AmblesideOnline Sample of A History of England by H. O. Arnold-Forster
"Britain, the best of islands, is situated in the Western Ocean, between France and Ireland . . . it produces everything that is useful to man, with a plenty that never fails."--Geoffrey of Monmouth's Chronicle
Fifty-five years before the birth of Christ, Julius Caesar
, at the head of a Roman army, landed on the shores of England. It is on that day that the history of England begins.
Long before the coming of Caesar, men and women had lived and died, and worked and fought, in the land which we now call England
. But of their sayings and doings we have no record; no historian has told us of their fortunes, and for all that we know of them, they might never have existed.
Suddenly a great ray of light was thrown upon what before was darkness. Not only did Julius Caesar land upon the shores of our country, but he wrote down in words which may be read at this day the story of the strange new people he had found, and a description of the far-off country in which they lived. And thus it is true to say that the History of England begins with the landing of Julius Caesar, fifty-five years berore the birth of Christ.
It is now many hundreds of years
since the landing took place. At that time there was but one great Empire in the world, and one great people who ruled half Europe and vast possessions in Africa. This was the great Roman
people, whose chief city was Rome, in Italy, and whose language was the Latin
tongue in which Julius Caesar wrote.
News had already come to the Romans that there existed, for away in the Northern seas, an island, of a number of islands, which had never been conquered by the Roman arms. Traders from the Mediterranean sailing upm the coast of Spain, and of that country which we now know as France, but which was then called Gallia
, or Gaul
, had found land far out in the Atlantic, and landing, had discovered rich deposits of tin which they had worked and brought back to Italy. But the stories of adventurous sailors and merchants were soon to be replaced by a much closer acquaintance. Towards the middle of the last century before Christ , a great man, the greatest of all the Romans, had been appointed to the command of the armies in the Roman province of Gaul. (1)
This great man was Julius Caesar
. Not content with defending the Roman provinces, he carried war into the whole country of the Gauls. Step by step he came nearer to the northern coast, until at length the Roman camps looked down upon the narrow waters which divide France from England. It is only twenty-two miles from Calais to Dover, and from the coast the Roman soldiers must have seen as clearly as we can at the present day the great white cliffs of an "unvisited land," standing high out of the water to the north.
Already they had given a name to this country, and they knew it to be an island. A great Roman writer who lived in Caesar's day, speaks of Britain
separated by almost the entire world. (2) And the name which the Romans gave to our land we know and are proud to own at the present day. "Britannia rules the waves
." Our king is king of Great Britain and Ireland, and the coins with which we do the business of our daily lives still bear upon them the Latin inscription and the name by which Caesar called our country. (3)
1 Gallia, or Gaul, was divided into two parts: Gallia Cis-Alpina, or "Gaul this side of the Alps," and which included that part of North Italy which is now known as Piedmont; and Gallia Trans-Alpina, or "Gaul beyond the Allps," which is now the French sestrect of Provence.
2 "Prenitus tete divisox orbe Britannex
" ("The Britains almost all the world away")--Virgil
3 the words "Britt: Rex
" on the penny (see p. 7) are short for "Britanniarum Rex,"
or, King of Britain. The words written round the penny in the picture stand for " Geargius V. Del gratia Britanniarum Omnium Rex Fidel Defensor Idiarum Imperator." The meaning of which is " George V., by the grace of God, king of all the Britains, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India."
The Landing of the Romans.
"But Rome! 'Tis thine alone with awful sway
To rule mankind, and make the world obey,
Disposing peace and war thy own majestic way;
To tame the proud, the fettered slave to free;--
These are imperial arts, and worthy thee."
From Virgil's Aeneid, Book VI, translated by Dryden.
Caesar was not the man to leave this new country unexplored and unconquered. In the year 55 B.C. he collected eighty ships and 12,000 men upon the other side of the Channel, close to the where the town of Calais now stands.
A few hours' sailing and rowing brought the fleet to the foot of the "White Cliffs," but on the shore were to be seen a large number of the Britons who had come down to oppose the landing. The Romans were disappointed, for they hoped they would have taken the Britons by surprise. They feared to land, and they took their ships farther along the coast, until they came to the place where the town of Deal
There they made up their minds that they would land; but they found that the water was not deep enough to allow their ships to get to the shore. Here, too, were large numbers of Britons, who were ready to fight them as soon as they got to land. At first it seemed as if they would have to sail away once more, but at this moment a brave Roman soldier came forward. This soldier was the standard-bearer of the Romans. Each regiment in our own army has a flag, which is carried with the regiment, and of which all the soldiers are proud. Thte Roman Regiments were called legions
, and each legion, instead of a flag had a standard, on the top of which was thte figure of an eagle
, made in gold or brass.
