The History of British Commerce/Volume 1/Chapter 2
THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD. A.D. 449—1066.
Britain, as an island, and one of the largest in the world, as well as from its nearness to the continent of Europe, would seem to have been intended by nature for the residence of a navigating and commercial people, and it might be supposed that any people who had obtained the occupation of it would be speedily turned to navigation and commerce by the natural temptations and advantages of their position. The political state of a country, however, and its social circumstances generally, as well as the condition of the rest of the world and the spirit of the time, may all be so unfavourable as long eftectually to counteract these advantages of geographical position, and even the genius and the old habits of the people themselves.
Of the successive nations that obtained possession of the south of Britain within the period of authentic history, the Gallic colonists of the time of Cæsar were in too early a stage of civilization to hold any considerable intercourse with the rest of the world; and the Romans who succeeded them, although they necessarily maintained a certain connexion both with the central and other parts of the extended empire to which they belonged, were of a stock that had always shown itself anti-commercial in genius and policy. But the Saxons, although they had not been in circumstances to turn their skill in navigation to commercial purposes, had long before their conquest of our island been accustomed to roam the seas, and were famous for their naval enterprises. We read of predatory warfare carried on by the different Germanic nations in small and light vessels on rivers, and even along the adjacent parts of the seacoast, so early as before the middle of the first century. In the year 47, as we learn from Tacitus, the Chauci, dwelling along the Batavian coast, ravaged in this manner the neighbouring coast of Gaul, under the conduct of their countryman Gannascus, who had long served in the Roman armies. It is probable that it was in the imperial service Gannascus acquired his knowledge of naval warfare, or at least the general military education which fitted him to train and command the Chauci in this expedition. In little more than twenty years after this we find the Roman fleet on the Rhine partly manned by Batavians, and even a Batavian fleet under the command of Paulus Civilis, another individual of that nation who had been educated in the Roman armies, giving battle to the naval forces of the empire. In the course of the next two hundred years the German nations generally appear to have improved upon the instruction and experience thus gained; and both the Saxons and others became distinguished for their familiarity with the sea and for their naval exploits. About the year 240 the union, under the name of Franks, of the various tribes of the Lower Rhine and the Weser laid the foundation for those more extensive predatory incursions upon the neighbouring countries, both by sea and land, by which the barbarians of the north-west first assisted those of the north-east in harassing and enfeebling the Roman empire, and afterwards secured their share in its division. One remarkable incident has generally been noted as having given a great impulse to these expeditions, what Gibbon has called "the successful rashness" of a party of Franks that had been removed by the Emperor Probus from their native settlements to the banks of the Euxine. "A fleet," to give the story as he tells it, "stationed in one of the harbours of the Euxine, fell into the hands of the Franks; and they resolved, through unknown seas, to explore their way from the mouth of the Phasis to that of the Rhine. They easily escaped through the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, and, cruising along the Mediterranean, indulged their appetite for revenge and plunder, by frequent descents on the unsuspecting shores of Asia, Greece, and Africa. The opulent city of Syracuse, in whose port the navies of Athens and Carthage had formerly been sunk, was sacked by a handful of barbarians, who massacred the greatest part of the trembling inhabitants. From the island of Sicily the Franks proceeded to the Columns of Hercules, trusted themselves to the ocean, coasted round Spain and Gaul, and, steering their triumphant course through the British Channel, at length finished their surprising voyage by landing in safety on the Batavian or Frisian shores. The example of their success, instructing their countrymen to conceive the advantages and to despise the dangers of the sea, pointed out to their enterprising spirit a new road to wealth and glory."
This event happened about the year 280. Immediately after this time we read of the commencement of ravages on the coasts of Gaul, of Belgium, and of Britain, by assailants who are called Germans by Aurelius Victor, and Saxons by Eutropius. They appear to have been a mixture of Franks and Saxons, which latter name ere long began to be also distinguished as that of another military confederacy of the Germanic nations not less powerful than the Franks. In maritime affairs, indeed, the Saxons soon took the lead; and, while the Franks pushed their conquests by land, the Saxon name became a terror to all the neighbouring sea-coasts. Yet their marine was still of the rudest description. "If the fact," says Gibbon, "were not established by the most unquestionable evidence, we should appear to abuse the credulity of our readers by the description of the vessels in which the Saxon pirates ventured to sport in the waves of the German Ocean, the British Channel, and the Bay of Biscay. The keel of their large flat-bottomed boats was framed of light timber, but the sides and upper works consisted only of wicker, with a covering of strong hides....But the daring spirit of the pirates braved the perils both of the sea and of the shore: their skill was confirmed by the habits of enterprise; the meanest of their mariners was alike capable of handling an oar, of rearing a sail, or of conducting a vessel; and the Saxons rejoiced in the appearance of a tempest, which concealed their design, and dispersed the fleets of the enemy." The Romans now found it necessary to fit out and maintain a fleet expressly for the protection of the coasts of Britain and Gaul. The command of this armament, which was stationed in the harbour of Boulogne, was given to Carausius. His revolt soon after, and his establishment of an empire for himself in Britain, where he endeavoured to maintain his power by alliances with those very nations of the north whom he had been appointed to repress, and by enlisting the barbarians both among his land and sea forces, was another event in the highest degree favourable to the progress of the Saxons in navigation and naval warfare. It was a new lesson to them both in ship-building and in tactics, which must have made their boldness and hardihood much more formidable than ever. The empire of Carausius had lasted for seven years, when it was over thrown by his death in 294.
In the next century we find the Saxons almost the acknowledged masters of the northern seas, and so constantly infesting Britain that the east coast of the island had come to be known by the name of the Saxon coast, and was strongly fortified, and put under the charge of a warden, whose especial duty it was to repel their assaults. Their defeat by Theodosius, in the neighbourhood of the Orkney Islands, in 368, for which he obtained the surname of Saxonicus, was not accomplished till the barbarians had sustained several encounters with the Roman fleet; and although it seems to have deterred them for a long time after from repeating their descents upon Britain, and although, after the example of the Franks, they were now also beginning to employ their strength more than formerly in military operations by land, they certainly did not abandon the field of their elder renown. The keels of Hengist and Horsa were cruising in the British Channel when they received the invitation of Vortigern in 449; and it was their command of the seas that, by enabling them to maintain all along a free communication with the continent, and also to make their descents upon the island at the most advantageous points, chiefly contributed to gain for the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, the possession of Britain.
These new settlers, therefore, the fathers of the future population of the country, and the founders of its political institutions and its social state, were by long use a thoroughly navigating race, and, having obtained their island stronghold, they would naturally, it might be thought, proceed both to fortify it by securing the dominion of the surrounding seas, and to make it the centre of a great commercial empire. But, although all this was to come to pass in process of time, nothing of the kind happened in the first instance; and the Saxons, after their settlement in Britain, completely neglected the sea, now more truly their proper element than ever, for so long a period, that, when they did at last apply themselves again to maritime affairs, their ancient skill and renown in that field of enterprise must have been a mere tradition, if it was so much as remembered among them at all, and could have lent no aid in directing or even in exciting their new efforts. It was not till the reign of Alfred, towards the end of the ninth century, that the Saxons of England appear ever to have thought of building a ship, at least for war; and it may be doubted if before that time they had even any trading vessels of their own. Ever since their settlement in Britain they seem to have wholly abandoned the sea to their kindred who remained in their native seats in the north of Germany and around the Baltic,—the Northmen or Danes, by whom they were destined to be succeeded in their career of rapine and conquest.
