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mix mead (cunningly invented by some ancient observer of the subtle chemistry of nature), is no more than might be expected ; and though we are not certain for how many generations in this country men and women have existed willing and ready to serve as “hired servants," we do know that, for a lengthened period before hiring became the fashion, all manual labour was performed by slaves taken in battle, who were placed at the plough and at the spit, and performed, whether willingly or not we have no means of ascertaining, all the mind of their masters.
For very many years these serfs or slaves, whatever might have been the amount or the nature of their service, never lived in the same huts as their masters; and when we remember that the first Saxon church was only constructed with watlings, or hurdles interwoven with osiers or other pliable wood, we see at once that the cost of a separate domicile for the serfs would be so small, and the conveniences arising from such arrangements so great, that we are not surprised to learn that the Bondarii, the Cottarii, as well as the Villiens, lived upon their lord's land in their own hovels, waiting his wishes, and ready to perform any service he might require.
The former were bound to provide poultry, eggs, and other similar articles for their master's table, while the Cottarii, who were instructed at the expense of their lord in such handicraft as is indispensable in the country, pursued their several operations for his sole benefit.
These serfs or bondmen generally married amongst themselves, and the number of servi is registered in Doomsday Book at 26,000, in addition to which it enumerates about 184,000 Villarii, Bondarii, and Cottarii. The progress of Christianity after the Conquest contributed much to alleviate, not only the sufferings of these unhappy serfs, but also to diminish their numbers, as their manumissions were greatly promoted by the clergy, without whose assistance, indeed, we do not see how they ever could have been freed, since a cruel law declared, “Na bondman may buy or purches his libertie with his awin proper gudes or geir, because all the cautel and gudes of all bondmen are understand to be in the power and dominion of the maister, swa that without consent of his maister, he may not redeme himself out of bondage with his awin proper denires or money."
By a law of Wihtræd, it was also declared that a man who gave meat to his servants on fast days was liable to be punished in the pillory; and if the servant ate of it of his own accord, he was either fined or bound to suffer in his hide." It was no unusual thing in those days for servants to be branded, as cattle are now, with the initials of their owner, and nearly all wore a collar round their necks as a badge of servitude.
The very absurd and pernicious idea entertained by the Caledonians and ancient Britons, that any employment except that of arms was undignified and beneath the attention of free men, contributed in a great measure to prevent these unhappy men from bettering their forlorn condition. Not only did their traditions declare that the “labourers" lived despised and died unlamented, but also affirmed that the souls of such, after death, hovered in the lower regions among fens and marshes, and never mounted the winds, nor mingled with the souls of warriors in their airy halls-nay, not only were the workers despised and rejected, but the fruits of their industry were seized as lawful prey; no wonder, therefore, that labour languished, and that the most necessary and useful arts were neglected.
Even in the reign of William I., “the cottager that holdeth a cottage, or a croft or a roode land, shall do manual worke with one man every wecke in the yere for one day; and from the 1st of August shall also do all manner of other worke as the nativie do; also he shall not marry his daughter without lycence, nor make his son a priest !"
For a lengthened period, the only labour required by the lord of the manor subsisted in connexion with handicraft and agricultural pursuits; women, as servants, therefore, had no share in domestic work, from the very fact that domestic life could scarcely then be said to exist. Shepherds attended Saxon flocks, milked the ewes, made the cheese. Even the chamber of rest, which, in "* kings' palaces," contained only a bed, with thick boards, a thin covering, and stiff, hard pillows, was prepared by men (“beer-servants," as they were called); nor had women penetrated into the kitchen even at the time of the Conquest, as may be seen from the accompanying engraving, copied from the Bayeux tapestry. Tradition also tells the not improbable tale of an opulent Saxon dame, living at this period, who bequeathed her cook to one of her friends. We wonder what Soyer would have said to such a proceeding.
Our ancestors used to rise at five, break their fast at nine, * making supper their principal meal, upon which occasions the guests sat in a circle on the ground, with a little hay or grass, or the skin of some animal, under them. A low table or stool was set before each person, with the portion of meat allotted to him upon it. If any one found a difficulty in separating any part of his meat with his hands and teeth, he made use of a large knife that lay in a particular place (lacqueys were not) for the benefit of the whole company. The host and hostess, together with their children, stood behind the guests, ready to assist them to drink or anything else they might require ; and when at length (sce engraving) servants were introduced to wait at table, we see in their lowly attitudes the reverence with which they beheld their master and his friends. It is to be noticed that the cooks are here offering the meat on the spits upon which it has been cooked. The chief visitors were placed in the middle, and the next in rank on the right and left. And by the time of Canute, the ceremonies and forms of the festal board had assumed such consequence, that a person sitting out of his proper place was to be pelted from it by bones, at the discretion of the company, without the privilege of taking offence. Square tables and long benches now began to be customary, and the mistress of the house sat, as at present, at the head of the table, upon a raised platform under a canopy, and distributed the provisions to the guests, whence came the modern title of lady-i. e., læf-dien, or the server of bread. The tables were covered with fine cloths, some very costly; a cup of horn, silver, silver-gilt, or gold, was presented to each person ; other vessels were of wood, inlaid with gold; the benches and seats were carved like animals, and covered with embroidery.