The standard-beared, when he saw that the soldiers who were with him in the ship were afraid to land, seizd the "eagle" of the legion in his hand, and jumped into the water. "Follow me, my comrades,"
cried he, " if you would not see your eagle taken by the enemy. If I die, I shall have done my duty to Rome and to my General."
When the Roman soldiers saw this brave act, they, too, threw themselves into the water, and though it was deep water they waded to the land. The Britons fought corageously against the newcomers, but the disipline and military training of the Roman soldiers prevailed, and the Roman troops disembarked with safety.
In less than three weeks, however, they were compelled to return to Gaul, and it was not till the summer of the next year (54 B.C.) that Caesar returned with a large army to complete his conquest. This time the resistance he met with was serious. The Britons had had time to collect a large army, and under a chief of the name of Cassivelaunus
were able for some time to hold the Romans at bay. The Britons fought in a way to which the Romans were not accustomed. They went into battle driving at full speed in chariots. To the wooden wheels of the chariots, scythes or sharp blades were fastened; and as long as the chariot was moving fast the sharp blades on the wheels cut down those who came near it.
But though the Britons had their chariots, the Roman soldiers proved too strong for them, and at length Caesar forced his way as far north as the river Thames, near Wallingford, and the Britons, defeated for a time, consented to make peace, to give hostages, and to promise, if not to pay, a yearly tribute. Having thus added another vicory to his long list of triumphs, Caesar returned to Gaul, and thence to Rome, where ten years later (44 B.C.) he met with his death, stabbed by the traitor Brutus and other political enemies in the midst of the Roman senate.
Britain and the Britons.
"Who can see the green earth any more
As she was by the sources of Time?
Who imagines her fields as they lay
In the sunshine, unworn by the plough?
Who thinks as they thought,
The tribes who once roam'd on her breast,
Her vigorous, primitive sons?"
Matthew Arnold; "The Future."
So far we have looked at Britain from a Roman point of view; it is time to inquire what sort of people lived in our island when the Roman invasion first threw the light of history upon it.
Of the early Britons, their life and their habits, we know little but what has been told us by the Roman writers. It is fortunate for us that the age of Julius Caesar was one in which some of the great Roman authors lived, and two of these authors have left us interesting accounts of the Britons. The first account is that given by Caesar himself, who not only was a great general and a great statesman, but one of the clearest and best writers of any age.
A second account we get from the pen of one who, as a writer, was even more famous than Caesar. In a book called the "Agricola," Cornelius Tacitus
has written an account of the Britons as they were a hundred years after the date of Caesar's landing.
, the father-in-law of Tacitus, was at that time governor of Britain, and it is the account which he gave to his son-in-law which is contained in the "Agricola."
From what Casar and Tacitus tell us we can form some idea of what the Britons were like. By the Romans they were regarded as savages, but it is easy to see, by what the Romans themselves tell us about them, that the Britons were not really savages at all. English people in our own time sometimes make the same mistake which the Romans made, and treat the people of other coutries as savages and far below them, just because their habits are strange and their way of thought are not like our own.
We do not know a very great deal about what the Britons were really like; but we do know some things about them. The men were tall and handsome, and fought bravely in battle; but it seems as if they were rather too fond of fighting, for not only did they fight against the Romans and other enemies who came from abroad, but they often quarreled and fought amongst themselves. They lived in villages made up of a number of small houses or huts surrounded by a high wall. They lived chiefly by hunting and fishing, and there were always plenty of wild animals to kill and fish to catch, for we must not forget that at the time we are speaking of, England was very different from what it is now; the country was covered with thick forests, and the rivers, insead of being shut in between close banks, often spread over the land and made great swamps and marshes. In the forests there were wolves, wild boars, and many other animals which are quite unknown in England in our own day. It was of the skins of these animals that the Britons made their clothes.
The Britons did not drink wine, but they made a strong drink of honey. This drink is sometimes made now; it is called mead. The Britons were heathens and believed that there were many gods. Their priests were called Druids
. These Druids were very strange people; they used to pretend that they had great and terrible secrets which were known to them and to nobody else. They said that their gods lived in the very thickest and darkest parts of the woods, and they used to go to pray to their gods under the great oaks in the forests; they wore long white robes, and the people held them in great awe.
The Druids have been dead hundreds of years, and their religion has long been forgotten; but there are still some thing in England in our own time to remind us of the white-robed Druids and their strange religion.
