Sayfadaki görseller

Origin and Settlement of the Saxons.


of this martial presence. In those earlier times the vessels of the Saxons were mostly of lath and osier work, overlaid with skins. But in later times the Chiule of the Saxon pirate vied in spaciousness and strength with the Roman galley. So armed, and with such means of voyaging at their command, the Saxon sea-kings—as they were often called-became the terror of their time, especially along the coasts of Gaul and Britain. Long before Saxon-Britain was heard of, both Britain and Belgium had their well-known 'Saxon Shore'—that is, coast lands, so called in consequence of their special exposure to attacks from these freebooters. In the fifth century, the strength, the dexterity, the fearlessness, and the cruelty of the Saxons, had combined to make them the most formidable enemy of civilization north of the Rhine. Constantine the Great, Theodosius, and Stilicho, made vigorous efforts to check the incursions of the Saxons in their time, and to put down their piracies. But as the strength of the empire diminished, the audacity of these marauders increased. In fact, they made rapid progress in the art of war by means of the practice into which they were called by such attacks. The event to be desired was, that their successes should give them opportunities of settlement, and inducement to relinquish a. mode of life so pregnant with evil to themselves and to humanity. Their characteristics were such as to ensure them an advanced position in the race of civilization, should circumstances, ever dispose them to such pursuits.

Our authorities in relation to the first settlement of the Saxons in Britain are twofold-Saxon and British. Putting the two accounts together, it is easy, we think, to see that the brothers Hengist and Horsa must have been real persons, and that there must be an historical substance in what is reported concerning them.t Hengist did not become sovereign of Kent before the year 473. Sussex, the kingdom of the South-Saxons, was the second state established, and was founded by Ella in 496. The state of the West-Saxons dates from 519; it embraced Surrey, Berks, Dorset, Somerset, and Devon, with parts of Hampshire and Cornwall. The founder of this sovereignty was Cerdic. East Anglia included Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, the Isle of Ely, and part of Bedfordshire, and was founded by Uffa, in 540. Erkenwin laid the foundation of the state of the East-Saxons, which comprehended Essex, Middlesex, and a southern district

* Sidonius, Opera, viii. 6. Gildas, Hist., § 23, 24. Zozimus, Hist., 111, 47. Eutropius, Breviarium, lib. viii., c, xiii. Paul. Diacon., lib. x., c. 3. Ammian. Marcel. lib. xxviii. c. 5. Procopius, Hist. Got., iv. 469. Julian. Dration. Constant.

+ Bede, Hist., i, 15. Chron. Sax. ad ann. 449 et seq. Gildas, $ 23—26. Nennius, 36–38, 43—45.

of Hertfordshire. This kingdom commenced in 542. The kingdom of Bernicia was established by Ida in 548, under whom the Angles possessed themselves of Northumberland, and of the northern parts of Westmoreland and Cumberland, with the part of Scotland lying between Newcastle and Edinburgh. The kingdom of Deira embraced Lancashire and Yorkshire, with the southern divisions of Westmoreland and Cumberland. Ella was the founder of this kingdom, which dates from 560. Mercia, the latest of the Saxon kingdoms, does not make its appearance before 586, but it was in regard to territory the most considerable state of the whole, comprehending all the midland counties, and forming ultimately the great barrier kingdom between the Saxons and the Welsh.*

It will be seen from these statements that more than a century and a half intervenes between the founding of the first state of the Saxon Octarchy and the founding of the last. It will be seen, moreover, that the conquests of the Saxons followed the exact course which had been taken by the Romans. From the coast of Kent, the invaders gradually spread themselves southward, northward, and westward, the country of Caractacus, wbich was the last to submit to the Romans, being the last to submit to the Saxons. Where the Romans had been the most ascendant, there the Saxons gained their earliest and easiest victories. Thus did the portion of this island since known by the name of England, pass into the hands of the people from whom it has derived that name.

Two centuries intervened (586—787) between the founding of the last state of the Octarchy, and the first descent of the Danes on the English shore. During those two hundred years, neither the incursions of the Welsh, nor those of the Scots, had been sufficiently formidable to bring the Anglo-Saxon states to adopt a common course of action from a sense of common danger. Indeed, the relative position of these states was singularly unfavourable to combined action-greatly more so than has been commonly supposed. Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria formed a half circle, the one point of it starting from Cornwall, the other terminating in the Lowlands. The outer line of this curve completely fenced off both the Welsh and Scotch, and each of these states deemed itself competent to deal with the bad neighbours along its own line of territory, and rested on its own means for its own safety. While the outer line of this curve served as a constant check upon the Welsh and Scots, the inner line enclosed the other states of the Heptarchy. But the lesser

Bede, Hist., & 100. Chron. Sax. ad ann. 449—588. Ethelward, Chron., lib. i.

[blocks in formation]

states could scarcely combine without the consent of the greater, and the dangers along the border lands of the three greater states continued, for a long interval, to preclude them from acting in concert. While, however, the lesser states were secured in this manner by the greater against incursions from Picts or Britons, their seaboard lay open; and now a new foe was about to assail the whole Heptarchy from that quarter.

The Saxon Chronicle records that in 787 : came three ships of Northmen, out of Haretha-land. And the reeve rode to the place, and would have driven them to the King's town, because he knew not who they were, and they there slew him. These 'were the first ships of Danish-men which sought the land of ' the English nation. In 794 another party of these 'Northmen,' or heathen-men' as they are called, is said to have ravaged a part of Northumbria; but these are our only intimations of such incursions before the accession of Egbert, sometimes described, though not very accurately, as the first King of England.

