Early Britain - Anglo-Saxon Britain
by Grant Allen
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse









This little book is an attempt to give a brief sketch of Britain under the early English conquerors, rather from the social than from the political point of view. For that purpose not much has been said about the doings of kings and statesmen; but attention has been mainly directed towards the less obvious evidence afforded us by existing monuments as to the life and mode of thought of the people themselves. The principal object throughout has been to estimate the importance of those elements in modern British life which are chiefly due to purely English or Low-Dutch influences.

The original authorities most largely consulted have been, first and above all, the "English Chronicle," and to an almost equal extent, Baeda's "Ecclesiastical History." These have been supplemented, where necessary, by Florence of Worcester and the other Latin writers of later date. I have not thought it needful, however, to repeat any of the gossiping stories from William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, and their compeers, which make up the bulk of our early history as told in most modern books. Still less have I paid any attention to the romances of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Gildas, Nennius, and the other Welsh tracts have been sparingly employed, and always with a reference by name. Asser has been used with caution, where his information seems to be really contemporary. I have also derived some occasional hints from the old British bards, from Beowulf, from the laws, and from the charters in the "Codex Diplomaticus." These written documents have been helped out by some personal study of the actual early English relics preserved in various museums, and by the indirect evidence of local nomenclature.

Among modern books, I owe my acknowledgments in the first and highest degree to Dr. E.A. Freeman, from whose great and just authority, however, I have occasionally ventured to differ in some minor matters. Next, my acknowledgments are due to Canon Stubbs, to Mr. Kemble, and to Mr. J.R. Green. Dr. Guest's valuable papers in the Transactions of the Archaeological Institute have supplied many useful suggestions. To Lappenberg and Sir Francis Palgrave I am also indebted for various details. Professor Rolleston's contributions to "Archaeologia," as well as his Appendix to Canon Greenwell's "British Barrows," have been consulted for anthropological and antiquarian points; on which also Professor Huxley and Mr. Akerman have published useful papers. Professor Boyd Dawkins's work on "Early Man in Britain," as well as the writings of Worsaae and Steenstrup have helped in elucidating the condition of the English at the date of the Conquest. Nor must I forget the aid derived from Mr. Isaac Taylor's "Words and Places," from Professor Henry Morley's "English Literature," and from Messrs. Haddan and Stubbs' "Councils." To Mr. Gomme, Mr. E.B. Tylor, Mr. Sweet, Mr. James Collier, Dr. H. Leo, and perhaps others, I am under various obligations; and if any acknowledgments have been overlooked, I trust the injured person will forgive me when I have had already to quote so many authorities for so small a book. The popular character of the work renders it undesirable to load the pages with footnotes of reference; and scholars will generally see for themselves the source of the information given in the text.

Personally, my thanks are due to my friend, Mr. York Powell, for much valuable aid and assistance, and to the Rev. E. McClure, one of the Society's secretaries, for his kind revision of the volume in proof, and for several suggestions of which I have gladly availed myself.

As various early English names and phrases occur throughout the book, it will be best, perhaps, to say a few words about their pronunciation here, rather than to leave over that subject to the chapter on the Anglo-Saxon language, near the close of the work. A few notes on this matter are therefore appended below.

[Transcriber's note: For this Latin-1 version, macrons have been marked as x, and breve accents as x. See the Unicode version for a proper rendering of these accents.]

The simple vowels, as a rule, have their continental pronunciation, approximately thus: ā as in father, ă as in ask; ē as in there, ĕ as in men; ī as in marine, ĭ as fit; ō as in note, ŏ as in not; ū as in brute, ŭ as in full; ȳ as in gruen (German), y as in huebsch (German). The quantity of the vowels is not marked in this work. AE is not a diphthong, but a simple vowel sound, the same as our own short a in man, that, &c. Ea is pronounced like ya. C is always hard, like k; and g is also always hard, as in begin: they must never be pronounced like s or j. The other consonants have the same values as in modern English. No vowel or consonant is ever mute. Hence we get the following approximate pronunciations: AElfred and AEthelred, as if written Alfred and Athelred; AEthelstan and Dunstan, as Athelstahn and Doonstahn; Eadwine and Oswine, nearly as Yahd-weena and Ose-weena; Wulfsige and Sigeberht, as Wolf-seeg-a and Seeg-a-bayrt; Ceolred and Cynewulf, as Keole-red and Kuene-wolf. These approximations look a little absurd when written down in the only modern phonetic equivalents; but that is the fault of our own existing spelling, not of the early English names themselves.





At a period earlier than the dawn of written history there lived somewhere among the great table-lands and plains of Central Asia a race known to us only by the uncertain name of Aryans. These Aryans were a fair-skinned and well-built people, long past the stage of aboriginal savagery, and possessed of a considerable degree of primitive culture. Though mainly pastoral in habit, they were acquainted with tillage, and they grew for themselves at least one kind of cereal grain. They spoke a language whose existence and nature we infer from the remnants of it which survive in the tongues of their descendants, and from these remnants we are able to judge, in some measure, of their civilisation and their modes of thought. The indications thus preserved for us show the Aryans to have been a simple and fierce community of early warriors, farmers, and shepherds, still in a partially nomad condition, living under a patriarchal rule, originally ignorant of all metals save gold, but possessing weapons and implements of stone,[1] and worshipping as their chief god the open heaven. We must not regard them as an idyllic and peaceable people: on the contrary, they were the fiercest and most conquering tribe ever known. In mental power and in plasticity of manners, however, they probably rose far superior to any race then living, except only the Semitic nations of the Mediterranean coast.

[1] Professor Boyd Dawkins has shown that the Continental Celts were still in their stone age when they invaded Europe; whence we must conclude that the original Aryans were unacquainted with the use of bronze.

From the common Central Asian home, colonies of warlike Aryans gradually dispersed themselves, still in the pre-historic period, under pressure of population or hostile invasion, over many districts of Europe and Asia. Some of them moved southward, across the passes of Afghanistan, and occupied the fertile plains of the Indus and the Ganges, where they became the ancestors of the Brahmans and other modern high-caste Hindoos. The language which they took with them to their new settlements beyond the Himalayas was the Sanskrit, which still remains to this day the nearest of all dialects that we now possess to the primitive Aryan speech. From it are derived the chief modern tongues of northern India, from the Vindhyas to the Hindu Kush. Other Aryan tribes settled in the mountain districts west of Hindustan; and yet others found themselves a home in the hills of Iran or Persia, where they still preserve an allied dialect of the ancient mother tongue.

But the mass of the emigrants from the Central Asian fatherland moved further westward in successive waves, and occupied, one after another, the midland plains and mountainous peninsulas of Europe. First of all, apparently, came the Celts, who spread slowly across the South of Russia and Germany, and who are found at the dawn of authentic history extending over the entire western coasts and islands of the continent, from Spain to Scotland. Mingled in many places with the still earlier non-Aryan aborigines—perhaps Iberians and Euskarians, a short and swarthy race, armed only with weapons of polished stone, and represented at the present day by the Basques of the Pyrenees and the Asturias—the Celts held rule in Spain, Gaul, and Britain, up to the date of the several Roman conquests. A second great wave of Aryan immigration, that of the Hellenic and Italian races, broke over the shores of the AEgean and the Adriatic, where their cognate languages have become familiar to us in the two extreme and typical forms of the classical Greek and Latin. A third wave was that of the Teutonic or German people, who followed and drove out the Celts over a large part of central and western Europe; while a fourth and final swarm was that of the Slavonic tribes, which still inhabit only the extreme eastern portion of the continent.

With the Slavonians we shall have nothing to do in this enquiry; and with the Greek and Italian races we need only deal very incidentally. But the Celts, whom the English invaders found in possession of all Britain when they began their settlements in the island, form the subject of another volume in this series, and will necessarily call for some small portion of our attention here also; while it is to the Germanic race that the English stock itself actually belongs, so that we must examine somewhat more closely the course of Germanic immigration through Europe, and the nature of the primitive Teutonic civilisation.

