Sunday, July 26, 2009

Eadwine's Later Conquests

Eadwine's over-lordship had been gained with as little difficulty as Æthelberht's had been. The ease with which each of them carried out their purpose can only be explained by the change which had taken place in the condition of the English. The small bodies of conquerors which had landed at different parts of the coast had been interested to a man in the defence of the lands which they had seized. Every freeman had been ready to come forward to defend the soil which his tribe had gained. After tribe had been joined to tribe, and still more after kingdom had been joined to kingdom, there were large numbers who ceased to have any interest in resisting the Welsh on what was, as far as they were concerned, a distant frontier. Thus, when Ceawlin was fighting to extend the West Saxon frontiers in the valley of the Severn, it mattered little to a man whose own allotted land lay on the banks of the Southampton Water whether or not his English kinsmen won lands from the Welsh near Bath or Gloucester.

The first result of this change was that the king's war-band formed a far greater proportion of his military force than it had formed originally. There was still the obligation upon the whole body of the freemen to take arms, but it was an obligation which had become more difficult to fulfil, and it must often have happened that very few freemen took part in a battle except the local levies concerned in defending their own immediate neighbourhood. A military change of this kind would account for the undoubted fact that the further the English conquest penetrated to the west the less destructive it was of British life. The thegns, or warriors personally attached to the king, did not want to plough and reap with their own hands. They would be far better pleased to spare the lives of the conquered and to compel them to labour. Every step in advance was marked by a proportionately larger Welsh element in the population.

1 comment:

  1. I can't help but notice that for all this is a History of England, you use the British flag. The Cross of St George is the flag of England and the Union flag only came into use about 1606, with the current version coming in 1801.

    Good reading though.