The Anglo-Saxons: land and law
WHEN students consider a fluid society such as that of the Anglo- Saxons there is always the danger that they may get lost in its details, its intricacies and obstacles, its scribblings in the corridors of time. The writer has resolutely tried to avoid confronting the reader with a recitation of too many featureless and unrelated facts. He has doubtless affronted those who still confidently believe that there is some virtue in the determined accumulation of unanchored footnotes. It was an evil hour when the serpent first tempted men to memorize lists of rigid and static statements in the blinkered belief that they were fertilizing understanding. Poor foundling facts detached from their proper patterns and processes neither confirm nor refute anything. The dominant problems of relation, of fitting things into place, of seeing what men can make happen, these alone unite to yield purpose and meaning from the midst of apparent turmoil.
The reader has now seen how a reasonably coherent state emerged after the weary wars of the Heptarchy and Danish periods. He has studied the nature of the monarchy, the class structure of society, the witan and the royal household. The trends and tempo that prevailed in the central government were also evident upon the local stages of the shire and hundred, the village and borough. Some of the decisive drives of later Anglo-Saxon influence are to be found in local government. Here, as elsewhere, the Anglo-Saxons, through disturbed and fluctuating centuries, brought into being a range of possibilities which the Normans later saw and seized upon. Almost everything the Normans achieved in local government was conditioned by influences and events from the Anglo-Saxon past. This has been of great advantage to England.