Book 2, Chapter 2, 597 AD to 827 AD – King Egbert – Continued
Not that Egbert was the first king of England, uniting under his own rule all parts and tribes, (as some historians have fallen into the mistake of supposing, the fact being that the English monarchy, properly so called, did not begin to exist until one hundred years after the death of Egbert) but that partly by conquest, and partly by skilful negotiation and affiances, he succeeded in establishing the supremacy of the kingdom of Wessex over the other states, some of which were merged into it, while others retained a separate existence, but paid annual tribute. So was effected the practical junction of the scattered bands whose ancestors had effected separate landings on various parts of the British coast at periods ranging from two hundred and fifty to three hundred and seventy years before, and between whom there had been endless quarrels, intrigues, wars, marriages, assassinations, alliances and feuds.
Henceforth, the stream of history is less turbid, and its course will be traced by landmarks which time has not effaced. Through the gloaming of that far past, forms begin to appear by which the dress and habits of the people at that time can be somewhat determined. Towards the close of the eighth century, the costume of the females consisted chiefly of a long, loose robe, reaching down to the ground, with full sleeves. On the head was worn a hood, or veil. The hair was artificially dressed and ornamented, and necklaces, bracelets, and rings were worn, alike by men and women. The materials of the dresses were mostly linen or wool. A cap, coming to a point in front, probably made of skin, a loose robe reaching to the feet, and another robe, fastened over the shoulders on the breast, were the principal features in the dress of an Anglo Saxon gentleman of that period.
Sometimes, however, the habit was a kind of close coat, with sleeves, girded with a belt, shoes of roughly dressed skins, reaching above the ankle, a sort of breeches down to the knee, and the remainder of the leg protected by close and thick rolls of leather. The hair of the men was worn long and flowing, generally parted from the crown to the forehead, and falling in wavy ringlets, the beard was a continuation from each side, meeting at the chin, and terminating in a forked point, the upper lip being covered with a moustache. Young men and servants are often represented without beards. The heads of soldiers were covered, but workmen and even nobles mostly dispensed with hats or caps. The garments of both sexes of the upper class were often adorned with broad borders, woven or embroidered with various colours, and from the clergy being forbidden to wear such, by the council of 785, it may be inferred that a fondness for gay attire was not uncommon. Boniface inveighed against the Anglo-Saxons for their luxury in dress, and declared that those garments which were adorned with broad skirts and other ornaments, announced the coming of Anti-Christ.
The odoriferous spices of the East were used, for we read at this period of frankincense, cinnamon, pepper, and costus and like things, which may, however, have been employed mostly in connexion with public worship. The use of hot baths seems to have been as much a luxury as a necessity, and to offer one to a friend on a journey was a mark of hospitality and regard. Abstinence from their use was sometimes part of a penance, as was sleeping on the ground, and feeding upon bread, green herbs, and water.
Swine continued to be the staple article of consumption, but of fish, other kinds were in request than those of two hundred years previously, such as herrings, salmon, sturgeon, oysters, crabs, lobsters, plaice and flounders. Horseflesh had been eaten, but was going out of fashion. Wheaten bread was still scarce, that mostly made being of rye or barley. Hard drinking continued, the beverages being ales of different strength, coarse wines, and mead, which was taken out of horns, sometimes carved and mounted. Forks were unknown, but large knives and spoons were used, though the fingers were the chief instruments of feeding.
Feasts were often enlivened with music, performed either by wandering minstrels or by some of the guests. Poets, harpers, musicians, and buffoons are repeatedly referred to, and ecclesiastics were forbidden by early councils to have such in houses or monasteries. Among the amusements of the period we find jugglers with balls and knives, tame performing bears, tumbling, as is done by modern acrobats, dice playing, hunting the stag, the boar, and the wolf, falconry and fowling. There can be no doubt, however, that common labourers of modern times fare better than did even thegns of Anglo Saxon times, and the cottages of day labourers in the nineteenth century have many more conveniences than most of the habitations of that period, to instance only the comfort of a chimney.
Alcuin, the abbot, who was reproached for having ten thousand slaves or vassal peasantry at his command, lived in a habitation through the roof of which alone could the smoke find its way. Even long after the period now under review, the domestic state was far removed from comfort, as will be shown in the proper place.
Chapter 2, Ethelbert of Kent
Chapter 2, Kings Alfred and Ethelbald
Chapter 2, King Egbert
Supremacy of Wessex Established
Chapter 2, Invasion of the Northmen
Categories: Book 2