The Process of Governing

Book 2, Chapter 3, 827 AD to 857 AD – The Witenagemot – Continued


Only here and there, when the witan were themselves not unanimous, do we find any traces of dissensions arising out of a disputed succession. On every fresh accession, the great compact between the king and the people was literally, as well as symbolically, renewed, and the technical expression for ascending the throne is being “gecoren and ahafen to cyninge, elected and raised to be king, where the ahafen refers to the old Teutonic custom of what we still at election times call chairing the successful candidate, and the gecoren denotes the positive and foregone conclusion of a real election.

 To quote the judicious remarks of Sir J. Macintosh, (Cab. Cycl. History i. 72.) “Governments are not framed after a model, but all their parts and powers grow out of occasional acts, prompted by some urgent expediency, or some private interests, which in the course of time coalesce, and harden into usage, and this bundle of usages is the object of respect, and the guide of conduct, long before it is embodied, defined, and enforced in written laws. Government may be, in some degree, reduced to a system, but it cannot flow from it. It is not like a machine, or a building which may be constructed entirely, and according to a previous plan, by the art and labour of man.

It is better illustrated by comparison with vegetables, or even animals, which may be, in a very high degree, ,improved by skill and care, which may be grievously injured by neglect or destroyed by violence, but which cannot be produced by human contrivance. A government can, indeed, be no more than a mere draught or scheme of rule, when it is not composed of habits of obedience on the part of the people, and of a habitual exercise of certain portions of authority by the individuals or bodies who constitute the sovereign power. These habits, like all others, can only be formed by repeated acts, they cannot be suddenly infused by the lawgiver, nor can they immediately follow the most perfect conviction of their propriety. Many causes having more power over the human mind than written law, it is extremely difficult, from the more perusal of a written scheme of government, to foretell what it will prove in action.

There may be governments so bad that it is justifiable to destroy them, and to trust to the probability that a better government will grow in their stead. But as the rise of a worse is also possible, so terrible a peril is never to be incurred except in the case of a tyranny which it is impossible to reform. It may be necessary to burn a forest containing much useful timber, but giving shelter to beasts of prey, who are formidable to an infant colony in its neighbourhood, when the colony is of too vast an extent to be gradually and safely thinned by their inadequate labour. It is fit, however, that they should be apprised, before they take an irreparable step, how little it is possible to foresee whether the earth, stripped of its vegetation, shall become an unprofitable desert or a pestilential marsh.”

Chapter 3, Egbert

Character of Egbert

Repeated Incursions by the Danes

Succeeded by Ethelwulf

His Pilgrimage to Rome

Revolt under Ethelbald, and Division of the kingdom

Chapter 3, The Clergy and The Monasteries

Assumed Origin of Tithes

Condition of the Monks and Clergy

Archbishop Theodore

Venerable Bede

Chapter 3, The Witenagemot

Origin and Powers of the Witenagemot

The Witenagemot

Nature of the kingly Dignity

The Process of Governing


Categories: Book 2

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