The bulk of the population on the eastern and southern coasts was undoubtedly English. English institutions and English language took firm root. The conquerors looked on the Britons with the utmost contempt, naming them Welsh, a name which no Briton thought of giving to himself, but which Germans had been in the habit of applying somewhat contemptuously to the Celts on the Continent. So far as British words have entered into the English language at all, they have been words such as gown or curd, which are likely to have been used by women, or words such as cart or pony, which are likely to have been used by agricultural labourers, and the evidence of language may therefore be adduced in favour of the view that many women and many agricultural labourers were spared by the conquerors.
When the new-comers planted themselves on British soil, each group of families united by kinship fixed its home in a separate village or township, to which was given the name of the kindred followed by 'ham' or 'tun,' the first word meaning the home or dwelling, the second the earthen mound which formed the defence of the community. Thus Wokingham is the home of the Wokings, and Wellington the 'tun' of the Wellings. Each man had a homestead of his own, with a strip or strips of arable land in an open field. Beyond the arable land was pasture and wood, common to the whole township, every villager being entitled to drive his cattle or pigs into them according to rules laid down by the whole township.
The population was divided into Eorls and Ceorls. The Eorl was hereditarily distinguished by birth, and the Ceorl was a simple freeman without any such distinction. How the difference arose we do not know, but we do know that the Eorl had privileges which the Ceorl had not. Below the Ceorls were slaves taken in war or condemned to slavery as criminals. There were also men known as Gesiths, a word which means 'followers,' who were the followers of the chiefs or Ealdormen (Eldermen) who led the conquerors. The Gesiths formed the war-band of the chief. They were probably all of them Eorls, so that though every settler was either an Eorl or a Ceorl, some Eorls were also Gesiths. This war-band of Gesiths was composed of young men who attached themselves to the chief by a tie of personal devotion. It was the highest glory of the Gesith to die to save his chief's life. Of one Gesith it is told that, when he saw a murderer aiming a dagger at his chief, he, not having time to seize the assassin, threw his body between the blow and his chief, and perished rather than allow him to be killed. It was even held to be disgraceful for a Gesith to return from battle alive if his chief had been slain. The word by which the chief was known was Hlaford (Lord), which means a giver of bread, because the Gesiths ate his bread. They not only ate his bread, but they shared in the booty which he brought home. They slept in his hall, and were clothed in the garments woven by his wife and her maidens. A continental writer tells how a body of Gesiths once approached their lord with a petition that he should take a wife, because as long as he remained unmarried there was no one to make new clothes for them or to mend their old ones.
The three peoples who effected this conquest were afterwards known amongst themselves by the common name of English, a name which was originally equivalent to Angle, whilst amongst the whole of the remaining Celtic population they were only known as Saxons. The mode in which the English treated the Britons was very different from that of the Romans, who were a civilised people and aimed at governing a conquered race. The new-comers drove out the Britons in order to find homes for themselves, and they preferred to settle in the country rather than in a town. No Englishman had ever lived in a town in his German home, or was able to appreciate the advantages of the commerce and manufacture by which towns are supported. Nor were they inclined to allow the inhabitants of the Roman towns to remain unmolested in their midst. When Anderida was captured not a Briton escaped alive, and there is good reason to believe that many of the other towns fared no better, especially as the remains of some of them still show marks of the fire by which they were consumed. What took place in the country cannot be certainly known. Many of the British were no doubt killed. Many took refuge in fens or woods, or fled to those portions of the island in which their countrymen were still independent. It is difficult to decide to what extent the men who remained behind were spared, but it is impossible to doubt that a considerable number of women were preserved from slaughter. The conquerors, at their landing, must have been for the most part young men, and when they wanted wives, it would be far easier for them to seize the daughters of slain Britons than to fetch women from the banks of the Elbe.
The coast-line to the north of the East Saxons was seized at some unascertained dates by different groups of Angles. The land between the Stour and the great fen which in those days stretched far inland from the Wash was occupied by two of these groups, known as the North folk and the South folk. They gave their names to Norfolk and Suffolk, and at some later time combined under the name of East Anglians. North of the Wash were the Lindiswara—that is to say, the settlers about the Roman Lindum, the modern Lincoln, and beyond them, stretching to the Humber, were the Gainas, from whom is derived the name of the modern Gainsborough. To the north of the Humber the coast was fringed by Angle settlements which had not yet coalesced into one.
