Monday, 8 April 2019

What The Heliand tells us about 9th century warrior society and early Christianity

I am reading The Heliand, a 9th century retelling of the Christian gospels that takes vast liberties with the 4th century texts selectively approved by the Emperor Constantine as the Bible (Translation and Commentary by G. Ronald Murphy, OUP, 1992).

The changes which had to be made to attract Germanic chieftains and warriors to the faith of Rome 500 years later tell us quite a bit about the society of the day.

These four [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John] were to write it down with their own fingers; there were to compose, sing and proclaim what they had seen and heard of Christ's powerful strength - all the many wonderful things, in word and deed, that the mighty Chieftain Himself said, taught, an accomplished among human beings - and also all the things which the Ruler spoke from the beginning, when He, by His own power, first made the world and formed the whole universe with one word.

First, the power of God comes from the word of God - 'God's spell' or gospel.  Holy magic comes from divine incantation, and all of the universe is formed from God's words.

Rumuburg or Rome is made the centre of the imperial warrior-religion that would follow Christ by God's will, even though Christ was to be born among his 'warrior-companions' in Israel.  Christ was born under the authority of a Roman emperor and his power and authority would transfer to Rome and Roman emperors and popes thereafter.

Geld, the Germanic word for worth or tribute payment, is used for worship - quite literally 'worth-ship' - which makes sense at a time when all sins could be redeemed for payment to ensure divine favour after death.  An offering of geld measured your devotion and your worth to an earthly king as taxes and geld also measured your heavenly worth to God's church.  Ritual observance mattered too, but in a pinch gold and silver would do just fine.

Unflinching loyalty to a chieftain, especially in battle, is the highest virtue, as is loyalty to God.  Loyalty to a chieftain, whether the divine Christ or a more earthly king, measured worthiness as a warrior-companion of Jesus.  Remember that at this time all Kings were consecrated as the instruments of God's will on earth, and within a century Christian warriors would go on crusade against heretics and tyrants as God's enemies.

When Zachary, made a nobleman-priest in the Heliand, is approached to confirm the name of the infant delivered to his aged wife he is given a beech stave to incise the name on, uuritan gives us the English word writing.  The power of the inscribed name John confirms the infant John's power as an evangelist and restores Zachary's speech.

Joseph and Mary are from noble families and Joseph is a warrior chieftain among the Nazarenes as a humble carpenter just wouldn't do.  In 9th century Germanic society only warriors were law-worthy and owed the protection of their chieftains for their service.  The Roman Church had likewise adapted to a very mercantile sort of evangelism.  Rome wanted protection from Goths and Sarcens, trade, gold and silver for its church, so it targeted chieftains and warriors and mercantile elites as converts.  The weak and poor were of no interest then or for centuries afterwards.

Just as 'clear-thinking' loyalty is the highest virtue of men, Mary is depicted as 'clear-thinking' and trusting when informed she is to bear Christ by the Holy Spirit.  "Let it be done unto me according to your words, whatever my Lord wills - nor is my mind in doubt, neither in word nor in deed.   And so I have heard it told that the woman very gladly received the message of God with an easy mind, with good faith and with transparent loyalty.  The Holy Spirit became the baby in her womb."  The Trinity has always been a controversial doctrine, but in the Heliand the Holy Spirit morphs into the embryonic Jesus Christ.

The census in the Heliand requires warriors to return to the hill-fort burgs of the clan where they were born.  (This makes no less sense than the Biblical version.   If Mary and Joseph were both descended from King David, then so were all their families, and they would have travelled in a massive family party to Jerusalem.) Virtually all mercantile and maritime tribes of the north lived in secure hill-fort cantons and practiced fostering of their young, sending boys away at age 7 or so to be fostered to adulthood elsewhere, negotiating fostering as carefully as marriages.  Fostering promoted like-minded fellowship, education, alliances, trade networks, suitable marriages, survival from local attacks, and ensured young were raised to be multi-lingual, productive and disciplined - rather like upper classes sending their young to public boarding schools at age 7 now.  A Celtic audience would understand that warriors were being told to return to census counts in their birth burgs.  In that sense, it makes more sense than the biblical version.