If we take the train to Salisbury
, and then take a carriage and drive rather more than ten miles over Salisbury Plain
, we shall suddinly come to avery strange sight. In the middle of the plain we shall wee a number of great stones--some of them lying on their sides on the grass, others standing straight up, and some of them resting upon other great stones in the way shown in the picture. The stones are of enormous size and very heavy--many of them are from twenty-three to twenty-eight feet high.
It seems a wonder how such heavy stones ever got to be set up in this way; but we shall find a still more wonderful thing about some of the stones when we come to look more closely at them. We shall find that they are not of the same kind as the stones which are found upon Salisbury Plain, but that they are of a kind which must have come from a long way off.
The place in which these strange stones have been set up is Stonehenge
, in the middle of Salisbury Plain, and the stones were set up there before the time of Julius Caesar by the Druids whom we have been reading about. Stonehenge was one of the places where the Druids used to worship their gods; and though no one quite knows why they set up the stones, it is certain that they were looked upon by the Britons as being very sacred.
Once there were a great many more stones standing up than can be seen now. If the stones which have fallen down were still in their places, we whould see that the Druids had made two great circles; one inside the other; the outside one of big stones, and the inside one of smaller ones. On page 11 there is a picture of what Stonehenge must have looked like before any of the stones fell down. There are other rings of stones in England, but the one at Stonehenge is the largest and most interesting. All these stones were put up by the Druids; and they can be seen to this day by Englishmen, and will help to remind them of the Britons who lived in our land two thousand years ago.
There is another thing besides the great stone circle which ought to remind us of the Druids. Most of us, whether we live in town or country, have seen thte sprigs of green leaves with white berries which are put up among the holly and the laurel leaves at Christmas. They are the Mistletoe
leaves and berries which are gathered from plants which grow on the stems of the trees in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, and in many other parts of England.
It is not easy at first to guess why it is that Mistletoe
is hung up in so many houses at Christmas time. To find out the answer to the question we must go back a very long way in history, until we come to the time of the Druids. It was the Druids who first used the mistletoe. They thought that its berries were sacred or holy, and they often put them up in the places where they prayed to their gods.
We have long forgotten all about the gods to whom the Druids prayed, but we have not forgotten about the mistetoe they were so fond of. The Romans came over and conquered the Britons, the great stones at Stonehenge tumbled down, and many changes, good and bad, took place in England, but the use of the mistletoe bough was never quite forgotten; and when the people of England learned to pray to another God, and found that the gods of the Druids were false gods, they still went on using the sacred mistletoe. And thus it happens that when, in our own time, we come to Christmas Day, the day on which we commemorate the birth of Christ, we still put up in our houses the mistletoe berries which the old Druids first prized in the time of the Britons.
"In the Year of Our Lord."
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."--Luke ii. II.
It was not till nearly a hundred years after Julius Caesar had gone away that the Romans came a second time into Britain. Julius Caesar was dead, and the Roman Emperor was Claudius
. Claudius determined that he would follow the example of Julius Caesar, but that this time the Britons should be really beaten, and that their country should belong to Rome.
But, before we follow the fortunes of the army which Claudius sent to Britain, there is one thing which we must notice. If we wish to write down the year in which Juius Caesar came to Britain, we write it in this way--"55 B.C."; but if we want to write the year in which Claudius sent an army, we put--"A.D.43."
What do "B.C." and "A.D." mean? The leters "B.C." mean "before Christ,"
and , therefore,"55 B.C." means fifty-five years before Christ was born. THe letters "A.D." stna dfor two Latin words--Anno Domini--which mean "in the year of our Lord." "S.D. 43" means forty-three years after the year in which Christ was born
People now sometimes write the year in which we live in this way--they say "A.D. 1913," or "A.D. 1914," meaning that the year in which we live is the one thousand nine hundred and thirteenth, or the one thousand nine hundred and fourteenth, year after the year in which Christ was born. Now we can easily understand that, between the year 55 B.C. and the year A.D. 43, a great thing must have happened.
It was in the years between the coming of julius Caesar and the coming of the Romans in the time of Claudius that the great event which divides the history of the old world from that of the new had taken place, and that Christ was born in Bethehem
. While the memory of the Roman general who had defeated their armies was still fresh in the minds of the people of Britain, and while they were anxiously looking out for the return of the Roman galleys, and Roman Emperor had issued a Decree "that all the world should be taxed," and a Roman officer commanding in the Province of Judea had carried out the Imperial order. A Roman magistrate, sitting in the Judgment Hall at Jerusalem, had allowed sentence of death to be passed upon the Prisoner whom the Jews had brought before him. Jesus
had been crucified, and his death had been the birth of a new hope, of a new life, and of a new faith which was to spread throughout the world. The birthday of England as we know it is almost the same as the birthday of Christianithy, and the twentieth century of the Christian Era is the twentieth century in the history of our country.