Another swarm also of Saxons, called Gewissas, landed on the shore of Southampton Water. After a time they were reinforced by a body of Jutes, and though the Jutes formed settlements of their own in the Isle of Wight and on the mainland, the difference of race and language between them and the Gewissas was not enough to prevent the two tribes from coalescing. Ultimately Gewissas and Jutes became known as West Saxons, and established themselves in a district roughly corresponding with the modern Hampshire. Then, having attempted to penetrate further west, they were defeated at Mount Badon, probably Badbury Rings in Dorsetshire. Their overthrow was so complete as to check their advance for more than thirty years. Whilst the coast line from the inlet of the sea now filled by Romney Marsh to the western edge of Hampshire had thus been mastered by Saxons, others of the same stock, known as East Saxons, seized upon the low coast to the north of the Thames. From them the land was called Essex. Neither Saxons nor Jutes, however, were as yet able to penetrate far up the valley of the Thames, as the Roman settlement of London, surrounded by marshes, still blocked the way.
477.—The conquests of the Jutes stopped at the inlet of the sea now filled by Romney Marsh. To the south and west was the impenetrable Andred's Wood, which covered what is now known as the Weald. At its eastern extremity stood by the sea the strong fortified town of Anderida, which gave its name to the wood, the most westerly of the fortresses of the Saxon Shore still unconquered by the Jutes. It was at last endangered by a fresh pirate band—not of Jutes but of Saxons—which landed near Selsey, and fought its way eastwards, conquering the South Downs and the flat land between the South Downs and the sea, till it reached Anderida. Anderida was starved out after a long blockade, and the Saxons, bursting in, 'slew all that dwelt therein, nor was there henceforth one Briton left.' To this day the Roman walls of Anderida stand round the site of the desolated city near the modern Pevensey. Its Saxon conquerors came to be known as the South Saxons, and their land as Sussex.
It had been the custom of the Roman Empire to employ barbarians as soldiers in their armies, and Vortigern, the British ruler, now followed that bad example. In or about 449 a band of Jutish sea-rovers landed at Ebbsfleet, in the Isle of Thanet. According to tradition their leaders were Hengist and Horsa, names signifying the horse and the mare, which were not very likely to have been borne by real warriors. Whatever may have been the names of the chiefs, Vortigern took them into his service against the Picts, giving them the Isle of Thanet as a dwelling-place for themselves. With their help he defeated the Picts, but afterwards found himself unable to defend himself against his fierce auxiliaries. Thanet was still cut off from the mainland by an arm of the sea, and the Jutes were strong enough to hold it against all assailants. Their numbers rapidly increased as shiploads of their fellows landed, and they crossed the strait to win fresh lands from the Britons on the mainland of Kent. In several battles Vortigern was overpowered. His rival and successor, Ambrosius Aurelianus, whose name makes it probable that he was an upholder of the old Roman discipline, drove back the Jutes in turn. He did not long keep the upper hand, and in 465 he was routed utterly. The defeat of the British army was followed by an attack upon the great fortresses which had been erected along the Saxon Shore in the Roman times. The Jutes had no means of carrying them by assault, but they starved them out one by one, and some twenty-three years after their first landing, the whole of the coast of Kent was in their hands.
410—449?—After the departure of the Romans, the Picts from the north and the Scots from Ireland continued their ravages, but though they caused terrible misery by slaughtering or dragging into slavery the inhabitants of many parts of the country, they did not succeed in making any permanent conquests. The Britons were not without a government and an armed force; and their later history shows that they were capable of carrying on war for a long time against enemies more formidable than the Picts and Scots. Their rulers were known by the British title Gwledig, and probably held power in different parts of the island as the successors of the Roman Duke of the Britains and of the Roman Count of the Saxon Shore. Their power of resistance to the Picts and the Scots was, however, weakened by the impossibility of turning their undivided attention to these marauders, as at the same time that they had, to defend the Roman Wall and the western coast against the Picts and Scots, they were exposed on the eastern coast to the attacks of the Saxon pirates.
