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Published: 2 Sep Lucy Bronze: humble, relentless and now the best player in Europe. So gradual were the changes that were wrought in woman's existence during the revolution that followed the introduction of iron into the arts of Britain's life, that it will not be difficult to speak with approximate accuracy. In considering the details of the life of woman during the period under consideration, the most salient fact is not [pg 26] the influx and partial merging of different peoples resulting from the intercourse that had been opened up between the Britons and the nations of the continent; nor is it the impulse to civilization brought about by the use of iron in the manufacture of a multitude of articles of general convenience.
Such influences and agencies were potent in society, working the transformation that found its expression, among other ways, in the lifting of woman to the plane of civilization that was introduced by the Romans; but, undoubtedly, the greatest contributing factor to the life of the age, and so the most important one in fixing the status of woman, was the trade relations that were developed with Britain by the peoples of the South and the remote East: the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Etruscans, the Greeks, and, later, the Romans.
To the Phoenicians, that nation of traders, must be given the credit of the introduction into Britain of the higher products of many of those peoples whose civilizations were of an advanced type. It was the fleets of this enterprising people that brought into Britain quantities of finely wrought implements of various sorts: useful articles that greatly increased the comfort of life, as well as those of ornament and of dress. Among such imports were the jade beads and ornaments which the British women held in especial esteem; beads of glass, delicately marked and colored; ornaments of gold, sometimes inlaid with enamel in pleasing designs and colors; fine fabrics of different sorts; rings, brooches, necklaces, armlets, leg bands, and wares of many kinds.
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Such things not only added to the comfort and the sense of luxury of the women, but, as object lessons of art and elegance, they were in the highest degree educative. They stimulated woman's imagination and piqued her interest in regard to the women of those far distant lands, with whom such articles were in ordinary [pg 27] use.
In this way, a distorted knowledge of the outside world and of the accomplishments of highly civilized peoples came to be widely diffused among the more advanced of the rude inhabitants of Britain. The arrival of a ship in port was an event of absorbing interest; soon the women of the coast settlements would be seen busily traversing the narrow, winding paths by which the houses of a village were connected, to gossip with their neighbors about the latest bit of wonderful narrative picked up from the oddly garbed foreign sailors concerning the mighty nations of the remote parts of the earth, or to display some purchase—a piece of cloth of fine web or of bright colors, a chased fibula, a string of beads, or articles of like nature.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect upon the mentality and the life interest of the simple-minded yet keenly inquiring British women of the commerce which, at first occasional, gradually became regular and expanding, and by which Britain was brought out of its insular separateness into the broad current of the world's progress. The population of Britain was large—as the Romans found when they came into the country. The people were collected into villages and towns which were ruled by chieftains who were frequently at war with one another.
During such strife their women were hidden in caves or pits covered with brush; this was a necessary protective measure for the loss of its women was the severest blow [pg 28] a people could suffer. This division of the tribes into little warring factions was the cause of the country falling readily a prey to the Romans. When we consider that the writers of the time had in view different elements of the population, it is less difficult to harmonize their conflicting statements. While there are contrary statements made as to the agriculture of the Romans, it seems to be a satisfactory reconciliation of these statements to regard the less progressive northern tribes as purely pastoral and the inhabitants of the other parts of the island as agriculturalists as well as herdsmen.
After the Romans became established, wheat came to be one of the chief articles of export. The producers harvested this grain by cutting off the heads and storing them in pits under the ground. These pits were protected against frost. Each day the farmers took out the wheat longest stored, and ground it into meal. The process of removing the grain from the cob was, according to what we know of it, similar to the method still in use down to the seventeenth century in some parts of Britain. This consisted of twirling in the fire several heads of wheat, which the woman performing the operation held in her left hand, while with a stick held in her right hand she beat off the loosened grain at the very instant that the chaff was consumed.
The grain was then usually ground in a hand mill, although there is reason to believe that water mills also were used to some extent. The meal was then mixed, and baked over the fire in little loaves, or flat cakes. The whole process occupied but a couple of hours. The houses of the people, to which the women were confined the greater part of the winter, were mean little structures.