And thus we see that if we want to know when the history of our country, so far as we know anything about it, begins, we have only to remember that it began just before the birth of Christ
, and that, if we know the year in which we live, we shall know the number of years which have passed since the Romans first came to Britain.
Caractacus and Boadicea.
"When the British warrior Queen,
Bleeding from the Roman rods,
Sought, with an indignant mien,
Counsels of her country's gods"--Cowper.
When the Romans came with Julius Caesar, they only stopped in Britain for two years, but when they came a second time under Claudius they, and their descendants after them, remained for over three hundred and sixty years. At first they brought nothing but war and misery with them. The Britons fought fiercely. This time they were led by a chief called Caractacus
, who for a long time was able to keep up a successful resistance to the Roman armies. But at last he was beaten in a great battle, and was taken prisoner. He was sent to Rome, and there brought before the Emperor Claudius (A.D. 51).
When Caractacus was brought before Claudius, he spoke to him boldly and told him that he was not ashamed of what he had done, but proud of it--that he had only fought for his country. "I am in your power,"
said he to the Emperor, "and you can do what you please with me; but I am only here because I was true to my country, and because I would not promise to obey your laws and to be your servant. You can put me to death, but you will gain more honour if you spare my life."
When Claudius and the Roman afficers who stood with him heard these brave words, they could not help admiring the proud Briton. Claudius commanded that the prisoner's life should be spared and that he should be well treated.
But the war between the Romans and the Britons did not end when Caractacus was taken prisoner. There arose among the Britons a fresh leader, whose name has become famous in our history. This leader was Boadicea
, Queen of the Iceni, the Widow of one of the British Chiefs, Boadicea hated the Romans, and she had good reason to do so; for not only had they been very unjust to her husband when he was alive, but when she went to complain to the Roman Governor, instead of doing justice, he ordered her to be seized and to be beaten with rods. Boadicea therefore hated the Romans, both because they were enemies of her country and because they had been cruel to her. She called upon her countrymen to join her in resisting the enemy, and many of them gathered round her, prepared to follow wherever she led them.
It is said that Boadicea was tall and beautiful, with long flowing hair, and that she appeared before her people clad in a long robe and with a gold chain about her waist. Her beauty and her courage made her loved by the Britons, and the Romans soon learnt to fear her. In more than one battle the Britons, under Boadicea, defeated the Roman soldiers, and for a time it seemed as if the brave queen would succeed in driving her hated enemies out of the land.
The Romans had built a town upon the banks of a river which we now call the Thames
. The name of the town was Londinium
, a name which we now know much better as London
. Already Londinium had become a large place, and besides the Romans who lived there, there were many Britons who had taken the side of the Romans. It was to Londinium that Boedicea now led her army. As she came near the town, the Roman soldiers saw that there were not enough of them to resist the great amy of the Britons, and they marched away, leaving behing them all their friends who had trusted
them. Soon Boadicea came to the gates, and , once inside the town,
the fierce Britons showed no mercy. Thousands of the people of
Londinium were killed, and the town was all but destroyed.
But the British Queen had won her last vicory. The Roman
general, whose name was Suetonius
, collected his scattered troops, and
marched against the Queen. Boadicea, on her side, was ready for the
battle. She called upon the Britons to fight like men, to rid their
country of its enemies, and to avenge the cruelty which had been done
to herself. She stood in the midst of the army, and declared that she
would rather kill herself than allow herself to be taken prisoner by the
Romans. The battle began. The army of the Britons was far larger
than that of the Romans, but the Roman soldiers had long been taught
how to fight together, and to obey the orders that were given them.
It was not long before the battle was over. The Britons were quite
unable to resist the Romans. No less than eighty thousand of them
were killed. Boadicea herself was true to her promise. Rather than
be taken prisoner by the Romans, she took poison, and thus ended her
own life (A.D. 62). With her death ended the hopes of the Britons, and
from that time the Romans were masters of the whole country.
Roman Camps and Roman Roads.
"Thine; Roman, is the pilum; (1)
Roman, the sword is thine,
The even trench, the bristling mound,
The legion's ordered line."
Macaulay: "Prophecy of Capys."
, a short, broad heavy spear borne by the Roman soldiers.
After the death of Boadicea, the Romans soon became masters of
nearly all that part of Britain which we now call England
. At first they
had to fight many battles, but after a time the Britons submitted to
the Romans and agreed to obey their laws. For nearly four hundred
years the Romans stopped in this country, and in our own day we can
still find many marks of the things they did while they were here.
