The Government of the Germans, and that of all the northern nations, who established themselves on the ruins of Rome, was always extremely free; and those fierce people, accustomed to independance and enured to arms, were more guided by persuasion than authority, in the submission which they paid to their princes. The military despotism, which had taken place in the Roman empire, and which, previously to the irruption of those conquerors, had sunk the genius of men, and destroyed every noble principle of science and virtue, was unable to resist the vigorous efforts of a free people; and Europe, as from a new epoch, rekindled her ancient spirit, and shook off the base servitude to arbitrary will and authority, under which she had so long laboured. The free constitutions then established, however impaired by the encroachments of succeeding princes, still preserve an air of independance and legal administration, which distinguish the European nations; and if that part of the globe maintain sentiments of liberty, honour, equity, and valour superior to the rest of mankind, it owes these advantages chiefly to the seeds implanted by those generous barbarians.
The Saxons, who subdued Britain, as they enjoyed great liberty in their own country, obstinately retained that invaluable possession in their new settlement; and they imported into this island the same principles of independance, which they had inherited from their ancestors. The chieftains (for such they were, more properly than kings or princes) who commanded them in those military expeditions, still possessed a very limited authority; and as the Saxons exterminated, rather than subdued the ancient inhabitants, they were indeed transplanted into a new territory, but preserved unaltered all their civil and military institutions. The language was pure Saxon; even the names of places, which often remain while the tongue entirely changes, were almost all affixed by the conquerors; the manners and customs were wholly German; and the same picture of a fierce and bold liberty, which is drawn by the masterly pencil of Tacitus, will suit those founders of the English government. The king, so far from being invested with arbitrary power, was only considered as the first among the citizens; his authority depended more on his personal qualities than on his station; he was even so far on a level with the people, that a stated price was fixed for his head, and a legal fine was levied upon his murderer, which, though proportionate to his station, and superior to that paid for the life of a subject, was a sensible mark of his subordination to the community. >>more<<
26 April 2012
Is it time to get "Anglo-Saxon" on our politics?
To go back to the days of "pre-England", when the rival kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria slugged it out for dominance of the lands abandoned in the early 5th Century by the Romans?
The period characterised by many as the "dark ages" is sometimes credited with a level of engagement in local politics that the Electoral Commission could only dream of.
According to its admirers, Anglo-Saxon government originated in "moots", meetings - perhaps held under oak trees - where small communities thrashed out their differences.'Cattle-rustling'
If this was not conclusive, disputes moved up to the shire court and, eventually, came up for discussion at "witans", great councils involving the great and good, including the king.
It was, supporters say, a glorious time of real, grassroots government, where the concerns of the lowest in society could efficiently reach those at the top.
This created a merry consensus in direct opposition to the repression introduced by the Normans after 1066, they add.
Matthew Innes, professor of history at London's Birkbeck College, is sceptical.
He said: "There's little evidence of an Anglo-Saxon golden age. I find it really difficult to believe these things were ever really representative or democratic.
"Five people on horseback might have turned up and told their fellows that they would be killed if they didn't do what they were told."
He added: "A lot of the issues dealt with seemed to revolve around cattle-rustling.
"They used to round up posses of people to deal with the criminals in a way that's a bit reminiscent of the wild west."
The idea that the Anglo-Saxons had a superior system to any which has followed formed an important part of the inspiration for pro-democracy movements, including the 17th Century Levellers and the 19th Century Chartists.
Its influence remains.