Page images







WHO were the first inhabitants of Britain, is among the unsettled questions of history. It is possible that a primeval , people, represented at present by the Basques and the Fins, wandered in pastoral tribes over all Europe, while Kelt and German were still east of the Volga. Popular legend in every country of Europe commemorates a race of dwarfs, a simple and kindly people, armed with stone-tipped arrows, acquainted with hidden treasures, and mostly keeping aloof from the haunts of common men. These were perhaps the last of the sons of the soil, whom invasion had dispossessed of their homes, and who were not yet merged with their conquerors. But the only proof of this theory lies in the low intellectual capacity of some very ancient skulls, and in the

'Campbell's Popular Tales of the Highlands, vol. i., pp. c.-cx.

"Wilson's Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, pp. 163-187. Dasent's Tales from



Mongolic features of a few village tribes in remote districts. More positive evidence is desirable for England, where legionaries from the Lower Danube have been quartered, or for France, over which the horsemen of Attila swept. We seem to be treading on firmer ground if we accept the people of Wales as representatives of the men with whom Cæsar fought in Britain. Native history tells us that the ancestors of the Kymry sailed from the Land of Summer (Deffrobani), where Constantinople is, across the Sea of Clouds (the German Ocean) to the Isle of Honey (Britain), and found it only occupied by the bear, the wolf, and the humped ox (urus). But this legend, in which some have traced the line of journey in a flight before Scythian enemies, is in fact a fanciful pedigree drawn up in a late century to connect the vain-glorious clans of west England with the distant and splendid Byzantine Empire. We know now that the Kymric or Welsh tribes were never more than one among several peoples in Britain, and as they did not penetrate into the mountains of the Northern Principality till the fifth century, it is probable that the Erse or Gaelic tribes, whom they dispossessed, have a better claim to be considered sons of the soil. Other facts point to the same conclusion. The ancient Cornish tongue which prevailed in the countries of the south-west, is intermediate between the Welsh and Erse, as if conquest or immigration had joined the two kindred races; and the circumstance that


the Norse, p. lxxvi. Mr. Davis rejects this theory.-Crania Britannica, Decade i. p. 20. In the Notitia Imperii we find, under the Dux Britanniarum, a Prefectus Equitum Crispanorum, whom Pancirollus brings from Crispiana in Pannonia, and a Prefectus Alæ Savinianæ (from the Saave) Hunno.-Pancir. Comment. vol. ii., pp. 142-144. The Ala Saviniana was stationed along the vallum. Dr. Knox has written a paper, which I cannot now recover, on the traces of the Huns in Kent. The Vandals, whom Probus settled in England, would no doubt be half Mongolic.

1 Triads, quoted by Lappenberg.-Eng. Gesch., Band. i., p. 7.

2 Vestiges of the Gael in Gwynedd, by the Rev. B. Jones.

Garnett, Philological Transactions, Vol. i., No. 9. In the case of the Armorican language, which stands in a somewhat similar relation to Welsh, we have evidence, which may be called historical, of Kymric or Cornish exiles settling among a kindred but different people.



the kings in historical times were connected with the ruling families of Wales, seems to designate the Kymry as the intruders. Now we only know certainly of two districts in which the Welsh dialect was spoken anciently, South Wales and the province west of Leeds, between the Mersey and the Tyne, the old Kymry-land or Cumberland. This position on the western shores lends some probability to the conjecture of Tacitus1 that they came originally from Spain, though the "curled hair" and "swart features," to which he appealed, are insufficient evidence, and their very existence is now disputed by observers. The question is rendered doubly difficult by the fact, that although the Kymric tribes appear in England distinct from the Gael in the west, and from the Gaulish or Loegrian tribes in the east, there is some reason, from local names and language, to connect the Gaulish tribes with the Kymric rather than with the Erse variety of the Kelts. Probably the two great families were spread intermixedly over France and Spain, and differed in civilization as they had moved on towards the Atlantic, or lay near the Mediterranean, the great highway of the world's masters.

