappeared in England; and even Christianity, which partially prevailed under the Romans, was submerged beneath the flood of invasion. Save the material evidence of the footprints of "the masters of the world" in the Roman roads, Roman wall, and some other structures, there is no trace of the Romans in England. Their polity, laws, and language alike vanished, and did not reappear for centuries, when their laws and language were reimported.

I should not be disposed to estimate the population of England and Wales, at the retirement of the Romans, at more than 1,500,000. They were like a flock of sheep without masters, and, deprived of the watch-dogs which over-awed and protected them, fell an easy prey to the invaders.


The Roman legions and the outlying semi-military settlements along the Rhine and the Danube, forming a cordon reaching from the German Ocean to the Black Sea, kept back the tide of barbarians, but the volume of force accumulated behind the barrier, and at length it poured in an overwhelming and destructive tide over the fair and fertile provinces whose weak and effeminate people offered but a feeble resistance to the robust armies of the north. The Romans, under the instruction of Caesar and Tacitus, had a faint idea of the usages of the people inhabiting the verge that lay around the Roman dominions, but they had no knowledge of the influences that prevailed in "the womb of nations," as Central Europe appeared to the Latins, who saw emerging therefrom hosts of warriors, bearing with them their wives, their children, and their portable effects, determined to win a settlement amid the fertile regions owned and improved by the Romans.

These incursions were not colonization in the sense in which Rome understood it; they were the migrations of a people, and were as full, as complete, and as extensive as the Israelitish invasion of Canaan—they were more destructive of property, but less fatal to life. These migratory hosts left a desert behind them, and they either gained a settlement or perished. The Roman colonies preserved their connection with the parent stem, and invoked aid when in need; but the barbarian hosts had no home, no reserves. Other races, moving with similar intent, settled on the land they had vacated. These brought their own social arrangements, and it is very difficult to connect the land system established by the aborigines with the system which, after a lapse of some hundreds of years, was found to prevail in another tribe or nation which had occupied the region that had been vacated.

Neither Caesar nor Tacitus gives us any idea of the habits or usages of the people who lived north of the Belgae. They had no notion of Scandinavia nor of Sclavonia. The Walhalla of the north, with its terrific deities, was unknown to them; and I am disposed to think that we shall look in vain among the customs of the Teutons for the basis from whence came the polity established in England by the invaders of the fifth century. The ANGLO-SAXONs came from a region north of the Elbe, which we call Schleswig—Holstein. They were kindred to the Norwegians and the Danes, and of the family of the sea robbers; they were not Teutons, for the Teutons were not and are not sailors. The Belgae colonized part of the coast—i.e., the settlers maintained a connection with the mainland; but the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes did not colonize, they migrated; they left no trace of their occupancy in the lands they vacated. Each separate invasion was the settlement of a district; each leader aspired to sovereignty, and was supreme in his own domains; each claimed descent from Woden, and, like Romulus or Alexander, sought affinity with the gods. Each member of the Heptarchy was independent of, and owed no allegiance to, the other members; and marriage or conquest united them ultimately into one kingdom.

The primary institutions were moulded by time and circumstance, and the state of things in the eleventh century was as different from that of the fifth as those of our own time differ from the rule of Richard II. Yet one was as much an outgrowth of its predecessor as the other.

Attempts have been made, with considerable ingenuity, to connect races with each other by peculiar characteristics, but human society has the same necessities, and we find great similarity in various divisions of society. At all times, and in all nations, society resolved itself into the upper, middle, and lower classes. Rome had its Nobles, Plebeians, and Slaves; Germany its Edhilingi, Frilingi, and Lazzi; England its Eaorls, Thanes, and Ceorls. It would be equally cogent to argue that, because Rome had three classes and England had three classes, the latter was derived from the former, as to conclude that, because Germany had three classes, therefore English institutions were Teutonic. If the invasion of the fifth century were Teutonic we should look for