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THE SAXON OCCUPATION.
A.D. 418 TO THE UNION OF STATES UNDER EGBERT, A.D. 830, AND HIS DEATH, 837.
§ 1. Disturbed state of the world after the departure of the Romans.§ 2. Britain, exposed to the irruptions of the Northern barbarians, solicits the Romans for assistance, but in vain.-§ 3. Vortigern, Prince of the Danmonii, applies to the Saxons for aid. The Saxons effect a landing in the Isle of Thanet.—§ 4. Their conquests. -§ 5. Kingdom of the East Angles established.—§ 6. Wessex, and the kingdom of Northumbria. The seven States of the Heptarchy. -§ 7. Extensive territories occupied by the Saxon lords.§ 8. Advantages of property and order appreciated. Augustine, the monk, recognised as Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England.-9. Vast improvements in the thoughts and feelings of the people. Annals of the Heptarchy confused. The Kingdom of Wessex. § 10. Consequences of the death of Egbert, the first monarch of England.
§ 1. THE annals of our island for a period of thirty years after the temporary retirement of the Romans in 418, are so involved and contradictory, that great scope is left for the ingenuity of historians to unravel and reconcile them. It was a period of disturbance and unrest in all quarters of the world. As soon as Rome was found to be weak, the savage peoples who had been collecting for ages on the limits of her power, and had been repelled by the strength of her legions and the awe they still entertained for her name, broke through the boundaries, and poured themselves all over the civilized lands which had resisted their attempts so long. Tribe after tribe of strange and uncouth name followed each other with the regularity and force of waves of the sea. Burgundians,
Visigoths, and Sweves established themselves in Switzerland and Spain. The rich shores of Africa were seized by the Vandals; and the hardy sons of the north, the Saxons, the Jutes, and Angles prepared to follow the example of the other barbarians, and transport themselves into more fertile lands. There never was a prey more tempting or more easy than the disarmed and Romanized Britain. Its southern portion lay open to the hand of the first invader who chose to seize it. The inhabitants were wealthy and spiritlessthe youth of the country and all its foreign garrisons had 'been carried over to resist the hordes which were devastating the Italian fields; little confidence could be placed in the turf bank which guarded them from the Picts and Scots, and still less in the undefended walls which surrounded their luxurious towns. Wherever there had in old times been a castra," or permanent camp, there was now a city filled with all the appliances of a civilization which was in fact too high for the people on whom it had been impressed. A complicated machinery of taxation and government was almost unintelligible to a population whose ambition was curtailed within such narrow bounds. They had no arms, no discipline, no patriotic feelings; they could only "eat, and sleep, and hoard," and left all the rest to the superior power.
§ 2. Eight-and-twenty municipal towns and innumerable smaller stations, churches, and other public buildings, with villas and country-houses belonging to the great officers of the occupation, scattered as they were all over the country, acted as baits to the cupidity of the still unreclaimed barbarians of the north. These savage hordes, bursting over the feeble ramparts of Hadrian and Severus, pressed onwards towards the central lowlands, and are reported to have made a dash upon London itself. But necessity and fear at last produced some appearance of combination and part of the civilized Britons. federacies for mutual support.
courage on the The towns entered into conArms were put into the hands
A.D. 418–447.] WITHDRAWAL OF THE ROMANS.
of the population, and leaders arose who established their authority on independent terms. Their independence, however, took the unhappy form of mutual war. Instead of combining against the common foe, they weakened the country by factions and quarrels. In these civil distractions the contending parties bargained for assistance from every quarter. There were settlements of northern peoples all along the eastern coast, thinly populated, and probably not unconnected either with the Roman or British authorities. Some small districts had been assigned to foreign tribes by the Emperors of later date, and the families of the native wives of the soldiers remained in the land of their birth after the withdrawal of their fathers. Those fathers, though serving in the Roman ranks, were certainly not Roman, and very likely not even Italians. They might be Illyrians, Goths, Scythians, swarthy men from the Numidian plains, or the light-haired dwellers of the Rhætian Alps. Enlisted on different sides in these local dissensions, the diversified populations had no central authority round which to gather. Town after town was therefore given to the flames by the advancing Picts and Scots on the north, and the returning thousands of ancient Britons from the borders of Wales. Twice the application made for assistance by the distressed inhabitants was successful with the Roman chiefs. On each occasion a single legion was sufficient to expel the invaders, and reinstate the citizens in their former security; but when the heart of the empire became weak, and enemies were gathered round the walls of the Eternal City itself, no further aid could be given. The "groans of the Britons," as their last touching appeals were called, were disregarded, and the legion which had been their sole protection was finally withdrawn in 447, having given the last proof of its care for the land which it had so long protected by repairing the rampart between the Tyne and Solway.