The birth in a stable story is omitted.  No divine warrior of God could begin life so low.  The birth is announced by God's angel as being at Bethlemhemburg, within the walls, as befits a warrior chieftain, and the magic of Christ's birth is confirmed by the heavenly angels' songs:  "They then began to sing a holy song as they wended their way through the clouds towards the meadows of heaven."

Where the Roman bible has shepherds and sheep, the Heliand has Christ's birth witnessed by horse grooms guarding horses.  Among the warrior class of the 9th century any contact with chattel animals   belonged to the class of slaves or serfs that worked the land and tended the herds.  Only horses were noble and served the warrior class.

We'll stop there.  By now you get the point.

Christianity has always reinvented itself to adapt to local tastes and biases.  Because we are familiar with the bible story, the Heliand provides valuable contrasts and inconsistencies that illuminate the 9th century warriors it was written to entertain and convert.

Friday, 7 December 2018

British Library Exhibition of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

I gave myself a full day out in London yesterday.  After a panel retrospective on 2018 at the RSA I ventured to the British Library for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.  I was irritated by the exhibit narrative from the first display, and remembered why I had found academic history so frustrating when doing my MA at King's College London.  The narrative provided with displays regurgitated so much that is just plain wrong when better narrative would be possible and more interesting. 


The very first panel informs the reader that the Angles, Jutes and Saxons emigrated to Britain from the 5th century.  It mentions no indigenous peoples living in Britain before their arrival - no Britons, no Romans, no Celts, Picts or Scots.  It ignores how the newcomers rose to power and seized imperium.  The newcomers just magically come over and suddenly we have Anglo-Saxon England.  As far as we are told there was never any political organisation, no kingdoms, writing nor religion before these emigrations.  Absolute nonsense.  There had been civilisation and kingdoms in Britain from several centuries before the arrival of Caesar, and these kingdoms had laws and religious texts written in Greek and Latin.  They organised, collaborated, fought and shaped Britain long before the 5th and 6th centuries, and should at least merit a mention as setting a context for the newcomers.


The next exhibit was worse.  The big panel says Saint Augustine brought Christian conversion to Britain when he came to the court of King Aethelberht of Kent.  Of course there were Christians in Britain from the earliest apostles, some of whom arrived in Britain before Peter reached Rome.  Gildas and Bede may decry these early bishops and clerics as misguided in clinging to Greek teachings and Greek texts, but they were certainly Christians.  British bishops attended the councils of Arles and Nicea convened by Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor.  British bishops brought the tenets of the emerging Universal Church back to Britain and Eire and spread them widely along the coasts, if less so into hinterlands.  For that matter King Aethelberht of Kent was raised Christian in the court of King Cheribert of Neustria and was Christian when he married Queen Bertha there.  It was his Christian father-m-law and Nuestrian mercenaries who put him on the throne of Kent.  His Christian father-in-law sent secular clerics, including a bishop, into Kent with the young king and Bertha to exploit his new sub-realm.  In correspondence Pope Gregory writes to Queen Bertha and recognises her as the moving spirit in Christianising Britain.  Being accurate would recognise that Saint Augustine's achievement as an apostolic envoy of the pope was to subordinate the British church to the authority of Roman popes and supress British Hellenic Christianity in favour of Roman orthodoxy.  The fact that we don't have surviving Greek texts doesn't mean they didn't exist, but that they were destroyed wherever they were found.


The exhibits themselves were quite lovely, although again I despaired at the grim dark charcoal walls of the exhibition space.  I was familiar with almost all the manuscripts on display from coursework on the MA, having used many of them as references for my own researches.  The most exciting text for me was the Will of Aethelstan, one of the six older half-Danish sons of King Aethelred.  The 1012 will leaves the sword of King Offa to his brother Edmund Ironsides, later king of London, and the estate at Comtune in Sussex to Godwine Wulfnothsson, later Earl Godwin of Wessex and father of King Harold.  Aethelstan's step-mother Queen Emma and half-siblings Edward, Alfred and Goda are entirely omitted.  The display tag mentions the sword of King Offa, but not that it was given to King Edmund.  It ignores Godwin and others entirely.  The will to me has always held special magic as suggesting so much of the turmoil that would follow between Danes and Saxons and Normans, so I regretted the commentary was so minimal.