This latter race of sea-rovers had adopted a policy different from that which had been followed both by the Franks and the Saxons. These two nations, or rather great confederacies of various nations, although they had both first made themselves formidable at sea, had, as we have seen, successively abandoned that field of adventure as soon as they had entered upon the course of land conquest, or at least as soon as they had secured the possession the first of Gaul, the second of Britain, and had established their Gothic sovereignties in these fair provinces of the former western empire. But the Danes, who were also a great confederacy,—the several Scandinavian nations of the Danes, the Swedes, and the Norwegians, being all comprehended under that name,—continued to seek plunder and glory on the waters long after they had founded a multitude of kingdoms on shore. These, however, were not kingdoms carved, like the possessions of the Franks and Saxons, out of the rich and cultivated Roman territory, but were all confined to the bleak and barbarous coasts of the Baltic and the neighbouring seas, where the Romans had never been. Down to the close of the eighth century, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were each parcelled out into numerous independent principalities, the chiefs of all of which were at the same time also either sea-kings themselves, or more usually were the fathers or elder brothers of the bold piratical captains, who rejoiced in that designation; the custom being for the younger sons of the royal house to be sent to seek their fortune on the ocean, while the eldest was kept at home to inherit his ancestral throne. But the class of sae konungen, or sea-kings, otherwise called vikingr, which is supposed to mean kings of the bays, where they had their head stations, was very numerous, and comprehended many individuals who were not of royal extraction. Piracy was the common resource of the younger sons of all the best families among these Scandinavian nations; and the sea was regarded as a field whereon a bold adventurer might rear for himself a fabric both of wealth and dominion almost as stable as could be founded on the land. In the course of the ninth century in all the three countries central sovereignties had arisen, and absorbed or reduced to dependence the rest of the chieftainships; but this change did not for some time affect the free movements of the vikingr. They continued as heretofore to maintain their independence on their own element. The new state of things in the north only had the effect of giving a new direction to their enterprises. Formerly the natural prey of the sea-kings of the Baltic had been the territories of the petty land-sovereigns along the coasts of that sea; for their common origin formed no general or permanent bond between the two classes, in circumstances so nearly resembling those under which the various descriptions of wild beasts are thrown together in a forest. But now, that something of the strength of union and consolidation had been acquired by the northern kingdoms, they had become less easily assailable; and the captains of the piratical armaments began to look out for adventures and plunder farther from home. The coasts of England, of Scotland, of Ireland, and of France, became henceforth the chief scenes of their ravages. Nor had civilization yet advanced so far in any of the Scandinavian countries as to discountenance these expeditions. On the contrary, the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish kings were no doubt well pleased to see their natural enemies and the most turbulent spirits among their subjects thus finding occupation elsewhere; and, as for the popular feeling on the subject, the old national custom of roaming the seas was still universally held to be among the most honourable of employments. Navigation can be cherished and promoted only by commerce or by war; it never has flourished in the absence of the former except under the nourishment and support afforded by the latter. It was the want of both war and commerce that brought about its decay and extinction among the Franks and Saxons, after their conquests of Gaul and Britain; it was preserved among the Danes through the habits and necessities of that predatory life upon which they were thrown for some centuries by the peculiar circumstances in which they were placed. The power of this third northern confederacy grew up during a period when the spirit of foreign conquest and settlement, generated among the barbarous nations by the dismemberment of the Roman empire, was still in full vigour, but when the means of satisfying it had been taken away in consequence of the previous occupation of Gaul, of Britain, of Spain, and of all the other Roman provinces, by those whose fortune it had been to be earlier in the movement. The Danes were in this way left to the piratical maritime warfare in which they soon became so distinguished; it was the natural result of the ambition of foreign conquest checked by the want of any territory lying open for them to invade and overrun. Still this was in its nature only an intermediate and temporary resource. The instinct of aggression, which it could only imperfectly gratify, it yet fostered, and was constantly strengthening and arming with new power for the full attainment of what it sought. The Danes, under this discipline, were becoming every day more warlike and formidable, and more capable of achieving foreign conquests, whenever they should make the attempt. On the other hand, the Franks and Saxons, whom they would have to drive before them, were, in the unassailed security of their rich and ample settlements, gradually losing the use of war and the power of defending the possessions they had gained. This was the state of circumstances when the Danes commenced, in the latter part of the eighth century, their descents upon the coasts of France, England, Scotland, and Ireland. These Northmen were now merely repeating what had been done by their kindred, the Franks and Saxons, three or four centuries before. They too, from mere plundering incursions, with which they had hitherto satisfied themselves, were about to rise in their turn to the grander operations of invasion, conquest, and colonization, now that occasion presented itself, and called them to that career. This was the proper consummation of their system of sea-kingship; the true end and development of their long course of piracy and desultory warfare. That was but the impatient restlessness of the animating passion repelled, baffled, and in some sort imprisoned; this was its free and natural action. The new path of enterprise, accordingly, immediately attracted to itself all the disposable courage, activity, and resources of the North. It was not left to the sea-kings alone; the most potent of those of the land joined the great national movement, which promised to add new realms to those they already possessed, or to enable them to exchange their niggardly ancestral islets and strips of sea-coast for broader domains in a sunnier clime. By means of these expeditions the pressure and uneasiness occasioned by the opposition between the old piratical system and the new order of things that was now growing up in the Scandinavian kingdoms were at once relieved; and, while occupation and settlements were found for the more active and adventurous who chose to abandon their native country, more room was also made, and more quiet secured, for those that remained behind.
By these bold sea-captains and their crews was a great part of England taken possession of and occupied; and thus, a second time, did the country receive an accession of the kind of population most appropriate to it as an island,—a race of navigating spirit and habits. The Normans also, we may anticipate so far as just to remark, were, before they won their settlements here and in France, pirates as well as the Danes and the Saxons; in fact they were merely a division of the Danish vikingr and their companies. So that, of the several races that were eventually mingled together to form the English people, no one had to be gradually turned towards maritime affairs by the force of the new circumstances in the midst of which it was placed; all brought along with them an old familiarity with the sea, on which they had in fact lived, and conquered, and maintained dominion, before they had ever made good any footing for themselves upon land. Notwithstanding all this, however, we find each race, as soon as it has established itself in the country, almost wholly abandoning the former theatre of its exploits, and attaching itself to the land as exclusively as if the sea had been left a thousand miles behind. We cannot discover that either the previous navigating habits of the Saxons and Danes who successively settled in Britain, or the natural advantages of their new position, prompted them to any considerable efforts of commercial enterprise, after they had lost the motive which had originally impelled them to the sea. Nay, as we have already observed, the ships in which, and through which, they had made their conquests, were abandoned by them even as instruments of protection; they had served their turn in aggressive warfare, but in the defensive warfare that followed their employment was not thought of, till after long and disastrous experience of the insufficiency of other military means. Such being the case, we need not wonder that commercial navigation was neglected. The navigating spirit, in fact, will not of itself create commerce; it appears to have been usually rather the commercial spirit that has taught a people navigation, where it has not been taught by war; and even war does not teach it in the effective manner that commerce does, as we may see at once by comparing the Saxons or the Danes with the Phoenicians. The latter had no doubt been a commercial long before they became a navigating, a discovering, a colonizing, and a civilizing people. In the same manner it is their commercial habits, growing out of their permanent geographical position, and not their use and wont of maritime warfare, that has made the English, the descendants of these old Saxons and Danes, the great lords of the sea, planters of nations, and diffusers of civilization in the modern world.