The Germanic family of peoples consisted of a race which early split up into two great hordes or stocks, speaking dialects which differed slightly from one another through the action of the various circumstances to which they were each exposed. These two stocks are the High German and the Low German (with which last may be included the Gothic and the Scandinavian). Moving across Europe from east to west, they slowly drove out the Celts from Germany and the central plains, and took possession of the whole district between the Alps, the Rhine, and the Baltic, which formed their limits at the period when they first came into contact with the Roman power. The Goths, living in closest proximity to the empire, fell upon it during the decline and decay of Rome, settled in Italy, Gaul, and Spain, and becoming absorbed in the mass of the native population, disappear altogether from history as a distinguishable nationality. But the High and Low Germans retain to the present day their distinctive language and features; and the latter branch, to which the English people belong, still lives for the most part in the same lands which it has held ever since the date of the early Germanic immigration.

The Low Germans, in the third century after Christ, occupied in the main the belt of flat country between the Baltic and the mouths of the Rhine. Between them and the old High German Swabians lay a race intermediate in tongue and blood, the Franks. The Low Germans were divided, like most other barbaric races, into several fluctuating and ill-marked tribes, whose names are loosely and perhaps interchangeably used by the few authorities which remain to us. We must not expect to find among them the definiteness of modern civilised nations, but rather such a vagueness as that which characterised the loose confederacies of North American Indians or the various shifting peoples of South Africa. But there are three of their tribes which stand fairly well marked off from one another in early history, and which bore, at least, the chief share in the colonisation of Britain. These three tribes are the Jutes, the English, and the Saxons. Closely connected with them, but less strictly bound in the same family tie, were the Frisians.

The Jutes, the northernmost of the three divisions, lived in the marshy forests and along the winding fjords of Jutland, the extreme peninsula of Denmark, which still preserves their name in our own day. The English dwelt just to the south, in the heath-clad neck of the peninsula, which we now call Sleswick. And the Saxons, a much larger tribe, occupied the flat continental shore, from the mouth of the Oder to that of the Rhine. At the period when history lifts the curtain upon the future Germanic colonists of Britain, we thus discover them as the inhabitants of the low-lying lands around the Baltic and the North Sea, and closely connected with other tribes on either side, such as the Frisians and the Danes, who still speak very cognate Low German and Scandinavian languages.

But we have not yet fully grasped the extent of the relationship between the first Teutonic settlers in Britain and their continental brethren. Not only are the true Englishmen of modern England distantly connected with the Franks, who never to our knowledge took part in the colonisation of the island at all; and more closely connected with the Frisians, some of whom probably accompanied the earliest piratical hordes; as well as with the Danes, who settled at a later date in all the northern counties: but they are also most closely connected of all with those members of the colonising tribes who did not themselves bear a share in the settlement, and whose descendants are still living in Denmark and in various parts of Germany. The English proper, it is true, seem to have deserted their old home in Sleswick in a body; so that, according to Baeda, the Christian historian of Northumberland, in his time this oldest England by the shores of the Baltic lay waste and unpeopled, through the completeness of the exodus. But the Jutes appear to have migrated in small numbers, while the larger part of the tribe remained at home in their native marshland; and of the more numerous Saxons, though a great swarm went out to conquer southern Britain, a vast body was still left behind in Germany, where it continued independent and pagan till the time of Karl the Great, long after the Teutonic colonists of Britain had grown into peaceable and civilised Christians. It is from the statements of later historians with regard to these continental Saxons that our knowledge of the early English customs and institutions, during the continental period of English history, must be mainly inferred. We gather our picture of the English and Saxons who first came to this country from the picture drawn for us of those among their brethren whom they left behind in the primitive English home.

These three tribes, the Jutes, the English, and the Saxons, had not yet, apparently, advanced far enough in the idea of national unity to possess a separate general name, distinguishing them altogether from the other tribes of the Germanic stock. Most probably they did not regard themselves at this period as a single nation at all, or even as more closely bound to one another than to the surrounding and kindred tribes. They may have united at times for purposes of a special war; but their union was merely analogous to that of two North American peoples, or two modern European nations, pursuing a common policy for awhile. At a later date, in Britain, the three tribes learned to call themselves collectively by the name of that one among them which earliest rose to supremacy—the English; and the whole southern half of the island came to be known by their name as England. Even from the first it seems probable that their language was spoken of as English only, and comparatively little as Saxon. But since it would be inconvenient to use the name of one dominant tribe alone, the English, as equivalent to those of the three, and since it is desirable to have a common title for all the Germanic colonists of Britain, whenever it is necessary to speak of them together, we shall employ the late and, strictly speaking, incorrect form of "Anglo-Saxons" for this purpose. Similarly, in order to distinguish the earliest pure form of the English language from its later modern form, now largely enriched and altered by the addition of Romance or Latin words and the disuse of native ones, we shall always speak of it, where distinction is necessary, as Anglo-Saxon. The term is now too deeply rooted in our language to be again uprooted; and it has, besides, the merit of supplying a want. At the same time, it should be remembered that the expression Anglo-Saxon is purely artificial, and was never used by the people themselves in describing their fellows or their tongue. When they did not speak of themselves as Jutes, English, and Saxons respectively, they spoke of themselves as English alone.



From the notices left us by Baeda in Britain, and by Nithard and others on the continent, of the habits and manners which distinguished those Saxons who remained in the old fatherland, we are able to form some idea of the primitive condition of those other Saxons, English, and Jutes, who afterwards colonized Britain, during the period while they still all lived together in the heather-clad wastes and marshy lowlands of Denmark and Northern Germany. The early heathen poem of Beowulf also gives us a glimpse of their ideas and their mode of thought. The known physical characteristics of the race, the nature of the country which they inhabited, the analogy of other Germanic tribes, and the recent discoveries of pre-historic archaeology, all help us to piece out a fairly consistent picture of their appearance, their manner of life, and their rude political institutions.

We must begin by dismissing from our minds all those modern notions which are almost inevitably implied by the use of language directly derived from that of our heathen ancestors, but now mixed up in our conceptions with the most advanced forms of European civilisation. We must not allow such words as "king" and "English" to mislead us into a species of filial blindness to the real nature of our Teutonic forefathers. The little community of wild farmers and warriors who lived among the dim woodlands of Sleswick, beside the swampy margin of the North Sea, has grown into the nucleus of a vast empire, only very partially Germanic in blood, and enriched by all the alien culture of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome. But as it still preserves the identical tongue of its early barbarous days, we are naturally tempted to read our modern acquired feelings into the simple but familiar terms employed by our continental predecessors. What the early English called a king we should now-a-days call a chief; what they called a meeting of wise men we should now-a-days call a palaver. In fact, we must recollect that we are dealing with a purely barbaric race—not savage, indeed, nor without a certain rude culture of its own, the result of long centuries of previous development; yet essentially military and predatory in its habits, and akin in its material civilisation to many races which we now regard as immeasurably our inferiors. If we wish for a modern equivalent of the primitive Anglo-Saxon level of culture, we may perhaps best find it in the Kurds of the Turkish and Persian frontier, or in the Mahrattas of the wild mountain region of the western Deccan.

The early English in Sleswick and Friesland had partially reached the agricultural stage of civilisation. They tilled little plots of ground in the forest; but they depended more largely for subsistence upon their cattle, and they were also hunters and trappers in the great belts of woodland or marsh which everywhere surrounded their isolated villages. They were acquainted with the use of bronze from the first period of their settlement in Europe, and some of the battle-axes or shields which they manufactured from this metal were beautifully chased with exquisite decorative patterns, equalling in taste the ornamental designs still employed by the Polynesian islanders. Such weapons, however, were doubtless intended for the use of the chieftains only, and were probably employed as insignia of rank alone. They are still discovered in the barrows which cover the remains of the early chieftains; though it is possible that they may really belong to the monuments of a yet earlier race. But iron was certainly employed by the English, at least, from about the first century of the Christian era, and its use was perhaps introduced into the marshlands of Sleswick by the Germanic conquerors of the north. Even at this early date, abundant proof exists of mercantile intercourse with the Roman world (probably through Pannonia), whereby the alien culture of the south was already engrafted in part upon the low civilisation of the native English. Amber was then exported from the Baltic, while gold, silver, and glass beads were given in return. Roman coins are discovered in Low German tombs of the first five centuries in Sleswick, Holstein, Friesland, and the Isles; and Roman patterns are imitated in the iron weapons and utensils of the same period. Gold byzants of the fifth century prove an intercourse with Constantinople at the exact date of the colonisation of Britain. From the very earliest moment when we catch a glimpse of its nature, the home-grown English culture had already begun to be modified by the superior arts of Rome. Even the alphabet was known and used in its Runic form, though the absence of writing materials caused its employment to be restricted to inscriptions on wooden tablets, on rude stone monuments, or on utensils of metal-work. A golden drinking-horn found in Sleswick, and engraved with the maker's name, referred to the middle of the fourth century, contains the earliest known specimen of the English language.

