1902 Encyclopedia > England > [English History] Anglo-Saxon Period: Migration and the Formation of Kingdoms (400-600)

(Part 17)


Part 17: Anglo-Saxon Period: Migration and the Formation of Kingdoms (400-600)

The Teutonic settlement in Britain must, in the general history of Europe, be looked on as part of the great movement which drove so many of the Teutonic nations westward and southward. It was part, in short, of the general wandering of the nations. But it had in many respects a character of its own, which distinguishes it in a marked way from the other western and southern settlement of the Teutonic conquerors. We have already seen that the condition of Britain and its inhabitants in the fifth century was widely different from the condition of Gaul or Spain. The land had never been so thoroughly Romanized, and the Roman legions had been withdrawn by a voluntary act of the Roman government. Here we have one point of difference; we have also seen that there is another point of difference in the mere fact that the invaders came by sea. But the difference in the position and character of the invaders themselves was more important still. The great mass of the Teutonic settlers who entered the empire by land had already acquired some tinge of Roman cultivation. They had already knew something of the arts, the laws, and the religion of Rome; they served in the Roman armies; they received grants of the land within the Roman dominions as the reward of their services. Their princes were proud to bear Roman titles of honour, military of civil. The conquest was in many cases veiled under some form of decent submission to the Roman power. The Teutonic chief, in truth a foreign invaders, did not scorn to give his occupation a show of legality by accepting some kind of commission from the emperor. In short, in most of their continental conquests, the Teutons were to the Romans, if conquerors, yet also disciples. In most cases they had embraced Christianity before their final settlement on Roman ground. Where this was not the case, their conversion speedily followed on their settlement.1

Where they came as Christians, but as Arian Christians, they gradually conformed to the Romans standard of orthodoxy. Sooner or later they exchanged their own speech of Rome, and were gradually lost among the mass of the Roman inhabitants. These processes were quicker or slower according to circumstances. They were quicker where the Goths in Spain or the Burgundians in Gaul were altogether isolated and cut off from their old homes. They were slower where, as in the case of the Franks, the settlements of the conquerors on Roman ground were continuous with their former possessions in the unconquered Teutonic land. But sooner or later, more or less completely, the same causes led to the same results. Wherever the Teutons settled within the empire, they neither exterminated nor assimilated the Roman inhabitants. They were in the end assimilated by them, though, of course, in the process of such assimilation, the Roman inhabitants themselves underwent a certain degree of modification, greater or less, according to circumstances. Thus both France and Italy are Roman lands, with a certain infused Teutonic element. But for the same reasons which made assimilation in Gaul slower than in Italy, the infused Teutonic element is much greater in France than it is in Italy.