In their misery the thoughts of the Britons turned to those Roman legions who had defended their fathers so well. In 446 they appealed to Aëtius, the commander of the Roman armies, to deliver them from their destroyers. "The groans of the Britons" was the title which they gave to their appeal to him. "The barbarians," they wrote, "drive us to the sea; the sea drives us back to the barbarians; between them we are exposed to two sorts of death: we are either slain or drowned." Aëtius had no men to spare, and he sent no help to the Britons. Before long the whole of Western Europe was overrun by barbarian tribes, the title of Emperor being retained only by the Roman Emperor who ruled from Constantinople over the East, his authority over the barbarians of the West being no more than nominal.
The Roman Empire in the time of Constantine had the appearance rather than the reality of strength. Its taxation was very heavy, and there was no national enthusiasm to lead men to sacrifice themselves in its defence. Roman citizens became more and more unwilling to become soldiers at all, and the Roman armies were now mostly composed of barbarians. At the same time the barbarians outside the Empire were growing stronger, as the tribes often coalesced into wide confederacies for the purpose of attacking the Empire.
The assailants of Britain on the north and the west were the Picts and Scots. The Picts were the same as the Caledonians of the time of Agricola. We do not know why they had ceased to be called Caledonians. The usual derivation of their name from the Latin Pictus, said to have been given them because they painted their bodies, is inaccurate. Opinions differ whether they were Goidels with a strong Iberian strain, or Iberians with a Goidelic admixture. They were probably Iberians, and at all events they were more savage than the Britons had been before they were influenced by Roman civilisation. The Scots, who afterwards settled in what is now known as Scotland, at that time dwelt in Ireland. Whilst the Picts, therefore, assailed the Roman province by land, and strove, not always unsuccessfully, to break through the walls which defended its northern frontier, the Scots crossed the Irish Sea in light boats to plunder and slay before armed assistance could arrive.
When the Romans put down the Druids and their bloody sacrifices, they called the old Celtic gods by Roman names, but made no further alteration in religious usages. Gradually, however, Christianity spread amongst the Romans on the Continent, and merchants or soldiers who came from the Continent introduced it into Britain. Scarcely anything is known of its progress in the island. Alban is said to have been martyred at Verulamium, and Julius and Aaron at Isca Silurum. In 314 three British bishops attended a council held at Arles in Gaul. Little more than these few facts have been handed down, but there is no doubt that there was a settled Church established in the island. The Emperor Constantine acknowledged Christianity as the religion of the whole Empire. The remains of a church of this period have recently been discovered at Silchester.
In 288 Carausius, with the help of some pirates, seized on the government of Britain and threw off the authority of the Emperor. He was succeeded by Allectus, yet neither Carausius nor Allectus thought of making himself the head of a British nation. They called themselves Emperors and ruled over Britain alone, merely because they could not get more to rule over.
Allectus was overthrown and slain by Constantius, who, however, did not rule, as Carausius and Allectus had done, by mere right of military superiority. The Emperor Diocletian (285—305) discovered that the whole Empire, stretching from the Euphrates to the Atlantic, was too extensive for one man to govern, and he therefore decreed that there should in future be four governors, two principal ones named Emperors (Augusti), and two subordinate ones named Cæsars. Constantius was first a Cæsar and afterwards an Emperor. He was set to govern Spain, Gaul, and Britain, but he afterwards became Emperor himself, and for some time established himself at Eboracum (York). Upon his death (306), his son Constantine, after much fighting, made himself sole Emperor (325), overthrowing the system of Diocletian. Yet in one respect he kept up Diocletian's arrangements. He placed Spain, Gaul, and Britain together under a great officer called a Vicar, who received orders from himself and who gave orders to the officers who governed each of the three countries. Under the new system, as under the old, Britain was not treated as an independent country. It had still to look for protection to an officer who lived on the Continent, and was therefore apt to be more interested in Gaul and Spain than he was in Britain.