But a power like this can only grow up under a favourable state of circumstances in the world generally, or throughout a large portion of it. The commercial empire of the ancient Phoenicians was reared during the most flourishing period of the early civilization of the east; the commercial empire of modern Britain has in like manner arisen in the midst of the later civilization of the west. In the rude and turbulent ages that followed the overthrow of the Roman power in Europe, the existence of an extensive commerce in any hands was impossible. Almost continual wars everywhere, either between one people and another, or between two factions of the same people, or, where there was any temporary relaxation of war, the still more brutifying effects of misgovernment and oppression, left no time, no inclination, and no means for carrying on any considerable commerce. The great mass of the people were in all countries sunk in ignorance and in poverty; their able condition hardly permitted them to aspire after the enjoyment of anything beyond the absolute necessaries of existence; they were untaught in those arts and processes of industry by which commerce is fed; there had been little or no accumulation of capital, without which there can be no extensive commerce, nor any other species of undertaking that looks much beyond the passing day. It was only by slow degrees that Europe emerged out of this condition, and that the beginnings of modern commerce were nurtured into strength and stability.
We shall now mention the most interesting of the few facts that have been preserved relating to the foreign trade carried on by the Anglo-Saxons, in their chronological order. The first distinct notice which we have upon the subject is not of earlier date than the close of the eighth century. At this time, it appears that some English commodities were carried abroad, and probably some of those of the continent brought to this country, by the devotees who went on pilgrimage to Rome, or by persons who found it convenient to make profession of being so engaged. It is not to be supposed that these pilgrimages opened the first commercial intercourse between England and the continent; but they undoubtedly made the communication much more frequent than it had been before. The practice established by the Romans, of exacting certain payments at each seaport, on the embarkation and landing of goods, appears to have been retained in all the new kingdoms formed out of the western empire; and their amount probably long remained nearly the same that had been paid under the imperial regime. Hence the name of customs, or some equivalent term, by which they were called, as if they had been dues universally and immemorially demanded. There is a letter still extant, from the French Emperor Charlemagne to Offa, king of Mercia, and Bretwalda (or chief lord of Britain), which seems to have been the result of a negociation between the two sovereigns, respecting the exaction of these duties in the case of the English pilgrims travelling to Rome. The document must be assigned to the year 795, in which Offa died, at the latest; and it may be regarded as the earliest commercial treaty on record, or perhaps that ever was entered into, between England and any other country. It runs as follows: "Charles, by the grace of God, king of the Franks and Lombards, and patrician of the Romans, to our venerable and most dear brother, Offa, king of the Mercians, greeting. First, we give thanks to Almighty God, for the sincere Catholic faith which we see so laudably expressed in your letters. Concerning the strangers, who, for the love of God and the salvation of their souls, wish to repair to the thresholds of the blessed apostles, let them travel in peace without any trouble; nevertheless, if any are found among them not in the service of religion, but in the pursuit of gain, let them pay the established duties at the proper places. We also will that merchants shall have lawful protection in our kingdom according to our command; and, if they are in any place unjustly aggrieved, let them apply to us or our judges, and we shall take care that ample justice be done to them." There is more of the letter, which it is unnecessary to quote. We gather from it that the profession of pilgrimage had already been taken advantage of as a cloak for smuggling; and, no doubt, in this way the practice gave an impulse to trade. Even the smuggler is sometimes of use; he may be the means of planting a traffic which would not have grown up without his assistance, and which, of however objectionable a character originally, may eventually assume a legitimate form, and attain to great value and importance. It is conjectured that articles in gold and silver were probably the principal commodities in which these traders from England dealt, who thus put on the guise of pilgrims with the view of cheating the custom-house of its dues. Such articles, being of small bulk, would be easily concealed in a traveller's baggage; and it appears that even at this early age the English works in gold and silver were famous over the continent. Already, it may be noted, there seem to have been Jews resident in England, and even in the northern kingdom of Northumberland; for among the Excerpts of Archbishop Egbert of York— which must have been compiled between the years 735 and 766—we find a transcript of a foreign canon, prohibiting Christians from imitating the manners of that people, or partaking of their feasts. The Jews have been the introducers or chief encouragers of foreign commerce, especially in jewellery, articles made of the precious metals, and other such luxuries, in most of the countries of modern Europe.
From this date the history of Anglo-Saxon commerce is again nearly a blank till we come down to the reign of Alfred. Of this illustrious prince it is recorded that he cultivated an intercourse with distant countries, in which he seems to have had in view the extension of commerce as well as other objects. He appears to have kept up a frequent communication with Rome; and his biographer Asser states, that he also corresponded with Abel, the patriarch of Jerusalem, who sent him several valuable presents of Oriental commodities. His embassy to the Christians in India is mentioned, not only by Malmesbury and other authorities of the next age, but by the contemporary compiler of the Saxon Chronicle, who says that Swithelm, Bishop of Shireburn, made his way to St. Thomas, and returned in safety. Malmesbury gives Sighelm as the name of the adventurous bishop, and relates that he brought back from India aromatic liquors and splendid jewels ; some of the latter, the historian says, were still remaining in the treasury of his church when he wrote, in the twelfth century. Sighelm is stated to have left England in the year 883, and to have gone in the first instance to Rome, from which he probably sailed up the Mediterranean to Alexandria, and then made his way by Bassora to the Malabar coast, where it is certain that a colony of Syrian Christians, who regarded St. Thomas as their apostle, were settled from a very early period. Asser relates that he received, on one occasion, as a present from Alfred, a robe of silk, and as much incense as a strong man could carry ; these precious commodities may have been obtained from the East.
But the interest which Alfred took in hearing of remote parts of the earth is most distinctly shown in the accounts he has himself given us of the two voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan; the first to the North Seas, the second towards the east of the Baltic. These voyages were related to Alfred by the navigators themselves; and he has inserted what they told him in his Saxon translation of the Latin History of Orosius. It has been observed that Alfred "obtained from Ohthere and Wulfstan such information of the Baltic sea with the adjacent countries, as far exceeded that of professed geographers, either before or after his time, till the route of Ohthere was retraced in the year 1553 by the English navigator Chancellor, who was supposed the original discoverer of the northern passage to Russia." Ohthere rounded the North Cape, and penetrated into the White Sea, from which he ascended a great river, which must have been the Dwina, on which Archangel now stands. Wulfstan navigated the Baltic as far as to the land of the Estum, the present Prussia. "This Eastland," says his narrative, "is very large, and there be a great many towns, and in every town there is a king; and there is a great quantity of honey and fish. The king and the richest men drink mares' milk, and the poor and the slaves drink mead. There be very many battles between them. There is no ale brewed amid the Estum, but there is mead enough." Pytheas had remarked the same abundance of honey and use of mead, among the people of this coast, twelve centuries before.
