Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
These, volumes, it is believed, will be found to present the first connected outline of the history of Royal women prior to the Norman Conquest. Most readers are acquainted, through the medium of Miss Strickland's admirable work, with the personal memoirs of Matilda, Queen of the Conqueror, and her successors, who were united by the tie-matrimonial to our English monarchs; yet who can trace even an outline of the life of Editha the Good, her contemporary and predecessor on the throne? Of the stormy and troubled history of Queen Emma, who was wife of two kings, and mother also of two, and who first introduced her Norman countrymen into England, still less is known: nor are there to be found any connected details concerning the wives of those Saxon kings who laid the foundation of our English laws and institutions. No one has been found to go back beyond the era of the Conquest to search amid dusty and worm-eaten records for details illustrative of the vast mine of history, with all its hidden stores of wealth, from the first to the eleventh century. Investigation has commenced from a point more lucid, when Norman conquerors imposed the Doomsday Book as a lasting token of their power.
Woman, possessing, as she ever does, an all-powerful influence over the events of her day, has thrown a bright light over the dark history of the first eleven centuries of our annals, and during that period we discover a succession of important historical events which have occurred through her instrumentality. Were not Roman taste and luxury first made popular in Britain through the influence of Cartismandua, and progressively developed under subsequent female sovereigns, her successors, during the Roman domination, not the least remarkable of whom was the Empress Julia, wife of Severus? Where, in the whole history of this country, is there a page to be found more glorious than that devoted to the British St. Helena, the Empress-mother of Constantine the Great, the self-devoted wife, the patroness of Christianity, the discoverer of the true cross, the builder of churches, the mother of the oppressed,—the glorious career of whose influence has, in a thousand ways, directly and indirectly, descended to our own times with her name and history? Deeply contrasted with these incidents are those forming the groundwork of the life of Boadicea, in whom we behold an instance of the native simplicity of a Briton by birth and education: her fine womanly nature, aroused by unheard-of wrongs to revolt against tyranny and injustice, burst forth, like a torrent which deluged the whole land with blood, into that train of actions which had nearly quenched forever the power of Rome in this island. The family details of Boadicea's history, of whom much has been written, have never before appeared in connection with her life, and without the knowledge of these it is impossible fairly to appreciate the exciting details of her sufferings as woman, wife, and mother—in the delineation of her character, no fiction can arrive at the all-powerful force of simple truth.
Passing over Rowena, through whom was introduced the Saxon sway, we may remark that it was to the most excellent and pious Queen Bertha, a Frenchwoman of royal rank, that we were indebted for the primeval establishment of Christianity in Saxon Britain. That faith had, indeed, at an earlier period been introduced and cherished by royalty, but had fallen into disuse. From the time, however, when Bertha set the example, queens and princesses stood forth as the champions of the new creed: it became then fashionable to be a Christian; and that same land which had alone, through the merciful intervention of St. Helena, escaped the persecution of Dioclesian, became distinguished for examples of holy votaries to the faith of Christ. Not content with exercising every domestic and social virtue themselves, these Saxon females animated their husbands and lovers to a similar self devotion in the cause of religion. Many, indeed, of these sceptred women dedicated their whole existence to a religious state of seclusion. Then it was that kings laid aside their crowns and robes of state, and, assuming the monastic garb, at the exhortation of their royal partners, undertook pilgrimages to the Holy See, founded schools or endowed churches, which yet remain to attest their munificence. Such was the spirit which pervaded the Saxon Heptarchy, though the picture had sometimes its dark reverse, as in the characters of Quendrida and Ermenburga—and later still, the singularly beautiful and wicked Elfrida. Each of these royal ladies, whether good or bad actions marked her career, has her own appropriate niche in the annals of the past.; and possessed her peculiar influence over the times in which she lived—an influence more or less descending to our remote age, though in few does the benefit conferred on society shine more conspicuously than in that gentle and amiable queen, mother of Alfred the Great, by whose beneficent attention to the education of her sons, some of the brightest rays of light have been shed on our English literature.
Such are a few of the leading features of a period comparatively unknown, and which cannot fail, it is hoped, to prove a useful study to those who desire an introduction to the History of England; for these personal records of the wives and daughters of our early monarchs, form naturally the connecting links between many public events which would otherwise remain detached and unintelligible.
The history of British female Sovereigns before the period of the Conquest had necessarily to be drawn from chronicles which present many legendary records, and which grave writers have sometimes rejected, perhaps too unsparingly; for, as a learned translator [Benj. Thorpe, F. S. A.; Introduction to Lappenberg's Anglo-Saxons.] has observed, even legends are of value in recording the history of past times, and in them the germ of important events connected with the establishment and progress of religion may be found. But for the Sagas we should know little of the early habits of northern nations; and to more than one ballad are we indebted for an historical fact, which might otherwise have been forgotten. To the perseverance and study of recluses, who spent their whole lives in producing one work, we owe much gratitude; that they were generally guided by a spirit of truth we cannot doubt, as they were aware that their labours would become known to many a contemporary and rival in whose power it was, even at that day, to confute a writer, if he asserted more than had been handed down by tradition: at all periods there were critics as well as authors, and, as almost every monastery could boast of its learned historian, there was no want of jealous observation of the productions of their literary brethren amongst the monks who filled up their leisure with similar pursuits.
To the bards, who sang their compositions from country to country, was intrusted the sacred task of relating great events: they kept alive in their songs the valiant deeds of heroes; their lays were faithfully repeated by the scribes, who committed them to writing, and, as time wore on, chroniclers sprang up, who, by diligent study, were able to understand and explain much that had become obscure to the uninitiated. The famous Abbey of Glastonbury produced the earliest historian of Britain, who, in the middle of the sixth century, set an example, followed almost uninterruptedly in other monasteries through several ages, till the little less than miraculous invention of printing rendered learning and information easy.
Milton, our greatest and most erudite poet, did not disdain the old legends of the early chroniclers, and has preserved in his history much that it is delightful to read of, and pleasant to believe; and our immortal dramatist sought at the same sources the subjects on which to frame his glorious imaginings.
From the lays of the Welsh bards, from Gildas, and Geoffrey of Monmouth, down to the latest publications which have thrown light on the history of the early British reigns, nothing has been neglected in the work now presented to the public which might conduct to truth, and offer a clear and interesting series of records of those female Sovereigns whose lives are so much less familiar to the English reader than others of a later period, who have found able recent biographers.