The most intriguing artefact was an elaborately carved impress seal for Godwine and Godgytha, with a representation of the couple carved into the handle.  It is possible this was the seal of Earl Godwin, though it says ministri rather than dux on the seal.  Godwin's earliest office after King Cnut was crowned in 1016 was likely as his reeve collecting Danegeld and Heregeld with the newly formed Huscarls.  Being the king's reeve would merit the style ministri.  The commentary tag translated ministri as thegn, but that is inaccurate.  Thegns were demoted by King Cnut as subordinate to earls, with only Huscarls sworn as direct servants of the king.  Godgytha on the seal's obverse could be Godwin's wife, Gytha Thorkellsdottir.  As daughter of Thorkell the Tall, the most glorious of all Vikings, the hero of the Battle of Assendun, and the military mentor of King Cnut, Gytha would be among the most powerful women in Danish-ruled England.  Her sons Swein, Harold, Tostig, and Gyrth all became earls, with Harold becoming king in 1066, and her daughter Gytha became Queen Edith to Edward the Confessor.  Gytha certainly handled business affairs for Earl Godwin, marketing the slaves his ships brought to Winchester back to her native Denmark, and hosting trade delegations from Eire, Normandy, Flanders and Denmark in her home in Winchester.


156_BMImages_00034865001_SuperRes
Seal-matrix of Godwine and Godgytha: British Museum, BEP 1881, 0404.1


I wondered contemplating the elegant couple on the seal whether it was a custom for Danish women to take the prenom of their husbands on marriage.  If so, Gytha Thorkellsdottir would become Godgytha on marriage to Godwin about 1021, and Gytha Godwinsdottir would become Eadgytha - Anglicised much later as Queen Edith - on marriage to King Eadward the Confessor in 1045.  It was just an idea, but I'd be grateful to hear from anyone with better knowledge of 11th century Danish naming customs for women.


Despite the irritating nonsense of a few display notes, the exhibition is a marvellous compilation of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and artefacts and well worth a visit if you're in London.  The exhibit closes 19th February 2019.


Afterwards I walked down through misty streets to the West End and Covent Garden, and then to Leicester Square to join T at the National Portrait Gallery.  By serendipity we happened on the crowd convening in Trafalgar Square for the lighting of the Norwegian fir Christmas Tree given each year by the city of Oslo in gratitude for British support during World War II.  We sang carols and ooooohhhed with the rest of the crowd when the lights were lit on the big tree.  Continuing our walk we carried on through Pall Mall to Victoria and stopped by friends' door to barge in for drinks and take them to curry.  It was about as nice a start to the holiday season in London as anyone could wish.


Happy Holidays!







Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Guillaume and William, Guest and West, guile and wile: The vagaries of language

I have been thinking about the vagaries of language today, realising that the certainties of today melt as we trace words back through the very fluid languages of the past.  It started with the wonderful graphic below appearing in my Twitter feed:
It graphically displayed what I had only intellectually grasped before: that languages are transmitted and mutate, but retain commonalities through transmission.  Phoenician gave rise to Greek, and Greek gave rise to both Latin and Norse Runes via Etruscan. 


Why does this matter?  Because there was no right way to spell things when few things were written down, and mostly then by foreign clerics.  In the Carmen the West in Westminster is written as Guest, because to the Franks Gu represented a W sound.  William was Guillaume.  Wile was guile.  It goes on.  There was no W in Latin.  Anglo-Saxon uses 'uu' and then W.  Lundenuuic became Londonwick.


Seeing the commonality helps understand the differences.  And it really all goes back to the Phoenicians who settled and exploited Britannia as the Cassiterides - tin islands - for centuries before Julius Caesar arrived on these shores.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The 1066 Surrender of London was at Westminster, not Berkhamsted

I have been thinking much of Berkhamsted, having presented last month to the Military History wing of the Dacorum U3A.  It was a full house, which was very encouraging as I was debuting a new lecture on the 1066 Siege and Surrender of London, and also launching the full colour and larger format new book: Carmen Widonis – The First History of the Norman Conquest.  The topographic maps look fantastic in colour!

