The Chronicle of The Early Britons

The Chronicle of The Early Britons
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THERE lies in an Oxford library a certain old and jaded manuscript. It is written in medieval Welsh in an informal cursive hand, and is a 15th-century copy of a 12th-century original (now lost). Its shelfmark today is Jesus College MS LXI, but that has not always been its name. For some considerable time it went under the far more evocative name of the Tysilio Chronicle, and earlier this century a certain archaeologist made the following observation concerning it. The year was 1917, the archaeologist was Flinders Petrie, and his observation was that this manuscript was being unaccountably neglected by the scholars of his day. It was, he pointed out, perhaps the best representative of an entire group of chronicles in which are preserved certain important aspects of early British history, aspects that were not finding their way into the published notices of those whose disciplines embraced this period.

After all, he opined, it is not as if this chronicle poses any threat or particular challenge to the accepted wisdom of the day. On the contrary, it illuminates parts of early British history that are otherwise obscure, and in one or two places sheds light where before there was only complete and utter darkness. So exactly why this chronicle was so neglected in Flinders Petrie’s day, and indeed why it continues to be omitted from any serious discussion more than eighty years on, is one of those strange imponderables of life.

Doubtless there are a thousand reasons why historians pay no great heed to this ancient record, but that is no sufficient cause why it should go unread at all. Whether this passage or that is historically reliable or no are matters for scholars to wrangle over, and this they may do to their hearts’ content. Indeed, certain points of this chronicle’s historicity are considered in the appropriate chapters of After the Flood (see Appendix II). But, degrees of historicity or otherwise notwithstanding, the most important consideration of all is that our ancient forebears believed it to be a true and honest account. This is how they saw their world and the past which led them to it, and this is the literary heritage that they have taken such pains to pass down to us. For that reason alone, their work should be read and admired – yes, and studied too – and towards that end the following translation of the manuscript has been made.

I see no good reason why these ancient voices should be consigned to such oblivion when they have such a rich story to tell – a tale which weaves a veritable tapestry of kings and battles, triumphs and disasters, about which not one of us has heard at our school desks and which have waited many centuries to be told. It is a history that begins with the Fall of Troy. It tells of fortune and cunning, of heroism and cowardice, of chivalry and murder, of loyalty and betrayal. It concerns the birth of a people, the settling of an island, the succession of their kings, and the timely correction of their sins under the chastising hand of God. We hear of Romans and Saxons, of Picts, Scots and Irish, of witchery and plague, of idleness and plenty, invasion and security. Traitors, kings and tyrants walk side by side over its pages, and there can be few accounts from any age or nation that can come near to challenging this ancient chronicle either for high drama or the sheer power of its narrative.

For the reader or student who wishes to delve further into the chronicle, there are copious footnotes added which deal with points of linguistic, historical, geographical and other concerns. Some of these notes will answer questions, whilst others, it is greatly hoped, will raise them. Either way, interest and inquiry will be stimulated towards a most important yet too little known aspect of our literary heritage, and if the present translation contributes something at least towards that end, then I shall consider its job well done.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
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ENGLAND MAY BOAST of two substantial monuments of its early history; to either of which it would not be easy to find a parallel in any nation, ancient or modern. These are, the Record of Doomsday (1) and the “Saxon Chronicle” (2). The former, which is little more than a statistical survey, but contains the most authentic information relative to the descent of property and the comparative importance of the different parts of the kingdom at a very interesting period, the wisdom and liberality of the British Parliament long since deemed worthy of being printed (3) among the Public Records, by Commissioners appointed for that purpose. The other work, though not treated with absolute neglect, has not received that degree of attention which every person who feels an interest in the events and transactions of former times would naturally expect. In the first place, it has never been printed entire, from a collation of all the MSS. But of the extent of the two former editions, compared with the present, the reader may form some idea, when he is told that Professor Wheloc’s “Chronologia Anglo-Saxonica”, which was the first attempt (4) of the kind, published at Cambridge in 1644, is comprised in less than 62 folio pages, exclusive of the Latin appendix.

