« PreviousContinue »
CONQUEST OF WESSEX.
we find Cerdic towards the end of the fifth century reducing the Isle of Wight, and crossing over into Hampshire. The natives or people of the Netley district were then governed by a king of character and ability, who has been identified by a probable conjecture with the Uther of romance, and the Ambrosius Aurelianus of history. Belonging to a Romanized family, his father having been the consul of a city, he seems to have won his royalty by a successful revolt against Vortigern. The strength of his power lay in West Hampshire and Wiltshire; but the family of Vortigern himself had become his tributaries, and he was evidently regarded as the champion of the national cause against the Saxon invader. He tried to oppose Roman discipline and tactics to the irregular fury of the Saxons; the very "dragon of the great pendragonship" had been copied from a Roman ensign. But the Saxons succeeded in effecting a landing near Lymington, and drove him back westward, in the direction of Charford, till he fell in battle, and was buried at Amesbury. His son, the famous Arthur of mediæval romance, succeeded to a diminished sovereignty, of which we may easily believe that Camelot or Cadbury in Somersetshire, defended by Roman works, was the capital. Even to this fortress the Saxon army had at one time penetrated; but in investing the walls of Bath they sustained a signal defeat, which preserved the British power in the west for another generation; when the feebleness of Arthur's successors, and a disastrous battle at Sarum, ruined it. Still we may infer, that the Saxon dominion in Wessex was never won altogether by the sword. The names of some of their
1 I have adopted Dr. Guest's translation: Natan-leod, king of the Nattas.— Philolog. Trans., vol. i., No. 2.
2 Nennius, c. 42, 48.
3 This is conjectural, but seems probable. Lymington is opposite to Yarmouth (Cerdics-ore) where Cerdic had landed; and there is a local tradition of a British battle having been fought there. Charford commemorates the Saxon king's name, as that of Ambrosius is preserved in Ambres-byrig, or Amesbury.
Nennius, c. 56. Gildas refers to the battle at Bath.-Hist., p. 26.
REAL CHARACTER OF ARTHUR.
princes, Ceadvalla, Mul, and Cenwalh,' imply intermarriage with the natives; Britons and Saxons were on almost equal terms as witnesses in a court of justice, and in their were-gild or value before the state; the laws of Ine protect native interests; a distinctly British population existed through the five southwestern counties in the time of Alfred; and the eminently aristocratic constitution of the west Saxons in the tenth century, appears to attest the presence of a numerous but inferior nationality. These facts show what the real merit of Arthur's struggle was, and why his countrymen preserved in their songs the name of the last prince under whom they were independent, and lords of the soil. If the legend of his piety has any other foundation than the interest of the Glastonbury monks, who had forged charters in his name, we may find another reason for his fame in the respect and gratitude of churchmen.3 But if we venture to assert Arthur's existence, it is on condition of restricting his dominions. In the narrative of the ninth century, which describes him as lord-paramount of Britain, fighting twelve battles from the south to Scotland, going as a pilgrim to Jerusalem, and wearing the Virgin's image on his shield, he is already passing into the hero of romance. History only knows him as the petty prince of a Devonian principality, whose wife, the Guenever of romance, was carried off by Maelgoun of North Wales, and scarcely recovered by treaty after a year's fighting. No doubt, there were some real noblenesses in
1 Ceadvalla is distinctly Welsh; the "walh" in Cenwalh is the etymon "wealh," Welsh, foreign; and Mul is probably Mule, or mixed. Even Cerdic's name is suspiciously British in its affinities. Perhaps some names have been confused in local legends.
2 West of the Exe was Welsh territory.-Palgrave, Eng. Com., p. ccxliv. From Alfred's Will, we find that the five south-western counties were known in his time as Wealh Cynn.-Kemble, Cod. Dip., 314. In Athelstane's time, the two nations still lived æquo jure, in Exeter.-Malmesbury, lib. i., p. 50. "Brittones Anglis famulabantur," says Malmesbury, speaking of Wessex, though he extends his remark to all England.-Vita Aldhelmi. Ang. Sac., vol. ii., p. 14. Under Kentwin (A. D. 680) they rebelled, and were crushed with great slaughter.
3 My view of Arthur's position as a king, is chiefly derived from the Vita S. Gildæ, prefixed to the works of Gildas.-Eng. Hist. Soc. The modern conception of him appears first in Nennius.
CONQUEST OF NORTHUMBRIA.
Arthur's character, which have given him a life beyond the grave, as the type of the knightly ideal among men ; that ideal which the imaginative Keltic race has exalted through all time, above the more statesman-like virtues that secure life and property or success in national enterprizes.