The case of the Teutonic tribes which settled in Britain was altogether different. They came from lands which had been altogether untouched by the Roman power, and where the arts, the language, and the religion of Rome were altogether unknown. They had never been Roman subjects, Roman soldiers, or even Roman allies. They had received no grants from Roman princes, nor had their chiefs been honoured with Roman titles. They were, in short, altogether free from Roman influences. They had no share in that reverence for Rome and all that belonged to her that had no deep an effect on all who came within the range of her magic power. They came not, like the conquerors of the continental provinces, as disciples of civilizations which they revered, but simply as destroyers of a civilizations of which they knew nothing. The conquerors of the continental provinces, themselves already half Romanized, settled in lands which were still thoroughly Roman. The conquerors of Britain, themselves untouched by the slightest Roman influence, settled in a land where Roman influences had already begun to die out. From this wide difference in the circumstances both of conquerors and the conquered, as compared with the circumstances of conquerors and conquered in other countries, it followed that the English conquest of Britain had a character altogether different from the Teutonic conquest of any other Roman province. A people wholly ignorant of Roman culture, coming by sea, and therefore utterly cut off from their own homes, were of themselves disposed to act as destroyers in a way in which the Teutonic invaders elsewhere were not. They were also, as it were, compelled to act as destroyers by the circumstances of the land into which they entered. They met with an amount of resistance, of steady national resistance, such as Goths, Franks, and Burgundians nowhere met with. They had to win the land bit by bit by hard fighting; their advance was often checked by victories on the part of the Britons, or delayed by periods of mere exhaustion and inaction. Their conquest thus took a character of extermination, of complete displacement of one people by another, which was not taken by Teutonic conquests elsewhere. The English could not, like their fellows on the continent, sit quietly down as the ruling order among a people who for the most part easily submitted, and who therefore kept their lives, their laws, their religion, and a share of their property. The determined resistance of the Britons made it a struggle for life and death on both sides. On the one hand, it made death or personal slavery the only alternatives for the conquered within the conquered territory. On the other hand, the gradual nature of the conquest gave the conquered in the district every opportunity of escaping into the districts which were still unconquered. There can be no reasonable doubt that the English conquest, in those parts of Britain which were conquered while the English still remained heathens, came as near to a conquest of extermination, to a general killing or driving out of the earlier inhabitants, as was possible in the nature of the case. A complete physical extermination, the killing or driving out of every individual of a whole people, is a thing which cannot take place, except in the case of some utterly helpless tribe attacked by people immeasurably superior to them in physical resources. Even in such case it commonly happens that the savage is not, strictly speaking, exterminated by the civilized man; be rather dies out before him. Still less could complete physical extinction take place with a people in the condition of the Britons at the English landing. In the course of the English conquest we may be sure that the alternative of death or flight was the ordinary rule; but we may be equally sure that the rule had its exceptions. The women could be largely spared; even men would sometimes be allowed to escape death at the price of slavery. It might even happen that here and there some of the conquered might make terms with the conquerors, and might be admitted to their fellowship. In all these ways it follows that, physically and genealogically, there is a British element in the English nation, even in the most strictly Teutonic parts of England. No nation is perfectly pure blood, and the English nation is no exception to the rule. The point is that the British infusion was not large enough to have any perceptible effect on the national being of England. The smaller Celtic infusion was assimilated into the greater Teutonic mass. In the sense of the physiologist or the genealogist, the English nation sense of the physiologist or the genealogist, the English nation is not purely Teutonic; but then in their sense no nation is purely anything. The point is that the English people areas strictly Teutonic as the High-Germans are Teutonic, or as the Britons themselves were Celtic. This or that Englishman may conceivably have had British forefathers, as this or that High-German may conceivably have had Slavonic forefathers, as this or that Briton may conceivably have had Basque forefathers; but to speak of the Britons as the forefathers of the English nation as the nation is as misleading as it would be to speak of the Slaves as the forefathers of the German nation, or of the Basques as the forefathers of the British nation. One nation displaced another; the English displaced the Britons. One system of law, language, and religion gave way to another system of law, language, and religion. The English swept away all that was Roman or British from the soil of the land which they made English, as thoroughly as the Saracens swept away all that was Roman from the soil of Africa. Yet we may be quite certain that in both cases some slaves and renegades hare and there conformed to the new state of things. The only point is that they were not in such numbers as to be of the slightest historical importance, not in such numbers as to work any practical modification of the general mass in which they lost themselves.

A new people thus settled in the land, a people who displaced, as far as their complete conquest reached, its earlier inhabitants. From each successive district that was subdued all traces of the old state of things passed away, except a few of the gigantic works of Roman engineering skill. The old language passed away; English displaced Welsh as the language of every district which the English occupied. And the language of the conquerors, in thus displacing the language of the conquered, was hardly at all modified by it, a few Welsh and a very few Latin words were all that crept into English at this stage. The old local nomenclature passed away, except in the case of a few great cities and a few great natural objects. London on the Thames and Gloucester on the Seven keep their British names; but the names of the vast mass of the towns and villages of the England are purely English. The only exceptions are in the districts which were won from the Briton at a later stage of conquest, and in those districts which, through the working of later events, came largely to exchange their English nomenclature for a Danish one. But the English and the Danish nomenclature mark two successive waves of Teutonic conquest; they make one whole as opposed to anything Roman or British. The change of nomenclature shows how complete the change of occupants was; the land was settled and divided afresh, and each place received a new name in the language of the new settlers. The settlers brought with them their own territorial and tribal divisions, their own laws or customs, their own religion. No feature of primitive law or custom can be shown with the slightest probability to be derived from the Roman or British source. And nowhere, at this stage, within the conquered districts did conquerors and conquered live on side by side, each making use of its own law, as so largely happened in the Teutonic conquests on the continent. That English territorial divisions often represent the earlier divisions of the conquered people is far more likely. The territory won by a particular battle would naturally answer to the territory of the tribe which was overthrown in that battle. And where earlier divisions were made convenient by anything in the physical conformation of the country, the same reason which had already fixed the boundary would lead the new settlers to fix it again at the same points as before. But everything else passed away. Kent alone, of the great divisions of south-eastern, kept its name through all conquests. But it passed on its name to a new race of Kentishmen, Cantwaru, alien in blood, speech, law, and faith to the British Canti whom they displaced. That the new comers were alien in faith is perhaps after all the greatest and most important of the difference between the English conquest and the other Teutonic conquest. Of all the Teutonic conquerors of lands which were or had been Roman, the English alone entered the land as heathens and abode in it as heathens. The religious history of Roman Britain is a most mysterious subjects; but there can be no doubt that there was an organized Christian church in the island at the same time of the English invasion. And, as far as we can see, it would seem that, at least within the former Roman province, the profession of Christianity was universal; there is no sign that aught of old British or Roman idolatry still lived on. On this Christian land and this Christian people came the destroying scourge of a heathen conquest. Our one record of the time, the lament of Gildas, brings out this feature in the strongest light. As afterwards, when the Christian English came under the scourge of the heathen Dane, so now, when the Christian Briton came under the scourge of the heathen English, the churches and clergy were the foremost objects of the destroying fury of the invaders. During the first hundred and fifty years of English settlement in Britain, conquest meant heathen conquest; English rule meant heathen rule. Christianity, its ministers, its professors, its temples, were thoroughly swept away before the inroad of Teutonic heathendom.

