Early Britain eBook

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

The Anglo-Saxons, when they settled in Eastern and Southern Britain, were a horde of barbarous heathen pirates.  They massacred or enslaved the civilised or half-civilised Celtic inhabitants with savage ruthlessness.  They burnt or destroyed the monuments of Roman occupation.  They let the roads and cities fall into utter disrepair.  They stamped out Christianity with fire and sword from end to end of their new domain.  They occupied a civilised and Christian land, and they restored it to its primitive barbarism.  Nor was there any improvement until Christian teachers from Rome and Scotland once more introduced the forgotten culture which the English pirates had utterly destroyed.  As Gildas phrases it, with true Celtic eloquence, the red tongue of flame licked up the whole land from end to end, till it slaked its horrid thirst in the western ocean.  For 150 years the whole of English Britain, save, perhaps, Kent and London, was cut off from all intercourse with Christendom and the Roman world.  The country consisted of several petty chieftainships, at constant feud with their Teutonic neighbours, and perpetually waging a border war with Welsh, Picts, and Scots.  Within each colony, much of the land remained untilled, while the clan settlements appeared like little islands of cultivation in the midst of forest, waste, and common.  The villages were mere groups of wooden homesteads, with barns and cattle-sheds, surrounded by rough stockades, and destitute of roads or communications.  Even the palace of the king was a long wooden hall with numerous outhouses; for the English built no stone houses, and burnt down those of their Roman predecessors.  Trade seems to have been confined to the south coast, and few manufactured articles of any sort were in use.  The English degraded their Celtic serfs to their own barbaric level; and the very memory of Roman civilization almost died out of the land for a hundred and fifty years.



From the little strip of eastern and southern coast on which they first settled, the English advanced slowly into the interior by the valleys of the great rivers, and finally swarmed across the central dividing ridge into the basins of the Severn and the Irish Sea.  Up the open river mouths they could make their way in their shallow-bottomed boats, as the Scandinavian pirates did three centuries later; and when they reached the head of navigation in each stream for the small draught of their light vessels, they probably took to the land and settled down at once, leaving further inland expeditions to their sons and successors.  For this second step in the Teutonic colonisation of Britain we have some few traditional accounts, which seem somewhat more trustworthy than those of the first settlement.  Unfortunately, however, they apply for the most part only to the kingdom of Wessex, and not to the North and the Midlands, where such details would be of far greater value.

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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