The improved edition by Edmund Gibson, afterwards Bishop of London, printed at Oxford in 1692, exhibits nearly four times the quantity of the former; but is very far from being the entire (5) chronicle, as the editor considered it. The text of the present edition, it was found, could not be compressed within a shorter compass than 374 pages, though the editor has suppressed many notes and illustrations, which may be thought necessary to the general reader. Some variations in the MSS. may also still remain unnoticed; partly because they were considered of little importance, and partly from an apprehension, lest the commentary, as it sometimes happens, should seem an unwieldy burthen, rather than a necessary appendage, to the text. Indeed, till the editor had made some progress in the work, he could not have imagined that so many original and authentic materials of our history still remained unpublished.

To those who are unacquainted with this monument of our national antiquities, two questions appear requisite to be answered: — “What does it contain?” and, “By whom was it written?” The indulgence of the critical antiquary is solicited, whilst we endeavour to answer, in some degree, each of these questions.

London Before The Conquest

London Before The Conquest
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OF the hundreds of books concerning London, there is not one which treats of its ancient topography as a whole. There are, it is true, a great number of studies dealing in an accurate way with details, and most of the general histories incidentally touch on questions of reconstruction. Of these, the former are, of course, the more valuable from the topographical point of view, yet even an exhaustive series of such would necessarily be inadequate for representing to us the ancient city in a comprehensive way.
In an inquiry as to the ancient state of a city, a general survey, besides bringing isolated details into due relation, may suggest new matter for consideration in regard to them, and offer fresh points of proof. For instance, the extra-mural roads were directed to the several gates, the gates governed the internal streets, while these streets ran through wards, and gave access to churches and other buildings.
The subject of London topography is such an enormous one, and the involutions of unfounded conjecture are so manifold, that an approximation to the facts can only be obtained by a critical resifting of the vast extant stores of evidence. In the present small essay I have, of course, not been able to do this in any exhaustive way; but I have for years been interested in the decipherment of the great palimpsest of London, and, in trying to realise for myself what the city was like a thousand years ago, I have in some part reconsidered the evidences. The conclusions thus reached cannot, I think, be without some general interest, although from the very nature of my plan they are presented in the form of notes on particular points, and discussions of opinions commonly held, with little attempt at unity, and none at a pictorial treatment of the subject.

History of England from The Earliest Period to The Present (Cooper)

History of England from The Earliest Period to The Present (Cooper)
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THE ancient state of Britain, under its pri­mitive inhabitants, was, as to its government, patriarchal. The island became afterwards a province, under its Roman masters. The Saxons succeeded in domination, and by de­grees established an heptarchy, or seven petty kingdoms, which were, after a short period, united under one crowned head. This power­ful sovereignty was wrested from those Saxons who were settled in Britain (properly called the ANGLO-SAXONS) by the Danes, and again from them by the Normans. At present, the form of government is that of a limited mon­archy.
The whole island was originally called AL­BION ; a name which is believed to signify a country marked by heights or eminences, or to denote the white colour of its chalk cliffs. It was at a later period denominated BRITANNIA, from the Celtic word BIRT, or BRITH, which in that language expresses any thing party-coloured, and is supposed to refer to the painted bodies of the Inhabitants ; or from the Celtic PRYDAIN, Or BRYDAIN, fair, in allusion to its beauty and fertility.
Britain appears to have been first peopled by Celtic tribes, who passed hither from Gaul. The earliest settlers, the Gaelic or Gwithelic Celts, seem to have continued their migratory course across the sea to Ireland, and were succeeded in Britain by the Cimbric Celts, or Cymri. After these followed hostile tribes of Belgic origin from the Gallic shores; who taking possession of the districts on the sea­coast, progressively encroached, with the aid of fresh parties of their countrymen, on the inland tracts of the country. The Cimbric Celts, and the more recent comers, the BRIAE, had divided the possession of the island when the Romans arrived.
The inland inhabitants were extremely nu­merous, living in cottages thatched with straw, and feeding large herds of cattle. They sub­sisted chiefly upon milk, and flesh procured by the chase. The clothes worn by them to cover any part of their bodies were usually the skins of beasts; but much of their bodies, as -the arms, legs, and thighs, were left naked, and painted blue. Their hair flowed down upon their backs and shoulders. They constantly shaved their faces, except the upper lip, where they suffered the hair to grow to an enormous length.

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 71 (David Hume)

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 71 (David Hume)
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JAMES THE SECOND.

