Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 210 pages of information about Early Britain.

On the south side of the estuary lay the Jutish principalities of East and West Kent, including the strong Roman posts of Rhutupiae, Dover, Rochester, and Canterbury.  The great forest of the Weald and the Romney Marshes separated them from Sussex; and the insular positions of Thanet and Sheppey had always special attractions for the northern pirates.

Beyond the marshes, again, the strip of southern shore, between the downs and the sea, as far as Hayling Island, fell into the hands of the South Saxons, whose boundary to the east was formed by Romney Marsh, and to the west by the flats near Chichester, where the forest runs down to the tidal swamp by the sea.  The district north of the Weald, now known as Surrey, was also peopled by Saxon freebooters, at a later date, though doubtless far more sparsely.

Finally, along the wooded coast from Portsmouth to Poole Harbour, the Gewissas, afterwards known as the West Saxons, established their power.  The Isle of Wight and the region about Southampton Water, however, were occupied by the Meonwaras, a small intrusive colony of Jutes.  Up the rich valley overlooked by the great Roman city of Winchester (Venta Belgarum), the West Saxons made their way, not without severe opposition, as their own legends and traditions tell us; and in Winchester they fixed their capital for awhile.  The long chain of chalk downs behind the city formed their weak northern mark or boundary, while to the west they seem always to have carried on a desultory warfare with the yet unsubdued Welsh, commanded by their great leader Ambrosius, who has left his name to Ambres-byrig, or Amesbury.

We must not, however, suppose that each of these colonies had from the first a united existence as a political community.  We know that even the eight or ten kingdoms into which England was divided at the dawn of the historical period were each themselves produced by the consolidation of several still smaller chieftainships.  Even in the two petty Kentish kingdoms there were under-kings, who had once been independent.  Wight was a distinct kingdom till the reign of Ceadwalla in Wessex.  The later province of Mercia was composed of minor divisions, known as the Hwiccas, the Middle English, the West Hecan, and so forth.  Henry of Huntingdon, a historian of the twelfth century, who had access, however, to several valuable and original sources of information now lost, tells us that many chieftains came from Germany, occupied Mercia and East Anglia, and often fought with one another for the supremacy.  In fact, the petty kingdoms of the eighth century were themselves the result of a consolidation of many forgotten principalities founded by the first conquerors.

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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