Зображення сторінки

quently unable to withstand the powerful and undegenerate tribes of Germany, which now, in the great tide of emigration from the east and north of Europe, rushed into the old Celtic countries, and made themselves new abodes, either, for the most part, putting the ancient inhabitants to death, or reducing them to a state of thraldom.

In the fifth century Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, from North Germany and the peninsula of Jutland, invaded Britain. The unfortunate Britons, when they would not submit to their conquerors, were persecuted with fire and sword, and were at last driven to the remote mountain districts in the West of England, particularly Cumberland (the land of the Cymbri or Celts), Wales, and Cornwall. After a sanguinary war, which lasted more than a hundred and fifty years, all their fine fruitful plains fell into the hands of their foreign conquerors, who continually brought more and more of their countrymen over, to build up again and inhabit the burnt or destroyed towns and houses, and to cultivate the neglected fields. The Angles settled principally in the north of England, the Saxons in the south and south-west, and mingled amongst both dwelt the Jutes, who do not appear to have been numerous enough to occupy large districts of their own. Under the common name of “Anglo-Saxons," the descendants of these nations continued for several centuries to be the reigning people, although the Britons did not cease to make harassing invasions on the frontiers of their hereditary enemies. For the rest, the Saxons successfully continued what the Romans had begun, with regard to the improvement of the land, and the promotion of civilization among the people.

They were, it is true, divided into several tribes and smaller kingdoms, which not unfrequently warred against each other. But Christianity soon began to extend itself, and about the time of its introduction the separate kingdoms were united into one. Churches and convents rose with surprising rapidity throughout the country, and the pursuits of peace, science, and art, throve luxuriantly. Every plant, though foreign, flourished vigorously in the English soil.

In the first ages, however, Christianity produced among the people, as was the case in other countries besides England, a sort of degeneracy and weakness. Instead of the din of battle of the heathens there were now heard songs and prayers, which, joined with the constantly-increasing refinement, made the people dull and effeminate, so that they willingly bent under the yoke of their masters, both spiritual and temporal. In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries the Anglo-Saxons bad greatly degenerated from their forefathers. Relatives sold one another into thraldom; lewdness and ungodliness were become habitual ; and cowardice had increased to such a degree, that, according to the old chroniclers, one Dane would often put ten Anglo-Saxons to flight. Before such a people could be conducted to true freedom and greatness it was necessary that an entirely new vigour should be infused into the decayed stock.

This vigour was derived from the Scandinavian north, where neither Romans nor any other conquerors had domineered over the people, and where heathenism with all its roughness, and all its love of freedom and bravery, still held absolute sway.

SECTION II. The Danish Expeditions. The Danish Conquest. A FATE similar to that which the Anglo-Saxons had formerly brought upon the Britons, now partly became the lot of the Anglo-Saxons themselves. The same sea, the North Sea, or, as the old inhabitants of Scandinavia called it, “England's Sea,” which in the fifth century had borne the Anglo-Saxons to England, and which had afterwards served to maintain the peaceful connections of trade,


and the intercourse between kinsmen in England and in their northern fatherland, now suddenly teemed with the numberless barks of the Vikings, which, from the close of the eighth century, constantly showed themselves in all the harbours and rivers of England. For about three centuries the Danes were the terror of the Anglo-Saxons. They generally anchored their ships at the mouths of rivers, or lay under the islands on the coasts. Thence they would sail up the rivers to the interior of the country, where they frequently mounted on horseback, and conveyed themselves with incredible speed from one place to another. Their frightful sabre-cuts resounded everywhere. Their progress was marked by the burning of churches and convents, castles, and towns; and great multitudes of people were either killed or dragged away into slavery. In a short time they began to take up their abode in the country for the winter, and in the spring they renewed their destructive incursions. The terrified inhabitants imagined they beheld a judgment of God in the devastations of the Vikings, which had been foretold in ancient prophecies.

