chapter  3
51 Pages

Internal Trade: the Coinage and the Towns

I f it is agreed that the m erchant was a familiar figure in the England o f 1066, then what conclusions are to be reached con­ cerning his activities within these islands as opposed to his overseas ventures? Evidence comes particularly from legal sources that deal with the position o f the king, and prom inent am ong the royal rights in late Anglo-Saxon England were those exercised over the means o f com m unication. Tw elfth-century lawbooks, such as the so-called Laws o f William I, declared that the four great highways o f W at­ ling Street, Erm ine Street, the Fosse Way and Icknield Way were particularly u n d er the king’s peace.1 This declaration represents a late extension o f an early and virtually prim ary aspect o f kingship: the ability to secure safe transit th roughou t the kingdom . T he charters with their insistence on the m aintenance o f bridges as a condition o f tenu re point in the same direction; so too do the lawbooks with their decisive assertion o f royal rights over burhs and coinage. Ideally the king’s peace lay tranquil th roughou t his whole realm , over coastal seaways and waterways as well as the roads. No king was w orth the nam e until he could protect those moving about his kingdom on lawful business. T he high praise given by Bede to King Edwin o f N orthum bria was that in his day ‘a woman with a new -born babe could w ander th rough the island from sea to sea w ithout fear o f m olestation’.2