The drinking customs of the Danes, and the practice of sitting and pledging each other in strong drink, produced so much quarrelling, that several Saxon and Norman laws were enacted against these customs; and it will be remembered that the singular practice of dividing bowls and tankards into stages by pegs commenced at this period. These tankards usually held two quarts, so that there
* To rise at five, to dine at nine,
Makes a man live to ninety-nine.
was a gill of ale—i. e., half a pint-Winchester measure, between each pin. The first person that drank was to empty the tankard to the first peg or pin, the second to the next pin, and so on. Peg-tankards, made of maple-wood, have been found in Derbyshire, and one is to be seen in the Ashmolean Museum. A finer specimen, of undoubted Anglo-Saxon work, formerly belonging to the Abbey of Glastonbury, is now in the possession of Lord Arundell of Wardour. It holds two quarts, and formerly had eight pegs inside, dividing the liquor into half-pints. On the lid is carved the Crucifixion, with the Virgin and St. John, one on each side of the Cross; and round the cup are carved the twelve Apostles.
Ale is mentioned in the laws of Tua, King of Wessex, who ascended the throne about the year 689. It was the favourite liquor of the Anglo-Saxons and Danes—it is constantly mentioned as one of the constituents of their feasts--and so attentive were the Saxons to its quality, that, in their time, it was the custom in the city of Chester, that any person who brewed bad ale should either be placed in a ducking-chair, or, in lieu of that punishment, should forfeit four shillings.
For several centuries, knowledge was confined to the clergy, and children gained orally what little instruction there was to be imparted; many psalms, and some books, were learned by heart; while so minute are the accounts of education of this period, that figs, grapes, nuts, almonds, apples, pears, and money are stated to have been the school rewards. Needlework, from the earliest time, has always formed an important branch in the education of women; and the work of the Anglo-Saxon ladies was soon celebrated, both in England and abroad; indeed, we are told that, a long, long time ago, women were prohibited from marrying till they had spun a regular set of bed-furniture; and ladies of rank nowise considered it derogatory to embroider the hangings of the State-bed ; in fact, the leisure hours of Saxon women (even including those of the highest rank) were chiefly spent in spinning, with this exception, that they occasionally ground corn, in hand-mills, after the custom of Eastern countries. Neither was it considered any dishonour for the lady of the house to be much among her maidens (chiefly, we presume, because they were literally they of her own household—not strangers within the gates), helping and working, in common with them, at the distaff, the loom, and the needle. The various kinds of work then practised would astonish the most industrious modern female; and many curious books of patterns were produced. It is supposed that such books were generally cut to pieces, and used by women to work upon, or transfer to their silk or cloth.
The dwellings of the higher classes appear to have been completely and, for the age, splendidly furnished ; and the walls hung with silk, richly embroidered with gold or colours—all the work of our Saxon ancestresses. Ingulphus mentions some hangings ornamented with golden birds in needlework, and a veil or curtain, upon which was represented, in embroidery, the “ Destruction of Troy." While another historian tells how a certain Saxon lady, proud of the exploits of her husband, worked, in the same fashion, the gallant actions of her spouse.
The daughters of Edward the Elder were taught to occupy themselves in this manner; and Alfred, in his will, terms the female part of his family the spindle side; and the word spinster, applied in the present day to unmarried females, had its origin in an age when the distaff really occupied a large portion of their time.
The names of many of the Anglo-Saxon women are very gentle and expressive, affording a fair hint of the high estimation in which they were held by their husbands-for instance, Wynfreda means the peace of man ; Addele is the noble wife ; Deorwyn, dear to man; Deorswythe, very dear; Winnefride, a winner or gainer of peace.
Saxon women might, until they were fifteen years of age, be married, by their father, to whomsoever he pleased ; but after that period their destiny was in their own hands. Wives could be associated with their husbands in law-suits; were possessors of land, of slaves, and of other property; they might make wills; and assumed the guardianship of their children upon the death of their husbands; and the respect paid to them, and the position they occupied, appear to have been greater, among our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, than some of the general characteristics of their state of society might have led us to expect. Women mingled indiscriminately with men at the dining-table. It was a customary and laudable practice for water to be brought to a stranger on entering any house, to wash his bands and feet; indeed, their habits of personal cleanliness deserve to be especially noted, for the advantages arising from frequent ablutions were well known—warm baths being constantly used, and held in such estimation, that the deprivation of them was inflicted by the Church as a penance, and cold bathing imposed as a mortification.