They were circular in shape, and were made of wattles or wood, and sometimes of stone. These wigwam-like structures were roofed with straw, and had [pg 29] as their sole external decoration the trophies of the chase and the battlefield. A chief's house was triumphantly adorned with the skulls of his enemies, nailed up against the eaves of the porch, among the horns and bones of beasts. Sometimes the heads of foes slain in battle were embalmed, and furnished gruesome ornamentation for the interior of the house. But notwithstanding these testimonials of a savage nature, there were evidences of comfort that had in them the indication of an approach to civilization.
The houses were connected by narrow, tortuous paths, and were usually surrounded by a stockade as a protection against assault. The dress of the women differed according to the wealth and the civilization of the various sections of the population. The tribes of the east and southeast, who were principally Celts, were the more civilized, while the Caledonians of the north—the Picts, or painted men, as they were commonly called—were far less advanced. The women of the Celts were of great personal attractiveness.
They possessed a wealth of magnificent hair, were fair-complexioned and of splendid physique. To these graces of person they added fierce tempers; we are told that when the husband of one of them engaged in an altercation with a stranger, his wife would join strenuously in the controversy, and with her powerful "snow-white" arms, and her feet as well, deliver blows "with the force of a catapult.
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Their costume consisted of a sleeved blouse, which was ordinarily confined at the waist; this garment partly covered trousers, worn long and clasped at the ankles. A plaid of bright colors was fastened at the shoulders with a brooch. They wore nothing on their heads, but displayed their hair fastened in a graceful knot at the neck.
They wove thin stuffs for summer wear, and felted heavy druggets for winter; the latter were said to be prepared with vinegar, and "were so tough that they would turn the stroke of a sword. Diodorus says of some of their patterns that the cloth was covered with an infinite number of little squares and lines, "as if it had been sprinkled with flowers," or was striped with cross bars, giving a checkered effect. The colors most in vogue were red and crimson; "such honest colors," says the Roman writer, "as a person had no cause to blame, nor the world a reason to cry out upon.
The women were inordinately fond of ornaments, and had a plentiful supply from which to select. Their attire was not complete unless it included necklaces, bracelets, strings of bright beads,—made of glass or a substance resembling Egyptian porcelain,—and that which was regarded as the crowning ornament of every woman of wealth—a torque of gold, or else a collar of the same metal. A ring was at first worn on the middle finger, but later it alone was left bare, all the other fingers being loaded with rings.
Among the more primitive of the peoples of Britain, skins continued to be worn, if, as among the Picts, clothing were not dispensed with altogether. The women of these fierce tribes were too proud of the intricate devices in brilliant colors with which their bodies were tattooed to hide them in any way. These, so Professor Elton is inclined to think, were the people who introduced bronze [pg 31] into Britain. They made continual and fierce attacks on their Celtic neighbors and carried off their women into captivity.
And it was because of these attacks that the Anglo-Saxons were invited into Britain to champion the cause of the people, after the departure of the Romans had left the Britons to their own resources. A period of peculiar interest and uncertainty was that of the Roman occupancy of the country, with its veneer of civilization and the introduction of Christianity, all of which was apparently swept aside by the conquering hordes of Teutons who came into Briton and laid the foundations for the English nation.
It was a time of great changes in the standards of life and tastes, as well as of the morals of the British women. With the Romans came their inevitable arts of conciliation after conquest. Then followed the period of generous grants of public works—the baths, the theatres, the arena; then the Roman villa superseded the huts of the inhabitants. Civilization was advanced, but manliness was degraded. Effeminacy reduced the sturdy morals of the Briton to the plane of those of their conquerors.
The abominable usage of the women finds expression in the bitter cry that the poet ascribes to the noble British queen, Boadicea: "Me they seized and they tortured, me they lashed and humiliated, me the sport of ribald veterans, mine of ruffian violators. It is not a part of our work to even sketch the course of the Roman invasion in its path of blood and fire across the face of Britain, or the stubborn and sturdy opposition of the natives, the subjugation and the revolt of tribes—notably the Icenii, who cost the Romans seventy thousand slain and the destruction of three cities, but whose final conquest broke the backbone of opposition to the Roman [pg 32] arms.