It would indeed be strange if, after they had been so long in Britain,
the Romans had not left something by which we might remember
them. They were a very wonderful people, and have set an example in many things to all the nations who have come after them. The
Roman soldiers were the wonder of the world. During time of peace
they were always practising what they would have to do in time of war.
They could fight well, and they could march well. Nor was this all;
they knew how to protect themselves against an enemy as well as they
knew how to attack an enemy when they wished.
Whenever the Roman soldiers came to the end of a day's march,
in whatever part of the world they were; they did the same thing,
They built a wall of earth, and made a ditch round their camp, and, as
all the soldiers knew how to work, and all worked together, the ditch
was dug, and the wall was built, before the soldiers lay down the sleep.
Sometimes they built much larger camps than those which were wanted for one night only. These camps had deep ditches and high walls, and
they were usually placed on the top of a hill. In many prts of England
these Roman camps may still be seen; and not only are the camps
themselves still to be found in England, but the very name by which
the Romans called them are used by Englishmen every day. The
Latin word for camp is "castra
"; and though we have not got exactly
the word "castra" in English, we have something like it. We have all heard of Chester
, the capital of Cheshire, which stands on the
river Dee. The word "Chester" is really the same as "castra
Chester got its name because in the time of the Romans there was a
camp or strong place full of soldiers there.
But Chester if not the only place where we find a Roman name.
We have Chi
, and many others; and
we have also the word castra written caster
, in such places as Lan
. The names of all these places tell us
quite plainly that the Roman soldiers once upon a time built their wall and dug their ditch there in the days that came after the landing of
The Romans, too, were great builders
; they knew how to erect
large buildings of stone and specially of brick. Most of the buildings
which they built in Britain have fallen into ruin, but parts of them
have been found in many places; and enough is left to show how
beautiful the buildings must have been when they were new. The
floors of the houses were paved
with tiles in artistic patterns;
there were carved pillars inside
and outside the houses. There
were baths supplied with hot
water, and there were many
comforts which we sometimes
think were not known before
our own time. In some places
beautiful statues have been dug
up, and many thousands of gold
and silver and copper coins have
been found which have stamped
on them the heads of the Roman
Emperors, and Latin words which
tell us something about the coins.
But though the Romans were
famous as builders of houses, they
were still more famous as makers
. The Romans were the
first people to make great roads
from one end of England to the
other. The roads were paved
with stone, and they ran in a
straight line up hill and down dale from one town to another. Nowadays it would not be considered wise to take the roads straight up
the hills; it is more usual to go round a hill rather than to go up
it. But the Romans were quite right to do as they did in their time.
If we want to go from one place to another, the shortest distance
between the two places is always a straight line. In the picture on
this page are two points, A and B, and there is a straight line joining
them. We may try as long as we like, but we cannot find a shorter
way from A to B than the straight line.
The reason why we do not make our roads go in a straight line
now is that we use a great many carriages and carts, and it is very hard for a horse to pull a carriage or a cart up-hill. But when the
Romans were in Britain carriages and carts were scarcely used at all,
and those who went on long journeys travelled either on foot or on
horseback; their luggage was taken from place to place on the backs
of horses or mules. The hills, therefore, did not matter very much,
and a straight road enabled the Roman soldiers to get from place
to place very quickly. There are many place in England where the
roads still follow exactly the same line as the old Roman roads.
Sometimes we come to a stretch of road which goes on quite
straight for several miles; we may generally be sure that we are on
the line of a road which has never changed for eighteen hundred years,
and which was first planned by one of the Roman officers under the
command of Vespasian
, or Titus
, or some other Roman
general. The best known Roman roads in England are called "The
," which goes from London to Chester; "The Fosse Way
which goes from Bath to Lincoln; "The Ermine Street
," which goes from London to Lincoln and on to York; and "The Seaside Road
," (Via Maritima
) which runs all along the sea-coast of Wales down into Pembrokeshire.
Besides their buildings and their roads, the Roman have also left us
a very wonderful mark of their work on the border between England and
Scotland. After the Romans had made peace in that part of Britain
which is now called England, and had begun to rule quietly there, they
found that they were often troubled by enemies who came down from
the country which we now call Scotland; these enemies where known
as the "Picts
The Romans fought and beat the Picts many times, but they found
them so troublesome that at last they built a great wall right acrose the
country to keep them out. The Roman emperor Hadrian
wall to be built (A.D. 121), and after Hadrian's death another Roman
Emperor, named Severus
, built a second wall. This wall is called "The
Wall of Severus
," and many parts of both are still to be seen in our own
day. So that there are many things still left in our country to remind
us that the Romans once ruled over it.