With regard to their coinage, a Saxon pound was nearly three times the weight of our present money, and there were forty-eight shillings in a pound, and five pence made a shilling; consequently, a Saxon shilling was nearly a fifth heavier than ours, and a penny three times as heavy. A sheep, by the laws of Athelstan, was estimated at 1.-. e., 1s. 3d. of our money. The fleece was two-fifths of the value of the whole sheep-much above its present estimation ; and the reason probably was, that the Saxons, like the ancients, were little acquainted with any clothing but what was made of wool. An ox was computed at six times the value of a sheep; a cow, at four. If we suppose that, from the defects in husbandry and pasturage, cattle were not so fine, or so large, as they are at present in England, we may compute that money was then of ten times greater value than it is now. A man was valued at 31.; and a father, when compelled by necessity, might deliver up his son to a state of servitude, i. e., slavery, without the child's consent; but a child above fifteen might evade this power by choosing a religious life.
A horse was valued at about 36s. of our present money, or thirty Saxon shillings; a mare at a third less. In Athelstan's time a ram was valued at a shilling, or fourpence Saxon; and tenants of Shireburn paid, according to choice, sixpence or five fat hens. From one of the Saxon chronicles we learn that, in the reign of Edward the Confessor, there was so terrible a famine that a quarter of wheat rose to sixty pennies, or 15s. of our present money; consequently it was as dear as if it cost 71. 103. Between the years 900 and 1000, Edwith bought a hide of land for about 118 shillings of our present money. This was little more than an acre, which appears to have been the usual price, as we may learn from other accounts. A hide was a common measure of land, and contained about 120 acres.
The progress of the Anglo-Saxons in the arts of design and painting was very limited. The talents of the artists varied, but none bear the impress of genius, and few even of correctness; what little art was exercised was chiefly employed in illuminating manuscripts. That the art of engraving on metals was not unknown, is proved by a jewel found in the Isle of Athelney, in Somersetshire, bearing the inscription in Saxon letters, “ Alfred commanded me to be made." This jewel is of pure gold enamelled, and on one side partly faced by crystal; the weight is somewhat more than an ounce, and the length about two inches and a half. It is of an oval form, but at the lower end is a projecting head of some sea-monster, from whose jaws issues a small tube, within which is fixed a pin of gold, intended, probably, to connect this ornament with a band or collar, when worn pendent from the neck. The edge has a purple border of a rich net or filagree work; at the inner side of the inscription is a narrow border of gold, edged with small leaves or escalops, which fasten down a thin plate of crystal. This covers a kind of outline representation of a half-length male figure, with a grave countenance, wrought upon the area within. His head is somewhat inclined to the right, and in each hand is a sceptre, or rather lily, the flowers of which rise above the shoulders, but are joined at the bottom. On the reverse of the jewel, upon a thin plate of gold (retained in its place by the purple border), on a matted ground, is a larger lily, the stalk and leaves rising from a bulbous root, and the upper part expanding into three flowers, not ungracefully disposed. The reader may be surprised at so curious a specimen of art in these early times ; but it must be recollected that Asser, in his life of that King, states that, when Alfred had secured peace to his subjects, he resolved to extend among them a knowledge of the arts, for which purpose he collected, " from many nations, an almost innumerable multitude of artificers, many of them the most expert in their respective trades."
The art of making glass was also brought into this country from the Continent (France). The founder of the Abbey of Wearmouth requiring the monastery windows glazed, caused cunning workmen to come over to Britain, and instruct his countrymen, who were, according to Bede, “ helpless and ignorant” of the manufacture of glass. So much for the state of art.
We cannot leave the Anglo-Saxons, however, without a tribute of admiration for their many and great virtues. Their talents were, by nature, far from despicable, their industry was real, and their ingenuity progressive. Their laws betray a spirit of natural equity, and their institutions were founded on notions of freedom and justice; women were respected, and children carefully educated. As a whole, their kings were brave and honest, their nobles hospitable, their women chaste, and their peasantry industrious. How many advantages we enjoy that are traceable to their influence and institutions, and probably we are not very far wrong when we say that this nation owes more to the Anglo-Saxons than to any of its other rulers and governors; for it was through their influence that the foundation was laid of nearly all that is great and honourable in the English character.
M. S. R.