Travels in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, by Paul Hentzner


Britain, consisting of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, is the largest island in the world, encompassed by the ocean, the German and French seas. The largest and southern part of it is England, so named from the Angli, who quitting the little territory yet called Angel in the kingdom of Denmark, took possession here. It is governed by its own King, who owns no superior but God. It is divided into thirty-nine counties, to which thirteen in Wales were added by Henry VIII., the first who distributed that principality into counties; over each of these, in times of danger, a lord lieutenant, nominated by the King, presides with an unlimited power. Every year some gentleman, an inhabitant of the place, is appointed sheriff; his office is to collect the public moneys, to raise fines, or to make seizures, and account for it to the Treasury; to attend upon the judges, and put their sentence in execution; to empanel the jury, who sit upon facts, and return their verdict to the judges (who in England are only such of the law, and not of the fact); to convey the condemned to execution, and to dertermine in lesser causes, for the greater are tried by the judges, formerly called travelling judges of assize; these go their circuits through the counties twice every year to hear causes, and pronounce sentence upon prisoners.

As to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, after the Popes had assigned a church and parish to every priest, Honorius, Archbishop of Canterbury, about the year 636, began to divide England in the same manner into parishes: as it has two Provinces, so it has two Archbishops: the one of Canterbury, Primate and Metropolitan of all England; the other of York: subject to these are twenty-five bishops, viz., twenty-two to Canterbury, the remaining three to York.

The soil is fruitful, and abounds with cattle, which inclines the inhabitants rather to feeding than ploughing, so that near a third part of the land is left uncultivated for grazing. The climate is most temperate at all times, and the air never heavy, consequently maladies are scarcer, and less physic is used there than anywhere else. There are but few rivers; though the soil is productive, it bears no wine; but that want is supplied from abroad by the best kinds, as of Orleans, Gascon, Rhenish, and Spanish. The general drink is beer, which is prepared from barley, and is excellently well tasted, but strong, and what soon fuddles. There are many hills without one tree, or any spring, which produce a very short and tender grass, and supply plenty of food to sheep; upon these wander numerous flocks, extremely white, and whether from the temperature of the air, or goodness of the earth, bearing softer and finer fleeces than those of any other country: this is the true Golden Fleece, in which consist the chief riches of the inhabitants, great sums of money being brought into the island by merchants, chiefly for that article of trade. The dogs here are particularly good. It has mines of gold, silver, and tin (of which all manner of table utensils are made, in brightness equal to silver, and used all over Europe), of lead, and of iron, but not much of the latter. The horses are small but swift. Glasshouses are in plenty here.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38