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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LIX. - Musing without Method


To keep strongly the unity of a nation which had, as has been the case with most States of the world, arisen out of the co-mingling of various races, with various race traditions, predilections, and proclivities, a common national designation is scarcely less of importance than one central Government: One flag, a common State language permitting of the continuance of sectional languages older than itself, common laws, and as much sameness of standards of faith and morals as full religious liberty will permit.

The Romans knew the two islands which form our United Kingdom as Britannia Major and Britannia Minor the Greater Britain and the Lesser Britain. On the coins is put the inscription, King or Queen "of the Britains." But, unfortunately, the documentary and legislative formula is King or Queen "of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." This want of a common designation has accentuated the sea severance and all the other causes by which Irish discontent and feelings of alienation, carefully fostered by professional agitators and disloyal conspirators, have so long been kept in active operation. The laudable suggestion of the inscription on the coins has proved abortive, be- cause effect has not been given to it in the two Treaties of Union. The kingdom of the British Isles was the common designation it suggested. The Irish, I believe, never recognised the Roman title of the Lesser Britain as a proper one for their country, but they would certainly have been less offended by the irrepressible arrogance of the "predominant partner" if that style of co-partnership had been adopted, and more heard of the British Government, the British Parliament, the British Army, the British Navy, and less, of the English Government, the English Parliament, the English Army, and the English Navy. Even Lord Palmerston, in the great speech in which he so splendidly defended his conduct of foreign affairs, boasted that he was "the Minister of England." As for the late Lord Salisbury, he was on this matter a constant offender, who did not see that he was giving offence to Scotchmen, Irishmen, and Welshmen, who had in war and peace done somewhat more than their proportionate share in building up the British Empire.

The project of an incorporating union between England and Scotland was entertained and discussed for a hundred years before it was accomplished. One name had to be found for the united countries, and choice lay between reviving the old name of Albion or adopting that of Great Britain. The Romans had made the name of Britain familiar to literature and the whole civilised world of their own and after- times. Albion was only kept in memory by the Picts of Galloway and the people, their race relations, north of the Friths of Forth and Clyde, whom the Romans had never conquered. At the Northallerton Battle of the Standard, which King David of Scotland fought for his niece, Matilda, and her son, Henry Plantagenet a battle which he disastrously lost the Gallowegians rushed fiercely at their foes shouting "Albannaich! Albannaich!" Their compatriots north of the friths called their country Alba, or Albyn, and that is the only name which Gaelic-speaking people have yet for all Scotland. Like England, Scotland received its present name in a curiously-indirect way. The Welsh retained the name of Britain, and so did the Britons of Strathclyde, who called their capital on the cliff of the Clyde, Dun Breatunn (Dumbarton) the Britain stronghold.

In all the Celtic tongues of these islands, and, I think, in the Breton language also, the Angles are put aside, and only the Saxons and Norse are recognised. England is named Saxonland, the English people are Sasunnaich or Saxons, and their language is called Beurla, which is a word of doubtful character. Now, when one comes to think of it, the Celtic words agree with the actual facts, and it does seem curious that England and English are words which disagree with these facts. What had the East Anglicans to do with the work of consolidation? Was it not by the West Saxon kings and people that the Heptarchy was swept into a united Saxon kingdom? The adoption by the West Saxons of the Anglican names for themselves, their language, the kingdom they had formed out of the unruly Heptarchy, is indeed passing strange. Perhaps the Church founded by St Augustine, which had its head-quarters in Kent, and its second seat of power and influence at York, had something to do with the self-abnegation of the West Saxons. The legend ran, and it bears every mark of being a perfectly true one, that good Pope Gregory the Great, when a young man and as yet only a deacon, saw one day in the market place of Rome youths of fair hair, fair skin, and blue eyes, bound as captives, to be sold into slavery, and that, struck by their beauty, he asked who they were and from what country they had come, and was told they were Angli, or Angles, and had come from a part of Britain than called Deira. On hearing this he remarked they should not be called Angles but Angels, and plucked from the wrath of God by faith in Christ. We do not hear that he succeeded in rescuing the captives and converting them, but, when Pope, he remembered the fair Angli, who should be angels, and, in 596, sent St Augustine and holy monks to convert the pagans of the newly formed Saxon kingdom.

