The Saxon kingdom was never an absolute monarchy. The power of the Anglo-Saxon King, whether it be during the period of the many kingdoms, of the seven, of the three, or of the one, was always limited by his Witenagemote or Great Council. Centuries before, while Angle and Saxon were yet living in their continental homes we see the forerunner of the Witenagemote in the Folkmoot, or assembly of the free men of the tribes. In the pages of Tacitus we read that while the principes disposed of all the ordinary business, matters of great importance were submitted to the General Assembly. In the primitive kingdoms in which the Teutonic system originated, the State Assembly still appears as a Folkmoot showing the will of the whole people in arms. In the structure of the Folkmoot there is no departure from primitive traditions. In course of time, however, the Folkmoots became the Witenagemotes, and were no longer the great popular assemblies of an entire nation but simply aristocratic assemblies, composed only of the great men of the kingdom. It is impossible to determine at exactly what period this change was accomplished; it was undoubtedly a gradual one, nor is it possible to determine with any degree of exactness, the composition of the Witenagemote at any given time. Its constituent elements seem to have been in the main, the eorldormen, the archbishops and bishops, the king's officers and some of the lower nobility or thanes. The attendance upon these assemblies may have been partially regulated, at times, by the number who were able to stand the expenses of the journey; distance, and the hardships of travel, perhaps, did more than the King towards keeping down the attendance at the Witenagemote. The only relic of its former popular character, lay at last in the ring of citizens who surrounded the great men of the country at Winchester, and who shouted their "ayes" and "nays" at the election of the King. The power of the Witenagemote was at all periods of the Saxon history large; it could elect or depose the King; to it belonged the administration of the higher justice; the imposition of taxes; the making of laws; the conclusion of treaties; the control of wars, and the disposal of public lands, and appointment of court officers and officers of state. Altogether, the Witenagemote served a double purpose; that of checking the power of the King, and that of uniting people and preventing any undue usurpation of power by any of the great earls or eoldermen. The growth of the great earldoms in the reign of Edward the Conqueror lessened the power of the Witenagemote as well as that of the King.