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


Foundation of the Kingdoms of East Anglia, Essex, Bernice, Deira, and Mercia.
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It was the Angles, a people descended from the same source as the Saxons, who finally assured to their countrymen the conquest of the island, in the year 527. A portion of them, conducted by a leader named Uffa, landed on the north-east coast of Britain and formed a settlement, which gradually became consolidated into a kingdom under the title of East Anglia.

Soon afterwards the right bank of the Thames was invaded by fresh bauds, who, assisted by their countrymen in Kent and by the Angles, drove the unfortunate Britons from the soil, and founded the kingdom of Essex, a state exceedingly small, bat important, as comprising in its limits the city of London.

Attracted by the success of the adventurers who had gone before them, a great portion of the Angles, under the conduct of their warlike chief, Ida, and his twelve sons, decided on migrating to Britain. Landing between the Forth and the Tweed, and gradually advancing, they subjugated the entire country between the Humber and the Clyde, finding the Britons everywhere too much divided or enfeebled to oppose them.

The possessions which Ida acquired became the Saxon kingdom of Bernice; whilst AElla, achieving the conquest of the states of Defyr, between the Tweed and the Humber, founded the seventh Saxon kingdom, which bore the name of Deira, and twenty-six years afterwards established an eighth kingdom between the Trent and Wales, called Mercia:

There were successively established eight kingdoms of the Saxon race, forming an octarchy, though more generally known by the designation of the Heptarchy, in consequence of the union of the two states of Bernice and Deira, which reduced the number to seven.

A conquering people seldom exterminate the inhabitants of the country they succeed in subjugating, especially if they fix themselves in their new possessions. The Britons, although reduced to a state of servitude, deprived of their chiefs, and compelled to acquire the language of their masters, still continued to exist, retaining at the same time many of their ancient customs, which had considerable affinity with those of the Saxons, especially in the laws which regulated the possession of land, the government of families, and the administration of justice. Still their situation must have been insupportable, and thousands fled to Wales, which owed its independence quite as much to its natural advantages as to the indisputable valour of its inhabitants, who were so passionately addicted to war that when they had no foreign enemies to oppose, they quarrelled and destroyed each other. Thus was prepared the ruin of their independence, which they were destined, however, to! preserve for a considerably longer period.

Many of the fugitive Britons landed in Gaul, where they were well received, and permitted to found a state; they gradually extended the name of Bretagne to the all but island of Armorica.

About the same period, a tribe of Saxons, who had been expelled from Germany, landed at a short distance from them, and built the city of Bayeux.

The religion of the Saxons, like that of most of the people of Germany, was a gross idolatry, founded on the worship of the powers of Nature. Fire and water were personified in their goddess Hertha. Rheda was another of their divinities; and to their great idol, Irminsal, they sacrificed human victims. Christianity suffered fearfully on the island from the ferocious superstition of the conquerors.

Before the arrival of the Saxons, Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, came twice into Britain to extirpate the Pelagian heresy, which had taken deep root. He founded several schools, among which those of Dubricius, Bishop of Llandaff, and Iltutus, a learned prelate, were the most famous. Dubricius had two schools, where he himself taught; one at Hensland, and another at Mockrost. Iltutus taught at Llan-twit. There was also at Bangor, in Cambria, a famous monastery where youth were educated. Into the public service of the Church Germanus also introduced the Gaulish rites and ceremonies.

St. Patrick, commonly called the Apostle of Ireland, has the reputation of having converted that nation to Christianity, although there is great reason to believe that Anatolias and Palladius preached the Gospel there before him.

Dubricius, Archbishop of Caerleon, was illustrious for his piety, learning, and connection with the above-mentioned schools; and, lastly, for his synod at Brevi, in Cardiganshire, against the Pelagians.

Petse, a native of Cornwall, was celebrated for his religion and learning; he gave his name to Petse Stow, since corrupted into Padstow.

Gildas of Badon, or Bath, was a scholar of Iltutus, and a monk of Bangor monastery. He was born in the year of the battle of Badon, according to Usher, in 520; other learned authorities contend, in 511. Gildas wrote a treatise, entitled "De Excidio Britanuise," "Of the Destruction of Britain," wherein he boldly censures the British princes of his time - that is, those who, after the death of Arthur, divided the country into several petty states. From him chiefly it is that we know what passed among the Britons about the time he wrote, in 564. There is another history, or rather romance, under the name of Gildas, who is by some called Albanian, and supposed to be different from the Gildas now alluded to.

There is little doubt that the Christian prelates and priests were compelled to fly, wherever the Saxon supremacy was established; thus we find that Theon and Thodiac, Archbishops of London and York, retreated into Wales. Gildas, speaking of the awful scenes of devastation which ensued, says: - "From the east to the west, nothing was to be seen but churches burnt and destroyed to their very foundations. The inhabitants were extirpated by the sword, and buried under the ruins of their own houses. The altars were daily profaned by the blood of those slain thereon." The Venerable Bede, of the same race as the conquerors, expresses himself yet more eloquently: - "By the hands of the Saxons a fire was lighted up in Britain that served to execute the just vengeance of God upon the wicked Britons, as he had formerly burnt Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. The island was so ravaged by the conquerors - or rather by the hand of God making use of them as instruments - that there seemed to be a continual flame from sea to sea, which burnt up the cities, and covered the surface of the whole isle. Public and private buildings fell in one common ruin. The priests were murdered on the altars; the bishop with his flock perished by fire and sword, without any distinction, no one daring to give their scattered bodies an honourable burial."

In the midst of such harrowing scenes of murder and devastation, it is not to be wondered at that most records and chronicles which could have thrown light upon the early ages of the Church in Britain were destroyed, and that a mutilated and imperfect history alone remains to us. Another and equal cause of the obscurity which exists is the changing of the names, not only of towns, but whole provinces, as they passed under the dominion of the Saxon yoke. The time, however, at last arrived when the conquerors themselves were to be converted to the faith they had trampled on: in little more than half a century all Britain was brought within the pale of Christianity. Austin, or Augustine, as he is generally called, was the first who preached the Gospel to the idolaters in Kent, Paulinus to the Northumbrians, Birinus to the West Saxons, Wilfred to the South Saxons, Felix to the settlers in East Anglia; whilst other missionaries, equally zealous, succeeded in converting the inhabitants of the kingdom of Mercia.


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