Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 210 pages of information about Early Britain.
Isle of Wight.  The age of mere plundering descents was decisively over, and the age of settlement and colonisation had set in.  These heathen Anglo-Saxons drove away, exterminated, or enslaved the Romanised and Christianised Celts, broke down every vestige of Roman civilisation, destroyed the churches, burnt the villas, laid waste many of the towns, and re-introduced a long period of pagan barbarism.  For a while Britain remains enveloped in an age of complete uncertainty, and heathen myths intervene between the Christian historical period of the Romans and the Christian historical period initiated by the conversion of Kent.  Of South-Eastern Britain under the pagan Anglo-Saxons we know practically nothing, save by inference and analogy, or by the scanty evidence of archaeology.

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

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

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

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

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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