Folks in that part of the world like to think that the surrender of London and the northern earls took place at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire in 1066.  This sad confusion came about because of careless association of an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript D, which says King William came to Beorhhamstede where London surrendered.  Beorh means noble or grand, ham means home, and stede means settlement, so together they mean ‘noble home settlement’.  In 1066 the only royal palace settlement for King Edward the Confessor was near Westminster, where he had built a grand Gallic palace next to the refounded  and papally privileged Abbey of St Peter. Both buildings were constructed on the model across the Channel at Fecamp in Normandy, where the abbey was next to the ducal palace during Edward's youthful residence there.  Edward also took some inspiration from other Gallic abbeys and courts he visited during his 28 years of living in Gaul in exile. 

King Edward modelled his royal lifestyle on Gallic comforts and his royal administration on Gallic methods.  The palace had apartments for King Edward's retainers, mostly Gauls and Franks he had recruited to his service from abroad.  The Abbey had a library, archive, treasury and school for royal administration.  The clerics too were mostly Norman, Gallic or Frankish.  He left his young cousin the perfect set up for taking command of England's royal administration.

English historians don't like being reminded that King Edward was far more Gallic than Anglo-Saxon, and that he had reason to love Duke William better than the Anglo-Danish earls that surrounded him in England.  They conveniently forget that Edward, as senior royal at the Norman court, was a foster-father to Duke William from the death of his cousin Duke Robert the Magnificent in 1035 until his departure for England in 1041.  William of Poitiers styles King Edward as dominus or lord or master to the young duke, perhaps indicating that Edward had help teach the young duke such arts of royal administration as he himself had acquired.

The Carmen says that King William settled at ‘a royal palace of surpassing beauty’ at line 666 and that the rebels and Londoners went there ‘to the palace’ to surrender at line 743.  Manuscript E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle confirms that the place of surrender is Westmynstre, but that didn’t settle the matter for some Victorian historians.

Edward Augustus Freeman is justly famed for his mammoth effort in compiling The History of the Norman Conquest of England from 1867 to 1879, but Freeman was a man of his time and very carefree about making assumptions that suited his personal biases.  He was a racist, misogynist, imperialist, Protestant bigot, and that comes through in his work.   My own view is that everything he wrote should be reinterrogated by modern historians. Freeman despised Scots, Irish, Welsh, and Cornish equally.  All Danes were little better than pagan thugs.  The French were, of course, beneath contempt and damned to perdition by their Catholicism.  No wonder Freeman was so popular with English historians and schoolteachers for generations and remains one of their favourite authorities!  

Freeman’s careless speculation with geography is particularly irritating to me.  He got so much wrong by being ignorant of ancient place names and equating whatever name he came across with its 19thcentury English homonym.  He ignored the obvious fact that successive invasions of Romans, Saxons, Frisians, Angles, Danes and Normans all had given different names for the same places.   For Freeman Peunessellum becomes Pevensey, despite Pevensey being founded in the 14thcentury by a charter that says the old place was abandoned due to siltation of the port.  Hastinge portus becomes Hastings, despite there never being a town there before the conquest and never a port there at all, and the Elizabethan Richard Camden saying the old Hastings was ‘swallowed up by the sea’.  For Freeman the surrender of London in December of 1066 at beorhhamstede must be Berkhamsted, not the ‘royal palace settlement’ at Westminster where King Edward had just built a magnificent new palace to Gallic standards of comfort so convenient to besieged London.  

Obviously, Berkhamsted likes thinking the surrender of London and the northern earls happened in their neck of the woods as a local claim to fame.  In 2016 a bronze bust of William the Conqueror was unveiled to mark the 950th anniversary of the conquest and London's surrender.  Freeman would be pleased.


Recorded as Berchehamstede in Domeday Book, ‘birchtree home settlement’, the town was sited on a hillside above a navigable watercourse northeast of London.  Styled as a Burbio, indicating early establishment of an Anglo-Saxon market, it was likely a convenient place to trade for supplying London, which could be reached from there by navigation.  This is suggested by 52 burgesses and £4 thelony recorded in Domesday. 

However pleasant as a market town, Berkhamsted was far too remote for a sensible siege camp, being 26 miles distant. 26 miles was two days march or a long horse ride in 1066.  Siege warfare requires being close by.  We know King William was not shy of battle, and he had vast experience leading sieges against walled towns from his many campaigns in Gaul. He wouldn't hide out in Hertfordshire while his army surrounded London's walls.  He would have been leading the siege during each day, and retiring to the comforts of his foster-father's royal palace every night.