It is one of Alfred's many great merits, and titles to perpetual and grateful remembrance, that he first called into action, and gave proof of what could be achieved by the natural right arm of England—her maritime strength. The year 887, the sixth of his reign, while he was engaged in that first struggle with the northern invaders which ended so disastrously, is marked as the year in which he fitted out his first few ships. Twenty years later, in his days of prosperity and power, he built a much larger fleet, and introduced certain important improvements in the form of the vessels, which, whether suggested by his own inventive sagacity, or borrowed, as it has been conjectured they might have been, from the galleys then used in the Mediterranean, of which he had obtained models, he showed at least his usual active and inquisitive spirit in searching after, and his good sense in adopting. The Saxon Chronicler says that Alfred's ships were neither like those of the Danes nor those of the Frisians, but were made in a fashion which he himself thought would be more serviceable than that of either. They were twice as long as the aescas, as they were called, of the Northmen, and also higher than theirs; in sailing, they were swifter and less unsteady. Some of them had sixty oars, some more. Yet, notwithstanding the statements of some later writers, we have no authentic account of any attempt by Alfred to create an English mercantile marine. One of his laws only shows that merchant ships sometimes arrived in England in those days; and even this regulation regards not the cargoes of these foreign vessels, but the passengers. The only notice that has been found of the export of any English commodity in the time of Alfred, is the mention of some of the famous native breed of dogs having been sent as a present to Folk, archbishop of Rheims, in France.
By far the most remarkable and significant event in the whole history of Anglo-Saxon commerce, is the law passed in the reign of King Athelstan, in the second quarter of the tenth century, by which it was enacted that every merchant who should have made three voyages over the sea with a ship and cargo of his own should have the rank of a thane or nobleman. The liberality of this law has usually been ascribed exclusively to the enlightened judgment of Athelstan; but we are entitled to presume that it must have been also in some degree in accordance with the general feeling of the country; for, not to mention that it must have been passed with the consent of the Wittenagemot, it is unlikely that so able and prudent as well as popular a monarch as Athelstan would have attempted in regard to such a matter to do violence to public opinion, without the acquiescence and support of which the measure could have had little efficacy or success. We may take this decree conferring the honours of nobility upon commerce, therefore, as testifying not only to the liberality and wisdom of Athelstan, but also to the estimation in which commerce had already come to be held among the English people. It may be regarded as a proof that the Anglo-Saxons had never entertained much of that prejudice against the pursuits of trade, which we find so strongly manifested during the middle ages, wherever the political and social institutions were moulded upon, and fully animated by, the spirit of the feudal system. But it is especially interesting in reference to the present subject, as an indication of the growing importance of English commerce and of the public sense of that importance. From this time English fleets and ships of war come to be frequently mentioned. Athelstan assisted his nephew, Louis IV. of France, in his contest with the Emperor Otho, by sending a fleet to the coast of Flanders, to ravage the emperor's territories in that quarter. This was done in conformity with a treaty of mutual defence, which is memorable as the first of the kind that had been entered into between the two kingdoms. Edgar's navy, and also that which Ethelred fitted out by a tax upon all the lands in the kingdom to repel the Danes, make a great figure in the history of the next half century. Some accounts make Edgar's fleet to have amounted to between three and four thousand ships—a statement resembling in its style of evident hyperbole the whole history the old monkish chroniclers have given us of this king, whose lavish benefactions to the church have secured him an extraordinary return of their gratitude and laudation. Ethelred's, again, is recorded to have been the most numerous naval armament that had yet been seen in England; so that it must have surpassed that of Edgar.
Even in the disastrous reign of Ethelred, we find indications of the continued progress of trade, both coasting and foreign. In certain laws enacted by Ethelred and his Witan, at Wantage, in Berkshire, it is declared, that every smaller boat arriving at Billingsgate (so old are that landing-place and that name) should pay for toll or custom one halfpenny; a larger boat with sails, one penny; a keel, or what we should now call a hulk, four pennies; a vessel with wood, one piece of wood; a boat with fish coming to the bridge, one halfpenny, or one penny, according to her size. And from other passages of these laws, it appears that vessels were then wont to come to England from Rouen, with wine and large fish ; from Flanders, Ponthieu, Normandy, France, Hegge (an unknown place), Liege, and Nivell. Certain German merchants, called the Emperor's men, when they came with their ships, are declared to be worthy of good laws—that is, of being treated with favour; but they were to pay their dues, and were not to forestall the market to the prejudice of the citizens. The dues to be paid by the Emperor's men, who were probably the representatives of some trading company, were two grey cloths and one brown one, ten pounds of pepper, five pairs of men's gloves, and two vessels or measures (called cabillini colenni, the meaning of which is unknown) of vinegar, at Christmas, and the same again at Easter. These were probably the articles of which their cargoes usually consisted. It is also worth notice, that a meeting was held in this reign of the wise men of England and Wales for regulating the intercourse, commercial and general, between the two kingdoms; at which rates of compensation were fixed for slaves, cattle, &c., that might be stolen or injured, and it was agreed to appoint a standing tribunal, consisting of six English and six Welsh lawmen, or persons skilled in the law, to settle all disputes between individuals of the two nations.
Among many other interesting details derived from a volume of Saxon Dialogues, apparently intended for a school-book, which is preserved in the British Museum, Mr. Turner has quoted the following passage, in which the Merchant, as one of the characters introduced, gives an account of his occupation and way of life: "I say that I am useful to the king, and to ealdermen, and to the rich, and to all people. I ascend my ship with my merchandize, and sail over the sealike places, and sell my things, and buy dear things which are not produced in this land, and I bring them to you here with great danger over the sea; and sometimes I suffer shipwreck, with the loss of all my things, scarcely escaping myself." He is then asked, "What do you bring to us?" to which he answers, "Skins, silks, costly gems, and gold; various garments, pigment, wine, oil, ivory, and orichalciis (perhaps brass); copper and tin, silver, glass, and such like." The principle of all commercial dealings is distinctly enough stated in the answer to the next question,—"Will you sell your things here as you bought them there?" "I will not; because what would my labour benefit me? I will sell them here dearer than I bought them there, that I may get some profit to feed me, my wife, and children." The silks and other Oriental commodities here mentioned were usually, in all probability, obtained from Italy, or sometimes perhaps from Marseilles.