All this is political history, and cannot concern us excepting in the immense effect it had upon the women of the land. It was they who bore the brunt of suffering, degradation, and, too frequently, slavery and deportation—customary incidents of the fierce spirit of the Roman conquests. But in spite of the miseries their coming entailed upon the people, the Roman rule had an admirable effect upon the country in promoting peace, in establishing regard for law, and in stimulating commerce. After they had become accustomed to the Roman method of legal procedure in the settlement of differences, the Britons were no longer ready to fly at one another's throat on the least provocation.
The breaking up of their tribal distinctions led to a greater consolidation of the people and removed a cause of strife. But as the descendants of the defenders of Britain's liberties grew up amid Roman conditions of life that had permeated the whole population as far as the northern highlands, where the people proved invincible to the Roman arms, the habit of dependence upon the Roman legions for protection enervated the people to such an extent that they could interpose but faint resistance to the next invaders of the country—the conquering Angles, Jutes, and Saxons.
It is amid conditions of Roman conquest and control that we are now to consider more in detail the status of the British woman. Scattered along the borders of the woods, between the pasture lands and the hunting lands, could be found the homesteads of the Britons, before the rise of the Roman city. Each of these edifices was large enough to hold the entire family in its single room.
They were built, generally, of hewn logs, set in a row on end and covered with rushes or turf. The family fire burned in the middle of the room, and, circling it, sat the members of the household at their meals. The same raised seat of rushes [pg 33] served them at night for a couch. Under the prevailing tribal custom, three families, or rather three generations of the same family, from grandfather to grandson, occupied each dwelling. After the third generation the family was broken up, though all the members of it retained the memory of their common descent.
It is not clear whether or not a strictly monogamous household was the type of family life.
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Certainly it is probable that such was not the case among the backward races of the interior. As to the advanced sections of the population, against the statement of contemporary observers that it was the practice of the British women to have a plurality of husbands, there is only the argument of improbability to be urged. The custom of several families living under the one roof and in the same room may have led the Romans into an erroneous conclusion.
Little is known as to the laws of the Britons in regard to the regulation of family. In the matter of divorce, if the couple had several children, the husband took the eldest and the youngest, and the wife the middle ones, although the merits of such a peculiar division do not appear.
It would seem as if in the case of the youngest child, at least, the mother was the proper custodian, or at any rate the natural one. The pigs went to the man, and the sheep to the woman; the wife took the milk vessels, and the man the mead-brewing machinery. This was at variance with the later custom of England, for well on through the Middle Ages, both as a family employment and a public industry, brewing was accounted woman's occupation. To the husband went also the table and ware. He took the larger sieve, she the smaller; he the upper, and she the lower millstone of the corn mill.
The under bedding was his, and the upper hers. He received the unground corn, she the meal. The ducks, the geese, [pg 34] and the cats were her portion, while to his share fell the hens and one mouser. The slight estimation in which women were held as compared with the value put upon men is indicated by the fact that a woman was legally rated at half the worth of her brother and one-third that of her husband.
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It is entirely unlikely that the wives of the men were held by them in common. As has been already stated, such group marriages, if they existed, were localized among the rudest of the races of the country, whose general civilization had not elevated them to the point of appreciation of pure family life. Such, perhaps, were the small dark races descended from the Neolithic tribes and held in little esteem by the Celts.
Among the Celts it was customary for the father of a bride to make a present of his own arms to his son-in-law. As will be seen later by a description of one of their dinners, the Celts preferred feasting to all other occupations, and their festivities were accompanied by the utmost conviviality.
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A wedding was an occasion for the most extravagant feasting, all the relatives of the contracting parties, to the third degree of kindred, assembling to eat and drink to the happiness of the newly wedded pair. The ceremony took place at the house of the bridegroom, and the bride was conducted thither by her friends.
If the parties were rich, the pair made presents to their friends at the marriage festival; but if they [pg 35] were poor, the reverse was the case, and presents were made to them by the guests. At the conclusion of the feast, the bride and bridegroom were conducted to their chamber by the whole company, with great merriment and amid music and dancing. The next morning, before rising, it was the rule for the husband to make his wife a present of considerable value, according to his circumstances.