The Kymry, then, were neither the only nor the first people who had invaded England before the days of Cæsar. The eastern and southern shores of the island lay still more open to attack than the west, and the continent swarmed with tribes whom famine, or pressure from without, or mere ambition, perpetually impelled upon their neighbours. Adventurers from Gaul probably led the way into England, and the names Brigantes and Parisi in Durham and East Yorkshire, Cenomanni in East Anglia, and Atrebatii in Berkshire or North Hampshire, belong equally to the continental districts of Bregenz, Paris, Maine, and Arras. The influences of a common tongue and faith outlasted the emigration, and Britain was regarded as a holy island in Gaul at a time when

1 Taciti Agricola, cap. xi.

2 Prichard's Physical History of Man, vol. iii., section 10.



its southern coasts had been wrested by the Belge (probably a Walloon people) from their Gaulish colonists. This inroad of a kindred yet different tribe was successful on the south, as the Kymry had already been on the west; the actual settlers were subdued or driven out of Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent, and the great fortified fosse (Grim's Dyke) which encloses Salisbury and Silchester, was probably at once the rampart and the march of the new nationality.1 Divitiacus, chief of the Suessones (Soissons) was reported to have been king of Britain a few years before Cæsar crossed the Channel. The sovereignty of the entire island can scarcely have been enjoyed by a barbarous prince of Gaul. It seems natural, therefore, to surmise that his position was like that of William the Conqueror in the first year of the Conquest, and that he only held a portion of England, south of the Thames and east of Salisbury, as an appendage to his continental dominions. Death or the Roman sword hindered Divitiacus from pursuing and consolidating his conquests, if he ever meditated the passage of the Thames.

It is a question still undecided,' whether there were not Frisian or Saxon tribes on the eastern coasts of Britain before the landing of Cæsar. This theory would place the Saxon invasion some five hundred years before its customary date. It rests chiefly on the supposed Germanic names of two tribes, the Coritavi and the Catieuchlani, on the title Comes Litoris Saxonici,5 given to the Roman officer who governed the littoral from the Wash to the Adur, and on the fact

On the Belgic Ditches, Dr. Guest. Archæol. Journ., No. xxx., pp. 143-157. 2 Cæsar, De Bell. Gall., lib. ii., c. 4.

3 Kemble's Saxons in England, vol. i., chap. i. Merivale's Romans under the Empire, vol. vi., p. 29.

4 In the Mabinogi of Lludd and Llevelys the Coranians, who are probably the Coritavi, are mentioned as a foreign race in Britain, and as the enemies of Lludd, whose legendary pedigree makes him brother of Cassibellaun. Guest's Mabinogion, vol. iii. The seventh Triad brings them from Germany. The position of the district from which they spread, Lincolnshire, would favour the theory of a foreign origin.

5 In the Notitia Imperii, the date of which is uncertain, but which pro bably belongs to the 4th century.



that the Saxons in the fifth century seem to have found a kindred people already established in East Anglia, since no definite conquest of that district is on record. But the mere names of tribes are at best weak proof, and in the instances quoted we do not know whether they were recognized in the language of the people who bore them, or were sobriquets affixed by their neighbours. The second and third arguments are more reliable, but they must not be strained. They only tend to establish the presence of Teutonic tribes under the Roman dominion. Now, we know that Marcus Aurelius,' at the close of the Marcomannic war, transplanted a number of Germans into Britain, while Probus a little later brought in Burgundians, and colonies thus planted are generally on a large scale. Apart from imperial policy, it is possible, and perhaps probable, that Frisian immigrants settled in England under the rule of Roman præfects, just as a tribe of the Sioux Indians might cross into Canada, and expel the Delawares from their hunting grounds, without any hindrance from us. Such displacements of peoples occurred very often during the decadence of the empire; and when a native rebellion, such as that of the Iceni, had been put down, immigration into the desolated districts would probably be encouraged. Appian, Strabo, and Tacitus, believed the Britons, without exception, to be Keltic. It is true that the Romans were no philologists, but they could hardly be mistaken in supposing that their interpreters employed only one language in conversing with Gauls and Britons. It is more likely that dialects would be mistaken for independent languages; the Welsh, in the ninth century, already spoke of the Britons as "semi-articulate." With the one exception of the Coritavi, who, however, occupied six counties, stretching inland over Derbyshire, we may probably place the first great immigration of the Saxons between the death of Agricola, A.D.

1 Dio Cassius, 71, 72, quoted by Kemble.-Saxons in England, vol. i., p.12. Appian, De Bell. Civ., c. 2. s. 17.

2 Strabo, p. 271. Tacitus, Agricola, c. 11. Appian, De Bell. Civ., c. 11, s. 17.

3 Nennius, Hist. Brit., c. 27. My argument will not be much affected if the date of Nennius be more recent.

« PreviousContinue »