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deluded priest and people shouted for joy that another mortal had been received into the ranks and number of the stars.
As the Druids were the priests, so likewise were they the judges. No cause, ecclesiastical or civil, was tried in any other court than theirs; and the judgment of the archDruid, after consulting with his subordinates, was deemed definitive; there was no appeal—his word was law. Thus the supreme power was in the hands of the priesthood: "they slew whom they would; and whom they would they saved alive." The influence they possessed over the minds of the entire nation was immense: their sway was universal —their rule despotic.
Matters were in this state in the year B.C. 55, when Julius Caesar crossed over from Gaul and landed upon the shores of Britain, ostensibly for the purpose of collecting pearls, virtually in order to subdue this nursery and hot-bed of Druidism, which constantly fomented the spirit of rebellion in the conquered province of Gaul. After the subjugation of the kingdom, Wednesbury, with its natural advantages, in all probability, would not be overlooked by the Romans; and from the fact of the great military road of Ikneild Street running within a few miles, and from the further fact of coin, bearing the impress of Nero, Vespasian, and Trajan, having been discovered in the parish, this probability amounts to a moral certainty.
The Romans, after a hard struggle with the persevering natives, were finally compelled to evacuate the Island* leaving a party behind them in favour of their rule. Between this party and the patriotic British a civil war arose, in which the latter, under the leadership of Vortigern, were worsted; but recovering somewhat, however, from the
effects of their defeat, they determined to call to their assistance the Saxons, a warlike people who lived in the north of Germany, and the Jutes and Angles, who inhabited Denmark. The Saxons having thus obtained a footing in the country proceeded to subjugate it to their sway—a process which required 150 years to accomplish, whereupon England was divided into seven portions, viz.": Kent, Northumberland, East Anglia, Mercia, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex. Mercia, in which Wednesbury was situated, comprehended all the midland counties, and formed the largest if not the most powerful division of the Heptarchy.
The Saxons, equally alive with the Romans to the commanding position of certain situations, were not likely to overlook the martial advantages of Wednesbury. This is fully proved by the origin of the name itself,—Wednesbury being derived from the compound Wodens-beorg*— "Woden" being the Saxon God of War, and "beorg" signifying a hill or mountain, or otherwise from "burg," which signifies a fortified place. This is further confirmed by the researches of an eminent antiquarianf who states "that the Saxons were extremely partial to the Roman foundations in Britain, to which, when they occupied them, they gave the appellation of " burgh," implying in its primitive signification a " place of strength." The Saxon " burgs" or towns were of royal creation . . . and defended with walls or castles;" and we find from Doomsday Book that Wednesbury, previous to the Norman Conquest, belonged to the Saxon monarchs.
On referring to the few remaining Anglo-Saxon chronicles, and through the kindness of a celebrated Saxon linguist,^ (the originals having been carefully searched) we are
* Vide Marsh, vol. ii., p. 405. + Hinderwell: History of Scarboro'.
} The Bev. Dr. Giles.
enabled to trace the earlier history of Wednesbury to about 400 years before the Norman Conquest, or about 1180 years from the present time. Therein we read, that in the year 591 or 592, a battle having been fought at " Wodnesbeorg," between Ceawlin, the ambitious King of Wessex, and the Britons, there was a great slaughter, which resulted in the defeat of the former, who died shortly after, and was succeeded by his nephew Ceolric. Also in the year 715, Ina, King of Wessex, fought with Ceolrid, King of Mercia, at "Wothnesbeorg," when the battle was undecided. Towards the end of the Heptarchy (which prevailed from about the year 585 to 800) the Danes, who were then a nation of pirates, invaded the kingdom for the purpose of plunder, and committed dreadful ravages. They repeated their invasions from time to time, until they became masters of the kingdom, when three of their princes were numbered among the sovereigns of England.
When Edward the Elder ascended the throne, the country was almost equally divided between the English and the Danes. Ethelred, Earl of Mercia, and the Princess Ethelfleda, his wife (the daughter of our Great Alfred,) were of eminent service to the king in prosecuting the war in which he was engaged, (A D. 903), by making head against the Mercian Danes, and preventing the Welsh from coming to their aid. Ethelward, who laid claim to the crown after the death of Alfred, applied to France for assistance, and received powerful aid from the Normans, who, on landing, roused the Danes of Northumberland and East Anglia, and caused them to espouse his cause. These Danes took up arms against the king, threw themselves into Mercia, and ravaged the country inhabited by the English in a merciless manner. The king put himself at the head of his army and gave them battle, and after repeated victories Ethelward was slain; but the war was carried on two years after his death. The Danes, at last, were obliged to sue for peace, which the king readily granted on conditions; but, at the end of three years the war was renewed. However it proved fatal to the Danes. In a very short time they lost two battles,—one fought at Wednesfield, in which were several thousand Danes slain, with the Kings Ecwils and Halfden, —the other at Tettenhall, near Wolverhampton. The king followed up his success by completely driving them out of the kingdom of Mercia. It was then that Ethelred, who had so much assisted the king, his brother-in-law, became in reality Earl of Mercia; he died however soon after.
Ethelfleda now took upon herself the government of Mercia. Following the example of her father, and of the king, her brother, in fortifying towns, she was determined that the Danes should not settle in Mercia again. She therefore fortified Wednesbury about the year 916* and built a castle on the hill at present occupied by the parish church. Besides this, she likewise constructed the castles of Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Stafford, and Warwick, with several others within the kingdom of Mercia. When she had taken these precautions, she carried her arms into Wales, and, after several victories, obliged the Welsh to become her tributaries. Ingulph says—" That in respect of the cities Ethelfleda built, the castles she fortified, and the armies she managed, it might have been thought she had changed her sex." Ethelfleda—and we may mention also Leofwin—had great possessions in Mercia. The latter was the powerful Earl of Chester and of Mercia, and husband of the celebrated Godiva, who liberated Coventry. Soon after the erection of the castle at Wednesbury, Ethelfleda died
• Florence of Worcester.
at Tarn worth, and was buried in the east porch of S. Peter's Church—now the cathedral—in Gloucester.
The Anglo-Saxon chronicles guide us no further; and we have no certain information of the ancient town until after the country had passed through its transition stage from the Saxon rule to that ot the Norman. William the Norman having subjugated the kingdom, became possessed, by right of conquest, of all the property belonging to the ancient Saxon kings, in which Wednesbury, being a royal demesne, was included. This leads us to give some account of the feudal system and the History of
Soon after the conquest of the country by the Saxons, it was found necessary by the large landed proprietors to retain a great body of warriors, in order to defend their demesnes from the inroads, as well of hostile chieftains, as of the native British. The land was accordingly divided into two portions; the one part was given to the kindred and free retainers of the proprietors, who gave in return military service; the remaining part was parcelled out into different farms, and committed to the management of particular bondmen, from whom a strict account of the produce was required at the end of the year. Ultimately the former class came to be styled "vassals " the latter " villains."
The feudal estates* or manors appear originally to have been held during the will of the superior—then for a determinate time—afterwards for life—and finally to have been hereditary; the only proviso being,—that the person granting
* Sir Francis Palgrave.