Moreover, Berkamsted Castle was built after the Conquest, not before.  The only reason it is dated as 11thcentury now is Freeman’s specious attribution of the surrender there.  No archaeological evidence exists of pre-conquest fortification.   

Reading the Law of Wihtred reinforced my confidence that Beorhhamstede was an Anglo-Saxon term for a royal estate.  A council of Witans gathered at Berghamstyde in 695 according to the preamble to the Laws.  Since King Wihtred was king only of Kent, it makes sense that Berghamstyde is a royal estate in Kent.  The king of Kent wouldn't travel to remote Hertfordshire to enact his laws in 695, and neither would a conquering King of England when besieging London in 1066.

So where was the royal palace in 1066?  Probably pretty much where it is today.  What is now Buckingham Palace was recorded in Domesday Book as the Manor of Ebury, belonging to King Edward and Queen Edith in 1066 and Geoffrey de Magnaville, port reeve of London, in 1086.  It seems King William gave the port reeve the palace as a further boon after the port reeve delivered London to him in surrender in 1066.  By 1086 the king had a magnificent new castle to move to next to the city, now the Tower of London. Geoffrey left the land at Westminster to the Abbey of Saint Peter, and after the dissolution of the abbeys the land fell into private ownership.  What is now Buckingham Palace was reacquired as a royal residence by King George III in 1761.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Google is 20: Talk about making history!

20 years ago yesterday two guys in garage decided to improve the way we find information on the internet and Google was born.  I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the word Google.  It was used as a verb in a geeky seminar I attended in 2000 on XML (extensible mark-up language) data interchange, as in, "So I googled it." 


I made a note in the margin of a page to look up 'google' on Alta Vista.  I never used Alta Vista again.  I never again wrote Google without capitalisation.


Google has globally democratised information (Search), navigation (Maps), communications (gmail and Blogger), translation (Translate), and intellectual and social interaction (YouTube) in ways we could not then imagine.  To a large extent, Google drove global adoption of the internet as an essential requirement for 21st century work, life, love, and education.


I recognise that I am blessed by Google as an historian.  Difficult and rarely used Latin words and phrases come to life in every text in their original context where they were published when I Google them.  Google confirmed to me that Clangendoque at line 100 of the Carmen was both a unique usage and a Googlewhack (unique occurrence with only one result anywhere on the internet) when I first searched for it.  Google confirmed my suspicion that sinu placido meant a calm basin of the sea to Pliny the Elder, rather than a pleasant strand of beach, as I had initially translated it. 


Over the past five years of Carmen translation and research I've made thousands of Google searches, viewed hundreds of topographic maps, written hundreds of emails, published tens of this blog, tested phrases again and again in Translate (though it's no where near as good as William Whitaker's WORDS), and enjoyed the shared music, lessons and ideas on YouTube.


I don't suppose Larry Page and Sergey Brin follow this blog.  But then we never really know if our prayers are heard either.  Sometimes it is enough to be grateful.  Being grateful is an act of generosity not just to the object of your gratitude but to yourself, reminding yourself that others are engaged with you on the journey of discovery and help you each and every day.  So yeah, Google, thanks.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

'Haran Apuldran' means 'Anchorage at Appledore'. 'Hoary Apple Tree' is more Victorian nonsense.

Victorians were racist, sexist, religionist, imperialist fantasists, with limited grasp of ancient geography, language, and navigation.  In their rush to re-write English history as leading to the divine right of Germanic peoples, and especially the English, to subjugate and exploit the rest of humanity, Victorians made up a lot of stuff that doesn't hold up to scrutiny.  Most of what they made up is wrong, no matter how many times it got repeated in modern history books and text books.  Think modern American fundamentalists with Adam and Eve riding dinosaurs and Jesus sporting an assault rifle in their school books, and you get some idea of how Victorians distorted history.

Today's example is "hoary apple tree", where King Harold supposedly mustered the English army on the way to Hastings to meet Duke William of Normandy in 1066.


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, manuscript D, for 1066 says:  he gaderade þa mycelne here, com him togenes æt þære haran apuldran.
Haran apuldran was translated romantically in 1861 as ‘hoary apple tree’.  Victorians even speculated on the variety of apple from those then growing around Battle Abbey.  Haran Apuldran was better translated long before in 1731 as ‘estuary at Appledore’, which is much more likely for the line of march from London and makes better sense for coastal navigation. 

