Book 2, Chapter 1, 449 AD to 597 AD – The Saxon Kingdoms – Continued
When the Saxons left their own country in search of new habitations, it must be supposed, that they followed their leaders, whom they so much venerated at home, but as the wars, which made way for their establishment, continued for a long time, military obedience made them familiar with a stricter authority. Subordination became necessary among the leaders of each band of adventurers and being habituated to yield obedience to a single person in the field, the lustre of his command, and the utility of the institution, easily prevailed upon them to suffer him to form the bond of their union, in time of peace, under the name of king.
But the leader neither knew the extent of the power he received, nor the people the extent of that which they bestowed. Equally unresolved were they about the method of perpetuating it, sometimes filling the vacant throne by election, without regard to, (though more frequently regarding) the blood of the deceased prince, but it was late before they fell into any regular plan of succession, if ever they attained it. The most ancient account of the Saxon government on the continent exists in this short but expressive passage of Bede: “The ancient Saxons have no king, but many chiefs set over their people, who, when war presses, draw lots equally, and whomsoever the chance points out, they all follow as leader, and obey during the war. The war concluded, all the chiefs be come again of equal power.”
At the time of their arrival in Britain the Saxons were rough, brutal, and uncivilized. They were pagans, professing a cruel faith that made them despise or hate Christianity. Of their mythology and forms of worship, sufficient knowledge has not survived to discriminate with accuracy, but their religious system appears to have been of a mixed nature, and their idols, as is generally the case among all heathen nations, resembled the character of the worshippers. The names of some of their gods have been perpetuated in the names still given to the days of the week, the modern names of which are only slight modifications of those given by the Saxons. Thus, Sunday, is so called from its being the Sun’s day.
There is a beauty in the name appropriated by the Saxon and German nations to the Deity, which is not equalled .by any other, except his most venerated Hebrew appellation. The Saxons call him God, which is literally The Good, the same word signifying both the Deity and his most endearing quality.
The tales may be dismissed, as nothing more than legends, that Vortigern, being enamoured of Rowena, Hengist’s daughter, purchased her by a grant of the district now called Kent, although he had no authority over it, and that Hengist having invited Vortigern and three hundred of the native nobility to a banquet, treacherously murdered all but Vortigern, who was retained as a hostage until the modern counties of Essex, Sussex, and Middlesex had been allotted to the Saxons. Neither Gildas nor Bede is a safe guide through the dark and tortuous history of this period, the records of which consist largely of the fabulous and the impossible. That Horsa was slain in a battle near Aylesford, in Kent, that Hengist did not establish his kingdom for seven years, that even then he was restricted to one district, that, either on his invitation, or emboldened by his success, other Saxons arrived, the chief of whom was Ella, with his tribe, in 457, these are all the facts which rest upon historic certainty.
Chapter 1, The Saxons
Chapter 1, The Saxon Kingdoms
Their Character Habits and Leaders
Chapter 1, Introduction of Christianity
Categories: Book 2