WHILE every motive, civil and religious, concurred to alienate from the king every rank and denomination of men, it might be expected that his throne would, without delay, fall to pieces by its own weight: but such is the influence of established government; so averse are men from beginning hazardous enterprises; that, had not an attack been made from abroad, affairs might long have remained in their present delicate situation, and James might at last have prevailed in his rash and ill concerted projects.
The prince of Orange, ever since his marriage with the lady Mary, had maintained a very prudent conduct ; agreeably to that sound understanding with which he was so eminently endowed. He made it a maxim to concern himself little in English affairs, and never by any measure to disgust any of the factions, or give umbrage to the prince who filled the throne. His natural inclination, as well as his interest, led him to employ himself with assiduous industry in the transactions on the continent, and to oppose the grandeur of the French monarch, against whom he had long, both from personal and political considerations, conceived a violent animosity. By this conduct he gratified the prejudices of the whole English nation : but as he crossed the inclinations of Charles, who sought peace by compliance with France, he had much declined in the favour and affections of that monarch.

James on his accession found it so much his interest to live on good terms with the heir apparent, that he showed the prince some demonstrations of friendship ; and the prince, on his part, was not wanting in every instance of duty and regard towards the king. On Monmouth’s invasion, he immediately dispatched over six regiments of British troops, which were in the Dutch service; and he offered to take the command of the king’s forces against the rebels. How little soever he might approve of James’s administration, he always kept a total silence on the subject, and gave no countenance to those discontents which were propagated with such industry throughout the nation.

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 70 (David Hume)

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 70 (David Hume)
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JAMES THE SECOND.

THE first act of James’s reign was to assemble the privy council; where,after some praises bestowed on the memory of his predecessor, he made professions of his resolution to maintain the established government, both in church and state. Though he had been reported, he said, to have imbibed arbitrary principles, he knew that the laws of England were sufficient to make him as great a monarch as he could wish ; and he was determined never to depart from them. And as he had heretofore ventured his life in defence of the nation, he would still go as far as any man in maintaining all its just rights and liberties.

This discourse was received with great applause, not only by the council, but by the nation. The king universally passed for a man of great sincerity and great honour; and as the current of favour ran at that time for the court, men believed that his intentions were conformable to his expressions. ” We have now,” it was said, 1685. ” the word of a king; and a word never yet broken.” Addresses came from all quarters, full of duty, nay, of the most servile adulation. Every one hastened to pay court to the new monarch[1]: and James had reason to think, that, notwithstanding the violent efforts made by so potent a party for his exclusion, no throne in Europe was better established than that of England.

The king, however, in the first exercise of his authority, showed, that either he was not sincere in his professions of attachment to the laws, or that he had entertained so lofty an idea of his own legal power, that even his utmost sincerity would tend very little to secure the liberties of the people. All the customs and the greater part of the excise had been settled by parliament on the late king during life, and consequently the grant was now expired; nor had the successor any right to levy these branches of revenue. But James issued a proclamation, ordering the customs and excise to be paid as before ; and this exertion of power he would not deign to qualify by the least act or even appearance of condescension. It was proposed to him, that, in order to prevent the ill effects of any intermission in levying these duties, entries should be made, and bonds for the sums be taken from the merchants and brewers ; but the payment be suspended till the parliament should give authority to receive it. This precaution was recommended as an expression of deference to that assembly, or rather to the laws: but for that very reason, probably, it was rejected by the king ; who thought that the commons would thence be invited to assume more authority, and would regard the whole revenue

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 69 (David Hume)

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 69 (David Hume)
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CHARLES THE SECOND.