Roman Christianity--Departure of the Romans.
"And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time."
Longfellow: "Psalm of Life."
There is one other thing which the Romans gave to this country.
and which would have been the most important of all their gifts had
it lasted. This great gift was Christianity
, which was first introduced
into England during the time of the Roman occupation. After many
struggles and much suffering the Christians had obtained permission
to carry on their worship at Rome. Gradually their teaching spread
until, in the year 312, Constantine the Great, the first Christian
Emperop, assended the throne.
In the year 306 Christianity had been already intoduced into
England under the rule of Constantine
, whose British mother, Helena of
, became known in after years by the name of St. Helena
though Constantine was a Christian, he was unable to protect those of
his own religion from the fierce persecution of the Emperor Diocletian
Many of the British Christians, it is said, were put to death for refusing
to give up their religion, and the name of Alban
has been handed down to us as that of the first martyr in the British church. His name is still preserved by the famous Cathedral of St. Albans
, in Hertfordshire.
The persecution, however, did not prevent the spread of Christianity.
Bishops were created, and churches were built. Of these churches
traces have been found in our own day, but for the most part they
were destroyed in the terrible years that followed the depature of
the Romans from Britain. Roman Christianity was indeed swept
away, and Britain once more became a pagan land.
The Romans stopped in Britain for nearly four hundred years, and
during the greater part of that time there was peace and quiet in the
country. So long as the Roman soldiers were here, there was little
fear of any fresh enemy coming and taking the country. But at length
there came news from Rome that a formidable enemy was marching
against Italy, and that the Emperor was afraid that Rome itself would
be taken. At such a time every Roman soldier was needed to defend
Italy and Rome; and orders were therefore sent that the armies
which were in Britain should return to Italy.
This was sad news for the Britons, for by this time they had come
to look upon the Romans more as friends than as foes, and they feared
to lose the Roman soldiers who had so long protected them from every enemy. Besides, the Romans had built towns in Britain; many of
them were married to British wives, and they had begun to teach the
Britons the arts which they had brought with them from Italy.
For all these reasons, the Britons were naturally grieved when the
order came for the Roman legions to sail across the Straits of Dover
and to leave the white cliffs of Britain behind them. But a soldier
must do what he is ordered, and the Romans were too good soldiers
to disobey the orders which they received from Rome. The legions
marched down to the sea-coast, got into their ships, and sailed away
across the sea on their road home to Italy.
What happened to the legions when they got to Rome, and how
the great city of Rome, which had conquered so many countries, was
at last itself conquered, can be read in the history of Rome. But we
are reading the history of England, and we must now bid farewell to
the Roman soldiers as we lose sight of the sails of their ships crossing
the Channel between England and France.
The Coming of the Saxons.
Famous persons who lived during the period
decribed in this chapter:
Attila, King of the Huns, b. 406, d. 453.
Hengist, Chief of the Saxons, d. 488.
Principal event during the period descrived in the
449. Invasion of Britain be Hengist and Horsa.
The Gathering ot the Storm
"Dark and many-folded clouds foretell
The coming on of storm."--Longfellow
Now that we have seen the last of the Roman soldiers sailing back
to their own country, we must return once more to the story of Britain and of the Britons now left behind without the protection of
the Roman sword. For nearly four hundread years the Britons had
been ruled over by a people stronger than themselves, and, though
they had doubtless gained much from their masters, the very fact
that they had not had to depend upon their own valour for their
own safety had made them less fit to resist an enemy than on the day
when they stood on the shore at Deal, ready to face the legions of
A people which has ceased to rely upon itself for its own defence
must always be in danger. The Britons had learnt to rely upon the
Romans to fight their battles for them, but now they would have
to fight their own battles themselves. It was not long before their
strength was put to the test by an enemy more terrible than any they
had yet had to encounter.
It somtimes happens that before the beginning of a great storm,
when the sky has already became overclouded and the air has became
still and hushed, a few big drops of rain come splashing down by themselves, and seem to tell us of the downpour which will so soon drench
the earth. Something like this happened in Britain in the years which
passed just before the Romans sailed away.
From time to time there reached the shores of Britain ships filled
with fierce soldiers from a land across the seas; these men were tall,
strong, fair-haired, armed with swords and axes, and talking a language
quite different from that of either the Britons or the Romans. Wherever
they landed they brought fear and alarm with them. They robbed
the people and killed those who resisted them; and, after they had
taken what plunder they could get, they launched their ships and
sailed away again to the land from which they came.