Foreign commodities can only be obtained by the exchange of other commodities produced at home. But the Anglo-Saxons had not much to export. Notwithstanding the flourishing state to which British agriculture had been raised by the Romans, there is no evidence or reason for believing that a single cargo of corn was ever exported from England during the whole of the period now under review. Although, however, there is no positive authority to establish the fact, Mr. Macpherson thinks there can be little doubt that the Flemings, the great manufacturers of fine woollen goods for the whole of Europe, carried away great quantities of English wool in this period, as we know for certain they did in the following ages. That there was an export trade in wool would seem to be indicated by the disproportionate price the fleece appears to have borne compared with the whole sheep, and also by the high price of wool. Probably also the mines of the different metals yielded something for exportation. The Abbé Raynal has mentioned, but without quoting his authority, that among the traders of different nations who resorted to the fairs established in France by King Dagobert in the seventh century, were the Saxons with the tin and lead of England; and Mr. Macpherson is of opinion that, as we know from Domesday Book that in the neighbourhood of Gloucester there were iron-works in the time of Edward the Confessor, which had probably been kept up since before the invasion of the Romans, iron, too, as well as lead and tin, may perhaps have been one of the few British exports during the Anglo-Saxon period. This writer thinks it also not impossible that mines of the precious metals may have been wrought at this time in England, and part of their produce exported, although the existence of such mines in the island is unnoticed by any historian since the beginning of the Roman dominion, with the exception of Bede. It is certain that large sums in gold and silver were raised in the country on different occasions, and much coin or bullion repeatedly carried out of it; and it appears difficult to comprehend whence all this wealth could be obtained with so few manufactures and so little exportable produce of any kind. The early eminence of the Anglo-Saxons in the art of working gold and silver may be taken as affording another presumption that, whencesoever procured, there was no want of these metals in the island. "We have undoubted proof," says Mr. Macpherson, "that the English jewellers and workers of gold and silver were eminent in their professions, and that probably as early as the beginning of the seventh century....So great was the demand for highly-finished trinkets of gold and silver, that the most capital artists of Germany resorted to England; and, moreover, the most precious specimens of foreign workmanship were imported by the merchants." On the other hand, articles in gold and silver seem to have been the chief description of manufactured goods exported from England in this period.
Among the exports from Britain during part of this period are supposed to have been horses, because one of King Athelstan's laws prohibits their being carried out of the kingdom unless they were to be given as presents. Another part of the export trade, which was probably carried on to a much greater extent, was the trade in slaves. The mission of Augustine, which effected the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, was, it may be recollected, the memorable result of the attention of Augustine's patron, Gregory, having been attracted by the appearance of a group of young Angles exposed for sale as slaves in the market-place of Rome. Afterwards several laws and ecclesiastical canons were passed prohibiting the sale of Christian slaves to Jews or Pagans. Finally it was enacted that no Christians, and no persons who had not committed some crime, should be sold out of the country. But William of Malmesbury, who wrote nearly a century after the Conquest, affirms that the practice of selling even their nearest relations had not been altogether abandoned by the people of Northumberland in his own memory. And in the contemporary biography of Wulfstan, who was Bishop of Worcester at the time of the Conquest, the following curious account is given:—"There is a sea-port town called Bristol, opposite to Ireland, into which its inhabitants make frequent voyages on account of trade. Wulfstan cured the people of this town of a most odious and inveterate custom, which they derived from their ancestors, of buying men and women in all parts of England, and exporting them to Ireland for the sake of gain. The young women they commonly got with child, and carried them to market in their pregnancy, that they might bring a better price. You might have seen with sorrow long ranks of young persons of both sexes, and of the greatest beauty, tied together with ropes, and daily exposed to sale; nor were these men ashamed, O horrid wickedness! to give up their nearest relations, nay, their own children, to slavery. Wulfstan, knowing the obstinacy of these people, sometimes stayed two months among them, preaching every Lord's Day, by which, in process of time, he made so great an impression upon their minds that they abandoned that wicked trade, and set an example to all the rest of England to do the same." But for this remarkable passage it would scarcely have been suspected that there ever was a time when the natives of England were regularly exported to be sold as slaves to the Irish. Their principal purchasers were probably the Danes, or Ostmen (that is, Eastern men), as they were called, who were at this time the dominant people in Ireland, and especially were masters of nearly the whole line of the coast opposite to Britain. They appear to have carried on a considerable commerce both with England and other countries. Chester, as well as Bristol, is particularly mentioned as one of the ports to which Irish ships were accustomed to resort about the time of the Norman Conquest. William of Malmesbury describes the inhabitants of Chester as depending in his day upon Ireland for a supply of the necessaries of life; and, in another place, he speaks of the great distress the Irish would suffer if they were deprived of their trade with England. Marten skins are mentioned in Domesday Book among the commodities brought by sea to Chester; and this appears, from other authorities, to have been one of the exports in ancient times from Ireland. Notices are also found of merchants from Ireland landing at Cambridge with cloths, and exposing their merchandise to sale. Other English ports which are noticed as possessed of ships at the time of the Conquest, or immediately before that event, are Pevensey, Romney, Hythe, Folkstone, Dover, Sandwich, Southwark, and London. Bede speaks of merchants' ships sailing to Rome; and it appears that trading-vessels sometimes joined together, and went out armed for their mutual protection.
At all the above places, and at every other seaport in the kingdom, customs seem to have been exacted upon the arrival and departure of ships and goods, both by the king and by the lord, generally called the earl or comes, whose property or under whose protection the town was; and trade was besides fettered by many restrictive regulations. At Chester, for instance, if "a ship arrived or sailed without the king's leave, she was subject to a fine of forty shillings to the king and the earl for every one of her crew. If they came against the king's express prohibition, the ship, the men, and the cargo were forfeited to the king. Ships that came in with the king's permission might sell quietly what they brought, paying at their departure to the king and the earl four pennies for every last, or load. Those that bought marten skins, however, were bound to allow the king the pre-emption of them, and, for that purpose, to show them to an officer before any were disposed of, under a penalty of forty shillings. It is possible, however, that some of these oppressive regulations may have been first imposed by the Conqueror. At the time when the account in Domesday Book was drawn up, the port of Chester yielded to the crown a revenue of forty-five pounds, and three timbres (whatever quantity that may have been) of marten skins.
Of the internal trade of England during this period we know very little. That it was on a very diminutive scale might be inferred from the single fact, that no person was allowed to buy anything above the value of twenty pennies, except within a town, and in the presence of the chief magistrate, or of two or more witnesses. Such at least is the regulation found in the laws of King Hlothaere (or Lothair) of Kent, who reigned in the seventh century. Another enactment in the same collection is, that, "if any of the people of Kent buy anything in the city of London, he must have two or three honest men, or the king's port-reve (who was the chief magistrate of the city), present at the bargain." And a third of Hlothaere's laws is—"Let none exchange one thing for another except in the presence of the sheriff, the mass priest, the lord of the manor, or some other person of undoubted veracity. If they do otherwise they shall pay a fine of thirty shillings, besides forfeiting the goods so exchanged to the lord of the manor."
These regulations were probably intended in part to prevent fraud and disputes, and they might perhaps be in some measure serviceable for that purpose in an age when writing was not in common use; but there can be no doubt that they had principally in view the protection of the revenue of the king and the lord of the manor; to each of whom, it appears from Domesday Book, a certain proportion of the price of everything sold for more than twenty pennies was paid, the one-half by the buyer, and the other by the seller. The amount here specified would prevent the rule from affecting the ordinary purchases of the people in shops, to which it must be supposed they were permitted to resort for the necessaries of life without any of these annoying formalities. The transactions to which it applied would chiefly take place at the public markets or fairs, which appear to have been established in various parts of the country, and which in all the greater towns were probably held every week. Originally the Sunday seems to have been the usual market-day; but the repeated efforts of the church at length effected the general substitution of Saturday. Besides the weekly markets, however, there were probably others of a more important kind held at greater intervals. At many of the markets, besides the duties exacted upon all sales, a toll appears to have been demanded either from every individual frequenting the market, or at least from all who brought goods to dispose of. Most of these commercial usages of the Anglo-Saxons were inherited from their predecessors the Romans.
