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Anglo-Saxon life page 2

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The psalterium, which must not be confounded with the psalterion of the thirteenth century, was a little portable harp, played either with one or both hands. After the fifth century its shape varied, and was sometimes square or triangular, and sometimes round. In the tenth century the psalterium gave place to the cithar, a name by which various stringed instruments had at first been vaguely described.

The Saxon harp was at first only a triangular cithar. Although some antiquaries have pretended to have discovered the harp among the records of Grecian, Roman, and Egyptian antiquity, there can be little doubt that its origin must be referred to the people of the North. The Gaelic etymology of the word harp may be taken as a proof of this.

The Saxon harp of the ninth century appears to have differed little from the modern instrument of that name, and the simplicity and elegance of its form had arrived nearly at perfection. The Saxon glee-men usually sang to the harp, and this instrument was also in common use among persons who did not follow the profession of minstrels. Bede tells us that, as early as the seventh century, it was customary at convivial meetings to hand a harp from one person to another; and that every one present played upon it in turn, singing a song to the music. This may be presumed to have been the case when the professional harper was not present, whose business it was to amuse the company.

The Saxons and other German nations, as well as the Normans, were strongly attached to the sports of the field. At an early period we find that hunting was considered a necessary part of the education of every man of gentle blood. Alfred the Great, before he was twelve years of age, is represented to have "excelled in all the branches of that most noble art, to which he applied with incessant labour." We are told also that Edward the Confessor, though unlike his great ancestor in every other respect, took delight to follow a pack of hounds.

The sport of hawking, or the art of training and flying of hawks for the purpose of catching other birds, is of very high -antiquity. . Cornelius Agrippa, in his treatise, "De Incertitudine Scientiarum" says that Ulysses learnt the art of falconry from the Trojans, and taught it to the Greeks, to console them for their losses in the siege of Troy. Whatever may be thought of this evidence, there is reason to believe that the art was known to the Thracians, and, probably, also to other nations of antiquity. Hawking was a recreation in high favour among the nobles of the Middle Ages, and was practised also by the clergy and by ladies. In the Bayeux tapestry Harold is represented with his hounds by his side, and a hawk in his hand, when brought before William of Normandy. Such a mode of travelling was common among the noblemen of this period. Persons of high rank rarely appeared without their hawks, and sometimes even carried them into battle. These birds were considered as the symbols of nobility, and a man who gave up his hawk was regarded as disgraced and dishonoured. The birds were trained and tended with the greatest care. To prevent them from seeing, their heads were covered with a little cap fastened behind with straps, and adorned with a plume. The falcons of princes and great nobles were known by these plumes being of the feathers of the bird of paradise. Thus armed, the birds were carried to the chase in a cage, and when it rained, were covered with an umbrella, similar to that represented above.

When the falcon became accustomed to his master, it was necessary to familiarise him to the noise of dogs and men ; and to prevent the risk of his flying away, he was trained by means of the lure, which was an imitation of a bird. On the lure was placed a small piece of warm flesh of fowl, and the falcon was taught to come and eat at the voice of the falconer. A cord was attached to the bird's leg, and the person holding the cord retired to some paces distance, while another lifted the bird's cap and set him at liberty. The falconer then called the bird, showing the lure,

These details, with the accompanying engravings, are taken from the "Livre du Roy Modus," the most ancient of all the works on hawking.

The tournament, which was the principal amusement of the Norman nobility at the time of the Conquest, was not introduced into England until the reign of Stephen, and will, therefore, be treated of hereafter. Various military exercises were, however, in existence, among which was the quintain. A staff, from which a shield was hung, was fixed in the ground, and the performer, on horseback, rode full tilt at the mark, endeavouring to strike the shield with his lance. Sometimes the quintain was the figure of a Turk or Saracen, which was placed on a pivot in such a manner that, if the horseman failed to strike it in the face, he received a severe blow from the other end of the quintain, which turned round with great velocity.

Some military sports are described by Strutt as peculiar to the young men of London in the twelfth century. At this period, also, he tells us that it was common for the young men and maidens of the city to meet for dancing and merry-making after the labours of the day, and that the city damsels played on the citherns, and kept up the dance by the light of the moon (usque imminente lua).

Many other sports were also common at this period, among which may be noticed sword and buckler play, and various games of ball.

The leisure hours of the Anglo-Saxon women were spent in spinning, or in similar employments; and the lady of the house did not disdain to be among her maids, encouraging and assisting them in their duties. Strutt relates the following account, given by Ingulphus, of Edgitha, queen to Edward the Confessor: - "I have often seen her," he says, "while I was yet a boy, when my father was at the king's palace; and as I came from school, when I have met her, she would examine me in my learning, and from grammar she would proceed to logic (which she also understood), concluding with me in the most subtle argument; then causing one of her attendant maids to present me with three or four pieces of money, I was dismissed, being sent to the larder, where I was sure to get some eatables." The simplicity of manners here described soon disappeared when the throne of England was occupied by Norman kings. The articles of costume were of great variety. A taste for gorgeous finery appears in the dress of the male sex. We read of a king's coronation garment being made of silk, woven with gold flowers; and of a cloak studded with gold and gems. The dress of the soldiers and civilians usually consisted of a close coat or tunic, reaching only to the knee, and a short cloak over the left shoulder, which buckled on the right. This cloak was often trimmed with an edging of gold. The kings and nobles also commonly wore a dress very similar to this, only richer and more elegant. In the paintings of the manuscripts, the women are usually represented in a long loose robe, reaching to the ground, and with loose sleeves, the latter sometimes hanging a yard in length. Upon the head is a hood or veil, which falls down before, and is gathered into folds round the neck and breast. The robe is of tea ornamented with broad borders of different colours.

Both men and women wore shoes, or rather slippers; the legs of the men being covered half-way up with a kind of bandage wound round, or else a straight stocking reaching above the knee. Up to the period of the Conquest, the taste for gold ornaments had increased; and massive bracelets for the arms and neck, rings for the fingers, and chains of gold were common. Among the nobility circlets of gold set with jewels were worn on the head; and belts and girdles were much admired, and were often richly ornamented.

From the paintings of some of the Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, a knowledge may be gathered of their customs at table. In the engraving of "The Anglo-Saxon Dinner Party" given below, the table is of an oval form, and covered with a cloth. Upon it, besides a knife and spoon, there are a bowl with a fish, two other dishes, and some loaves of bread. At each end of the table are two attendants upon their knees, with a dish in one hand, and in the other a spit holding a piece of meat, which they are presenting to the guests. In other drawings of the MSS. the table is of a different form; ladies are represented as present, and the two sexes are arranged apparently without any precise order.

Cups of gold and silver were used, and also of bone and wood. Horns were much used at table. A curiously carved horn of the Anglo-Saxon times is still preserved in York Cathedral. Glass vessels were little known in this country previous to the Norman Conquest. A disciple of Bede applied to Lullus, in France, to know if there was any man in that neighbourhood who could make glass vessel well; "for," said he, "we are ignorant and helpless in this art."

Of the furniture in use among the Anglo-Saxons little information-has come clown to us. Mention has already been made of hangings to be suspended on the walls of rooms, and adorned with figures of golden birds in needle work. The love of gaudy colours which prevailed at that day was apparent in the furniture as well as in the dresses of the people; and the hangings and curtains were stained with purple and various other colours. Among the benches and chairs in use, some are represented as having animals' heads at the extremities.

Candles have probably been in use from a period of high antiquity, and were certainly known in the tenth century. The Anglo-Saxon word for candlestick - candel-sticca - seems to denote that the earlier candlesticks were made of wood. At this period the candle was not placed in a socket, as at present, but fixed on a long spike.

We find mention made of a curtain, sheets, and other clothes appertaining. A pillow of straw is also mentioned. Bear-skins were sometimes used as a part of bed furniture. The engraving of a Saxon bed above given, is taken from Claud., B. 4 MSS., Brit. Museum.

The Anglo-Saxons seem to have practised great personal cleanliness. The use of the warm bath was common, for-mention is made of a nun, who, as an act of voluntary penance, washed in them only on festivals. It was also enjoined by the canons as a charitable duty to give to the poor meal, fire, fodder, bathing, bed, and clothes.

The practice of burning the dead was common at one period among the northern nations, but among the Anglo-Saxons the custom of interment has prevailed from the ! earliest times to which, the records of the monkish historians I extend. The common coffins were of wood ; those of kings and nobles were usually of stone.

At the time of the Conquest, the condition of the people in France and Normandy differed little from what it was in our own country. The nobles and higher ecclesiastics, all who possessed wealth, or were in a position to seize it by force, inhabited their cashes and country houses, where they collected about them whatever the age could afford of objects of luxury and elegance. Solitude and discouragement reigned around their dwellings. Industry and the arts languished obscurely in the towns, and commerce, restrained in, its developments, was often conducted in secrecy and danger. The merchant was compelled to travel with his goods from the castle of one baron to that of another, and, living without a fixed residence or depot for them, he might by this means escape from the exactions of the nobles, who, in fact, were to some extent dependent upon his services. Frequently the baron would cause some of his serfs to learn the mechanical arts, so that the several labours of the carpenter, the armourer, the tailor, &c., might be available at once when required.

From an early period, the Franks of noble race wore long hair and beards, and the custom of Christian priests was the same until the third and fourth centuries. In the time of Charlemagne the costume was still simple - part Roman and part barbarous. The Franks piqued themselves upon their elegance; of which an example may be found in the journey of Rigontha, daughter of Chilperic, to visit the king of the Spanish Goths, to whom she was betrothed. "Rigontha, daughter of Chilperic, arrived at Tours with her treasures. Seeing that she had reached the frontier of the Goths, she began to retard her march, and so much the more because those about her said it was necessary for her to stop in that neighbourhood, because they were fatigued with the journey; their clothes were dirty, their shoes worn out, and the harness of their horses and chariots in a bad condition. They insisted that it was necessary, first, to place these things in good order, so as to continue the journey, and appear with elegance before their lady's future husband, lest, if they arrived badly equipped among the Goths, they should be laughed at." (Gregory of Tours.)

The Normans, who arrived with their short dresses and coats of mail, and became established in France about 972. adopted the costume of the French, which they followed in all its phases; and in the following century they began to introduce the fashions of the Continent into England. At the time of the Conquest, however, the custom generally prevailed among the Normans of shaving not only the beard, but the back of the head, as appears from the figures in the Bayeux tapestry.

In the tenth and eleventh centuries the costume of the higher classes usually consisted of a long tunic, confined by a girdle, over which was a large cloak. The soldiers wore a short coat of mail over a tunic, which descended to the knees; their arms comprised the long-bow, the cross-bow, the sword, lance, buckler, and gisarme. The gisarme is said to be the weapon called the brown bill by Chaucer. It was in general use in the twelfth century, and was retained as late as the battle of Flodden.

The costume of the women of Normandy consisted of a simple head-dress, with long robes girded about the waist. In paintings of this period the hair is seldom seen, but the manner in which it was worn appears to have varied. Sometimes it is represented as gathered tightly about the head, and sometimes it descends in long plaits upon the shoulders. Princesses and ladies of rank wore a robe of ermine, or a tunic either with or without sleeves; a veil was also added, which covered the head, and descended in folds over the bosom.

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