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This was regarded as the wife's peculiar property. The wives of the ancient Britons had not only the usual domestic duties to perform, but much of the outside work as well. Being of robust constitution, leading lives of simplicity and naturalness, maternity interfered but little with the round of their duties. The period was not wholly without its anxieties, however, as is shown by the custom among British women of wearing a girdle that was supposed to be conducive to the birth of heroes. The assumption of these girdles was a ceremony accompanied with mystical rites, and was a part of the Druidical ritual.
The newborn babe was plunged into some lake or river in order to harden it, and as a test of its constitution; this was done even in the winter season. The early British mother always nursed her children herself, nor would she have thought of delegating this duty to another. The first morsel of food put into a male infant's mouth was on the tip of the father's sword, that the child might grow up to be a great warrior. As is frequently the case with primitive peoples, the Britons did not give names to their children until the latter had performed some feat or displayed some characteristic which might suggest for them a suitable name.
It follows from this that all the names of the ancient Britons that have been preserved to us are significant. The youth were not delicately nurtured, and after passing through the perils of childhood, when the care of a mother [pg 36] was imperative, it is probable that the mother had little to do with the training of her boy. Accustomed almost from infancy to the use of arms, as he grew older the boy added to his training athletic ordeals and feats of daring. Among the games to which he was accustomed was jumping through swords so placed that it was extremely difficult to leap quickly through them without being impaled.
Youth was democratic, and, without any distinction, the children of the noble and the lowly, equally sordid and ill clad, played about on the floor or in the open field. The Britons were noted for the warmth of their family affection. The mother was sure of the dutiful regard of her children and did not lack affectionate consideration from her husband. The aged were treated with a reverence in striking contrast to the heartlessness with which in earlier times the old were deserted to die or were put to death—a custom not unusual among primitive peoples. It is pleasant to think of the British matron inculcating into the minds of her children respect for age and the claims of relationship.
The law of hospitality was sacred to the ancient Briton. When a stranger sought entertainment at the home of one of them, no questions were asked as to his identity or his business, until after the meal. Indeed, it was frequently the case that such arrivals were made the excuse for a great feast, to which a number of friends were invited. The women soon had the preparation under way, and in due time the meat was roasting at the spit and the pot swinging on the crane over a roaring fire. While the mothers were employed in these occupations and in making bread, their daughters poured the fresh milk into the pitchers and filled the metal beakers and earthen jugs with home-brewed beer and mead.
While the men exchanged stories of their hunting exploits and deeds of valor [pg 37] in battle, the women carried on a constant buzz of suppressed speculation and remark concerning the guests. When the meal was ready, the women set it before the men upon fresh grass or rushes. The bread was served in wicker baskets. The guests and their hosts seated themselves upon a carpet of rushes, or upon dog or wolf skins placed near the open fireplace.
While the men voraciously seized the steaming joints and carved from them long slices of meat, which they ate "after the fashion of lions," the women plied them with the beakers of foaming beverage, and the bards sang, to the music of harps, the boastful exploits of some local chieftain. It was a strange thing if the feast and conviviality did not end in a fight over some question of precedence or disputed statement.
When such a combat did occur, it was usually a contest to the death. Nor were the fierce-tempered women passive during such encounters, but, as we have seen, were ready to aid the men of their family with frenzied attack. Such a feast as we have described presented a weird and picturesque sight under the flaming light of the torches made of rushes soaked in tallow. One of the favorite domestic employments of the British women, though one which we may imagine fell largely to the lot of the younger women and the girls, was the making of the wickerware for which the ancient Britons were famous.
Baskets, platters, the bodies of chariots, the frames of boats, and even the framework of the houses, were made of this light and serviceable material. Withes peeled and woven by the supple fingers of the young British women into fancy baskets found a ready market at Rome, and commanded high prices, being generally esteemed as a rare work of ingenious art. During the hours required to weave an article of this sort, the women [pg 38] would fall into a responsive song, picked up perhaps from some passing minstrel. Weaving, spinning, dyeing the fabrics thus made; the milking of the cattle, the grinding of the meal; the making of the garments for the family; the manufacture of pottery, to which may be added a share of the outdoor work, were some of the matters which made the life of the British woman far from an idle one.