But so long as the well-drilled Roman soldiers remained, these war-
like strangers did not do more than visit the coasts of Britain and sail
away again. The Roman armies were always ready to meet them and
to protect the Britons. But these short visits were like the raindrops,
they foretold the terrible storm which was soon to break over Britain.
The Sea Rovers.
"Thirty men they each commanded,
Shoulders broad, and chest expanded,
Tugging at the oar.
These, and many more like these,
With King Olaf sailed the seas.
Till the waters vast
Filled them with a vahue devotion,
With the freedom and the motion,
With the roll and roar of ocean,
And the sounding blast."
Longfellow: "The Saga of King Olaf."
And now it is time to ask who these new-comers were, and from
what land they had sailed in their ships.
The country from which these people came is now a portion of what
we call Germany. It touches the shores of the Baltic Sea, and of the
German Ocean, and it comes down close to that part which we now
call Holland. The people who came from these countries belonged
to three tribes or nations. These tribes or nations were called the
, the Angles
, and the Jutes
We cannot tell exactly what it was that made the Saxons, the
Angles, and the Jutes leave their own country and sail across the sea
to Britain. Perhaps it was that they thought their own country was
a poor one, and they wished to find some more fertile land in which
to live. It is very likely that they had such a thought, for even now
the north of Germany and the south of Denmork, which are the
countries in which the Jutes and the Angles lived, are barren and
sandy, covered in many places with forests of fir-trees, and unfit to
grow wheat upon.
There were other reasons, too, which made the Jutes, the Angles,
and the Saxons wish to cross the sea. There were other nations behind
them who kept attacking them and driving them forward down to the
sea; and when they got there, they were glad to seek for a new
country in which no one would disturb them.
And, last of all, there was, no doubt, another reason which made the
Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons leave their homes. They had just the same love of adventure which many English people have nowadays.
They loved to travel, and to find new lands; and if , when they came to
a new land, they had to fight for it, they did not object. Indeed, they
liked fighting quite as well as being at peace--perhaps better; and in
this matter, too, they were not unlike some Englishmen in our own
day, who like adventures all the better if there be danger in them.
No sooner had the last of the Roman soldiers left the shores of
Britain, and the strong power of the Romans been taken away, than
the storm which had been so long hanging over England began to
break. The Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes came over the sea in
their ships, not as before, a few at a time, but in great numbers. They
landed upon our shores and stopped there, with no thought to going
back to their own country. All along the south coast of England the
ships were to be seen. Everywhere the Britons resisted, but everywhere,
in the long run, the result was the same. The new-comers were
victorious, and step by step they pushed the Britons further back from
The Ford of the River Medway.
"History repeats itself."
Among the earliest of the invaders were two great Saxon chiefs
who are said to have landed at Ebbsfleet
Kent, in the year 449. For a time they settled in the Isle of Thanet,
but picking a quarrel with the Britons, they marched with their armies
upon London. The story runs that a great battle took place upon the
River Medway, in the year 455, at a place called Aylesford
, and that in
this battle Horsa was killed. It is not certain whether the story of the
death of Horsa be more than a legend, but it seems clear that at or
about the time named a great battle did take place between the Saxons
and the Britons, in which the Britons tried to prevent the Saxons
crossing the Medway
and getting to London, and that in this battle the
Britons were defeated.
It is interesting to remember that, over and over again, battles have
been fought upon the River Medway for just the same reason as this
battle between the Saxons and the Britons. If we look at the
map, we shall see that the part of England which is closed to the continent of Europe is the county of Kent, and that anyone who lands
in the county of Kent, and wants to get to London, will have to cross
the River Medway. He will not try to cross where it is very broad,
but he will be forced to go up as far as Chatham
, where the stream is
narrow; and where there is now a bridge over it. The easiest and the
shortest way from the coast of Kent to London, is across the Medway
at Chatham; and it is for this reason that, all through English
history, those who wanted to defend London against an enemy, have
made a great fortress at Chatham.
If we go to Chatham now, we can still see what is left of the fortresses
which our forefathers built at different times. The Romans, who were
very great soldiers, always knew which was the best place for a fortress,
and they were the first to make a great "camp" close to Chatham.
The towns of Rochester
touch each other. Now "chester
as we have already learnt, is really the Latin word for a "camp
we know, therefore, from the name that there was a Roman camp at
After the Romans had gone, the Britons
in their turn made a strong
fortress at Chatham, and when the Saxons came this fortress prevented
them crossing the river at this place. They were forced to come up the
bank of the river till they reached Aylesford. Then the Saxons
strong fortress at Chatham, and after them the Normans
, of whom we
shall read later on, built a great stone castle, of which there is a picture
on the next page, and which, though it is in ruins, can be seen at the
present day. After gunpowder was invented, the Norman castle was
not strong enought to defend the crossing of the Medway, and another
fortress, built of earth and brick, was made in its place. The greater
part of these earth and brick walls still remain, and we can see them
any day if we got to Chatham. And now, quite lately, a new fortress
has been built all round Chatham, to prevent an enemy crossing
the Medway, and to protect the ships of war which lie at Chatham.
