Early Britain eBook

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

Thus the earliest England with which we are historically acquainted consisted of a mere long strip or borderland of Teutonic coast, divided into tiny chieftainships, and girding round half of the eastern and southern shores of a still Celtic Britain.  Its area was discontinuous, and its inland boundaries towards the back country were vaguely defined.  As Massachusetts and Connecticut stood off from Virginia and Georgia—­as New South Wales and Victoria stand off from South Australia and Queensland—­so Northumbria stood off from East Anglia, and Kent from Sussex.  Each colony represented a little English nucleus along the coast or up the mouths of the greater rivers, such as the Thames and Humber, where the pirates could easily drive in their light craft.  From such a nucleus, perched at first on some steep promontory like Bamborough, some separate island like Thanet, Wight, and Selsey, or some long spit of land like Holderness and Hurst Castle, the barbarians could extend their dominions on every side, till they reached some natural line of demarcation in the direction of their nearest Teutonic neighbours, which formed their necessary mark.  Inland they spread as far as they could conquer; but coastwise the rivers and fens were their limits against one another.  Thus this oldest insular England is marked off into at least eight separate colonies by the Forth, the Tyne, the Humber, the Wash, the Harwich Marshes, the Thames, the Weald Forest, and the Chichester tidal swamp region.  As to how the pirates settled down along this wide stretch of coast, we know practically nothing; of their westward advance we know a little, and as time proceeds, that knowledge becomes more and more.



If any trust at all can be placed in the legends, a lull in the conquest followed the first settlement, and for some fifty years the English—­or at least the West Saxons—­were engaged in consolidating their own dominions, without making any further attack upon those of the Welsh.  It may be well, therefore, to enquire what changes of manners had come over them in consequence of their change of place from the shores of the Baltic and the North Sea to those of the Channel and the German Ocean.

As a whole, English society remained much the same in Britain as it had been in Sleswick and North Holland.  The English came over in a body, with their women and children, their flocks and herds, their goods and chattels.  The peculiar breed of cattle which they brought with them may still be distinguished in their remains from the earlier Celtic short-horn associated with Roman ruins and pre-historic barrows.  They came as settlers, not as mere marauders; and they remained banded together in their original tribes and families after they had occupied the soil of Britain.

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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