They had also, to a certain extent, the advantage of the facilities of communication between the different parts of the country, which had been created while it was in the occupation of that great people. The four great highways appear to have received Saxon names, and they were undoubtedly maintained in use during the whole of the Saxon period, as were also, it may be presumed, most of the other roads, or streets, as they were called, with which the country was intersected in all directions. And, besides the navigable rivers, it has been supposed that artificial canals were cut in some places. A canal in Huntingdonshire, in particular, called Kingsdelf, is mentioned in the Saxon Chronicle under the year 963; and several of the boundary ramparts, erected primarily for the purposes of defence, appear to have had wide ditches, along which boats might be dragged.
The subject of the Money of the Anglo-Saxons is in some parts extremely perplexed and obscure. The different denominations of money of which mention is found, are, the pound, the mark, the mancus, the ora, the shilling, the thrimsa, the sceatta, the penny, the triens, the balding, or halfpenny, the feorthling, or farthing, and the styca, or half-farthing. Of some of these, however, we know with certainty little more than the names.
The first difficulty that occurs is in regard to which of these kinds of money were actual coins, and which were merely nominal, or money of account. Upon this part of the subject, Mr. Ruding, from whom it has received the latest as well as the most elaborate investigation, comes, though not without hesitation, to the following conclusion: "That the penny, halfpenny, farthing, and half-farthing were actual coins; as was probably the triens, which divided the penny into three equal parts; and that the mancus, the mark, the ora, the shilling, and the thrimsa, were only money of account; or, that if the mancus was ever current among the Anglo-Saxons, it was a foreign coin, and was never imitated in their mints." There is no doubt that the pound was merely money of account. The sceatta seems to have been rather a general expression for a piece of money, than the denomination either of a coin or a particular sum. Others, however, have held that the sceatta, the mancus, the shilling, the thrimsa, and perhaps also the ora, were all coins.
The next question that arises relates to the metal of which each coin was made. Mr. Ruding is of opinion, "that no evidence has yet been adduced to prove that the Anglo-Saxons struck any gold money; but that the balance of probability apparently inclines to the determination that no such money was issued from their mints." By others the mancus is supposed to have been of gold; and Mr. Turner thinks that both gold and silver were used in exchanges in an uncoined state. It is certain that mention is repeatedly made of payments in gold. It is agreed that the penny, the halfpenny, the farthing, and the triens (if that was a coin) were all of silver; and that the styca was of copper, or of that metal with an alloy. In fact, no Saxon coins have yet been discovered except some of those last mentioned. Of pennies and stycas some large hoards have been found within these few years. In April, 1817, a wooden box was turned up by a ploughman in a field near Dorking, in Surrey, which contained nearly seven hundred Saxon pennies, principally of the coinages of Ethelwulf, the son and successor of Egbert, and of Ethelbert, the father of Alfred, but partly also of those of preceding kings of Wessex, of Mercia, and of East-Anglia. Eighty-three silver coins of King Ethelred, and two of his father, King Edgar, were found in 1820, by a peasant while digging a woody field in Bolstads Socked, in Sweden, and are now deposited in the Royal Cabinet of Antiquities at Stockholm.<re>Turner's Anglo-Saxons, ii. 480.</ref> And in 1832, a brass vessel containing about eight thousand stycas, principally of the kings of Northumberland, was found at Hexham in that county. About five thousand of them were recovered from the persons into whose hands they had fallen; and a selection of about three hundred of them is now in the British Museum.
But the most important, and unfortunately also the darkest question of all, is that of the determination of the value of these several coins or denominations of money. There has been the greatest doubt and difference of opinion both as to the absolute value or weight, and as to the relative value, of nearly every one of them. Almost the only thing which is perfectly certain is, that the pound was always understood to be a full pound of silver. It appears, however, to have been not the common troy pound, but another measure, long known in Germany by the name of the Cologne pound, and used in this country as the Tower or Mint weight down to the reign of Henry VII. It was three quarters of an ounce less than the pound troy, and was equal, therefore, to only eleven ounces and a quarter troy weight, that is, to 5400 grains. Out of this amount of silver, throughout the whole Saxon period, the rule seems to have been to coin 240 silver pennies, each of which would therefore weigh 22½ of our grains. Accordingly, this is about the average weight of the Saxon pennies that have been found. Our present pound no longer means a pound of silver of any denomination; but the old relation between the pound and the penny, it will be remarked, is still preserved—the value of the pound is still 240 pence. A few passages in old writers and documents have inclined some antiquaries to suspect that the Saxons had two kinds of pennies, a greater and a less; but, on the whole, this notion does not seem to be tenable. The name of the penny in Saxon is variously written,—peneg, penig, peninc, pening, penincg, penning, and pending.
Supposing the value of the penny to have been thus ascertained, we have obtained that also of each of the inferior coins. The halfpenny, which, as existing specimens show, was also of silver, would weigh about 11¼ of our grains, and the feorthling, or farthing, about 5⅝. But no Saxon farthings have been discovered, and we do not know whether the coin was of silver or copper. The styca was of copper much alloyed,—in other words, of bronze; but, as it was the half of the farthing, its precise value would be estimated at 2-13/16 grains of silver. All the stycas that have yet been found are from the mints of the Northumbrian kings and the Archbishop of York; but the circulation of the coin appears to have been general throughout England. If there were such coins as the thrimsa and the triens, the former at least was probably of silver. The value of the thrimsa seems to have been three pennies, or 67½ grains of silver; that of the triens, the third of a penny, or 7½ grains of silver.
These conclusions, as we have intimated, are not unattended with some difficulties; but they seem, on the whole, to be tolerably well made out, and at any rate it would only embarrass the statement, without adding any information of the least interest or value for our present purpose, to enter upon a discussion of the doubts or objections that have been raised upon certain points.
One of the main hinges on which the investigation of the subject of the Saxon money turns is the question of the nature and value of the shilling.
The Norman shilling, like that of the present day, was the twentieth part of the pound, and consisted of twelve pence; and this is the scale according to which the payments in Domesday Book are commonly stated. The scill or scilling of the Saxons is the denomination of money most frequently mentioned in their laws and writings, and it appears to have been that in which sums were usually reckoned; yet no Saxon shilling has ever been found, and the different ancient accounts and computations in which it is mentioned seem to be only reconcileable upon the supposition that it was of fluctuating value. Both these facts go to support the conclusion that the shilling was not a coin, but only a denomination of money of account. At one time it appears to have contained five, and at another only four pennies; if there were not indeed two sorts of shillings circulating together of these different values. When the shilling contained five pennies its value was the forty-eighth part of the pound, or 112½ grains troy of silver; when it contained four pennies only, it was the sixtieth part of the pound, and its value was only 80 grains troy of silver. The principal evidence for there ever having been a shilling containing only four pennies is a law of Athelstan, in which 7200 shillings are distinctly stated to be equal to 120 pounds; in which case there must have been 60 shillings in each pound. But there is equally good evidence that five pennies was the value of the shilling; both before and after the time of Athelstan; and it has therefore been supposed that the shilling was depreciated by that king, and afterwards restored to its ancient value. In the laws of Canute the shilling appears clearly to be reckoned the forty-eighth part of the pound; and Ælfric, the grammarian, who wrote in this age, expressly states that there were five pennies in the shilling.
