Among the most sacred animals of the Aryan race was the horse. Even in the Indian epics, the sacrifice of a horse was the highest rite of the primitive religion. Tacitus tells us that the Germans kept sacred white horses at the public expense, in the groves and woods of the gods: and that from their neighings and snortings, auguries were taken. Amongst the people of the northern marshlands, the white horse seems to have been held in especial honour, and to this day a white horse rampant forms the cognisance of Hanover and Brunswick. The English settlers brought this, their national emblem, with them to Britain, and cut its figure on the chalk downs as they advanced westward, to mark the progress of their conquest. The white horses on the Berkshire and Wiltshire hills still bear witness to their settlement. A white horse is even now the symbol of Kent. Hence it is not surprising to learn that in the legendary story of the first colonisation, the Jutish leaders who led the earliest Teutonic host into Thanet should bear the names of Hengest and Horsa, the stallion and the mare. They came in three keels—a ridiculously inadequate number, considering their size and the necessities of a conquering army: and they settled in 449 (for the legends are always most precise where they are least historical) in the Isle of Thanet. “A multitude of whelps,” says the Welsh monk Gildas, “came forth from the lair of the barbaric lioness, in three cyuls, as they call them.” Vortigern, King of the Welsh, had invited them to come to his aid against the Picts of North Britain and the Scots of Ireland, who were making piratical incursions into the deserted province, left unprotected through the heavy levies made by the departing Romans. The Jutes attacked and conquered the Gaels, but then turned against their Welsh allies.
In 455, the Jutes advanced from Thanet to conquer the whole of Kent, “and Hengest and Horsa fought with Vortigern the king,” says the English Chronicle, “at the place that is cleped AEglesthrep; and there men slew Horsa his brother, and after that Hengest came to rule, and AEsc his son.” One year later, Hengest and AEsc fought once more with the Welsh at Crayford, “and offslew 4,000 men; and the Britons then forsook Kent-land, and fled with mickle awe to London-bury.” In this account we may see a dim recollection of the settlement of the two petty Jutish kingdoms in Kent, with their respective capitals at Canterbury and Rochester, whose separate dioceses still point back to the two original principalities. It may be worth while to note, too, that the name AEsc means the ash-tree; and that this tree was as sacred among plants as the horse was among animals.