WHEN the cabal entered into the mysterious alliance with France, they took care to remove the duke of Ormond from the committee of foreign affairs; and nothing tended farther to increase the national jealousy entertained against the new measures, than to see a man of so much loyalty, as well as probity and honour, excluded from public councils. They had even so great interest with the king as to get Ormond recalled from the government of Ireland; and lord Roberts, afterwards earl of Radnor, ‘succeeded him in that important employment. Lord Berkeley succeeded Roberts; and the earl of Essex, Berkeley. At last, in the year 1677, Charles cast his eye again upon Ormond, whom he had so long neglected; and sent him over lieu tenant to Ireland. “I have done every thing,” said the king, “to disoblige that man; but it is not in my power to make him my enemy.” Ormond, during his disgrace, had never joined the malcontents, nor encouraged those clamours which, with too much reason, but often for bad purposes, were raised against the king’s measures. He even thought it his duty regularly, though with dignity, to pay his court at Whitehall ; and to prove, that his attachments were founded on gratitude, inclination, and principle, not on any temporary advantages. All the expressions which dropped from him, while neglected by the court, showed more of good humour than any prevalence of spleen and indignation. ” I can do you no service,” said he to his friends; “I have only the power left by my applications to do you some hurt.” When colonel Cary Dillon solicited him to second his pretensions for an office, and urged that he had no friends but God and his grace:” Alas! poor Cary,” replied the duke, “I pity thee: thou could not have two friends that possess less interest at court.” “I am thrown by,” said he, on another occasion, ” like an old rusty clock; yet even that neglected machine, twice in twenty-four hours, points right.”

On such occasions, when Ormond, from decency, paid his attendance at court, the king, equally ashamed to show him civility and to neglect him, was abashed and confounded. “Sir,” said the profligate Buckingham, “I wish to know whether it be the duke of Ormond that is out of favour with your majesty, or your majesty with the duke of Ormond; for, of the two, you seem the most out of countenance.”

When Charles found it his interest to show favour to the old royalists and to the church of England, Ormond, who was much revered by that whole party, could not fail of recovering, together with the government of Ireland, his former credit and authority. His administration, when lord lieutenant, corresponded to the general tenor of his life ; and tended equally to promote the interests of prince and people, of protestant and catholic. Ever firmly attached to the established religion, he was able, even during those jealous times, to escape suspicion, though he gratified not vulgar prejudices by any persecution of the popish party. He increased the revenue of Ireland to three hundred thousand pounds a year: he maintained a regular army of ten thousand men : he supported a well-disciplined militia of twenty thousand : and though the act of settlement had so far been infringed, that Catholics were permitted to live in corporate towns; they were guarded with so careful an eye, that the most timorous protestant never apprehended any danger from them.

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 68 (David Hume)

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 68 (David Hume)
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CHARLES THE SECOND.

THE king, observing that the whole nation concurred at first in the belief and prosecution of the popish plot, had found it necessary for his own safety to pretend, in all public speeches and transactions, an entire belief and acquiescence in that famous absurdity; and by this artifice he had eluded the violent and irresistible torrent of the people. When a little time and recollection, as well as the execution of the pretended conspirators, had somewhat moderated the general fury, he was now enabled to form a considerable party, devoted to the interests of the crown, and determined to oppose the pretensions of the malcontents.

In every mixed government, such as that of England, the bulk of the nation will always incline to preserve the entire frame of the constitution; but according to the various prejudices, interests, and dispositions of men, some will ever attach themselves with more passion to the regal, others to the popular part of the government. Though the king, after his restoration, had endeavoured to abolish the distinction of parties, and had chosen his ministers from among all denominations; no sooner had he lost his popularity, and exposed himself to general jealousy, than he found it necessary to court the old cavalier party, and to promise them full compensation for that neglect of which they had hitherto complained. The present emergence made it still more necessary for him to apply for their support; and there were many circumstances which determined them, at this time, to fly to the assistance of the crown, and to the protection of the royal family.

A party strongly attached to monarchy; will naturally be jealous of the right of succession, by which alone they believe stability to be preserved in the government; and a barrier fixed against the encroachments of popular assemblies. The project, openly embraced, of excluding the duke, appeared to that party a dangerous innovation: and the design, secretly projected, of advancing Mon. mouth, made them apprehensive, lest the inconveniences of a disputed succession should be propagated to all posterity. While the jealous lovers of liberty maintained, that a king, whose title depended on the parliament, would naturally be more attentive to the interests, at least to the humours of the people; the passionate admirers of monarchy considered all dependence as a degradation of kingly government, and a great step towards the establishment of a commonwealth in England.

But though his union with the political royalists brought great accession of force to the king, he derived no less support from the confederacy which he had at this time the address to form with the church of England. He represented to the ecclesiastics the great number of Presbyterians and other sectaries, who had entered into the popular party; the encouragement and favour which they met with; the loudness of their cries with regard to•popery and arbitrary power. And he made the established clergy and their adherents apprehend, that the old scheme for the abolition of prelacy as well as monarchy was revived{ and that the same miseries and oppressions awaited them, to which, during the civil wars and usurpations, they had so long been exposed.

