Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

of this period, observes that " independent Britain contained many independent republics, or civitates; each of these was governed by chief magistrates, or duumviri, a senate, subordi. nate officers called decurions, an inferior senate called curia, with other necessary officers. The ecclesiastical concerns were regulated by a bishop in each, whose power sometimes extended into lay concerns." *

But such a form of constituent power was not calculated for duration. When the principles of government reverted to their elements, it is probable that the descendants of ancient petty kings would prefer their long-neglected claims; and, if such claimants were wanting, ambition alone may be named as a sufficient motive to agitate temporary officers towards the destruction of a crowd of imbecile republics. Whatever might be the instrumentality, the existence of civil discord, caused by numerous usurpers of regal power, would appear to be unquestionable. Gildas, the most useful historian of this era, remarks that “the country, though weak against its foreign enemies, was brave and unconquerable in civil warfare. Kings were appointed, but not by God; they who were more cruel than the rest, attained to the highest dignity."

The distresses thus produced to the people of South Britain, by the secession of the Romans, were, surely, more grievous than any severity of taxes which their imperial masters were accustomed to inflict; and these miseries were aggravated by a cause which should have taught the usurpers the expediency of union. The Scots and Picts, who had with difficulty been confined to their chearless moors and barren uplands, even by the Roman arms, now penetrated the fertile districts of the south; and, while weak pretenders were struggling for ephemeral sovereignty, they, with a more serious aim, plundered the people of the vital source of regal power. It was in this state of Britain that the Sasons, who had so often appeared as pirates on our coast, but

had

• Hist. of the Anglo-Saxons, Vol. I. p. 85.

had rarely dared to view the interior of the island, first took a secure footing, as auxiliaries,

The mode of their approach, and the insignificancy of their early numbers, are calculated to surprise the examiner, when he contemplates, with a rapid eye, the stupendous character of future events; unless he hold in careful remembrance the numerous his. torical circumstances, of vast importance, which have sprung from an original apparently as inefficient.

Whilst South Britain was severely afflicted by civil warfare, it appears that three Saxon vessels arrived on the British coast; but whether with a piratical intention, or by one of those accidents peculiarly incidental to a sea voyage at this period, cannot be ascertained. Their crews were conducted by Hengist and Horsa, who had the imposing distinction of being termed descendants of Woden. Ebbs-fleet, in the Isle of Thanet, near Richborough, was the place at which they anchored.*

It has been observed that, “ if we estimate the number of these Saxons from the size of the Danish vessels in a subsequent age, they could not exceed three hundred men.”+ But even so small a band of warriors were deemed friends of importance by the distracted Britons; and they were eagerly courted to assist in opposing the northern invaders. To so low a stage of degradation was Britain reduced by internal dissensions!

All that immediately followed is involved in a deep mist, most deceptive and perplexing. We are told that the leaders of the Saxons advised the invitation of more of their countrymen; and that the British king, under whose auspices they fought, assented to such a measure. Camden, in his dissertation on this era, has presented an excerpt of Wittichind, who describes the embassadors of the Britons as addressing the more warlike Saxons in a strain unusually abject and inapolitic. But Camden would appear to consider Wittichind as a questionable authority;

P2

and,

• See Beauties for Kent, p. 990_991.
+ Hist. of the Anglo-Saxons, Vol. I. p. 90.

and, by modern writers, his assertions are treated with still less respect.* Whatever might be the mode of address, it is believed that a summons was given, and it is known that more Saxons speedily arrived.

Successful against the Picts and Scots, although, from the smallness of their nombers, probably on a limited theatre of war. fare, the Saxons soon turned their arms on the nation whose allies they were deemed.

A melancholy series of conflicts now commenced. Milton has been censured for terming the transactions of these sanguinary periods, as uninteresting as the conflicts of wolves and kites ; but, truly, so little of mind is evinced in the various contests antecedent to the consolidation of the most potent Anglo-Saxon states under one supreme head, that the opinion of Milton would appear objectionable as to harshness of expression, rather than as to serious import. The battles of an Alexander, or a Cæsar, force as to adinire while we shudder; so much of the imposing quality termed heroism was displayed by those great generals. But the Saxons of England, whether fighting against the natives, or turning their arms on their own associates, were so mercenary and cruel in their object, that we look in vain for a hero to soften, and render tolerable, the annals of bloodshed, by any incidental action of a splendid character.

If a gleam of light and interest enliven this dark picture, it arises from the opposition made by the most courageous of the British tribes, or petty nations, to the early incursions of the invader. We here meet with the achievements of an ARTHUR, renowned in the works of minstrels and fabulous historians. But

the

• Mr. Turner (Hist. of the Anglo-Saxons, Vol. I. p. 91.) observes that Wittichind, “though a Saxon himself, appears to have been completely ign ratit of the Saxon antiquities.” In a note to the same page it is re. marked, ibat Witrichind, (the biographer of his contemporary, Otho, who died in 972) knew nothing of the Saxons prior to their entering Thu. thagia,

the real patriotic and warlike merits of this prince, are so dis. figured by the exaggerations of his romantic chroniclers, that we read with doubt the narration even of his methodised and more credible exploits. All that renders his actions peculiarly attractive, is poetical blandishment.

The struggles of a people, divided in interests as were the Britons, proved, however, so lamentably ineffectual, that, in the year 455, the sixth year after the arrival of Hengist, that leader succeeded in establishing the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent.-1 leave unnoticed the chronology and detail of battles, which are of little importance in topographical researches, except as to vestiges of intrenchments, or interest arising from locality; and proceed to state the result of these conflicts, in the entire occupancy of England by its hardy invaders, whose various clans progressively divided the country into several petty kingdoms.

The extent of territory possessed by such chieftains as erected kingdoms in those parts of the island which yielded to their arms, fluctuated so much, in ensuing scenes of contention, that a general idea of the division of Britain among its conquerors, is, perhaps, best conveyed by the following statement of archbishop Usher, respecting the various parts into which the Saxons and their confederates spread themselves.

The Jutes possessed Kent, the Isle of Wight, and that part of the coast of Hampshire which fronts it.

The Saxons were distinguished from their situation, into
South Saxons, who peopled Sussex.

East Saxons, who were in Essex, Middlesex, and the south part of Hertfordshire.

West Saxons, in Surrey, Hampshire (the coast of the Jutes excepted,) Berks, Wilts, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and that part of Cornwall which the Britons were unable to retain.

The Angies were divided into

East Angles, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, the Isle of Ely, and it should seem) part of Bedfordshire.

MIDDLE

[ocr errors]

MIDDLE ANGLES, in Leicestershire, which appertained to Mercia.

The Mercians, divided by the Trent into

South MERCIANS, in the counties of Lincoln, Northampton, Rutland, Huntingdon, the north parts of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, Bucks, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Staffordshire, and Shropshire.

NORTH MERCIANS, in the counties of Chester, Derby, and Nottingham.

The NORTHUMBRIANS, who were,

The Deiri,* in Lancaster, York, Westmoreland, Camber. land, and Durham.

The Bernicians, * in Northumberland, and the south of Scotland, between the Tweed and the Firth of Forth.

In addition to this statement may be presented the following scheme of the Anglo-Saxon states, as drawn up by Camden :

The kingdom of Kent ,

contained............... } The county of Kent. The kingdom of Sussex, or the ?

SOUTH SAXONS, contained. The counties of 3

the counties of

Sussex.

Surrey.

The kingdom of the East. ?

ANGLES contained ..........

The counties of

Norfolk.
Suffolk.
Cambridge, with
į the Isle of Ely.

The

• In explanation of these terms, it ipay be observed that such part of Bri. tain between the Humber and the Clyde, as was nearest to the Humber, was called Deifur by the ancient nalives; and, after its conquest by the Saxons, was named Deira.- North of this tract was Bryneich, which term was altered, by the Saxon conquerors, to Bernicia.

« НазадПродовжити »