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Anglo Saxon Britain Consolidation of the Kingdoms

Anglo Saxon Britain Consolidation of the Kingdoms

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Published by: hannahofkentucky on Dec 11, 2010
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01/09/2013

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IJ6
ANGLO-SAXON
BRITAIN.
CHAPTER
XII.
THE
C
ONSOLIDATION
OF
THE
KINGDOMS.
WITH
the final triumph of Christianity, all the formative elements of Anglo-Saxon Britain are complete.We see it, a rough conglomeration of loosely-aggre·gated principalities, composed
of
a fighting aristocracy
and
a body of unvalued serfs; while interspersedthrough its parts are the bishops, monks, and clergy,centres
of
nascent civilisation for the seething massof noble barbarism.
The
country
is
divided intoagricultural colonies,
and
its only industry
is
agriculture, its only wealth, land. We want but one moreconspicuous change to make"it into the England ofthe Augustan Anglo-Saxon
age-the
reign of Eadgar
-and
that onechange
is
the consolidation
of
thediscordant kingdoms under a single loose overlord·ship.
To
understand this final step,
we
must glancebriefly at the dull record of the political history.Under LEthelfrith, Eadwine,
and
Oswiu, Northumbria had been the chief power in England. Butthe eighth century
is
taken up with the greatness
Of
Mercia. Ecgfrith, the last great king of Northumbria,whose over-lordship extended over the Picts ofGalloway and the Cumbrians of Strathclyde, en·deavoured to carry his conquests beyond the Forth
 
THE
CONSOLIDATION
OF
THE
KINGDOMS.
I
17
,and annex the free land lying to the north
of
the oldRoman line.
He
was defeated and slain, and withhim
fell
the supremacy
of
Northumbria. Mercia,which already, under Penda and Wulfhere, had risento the second place, now assumed the first positionamong the Teutonic kingdoms. Unfortunately
we
know little
of
the period
of
Mercian supremacy.
The
West Saxon chronicle contains
few
notices of therival state,
and
we
are thrown for information chieflyon the second-hand Latin historians of the twelfthcentury. 1Ethelbald, the first powerful Mercian king
(716-755),
"ravaged the land
of
the Northumbrians,"and made Wessex acknowledge his supremacy. Bythis time all the minor kingdoms had practicallybecome subject to the three great powers, though stillretaining their native princes: and Wessex, Mercia,and Northumbria shared between them, as suzerains,the whole of Teutonic Britain.
The
meagre annalsof the Chronicle, upon which alone (with the Chartersand Latin writers
of
later date)
we
rest after the death
of
Breda, show
us
a chaotic list of wars
and
battlesbetween these three great powers themselves, orbetween them and their vassals, or with the Welsh
and
Devonians. 1Ethelbald
was
succeeded, after ashort interval, by Offa, whose reign
of
nearly fortyyears
(758-796),
is
the first settled period in Englishhistory. Offa ruled over the subject princes withrigour,
and
seems to have made his power really felt.
He
drove the Prince
of
Powys from Shrewsbury, andcarried his ravages into the heart of Wales.
He
conquered the land between the Severn and the Wye.
 
lIS
ANGLO-SAXON
BRITAIN
.
and his dyke from the Dee to the Severn,andthe
Wye,
marked the new limits
of
the Welsh and Englishborders; while his laws codified the customs
of
Mercia, as those of .iEthelberht and
Ine
had done
with
the customs
of Kent
and Wessex.
He
set up
fDr
awhilean archbishopric at Lichfield, which seems tomarkhis determination to erect Mercia into a sovereignpower.
He
also founded the great monastery of
St.
Alban's,
and
is
said to have established the Englishcollegeat Rome, though another account attributes it toIne, the West Saxon. East Anglia, Kent, Essex, andSussex all acknowledged his supremacy. Karl theGreat
was
then reviving the Roman Empire in itsGermanicform,
and
Offa ventured tocorrespondwiththeFrank emperoras
an
equal. The possessionof
Lonl.1on,
now a Mercian city, gave
Offa
an interest incontinentalaffairs; and the growth
of
trade
is
markedby the fact thatwhena quarrel arose between them,theyformally closed the ports of their respectivekingdoms againsteachother's subjects.Nevertheless, English kingship still remainedameremilitary
office,
andconsolidation,
in
our modernsense,
was
clearly impossible. Local jealousies dividedallthe little kingdoms and their component principalities; and any realsubordination
was
impracticableamongsta purelyagricultural
and
warlikepeople,withno regular army, and governed only by their
own
anarchicdesires. Like the Afghans
of
the presenttime,the early English were incapable
of
union,exceptin a temporary
way
under thestronghand ofa singlewarlike leader againstacommon
foe.
As

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