In all these ways then the English conquest of Britain stands apart by itself, as something differing in all its main features from the common race of the Teutonic conquests elsewhere. There are only two parts of Western Europe which present phaenomena which are at all like those of our own island. These are those parts of Germany which lie on the left bank of the Rhine and on the right bank of the Danube. There, as in Britain a land that was Roman ceased to be Roman. The speech, the laws, and the manners of Germany displaced those of Rome. Thus far the case of these lands resembles the case of Britain, and is unlike the case of Italy, Spain, and the rest of Gaul. But their case differed in this, that the Rhenish and Danubian lands lay adjoining to the unconquered Teutonic lands; they were the lands which were specially exposed to Teutonic roads. The earliest inroads of the invaders would naturally be of a more devastating kind than those which followed. It would largely be in the course of their earliest inroads that they picked up that amount of Roman culture which made the second stage of their inroads less devastating. And after all, the amount of havoc could not have been equal to the amount of havoc which was done in Britain, as most of the Roman cities lived through the storm and kept their Roman names. And in the lands west of the Rhine, in those German lands which formed part of the Roman province of Gaul, the Teutonic invaders were but winning back an old Teutonic lands. It is possible that some traces of Teutonic speech and feeling may have still lingered on to make the progress of the invaders more easy. And in these lands, above all, the Roman inhabitants have the fullest means of withdrawing into the unsubdued part of the province. As long as the Teuton was a mere destroyer, they would naturally seek shelter in the lands which were still untouched. As soon as he became only a conqueror, and not a mere destroyer, they would find it more to their interest to sublit. In Britain it was not till much later stage, not till the greater part of his conquests were made, that the Teutonic conqueror began to carry of the conquered to submit rather than to flee.

Such then was the general nature of the Teutonic conquest of the greater part of Britain, the conquest which changed so great a part of Britain into England. It was a destroying conquest which swept away the former inhabitants and their whole political system. It was specially a heathen conquest, which utterly rooted up Christianity from a land where it must have already taken deep root. It was a gradual conquest, spread over several centuries, a conquest in which the conquerors had to win each step by hard fighting against, the earlier inhabitants. Lastly, it was a conquest which never was completed, which never spread over the whole island. Leaving for the present purely political questions about homage and supremacy, it is plain that there is a large part of Britain which remained untouched by the English occupation, and where the ancient inhabitants, their language, laws, and manners, still lived on. It may be added, that in some districts to which English occupation did extent, in those conquests namely which were the latest in date, the character of the conquest greatly changed from what it had been in its earlier stages.

It seemed well fully to set forth the nature of the conquest before giving any detailed account of the former condition of the conquerors, or any direct narrative of their conquest. Having cleared the ground from misconceptions, it will be easier to tell the tale simply and clearly. The Teutonic conquerors of Britain then were the Low-Dutch1 tribes from the border-lands of Germany and Scandinavia, the lands from the mouths of the Elbe and the Weser. Their dialects form a branch of the Teutonic speech distinct from the High-Dutch dialects spoken to the south of them. Their own speech must not be looked on as in any sense a corruption of the High-Dutch, but as a perfectly independent and coequal branch of the great Teutonic family, as old as the High-Dutch, perhaps older. These dialects, which in their system of a letter-changes with the ancient Gothic and the Scandinavian rather than with the High-Dutch, form the natural speech of the whole coast region stretching from Picardy to Denmark, and they have been carried by conquest far to the east, along the Slavonic, Prussian, and Finnish coasts of the Baltic. But their area has been encroached on in different parts by French, by Danish, and by High-Dutch, so that that form of the Low-Dutch which is spoken in the kingdom of the Netherlands, and which we now know specially as Dutch, is the only continental dialect of the whole group which is commonly acknowledge as a national literary language. Among the tribes of this region, three stand out conspicuously in the history of that conquest, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes.1 Each had its special and marked share in the work. The Jutes, in all likelihood, formed the first permanent Teutonic settlement in Britain. The Saxons and the Angles settled later; but each of them occupied of these last gave a name to the Teutonic settlements as a whole. As soon as the Teutonic settlers were so far united as to bear a common names, the received name on their own lips was English; on the lips of their Celtic neighbours and enemies the received name was Saxon.