Essex was reduced by a prince of the Uffingas. Anglia had been Saxon under Roman rule; its character was slightly changed by an infusion of Anglian blood; but it was not regularly conquered. The western coasts were too barren to invite systematic invasion. Ochta at one time settled in the Hebrides, till he was called away to assist his father in Kent. But the vast province between the Humber and the Forth, with its mixed population of Romanized Britons and Picts, was probably one of the most populous and richest districts in the island. It was also one of the most warlike. As early as 500 A.D., Archbishop Sampson was obliged to fly from York to Armorica, yet nearly eighty years elapsed before the Angles achieved a decisive victory. Somewhat different features show themselves in the contest that went on here. The Angles allied themselves with the wild Pictish and Gaelic tribes north of the Lothians. The Romanized Kymric Britons and their confederates were broken up into a number of petty clans, which extended from the Mersey to the Clyde, and were only subject to a weak federal authority. During the life-time of Urien, neither Ida nor his sons could make any lasting impression on the British territory. But Urien fell in 547 A.D., by the hand of an assassin, whom a jealous native prince had suborned. His son Owen was still in possession of his father's authority, when, in 577 A. D., the Angles, landing north of the wall of Antonine, poured down upon it with the Gaelic clans in their ranks. For seven days the battle raged around Kal-tracz. Then the
1 Ethnologically, the Kymric Britons and the Picts are one race. But the distinction of names is convenient, as the Picts were never Romanized, and those who lived to the far north were probably very barbarous.
2 This, however, is far from certain. See Palgrave's Eng. Common., p. cccviii.
CAUSES OF ANGLO-SAXON SUCCESS.
Britons thought themselves secure of victory, and celebrated the rout of their foe with a banquet. The flight of the Angles had only been a feint; they returned and surprised the Britons heavy with mead; a terrible slaughter decided the fate of the north; and out of three hundred and sixtythree Kymric chiefs who had led their troops into battle, only three were preserved by the mercy of their enemies.1 In these half-mythical details, we may dimly discern the outline of a real event, which shattered the native power in the north; and separated the Picts of Galway from the fortunes and rule of the Pictish dynasty in Cumberland. But in Anglia and Northumbria, as in Wessex, the natives were not exterminated; and to this day the two races of men, the tall flaxen-haired Angle, and the short, dark, broad-chested Kelt, may be distinguished at a glance by the ethnologist.
The invaders were now masters of the north, the east, and the south; they could push on at pleasure into the heart. of the country, supported by the Germanic tribes, and acknowledged readily by the cities, who found them easier rulers than the Kymry had been. The struggle had been neither short nor bloodless; but a people divided amongst themselves had no chance against men whose very existence depended on union. The permanent quarrel between
Mr. Herbert has suggested
1 Villemarqué, Bardes Bretons, pp. 230-396. with some probability, that the number 363 must be read as 3+6+3=12, the mythical number of the Britons.-Stonehenge, p. 171.
2 This distinction of types in Northumbria and Anglia, was pointed out by Professor Phillips and is endorsed by Mr. Davis.-Crania Britann., Decade i., p. 22, note. There is historical proof of it. British signatures to English charters are especially common in the north. Bede, a Northumbrian, says that in the north the Britons, though partly free, were yet partly enthralled to the Angles. Hist. Ecc., lib. v., c. 23. St. Guthlac, a Mercian, who retired to Croyland, had a vision, in which he imagined his cell surrounded by a crowd talking the British tongue. Even a vision must have had some basis of reality.-Wendover, vol. i., p. 309. Again, the numerous towns to which the prefix "wealh" (Briton) has been affixed, our Walbrooks, Waldens, Walthams, Waltons, and Walworths, sufficiently prove that the Britons remained, throughout the east of England, a separate though subject people.
PERMANENCE OF A BRITISH POPULATION.
civilized men and barbarians, between the Romanized population of the cities and the native tribes of the country, between the Loegrians of the east and the Kymry of the west, had been the primary cause of the Saxon invasion and conquest. But independently of this, the Saxons were a stronger race, physically, than their enemies; and with less of irregular impulse, they had greater energy, a firmer tenacity of purpose, and a more steady patience in the execution of their plans. The circumstances of those times favoured the barbarous invader rather than the half-civilized people. For governments were many and weak; standing armies had been replaced by local militias; and patriotism had been almost destroyed by Roman centralization. It is not wonderful, therefore, if the Saxons triumphed. But their general success in the great battles is remarkable; and the desperate courage with which the Britons bore up, at least in Wessex and Northumbria, against repeated defeats, is evidence of the high qualities of the race. They obtained their reward in the liberal terms which were granted them by the conqueror.
For the common belief, that the Keltic population of Britain was exterminated or driven into Wales and Brittany by the Saxons, has absolutely no foundation in history. It probably originated with the Welsh, who confounded the position of their ancestors as premier tribe under Vortigern, with the occupation of the island. The mistake is as if we should suppose that the Silures, under Caractacus, were the whole British people. Their courage and national spirit have given them a deserved pre-eminence, but it is nothing more than this. We hear of great slaughters by the Saxons on their bloody battle-fields, but no massacres after the fight are recorded, except in the single case of Andredes-Ceaster. We know by the complaints of Welsh poets, that a race of
1 Herbert, Britannia in the time of the Romans.
2 The life of Alfred, ascribed to Asser, says that the Britons of the Isle of Wight were massacred. This is probably an exaggeration of the simple statement in the Saxon chronicle, "Cerdic and Cynric slew many men at Wihtgarasburg."