Book 2, Chapter 1, 449 AD to 597 AD – The Saxon Kingdoms – Continued
The establishment of these eight settlements, or kingdoms, as they were afterwards called, has been sketched thus hastily, because it is inexpedient to devote much space to an examination of the various theories, or to a decision between the conflicting tradition and fabulous chronicles, appertaining to that early period. The traditions themselves, however, taken in connexion with the slow progress of the invaders in effecting their settlements, prove that the Britons made a pro-longed resistance, and one which might have had another issue if the separate tribes had been united under one skilful leader. The natives, whose ancestors had known the first marauders by the name of Saxons, continued to give that appellation to all subsequent invaders, although, as a matter of strict accuracy, the several tribes who had settled north of the Thames, were collectively known as Angles, whatever names were given to the tribes separately. This explains the origin of the term Anglo-Saxons, which occurs so repeatedly in subsequent portions of the national history.
The condition of the native British during the first century of the Saxon occupancy was, on the whole, one of abject servitude. Many of them retired into the mountain fastnesses of Wales, others, we are told, migrated to the continent, some, as in Mercia, formed unions with the Angles, numbers perished on the battle field, and numbers, too, it must be concluded, were reduced to a state of serfdom, becoming the chattels of Saxon chiefs, and being employed in the drudgery of daily labour as husbandmen, artisans, and domestic menials. Henceforward, from the opening of the seventh century, the distinctive nationality (if such it could ever, with propriety, be called) gradually waned, until the aboriginal races were absorbed into the one which had newly appeared upon the scene.
While this process of transition and absorption was going on, some of the Anglo-Saxons began to quarrel among them-selves, and frequent dissensions arose, which lasted for nearly two hundred and fifty years. Towards the close of the sixth century, the kingdoms of Sussex and Wessex were amalgamated, and this was the first of a long series of acquisitions on the part of the latter state, which eventually resulted in its attaining the supremacy. By this first acquirement on the part of Wessex, the number of settlements or kingdoms was reduced to seven, constituting what has since been known as ‘The Heptarchy.” Not that there was anything resembling a federal union among these separate states, although some writers, misled by an incidental remark in Bede, have fallen into the error of supposing that there was a kind of lord paramount, who they say was styled the ” Bretwalda, ” and although they profess to trace eight monarchs who successively held that title. Mr. Kemble, who is the great authority on all matters pertaining to the Saxons .in England, has shown that this was a mere accidental predominance, that there was no recognized central authority at that period, and that the stress laid upon the etymology of the word, is fallacious arising from a clerical error.
Added to the difficulty of carrying on at once the history of seven independent kingdoms, there is great discouragement to a writer, arising from the uncertainty, or at least the barrenness, of the accounts transmitted to us.
The monks, who were the only annalists during those ages, lived remote from public affairs, considered the civil transactions as entirely subordinate to the ecclesiastical, and besides partaking of the ignorance and barbarity which were then universal, were strongly infected with credulity, with the love of wonder, and with a propensity to imposture. The history of that period abounds in names, but is extremely barren of events or the events are related so much without circumstances and causes, that the most profound or most eloquent writer must despair of rendering them either instructive or entertaining to the reader.
Even the great learning and vigorous imagination of Milton sunk under the weight and this author scruples not to declare, that the skirmishes of kites or crows as much merited a particular narrative, as the confused transactions and battles of the Saxon Heptarchy. Without attempting, therefore to discriminate between the transactions of these petty states, or even to enumerate the kings or chiefs who successively ruled over them (neither of which would afford interest or profit commensurate with the labour) it will suffice rapidly to indicate some of the leading events of the next two centuries, selecting only such events as had important bearings upon the future of the country, and such as serve to mark a course of development and progress.
Chapter 1, The Saxons
Chapter 1, The Saxon Kingdoms
The Saxon Kingdoms
Chapter 1, Introduction of Christianity
Categories: Book 2