The reason for this difference in nomenclature is plain. The Angles occupied a greater share of the land than the Saxons; they therefore gave the national name to the united people.1 But the Saxons were the first among the invaders with whom the Celtic or Roman inhabitants of Britain had to deal; they therefore gave the Saxon name to the invaders in general. This last fact at once brings us to the actual history of the English conquest. If we cannot say that the English conquest itself begun, we may at least say that the first steps towards it were taken, as soon as may any Low-Dutch invaders from beyond sea first attempted settlement by arms in Romans, or once Roman, Britain. This process, it must be marked, stands wholly apart from questions either as to the possible Teutonic origin of nay of the tribes whom the Romans found in Britain, or as to possible Teutonic settlements in the province made with the sanction of the Roman authorities. This last process undoubtedly happened in the case of soldiers of Teutonic race serving in the Roman armies. But Teutonic settlements, either before the Roman occupation or under the Roman occupation, are something wholly distinct from the Teutonic conquest either of a Roman province or of a land forsaken by Rome. Such settlements might make the Teutonic conquest more easy when it did come, but that is all that they could do. Settlers of either of those classes became Roman subjects, Roman provincials. The events which led to the Conquest began when men of Teutonic race first settled or tried to settle in the island, not as Roman soldiers or Roman subjects, but as foreign invaders of the Roman land. This work, which was not the English conquest, but which was not the English conquest, but which was the first step towards it, the conquest which was merely attempted and not carried out, seems to have begun in the second half of the fourth century. Claudian bears witness to the naval victories of the elder Theodosius, the father of the renowned emperor of that name, who (367 A.D) beat back a Saxon invasion by sea. That is to say, an attempt at Teutonic settlement was then made; but there was still strength in the Roman power to hinder it. Had it been otherwise, the history of English conquest in Britain would have begun in the fourth century instead of in the fifth. Incursions undoubtedly went on; the south-eastern coast of Britain, the part specially exposed to Saxon invasion, got the name of the Saxon Shore,3 and a Roman officer with the title of Count had that shore under his special keeping. But things took quite a new turn after the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain. The land now lay open to settlement in a way which it had not done before. It is now therefore that actual conquests, as distinguished from mere incursions and attempted settlements, begin.

Our material for the history of this great event, an event, which is nothing short of the beginning of our national history, at first sight seem scanty. Our only absolutely contemporary notice is to be found in two meagre entries in the chronicle of Prosper of Aquitaine, which however assert the main fact that Britain was brough under the power of the Saxons about the middle of the fifth century.4 The native writer who is most nearly contemporary, the Britain Gildas, belongs to the next century, and was a witness of some stages, though not of the earliest, of the work of conquest. He is the earliest writer who gives us anything that can be called a narrative, a meagre enough, but which helps us to some particular events and personal names. About the same time Procopius, without an y direct notice of the conquest, speaks of Britain as a land inhabited by Angels and Frisians as well as Britons. The series of English writers begins with Baeda, and goes on with the English Chronicles, to which we may fairly add the fragments of ancient English songs which lurk in the Latin of Henry of Huntingdon. Of these Baeda himself did not write till more than two hundred years after the beginning of the Conquest, and the materials for his short narrative of the Conquest itself seems to come at least as much from British as from English sources. Our only details are those which are preserved in the Chronicles and in Henry of Huntingdon. The Chronicles in their present form do not date from an earlier time than the reign of Aelfred in the ninth century; but any one who studies them carefully will see that this part of the record contains far older materials. The narrative is remarkably free from anything which has a legendary sound. That is chronology may be largely arbitrary is possible ;but that it is so is of itself an arbitrary conjecture. The English at the time of their landing were not wholly illiterate. They had their runic alphabet, and it is perfectly possible that the entries in the Chronicles may come from an absolutely contemporary record. Such a record, even if it marked the sequence of years according to some reckoning of its own, must of course have been adapted to the Christian reckoning by the compilers of the Chronicles, and in such a process some errors of detail may well have crept in. But there seems no reason to suspect invention, falsification, or even accidental error, on any great scale. The narrative will bear testing ; the entries fit in with all that can be made out from an examination of the country. They fit in with the notices of the Welsh writers, and with all such incidental sources of knowledge as we have. In this way a narrative in considerable detail has been recovered by the care and skill of Dr Guest. As for the notices in Henry of Huntingdon, which evidently contain fragment of lost poems we must remember that a contemporary poem may be just as good an authority as a prose writing. Several poems are inserted in the Chronicles themselves in undoubtedly historical times, in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Other poems of those ages, sometimes, like the song of Maldon, preserved in the original, sometimes, like the song of Stamfordbridge and the song of Waltheof at York, preserved only in Latin fragments, are among our best materials for military events. They go far more into detail than the prose writers do. There seems then no good ground for doubting the general trustworthiness of the narrative which is preserved to us in the Chronicles, and which we are occasionally able to enlarge from other sources. It is, of course, only the earlier stages of the Conquest that can be made the subject of any controversy at all. From the beginning of the conversion of the English to Christinanity, we begin to have contemporary materials of one kind or another, till, in the time of Aelfred, the Chronicle itself becomes contemporary. It is only for about a hundred and fifty years that we are left almost wholly to judge of our material by their internal evidence. And surely a narrative like that of the Chronicles, no tissue of wild and impossible legends, but a steady business-like series of entries, may very well have been handed down for that length of time by means of runes, helped here and there by a contemporary song.