Very little is known of the history of the Roman province of Britain, except that it made considerable progress in civilisation. The Romans were great road-makers, and though their first object was to enable their soldiers to march easily from one part of the country to another, they thereby encouraged commercial intercourse. Forests were to some extent cleared away by the sides of the new roads, and fresh ground was thrown open to tillage. Mines were worked and country houses built, the remains of which are in some places still to be seen, and bear testimony to the increased well-being of a population which, excepting in the south-eastern part of the island, had at the arrival of the Romans been little removed from savagery. Cities sprang up in great numbers. Some of them were at first garrison towns, like Eboracum, Deva, and Isca Silurum. Others, like Verulamium, near the present St. Albans, occupied the sites of the old stockades once used as places of refuge by the Celts, or, like Lindum, on the top of the hill on which Lincoln Cathedral now stands, were placed in strongly defensible positions. Aquæ Sulis, the modern Bath, owes its existence to its warm medicinal springs. The chief port of commerce was Londinium, the modern London. Attempts which have been made to explain its name by the Celtic language have failed, and it is therefore possible that an inhabited post existed there even before the Celts arrived. Its importance was, however, owing to its position, and that importance was not of a kind to tell before a settled system of commercial intercourse sprang up. London was situated on the hill on which St. Paul's now stands. There first, after the Thames narrowed into a river, the merchant found close to the stream hard ground on which he could land his goods. The valley for some distance above and below it was then filled with a wide marsh or an expanse of water. An old track raised above the marsh crossed the river by a ford at Lambeth, but, as London grew in importance, a ferry was established where London Bridge now stands, and the Romans, in course of time, superseded the ferry by a bridge. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Roman roads both from the north and from the south converged upon London. Just as Eboracum was a fitting centre for military operations directed to the defence of the northern frontier, London was the fitting centre of a trade carried on with the Continent, and the place would increase in importance in proportion to the increase of that trade.
Agricola, in addition to his line of forts between the Forth and the Clyde, had erected detached forts at the mouth of the valleys which issue from the Highlands, in order to hinder the Caledonians from plundering the lower country. In 119 the Emperor Hadrian visited Britain. He was more disposed to defend the Empire than to extend it, and though he did not abandon Agricola's forts, he also built further south a continuous stone wall between the Solway and the Tyne. This wall, which, together with an earthwork of earlier date, formed a far stronger line of defence than the more northern forts, was intended to serve as a second barrier to keep out the wild Caledonians if they succeeded in breaking through the first. At a later time a lieutenant of the Emperor, Antoninus Pius, who afterwards became Emperor himself, connected Agricola's forts between the Forth and Clyde by a continuous earthwork. In 208 the Emperor Severus arrived in Britain, and after strengthening still further the earthwork between the Forth and Clyde, he attempted to carry out the plans of Agricola by conquering the land of the Caledonians. Severus, however, failed as completely as Agricola had failed before him, and he died soon after his return to Eboracum.
Whatever may be the exact truth about the numbers of Britons saved alive by the English conquerors, there can be no doubt that English speech and English customs prevailed wherever the English settled. In Gaul, where the German Franks made themselves masters of the country, a different state of things prevailed. Roman officials continued to govern the country under Frankish kings, Roman bishops converted the conquerors to Christianity, and Roman cities maintained, as far as they could, the old standard of civilisation. All commercial intercourse between Gaul, still comparatively rich and prosperous, and Britain was for some time cut off by the irruption of the English, who were at first too rude and too much engaged in fighting to need the products of a more advanced race. Gradually, however, as the English settled down into peaceful industry along the south-eastern shores of the island, trade again sprang up, as it had sprung up in the wild times preceding the landing of Cæsar. The Gaulish merchants who crossed the straits found themselves in Kent, and during the years in which the West Saxon Ceawlin was struggling with the Britons the communications between Kent and the Continent had become so friendly that in 584, or a little later, Æthelberht, king of Kent, took to wife Bertha, the daughter of a Frankish king, Charibert. Bertha was a Christian, and brought with her a Christian bishop. She begged of her husband a forsaken Roman church for her own use. This church, now known as St. Martin's, stood outside the walls of the deserted city of Durovernum, the buildings of which were in ruins, except where a group of rude dwellings rose in a corner of the old fortifications. In these dwellings Æthelberht and his followers lived, and to them had been given the new name of Cantwarabyrig or Canterbury (the dwelling of the men of Kent). The English were heathen, but their heathenism was not intolerant.