The early English society was founded entirely on the tie of blood. Every clan or family lived by itself and formed a guild for mutual protection, each kinsman being his brother's keeper, and bound to avenge his death by feud with the tribe or clan which had killed him. This duty of blood-revenge was the supreme religion of the race. Moreover, the clan was answerable as a whole for the ill-deeds of all its members; and the fine payable for murder or injury was handed over by the family of the wrong-doer to the family of the injured man.

Each little village of the old English community possessed a general independence of its own, and lay apart from all the others, often surrounded by a broad belt or mark of virgin forest. It consisted of a clearing like those of the American backwoods, where a single family or kindred had made its home, and preserved its separate independence intact. Each of these families was known by the name of its real or supposed ancestor, the patronymic being formed by the addition of the syllable ing. Thus the descendants of AElla would be called AEllings, and their ham or stockade would be known as AEllingaham, or in modern form Allingham. So the tun or enclosure of the Culmings would be Culmingatun, similarly modernised into Culmington. Names of this type abound in the newer England at the present day; as in the case of Birmingham, Buckingham, Wellington, Kensington, Basingstoke, and Paddington. But while in America the clearing is merely a temporary phase, and the border of forest is soon cut down so as to connect the village with its neighbours, in the old Anglo-Saxon fatherland the border of woodland, heath, or fen was jealously guarded as a frontier and natural defence for the little predatory and agricultural community. Whoever crossed it was bound to give notice of his coming by blowing a horn; else he was cut down at once as a stealthy enemy. The marksmen wished to remain separate from all others, and only to mix with those of their own kin. In this primitive love of separation we have the germ of that local independence and that isolated private home life which is one of the most marked characteristics of modern Englishmen.

In the middle of the clearing, surrounded by a wooden stockade, stood the village, a group of rude detached huts. The marksmen each possessed a separate little homestead, consisting usually of a small wooden house or shanty, a courtyard, and a cattle-fold. So far, private property in land had already begun. But the forest and the pasture land were not appropriated: each man had a right from year to year to let loose his kine or horses on a certain equal or proportionate space of land assigned to him by the village in council. The wealth of the people consisted mainly in cattle which fed on the pasture, and pigs turned out to fatten on the acorns of the forest: but a small portion of the soil was ploughed and sown; and this portion also was distributed to the villagers for tillage by annual arrangement. The hall of the chief rose in the midst of the lesser houses, open to all comers. The village moot, or assembly of freemen, met in the open air, under some sacred tree, or beside some old monumental stone, often a relic of the older aboriginal race, marking the tomb of a dead chieftain, but worshipped as a god by the English immigrants. At these informal meetings, every head of a family had a right to appear and deliberate. The primitive English constitution was a pure republican aristocracy or oligarchy of householders, like that which still survives in the Swiss forest cantons.

But there were yet distinctions of rank in the villages and in the loose tribes formed by their union for purposes of war or otherwise. The people were divided into three classes of aethelings or chieftains, freolings or freemen, and theows or slaves. The aethelings were the nobles and rulers of each tribe. There was no king: but when the tribes joined together in a war, their aethelings cast lots together, and whoever drew the winning lot was made commander for the time being. As soon as the war was over, each tribe returned to its own independence. Indeed, the only really coherent body was the village or kindred: and the whole course of early English history consists of a long and tedious effort at increased national unity, which was never fully realised till the Norman conquerors bound the whole nation together in the firm grasp of William, Henry, and Edward.

In personal appearance, the primitive Anglo-Saxons were typical Germans of very unmixed blood. Tall, fair-haired, and gray-eyed, their limbs were large and stout, and their heads of the round or brachycephalic type, common to most Aryan races. They did not intermarry with other nations, preserving their Germanic blood pure and unadulterated. But as they had slaves, and as these slaves must in many cases have been captives spared in war, we must suppose that such descriptions apply, strictly speaking, to the freemen and chieftains alone. The slaves might be of any race, and in process of time they must have learnt to speak English, and their children must have become English in all but blood. Many of them, indeed, would probably be actually English on the father's side, though born of slave mothers. Hence we must be careful not to interpret the expressions of historians, who would be thinking of the free classes only, and especially of the nobles, as though they applied to the slaves as well. Wherever slavery exists, the blood of the slave community is necessarily very mixed. The picture which the heathen English have drawn of themselves in Beowulf is one of savage pirates, clad in shirts of ring-armour, and greedy of gold and ale. Fighting and drinking are their two delights. The noblest leader is he who builds a great hall, throws it open for his people to carouse in, and liberally deals out beer, and bracelets, and money at the feast. The joy of battle is keen in their breasts. The sea and the storm are welcome to them. They are fearless and greedy pirates, not ashamed of living by the strong hand alone.

In creed, the English were pagans, having a religion of beliefs rather than of rites. Their chief deity, perhaps, was a form of the old Aryan Sky-god, who took with them the guise of Thunor or Thunder (in Scandinavian, Thor), an angry warrior hurling his hammer, the thunder-bolt, from the stormy clouds. These thunder-bolts were often found buried in the earth; and being really the polished stone-axes of the earlier inhabitants, they do actually resemble a hammer in shape. But Woden, the special god of the Teutonic race, had practically usurped the highest place in their mythology: he is represented as the leader of the Germans in their exodus from Asia to north-western Europe, and since all the pedigrees of their chieftains were traced back to Woden, it is not improbable that he may have been really a deified ancestor of the principal Germanic families. The popular creed, however, was mainly one of lesser gods, such as elves, ogres, giants, and monsters, inhabitants of the mark and fen, stories of whom still survive in English villages as folk-lore or fairy tales. A few legends of the pagan time are preserved for us in Christian books. Beowulf is rich in allusions to these ancient superstitions. If we may build upon the slender materials which alone are available, it would seem that the dead chieftains were buried in barrows, and ghost-worship was practised at their tombs. The temples were mere stockades of wood, with rude blocks or monoliths to represent deities and altars. Probably their few rites consisted merely of human or other sacrifices to the gods or the ghosts of departed chiefs. There was a regular priesthood of the great gods, but each man was priest for his own household. As in most other heathen communities, the real worship of the people was mainly directed to the special family deities of every hearth. The great gods were appealed to by the chieftains and by the race in battle: but the household gods or deified ancestors received the chief homage of the churls by their own firesides.

Thus the Anglo-Saxons, before the great exodus from Denmark and North Germany, appear as a race of fierce, cruel, and barbaric pagans, delighting in the sea, in slaughter, and in drink. They dwelt in little isolated communities, bound together internally by ties of blood, and uniting occasionally with others only for purposes of rapine. They lived a life which mainly alternated between grazing, piratical seafaring, and cattle-lifting; always on the war-trail against the possessions of others, when they were not specially engaged in taking care of their own. Every record and every indication shows them to us as fiercer heathen prototypes of the Scotch clans in the most lawless days of the Highlands. Incapable of union for any peaceful purpose at home, they learned their earliest lesson of subordination in their piratical attacks upon the civilised Christian community of Roman Britain. We first meet with them in history in the character of destroyers and sea-robbers. Yet they possessed already in their wild marshy home the germs of those free institutions which have made the history of England unique amongst the nations of Europe.



Proximity to the sea turns robbers into corsairs. When predatory tribes reach the seaboard they always take to piracy, provided they have attained the shipbuilding level of culture. In the ancient AEgean, in the Malay Archipelago, in the China seas, we see the same process always taking place. Probably from the first period of their severance from the main Aryan stock in Central Asia, the Low German race and their ancestors had been a predatory and conquering people, for ever engaged in raids and smouldering warfare with their neighbours. When they reached the Baltic and the islands of the Frisian coast, they grew naturally into a nation of pirates. Even during the bronze age, we find sculptured stones with representations of long row-boats, manned by several oarsmen, and in one or two cases actually bearing a rude sail. Their prows and sterns stand high out of the water, and are adorned with intricate carvings. They seem like the predecessors of the long ships—snakes and sea-dragons—which afterwards bore the northern corsairs into every river of Europe. Such boats, adapted for long sea-voyages, show a considerable intercourse, piratical or commercial, between the Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian North and other distant countries. Certainly, from the earliest days of Roman rule on the German Ocean to the thirteenth century, the Low Dutch and Scandinavian tribes carried on an almost unbroken course of expeditions by sea, beginning in every case with mere descents upon the coast for the purposes of plunder, but ending, as a rule, with regular colonisation or political supremacy. In this manner the people of the Baltic and the North Sea ravaged or settled in every country on the sea-shore, from Orkney, Shetland, and the Faroes, to Normandy, Apulia, and Greece; from Boulogne and Kent, to Iceland, Greenland, and, perhaps, America. The colonisation of South-Eastern Britain was but the first chapter in this long history of predatory excursions on the part of the Low German peoples.