Not even the remote and poorer districts of Wales were spared. It is true that it was extremely difficult for the Danes to force an entrance on the land side, and, in order to do so by sea, it was necessary to make a troublesome and dangerous voyage round the long-extended peninsula formed by the modern Cornwall and Devonshire. In general its rivers were not large or navigable, and the number of good harbours was but small. Nevertheless, the Northmen seem to have known Wales well, as the old land of the Britons ; since it was always called “ Bretland,” to distinguish it from England. Palnatoke, the celebrated chief of the Jomsvikings, is said to have married there, during one of his warlike expeditions, Olöf, a daughter of the Bretland jarl, Stefner, whose Jarledömme (earldom) Palnatoke afterwards possessed. The Sagas often make mention of Björn hin Bretske (Bear the Briton) as being among his men; and it is said that when he assisted at the funeral solemnities which his foster son, King Svend Tveskjæg *, held in honour of his father, King Harald Blaatand t, the half of his suite were Britons. Svend himself had ravaged Bretland; and it was there, as is well known, that the Icelander, Thorvald Kodranson, surnamed Vidförle (the far-travelled), delivered him by his noble disinterestedness from a perilous imprisonment.


The expeditions of the Danes to Bretland seem, however, to have been confined to the tracts bordering on the north bank of the Severn, and to the Isle of Anglesey ; which latter was not unfrequently visited by the Norwegians in their piratical voyages to the Hebrides and Ireland. At least the Sagas mention it as “ the southern. most region, of which former Norwegian kings had made themselves masters ;” and it was probably here that Palnatoke had his kingdom. The very name of the island recalls a close connection with the inhabitants of the north. Anciently it was called “ Maenige ;” but the Danes and Norwegians, with regard, clearly, to its situation by the land of the Angles (England), gave it the name of “Öngulsey,” or Angelsöen, whence the present form Anglesey may, doubtless, be said to have been derived.

The connections of the Danish Vikings with Bretland were, however, far from being always unfriendly. For as the Britons in Wales and Cornwall constantly nourished a lively hatred against the Anglo-Saxons, on whose lands they continued to make war, the Danes often entered into an alliance with them against their common enemies. The Danish and British armies were either combined, or else the Britons attacked from the west and south, whilst the Danes invaded the eastern coasts. These deep and well-laid plans show that the views of the Danes were no longer confined to robbery and plunder, with a view to gain booty, or to overthrow the churches and convents which threatened their ancient gods with destruction, but that they now seriously thought of conquering for themselves * Split-beard.

+ Blue-tooth.

new tracts of country; nay, if possible, of subjugating or expelling the Anglo-Saxons throughout England.

Already in the ninth century the Anglo-Saxons had receded considerably before the Danes, who had obtained possessions on the east coast, where they quickly spread themselves, and where fresh arriving Vikings always found reception and assistance. The Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great, was driven from his throne, and wandered about a long time in the forests, whilst the Danes held the sovereignty in his dominions. He succeeded, indeed, at length in regaining the crown ; but in the mean time the possessions of the Danes on the east coast had been extended, and their power continually increased by the arrival of fresh emigrants, who settled in different parts of the country, and married the native women. Alfred, it is true, built fleets for the protection of the coasts ; but the militia-men instituted in his time, in order to repel the frequent attacks of the Danes, now went over to them, accounting them their kinsmen. In Northumberland especially, the Danes, and a considerable number of Norwegians, had settled themselves securely under their own chiefs. Here they had sought a refuge against the new order of things which was now about to make itself felt in the mother countries, Denmark and Norway,

Partly as a result of the expeditions of the Vikings, and the frequent contact into which they were thus brought with Christian States, Christianity began, towards A.D. 900, to spread itself in the countries of Scandinavia. About the same time occurred there, as in the rest of Europe, a union of many small kingdoms under a single sovereign ; and the Scandinavian tribes were subjected to the kings of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Some powerful and malcontent ones had indeed migrated beyond the sea ; but, nevertheless, there were materials enough left for dissension in the new kingdoms, before Christianity could be generally introduced, and the power of the kings firmly established. A time arrived when the internal struggles

« НазадПродовжити »