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Chapter IV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1


Landing of the Saxons in Britain.
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We have now arrived at a period when an event occurred which infused a new element into the population of Britain, and was destined to have a powerful influence in her history, her progress, and her literature. The island had not long recovered its independence before it suffered, in common with the rest of Europe, from the dreadful scourges of pestilence and famine, which thinned its population - a circumstance of which the Picts and Scots, the restless and unpitying enemies of the Britons, were not slow to take advantage. They made frequent inroads into Britain, plundering and devastating the country, and inflicting the most cruel depredations and sufferings upon the inhabitants. So great was the terror inspired by these atrocities, that whole districts and towns were abandoned by their inhabitants, who fled like sheep before the fiery Picts and Scots.

In this extremity Vortigern, one of the most powerful of the British kings, had recourse to an expedient which he borrowed from the Romans, whose emperors had long been change in the component elements of countries, the influence of which is clearly discernible even at the present day.

The similarity of the Saxon language, in some respects, to that of the Persians and ancient Indians, seems to some to be sufficient reason for believing that the Saxons were originally of Oriental origin, in which case is conjectured that Saces, on the Indus, was the source whence they derived their name. The earliest mention, however, of the Saxons in history, describes them as neighbours of the Danes, south of the Cimbrian Chersonesus: and it is most probable that their name was really derived from sacks, an axe.

Here it is impossible not to be struck by the wonderful unity which characterises all the designs of Providence - the fitness of the means to the end proposed. In the same manner as the Jews were disciplined to become a nation by their sojourn of forty years in the desert, so were the Saxons gradually led to follow a maritime life from the localities in which they had settled; and this finally led to the conquest of Britain, destined, from its geographical position, to be one day the centre of the commerce of the world.

Rude and savage as were our forefathers, they possessed one redeeming virtue: women were respected amongst them; polygamy was a law unknown; the wife was the companion and friend of her husband, not the slave; and we have never yet seen any nation arrive to great eminence in civilisation where such was not the case.

If we look at the East, the truth of this observation will at once become apparent. It is stagnant, and gives no sign of healthful life by progress or improvement: polygamy is its sin and punishment.

The chiefs of Britain were holding a council as to the most efficient means of repelling the invasion of the Picts and Scots, when intelligence was brought of the landing of a body of pirates under Hengist and Horsa, on the neighbouring coasts. Vortigern proposed that the strangers should be invited to assist them against the common enemy, which proposal was adopted, despite the repugnance of the Cambrian rulers, who vainly protested against the measure.

In consequence of this arrangement, a negotiation with the strangers was entered into; the Saxons were promised money and supplies in exchange for their swords and arms. The offers were acceded to, and the Picts and Scots driven back to their own country. Although the Saxons were far from being numerous, Vortigern became anxious to secure their services for the future, and a treaty was accordingly concluded between him and the two brothers, Hengist and Horsa, by which the latter bound themselves to return with a much larger number of their countrymen, on condition of receiving a tract of land and subsidies of various kinds.

The island of Thanet was devoted to them for their abode.

Faithful to their promise, the allies returned with considerable reinforcements, and lauded on the coast of Kent.

For some time the Saxons remained faithful to their engagement; but becoming tired of fighting for others, their pride increased with their success, and they demanded a large increase of territory, which was indignantly refused. That which they could not obtain, by concession they resolved to gain by conquest, to which end they treacherously entered into an alliance with the Picts and Scots, whom they had hitherto combated. This fatal treaty made the Britons comprehend at last the error they had fallen into. Instead of allies they had made for themselves. masters. Indignation at the treachery, however, did not permit them at once to succumb; the struggle was a fierce and protracted one. Several British chiefs immortalised themselves in the contests by deeds worthy of the heroic age; amongst others Guortemir, the son of Vortigern, who, being pressed in battle, tore up a young tree by its roots, with which he killed Horsa, and the Saxons were put to flight.

It is incontestible that the Britons obtained several victories, for Hengist and the rest of his companions re-embarked, and for five years the island was free from their presence.

The Saxons once more returned under the leadership of the surviving brother, Hengjn, in formidable numbers, and soon afterwards gained the battle of Crayford, the result of which was the cession of the greater part of Kent to the conquerors in 473. Eight years later they obtained a second victory, which assured Hengist in his new possessions, from that date called the kingdom of Kent.

Twenty-eight years after the first landing of the Saxons, AElla, another chief of their race, who, like his predecessor, boasted himself the descendant of Odin, arrived with his three sons in the same number of vessels, on the coast of Kent, and founded the kingdom of Sussex.

Sixteen years elapsed between the invasion of the last adventurer and that of the famous Cerdic, who landed in 493 on the west of Sussex and Kent, with a numerous body of troops. For nearly forty years his contests with the Britons were continued. Ho succeeded in seizing on the Isle of Wight and that portion of the main island now known as Hampshire. His son Cynric, and his grandson Cealwin, conquered the country between the south coast and the Severn, and established the kingdom of Wessex.

Cerdic, in this fierce and protracted struggle, had for his chief adversary the renowned Arthur, who gained, amongst other battles, those of Longborth and Morlas, celebrated in the poems of his friend and companion, the bard Llywarch Hen, and at last the great battle of Badan Hele, near Bath, where he overthrew his enemies.

At this epoch, as at the time of the Roman conquest, if the Britons had been united, they might have successfully resisted the attacks of their invaders; but they were torn by civil discord and intestine feuds, which contributed more to their subjugation than the swords of the Saxons. Even Arthur had to contend against the rivalry of his own family, and perished at last by the hand of his nephew, Medrawd.

Feeling that he was mortally wounded, the dying hero commanded himself to be secretly conveyed to the coast of Cornwall, and from thence to Glastonbury, where he expired. His death was for a long time concealed, and the mystery which veiled the place of his sepulchre, till it was discovered in the reign of Henry II., contributed as much, perhaps, as his exploits, to render his name immortal. His return was prophesied, and ages after his decease many of his countrymen confidently believed in his return.


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Pictures for Chapter IV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

The Treaty of Peace
The Treaty of Peace >>>>
Defeat of the Saxons.
Defeat of the Saxons. >>>>
Saxon Arms
Saxon Arms >>>>

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