Our narrative then, put together from these various sources, represents the Britons, after the departure of the Roman legions, as left without defence against the attacks of their northern neighbours the Picts and Scots. They apply for help to Aëtius; but the Roman general, busy in the struggle with Attila, has no leisure to do anything for them. Their prince, who bears a name of which the most familiar form is Vortigern, invites the help of the Saxons, an unwise step enough, but one which has plenty of parallels in history. The British prince, in the most authentic record, is nor a king but a duke. The Teutonic leaders whom he invites are also ealdormen or heretogan, not kings. They are the two brothers Hengest and Horsa. Their landing is fixed by the Chronicle to the year 449; and, without insisting on this exact date, it is plain that the Conquest must have begun about the middle of the fifth century. A warfare of nearly forty years, in which many battles, that of Kent, the one land which never lost its British name. Of the two brother leaders, Hersa is killed in a battle with Vortigern in 455, after which Hengest and his son Aesc assume the kingly title. In all this there is nothing like romance; it is a matter-of –fact kind of history, which might be preserved by a runic chronicle, which might almost be preserved by tradition. Once only we have a touch which seems to come from a song, as when in a battle in the year 473 the Welsh are said to have "fled from the English like fire." The geography of the tale is a sound and credible military narrative. Later writers, English and British, have trickled out the story with endless mythical details, and have carried the arms of Hengest far beyond the narrow limits of Kent, to which the Chronicle confines them. Modern critics have found materials for cavil in the names of the two brothers, and in the number of the thirty-nine years of the reign of Hengest. Both pints might easily be given up. The main fact is the gradual conquest of a small corner of Britain after much hard fighting with its British possessors. But there really seems no reason why Hengest and Horsa might not be names of real men as much Wulf, Beorn, and Leo. And the years of Hengest’s reign are, after all, one short of the mystical forty.

In the British narrative, in the single Roman entry, of these events, the Teutonic invaders are called Saxons. In the Chronicles they appear as Angelcyn, Angle, Engle, Angles or English. They are so called, not merely in the historical summary of the ninth century editor, but in the entry (473) which has the earliest ting of all about it. But when Baeda, and after him the Chronicler, gives a short ethnological account of the invaders, they describe the Teutonic conquerors of Kent neither as Saxons nor as Angles, but as Jutes. As the Jutes then, in the very record of their conquest, are spoken of, on the one hand as Saxons, on the other hand as English , it seems to follow that, from the very beginning, the Celtic inhabitants of Britain called all Teutonic invaders Saxons, while the invaders themselves from the very beginning used Angle or English as their common nbame. The general use of the Saxon name by the Celts is only what we should have looked for; the wide use of the English name among the Teutons themselves is a fact to be noticed. It is at least certain that, while the English name is often applied to Saxons and Jutes, it would be hard to find any case where an Angle calls himself, or is called in his own tongue, a Saxon. We need not infer that the English name had become the common name of all the three tribes before they left Germany; it certainly became so within no long time after they settled in Britain.

