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appeared irresistible; for when they had ravaged the coasts, they ascended the rivers; when their chiules, or their smaller vessels, could penetrate no farther, they were abandoned, and the rovers, seizing on such horses as they could find, pushed fearlessly into the interior, as a mixed force of horse and foot, and wasted with fire and sword every district they approached, until at length some river was reached, descending which with such rude barks as they could hastily construct, they again launched on the ocean, to pursue another career of devastation.
"We have not," says Sidonius Apollinaris, a Gaulish bishop of the fifth century, a more cruel and more dangerous enemy than the Saxons: they overcome all who have the courage to oppose them; they surprise all who are so imprudent as not to be prepared for their attack. When they pursue, they infallibly overtake; when they are pursued, their escape is certain. They despise danger; they are inured to shipwreck; they are eager to purchase booty with the peril of their lives. Tempests, which to others are so dreadful, to them are subjects of joy; the storm is their protection when they are pressed by the enemy, and a cover for their operations when they meditate an attack. Before they quit their own shores, they devote to the altars of their gods the tenth part of the principal captives; and when they are on the point of returning, the lots are cast with an affectation of equity, and the impious vow is fulfilled."
This picture, in which fear and hatred are alike apparent, might be suspected of exaggeration, but its main features are fully justified by the whole tenor of the
Icelandic Sagas, the nearest cotemporary accounts on the side of the ravagers that have come down to us; for though immediately relating to the Northmen of the eighth and succeeding centuries, no reasonable doubt can be entertained that they are also fairly applicable to their Saxon precursors. In these writings we find it constantly affirmed, that "the gods are with the strongest;" that human sacrifices are absolutely necessary to gain and preserve their favour; that war is the only fitting occupation of free men; that the only desirable death is that on the field of battle, or its substitute suicide; and that those who fell by the sword were thus marked out as the especial favourites of their fierce divinities, and were alone admitted to the hall of Woden (Valhalla), where their time passed in alternate fighting and feasting; whilst for cowards (for such seem to have existed among them) and those who died a natural death, were reserved all the pains of Niflheim (literally, Evil Home), a shadowy region of, torment.
Men holding such ideas would naturally be at least as regardless of the lives of others as of their own, and being also, after their barbarous fashion, devout, they thought they did their gods service by wreaking especial vengeance on the most sacred objects of the Christian communities that they invaded. Hence the destruction of churches and murder of priests which the Saxon Chronicle relates as part of every ravage committed by the Northmen, and which had been before practised by the Saxons themselves, as Gildas informs us, whose tes
b Sigge, or Woden, their great exemplar, was supposed to have killed himself when he found the infirmities of age coming on.
timony may in this case well be believed, for if they had not been actuated by a fierce hatred of Christianity, their reception of its saving doctrines, we may presume, would not have been so long delayed.
Yet these people, like all the branches of the great German race, had even in their rudest state qualities which shew that they deserve a more favourable judgment than is often formed of them. Their free spirit, their active, adventurous character, the lofty sense of personal honour shewn in their earliest codes of laws, and above all, that base of true civilization, their high estimate of woman, are noble features in themselves, but doubly interesting to us as shewing that our country owes her proud place among the nations mainly to the development of the feelings, the principles, and the institutes of our Saxon forefathers.
WHEN the acquisitions of the Anglo-Saxon invaders assumed something of a settled form, they are found in the main to be mere subdivisions of the old Roman provinces.
The Jutish kingdom of Kent, and the South Saxon kingdom, may be represented by the modern counties of
• See p. 167.
The number of independent states founded by the invaders was at least nine, if not ten; but as the small Mid-Saxon kingdom (now Middlesex) very soon ceased to exist, and the two Northumbrian states of Bernicia and Deira were frequently governed by one ruler, it is customary, though not strictly correct, to speak of the whole as the Heptarchy.
Kent, Surrey and Sussex, while Wessex occupied the remainder of the tract between the Channel and the Thames (Britannia Prima), having, however, for a very long period an unconquered British population beyond the Tamar (the West-Welsh).
Immediately north-east of the Thames lay the small East Saxon state (Essex), but the Anglian kingdoms occupied the rest of the east coast and the interior (Flavia Cæsariensis), the East Angles holding Suffolk and Norfolk, the Mid-Angles or Mercians extending from the Thames to the Humber, and from the fen districts to the Severn; while the two Northumbrian kingdoms (also Anglian) occupied Valentia, or North England and South Scotland, but were bounded by independent British tribes in Cumberland and Strathclyde.
Westward of Mercia extended Wales (Britannia Secunda), divided into many small states, the independence of a part of which survived for more than 200 years the overthrow of the Saxon power.
THE whole country north of the Forth and west of the Solway was in the sixth century occupied by the two great tribes of the Picts and the Scots. The former, probably of German race, occupied the plains between the Forth and the Grampians; the latter, who were settlers from Ireland, and still maintained a close union
• See p. xiii.
with that country, were scattered over the west and the north, among islands and mountains; the two peoples answering in fact to the popular division of Highlanders and Lowlanders of more recent times.
Christianity had been introduced among the Southern Picts by the labours of Ninias, in the fourth century; but the Scots received it from their kindred in Ireland, probably early in the following age. The Irish (or, as they are termed, Scottish) teachers were indefatigable in spreading the Gospel. Not only did they impart its light to their heathen countrymen, but, with true missionary zeal, they laboured alike among the fugitive Britons of the west, and the triumphant Saxons of the north; and by their exertions Northumbria was in part at least converted before the coming of Paulinus. The see of Lindisfarne (the mother church of Durham) was founded by Aidan, one of their number, and was ruled by Scottish prelates until the middle of the seventh century, when the Roman system obtained the supremacy, mainly through the influence and address of Wilfred1.
Little is accurately known of the relations between the two races, but, judging from the result, it would seem to have been much like what prevailed in South Britain with the Saxons and the Britons. The Northumbrian kings frequently ravaged the districts of the Picts, who were at the same time pressed on by the
Two great invasions of Caledonia from Ireland are mentioned in the Irish Annals; one, in the middle of the third century, led by Carbre Riadre (probably the Reoda of Bede-see p. ii.), and another in the early part of the sixth, to support the earlier colony, then threatened by the Picts. 1 See p. 66.
See p. 41.
h See p. 15.