THE RIPON MILLENARY.
ONE of the most characteristic differences between man and the inferior animals—a difference which seems to lie athwart the Darwinian doctrine of evolution—is man's insatiable curiosity, especially about his own history and destiny. The brute creation live in the present. The passing hour is their all-in-all. They have no curiosity about the future, and no memory or thought of the past. In this respect man is separated from all creatures below him by a chasm which no evolutionist has made any attempt to bridge. No indication has been dis- covered in any race of animals of any desire to look back into the past or forward into the future. But we find among the lowest races of mankind an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of their past and future. And this clinging to the past is perhaps a stronger proof of man's instinctive belief in immor- tality even than his yearning for knowledge of the future. The human heart refuses to believe that the buried generations of human beings are really dead. There is no attraction in death in itself. It always repels. Yet men cling to a past which appears to be dead. They seek for evidence of connection with their buried kin, and feel all the nobler for the dis- covery. We see this feeling exemplified in an Old Mortality wandering over the country to renew the time-worn tombstones of the Covenanters ; in the spell with which the great orator of Athens put a moment's fire into the breasts of his degenerate countrymen as he promised them victory by a solemn adjuration of "the dead at Marathon ;" even in the zeal with which Pharisees build and decorate the sepulchres of the Prophets whom their fathers slew. No more grievous calamity can happen to a great nation than a complete breach with its past. It is like severing the trunk of a great tree from its subter- ranean roots. France has not yet recovered from its breach of historic continuity at the Revolution; its roots have often proved unable to resist the strain of tempests which have passed harmless over its neighbours. The stability of English institutions, on the other hand, is of course largely due to the grip which they have of the past, 'broadening down from precedent to precedent." There is no nation in Europe whose present life has grown so continuously and with such orderly development out of its past as the British nation ; and it is for this reason probably that we are more prone than other people to the celebration of prominent events and episodes in our national life.
It is no mark of wisdom to scan with too critical an eye the historic basis of all these memorial celebrations. It is, of course, the duty of the historian to sift evidence and to separate what is demonstrable from what is probable, or perhaps only mythical. Ripon has just been celebrating the millenary of its incorporation by King Alfred. Even if the evidence for this tradition were less cogent than it is, it would be a churlish thing surely, to discourage the indulgence of so praiseworthy a pride. But, in matter of fact, the tradition which dates the incorporation of Ripon from Alfred rests on a good sub- stratum of probable evidence. Gent, a local antiquary, who published a history of Ripon in the year 1733, says :—" I must remark, from an ancient M.S., that Ripon was first incorporated
in the fourteenth year of the ever-memorable King Alfred, anno Dom. 886." Gent does not describe this manuscript, nor does he give any clue to it ; and if the claim of Ripon to a thousand years of civic life had no better foundation than Gent's assertion, the celebration of a millenary festival would obviously have been a hazardous experiment on the forbearance of critics and cynics. We may, however, dismiss Gent's manuscript altogether, and yet leave ourselves considerable data to justify the festival which the citizens of Ripon have just been cele- brating. According to tradition, King Athelstan, on his way to repel an invasion of the Scotch, vowed at Ripon that in ease his
campaign proved victorious, he would confer certain rights and privileges on the church of Ripon. On his victorious return, he fulfilled his vow by the grant of the manor of Ripon to the Church of St. Wilfrid, and by the still more valuable grant to that ecalesastical corporation of certain extraordinary powers over the lands given to the church in the time of Wilfrid. This district still retains the name of the "" Liberty of Ripon," and enjoys a separate civil jurisdiction. The precise date of Athelstan's Charter is a matter of controversy ; but, sup- posing it genuine, it must have belonged to the first half of the tenth century. In English, the Charter runs as follows :— " In the name of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, Athelstan, by the grace of God King of England, to all his subjects of Yorkshire and throughout England, know ye that I con- firm to the Church and Chapter of Ripon their peace and all their liberties and customs ; and I grant to them their own Court in all pleas, and in all Courts which relate to the men of St. Wilfrid, for them and their own men, or against them, or among themselves, or in other Courts that may be made, with judgment of Frodmortell [free pardon in case of homicide] ; and that they may be credited by affirming with Yea and denying with Nay both among themselves and throughout the habitable globe ; and that they may be so free that neither the King of England, nor his subjects, nor the Archbishop of York, nor his ministers, shall either do or have anything which is of their possessions or of the sae [jurisdiction over the socmen of the manor] of the Chapter."