Those who go to the West Riding expecting to find most of the people there proving Saxon descent by bearing in their personal appearance the description of the Germans given by Tacitus in his Germania, the Pope Gregory story, and the statements of many later writers, will be, as I was myself, surprised to find that the predominant type is that of medium-sized, well-built, energetic, dark or brown-haired, and dark-blue or brown-eyed people. Those with milk-white skins, light-blue eyes, and fair hair, or the hair tinged with red, which, when touched with the sun's rays, flashes into gold, can be found indeed, but are comparatively few in number, and do not always belong to the native stock. On the eastern seaboard and in the southern counties, the modern representatives of the Germans of Tacitus, and of Pope Gregory's angel-like Angles from Deira, are, however, far more numerous. Mercia, the latest-founded of the Heptarchy kingdoms, had plenty of internal troubles, but, being inland, was less frequently visited and ravaged by invaders from the sea than the regions to the east and south of it. Being hilly and presumably in former days much-wooded, its inhabitants could better defend themselves and escape being killed, or captured to be enslaved, or forced to flee away from their native district to seek asylum elsewhere. The district called Elmet appears to have retained a sort of independence during the Heptarchy period, and after England had been united under the West Saxon monarchy. Elmet included Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, and probably extended at times far up Craven. Loidis in Elmet was its chief town, and those who speak the ancestral dialect call Leeds Loids to the present day.

Whether Elmet was finally conquered by force of arms, or absorbed by infiltration and necessities of common defence against outside invaders, is not clearly known, but the fact is undoubted that long before the turmoils at the end of the tenth and in the early part of the eleventh century the Saxons had imposed their ruling supremacy and their language, laws, and institutions up in Elmet as on all the rest of Mercia, and that the whole population of this great internal region had laid aside past inter-racial hostilities, and learned to think of them- selves as Englishmen and to act together as one people. By the co-mingling of Saxons, Ancient Britons, and Romans, a blend was produced which accounts for the characteristics, physical and mental, of the natives of the West Hiding as a whole, and of those of the Elmet district especially. They combine the best qualities of all the races from which they have sprung.

William the Conqueror, burdened with many other cares and heavy undertakings, would gladly have left the North of England for a while alone if Edwin and Morkere, the Saxon Earls of Mercia, had not made an untimely revolt. Their outbreak caused him to march north through the middle of England with an army composed of both Normans and Englishmen. The rebels yielded, but a second outbreak led to the occupation of York and the thorough subjection of Mercia and Northumbria. William's son, Rufus, conquered Cumberland, and before the Conqueror's youngest son Henry's reign ended, the West Riding, like most of the rest of England, was placed under Norman barons. Ilbert de Lacy, Lord of Pontefract, had Bradford and its district, which stretched along the hills as far as Haworth. Another Norman baron built a castle at Bingley, and ruled over that neighbourhood. Robert de Romeli or Romily ruled Craven and Upper Wharfedale from his rock stronghold at Skipton. They had their day, these Norman barons, who were good war captains, capable organisers, but rapacious local despots, who, in a singular manner, joined refinement with cruelty, while each of them made himself as much as he could a despot king in his own domain. All of them were ever seeking, as a ruling clan, to extort more and more of feudal right from their sovereigns. So it required all the exceptional talents of the Conqueror, the ferocity of Rufus, and the statesmanship of Henry to keep them in order. If the best that can truly be said of Rufus is that he was a strong beast of a ruler, whose beastly forcibleness overawed the rebellious, rapacious and, on their own domains, the brutally despotic Norman barons, who had to be rewarded out of the spoils of England, and never were satisfied with what they had got, it cannot be disputed that William the Conqueror and his youngest son, Henry I., were far-seeing statesmen', who wanted to establish orderly national and local institutions upon a perfected feudal system, which would bind rulers by mutual responsibilities upon graded classification and fixed law. Out of the conflicts between the Norman baronage and their sovereigns English liberty slowly evolved, and the English people again raised their heads, after having learned much from their Norman masters and much profited by what they had learned, and likewise unlearned, in the school of adversity.