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 67 (David Hume)

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 67 (David Hume)
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CHARLES THE SECOND.

THE English nation, ever since the 1678. fatal league with France, had entertained violent jealousies against the court ; and the subsequent measures adopted by the king had tended more to increase than cure the general prejudices. Some mysterious design was still suspected in every enterprise and profession: arbitrary power and popery were apprehended as the scope of all projects: each breath or rumour made the people start with anxiety : their enemies, they thought, were in their very bosom, and had gotten possession of their sovereign’s confidence. While in this timorous, jealous disposition, the cry of a plot all on a sudden struck their ears : they were wakened from their slumber; and like men affrightened and in the dark, took every figure for a spectre. The terror of each man became the source of terror to another. And an universal panic being diffused, reason and argument, and common sense and common humanity, lost all influence over them. From this disposition of men’s minds we are to account for the progress of the popish plot, and the credit given to it; an event which would otherwise appear prodigious and altogether inexplicable.

The Popish Plot

On the twelfth of August, one Kirby, a chemist, accosted the king as he was walking in the park: “Sir,” said he, ” keep within the company: your enemies have a design upon your life; and you may be shot in this very walk.” Being asked the reason of these strange speeches, lie said, that two men, called Grove and Pickering, had engaged to shoot the king, and sir George Wakeman, the queen’s physician, to poison him. This intelligence, he added, had been communicated to him by doctor Tongue, whom, if permitted, he would introduce to his majesty. Tongue was a divine of the church of England; a man active, restless, full of projects, void of understanding. He brought papers to the king, which contained information of a plot, and were digested into forty-three articles. The king, not having leisure to peruse them, sent them to the treasurer, Danby, and ordered the two informers to lay the business before that minister. Tongue confessed to Danby, that he himself had not drawn the papers; that they had been secretly thrust under his door ; and that, though he suspected, he did not certainly know who was the author. After a few days he returned, and told the treasurer, that his suspicions, he found, were just; and that the author of the intelligence, whom he had met twice or thrice in the street, had acknowledged the whole matter, and had given him a more particular account of the conspiracy, but desired that his name might be concealed, being apprehensive lest the papists should murder him.

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 66 (David Hume)

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 66 (David Hume)
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CHARLES THE SECOND.

OF we consider the projects of the 1674. famous cabal, it will appear hard to determine, whether the end which Schemes of those ministers pursued were more blamable and pernicious, or the means by which they were to effect it, more impolitic and imprudent. Though they might talk only of recovering or fixing the king’s authority, their intention could be no other than that of making him absolute; since it was not possible to regain or maintain, in opposition to the people, any of those powers of the crown abolished by late law or custom, without subduing the people, and rendering the royal prerogative entirely uncontrollable. Against such a scheme they might foresee that every part of the nation would declare themselves; not only the old parliamentary faction, which, though they kept not in a body, were still numerous, but even the greatest royalists, who were indeed attached to monarchy, but desired to see it limited and restrained bylaw.

1674.

It had appeared, that the present parliament, though elected during the greatest prevalence of the royal party, was yet tenacious of popular privileges, and retained a considerable jealousy of the crown, even before they had received any just ground of suspicion. The guards, therefore, together with a small army, new levied, and undisciplined, and composed too of Englishmen, were almost the only domestic resources which the king could depend on in the prosecution of these dangerous counsels.

The assistance of the French king was no doubt deemed by the cabal a considerable support in the schemes which they were forming; but it is not easily conceived that they could imagine themselves capable of directing and employing an associate of so domineering a character. They ought justly to have suspected, that it would be the sole intention of Lewis, as it evidently was his interest, to raise incurable jealousies between the king and .his people; and that he saw how much a steady uniform government in this island, whether free or absolute, would form invincible barriers to his ambition. Should his assistance be demanded; if he sent a small supply, it would serve only to enrage the people, and render the breach altogether irreparable; if he furnished a great force, sufficient to subdue the nation, there was little reason to trust his generosity with regard to the use which he would make of this advantage.