We may note, in passing, the curious fact that this Charter bestowed upon the members of the ecclesiastical foundation of Ripon the right to affirm instead of taking an oath whenever an oath was required by law. Whether this is merely the con- firmation of an old privilege, or the granting of a new one, must remain a matter of conjecture. It is possible, indeed, that it was a tradition from the time of the Venerable Bede, who held and taught that our Lord's words made the taking of oaths by Christians illegal. So great was Bede's authority in the North of England, that any doctrine which he strenuously taught was likely to be received with reverence. But to return to Athelstan's Charter. Its authenticity has been questioned, and there is no evidence to place it beyond dispute. But the presumptive evidence of authenticity is strong. In the year 1228, for example, a trial took place before the King's Judges in the Chapter House of Ripon, respecting the privileges of the Chapter, which had been invaded by the Sheriff of York and others. At this trial, the Royal Charters which established and confirmed those privileges were put in evidence, and among the rest Athelstan's Charter. After careful examination of the evidence, the Court decided in favour of the Chapter, with damages and costs. Athelstan's Charter, it will be observed, " confirms to the Church and Chapter of Ripon" their previous powers and privileges ; and as Athelstan was grandson of Alfred, there is certainly nothing unreasonable in the tradition which dates the existence of Ripor. a3 a city from the reign of Alfred. In the beginning of the twelfth century, Henry I. granted to Ripon the right to hold a four-days' fair on the Feast of St. Wilfrid ; and this fair is still kept. Another important link in the chain of evidence is a Charter of King Stephen, without date, but previous to the year 1147, which confirms the previous franchises and privileges of the Chapter of Ripon, and confers new ones. "I confirm," says this Charter, "peace to the Church of St. Wilfrid at Ripon, within its Liberty, and amend- ment of its peace violated, and of what has been done contrary to the privileges granted by any of my predecessors, and confirmed by me and them ; and also the privileges and grants which it received from King Edward, as well as from my grandfather, King William ; and all the liberties, dignities, rights, customs, as well by land as water, and in all its possessions in sac and soc; and in everything which anywhere belongs to it." The King goes on to say that all these privileges are "attested by the Charters of my pre- decessors." This Charter of King Stephen is duly witnessed by the Bishops of Lincoln, Ely, Carlisle, and York. On sub- sequent occasions, the Charters already referred to were accepted as valid and confirmed.
What may, therefore, be stated within the safe frontier of historical evidence is that, while there is no evidence in support of the tradition that King Alfred granted a formal Charter of Incorporation to Ripon in 886, there is good evidence to show that Ripon can boast, in connection with the Minster, of an organic corporate life stretching back certainly to the time of
Alfred. Apart from its associations with the Minster, Ripon could make no such claim ; and therefore it was that, after some controversy, it was decided in public meeting that the citizens of Ripon should acknowledge the religious foundation on which their civic life rested by a service of thanksgiving in the ancient Minster on the first day of the celebration of the millenary, together with some commemoration of the restoration of the See.
Ripon enjoyed the privilege of sanctuary in common with other places ; but it held, till the reign of James I., the unique distinction of a " Wakeman " for its chief magistrate. This title goes back to Saxon times, and a complete list of Wakemen has been preserved from 1400 to 1604, when the title was unfor- tunately changed to "Mayor." The fact of Ripon possessing a Wakeman in the time of Alfred is surely of itself pretty good evidence of municipal life ; to which may be added that the motto of the Corporation is,—" Except the 14Grd keep the city, the Wakeman waketh but in vain." In olden times, the Wake- man carried a horn on stated occasions, and the horn is still borne by the Mayor's serjeant, and is blown every night at 9 o'clock opposite the Mayor's house, and afterwards in the market-place. This horn is believed by learned antiquaries, among whom may be mentioned the Rev. W. C. Lukis, to have been an instrument attesting the legal tenure of land. "In the absence of a written charter," says Mr. Lukis, "this was deemed a legal tenure, and several horns are still in existence which have served this purpose, and the donations of land thus ac- quired have been subsequently confirmed by Kings." And he expresses his belief "that the Ripon horn belongs to the same category, and that it is possibly the symbol of the endowment of the Church's and town's rights and privileges granted at some early period."
Enough has been said to show that Ripon has a good title to plume itself on the continuous enjoyment of a thousand years of municipal life of some kind. Awl it did well to celebrate its appreciation of so rare a longevity in truly English fashion,—first, by a religious service of thanksgiving in the venerable church from which the civic life of Ripon sprang, and around which it expanded and flourished ; secondly, by a splendid historical pageant illustrative of various periods of British history in general, and of the history of Ripon in particular ; coupled with an exhibition of old English sports and pastimes, including the acting of a play composed especially for the occasion, and founded on the ballad of the encounter between Robin Hood and his band with the " Curtal Friar" of Fountains. The grounds of Fountains Abbey are the tradi- tional scene of this encounter ; and on that scene the play was acted a week ago, with great spirit, in the presence of a vast audience, beneath the canopy of heaven, and in the midst of one of the fairest scenes in all England. If the shade of Dean McNeile had been able to revisit the ancient city of Ripon, and witness the doings of last week, we wonder what he would have thought of it all. Certainly no such display of "Ritualism" has been seen within the Liberty of Ripon or Fountains s:nce the Reformation. But it was Ritualism of a very harmless and not unedifying sort, as perhaps some other kinds of Ritualism may prove to be when viewed in the daylight of common-sense and unprejudiced reason.