We also see that, from the beginning, The Teutonic conquerors spoke of their British enemies as Welsh or strangers. The name is familiar in that sense both in Britain and on the mainland, but it seems never to be applied to any strangers but those who were either of Roman or of Celtic speech. And it would seem to be applied only to those Celts who had come under the Roman dominion. Our forefathers spoke of the Bretwealas in Britain, of the Galwealas in Gaul, of the Rumwealas in Italy; but the name seems never to be applied to the Scots either in Ireland or in Britain. Like the word Slave, it sank, in the language of the conquerors, to express wylne much more commonly, mean a slave in the secondary meaning of that word. This difference of usage is again remarkable. It falls in with the belief, natural in itself, that in the process of conquest the few Britons who were spared were mainly women. Again, Baeda and the Chronicler, as we have seen, speak of the Teutonic conquerors of Britain as sprung from three tribes only, the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. It was plainly only those three tribes, that is, chiefly of those tribes, who founded kingdom in Britain. But in all great migrations various kindred tribes are sure to take part, and it would be rash to rule that no Low-Dutch people but those three tooks a part in the enterprise. Procopius, for instance, speaks, not of Angles and Saxons, but of Angles and Frisians. We may well believe that Frisians, and other tribes too, helped in the work. Possibly no one settlement consisted wholly of men of any one tribe. It is enough that all the royal races of the several kingdoms belonged to the three stocks, Saxons, Anglian, and Jutish. It was then by Saxon, Anglian, and Jutish settlers, or at all events by settlers under Saxon, Anglian, and Jutish leaders, that the greater part of Britain was changed into England. But the work was a slow one, and the way in which it was carried out seems not to have been exactly the same in all parts. In the end seven or eight chief kingdom were founded. The old dream of a regular Heptarchy has long been exploded; but it is certain that, among a crowd of smaller states, seven or eight stand out as conspicuous among the rest, and as having something like a continuous history. The Jutes, the first to settle, occupied the smallest part of the country. Their dominions took in only Kent with perhaps for a while Surrey, and Wight with a small part of the neighbouring mainland of Hampshire. They were hemmed in on all sides by the Saxon settlements, all of which bore the Saxon name. Suthsexe, Westsexe, Eastsexe, have been softened in modern speech into Sussex, Wessex, and Essex; but the names are strictly not territorial, but tribal. Westsexe and the rest are all of them names, not of a land, but of a people. The whole of the Saxon settlements were made on the southern and south-eastern coasts; and it was the West-Saxons only who at any time carried their conquest to any distance inland. The South-Saxon settlement came next after the Jutish settlement in Kent. The date given to its is 477. The most remarkable event in the process of conquest was the storming of Anderida, now Pevensey, in 491. The forsaken walls of the Roamn city still bear witness to the day when Aelle and Cisssa slew all that were within, and when not a Bret was left behind. But the South-Saxons found a natural frontier to the north in the great wood of Anderida. Their kingdom always remained little more than other kingdoms of Britain, and playing but a small part in their general history. It still keeps its name and boundary as the modern county of Sussex. The kingdom of the Gewissas or West-Saxons, founded to the west of the South-Saxons, was destined to hold quite another place in English and British history. That settlement grew into the kingdom of England. Twenty-four years after their first landing, the two Saxon ealdormen deemed their position strong enough, and their conquests wide enough, for them to assume the kindly title. Thus began the royal line of the West-Saxons, which became the royal line of England. The third Saxon settlement, that of the East-Saxons, has no such definite date given to its foundation; but it certainly began not later than the first half of the sixth century. Like Sussex, it never extended itself far inland; but it derived some importance from its containing two of the great cities of Roman Britain. One was Camulodunum or Colchester; the other was London. But London, with its district of the Middle-Saxon, grew, by virtue of its admirable position, to a greatness which gave it a separate being. The city of ships, on its broad river, remained as a great prize to be striven for by every conqueror, rather than as a lasting and integral possession of any one of the English kingdoms.

The settlements of the Angles, who in course of time occupied a much larger part of the land to which they gave their name than was occupied by the Saxons, have quite another history from the kingdoms of which we have just spoken. In Kent, in Sussex, in Wessex, the chief who leads the settlement is himself the founder of the kingdom. In the case of Kent and Sussex, the kingdom never permanently outgrew the bounds of the earliest conquests. The boundaries of Wessex advanced by the process of bringing fresh conquests, newly won from the Briton, under the rule of the already existing kingly house of Wessex. The Anglian kingdoms grew in another way. We know, in some cases at least, the names of their first kings; but those first kings do not appear as the first leaders of settlers from beyond sea. It would rather seem as if a crowd of small settlements, of the date and circumstances of whose foundation we can say nothing, each doubtless ruled by its own ealdorman or petty king, were gradually grouped together into several considerable kingdoms. It is perfectly possible, though there is no evidence for the belief, that some of these original settlements may have actually been of earlier date than the landing of Cerdic, of Aelle, or of Hengest. What is certain is that these Anglian states do not appear as organized kingdom till a later time than Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. The chief Anglian powers were four. The East-Angles occupied the land to the north of the East-Saxons, a land which the vast fen region to the west of it made in those times, if not insular, at least peninsular. North of the Humber arose two kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira, whose union at a latter time formed the mighty realm of Northumberland, stretching form the Humber to the Forth. Ida, who in 547 gathered together a number of scattered Anglian settlements into the kingdom of Bernicia, is the one Anglian prince during the first stage of conquest who stands out with a personal being like that of the Saxon and Jutish founders. From his fortress on the basaltic rock of Bamburgh, overhanging the German Ocean, he ruled the eastern seaboard from Tees to Forth. Of the founder of the kingdom of Deira to the south of Bernicia we have no such clear mention, nor do we know when or by what means that kingdom won the possession which gave it its chief importance. This was the former capital of Roman Britain, Eboracum, Eoforwic, or York. Of the process of conquest in central England we know even less. We know absolutely nothing of the circumstances under which the land was won from the Briton. A crowd of Anglian tribes which kept more or less of separate existence till a very late time, were gradually brought under the dominion of a single Anglian power. This power, as growing up on the British frontier, took the name of Merce, the men of the mark or border, and the name of Mercia gradually spread over all central England. The date of the beginning of the Mercian kingdom is fixed as late as 584. But this of course does not mean a fresh settlement from beyond sea, but simply the gathering together of several small settlements so as to form one considerable power. The boundaries of the true Mercian kingdom may be traced by the boundaries of the old diocese of Lichfield; but it could not have reached to anything like this extent so early as 584.