And yet, with it all, the young women found leisure to tarry at the spring for the exchange of laughing remarks, as they dropped something into its clear depth—as an offering to the divinity who they fully believed resided therein and who held in keeping their future and their fortunes—before they drew from it the water for the bleaching of the linen that they had already spread out in the sun. The religion of the Britons, before the introduction of Christianity, was an elaborate system of superstitions and of nature worship.
It was in the hands of a priestly order—the Druids. A mother was glad to resign her boy to the training of this mystical brotherhood, if he showed sufficient talent to warrant his reception therein. It is not necessary to describe particularly the system. It was made up of three orders, the Druids proper, the Bards, and the Ovates. Over the whole order was an Archdruid, who was elected for life.
An order of Druidesses, also, is supposed to have existed. At some of their sacred rites the women appeared naked, with their skin dyed a dark hue with vegetable stain. It [pg 39] was the custom of the Druids, who had the oversight of public morals, to offer, as sacrifices to the gods, thieves, murderers, and other criminals, whom they condemned to be burned alive. Wickerwork receptacles, sometimes made in the form of images, were filled with the miserable wretches, and were then placed upon the pyre and consumed.
The prophetic women, standing by, made divinations from the sinews, the flowing blood, or the quivering flesh of the victims. The defeat of the Druids and the felling of their sacred groves by the Romans gave the death blow to the system, which under the influence of Christianity completely disappeared. The diffusion of Roman civilization colored the beliefs of the British women.
The destruction of the native shrines whither they used to resort to make a propitiatory offering or to draw divinations for direction in some matter of personal or domestic concern, and the establishment of the fanes of Rome, which abounded throughout the country to the limits of the Roman conquest, converted the local deities into Roman divinities.
Under new names, the old gods of the woods and streams continued to receive the homage of the Romanized British matrons and maidens. But with the introduction of Christianity and its extension even into parts of the country where the sword of Rome had failed to penetrate, there was a more radical change wrought in the life of women. They have always instinctively recognized the fact that the Christian religion is their champion, and in its consolation the women of the Britons found much to alleviate their common distress and to elevate their status.
In the trying hours that came with the inroads of the fierce and barbarous Teutons, when they were carried off by the savage Picts to a base servitude, and when, after the reassertion of the Christian religion among the English, the coming of the Danes next [pg 40] brought a fresh abasement for their sex, the Christian faith was the sustaining and the reconstructive force of the lives of the women of the country. With the advance of Christianity passed the customs of pagan burial. The dead were no longer cremated, nor were they buried in the tumuli with the objects of their customary association interred with them to be of service in the spirit world.
One of the most apparent results of the Roman conquest, in its relation to the domestic life of the people, was the supersedence of the rude British dwellings by the Roman villa. This open style of house, suited to the sunny skies of Italy, had to undergo modifications to adapt it to the more rigorous clime of Britain. About an open court, which was either paved or planted in flower beds, the rooms were arranged, all of them opening inwardly, and some of them having an entrance to the outside as well. These connected rooms were usually one story high, with perhaps an additional story in the rear.
The windows were iron-barred. The front of the villa was adorned with stucco and gaudily painted. In the homes of the wealthy, the inner court became an elaborately pillared banquet hall, with tessellated work in fine marble and with the pavement figured in symbolical devices. In it were placed the family shrines and statuary. Or else it was fitted up with the baths which were such a feature of Roman life. In later times, the walls blossomed out into decorations of mythological subjects: the foam-born Aphrodite, Bacchus and his panther steeds, Orpheus holding his dumb audience enthralled by his melody, Narcissus at the fountain, or the loves of Cupid and Psyche.
The heating arrangements of these houses were ample and convenient, and the edifices themselves were frequently added to by succeeding generations. In the country districts, the houses were provided with large [pg 41] storerooms, plentifully supplied with provisions, and were garrisoned against the attack of enemies. The best of these Roman-British houses were imposing structures of vast dimensions. The women, when surrounded by the luxuries of Roman life, gave themselves over to pleasure and frequented the theatres and the public baths, and entertained in lavish style. They generally adopted the graceful Roman dress, and thus cleared themselves of the charge of loudness, extravagance, and meanness of attire that the earlier Roman writers brought against them.
