Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.

We can now picture to ourselves the general aspect of the country after the English colonies had established themselves as far west as the Somersetshire marshes, the Severn, and the Dee.  The whole land was occupied by little groups of Teutonic settlers, each isolated by the mark within their own township; each tilling the ground with their own hands and those of their Welsh serfs.  The townships were rudely gathered together into petty chieftainships; and these chieftainships tended gradually to aggregate into larger kingdoms, which finally merged in the three great historical divisions of Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex; divisions that survive to our own time as the North, the Midlands, and the South.  Meanwhile, most of the Roman towns were slowly depopulated and fell into disrepair, so that a “waste chester” becomes a common object in Anglo-Saxon history.  Towns belong to a higher civilisation, and had little place in agricultural England.  The roads were neglected for want of commerce; and trade only survived in London and along the coast of Kent, where the discovery of Frankish coins proves the existence of intercourse with the Teutonic kingdom of Neustria, which had grown up on the ruins of northern Gaul.  Everywhere in Britain the Roman civilisation fell into abeyance:  in improved agriculture alone did any notable relic of its existence remain.  The century and a half between the conquest and the arrival of Augustine is a dreary period of unmixed barbarism and perpetual anarchy.

From time to time the older settled colonies kept sending out fresh swarms of young emigrants towards the yet unconquered west, much as the Americans and Canadians have done in our own days.  Armed with their long swords and battle-axes, the new colonists went forth in family bands, under petty chieftains, to war against the Welsh; and when they had conquered themselves a district, they settled on it as lords of the soil, enslaved the survivors of their enemies, and made their leader into a king.  Meanwhile, the older colonies kept up their fighting spirit by constant wars amongst themselves.  Thus we read of contests between the men of Kent and the West Saxons, or between conflicting nobles in Wessex itself.  Fighting, in fact, was the one business of the English freeman, and it was but slowly that he settled down into a quiet agriculturist.  The influence of Christianity alone seems to have wrought the change.  Before the conversion of England, all the glimpses which we get of the English freeman represent him only as a rude and turbulent warrior, with the very spirit of his kinsmen, the later wickings of the north.

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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