Here then we have, among a crowd of smaller states, a few kingdom, seven or eight in number, which stand out prominently, and fill a place in the history of Britain. Among these again, a smaller number stand out at different times, as aspiring, with more or less of success, to the general supremacy of the country. In all cases where a number kindred but independent states lie near together, a supremacy of one kind or another is sure to come, either by force or by consent, to some one among the number, in which the rest are, more or less quickly, more or less thoroughly, merged. Thus, in modern Europe, France grew into Gaul, and Castile grew into Spain; thus in our own day Peidmont has grown into Italy, and Prussia has gone far towards growing into Germany. So in the end Wessex grew into England; but it was not till after many struggles, many ups and downs, many changes of frontier, that the house of Cerdic became the royal house over the whole land. Three, or at most four, of the greater Teutonic kingdoms in Britain became serious competitors for the general supremacy over all the settlements of the race. Kent, small in geographical extent, had the start in order of time, and was in many ways favoured by position. But any effective supremacy on the part of Kent belongs only to an early stage of English occupation; the powers among which the supremacy was really disputed were the great Saxon kingdom of Wessex, the great Anglian kingdom of Northumberland, formed by the union of Bernicia and Deira, and the Anglian kingdom of Mercia, which formed itself in the space between them. It would seem that sometimes at least, a supremacy of some kind on the part of one kingdom over the whole or part of the rest was formally acknowledge; and the chief so recognized by common consent was known as Bretwalda or ruler of Britain.1Our knowledge on this subject hardly goes beyond establishing the fact that such a supremacy was sometimes acknowledged, without telling us anything in detail as to is nature, or as to the way in which it was obtained. It was not continuous; there were times when there was no Bretwalda. It fluctuated from kingdom to kingdom, according to the accidents of war, policy, or personal ability. The fact that such a supremacy existed from early times is chiefly important on account of what it afterwards grew into. The tradition of a supremacy vested in some one power clearly helped the West-Saxon kings in gathering all the Teutonic kingdoms of Britain into the one realm of England. It further combined with other influence in suggesting the doctrine of an imperial supremacy over the whole isle of Britain.