After the introduction of Christianity, when Roman civilization had become completely domesticated, it was no unusual thing for a Roman to have a British wife, or for British matrons to be found on the streets of Rome itself. The morals of the people were not proof against the contamination of Roman standards. The women, who were brought into closest touch with the Roman populace, imbibed their views and followed their example. Yet among the people who lived the simpler life of the country districts, and to whom Christianity most forcibly appealed, the standards of their race were largely maintained.
The manner of life of the women of the wild northern tribes was, as we have seen, unaffected by the Roman occupancy of the country. Finding themselves unable to conquer these fierce people, the Romans, for their own security, had stretched across the country a great wall to facilitate defence; but they had soon to protect their coasts from other warlike races, who, first in piratical bands and then as migrating nations, brought terror and annihilation to the native Britons.
To attempt a portrayal of the miseries entailed upon the women of the Britons by the forays of the barbarians, which followed the withdrawal of the Romans from the country, would be to rehearse the distresses which were but usual to warfare at that period of the world's history. We can pass over the savagery of human passions, inflamed by the heat of strife, and come to the more congenial and, indeed, the only important task of considering the life of woman, not under the exceptional conditions of war, but in the normal state of existence.
Even during the Roman occupancy of the country, the British women had experienced the terrors of the barbarians. In spite of the massive wall, the lines of forts, and the system of trenches, by which that military people had sought to arrest the inroads of the Picts and Scots, those unconquered tribes of the north often swept with resistless force far into the peaceful provinces, bringing desolation into many homes and carrying off the women, to dispose of them in the slave markets of the continent. More terrible still had been the descent upon the British coasts of the piratical Saxon rovers, whose frequent incursions had given to those tracts that were open to their attacks the significant appellation of the "Saxon shore.
When the Roman forces withdrew, a danger that had been occasional and limited to localities now became a menace to the whole people. The invasions of the Picts and Scots became so frequent, and their ravages so dreadful, that the Britons, who for generations had been dependent upon the arms of the Romans for protection, felt unable to cope alone with the situation that faced them.
In their extremity they hit upon the expedient of pitting barbarian against barbarian, hoping thus to gain peace from the northern terror, and at the same time to rid themselves of the menace of the pirates. To this end the astute sea rovers were engaged to discipline the northern hordes. But when these "men without a country" had fulfilled their obligation, they preferred to remain in the fertile and attractive island rather than return to their own vast forest stretches and there seek to combat the pressure that had set in motion the Germanic peoples.
In this way began, in the fifth century, the conquest of Britain by the Angles, the Jutes, and the Saxons: a conquest as inevitable as it was beneficial; a conquest so stern as practically to sweep from existence a whole people, excepting the women, who were spared to become the slaves of the conquerors, and such of the men as were needed to fill servile positions. The conquest of a Christian nation by a pagan one must have resulting justification of the highest order, if it is not to be stamped as one of the greatest calamities of history, and such justification is amply afforded by the splendid history of the English people.
In the light of the achievements for [pg 47] humanity that are presented by the record of the Anglo-Saxon peoples, we need not take up the lament of a Gildas over the woes of the Britons. The impact of the virile peoples of northern Europe against the serried ranks of soldiery that circled the lines of the great world empire was the irresistible impulse of civilization to preserve and to further the march of the race toward the goal that mankind in all its wholesome periods has felt to be its unalterable destiny. On Peace Sunday join us as we pray for peace and reconciliation around the world.
See More See Less. Comment on Facebook. Please pray for wisdom and discernment for the national committee for World Day of Prayer - England, Wales and Northern Ireland as we meet in London over the next few days. There are many things to discuss including how to allocate grants for the coming year. Thinking of you all. Looking forward to attending the Dorset prep day next month x. World Day of Prayer - International Committee. Is there a pattern? As we continue to receive news and follow the updates surrounding HurricaneDorian, our hearts and prayers are with those affected, especially the people of the Bahamas who were devastated by the hurricane this past weekend.
A word from the current WDP Bahamas Chairperson, Annette Poitier: "Hurricane Dorian has moved onto our islands with winds up to mph and waves rising 24 ft above the maximum ocean height. This is frightening. Our sisters and brothers in the smaller cays have been evacuated to larger islands and everyone is being asked to move away from the shore-lines. We need your prayers and ask that you also pray for the people in Florida and along the east coast of the United States.
Our hope is in our God who has us in His tender love.