If the mancus ever was a coin, Mr. Ruding is of opinion that it became latterly merely a denomination of money of account. The commonly received etymology of the word, from the Latin manu cusum, struck with the hand (though this etymology may be doubted), would seem to favour the notion that it had been a coin at one time; but, as we find the mancus of silver mentioned as well as the mancus of gold, it must be concluded that the name came to be afterwards used as that simply of a certain sum, for it is improbable that any coin was in use of so large a size as a silver mancus would have been. The value of the mancus is stated by Ælfric to have been thirty pennies, in the same passage in which he states five pennies to have made a shilling. The mancus, therefore, contained six Saxon shillings, or was of the value of 675 grains troy of silver, being rather more than is contained in seven of our present shillings. It is observable that a gold coin, sometimes called a mancus, in other cases known by other names, circulated during the middle ages in many countries both of Europe and the East, the weight of which was 56 grains troy, which would be just about the weight of gold equivalent to thirty Saxon pennies, on the supposition, which other considerations render probable, that the relative value of gold and silver was then as twelve to one. Of this weight were the mancuses or ducats of Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and Holland, the sultani of Constantinople, the sequins of Barbary, and the sheriffs of Egypt.
The mark used to be supposed the same with the mancus, but this opinion is now quite exploded. The mark appears to have been a Danish denomination of money, and to have been introduced into this country by the Danish settlers, the first mention of it being found in the articles of agreement between Alfred and Guthrun. Some of the notices would seem to imply that, at first, the mark was accounted equivalent in value to only a hundred Saxon pennies; but it certainly came eventually to be estimated at one hundred and sixty pennies, that is, at two-thirds of the pound. Two-thirds of a pound is still the legal value of a mark. The mark, therefore, may be set down as of the value of 3600 grains troy of silver. The mark has never been supposed to be a real coin, except by those who have taken it for the same with the mancus.
The ora was also a Danish denomination, and appears to have been the eighth part of the mark. Its value, therefore, would be twenty Saxon pennies, or 450 grains troy of silver. There appears also, however, to have been an ora which was valued at only sixteen pennies. The amount of silver, 5400 troy grains, which made an Anglo-Saxon pound, is now coined into 2l. 16s. 3d. sterling. The value, therefore, of each of the Saxon coins, according to the view that has now been taken, would be as stated in the following Table. (See p. 81.)
The Saxon coins are generally sufficiently rude in workmanship; and this circumstance has been used as an argument to prove that the Saxons brought the art of coining with them to Britain from Germany, and did not acquire it by imitation of the Roman models. The earliest Saxon coin that has been appropriated is one in silver (a penny apparently, though commonly called a sceatta) of Ethelbert, king of Kent, who reigned from 561 to 616, the patron of St. Augustine. As the coin does not exhibit the usual Christian symbol of the cross, it may be presumed to have been struck before the year 597, in which Ethelbert was baptized. According to Mr. Rudling's description, "it bears on the obverse the name of the monarch, and on the reverse a rude figure, which occurs on many of the sceattae, and which is supposed to
|The Pound.—||Money of Account||equivalent to||5400||grains troy of silver, or||₤2||16||3|
|The Mancus,||ditto (probably)||675||or about||7||0||¼|
|The Greater Shilling,||ditto (probably)||112||½||or||1||2|
|The Smaller Shilling,||ditto (probably)||90||or||11||¼|
|The Thrimsa,||ditto (probably)||67||½||or||8||½|
|The Penny—||Silver Coin,||weighing||22||½||value in sterling money about||2||¾|
|The Triens,||ditto (probably)||15||or||2|
|The Farthing,||ditto (perhaps)||about||5||½||or||¾|
|The Styca—||Copper Coin,||equivalent to about||2||¾||about ⅓ of a Farthing.|
Besides the coins of their own minting, several foreign coins appear to have circulated among the Anglo-Saxons, especially the byzantine gold solidi, commonly called byzantines, or byzants, each weighing seventy-three grains troy, and being of the value of forty Saxon pennies, or (at their estimation of the relative values of gold and silver) nine shillings and fourpence-halfpenny of our present money. Thus St. Dunstan is recorded to have purchased the estate of Hindon (now Hendon), in Middlesex, from King Edgar, for 200 gold byzantines, and then to have presented it to the monks of St. Peter in Westminster. There were also silver byzantines, which, according to Camden, were valued at two shillings each. At an early period even some of the Roman imperial money might remain in use. "That gold and silver," Mr. Turner remarks, "had abounded in the island while it was possessed by the Romans and Britons, the coins that have been found at every period since, almost every year, sufficiently testify; and it was the frequency of these emerging to view which made treasure-trove an important part of our ancient laws, and which is mentioned by Alfred as one of the means of becoming wealthy."
Slaves and cattle passed also as a sort of circulating medium during this period so generally that they are spoken of as living money. Cattle, the first wealth of mankind, were probably in most countries the first money; that is to say, commodities were valued at so many cattle, and cattle were commonly given in exchange for all other things. When metal money, therefore, was first introduced, it was looked upon not as a convenient representative of commodities or property of all kinds, but only as a substitute for cattle; some of the oldest coins have the figures of cattle stamped on them; and in some languages money was actually called cattle. Thus pecus, cattle, is the origin of the Latin pecunia, money, and of our English pecuniary. The same thing is very curiously shown by the history of another still existing term, the word mulct, meaning a fine or pecuniary penalty. Mulct is a translation of the Latin mulcta, or, as it is more properly written, multa, which was an ancient Roman law-term for a fine, but which the Roman lawyers and antiquaries themselves, as we learn from Aulus Geilius, admitted to have originally meant a sheep, or rather a ram. Varro asserted that it was a Samnite word, and that the Samnites, the descendants of the old Sabines, had used it in that sense within his own recollection. It is remarkable that the original word still survives, in its original signification, in the Celtic dialects of Ireland and Scotland, in the former of which a wether is to this day molt, and in the latter mult. Hence, in fact, come the French mouton and our English mutton. The Anglo-Saxons, it would appear, although they had metallic money, had not completely passed out of the state of only commencing civilization in which cattle serve the purposes of money. A certain value seems to have been affixed by the law to horses, cows, sheep, and slaves, at which they might be seized by a creditor in payment of a debt due to him; and it is supposed that all kinds of fines, or pecuniary penances, imposed either by the state or the church, might be discharged either in dead or living money. The church, however, which, to its honour, from the first opposed itself to slavery, and greatly contributed by its systematic discouragement and resistance to put down that evil, early refused to accept of slaves instead of money in the payment of penances.
