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Dorset. The kingdom of Wessex, or the
The counties of Somerset. West Saxons, contained.......
The counties of į Westmorland. VERLAND contained.........
and Scotland, to the Frith of
(Essex. The kingdom of Essex, or the
The counties of
Middlesex, and EAST-Saxons, contained.... S
part of Hert
It is the practice of most historians to describe England, when divided into separate kingdoins by its Saxon conquerors, as consisting of seven states, named, (as is shewn in the above scheme of Camden) Wessex, or the kingdom of the West-Saxons ; Sussex, or the kingdom of the South-Saxons; Kent; Essex, or the kingdom of the East and Middle-Saxons; East-Anglia; Mercia; and Northumberland.
But the propriety of thus allotting to an Hectarchy the territories of the Saxons in Britain, is denied by the judicious author to whose researches every subsequent writer on this era of history must be greatly indebted. It is observed by Mr. Turner, “that, wheu all the kingdoms were settled, they formed an octarchy. Ella, supporting his invasion in Sussex, like Hen. gist in Kent, made a Saxon duarchy before the year 500. When Cerdic erected the state of Wessex, in 519, a triarchy appeared. East-Anglia made it a tetrarchy; Essex a pentarchy. The success of Ida, after 547, having established a sovereignty of Angles in Bernicia, the island beheld an hexarchy. When the northern Ella penetrated, in 560, southward of the Tees, bis kingdom of Deira produced an heptarchy. In 586, the Angles, branching from Deira into the regions south of the Humber, the state of Mercia completed an Anglo-Saxon octarchy. As the AngloSaxons warred with each other, sometimes one state was for a time absorbed by another, sometimes after an interval it emerged again. If that term ought to be used, which expresses the complete establishment of the Anglo-Saxons, it should be octarchy; if vot, then the denomination must vary as the tide of conquest fluctuated.”*
From the above stateinent of the great length of time between the foundation of the first and the last of the Anglo-Saxon petty kingdoms, it will be observed that, with the exercise of arms, as drawn forth by progressive exigencies, the Britons had gradually renewed their warlike habits. The invaders, indeed, were for many years so few in number, that the entire conquest of the island must have been an object remote from their most sanguine views of success; and the slow process of their conquests must, necessarily, have favoured the acquireinent of military science amongst the people invaded.
• Hist. of Anglo-Saxons, Vol I. p. 128. 'The reader who is desirous of further investigation, is reminded that many critical remarks on the Saxon Geography of this island are presented in dls. Whitaker's Hist. of Manchester, 4tu. edit. Vol. II. Chap. IV. &c.
Many of the Britons who had experienced, in a pre-eminent degree, a renovation of that ancient independent spirit which enabled the islanders successfully to oppose the first invasion of Cæsar, now retired into Wales; and were cleared in their hope of better days by the consoling prophecies of their bards ;-songs which still live, and cause a legendary vein to mingle with the course of genuine history. Here, they gallantly struggled to the last for possession of the soil, and displayed a skill in their courage which must have been attended with success, if exerted at an earlier period, and supported by unanimity among the other British tribes. In regard to these Cambro. Britons, it is finely observed by the author whom I have frequently quoted in late pages, that “the Cymry maintained the unequal conflict against the Anglo-Saxons with wonderful bravery, and did not lose the sovereignty of their country, until the improvements of their conquerors made the conquest a blessing."
When relieved from the desultory opposition of the great majority of the Britons, the petty Saxon kings, whose element was war, tarned their arms upon each other; and, so early as the year 568, commences a fresh series of bloodshed, still less interesting than the preceding contests between ferocious invaders and their courageous, but ill-governed opponents.
It is not requisite, in the present examination of such inarked historical eras as have a peculiar bearing on the pursuits of the topographer, that we should enter on a minute notice of the events which led to a consolidation of the Saxon octarchy under one sopreme head. Private ambition, severely afflictive in its hour of immediate action, here conduced, as has been often seen
in other states, to eventual and permanent good. Throughout the 7th and 8th centuries, the Anglo-Saxon divisions of Britain vacillated, in dreadful agitation, as to number and extent. In the former period, the mutatious were generally from an beptarchy to an hexarchy. The 8th century beheld it contracting towards a triarchy. The enterprising reigns of Ethelbald and Offa, prepared the way for superior digaity; and, in the year 800, the celebrated Egbert, destined to subdue the octarchy of the Anglo-Saxons, ascended the throne of Wessex.—Mercia and Wesses had long been greally increasing in power, and engrossing rule over the other states. Under the government of Egbert, the latter gained the entire ascendant, and the whole of England became tributary to his sceptre.*
In this stage of our brief outline of the progress of the AngloSaxon dominion, down to the date at which it shoue with the greatest lustre, and communicated lasting impressions to the laws which regulale society, and to the arts which adorn the aspect of the country, it is necessary to observe that the reign of
• The popular tale of Egbert commanding this island to be called England, and procuring himself to be crowned, and styled king of England, is said by Mr. Turner (Hist. of the Angl. Sax. Vol. I. p. 185) to be not intitled to our belief.---In support of this opinion, it is observed in the above work, that, although if such an act had taken place, the legal title of Egbert and his successors would have been Rer Anglorum, yet neither he nor his successors, till after Alfred, ever used it. All these sovereigns signed themselves kings of the West-Saxons." Egbert did not establish the monarchy of England; he asserted the predominance of Wessex over the others, whom he defeated or made tributary; but he did not incorporate East-Anglia, Mercia, or Northumbria. It was the Danish sword which destroyed these kingdoms, and, thereby, made Alfred the monarcha of the Saxons. Accordingly, Alfred is called primus monarcha by somc. But, in strict truth, the monarchy of England must not even be attributed to him; because a Danish sovereign divided the island with him. It was Athelstan, who destroyed the Danish sovereignty, who may, with the greatest propriety, be intitled primus monarche Anglorum;" and, accordingly, be is intimated as possessing that distinction, by Alured of Beverly,
Egbert is the period at which the Danes first became formidable, as piratical invaders of England.
These Northmen first landed, as cursory pirates, in the year 1787. They increased their depredations in following years; and, at length, gained so firm a footing, that they wrested the crown from its Saxon possessors. The eras succeeding to the reign of Egbert, down to the extinction of the Saxon sway, are painfully embarrassed by the wars and convulsions consequent on such an oscillation of power. But, as our object consists in a notice of the effect of each predominating nation upon the arts and manners of this country, considered as a theatre of action on which interesting wrecks still exist for topographical examination, I attend the Saxons to their plenitude of power, and leave to a future section some succinct remarks on the operations of the Danes, and the vestiges of their influence in Britain.
Although there is reason to conclude, from the remarks quoted in the preceding page, that historians have not been correct in awarding to Egbert the title of first king of all England, it is certain that, from the date of his reign, the kingdom of the West-Saxons retained an actual supremacy, highly beneficial to the interests of the country at large, and especially favourable to its advancemeut in magnificence.— The progress of those arts which adorn the soil with embellished structures, and afford the most pleasing subjects of antiquarian research, was severely ig. terrupted, in the 9th century, by the wars proceeding from frequent Danish invasions. But this era is rendered of deep interest, in every point of view, by the reign of the Great Alfred, whose wisdom and excellent taste imparted a new bias of refinement to the English, and induced consequences, interesting to every class of enquirers respecting our national and local history.
In the reign of Alfred, which commenced in 871, and terminated, after a memorable variety of fortune, in 900, or 901, we behold the rise of the Anglo-Saxon glory; and it continued in meridian splendour until the decease of Edgar. This latter sovereign died in 975.