The piratical ships of the early English were row-boats of very simple construction. We actually possess one undoubted specimen at the present day, whose very date is fixed for us by the circumstances of its discovery. It was dug up, some years since, from a peat-bog in Sleswick, the old England of our forefathers, along with iron arms and implements, and in association with Roman coins ranging in date from A.D. 67 to A.D. 217. It may therefore be pretty confidently assigned to the first half of the third century. In this interesting relic, then, we have one of the identical boats in which the descents upon the British coast were first made. The craft is rudely built of oaken boards, and is seventy feet long by nine broad. The stem and stern are alike in shape, and the boat is fitted for being beached upon the foreshore. A sculptured stone at Haeggeby, in Uplande, roughly represents for us such a ship under way, probably of about the same date. It is rowed with twelve pairs of oars, and has no sails; and it contains no other persons but the rowers and a coxswain, who acted doubtless as leader of the expedition. Such a boat might convey about 120 fighting men.

There are some grounds for believing that, even before the establishment of the Roman power in Britain, Teutonic pirates from the northern marshlands were already in the habit of plundering the Celtic inhabitants of the country between the Wash and the mouth of the Thames; and it is possible that an English colony may, even then, have established itself in the modern Lincolnshire. But, be this as it may, we know at least that during the period of the Roman occupation, Low German adventurers were constantly engaged in descending upon the exposed coasts of the English Channel and the North Sea. The Low German tribe nearest to the Roman provinces was that of the Saxons, and accordingly these Teutonic pirates, of whatever race, were known as Saxons by the provincials, and all Englishmen are still so called by the modern Celts, in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

The outlying Roman provinces were close at hand, easy to reach, rich, ill-defended, and a tempting prey for the barbaric tribesmen of the north. Setting out in their light open skiffs from the islands at the mouth of the Elbe, or off the shore afterwards submerged in what is now the Zuyder Zee, the English or Saxon pirates crossed the sea with the prevalent north-east wind, and landed all along the provincial coasts of Gaul and Britain. As the empire decayed under the assaults of the Goths, their ravages turned into regular settlements. One great body pillaged, age after age, the neighbourhood of Bayeux, where, before the middle of the fifth century, it established a flourishing colony, and where the towns and villages all still bear names of Saxon origin. Another horde first plundered and then took up its abode near Boulogne, where local names of the English patronymic type also abound to the present day. In Britain itself, at a date not later than the end of the fourth century, we find (in the "Notitia Imperil") an officer who bears the title of Count of the Saxon Shore, and whose jurisdiction extended from Lincolnshire to Southampton Water. The title probably indicates that piratical incursions had already set in on Britain, and the duty of the count was most likely that of repelling the English invaders.

As soon as the Romans found themselves compelled to withdraw their garrison from Britain, leaving the provinces to defend themselves as best they might, the temptation to the English pirates became a thousand times stronger than before. Though the so-called history of the conquest, handed down to us by Baeda and the "English Chronicle,"[1] is now considered by many enquirers to be mythical in almost every particular, the facts themselves speak out for us with unhesitating certainty. We know that about the middle of the fifth century, shortly after the withdrawal of the regular Roman troops, several bodies of heathen Anglo-Saxons, belonging to the three tribes of Jutes, English, and Saxons, settled en masse on the south-eastern shores of Britain, from the Firth of Forth to the Isle of Wight. The age of mere plundering descents was decisively over, and the age of settlement and colonisation had set in. These heathen Anglo-Saxons drove away, exterminated, or enslaved the Romanised and Christianised Celts, broke down every vestige of Roman civilisation, destroyed the churches, burnt the villas, laid waste many of the towns, and re-introduced a long period of pagan barbarism. For a while Britain remains enveloped in an age of complete uncertainty, and heathen myths intervene between the Christian historical period of the Romans and the Christian historical period initiated by the conversion of Kent. Of South-Eastern Britain under the pagan Anglo-Saxons we know practically nothing, save by inference and analogy, or by the scanty evidence of archaeology.

[1] For an account of these two main authorities see further on, Baeda in chapter xi., and the "Chronicle" in chapter xviii.

According to tradition the Jutes came first. In 449, says the Celtic legend (the date is quite untrustworthy), they landed in Kent, where they first settled in Ruim, which we English call Thanet—then really an island, and gradually spread themselves over the mainland, capturing the great Roman fortress of Rochester and coast land as far as London. Though the details of this story are full of mythical absurdities, the analogy of the later Danish colonies gives it an air of great probability, as the Danes always settled first in islands or peninsulas, and thence proceeded to overrun, and finally to annex, the adjacent district. A second Jutish horde established itself in the Isle of Wight and on the opposite shore of Hampshire. But the whole share borne by the Jutes in the settlement of Britain seems to have been but small.

The Saxons came second in time, if we may believe the legends. In 477, AElle, with his three sons, is said to have landed on the south coast, where he founded the colony of the South Saxons, or Sussex. In 495, Cerdic and Cynric led another kindred horde to the south-western shore, and made the first settlement of the West Saxons, or Wessex. Of the beginnings of the East Saxon community in Essex, and of the Middle Saxons in Middlesex, we know little, even by tradition. The Saxons undoubtedly came over in large numbers; but a considerable body of their fellow-tribesmen still remained upon the Continent, where they were still independent and unconverted up to the time of Karl the Great.

The English, on the other hand, apparently migrated in a body. There is no trace of any Englishmen in Denmark or Germany after the exodus to Britain. Their language, of which a dialect still survives in Friesland, has utterly died out in Sleswick. The English took for their share of Britain the nearest east coast. We have little record of their arrival, even in the legendary story; we merely learn that in 547, Ida "succeeded to the kingdom" of the Northumbrians, whence we may possibly conclude that the colony was already established. The English settlement extended from the Forth to Essex, and was subdivided into Bernicia, Deira, and East Anglia.

Wherever the Anglo-Saxons came, their first work was to stamp out with fire and sword every trace of the Roman civilisation. Modern investigations amongst pagan Anglo-Saxon barrows in Britain show the Low German race as pure barbarians, great at destruction, but incapable of constructive work. Professor Rolleston, who has opened several of these early heathen tombs of our Teutonic ancestors, finds in them everywhere abundant evidence of "their great aptness at destroying, and their great slowness in elaborating, material civilisation." Until the Anglo-Saxon received from the Continent the Christian religion and the Roman culture, he was a mere average Aryan barbarian, with a strong taste for war and plunder, but with small love for any of the arts of peace. Wherever else, in Gaul, Spain, or Italy, the Teutonic barbarians came in contact with the Roman civilisation, they received the religion of Christ, and the arts of the conquered people, during or before their conquest of the country. But in Britain the Teutonic invaders remained pagans long after their settlement in the island; and they utterly destroyed, in the south-eastern tract, almost every relic of the Roman rule and of the Christian faith. Hence we have here the curious fact that, during the fifth and sixth centuries, a belt of intrusive and aggressive heathendom intervenes between the Christians of the Continent and the Christian Welsh and Irish of western Britain. The Church of the Celtic Welsh was cut off for more than a hundred years from the Churches of the Roman world by a hostile and impassable barrier of heathen English, Jutes, and Saxons. Their separation produced many momentous effects on the after history both of the Welsh themselves and of their English conquerors.



Though the myths which surround the arrival of the English in Britain have little historical value, they are yet interesting for the light which they throw incidentally upon the habits and modes of thought of the colonists. They have one character in common with all other legends, that they grow fuller and more circumstantial the further they proceed from the original time. Baeda, who wrote about A.D. 700, gives them in a very meagre form: the English Chronicle, compiled at the court of AElfred, about A.D. 900, adds several important traditional particulars: while with the romantic Geoffrey of Monmouth, A.D. 1152, they assume the character of full and circumstantial tales. The less men knew about the conquest, the more they had to tell about it.