In the parts of Britain not occupied by the Saxons, it may be doubted if during the present period any metallic money was coined. No coins either of Scotland or of Wales of this antiquity have ever been found. Considering the intercourse, however, that in the later part of the period subsisted between both of these countries and England, it is impossible to suppose that, although they may not have minted any money themselves, they could be unacquainted with its use. A few of the Saxon coins probably found their way both to the Welsh and Scotch, and supplied them with a scanty circulation. The Welsh laws, indeed, show that the denominations, at least, of money were familiarly known to that people; but they seem to show, also, by the anxious minuteness with which they fix the price of almost every article that could become the subject of commerce, that a common representative of value and medium of exchange was not yet in common use. These Welsh laws, for instance, in one section, lay down the prices of cats, of all different ages, and with a most elaborate discrimination of species and properties. This may be regarded as a rude attempt to provide a substitute for barter without a coinage; but the system which it would aim at establishing is in reality anything rather than an improvement of simple, unregulated barter. The real price, or exchangeable value, of a commodity, depending as it does upon a variety of circumstances which are constantly in a state of fluctuation, is essentially a variable quantity, and we can no more fix it by a law than we can fix the wind. A law, therefore, attempting to fix it would only do injustice and mischief; it would, in so far as it was operative, merely substitute a false and unfair price of commodities for their natural and proper price.
When the prices of commodities, however, are thus settled by the law, it may be presumed that the prices assigned are those generally borne by the commodities at the time; and in this point of view the law becomes of historic value as a record of ancient prices. Thus, from one of the Saxon laws of King Ethelred we learn that in England the common prices of certain articles, about the end of the tenth century, were as follows:—
|Of a||Man, or slave||A pound||equivalent to||2||16||3||sterl.|
|Mare or colt||Twenty shillings||
|Ass or mule||Twelve shillings||
|Swine||One shil. and 3 pennies||
We are not to suppose, however, that these legal rates were always adhered to in actual sales and purchases. The prices of all commodities among the Saxons no doubt rose and fell as they do at present, and with much more suddenness and violence than now; for, in that rude period, from the scarcity of capital, and the comparatively little communication between one place and another, supplies of all kinds were necessarily much more imperfectly distributed than they now are over both time and space; and any deficiency that might, from any cause, occur, was left to press with its whole severity upon the particular moment and the local market without the greater abundance of other places or other seasons being admitted to relieve it. Comparative, though not absolute steadiness of prices, or at any rate a steady and calculable, in lieu of an irregular and jolting movement of prices, especially of those of the great necessaries of subsistence, is, on the whole, the accompaniment of an advanced civilization, the general character and result of which, indeed, may be said to be to repress irregularities of all kinds, and to bring all social processes nearer and nearer to the equability of those of mechanics. Several of the articles enumerated in the above list we find mentioned elsewhere as bearing a variety of other prices. In one case, for instance, we find a slave purchased for half a pound; in another, for an yre of gold (the amount of which is not known); in another, for three mancuses, or about a guinea; in another, for five shillings and some pence. In these purchases it is generally mentioned that, besides the price, the toll was paid. "The tolls mentioned in some of the contracts for slaves," observes Mr. Turner, "may be illustrated out of Domesday Book. In the burgh of Lewes it says that at every purchase and sale money was paid to the gerefa: for an ox, a farthing was collected; for a man, four pennies." Slaves, of course, differed very considerably from one another in real value. On the other hand, the same sum at which a sheep is here rated at the end of the tenth century appears to have been also its legal price three hundred years before. At least, in the laws of Ina, king of the West Saxons, who reigned at the close of the seventh century, a sheep with its lamb is valued at a shilling. In another of Ina's laws, the fleece alone is valued at two pennies, that is, at two-fifths of the price of the entire sheep and lamb. This high price of wool, as has been mentioned above, is accounted for on the supposition that there was some foreign trade in that commodity in the Anglo-Saxon times. By a law of Edgar, in the latter half of the tenth century, the highest price which could be taken for a weigh of wool was fixed at half a pound of silver ; " being," observes Mr. Macpherson, "if the weigh contained then, as now, 182 pounds of wool, near three-fourths of a [Saxon] penny (equivalent to nearly twopence in modern money) for a pound; a price which, as far as we are enabled to compare it with the prices of other articles, may be thought high."
Of the prices of articles, however, in the Anglo-Saxon times, with the exception of some articles of agricultural produce, we scarcely know anything. Money being then comparatively scarce, the prices of most commodities were of course much lower than they now are—that is to say, they might be purchased for a much smaller amount of money. But there is no uniform proportion between the prices of that period and those of the present day, some things being nominally dearer than they now are, as well as many others nominally cheaper. Books, for instance, were still scarcer than money; and accordingly their prices were then vastly higher than at present. It follows, that no correct estimate can be formed of the proportion generally between the value of money in those times and its value at present; for the calculation that might be true of some articles would not hold in regard to others.
- Tac. Annal. xi. 18.
- Tac. Hist. iii. 16.
- Id. V. 23.
- Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, i. 248.
- Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, i. 263.
- Macpherson, i. 265.
- Cotton MS. Tib. A. iii.
- Macpherson, i. 288.
- Hist. des Indes, ii. 4.
- Macpherson, i. 291.
- Macpherson, i. 290.
- Wharton's Anglia Sacra, ii. 258.
- See Turner, iii. 113.
- Annals of the Coinage, i. 316. (Edit. of 1819.)
- Annals of the Coinage, i. 316. (Edit. of 1819.)
- Hist. of Anglo-Saxons, ii. 470, 471.
- See account of these coins, by Taylor Combe, Esq., in the Archseologia, vol. xix. (for 1821), p. 110.
- See account of these stycas, by John Adamson, Esq., with engravings of some hundreds of them, in the Archreologia, vol. xxv. (for 1834), pp. 229-310; and vol. xxvi. (for 1836), pp. 346-8.
- Mr. Kuding is inclined to think that this was the case. See his Annals of the Coinage, i. 310.
- Complete lists of the moneyers and mints in each reign, as far as they can be recovered, are given in Ruding's elaborate and exact Annals of the Coinage, 2nd Edit. 5 vols. 8vo. and 1 4to. of Plates, Lond. 1819. On the subject of the Anglo-Saxon Coinage, the reader may also consult Bishop Fleetwood's Chronicon Preciosum, 2nd Edit. 8vo. Lond. 1745; the Introduction to Leake's Historical Account of English money from the Conquest, 2nd Edit. 8vo. Lond. 1745 (but the views of these earlier writers have been corrected in some important respects by the results of subsequent investigation): Pegge's Dissertations on some Anglo-Saxon Remains, 4to. Lond. 1756; Clarke's Connection of the Roman, Saxon, and English Coins, 4to. Lond. 1767 (both Pegge and Clarke endeavour to show that the Saxons coined gold); and Folkes's Tables of English Coins, published at the expense of the Society of Antiquaries, 4to. Lond. 1763 (in this work was announced the important discovery that the Saxon pound was the Old Tower or Cologne pound).
- Camden's Britannia, 399.
- Hist. Ang.-Sax. iii. 237.
- Thoughts on the Origin and Descent of the Gael, by James Grant, Esq., of Corrimony, 8vo. Lond. 1828, p. 145.
- See these instances collected by Mr. Turner, from Hickes and other authorities, in Hist. Ang.-Sax. iii. 90.
- Annals of Commerce, i. 288.