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Inheritance was important to social and political relationships, because of the nature of the economic system. Land, and labour on it, were central, and its ownership was markedly inegalitarian. The British Isles were predominantly rural, in location, economy, politics and ethos; more so than during the Roman period. A small number of major ports- Ipswich, London, Southampton and York - developed spectacularly in the eighth century, and by the tenth century a more extensive urban network was in place, with numerous burhs (fortified towns) founded by Alfred and his successors.

In 973 Edgar (959-75) was able to stage an elaborate coronation at Bath in which he was the first ruler to be crowned as king of the English; the title itself had been used by Offa and Athelstan. 20 A HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ISLES The expanding West Saxon state also developed internally. A county or shire system was consolidated and extended. The shires were in turn divided into hundreds or wapentakes which were responsible for maintaining law and order. Their public courts were a link between rulers and free men; a system of officials ealdormen, sheriffs, port-reeves and hundredmen -linked the ruler and the localities.

He executed or exiled his opponents, introduced a number of Danes into the aristocracy and divided the kingdom into a small number of earldoms. Yet Cnut sought to rule not as a conqueror, but as a lord of both Danes and non-Danes. He was the king of a number of kingdoms, not a monarch seeking to enlarge one kingdom. Cnut took over an effective governmental system, did what an English monarch was supposed to do as head of state and, unlike the Norman William the Conqueror, did not have to face rebellions.

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