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a ceorl's wife. This might be paid in live property, and no man might sell another for it. For the degrees of intimacy with a ceorl's wife, which are specified, various fines were exacted. 3

The earliest Saxon laws were attentive to this vice: in those of Ethelred fifty shillings were the appointed penalty for intimacy with the king's maiden, half that sum with his grinding servant, and twelve shillings with another, or with an earl's cup-bearer. The chastity of a ceorl's attendant was guarded by six shillings, and of inferior servants by the diminished penalty of fifty and thirty scættas.36

By the same laws for a rape on a servile woman, the offender was to pay her owner fifty shillings, and then to buy her at the will of her owner.

If she was pregnant, he was to pay thirty-five shillings, and fifteen shillings to the king, and twenty shil. lings if betrothed to another. 37

THEIẢ high estimation and rigorous exaction of female virtue, even among the servile, is strongly implied in this passage of one of Bede's works :

“ In the courts of princes there are certain men and women moving continually in more splendid vestments, and retaining a greater familiarity with their lord and lady. There it is studiously provided, that none of the women there who are in an enslaved state should remain with any stain of unchastity ; but if by chance she should turn to the eyes of men with an immodest aspect, she is immediately chided with severity. There some are deputed to the interior, some to the exterior offices, all of whom carefully observe the duties committed to them, that they may claim nothing but what is so entrusted." V. viii.



36 Ibid. p. 3.

35 Wilk. Leg. Sax. p. 37. 37 Ibid. p. 7.


Classes and Condition of Society.


BOOK Every man in the Anglo-Saxon society beneath

the cyning and his family was in one of these

classes. He was either in high estimation from his
x birth ; or he was in a state of dignity from office,

or from property; or he was a free-man; or a
freed-man; or he was in one of the servile classes.
Thus inequality was as much the character of the
Anglo-Saxon society as of our own superior civil-

The inequality of society is the source of per-
petual discontent, both against government and
Providence; and yet from this inequality have
arisen all the comforts that cause us to be displeased
with it. In natural birth, in natural powers, in
natural merit, in the womb and in the grave, we
are all equal; but it is in nature an equality of des-
titution and want; of capability and desire; of the
necessity of exertion ; of destiny and hope. Man-
kind began their mortal race alike both in privation
and in power. Nature extended her riches im-
partially before all. She favoured neither of her
first-born sons.

The materials of all the conveniences of life, which civilisation has since acquired, were present to every eye, and attainable by every hand.

But the very freedom of mind and action with which nature has blessed mankind, and the im

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pulse of the privations amid which we originated, CHAP. soon terminated this equality of want, and began the acquisition of comforts and abundance. No man has from nature any advantages above his fellows : no one comes into life with four arms, or twenty eyes : none leap into birth armed and fullformed Minervas; but all being free to use their capabilities as they please, the exertion of this liberty produced inevitable inequality in anterior times, as in every subsequent age. It is not merely that the industrious will amass more conveniences than the idle, the provident more than the careless, the economist than the profuse ; but the different tastes and feelings of men throw them into different social positions both of rank and property. The hunter and the fowler will not raise stores of corn like the husbandman, nor can he acquire the riches and commodities of the merchant. The warrior, abandoning the paths which the preceding characters prefer, cannot therefore, of himself, obtain the comforts which they value and pursue, but gains an estimation and consequence in the social talk, which gratifies him more than the shiploads of foreign commerce, or the replenished granaries of the agriculturist. The artisan, attached to his humble but cherished tranquillity, neither feels nor envies the dangerous honours of the soldier, nor the risks and sufferings of the trading navigator. Thus mankind, obeying the tendency of their various dispositions, fill social life with inequality, and, by pursuing such diversified roads, are for ever multiplying the conveniences and enjoyments of life, though the dissimilar acquisition of these, from the exertion of indi. vidual liberty of will and action, is perpetually


BOOK augmenting the inequality complained of. The

truth is, that, by these various pursuits, the comforts of every class, even of the lowest, are inconceivably increased. Our common farmers now fare better than the thegns and knights of the AngloSaxon days; and the cottages of our day-labourers have many more conveniences, and their life fewer privations, than most of the Anglo-Saxon classes of society enjoyed below the baron, the thegn, and the knight, and some even which the latter of these had not: to instance only one circumstance — the comforts of a chimney and its cleanliness. Most of our early ancestors lived at home amid smoke and dirt, with one of which, at least, life would, to the poorest among us, seem intolerable ; yet Alcuin, the Anglo-Saxon abbot who was reproached for having ten thousand slaves or vassal peasantry at his command, lived in an habitation sordid with smoke, and affecting his eyes, which he refused to quit for the gilded arched roofs of Italy ', the remains of Roman luxury, to which the emperor invited him.

It is the glory of civilised life, for the more successful possessor of its advantages to diffuse them, , from his own stores, as far as he is able, wherever

he observes them to be painfully deficient. Dignity by There was certainly among our Anglo-Saxon

ancestors a personal distinction arising from birth. Individuals are described in these times as noble by descent. 2 The expression ethelboren, or noble


| He writes to the emperor, who had urged him to visit Rome: “You blame me for preferring the houses of Tours, sordid with smoke, to the gilded arches of the Romans; I would say, with your leave, that iron (swords) hurts the eyes more than smoke. Contented with the smoky houses, I remain here in peace.” Ep. xiii. p. 1507.

2 3 Gale Script. 395. 417, 418.




born, occurs several times, even in the laws. A CHAP. very forcible

passage on this subject appears in the life of St. Guthlac : “ There was a noble (ethela) man in the high nations of the Mercians; he was of the oldest race, and the noblest (æthelstan) that was named Iclingas. The sense of this cannot be mistaken: a family is expressly distinguished from the rest by an appropriated name, “ Iclingas.” We may recollect here that Iornandes says of the Goths, that they had a noble race, called the Balthæ, from whence Alaric sprung."

In the canons of Edgar, another decisive passage attests, that superiority of birth was felt to convey superior consequence; for it was found necessary to require, “ that no forth-boren priest despise one that is less born, because, if men think rightly, all men are of one origin.” 6 No peculiar titles, as with us,

X seem to have distinguished the nobly born; they were rather marked out to their fellows by that name of the family which had become illustrious, as the Fabii and Cornelii of the Romans. Their title was formed by the addition of ing to the name of the ancestor whose fame produced their glory. Thus from Uffa his posterity was called ' Uffingas. So Beowulf, the hero of an Anglo-Saxon poem, was one of the Scyldingas.

Beowulf was illustrious;
The fruit wide sprang
Of the posterity of the Scylde.

3 MS. Vesp. D. 14. p. 36. 120. and Wilk. Leg. Sax. 37.
4 MS. Vesp. D. 21. p. 19.
5 See vol. i. of this work.
6 Wilk. Leg. Sax. 83.
7 Polych. Higd. 3 Gale, p. 224.

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