The assailants above-pamed came from the shores of the Baltic, including Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, with their numerous islands. What the Saxons had been in the sixth century, these Danes had become, in nearly all respects in the ninth-pirates; but pirates capable of prosecuting their schemes of war and plunder on a large scale, both on the sea and on the land. After the first few experiments, their object in visiting Britain appears to have been to secure a settlement in the country, but a settlement, it would seem, to be realized not so much by subduing the natives as by destroying them.

We know not the causes which prompted the first great Saxon movement. The increase of numbers, the pressure of newcomers migrating westward, rival leaderships, and convulsionsany, or all of these circumstances may have contributed to give the stream of races the direction then taken by them. are not left so much in uncertainty in regard to the causes which first disposed the Northmen to direct their course towards Britain in preference to seeking a settlement on shores nearer to their own. The conquests of Charlemagne, in Germany, and the rigour with which he had insisted that all reduced by him to the condition of subjects should profess themselves Christians, opposed a formidable barrier to migration in that direction. The depredations of the Northmen were thus turned westward in place of southward. They swept along the shores of Flanders, Holland, France, and Ireland, and the same storm passed with memorable effect over Britain. Only a few years had passed since the achievements of Charlemagne, in Germany, when these

But we

invaders began to make their appearance in this country. All our histories relate how during two centuries from this time England was invaded from time to time by the Danes; how their numbers increased until their armaments became such as to show that their aim was the conquest of the entire country; how they obtained one cession of territory after another, married wives from among the Saxons, and divided the land with them ; how after this long interval of almost ceaseless war and convulsion, a Danish chief became King of England, and the state of things ensued which made it certain that on whatever brow the crown of England might be placed, the Dane and the Saxon must be equally its subjects.

Now the question to which we wish to call attention in this place is what had been the effect of these invasions, first of the Saxons, and afterwards of the Danes, on the distributions of race in Britain at the time of the Conquest ? We may be quite sure that the strifes which come so much to the surface in AngloSaxon history had their roots far beneath. They were not effects without causes, nor without adequate causes.

The great cause we may no doubt find in the differences of race, and in other differences consequent on that difference. The two great lines of distinction in this respect were those which separated, first between the Briton and the Saxon, and then between the Saxon and the Dane. But there were lesser lines of separation beneath those, which contributed their share towards giving the story of Anglo-Saxon Britain the unsettled complexion under which it is known to us. On the differences of this nature: which obtained among the Teutons themselves, who were the founders of the English Octarchy, we shall allow the venerable Bede to speak

"From the Jutes,' he writes,' sprang the men of Kent, and the Wihtware, the tribe which now dwelleth in the Isle of Wight, and the other tribe in the country of the East-Saxons, opposite to the Isle of Wight, whom men still call by the name of the Hundred of the Jutes.

* From the Saxons, that is to say, from the land now called the country of the Old Saxons, descended the East-Saxons, the SouthSaxons, and the West-Saxons.

From the Angles, that is to say, from the country called Anglia (Anglen), and which from that time till now is said to have remained waste-between the provinces of the Jutes and the Old Saxons, descended the East-Angles, the Mercians, the race of the Northumbrians, and all the rest of the nations of England.''*

* Hist. Eccles., lib. i. c, xv.

Distributions of Race in Anglo-Saxon Britain. 17 It will be seen that in this description the precedence in regard to numbers, and extent of territory, is given to the Angles, who took possession of the north and north-west portions of the island. The next position is assigned to the Saxons, who gave the name of Saxon' to the districts occupied by them in the south and south-east. To the Jutes falls the smallest space and the smallest influence. As was fitting, the name of England comes from the tribe whose numbers and possessions were the greatest.

Much in common was no doubt possessed by these tribes. But they were distinguished from each other in many respectsin dialect, in customs, and in personal qualities. Many traces of these diversities are still perceptible in the parts of the country which they respectively occupied. It is probable, as Sir Francis has suggested (English Commonwealth, I. c. 2), that along with these three tribes there were considerable admixtures of Frisians, Franks, and even Longobards, though not to such extent as to be readily traced by us at this distance of time. The difference between these settlers, in speech, in features, in complexion, in the colour of the eyes and hair, and in dress and manners, was probably much stronger than we are disposed to imagine. As an instance of the diversities thus originated we may mention the difference between the Wapentake of Yorkshire and the Hundred of Sussex.*

No thoughtful man will suppose that these varieties could exist without awakening more or less of a spirit of clannish pride and rivalry—and we need not attempt to show what the effect of such passions has commonly been among rude communities. The history of the Highlands of Scotland down to a comparatively recent time furnishes ample illustration on this point. Hence, in great part, the absence of all combination between the different states of the Heptarchy in opposing incursions either from the Britons on the western side of their territory, or the Danes on the eastern. As the wars carried on with these foes subsided, feuds amongst themselves were too commonly revived, and new checks were imposed on all tendencies towards unity and improvement.

Much has been written on the supposed effect of the Saxon invasions on the Britons. This is one of the points on which Sir Francis Palgrave has shed some new light. The fact that the Britons kept together along nearly the whole of the western side of the island, from Cornwall to Cumberland, and that small traces of the British tongue are found on the eastern side, would

• Lappenberg, Hist. Eng., i, 90–116. so. II.


« ÖncekiDevam »