It is a mere rhetorical exaggeration of the now degraded
condition of the Romanized natives, when we are told that they were incapable even of so unscientific an operation as building a stone wall. Perhaps they had found out the futility of these inanimate defences when brave hearts were no longer to be found within, and considered such bulwarks as labour thrown away. Hopeless of resisting, and too uncertain of their tenure to plough their fields, they allowed the land everywhere to go out of cultivation. When their northern invaders accordingly burst through the newly-renovated walls, they found no active enemy to face them with arms in their hands. The desolation of the country was its true defence. The cities were attacked and plundered, but the inhabitants had betaken themselves to the woods and morasses; the corn was either hidden in holes in the earth or utterly destroyed, and the Caledonians were forced to retrace their steps by the want of food. While the Celtic warrior was reconciled to his paradise in the Grampians, by comparing it with the howling wildernesses of Leicestershire and Derby, the citizens crept stealthily out of their hiding-places, and resumed their old occupations.
§ 3. The old dissensions, however, arose with the old condition. Rival chieftains again fought for the pre-eminence in a realm which neither of them could defend. Vortigern, of pure Celtic blood, was the leader of the old or national party, and was opposed by Ambrosius, whose name demonstrates his civilized descent, as champion of the Romanized natives. As if to scatter the last hope of combination, a religious schism embittered the feelings on both sides. With the marks of conflagration still blackening the ruins of their churches, and their houses scarcely recovered from the Celtic ravagers' assault, they disputed on the Pelagian heresy, founded by an ancient Briton of the unmistakeable name of Morgan, with the same animosity as had maddened the defenders of the Temple at the siege of Jerusalem. Prodigies were related on both sides in support of their respective faiths. The orthodox
Germanus of Auxerre had come over to arrange the question, and showed the credentials of his authority in a great victory over the Picts, where, by the mere cry of Hallelujah! which his newly-baptized battalions of Britons were ordered to raise, he dispersed the enemy with enormous slaughter. But it was easier to slay the barbarians than to convert the heretics, and the theological disputes went on. In these it is possible the more educated party had the advantage in eloquence; and protection was required by the unmixed Britons equally against the Pelagians and the Scots. Vortigern, therefore, applied to the Saxons, who could fight but could not argue, for aid against his rivals in policy and religion, and the most ferocious of the heathen tribes at that time existing became the bloody arbiters in a discussion about the deepest mysteries of the Christian dispensation.
The sober inquiries of recent times have interfered very much with the beauty of the ancient legends. Heroes and kings are reduced to very small dimensions; the impossible grows improbable, whereas it was at one time the greatest test of of truth; and even the improbable is looked on with suspicion, if any other method can be detected of arriving at the same results. The narrative of the invitation to the Saxons, as it is called, would be very simple if it rested only on the real facts of the case. A tribe, or at least a considerable number of Norsemen the men of Denmark and Jutland-had been settled for many years on the coasts of York and Durham. Having a greater affinity to the Celtic than to the Roman element in the British population, they in all probability sided with Vortigern in his contests with Ambrosius. What more natural than that the Saxons of the shore promised to obtain for him farther aid to the common cause from their countrymen, whose ships they constantly saw cruising from the north, and with whom they had kept up relations of amity and trade? A signal hoisted on the cliffs attracted the first barks which passed within sight, and three