In medieval navigation harena or arena meant a sandy anchorage or estuarine basin suitable for grounding the round-bottomed coastal raiding and trading vessels, carinas, named as the vessels of the English at line 319 of the Carmen Widonis.  Carinas were very much like Dutch Knorrs, and the names derive from the same ancient Frisian word. 


Per mare • per terram praelia magna parat • In mare quingentas fertur misisse carinas • [Carmen Widonis 318-19]
It is said he has sent five hundred ships to sea so as to hinder our course of return.


Both harena and arena are used hundreds of times to mean safe, sandy, tidal anchorage in the 12th century navigation guide De Viis Maris - the Ways of the Sea.  There should be no further confusion about translating haran as anchorage.

Early medieval Appledore was a small peninsula below the Roman road at the edge of the great tidal basin of the Rye Camber.  A Roman road led across tidal causeways at Tenterden, Northiam and Brede to the cape of Hastingas.  Appledore was an ideal place for muster of local land armies marching from Wessex and Mercia and sea-borne warriors being carried by ships around the coasts from the estuaries of the north, Essex and London.  Travel by coastal transport was faster, safer, and allowed much more efficient carriage of men and materiel.  King Harold, his brothers and his father always travelled by ship whenever possible, as Anglo-Danish sea-lords should do. 

At the time, all of the vast Rye Camber was tidal estuary or salt-marsh.  Appledore was on a secure tidal island or promontory extending below the Roman road leading to London.  It had fresh water, and plenty of space to the north for forage for horses.  It was also likely the place referenced, but not named, in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 893, when Haesten sent a fleet of 250 ships up the Limne – ‘border river’ – from the coastal sea-ford where they destroyed ‘a fort within the fen, whereon sat a few churls’.  A coastal fort requires fresh water and forage for horses, so probably Appledore.

If you're a historian still repeating 'hoary apple tree', stop it.  It's silly and wrong.  Start saying 'anchorage at Appledore'.  That is accurate and sensible and a good translation of haran apuldran.

The map below shows the English camp in 1066 at Appledore, and illustrates a line of march to the cape of Hastingas using Roman roads, fords and causeways.  All the blue would have been tidal seascape in 1066. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Nathan Bailey's Dictionary and "Harold, the last Danish king"

I have bought another dictionary, perhaps the most wonderful dictionary I will ever own.  It is Nathan Bailey's An Universal Etymological English Dictionary and Interpreter of Hard Words.  Despite the fame of Dr Samuel Johnson and his 1755 adaptation of Bailey's production, Bailey was the first to compile an etymological dictionary of the English language in the form still used today.  Earlier attempts at dictionaries just gave word meanings.  Bailey's dictionary was also the most popular of the 18th century. Bailey innovated many of the forms and practices that Dr Johnson (whose 1755 dictionary was actually the 21st dictionary of the English language) and others emulated.


I already value two things about the Bailey Dictionary that make it infinitely superior to Johnson's effort.  The first is that Bailey recognises the etymology of a word when it entered the English language.  For example, he refers to Teutonic or Ancient German, where Johnson misleadingly says German.  There was no Germany until the first Deutsche Bund in 1814, and certainly none in the 5th to 7th centuries when many words came into use in Britain with Saxon emigration.  It is misleading and inaccurate to say words came into English from German.  The loose German confederation that emerged in the 19th century amalgamated many earlier tribes and diverse linguistic traditions.  Bailey recognised that diversity of antiquity and respected it.  Bailey also recognises a lot more scope for Old French, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Belgic, Dutch and Syrian, and even has a separate styling for Sea Term to cover nautical dialects common among mariners from India to Eire.


Bailey also includes many words which were considered too common, uncouth or vulgar for inclusion in later dictionaries aimed at schooling the gentry.  Bailey gives words associated with specialist trades, manufacturing, sea-faring, body parts, and even swearing.


I didn't find the first word to come to mind when I checked for completeness, but I did find Shite: to ease Nature, to discharge the Belly.  No entry for shite in Dr Johnson.


When schooling of children became general during the Victorian era, the priggish governors opted to put Dr Johnson in school libraries and classrooms, thereby narrowing the English mind and denying the richness of English linguistic origins.  If schools had stocked Mr Bailey's dictionary rather than Dr Johnson's, then it is likely a lot more English boys and girls would have spent time consulting the dictionary to their betterment.  Kids like looking up rude and interesting words.  Later Victorian toponymists narrowed English place names even further, as Celtic, German and Latin, ignoring the richness of Nathan Bailey's enquiry.  That narrowing of the English mind is regrettable, and has led to a fair amount of misguided history too.


I can give an example of how the narrowing of the English mind rendered history less accurate, and it is the reason I bought the dictionary.  Nathan Bailey is the only source for the phrase "Harold, the last Danish king" of England, in his entry for Battle Abbey.  The Victorians, perhaps to please a very German royal family, altered Harold to Saxon, ignoring his Danish mother, Anglo-Danish father, and other obvious Danish preferences, like slave raiding along the coast in his ships. 
Because Harold was born in Sussex, Harold became Saxon.  I suppose the children of British parents building the British Empire who were born in Hong Kong became Chinese, or those born in Bombay became Indian, or those born in Johannesburg became African, right?  Historian Edward A. Freeman was delusional in suggesting Earl Godwin had any loyalty to King Aethelred or his sons, or that the Godwin family identified as anything but Danish.  Godwin fought for Danes, was made an earl among Danes, married the Danish daughter of Viking Thorkell the Tall, and gave all his eleven children Danish names, including Harold.
Godwin's daughter Gytha became Queen Edith when she married King Edward.  After his death when she commissioned the Vita Eadwardi, however, she omitted all discussion of her parents' heritage and ethnicity, even though the purpose of the first half of the book (written before Harold died) was to ennoble her family and justify Harold's seizure of the English crown.  If Harold had any noble Saxon connections, it seems likely she would have wanted this advertised.  So if Gytha the family historian was ashamed of her parents' heritage, then it is all the more likely that there was no noble blood to claim.  Her maternal grandfather was Jarl Thorkell the Tall, famed hero of the Battle of Assendun, her maternal uncle Ulf had married Cnut's sister and been regent of Denmark, her cousin was King Sweyn of Denmark, but she chose not to advertise these connections.  She was similarly silent on her father's heritage.  Arguably if Godwin was the son of Wulfnoth then his treason against King Aethelred, raiding and slaving the coast in 1008 with 20 ships, and burning of 80 kings' ships might not be seen as wholly patriotic.  The evidence for Wulfnoth being the son of Ealdorman Aethelmar of Wessex is very thin, but if he was, he was born of a handfast Danish woman, not a Saxon wife, as Wulfnoth is not a noble Saxon name.


Freeman's history inspired Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton to a more transparent flight of fiction.  Harold the Last of the Saxon Kings may have been read by generations of English schoolchildren, but Sir Edward was as inaccurate and misleading as Mr Freeman in making an 11th century Anglo-Danish earl into a Saxon hero.  Harold and his family slaved Saxons to Danish markets to their great profit.  They would never have identified themselves with the subjugated tribe they exploited.  Harold's standard at the Battle of Hastings was the Dacian wolfskin of a Danish sea-warrior.

Dacian wolfskin standard from Trajan's column in Rome, Dacian wolfskin standard with King Harold Fairhair, and detail of Dacian wolfskin standard with King Harold Godwinsson, the last Danish king of England, from the Bayeux Tapestry.


Another Dacian wolfskin standard from Trajan's column in Rome paired with the death scene of King Harold Godwinsson in the Bayeux Tapestry.


I've been saying Harold was a Danish king for four years now, and it's nice to find that an English historian agreed with me.  It's a shame minds and dictionaries narrowed so much in the centuries since.


One notable fan of Bailey's Dictionary was Abraham Lincoln.  He kept his copy of Bailey to hand as he was schooling himself in Indiana from at least 1823.  Bailey's dictionary enabled Lincoln to comprehend works that would otherwise have remained beyond his grasp.  Lincoln's skills as a lawyer and orator are probably due to his fondness for reading Bailey's dictionary for pleasure.


When I was in secondary school I was teased for 'reading the dictionary' because I had a wider vocabulary than many of my peers.  Now I really am reading the dictionary, and am taking great pleasure in doing so.