The establishment of these kingdoms at the expense of the Britons forms the period of heathen conquest, which we may reckon at about a hundred and sixty years. In the course of that time, the English, at first established only on the eastern and part of the southern coast, made their way step by step to the western sea. At the end of this period the whole of Britain was very far from being conquered; indeed English conquest was very far from being conquered; indeed English conquest was very far from having reached its fullest extent; but the English had become the dominant race in South Britain. The Britons still kept a large part of the land; but they held it only in detached pieces. The English were the advancing people. The Britons could not at the utmost hope to do more than defend what they still kept. The work of conquest during this period was mainly the work of Wessex at one end and of the Northumbrian kingdoms at the other. Sussex, Kent, East-Anglia, each gave the English race a Bretwalda; but these powers, as well as Essex, were geographically cut off from any share in the conquest after the first stage of settlement. Wessex, on the other hand, whose later growth took another direction, pressed boldly into the heard of Britain. West-Saxon progress was indeed checked for a while by British resistance under the famous Arthur. The legendary renown which ahs gathered round Arthur’s name ought not to wipe out the fact that he met Saxon’s Cerdic face to face and by the rings of Badbury dealt him a blow which for a while made the English invader halt.2 But from the middle of the sixth century West-Saxon advance is swift. In 552 the second stage begins with the taking of Old Sarum. Sixteen years later comes, doubtless not the first, but the first recorded, fight of Englishman against Englishman. The fight of Wibbandún (Wimbledon) made Surrey West-Saxon, and cut off Kent from all hope of further advance. In 571 the West-Saxon border, under the Brethwalda Ceawlin, stretched far beyond the Thames, as far north as the present Buckingham. Still no English conqueror had reached the sea between Britain and Ireland. From Dunbarton to the south coast of Devonshire, the British occupation of the western side of the island was still unbroken. Aquae Solis, Corinium, Glevum, Uriconium, and, greater than all, Deva on her promontory, were still British strongholds. They had not yet changed into Bath, Cirencester, Gloucester, Wroxeter, and Chester. The next object of the advancing English was to break this line, to reach the sea, and, if not wholly to subdue the British inhabitants of the west coast, as least to break their continuous power into fragments which might be more easily overcome. In 1577 Ceawlin took Bath, Gloucester, and Cirencester, and carried the West-Saxon border to the estuary of the Severn, the future Bristol Channel. The British dominion was thus split asunder. Wales and Strathclyde, to use the geographical names of a time a little later, still formed a continuous whole. But they were now cut off from all connexion wit the Britons in the great south-western peninsula, the peninsula of West-Wales, from the northern Axe to the Land’s End. To break through the line at another point, to seize Deva and to carry the West-Saxon arms to the north-western sea, was the next object. In this Ceawlin failed; but his expedition of 583 established a long strip of English territory along the Severn valley. Wessex thus seemed to be growing into the great power of central, as well as of southern, Britain. But the second great blow which was to cleave the British dominion into three, as it had been already cloven into two, was not to be dealt by Saxon hands. A great power had now grown up in the north. At various period before and after the English conquest, things as if the supreme power was to be fixed in the northern lands, in the city by the Ouse and not in the city by the Thames. Eboracum had been in Roman days the capital of Britain. The once imperial city was now the head of a great realm, formed by the union of Bernicia and Deira under their conquering king Aethefrith. In 603 a victory over the Scottish king Aegdan at Daegsanstan secured his power to the north. Some years later he broke through the line of unconquered British territory; he smote the Britons under the walls of Deva, and left those walls, like the walls of Anderida, desolate without an inhabitant. The English conquest of Britain, if not yet completed, was now assured. The British power, which five and twenty years before had stretched uninterruptedly along the whole west coast, was now broken into three parts. Through western and central Britain the boundaries were still very fluctuating. While Aethelfrith smote Deva, lands near to his own capital, the land of elmet and Loidis, the modern Leeds, was still unconquered British ground. The dominion of Wessex north of the Thames and Avon had rather the character of an outlaying territory stretching into a hostile land, than of the compact dominion which the West-Saxon kings held over Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Berkshire. Moreover the two great powers of the north and the south were now brought into rivalry and collision. Aethefrith had done what Ceawlin had failed to do; and between Northumberland and Wessex a third great power had arisen, which in a few years was to show itself the equal of either. The West-Saxon had reached the western sea at one point; the Northumbrian had reached it at another point. But the greater part of the western conquests of both were to go to swell the Mercian power which had just come into being. And besides all this a revolution had begun which was to work the greatest of all changes. The victory of Aethelfrith was the last great blow dealt by the heathen English to the Christian Britons. When it was dealt, Northumberland, Wessex, Mercia, Sussex, and East-Anglia were still heathen. But Kent and Essex had already embraced the gospel. York and Winchester still knew no worship but that of Woden; but the altars of Christ had already risen once more in Canterbury and London.


FOOTNOTES (page 265)
(1) The Vandals and the East-Goths came to an end at a comparatively early stage of their settlement, before they had assimilated with the Romans. The more permanent settlers, the West-Goths in Spain and the Lombards in Italy, gradually became Catholic.

FOOTNOTES (page 267)
(1)Dutch is the English form of Theotiscus, the truer Latin name of the German nation, of which Deutsch in its various spellings is the native form. This wider use of the word has hardly ceased in America, and in England the name, with its two divisions of High Dutch and Low-Dutch, was in familiar use down to the beginning of the last century.

FOOTNOTES (page 268)
(1) The Angles and the Saxons are plain enough ; there is a certain degree of mystery about the Jutes, their name, and their origin. But it is enough for our purpose that they were a third Teutonic people, distinguishable from the Angles and Saxons.
(2) Engle, Angelcyn, Angli, are the usual names of the united nation. Angli-Saxomes, Angul-Seaxe, are sometimes found, especially in the royal style of the tenth century. Those forms are equivalent to Angli et Saxones, the nation formed by the union of the Angles and Saxons. It is therefore the more correct description of the two; but its employment in England is always formal; it clearly never passed into general use. In foreign writers it is somewhat more common.
(3) The Limes Saxonicus or Littus saxonicum was first truly explained by Dr Guest. It means, not a shore occupied by Saxons, but a boundary against Saxons. It answers to the Danish, Slavonic, and Spanish marches of the later empire, except that in the one case the enemy was to be dreaded by land, and in the other case by sea.
(4) Prosper has two entries. The former says that "Hac tempestate (the time of Constantine the Tyrant, 407-411) prae valitudine Romanorum, vires funditus attenuatae Britanniae." The other says that, some time before the death of Aëtius in 454, "Britanniae, usque ad hoc tempus variis cladibus laceratae, in ditionem Saxonum rediguntur."

FOOTNOTES (page. 271)
(1) It may be, as Mr Kemble suggests, that the truer form is Brytenwealda, and the truer meaning "wide ruler." But is so, it is true only etymologically. In the two or three places where the name is used, rightly or wrongly, to mean "ruler of Britain."
(2) Dr Guest has shown that "Mons Badonicus" is not Bath, or anywhere else but Badbury in Dorset.

Read the rest of this article:
England - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries