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HISTORY OF DEVIZES.
Origin of the Town. LUGH MILLER in his ‘History of Cromarty' has shewn
us what topography may become in the hand of a master; how a fascinating and instructive narrative may arise upon a basis of pre-historic legend and romantic scenery ; how the instinctive worship of the paternal hearth and the lingering fondness for early haunts, may form a not unsuitable point of departure from which to traverse the wider range of philanthropic speculation and national development. True, it is, that for elements such as Miller found on Scotland's rugged shore, we sigh in vain in central England; yet is the example of his practice not without its value: where the Dry-as-dust school merely accumulate, he invites us to select: to the exhaustive process he prefers the illustrative: and his work has in consequence become, not a mere Index Nominum et Locorum, but the fireside hand-book of all lovers of history. For any one, destitute of Miller's dramatic power, to set about imitating his form of narrative, were but an act of vain presumption. It is, therefore, a fortunate circumstance for the purpose of the present volume, that the historian of Devizes is already supplied, in a manner ready made to his hand, with all the materials of the true romance, materials widely differing, it may be, from those of sea coast adventure, yet not the less stirring in their way, and undoubtedly interlacing a far larger portion of the national annals. The story of the Castle of Devizes in the "olden time” is essentially a tale of chivalry and border warfare,—the genuine product of an iron age, whose lights and shadows are all of the sternest hue, such as contemporary monkish chroniclers half trembled to paint, though shrouded in their cells; and such as Edmund Spencer delighted to revive as a forgotten terror, bathed in the gorgeous tints of Fairy land. Independently of the fact, that to the towers of Devizes was assigned by the universal consent of the mediæval writers, an architectural pre-eminence over every other military structure in England, it may, with equal confidence be asserted, that during the reign, of one at least of the Norman princes, no spot was more crowded with adventure, or more frequently made the focus of the public gaze. The tide of battle swept around its base: its lofty halls were the scene of national convention. We find ourselves present at the midnight escalade, the flight through winter's snow, the traitor's gallows-tree, the chamber of torture, and the councils of belted earls. An Empress, a King, and a Bishop are the combatants for its possession.
But not to anticipate events, it will now be necessary to fall back for a while to the debateable ground of the town's origin. Few topographical enigmas, indeed, have more perplexed the race of antiquaries. Great part of Dr. Davies's clever work, the ‘Origines Dirisianæ,' is a pasquinade directed against the hazardous hypothesis of Stukeley, Musgrave, Wise, and others on this point:-Stukeley at one time attributing the foundation of the place to Divitiacus the Belgian hero of Cæsar's Commentaries, and at another time affecting to trace the word Devizes in Punctuobice, the name of a station in this vicinity, marked in the Itinerary of Ravennas. The latter, perhaps, was Stukeley's favourite idea, for he actually affixed the name of Punctuobice to an engraved view of the town, taken in the year 1723. Dismissing these two, we have the choice of two others, resting not so much on conjecture as on tradition. First, Fabyan's tradition, extending far down into the Anglo-Norman age, that the town was founded by Dunwallo the Briton; and secondly, the tradition surviving till the time when Walker edited Spelman’s ‘Life of Alfred the Great,' that the castle owes its origin to that monarch. Both of these may be briefly noticed.
The testimony, such as it is, which we derive from Fabyan's Chronicle, respecting the British founder of Devizes, is as follows. Moliuncius or Malmutias Dunwallo the son of Cloten, was the first crowned king of the entire realm of Britain, Anno Mundi 4747. Having vanquished all the other Dukes, he maintained an undivided sovereignty during a term of 40 years, leaving at his death two sons, his successors, Belynus and Brennus. His code of laws was translated out of British into Latin by Gildas, and into Saxon by Alfred the Great. Among his other works, the most memorable were—the planning of the four great highways of Britain,--founding a temple to Peace in Troynovant, that is New Troy, or London —and building the two towns of Malmesbury and “The Vyes.” The earliest authority for this statement is further said to be “The old Chronicle, otherwise called The English Book.”
The principal modern historian who appears to repose trust in the above account is Sir Whinstone Churchill, (father to the great Duke of Marlborough,) who wrote in the time of Charles II. In his Diri Britannici, or History of the Kings of this Isle, from A.m. 2855 to A.D. 1660, his notice of the aforesaid monarch, who, he supposes, flourished A.m. 3522, runs in the following words. “Having pretermitted the particulars of the story of Brute and the seventeen kings his successors, as things so remote and uncertain that no just measure can be taken either of the persons they lived with, or of the times they lived in, the next that appears worthy of note, is, this Malmud surnamed Dunwald, or as the English Chronicle has it 'Donebant,' who was to the Britons as Numa to the Romans, the first Lawgiver and the Chief Priest,