Among the most sacred animals of the Aryan race was the horse. Even in the Indian epics, the sacrifice of a horse was the highest rite of the primitive religion. Tacitus tells us that the Germans kept sacred white horses at the public expense, in the groves and woods of the gods: and that from their neighings and snortings, auguries were taken. Amongst the people of the northern marshlands, the white horse seems to have been held in especial honour, and to this day a white horse rampant forms the cognisance of Hanover and Brunswick. The English settlers brought this, their national emblem, with them to Britain, and cut its figure on the chalk downs as they advanced westward, to mark the progress of their conquest. The white horses on the Berkshire and Wiltshire hills still bear witness to their settlement. A white horse is even now the symbol of Kent. Hence it is not surprising to learn that in the legendary story of the first colonisation, the Jutish leaders who led the earliest Teutonic host into Thanet should bear the names of Hengest and Horsa, the stallion and the mare. They came in three keels—a ridiculously inadequate number, considering their size and the necessities of a conquering army: and they settled in 449 (for the legends are always most precise where they are least historical) in the Isle of Thanet. "A multitude of whelps," says the Welsh monk Gildas, "came forth from the lair of the barbaric lioness, in three cyuls, as they call them." Vortigern, King of the Welsh, had invited them to come to his aid against the Picts of North Britain and the Scots of Ireland, who were making piratical incursions into the deserted province, left unprotected through the heavy levies made by the departing Romans. The Jutes attacked and conquered the Gaels, but then turned against their Welsh allies.

In 455, the Jutes advanced from Thanet to conquer the whole of Kent, "and Hengest and Horsa fought with Vortigern the king," says the English Chronicle, "at the place that is cleped AEglesthrep; and there men slew Horsa his brother, and after that Hengest came to rule, and AEsc his son." One year later, Hengest and AEsc fought once more with the Welsh at Crayford, "and offslew 4,000 men; and the Britons then forsook Kent-land, and fled with mickle awe to London-bury." In this account we may see a dim recollection of the settlement of the two petty Jutish kingdoms in Kent, with their respective capitals at Canterbury and Rochester, whose separate dioceses still point back to the two original principalities. It may be worth while to note, too, that the name AEsc means the ash-tree; and that this tree was as sacred among plants as the horse was among animals.

Nevertheless, a kernel of truth doubtless lingers in the traditional story. Thanet was afterwards one of the first landing-places of the Danes: and its isolated position—for a broad belt of sea then separated the island from the Kentish main—would make it a natural post to be assigned by the Welsh to their doubtful piratical allies. The inlet was guarded by the great Roman fortress of Rhutupiae: and after the fall of that important stronghold, the English may probably have occupied the principality of East Kent, with its capital of Canterbury. The walls of Rochester may have held out longer: and the West Kentish kingdom may well have been founded by two successful battles at the passage of the Medway and the Cray.

The legend as to the settlement of Sussex is of much the same sort. In 477, AElle the Saxon came to Britain also with the suspiciously symmetrical number of three ships. With him came his three sons, Kymen, Wlencing, and Cissa. These names are obviously invented to account for those of three important places in the South-Saxon chieftainship. The host landed at Kymenes ora, probably Keynor, in the Bill of Selsey, then, as its title imports, a separate island girt round by the tidal sea: their capital and, in days after the Norman conquest, their cathedral was at Cissan-ceaster, the Roman Regnum, now Chichester: while the third name survives in the modern village of Lancing, near Shoreham. The Saxons at once fought the natives "and offslew many Welsh, and drove some in flight into the wood that is named Andredes-leag," now the Weald of Kent and Sussex. A little colony thus occupied the western half of the modern county: but the eastern portion still remained in the hands of the Welsh. For awhile the great Roman fortress of Anderida (now Pevensey) held out against the invaders; until in 491 "AElle and Cissa beset Anderida, and offslew all that were therein; nor was there after even one Briton left alive." All Sussex became a single Saxon kingdom, ringed round by the great forest of the Weald. Here again the obviously unhistorical character of the main facts throws the utmost doubt upon the nature of the details. Yet, in this case too, the central idea itself is likely enough,—that the South Saxons first occupied the solitary coast islet of Selsey; then conquered the fortress of Regnum and the western shore as far as Eastbourne; and finally captured Anderida and the eastern half of the county up to the line of the Romney marshes.

Even more improbable is the story of the Saxon settlement on the more distant portion of the south coast. In 495 "came twain aldermen to Britain, Cerdic and Cynric his son, with five ships, at that place that is cleped Cerdices ora, and fought that ilk day with the Welsh." Clearly, the name of Cerdic may be invented solely to account for the name of the place: since we see by the sequel that the English freely imagined such personages as pegs on which to hang their mythical history.[1] For, six years later, one Port landed at Portsmouth with two ships, and there slew a Welsh nobleman. But we know positively that the name of Portsmouth comes from the Latin Portus; and therefore Port must have been simply invented to explain the unknown derivation. Still more flagrant is the case of Wihtgar, who conquered the Isle of Wight, and was buried at Wihtgarasbyrig, or Carisbrooke. For the origin of that name is really quite different: the Wiht-ware or Wiht-gare are the men of Wight, just as the Cant-ware are the men of Kent: and Wiht-gara-byrig is the Wight-men's-bury, just as Cant-wara-byrig or Canterbury is the Kent-men's-bury. Moreover, a double story is told in the Chronicle as to the original colonisation of Wessex; the first attributing the conquest to Cerdic and Cynric, and the second to Stuf and Wihtgar.

[1] Cerdic is apparently a British rather than an English name, since Baeda mentions a certain "Cerdic, rex Brettonum." This may have been a Caradoc. Perhaps the first element in the names Cerdices ora, Cerdices ford, &c., was older than the English conquest. The legends are invariably connected with local names.

The only other existing legend refers to the great English kingdom of Northumbria: and about it the English Chronicle, which is mainly West Saxon in origin, merely tells us in dry terms under the year 547, "Here Ida came to rule." There are no details, even of the meagre kind, vouchsafed in the south; no account of the conquest of the great Roman town of York, or of the resistance offered by the powerful Brigantian tribes. But a fragment of some old Northumbrian tradition, embedded in the later and spurious Welsh compilation which bears the name of Nennius, tells us a not improbable tale—that the first settlement on the coast of the Lothians was made as early as the conquest of Kent, by Jutes of the same stock as those who colonised Thanet. A hundred years later, the Welsh poems seem to say, Ida "the flame-bearer," fought his way down from a petty principality on the Forth, and occupied the whole Northumbrian coast, in spite of the stubborn guerilla warfare of the despairing provincials. Still less do we learn about the beginnings of Mercia, the powerful English kingdom which occupied the midlands; or about the first colonisation of East Anglia. In short, the legends of the settlement, unhistorical and meagre as they are, refer only to the Jutish and Saxon conquests in the south, and tell us nothing at all about the origin of the main English kingdoms in the north. It is important to bear in mind this fact, because the current conceptions as to the spread of the Anglo-Saxon race and the extermination of the native Welsh are largely based upon the very limited accounts of the conquest of Kent and Sussex, and the mournful dirges of the Welsh monks or bards.

It seems improbable, however, that the north-eastern coast of Britain, naturally exposed above every other part to the ravages of northern pirates, and in later days the head-quarters of the Danish intruders in our island, should so long have remained free from English incursions. If the Teutonic settlers really first established themselves here a century later than their conquest of Kent, we can only account for it by the supposition that York and the Brigantes, the old metropolis of the provinces, held out far more stubbornly and successfully than Rochester and Anderida, with their very servile Romanised population. But even the words of the Chronicle do not necessarily imply that Ida was the first king of the Northumbrians, or that the settlement of the country took place in his days.[2] And if they did, we need not feel bound to accept their testimony, considering that the earliest date we can assign for the composition of the chronicle is the reign of AElfred: while Baeda, the earlier native Northumbrian historian, throws no light at all upon the question. Hence it seems probable that Nennius preserves a truthful tradition, and that the English settled in the region between the Forth and the Tyne, at least as early as the Jutes settled in Kent or the Saxons along the South Coast, from Pevensey Bay to Southampton Water.

[2] A remarkable passage in the Third Continuator of Florence mentions Hyring as the first king of Bernicia, followed by Woden and five other mythical personages, before Ida. Clearly, this is mere unhistorical guesswork on the part of the monk of Bury; but it may enclose a genuine tradition so far as Hyring is concerned.

If, then, we leave out of consideration the etymological myths and numerical absurdities of the English or Welsh legends, and look only at the facts disclosed to us by the subsequent condition of the country, we shall find that the early Anglo-Saxon settlements took place somewhat after this wise. In the extreme north, the English apparently did not care to settle in the rugged mountain country between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, inhabited by the free and warlike Picts. But from the Firth of Forth to the borders of Essex, a succession of colonies, belonging to the restricted English tribe, occupied the whole provincial coast, burning, plundering, and massacring in many places as they went. First and northernmost of all came the people whom we know by their Latinised title of Bernicians, and who descended upon the rocky braes between Forth and Tyne. These are the English of Ida's kingdom, the modern Lothians and Northumberland. Their chief town was at Bebbanburh, now Bamborough, which Ida "timbered, and betyned it with a hedge." Next in geographical order stood the people of Deira, or Yorkshire, who occupied the rich agricultural valley of the Ouse, the fertile alluvial tract of Holderness, and the bleak coast-line from Tyne to Humber. Whether they conquered the Roman capital of York, or whether it made terms with the invaders, we do not know; but it is not mentioned as the chief town of the English kings before the days of Eadwine, under whom the two Northumbrian chieftainships were united into a single kingdom. However, as Eadwine assumed some of the imperial Roman trappings, it seems not unlikely that a portion at least of the Romanised population survived the conquest. The two principalities probably spread back politically in most places as far as the watershed which separates the basins of the German Ocean and the Irish Sea; but the English population seems to have lived mainly along the coast or in the fertile valley of the Ouse and its tributaries; for Elmet and Loidis, two Welsh principalities, long held out in the Leeds district, and the people of the dales and the inland parts, as we shall see reason hereafter to conclude, even now show evident marks of Celtic descent. Together the two chieftainships were generally known by the name of Northumberland, now confined to their central portion; but it must never be forgotten that the Lothians, which at present form part of modern Scotland, were originally a portion of this early English kingdom, and are still, perhaps, more purely English in blood and speech than any other district in our island.

From Humber to the Wash was occupied by a second English colony, the men of Lincolnshire, divided into three minor tribes, one of which, the Gainas, has left its name to Gainsborough. Here, again, we hear nothing of the conquest, nor of the means by which the powerful Roman colony of Lincoln fell into the hands of the English. But the town still retains its Roman name, and in part its Roman walls; so that we may conclude the native population was not entirely exterminated.

East Anglia, as its name imports, was likewise colonised by an English horde, divided, like the men of Kent, into two minor bodies, the North Folk and the South Folk, whose names survive in the modern counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. But in East Anglia, as in Yorkshire, we shall see reason hereafter to conclude that the lower orders of Welsh were largely spared, and that their descendants still form in part the labouring classes of the two counties. Here, too, the English settlers probably clustered thickest along the coast, like the Danes in later days; and the great swampy expanse of the Fens, then a mere waste of marshland tenanted by beavers and wild fowl, formed the inland boundary or mark of their almost insular kingdom.

The southern half of the coast was peopled by Englishmen of the Saxon and Jutish tribes. First came the country of the East Saxons, or Essex, the flat land stretching from the borders of East Anglia to the estuary of the Thames. This had been one of the most thickly-populated Roman regions, containing the important stations of Camalodunum, London, and Verulam. But we know nothing, even by report, of its conquest. Beyond it, and separated by the fenland of the Lea, lay the outlying little principality of Middlesex. The upper reaches of the Thames were still in the hands of the Welsh natives, for the great merchant city of London blocked the way for the pirates to the head-waters of the river.

On the south side of the estuary lay the Jutish principalities of East and West Kent, including the strong Roman posts of Rhutupiae, Dover, Rochester, and Canterbury. The great forest of the Weald and the Romney Marshes separated them from Sussex; and the insular positions of Thanet and Sheppey had always special attractions for the northern pirates.

Beyond the marshes, again, the strip of southern shore, between the downs and the sea, as far as Hayling Island, fell into the hands of the South Saxons, whose boundary to the east was formed by Romney Marsh, and to the west by the flats near Chichester, where the forest runs down to the tidal swamp by the sea. The district north of the Weald, now known as Surrey, was also peopled by Saxon freebooters, at a later date, though doubtless far more sparsely.

Finally, along the wooded coast from Portsmouth to Poole Harbour, the Gewissas, afterwards known as the West Saxons, established their power. The Isle of Wight and the region about Southampton Water, however, were occupied by the Meonwaras, a small intrusive colony of Jutes. Up the rich valley overlooked by the great Roman city of Winchester (Venta Belgarum), the West Saxons made their way, not without severe opposition, as their own legends and traditions tell us; and in Winchester they fixed their capital for awhile. The long chain of chalk downs behind the city formed their weak northern mark or boundary, while to the west they seem always to have carried on a desultory warfare with the yet unsubdued Welsh, commanded by their great leader Ambrosius, who has left his name to Ambres-byrig, or Amesbury.

We must not, however, suppose that each of these colonies had from the first a united existence as a political community. We know that even the eight or ten kingdoms into which England was divided at the dawn of the historical period were each themselves produced by the consolidation of several still smaller chieftainships. Even in the two petty Kentish kingdoms there were under-kings, who had once been independent. Wight was a distinct kingdom till the reign of Ceadwalla in Wessex. The later province of Mercia was composed of minor divisions, known as the Hwiccas, the Middle English, the West Hecan, and so forth. Henry of Huntingdon, a historian of the twelfth century, who had access, however, to several valuable and original sources of information now lost, tells us that many chieftains came from Germany, occupied Mercia and East Anglia, and often fought with one another for the supremacy. In fact, the petty kingdoms of the eighth century were themselves the result of a consolidation of many forgotten principalities founded by the first conquerors.

Thus the earliest England with which we are historically acquainted consisted of a mere long strip or borderland of Teutonic coast, divided into tiny chieftainships, and girding round half of the eastern and southern shores of a still Celtic Britain. Its area was discontinuous, and its inland boundaries towards the back country were vaguely defined. As Massachusetts and Connecticut stood off from Virginia and Georgia—as New South Wales and Victoria stand off from South Australia and Queensland—so Northumbria stood off from East Anglia, and Kent from Sussex. Each colony represented a little English nucleus along the coast or up the mouths of the greater rivers, such as the Thames and Humber, where the pirates could easily drive in their light craft. From such a nucleus, perched at first on some steep promontory like Bamborough, some separate island like Thanet, Wight, and Selsey, or some long spit of land like Holderness and Hurst Castle, the barbarians could extend their dominions on every side, till they reached some natural line of demarcation in the direction of their nearest Teutonic neighbours, which formed their necessary mark. Inland they spread as far as they could conquer; but coastwise the rivers and fens were their limits against one another. Thus this oldest insular England is marked off into at least eight separate colonies by the Forth, the Tyne, the Humber, the Wash, the Harwich Marshes, the Thames, the Weald Forest, and the Chichester tidal swamp region. As to how the pirates settled down along this wide stretch of coast, we know practically nothing; of their westward advance we know a little, and as time proceeds, that knowledge becomes more and more.



If any trust at all can be placed in the legends, a lull in the conquest followed the first settlement, and for some fifty years the English—or at least the West Saxons—were engaged in consolidating their own dominions, without making any further attack upon those of the Welsh. It may be well, therefore, to enquire what changes of manners had come over them in consequence of their change of place from the shores of the Baltic and the North Sea to those of the Channel and the German Ocean.

As a whole, English society remained much the same in Britain as it had been in Sleswick and North Holland. The English came over in a body, with their women and children, their flocks and herds, their goods and chattels. The peculiar breed of cattle which they brought with them may still be distinguished in their remains from the earlier Celtic short-horn associated with Roman ruins and pre-historic barrows. They came as settlers, not as mere marauders; and they remained banded together in their original tribes and families after they had occupied the soil of Britain.

From the moment of their landing in Britain the savage corsairs of the Sleswick flats seem wholly to have laid aside their seafaring habits. They built no more ships, apparently; for many years after Bishop Wilfrith had to teach the South Saxons how to catch sea-fish; while during the early Danish incursions we hear distinctly that the English had no vessels; nor is there much incidental mention of shipping between the age of the settlement and that of AElfred. The new-comers took up their abode at once on the richest parts of Roman Britain, and came into full enjoyment of orchards which they had not planted and fields which they had not sown. The state of cultivation in which they found the vale of York and the Kentish glens must have been widely different from that to which they were accustomed in their old heath-clad home. Accordingly, they settled down at once into farmers and landowners on a far larger scale than of yore; and they were not anxious to move away from the rich lands which they had so easily acquired. From being sailors and graziers they took to be agriculturists and landmen. In the towns, indeed, they did not settle; and most of these continued to bear their old Roman or Celtic titles. A few may have been destroyed, especially in the first onset, like Anderida, and, at a later date, Chester; but the greater number seem to have been still scantily inhabited, under English protection, by a mixed urban population, mainly Celtic in blood, and known by the name of Loegrians. It was in the country, however, that the English conquerers took up their abode. They were tillers of the soil, not merchants or skippers, and it was long before they acquired a taste for urban life. The whole eastern half of England is filled with villages bearing the characteristic English clan names, and marking each the home of a distinct family of early settlers. As soon as the new-comers had burnt the villa of the old Roman proprietor, and killed, driven out, or enslaved his abandoned serfs, they took the land to themselves and divided it out on their national system. Hence the whole government and social organisation of England is purely Teutonic, and the country even lost its old name of Britain for its new one of England.

In England, as of old in Sleswick, the village community formed the unit of English society. Each such township was still bounded by its mark of forest, mere, or fen, which divided it from its nearest neighbours. In each lived a single clan, supposed to be of kindred blood and bearing a common name. The marksmen and their serfs, the latter being conquered Welshmen, cultivated the soil under cereals for bread, and also for an unnecessarily large supply of beer, as we learn at a later date from numerous charters. Cattle and horses grazed in the pastures, while large herds of pigs were kept in the forest which formed the mark. Thus the early English settled down at once from a nation of pirates into one of agriculturists. Here and there, among the woods and fens which still covered a large part of the country, their little separate communities rose in small fenced clearings or on low islets, now joined by drainage to the mainland; while in the wider valleys, tilled in Roman times, the wealthier chieftains formed their settlements and allotted lands to their Welsh tributaries. Many family names appear in different parts of England, for a reason which will hereafter be explained. Thus we find the Bassingas at Bassingbourn, in Cambridgeshire; at Bassingfield, in Notts; at Bassingham and Bassingthorpe, in Lincolnshire; and at Bassington, in Northumberland. The Billings have left their stamp at Billing, in Northampton; Billingford, in Norfolk; Billingham, in Durham; Billingley, in Yorkshire; Billinghurst, in Sussex; and five other places in various other counties. Birmingham, Nottingham, Wellington, Faringdon, Warrington, and Wallingford are well-known names formed on the same analogy. How thickly these clan settlements lie scattered over Teutonic England may be judged from the number which occur in the London district alone—Kensington, Paddington, Notting-hill, Billingsgate, Islington, Newington, Kennington, Wapping, and Teddington. There are altogether 1,400 names of this type in England. Their value as a test of Teutonic colonisation is shown by the fact that while 48 occur in Northumberland, 127 in Yorkshire, 76 in Lincolnshire, 153 in Norfolk and Suffolk, 48 in Essex, 60 in Kent, and 86 in Sussex and Surrey, only 2 are found in Cornwall, 6 in Cumberland, 24 in Devon, 13 in Worcester, 2 in Westmoreland, and none in Monmouth. Speaking generally, these clan names are thickest along the original English coast, from Forth to Portland; they decrease rapidly as we move inland; and they die away altogether as we approach the purely Celtic west.

The English families, however, probably tilled the soil by the aid of Welsh slaves; indeed, in Anglo-Saxon, the word serf and Welshman are used almost interchangeably as equivalent synonyms. But though many Welshmen were doubtless spared from the very first, nothing is more certain than the fact that they became thoroughly Anglicized. A few new words from Welsh or Latin were introduced into the English tongue, but they were far too few sensibly to affect its vocabulary. The language was and still is essentially Low German; and though it now contains numerous words of Latin or French origin, it does not and never did contain any but the very smallest Celtic element. The slight number of additions made from the Welsh consisted chiefly of words connected with the higher Roman civilisation—such as wall, street, and chester—or the new methods of agriculture which the Teuton learnt from his more civilised serfs. The Celt has always shown a great tendency to cast aside his native language in Gaul, in Spain, and in Ireland; and the isolation of the English townships must have had the effect of greatly accelerating the process. Within a few generations the Celtic slave had forgotten his tongue, his origin, and his religion, and had developed into a pagan English serf. Whatever else the Teutonic conquest did, it turned every man within the English pale into a thorough Englishman.

But the removal to Britain effected one immense change. "War begat the king." In Sleswick the English had lived within their little marks as free and independent communities. In Britain all the clans of each colony gradually came under the military command of a king. The ealdormen who led the various marauding bands assumed royal power in the new country. Such a change was indeed inevitable. For not only had the English to win the new England, but they had also to keep it and extend it. During four hundred years a constant smouldering warfare was carried on between the foreigners and the native Welsh on their western frontier. Thus the townships of each colony entered into a closer union with one another for military purposes, and so arose the separate chieftainships or petty kingdoms of early England. But the king's power was originally very small. He was merely the semi-hereditary general and representative of the people, of royal stock, but elected by the free suffrages of the freemen. Only as the kingdoms coalesced, and as the power of meeting became consequently less, did the king acquire his greater prerogatives. From the first, however, he seems to have possessed the right of granting public lands, with the consent of the freemen, to particular individuals; and such book-land, as the early English called it, after the introduction of Roman writing, became the origin of our system of private property in land.

Every township had its moot or assembly of freemen, which met around the sacred oak, or on some holy hill, or beside the great stone monument of some forgotten Celtic chieftain. Every hundred also had its moot, and many of these still survive in their original form to the present day, being held in the open air, near some sacred site or conspicuous landmark. And the colony as a whole had also its moot, at which all freemen might attend, and which settled the general affairs of the kingdom. At these last-named moots the kings were elected; and though the selection was practically confined to men of royal kin, the king nevertheless represented the free choice of the tribe. Before the conversion to Christianity, the royal families all traced their origin to Woden. Thus the pedigree of Ida, King of Northumbria, runs as follows:—"Ida was Eopping, Eoppa was Esing, Esa was Inguing, Ingui Angenwiting, Angenwit Alocing, Aloc Benocing, Benoc Branding, Brand Baldaeging, Baeldaeg Wodening." But in later Christian times the chroniclers felt the necessity of reconciling these heathen genealogies with the Scriptural account in Genesis; so they affiliated Woden himself upon the Hebrew patriarchs. Thus the pedigree of the West Saxon kings, inserted in the Chronicle under the year 855, after conveying back the genealogy of AEthelwulf to Woden, continues to say, "Woden was Frealafing, Frealaf Finning," and so on till it reaches "Sceafing, id est filius Noe; he was born in Noe's Ark. Lamech, Mathusalem, Enoc, Jared, Malalehel, Camon, Enos, Seth, Adam, primus homo et pater noster."

The Anglo-Saxons, when they settled in Eastern and Southern Britain, were a horde of barbarous heathen pirates. They massacred or enslaved the civilised or half-civilised Celtic inhabitants with savage ruthlessness. They burnt or destroyed the monuments of Roman occupation. They let the roads and cities fall into utter disrepair. They stamped out Christianity with fire and sword from end to end of their new domain. They occupied a civilised and Christian land, and they restored it to its primitive barbarism. Nor was there any improvement until Christian teachers from Rome and Scotland once more introduced the forgotten culture which the English pirates had utterly destroyed. As Gildas phrases it, with true Celtic eloquence, the red tongue of flame licked up the whole land from end to end, till it slaked its horrid thirst in the western ocean. For 150 years the whole of English Britain, save, perhaps, Kent and London, was cut off from all intercourse with Christendom and the Roman world. The country consisted of several petty chieftainships, at constant feud with their Teutonic neighbours, and perpetually waging a border war with Welsh, Picts, and Scots. Within each colony, much of the land remained untilled, while the clan settlements appeared like little islands of cultivation in the midst of forest, waste, and common. The villages were mere groups of wooden homesteads, with barns and cattle-sheds, surrounded by rough stockades, and destitute of roads or communications. Even the palace of the king was a long wooden hall with numerous outhouses; for the English built no stone houses, and burnt down those of their Roman predecessors. Trade seems to have been confined to the south coast, and few manufactured articles of any sort were in use. The English degraded their Celtic serfs to their own barbaric level; and the very memory of Roman civilization almost died out of the land for a hundred and fifty years.