I do not think there were many places in all England in which the oppressiveness of the Norman barons was less heavy and less lasting than in the district between Low Moor and the upper end of Craven, the district with which I am chiefly concerned in this part of my miscellaneous scribblings The Norman lords of Pontefract do not appear to have ever had a castle or residence of any sort in the Bradford part of their possessions. As they were absentees who had urgent need of all their foreign retainers at Pontefract, the probability is that almost from the beginning and all through they made trusted natives their deputies in the Bradford district. There are no persons bearing their name in the district now. In fact as far as record evidence goes, there were never, four centuries ago, any De Lacy's there. The Bingley barons of two lines Le Bruns and Paganels, if I rightly remember did not add, as far as can be ascertained, people of their name and lineage as a new element to the native and permanent population. The line of Robert Romily soon ended in a female heiress, Alice Homily, who married the Scotchman, William Fitz-Duncan. Rombold's Moor is called after Robert Romily. In regard to place-names the Normans made no great innovation. Domesday Book proves they took and perpetuated the place-names as the Saxons had left them, and only imposed Norman names on a few castles, halls, and forests of their own making. The Teutonic and, in a less degree, Scandinavian invaders changed place-names wherever they went, took possession, and established authority. This was no doubt partly due to race-pride, but it seems to have been more largely owing to invincible linguistic conservatism. Even yet the English people are behind other nations in learning foreign languages. Their Saxon ancestors would use no language at all but their own, excepting their scholars who learned Latin. The Saxons effaced as far as they possibly could the British and Roman place-names they found in England, and when they could not wholly deface an old name, they usually masked it beyond easy recognition. Who can easily discern Eboracum under its York mask? Gastra, the Roman camp or great military centre, is more discernible in the Chesters, with Saxon caps on their heads, such as Manchester. In the district with which I am chiefly concerned, there was a junction Roman station where the great Roman road from the south by Otley Chevin to York was joined by the cross- country road from the west coast, but the old Roman name of that station is not easily recognisable in the Ilkley to which the Saxons degraded it. Of the many ancient British place-names which have in this district been similarly maltreated, Craven has suffered the least damage. Craven in Gaelic would be Craig-bhan or White-rock-land. It takes its designation from the limestone rocks with which it abounds. Penygherit and Penistone, while retaining the Celtic 'ben,' in Cymric 'pen' get spoiled tails. Farther north the Pennine chain which separates the waters which flow east from those which flow west, mean a chain of hills with pointed or ben tops. In Gaelic 'pen' would be 'beinn,' but in Cymric 'p' takes the place of 'b.' It is a far cry from Westmoreland to the Alps, but the Pennine Alps and the North of England Pennines have exactly the same meaning. When a proper search is made into the disguised and transformed place - names of the Mercian hill districts, perhaps some good guess can be made as to what was the language of the Brigantes, and whether they belonged to the Cymric or Gaelic Celts, or were something between the two. Their colony in Ireland, mapped by Ptolemy, became Gaelic-speakers before St. Patrick's time, but as all the Celtic races quickly caught up new languages, that Gaelic-speaking in Ireland is no proof at all to us of what division of the Celtic race the Brigantes belonged, and what Celtic dialect was spoken in Mercia. Although Norman French was for three hundred years the language of their rulers, the English people with characteristic, stolid, and patriotic conservatism refused to learn it, and so in the end made Englishmen of the descendants of their former haughty foreign conquerors and oppressors.

