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    Ch. 2 - The Early Saxons

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    Chapter 2
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    THE Romans had scarcely gone away from Britain, when the Britons
    began to wish they had never left it. For, the Romans being gone,
    and the Britons being much reduced in numbers by their long wars,
    the Picts and Scots came pouring in, over the broken and unguarded
    wall of SEVERUS, in swarms. They plundered the richest towns, and
    killed the people; and came back so often for more booty and more
    slaughter, that the unfortunate Britons lived a life of terror. As
    if the Picts and Scots were not bad enough on land, the Saxons
    attacked the islanders by sea; and, as if something more were still
    wanting to make them miserable, they quarrelled bitterly among
    themselves as to what prayers they ought to say, and how they ought
    to say them. The priests, being very angry with one another on
    these questions, cursed one another in the heartiest manner; and
    (uncommonly like the old Druids) cursed all the people whom they
    could not persuade. So, altogether, the Britons were very badly
    off, you may believe.

    They were in such distress, in short, that they sent a letter to
    Rome entreating help - which they called the Groans of the Britons;
    and in which they said, 'The barbarians chase us into the sea, the
    sea throws us back upon the barbarians, and we have only the hard
    choice left us of perishing by the sword, or perishing by the
    waves.' But, the Romans could not help them, even if they were so
    inclined; for they had enough to do to defend themselves against
    their own enemies, who were then very fierce and strong. At last,
    the Britons, unable to bear their hard condition any longer,
    resolved to make peace with the Saxons, and to invite the Saxons to
    come into their country, and help them to keep out the Picts and

    It was a British Prince named VORTIGERN who took this resolution,
    and who made a treaty of friendship with HENGIST and HORSA, two
    Saxon chiefs. Both of these names, in the old Saxon language,
    signify Horse; for the Saxons, like many other nations in a rough
    state, were fond of giving men the names of animals, as Horse,
    Wolf, Bear, Hound. The Indians of North America, - a very inferior
    people to the Saxons, though - do the same to this day.

    HENGIST and HORSA drove out the Picts and Scots; and VORTIGERN,
    being grateful to them for that service, made no opposition to
    their settling themselves in that part of England which is called
    the Isle of Thanet, or to their inviting over more of their
    countrymen to join them. But HENGIST had a beautiful daughter
    named ROWENA; and when, at a feast, she filled a golden goblet to
    the brim with wine, and gave it to VORTIGERN, saying in a sweet
    voice, 'Dear King, thy health!' the King fell in love with her. My
    opinion is, that the cunning HENGIST meant him to do so, in order
    that the Saxons might have greater influence with him; and that the
    fair ROWENA came to that feast, golden goblet and all, on purpose.

    At any rate, they were married; and, long afterwards, whenever the
    King was angry with the Saxons, or jealous of their encroachments,
    ROWENA would put her beautiful arms round his neck, and softly say,
    'Dear King, they are my people! Be favourable to them, as you
    loved that Saxon girl who gave you the golden goblet of wine at the
    feast!' And, really, I don't see how the King could help himself.

    Ah! We must all die! In the course of years, VORTIGERN died - he
    was dethroned, and put in prison, first, I am afraid; and ROWENA
    died; and generations of Saxons and Britons died; and events that
    happened during a long, long time, would have been quite forgotten
    but for the tales and songs of the old Bards, who used to go about
    from feast to feast, with their white beards, recounting the deeds
    of their forefathers. Among the histories of which they sang and
    talked, there was a famous one, concerning the bravery and virtues
    of KING ARTHUR, supposed to have been a British Prince in those old
    times. But, whether such a person really lived, or whether there
    were several persons whose histories came to be confused together
    under that one name, or whether all about him was invention, no one

    I will tell you, shortly, what is most interesting in the early
    Saxon times, as they are described in these songs and stories of
    the Bards.

    In, and long after, the days of VORTIGERN, fresh bodies of Saxons,
    under various chiefs, came pouring into Britain. One body,
    conquering the Britons in the East, and settling there, called
    their kingdom Essex; another body settled in the West, and called
    their kingdom Wessex; the Northfolk, or Norfolk people, established
    themselves in one place; the Southfolk, or Suffolk people,
    established themselves in another; and gradually seven kingdoms or
    states arose in England, which were called the Saxon Heptarchy.
    The poor Britons, falling back before these crowds of fighting men
    whom they had innocently invited over as friends, retired into
    Wales and the adjacent country; into Devonshire, and into Cornwall.
    Those parts of England long remained unconquered. And in Cornwall
    now - where the sea-coast is very gloomy, steep, and rugged -
    where, in the dark winter-time, ships have often been wrecked close
    to the land, and every soul on board has perished - where the winds
    and waves howl drearily and split the solid rocks into arches and
    caverns - there are very ancient ruins, which the people call the
    ruins of KING ARTHUR'S Castle.