And so we see that though times have changed, and though many
years have gone by, the reason which made the Britons defend the
Medway in the time of Hengist and Horsa, more than fourteen hundred
years ago, is the reason which makes us defend it with a great fortress
in the days in which we live.
The Saxon Conquest.
Famous Persons Who Lived During the Period Described in This Chapter.
Attila, King of the Huns, d. 453
Clovis, King of the Franks, b. 465, d. 511.
Hengist, Chief of the Saxons, d. 488.
Horsa, the companion of Hengist, killed at Aylesford, 449.
Justinian, the great Roman law-maker, b. 483, d. 565.
Aethelbert, King of Kent, b. 552.
Bertha, daughter of Charibert, Kinf of Paris, wife of Aethelbert.
Ida, King of Bernicia, 547.
St. Patrick, d. 491.
Columba, the great Irish preacher, b. 521, d. 597.
Columban, the great Irish missionary, b. about 543.
Gregory I., called "The Great," Pope.
The following are supposed to have lived in the sixth century:--
Gildas, British historian.
Principle Events Which Took Place During the Period Described in This Chapter:
449. Hengist and Horsa land in Kent.
452. Attila invades Italy.
457. The Kingdom of Kent founded.
477. Landing of the South Saxons.
486. Clovis, King of the Franks, defeats the Romans at the battle of Soissons.
495. Landing of the West Saxons.
520. Victory of the Britons at Badon Hill.
547. Ida founds the Kingdom of Bernicia.
561. Aethelbert becomes King of Kent.
565. St. Columba commences his mission in Scotland.
595. St. Columban starts uopn a mission to France.
The Breaking of the Storm; or, Britons and Saxons.
Cold is Cadwallo's tongue,
That hush'd the stormy main:
Brave Urien sleeps upon his craggy bed;
Mountains, ye mourn in vain
Modred, whose magic song
Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topt head."
Gray: "The Bard."
From the time of the landing of Hengist and Horsa the history of England ceases to be an account of either the Britons or the Romans, and is occupied with the spread and final settlement of the great flood of German invaders which now began to pour into the country. For two hundred years the invasion continued, one wave following another. At the end of that time we find the various tribes of invaders firmly established in England; we find them divided into many separate kingdoms under various leaders. The Britons have been driven out
and are no longer to be feared, and the new-comers have begun to
quarrel fiercely among themselves.
Nearly four centuries pass, during which first one Saxon kingdom,
and then another, becomes the most powerful, and defeats its rivals.
At last, in the year 827, Egbert, king of the West Saxons, becames
the first king of all England. The chief work of the king of the
united country is to defend it against the attack of fresh invaders--
the fierce Danes, who for a time seem likely to treat the Saxons as the
Saxons treated the Britons. And lastly, Saxons and Danes together
are forced to give battle to yet another invader, and are defeated by
the Normans at the battle of Hastings in the year 1066.
The story of the events which have just been referred to must be
told at greater length; but it is well to look forward a little at this
point in our history, in order that we may understand how great a
period of time elapsed before the first landing of the Jutes in 449, and
the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066.
In this book, as in every other history of England, great or small,
far more space is given up to the events which took place after the
year 1066, than to those which took place before that date; and yet, if
we look at the scroll which is unfolded at page 104, we shall see that
the portion of our history which is so fully described occupied far less
time than that of which so scanty an account is given. From the
landing of Julius Caesar to the time of the Norman Conquest is little
more than eleven hundred years
; while the period which elapsed between
landing of Hengist and Horsa and the coming of the Normans in
1066, which is described in a few short chapters in this book, was no
less than six centuries
It is easy to understand why our history should contain much
shorter descriptions of early times than of late times. The historian
can only write of things which he has learnt through books and records.
In our own day everything which takes place is written down, and the
great difficuly of the historian is to know what thinsg are important
enough to be told by him; but in the early Saxon days there was little
writing, and in those times of fierce wars even the few written documents which did exist had little chance of escaping destruction.
It is important to remember these things, because we are sometimes
liable to forget that the life of a people goes on just the same in days
of which history gives us little or no account, as in days when every
event is written down and recorded. Although we know less about the
six hundred years which passed between the landing of Hengist and
Horsa and the landing lf the Normans, than we do of the eight