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PREFACE TO EDWIN THE FAIR.
MR. TURNER'S learned and elaborate work has done much to make the Anglo-Saxon times better known than they were formerly, and we have ceased to regard them as antecedent to the dawn of civilization amongst us, or as destitute of the spiritual and chivalric features by which in reality some of the subsequent centuries (though not those immediately subsequent) were less distinguished than they. Of the dark ages, in this country, the tenth century was hardly so dark as the fifteenth; and if the aspects of each could be distinctly traced, the civil wars of the Anglo-Saxons would probably excite a deeper interest than struggles such as those of the houses of York and Lancaster, in which there was no religious and hardly any political principle at stake. Indeed though the three centuries which preceded the Conquest were on the whole less enlightened than the three which followed it, yet the Anglo-Saxon times furnish examples of both the Hero and the Scholar which the Norman can hardly match; and perhaps the real distinction between the periods is, that amongst the Anglo-Saxons learning and ignorance and rudeness and refinement co-existed in stronger
But even when Anglo-Saxon history was less read and otherwise understood than it is now, some interest was always felt in the reign of Edwin the Fair. There was left
to us little more than the outline of a tragic story in some parts, indeed, even less-for here and there the outline itself is broken and wavering; but the little that was known was romantic enough to have impressed itself upon the popular mind, and the tale of "Edwy and Elgiva" had been current in the nursery long before it came to be studied as an historical question.
Edwin's contemporaneous annalists, being Monks, were his natural enemies; and their enmity is sufficiently apparent in their writings. But notwithstanding all their efforts and all the influence which the monastic orders undoubtedly possessed over the English populace of the tenth century, there is reason to think that the interest taken in Edwin's story may have dated from his own times. His name having been supplanted by its diminutive "Edwy," seems to indicate a sentiment of tenderness and pity as popularly connected with him from the first; and his surname of "The All-Fair" (given him, says the Monk Ingulphus, "pro nimiâ pulchritudine"), may be construed as a farther indication that the success of the monastic faction in decrying him with the people was not so complete as the merely political events of his reign might lead us to suppose.
Whilst the details of his story are left, with one or two exceptions, to our imagination, the main course of the struggle in which he was engaged represents in strong and vivid colours the spirit of the times. It was a spirit which exercises human nature in its highest faculties and deepest feelings the spirit of religious enthusiasm; a spirit which never fails to produce great men and to give an impulse to the mind of a nation; but one which commonly passes into a spirit of ecclesiastic discord, and which cannot then be cast out without tearing the body. In the tenth century it vented itself in a war of religious opinion.
The monastic orders-in this country at least-were then in the ascetic and fanatical stage of their existence; and the wisdom of this world at Rome, profiting by the enthusiasm
of these distant regions, in which the Pope had more honour than in his own country, was engaged in the endeavour to fasten the obligation of celibacy upon the Secular Clergy, thereby reducing the whole Church into a more compact and orderly subservience to its Head. The Regulars afforded their zealous co-operation for they naturally grudged to their Secular brethren the liberty which they had denied to themselves; and for their own rule of life they had adopted, in its fullest rigour, the maxim of St. Augustine" Malum est mulierem videre, pejus alloqui, pessimum tangere." This question of clerical celibacy, therefore, became one of the great sources of divisions in the Church.
The growing influence and uncompromising spirit of the monastic orders had been regarded by successive Kings, sometimes with favour, and sometimes with jealousy and fear; and according as one side or the other was uppermost, Seculars were ejected from their benefices and monasteries established; or Monks were ejected from the monasteries and Seculars restored. But upon the whole, the fanatical party had been gaining ground for more than a century; and in the reign immediately preceding that of Edwin, monasteries had been multiplied throughout the land.
From this state of things, danger arose to the country in more ways than one. First, there was the weakness from internal divisions; and next, there was the exhaustion of the King's revenues in the building and maintenance of monasteries instead of ships and military defences. The Danes saw their advantage, and after sixty years' remission of hostilities, they descended once more upon the British coast. A monastery was more easily stormed than a castle, and yielded a richer recompence; and the prayer of the Anglo-Saxon liturgy for deliverance "a furore Northmannorum" brought no help to those who had renounced the duty of helping themselves. Thus the Regulars had
hardly triumphed over the Seculars before the latter were revenged by the Danes.
I have taken the liberty of choosing from amongst the accounts of the reign given by its earliest historians, where they conflict, those which were most characteristic, whether or not they might have the best claim to be considered authentic. In the accounts of the earlier ages of a country, perhaps the truth of history is to be sought, less in the accuracy of the record, than in the nature and character of the events recorded and the manner of recording them; and the generalizations from the facts of such histories may be just, whether the facts be truly stated or not, provided only they be such facts as might probably and naturally have occurred in such times. The first decade of Livy's History has been proved of late years to be for the most part fabulous ; but the fables are characteristic of the times, and the "Discorsi" of Machiavel, generalizing from them, have lost little or nothing of their value. To take an example from the subject of my drama, William of Malmesbury relates of Edwin, "Nam et Malmesburiense cœnobium, plusquam ducentis septuaginta annis a Monachis inhabitatum, clericorum stabulum fecit." Whether it be true or not, that the monastery at Malmesbury had been established for more than 270 years, and that Edwin ejected the Monks and put Secular Clergy in their place, we derive from the relation the knowledge that such was the sort of event by which that age was agitated, and we learn also the spirit in which such an occupation of a monastery was regarded by a Monk.
OF THE SECULAR PARTY.
EDWIN THE FAIR, King of England.
EARL ATHULF, Cousin to the King and Brother to Elgiva.
EARL SIDROC, a Leader of the King's Party.
WULFSTAN THE WISE, Chaplain to Earl Leolf.
GRIMBALD, the King's Jester.
RICOLA, a Secular Priest, Chaplain to the King.
OSCAR, a follower of Leolf.
OF THE MONASTIC PARTY.
ODO SEVERUS, Archbishop of Canterbury.
DUNSTAN, Abbot of Glastonbury.
HARCATHER, a Military Leader and Governor of Chester Castle.
RUOLD, Son of Harcather.
BRIDFERTH, Chaplain to Dunstan.
SIGERIC, Secretary to Odo.
GURMO, a creature of Dunstan.
Ceolwulf, Æthelric, Eadbald, Ida, Brand, Ecfrid, Gorf, Tosty, etc., Military Leaders.
Leofwyn, Fridstan, Oswald, Ethelwald, Cumba, Godredud, Morcar, Monn, etc., Ecclesiastics.