When David, King of Scotland, invaded England in 1138, with all his forces, to support his niece Matilda's cause against King Stephen and his supporters, his nephew, William Fitz-Duncan, and his wife, Alice Homily, held Skipton Castle, and had probably openly espoused Stephen's cause, since David's host, on their inarch to meet defeat at Northallerton, committed ravages and sacrileges in Craven, which caused such remorse to pious David that he afterwards sent a silver chalice to every Craven church as a sign of his penitence and as an expiation offering. William Fitz-Duncan was his nephew, and had he chosen to assert his claim to the throne of Scotland he might have been his formid- able rival. William's father was that eldest son of Malcolm-Ceannmor who as Duncan II. reigned over Scotland for two years. The legitimacy of William's birth was never challenged, but that of his father- was. The children of Malcolm by his Saxon queen, Margaret, and their descendants saw to it that Duncan, in chronicles and documents written after his death, should be called nothus or bastard. Malcolm was seemingly a widower when he first saw the Saxon princess who became his second wife, and the mother of the three sons who were kings afterwards. Malcolm's first wife was the widow, or as some suppose the daughter, of his cousin, Thorfinn. According to our present law the marriage was perfectly legal, and the issue of it, Duncan II., was legitimate. But it seems that a flaw was found in it by the new Margaretan clergy, which suited the second wife's family, and the clergy too, by declaring the first marriage null and void, and setting Malcolm's eldest son aside as one of illegitimate birth. It was on "Tanistry" or eldest prince of the blood ground something like the Turkish law that Donald Ban claimed a right to succeed his brother Malcolm. Duncan's claim was that of legitimately born eldest son of Malcolm. William, son of Duncan, had been married in Scotland, and left children there before he went to England and married the great Norman heiress, Alice Homily. Descendants of William MacWilliams as well as descendants of Donald Ban, gave many and long- continued troubles to the kings of the Queen Margaret line. Succession to the Scotch and English thrones had gone far off the straight lines when David led the forces of Scotland into England to support the cause of his Norman niece, Matilda, against Stephen, and never mentioned the undisputable fact that on his uncle, Edgar Atheling's death, he had himself become the sole legitimate heir to Alfred's throne and dynasty. When his West of Scotland levies, on the march to Northallerton, passed the rock of Skip ton, in the fortress on the top of it dwelt his nephew, William, the son of Duncan, who had, as far as can be now judged, a better right than himself to the throne of Scotland. As for the hilly route followed by the Scotch western levies, it was the one which, no doubt, their ancestors used for their invasions in Roman days, whenever they had the opportunity, and it was the one that their after race always used down to the union of the crowns. It was a route on which they could not be well attacked by mail-clad horsemen. The Scots Were always defeated in heavy cavalry and in mail-clad fighting. That deficiency was the cause of their defeat in the battle at Northallerton. William Fitz-Duncan and Alice Homily's only child was the Boy of Egremont, who was called so because he was born at Egremont, near Liverpool. The Boy was his mother's darling, and the heir to very extensive estates. Some contemporary writer, quoted by Palgrave, hinted that there was an obscure conspiracy among a party of the Norman barons to nominate him as their candidate for the throne during the struggle between Stephen and Matilda. If so, the project was put an end to by his early and tragic death. But as he had no hereditary right, as far as is known, of any kind to the English throne, the story is in the highest degree improbable. The Augustiniau Canons, who as early as 1121 had a monastic house at Embsay, were the Boy's teachers, and he was accompanied by one or more of them when he went one day with dogs on leash to hunt in Barden Forest, and was drowned when jumping the Strid. I easily jumped the Strid myself, both back and forward, but would certainly have no dogs on leash when doing so. The Strid is a narrow channel with jagged edges, and with, at the lower end, rock points and boulders, cut through the rock bed of the river. When the Wharfe is moderately low most of the water rushes foaming and madly singing through this channel, which is very much like a mill lead made by Nature's hand. The Boy was drowned, and the monk who had to take the sad news to his mother, according to tradition but it is likely they both spoke in Norman French began by asking the bereaved lady "What is good for a bootless bene?" meaning a prayer which had not been answered, and she, quickly realising the great calamity which had fallen upon her, replied "Endless sorrow." This is truly a pathetic story of a bright youth of great expectations suddenly cut off in his teens, and of a poor mother, no longer young, plunged by his death into endless sorrow. The sorrowing mother turned to religion as her only source of consolation, and built Bolton Priory, which it has long been the local habit to erroneously call Bolton Abbey, as the Boy's monument. So the Augustinian Canons, keeping their house and lands at Embsay, and getting much of new land, erected the fine buildings and church on the fair Bolton field. Although it was a priory and not an abbey, it had territorial possessions large enough for any abbey.

The lordship of Skipton having passed through severe vicissitudes, reverted to the Crown, and was given by Edward II. to his favourite, Piers Gaveston, who was not long able to keep it. Then the Cliffords got it, and although they now and then lost it, always regained it, and kept it until the last Earl of Cumberland died, and it passed to a female heiress, the Countess of Pembroke, and afterwards to the Earls of Thanet, the last of whom left his own Kent property and the large Clifford estates in Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Craven, to his illegitimate son, Richard Charles Tufton, who was created a baronet in 1857. As for the plunder of the priory, it went by marriage with an heiress first to an Irish nobleman, and then by a similar marriage came to the Cavendish family, and is in possession of the Duke of Devonshire to this day. The priory church, which was a grand one, is partly in ruins and partly in use as a parish church. The other monastic buildings have all perished except the gate-house, which, with additions, has been made into a lodge for use by the Duke and his party in the shooting season. What was the gateway with a fine arch in the monk's time is now the central hall of the transformed building.


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