    Kent is the most famous of the seven Saxon kingdoms, because the
    Christian religion was preached to the Saxons there (who domineered
    over the Britons too much, to care for what THEY said about their
    religion, or anything else) by AUGUSTINE, a monk from Rome. KING
    ETHELBERT, of Kent, was soon converted; and the moment he said he
    was a Christian, his courtiers all said THEY were Christians; after
    which, ten thousand of his subjects said they were Christians too.
    AUGUSTINE built a little church, close to this King's palace, on
    the ground now occupied by the beautiful cathedral of Canterbury.
    SEBERT, the King's nephew, built on a muddy marshy place near
    London, where there had been a temple to Apollo, a church dedicated
    to Saint Peter, which is now Westminster Abbey. And, in London
    itself, on the foundation of a temple to Diana, he built another
    little church which has risen up, since that old time, to be Saint

    After the death of ETHELBERT, EDWIN, King of Northumbria, who was
    such a good king that it was said a woman or child might openly
    carry a purse of gold, in his reign, without fear, allowed his
    child to be baptised, and held a great council to consider whether
    he and his people should all be Christians or not. It was decided
    that they should be. COIFI, the chief priest of the old religion,
    made a great speech on the occasion. In this discourse, he told
    the people that he had found out the old gods to be impostors. 'I
    am quite satisfied of it,' he said. 'Look at me! I have been
    serving them all my life, and they have done nothing for me;
    whereas, if they had been really powerful, they could not have
    decently done less, in return for all I have done for them, than
    make my fortune. As they have never made my fortune, I am quite
    convinced they are impostors!' When this singular priest had
    finished speaking, he hastily armed himself with sword and lance,
    mounted a war-horse, rode at a furious gallop in sight of all the
    people to the temple, and flung his lance against it as an insult.
    From that time, the Christian religion spread itself among the
    Saxons, and became their faith.

    The next very famous prince was EGBERT. He lived about a hundred
    and fifty years afterwards, and claimed to have a better right to
    the throne of Wessex than BEORTRIC, another Saxon prince who was at
    the head of that kingdom, and who married EDBURGA, the daughter of
    OFFA, king of another of the seven kingdoms. This QUEEN EDBURGA
    was a handsome murderess, who poisoned people when they offended
    her. One day, she mixed a cup of poison for a certain noble
    belonging to the court; but her husband drank of it too, by
    mistake, and died. Upon this, the people revolted, in great
    crowds; and running to the palace, and thundering at the gates,
    cried, 'Down with the wicked queen, who poisons men!' They drove
    her out of the country, and abolished the title she had disgraced.
    When years had passed away, some travellers came home from Italy,
    and said that in the town of Pavia they had seen a ragged beggar-
    woman, who had once been handsome, but was then shrivelled, bent,
    and yellow, wandering about the streets, crying for bread; and that
    this beggar-woman was the poisoning English queen. It was, indeed,
    EDBURGA; and so she died, without a shelter for her wretched head.

    EGBERT, not considering himself safe in England, in consequence of
    his having claimed the crown of Wessex (for he thought his rival
    might take him prisoner and put him to death), sought refuge at the
    court of CHARLEMAGNE, King of France. On the death of BEORTRIC, so
    unhappily poisoned by mistake, EGBERT came back to Britain;
    succeeded to the throne of Wessex; conquered some of the other
    monarchs of the seven kingdoms; added their territories to his own;
    and, for the first time, called the country over which he ruled,

    And now, new enemies arose, who, for a long time, troubled England
    sorely. These were the Northmen, the people of Denmark and Norway,
    whom the English called the Danes. They were a warlike people,
    quite at home upon the sea; not Christians; very daring and cruel.
    They came over in ships, and plundered and burned wheresoever they
    landed. Once, they beat EGBERT in battle. Once, EGBERT beat them.
    But, they cared no more for being beaten than the English
    themselves. In the four following short reigns, of ETHELWULF, and
    his sons, ETHELBALD, ETHELBERT, and ETHELRED, they came back, over
    and over again, burning and plundering, and laying England waste.
    In the last-mentioned reign, they seized EDMUND, King of East
    England, and bound him to a tree. Then, they proposed to him that
    he should change his religion; but he, being a good Christian,
    steadily refused. Upon that, they beat him, made cowardly jests
    upon him, all defenceless as he was, shot arrows at him, and,
    finally, struck off his head. It is impossible to say whose head
    they might have struck off next, but for the death of KING ETHELRED
    from a wound he had received in fighting against them, and the
    succession to his throne of the best and wisest king that ever
    lived in England.
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