From the little strip of eastern and southern coast on which they first settled, the English advanced slowly into the interior by the valleys of the great rivers, and finally swarmed across the central dividing ridge into the basins of the Severn and the Irish Sea. Up the open river mouths they could make their way in their shallow-bottomed boats, as the Scandinavian pirates did three centuries later; and when they reached the head of navigation in each stream for the small draught of their light vessels, they probably took to the land and settled down at once, leaving further inland expeditions to their sons and successors. For this second step in the Teutonic colonisation of Britain we have some few traditional accounts, which seem somewhat more trustworthy than those of the first settlement. Unfortunately, however, they apply for the most part only to the kingdom of Wessex, and not to the North and the Midlands, where such details would be of far greater value.

The valley of the Humber gives access to the great central basin of the Trent. Up this fruitful basin, at a somewhat later date, apparently, than the settlement of Deira and Lincolnshire, scattered bodies of English colonists, under petty leaders whose names have been forgotten, seem to have pushed their way forward through the broad lowlands towards Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester. They bore the name of Middle English. Westward, again, other settlers raised their capital at Lichfield. These formed the advanced guard of the English against the Welsh, and hence their country was generally known as the Mark, or March, a name which was afterwards latinized into the familiar form of Mercia. The absence of all tradition as to the colonisation of this important tract, the heart of England, and afterwards one of the three dominant Anglo-Saxon states, leads one to suppose that the process was probably very gradual, and the change came about so slowly as to have left but little trace on the popular memory. At any rate, it is certain that the central ridge long formed the division between the two races; and that the Welsh at this period still occupied the whole western watershed, except in the lower portion of the Severn valley.

The Welland, the Nene, and the Great Ouse, flowing through the centre of the Fen Country, then a vast morass, studded with low and marshy islands, gave access to the districts about Peterborough, Stamford, and Cambridge. Here, too, a body of unknown settlers, the Gyrwas, seem about the same time to have planted their colonies. At a later date they coalesced with the Mercians. However, the comparative scarcity of villages bearing the English clan names throughout all these regions suggests the probability that Mercia, Middle England, and the Fen Country were not by any means so densely colonised as the coast districts; and independent Welsh communities long held out among the isolated dry tracts of the fens as robbers and outlaws.

In the south, the advance of the West Saxons had been checked in 520, according to the legend, by the prowess of Arthur, king of the Devonshire Welsh. As Mr. Guest acutely notes, some special cause must have been at work to make the Britons resist here so desperately as to maintain for half a century a weak frontier within little more than twenty miles of Winchester, the West Saxon capital. He suggests that the great choir of Ambrosius at Amesbury was probably the chief Christian monastery of Britain, and that the Welshman may here have been fighting for all that was most sacred to him on earth. Moreover, just behind stood the mysterious national monument of Stonehenge, the honoured tomb of some Celtic or still earlier aboriginal chief. But in 552, the English Chronicle tells us, Cynric, the West Saxon king, crossed the downs behind Winchester, and descended upon the dale at Salisbury. The Roman town occupied the square hill-fort of Old Sarum, and there Cynric put the Welsh to flight and took the stronghold by storm.

The road was thus opened in the rear to the upper waters of the Thames (impassable before because of the Roman population of London), as well as towards the valley of the Bath Avon. Four years later Cynric and his son Ceawlin once more advanced as far as Barbury hill-fort, probably on a mere plundering raid. But in 571 Cuthwulf, brother of Ceawlin, again marched northward, and "fought against the Welsh at Bedford, and took four towns, Lenbury (or Leighton Buzzard), Aylesbury, Bensington (near Dorchester in Oxfordshire), and Ensham." Thus the West Saxons overran the whole upper valley of the Thames from Berkshire to above Oxford, and formed a junction with the Middle Saxons to the north of London; while eastward they spread as far as the northern boundaries of Essex. In 577 the same intruders made a still more important move. Crossing the central watershed of England, near Chippenham, they descended upon the broken valley of the Bath Avon, and found themselves the first Englishmen who reached any of the basins which point westward towards the Atlantic seaboard. At a doubtful place named Deorham (probably Dyrham near Bath), "Cuthwine and Ceawlin fought against the Welsh, and slew three kings, Conmail, and Condidan, and Farinmail, and took three towns from them, Gloucester, and Cirencester, and Bath." Thus the three great Roman cities of the lower Severn valley fell into the hands of the West Saxons, and the English for the first time stood face to face with the western sea. Though the story of these conquests is of course recorded from mere tradition at a much later date, it still has a ring of truth, or at least of probability, about it, which is wholly wanting to the earlier legends. If we are not certain as to the facts, we can at least accept them as symbolical of the manner in which the West Saxon power wormed its way over the upper basin of the Thames, and crept gradually along the southern valley of the Severn.

The victory of Deorham has a deeper importance of its own, however, than the mere capture of the three great Roman cities in the south-west of Britain. By the conquest of Bath and Gloucester, the West Saxons cut off the Welsh of Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset from their brethren in the Midlands and in Wales. This isolation of the West Welsh, as the English thenceforth called them, largely broke the power of the native resistance. Step by step in the succeeding age the West Saxons advanced by hard fighting, but with no serious difficulty, to the Axe, to the Parret, to the Tone, to the Exe, to the Tamar, till at last the West Welsh, confined to the peninsula of Cornwall, became known merely as the Cornish men, and in the reign of AEthelstan were finally subjugated by the English, though still retaining their own language and national existence. But in all the western regions the Celtic population was certainly spared to a far greater extent than in the east; and the position of the English might rather be described as an occupation than as a settlement in the strict sense of the word.

The westward progress of the Northumbrians is later and much more historical. Theodoric, son of Ida, as we may perhaps infer from the old Welsh ballads, fought long and not always successfully with Urien of Strathclyde. But in 592, says Baeda, who lived himself but three-quarters of a century later than the event he describes, "there reigned over the kingdom of the Northumbrians a most brave and ambitious king, AEthelfrith, who, more than all other nobles of the English, wasted the race of the Britons; for no one of our kings, no one of our chieftains, has rendered more of their lands either tributary to or an integral part of the English territories, whether by subjugating or expatriating the natives." In 606 AEthelfrith rounded the Peakland, now known as Derbyshire, and marched from the upper Trent upon the Roman city of Chester. There "he made a terrible slaughter of the perfidious race." Over two thousand Welsh monks from the monastery of Bangor Iscoed were slain by the heathen invader; but Baeda explains that AEthelfrith put them to death because they prayed against him; a sentence which strongly suggests the idea that the English did not usually kill non-combatant Welshmen.

The victory of Chester divided the Welsh power in the north as that of Deorham had divided it in the south. Henceforward, the Northumbrians bore rule from sea to sea, from the mouth of the Humber to the mouths of the Mersey and the Dee. AEthelfrith even kept up a rude navy in the Irish Sea. Thus the Welsh nationality was broken up into three separate and weak divisions—Strathclyde in the north, Wales in the centre, and Damnonia, or Cornwall, in the south. Against these three fragments the English presented an unbroken and aggressive front, Northumbria standing over against Strathclyde, Mercia steadily pushing its way along the upper valley of the Severn against North Wales, and Wessex advancing in the south against South Wales and the West Welsh of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. Thus the conquest of the interior was practically complete. There still remained, it is true, the subjugation of the west; but the west was brought under the English over-lordship by slow degrees, and in a very different manner from the east and the south coast, or even the central belt. Cornwall finally yielded under AEthelstan; Strathclyde was gradually absorbed by the English in the south and the Scottish kingdom on the north; and the last remnant of Wales only succumbed to the intruders under the rule of the Angevin Edward I.

There were, in fact, three epochs of English extension in Britain. The first epoch was one of colonisation on the coasts and along the valleys of the eastward rivers. The second epoch was one of conquest and partial settlement in the central plateau and the westward basins. The third epoch was one of merely political subjugation in the western mountain regions. The proofs of these assertions we must examine at length in the succeeding chapter.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse