22 SEPTEMBER 1866, Page 13



OWEVER little we may know of the history of the West

1. Country during the eariler Roman period, we know still less of the events of the period from the decline and fall of the Roman power in Britain to the Saxon conquest. We lose the good and reliable historians on whom we had hitherto depended for information, and after a blank of some eighty years find our- selves reduced to a set of servile panegyrists of the later Emperors, from whose fulsome pages we have to glean our few and vague facts. The period was one of internal discord throughout the Roman Empire and of misery to the unfortunate provincials. Rival Emperors were proclaimed by the legions in nearly every district, the struggles attending their generally short- lived ascendancy and speedy downfall draining the pro- vinces of their best life-blood, and adding the evils of anarchy to those of a demoralized civilization. Meanwhile the independent or half-subdued tribes on the frontiers of the Empire, profiting by her increasing weakness and dissensions, assumed the aggressive, and continually harassed the provinces with their in- cursions and devastations. Among other means for disposing of these wild tribes on the continent, the Roman Emperors seem to have adopted the idea of transporting them as colonists to Britain. In the year 277 we read that the Emperor Probus sent over Burgundians and Vandals into Britain, that they might assist as auxiliaries in times of revolt. In 286 we find mention of the Franks and Saxons as infesting the coasts of Gaul, and Carausius the Dlenapian (kinsman therefore of the colonists of county Dublin) was appointed to the command of a fleet and forces to protect the coasts of both Gaul and Britain against them. In the organization of Roman Britain there was an officer called " Comes Tractas Maritimi," i. e., coadjutor of the other authorities for the sea-coast district. His command extended over nine fortresses,—from the Straits of Dover to Brancaster in Norfolk and to Pevensey in Sussex,—with 3,000 infantry and 600 horse. The western coasts of Britain were probably at first under the guardianship of the Dux Tractile Armoricani, the opposite coasts of Gaul. A new title, however, was substituted for the former, pro- bably about this time. This official was now called " Comes Litoris Saxonici per Britannias "—coadjutor for the Saxon shore through- out the Britains, and in the time of the Emperor Honorins his com- mand seems to have included the whole coast-line from the Wash to the Southampton Water, while a corresponding portion of the coast of Gaul also assumed the same appellation. We must not, however, suppose that this term " Saxon " was then restricted to the pirates from the mouth of the Elbe. It appears to have been used as a gene- ral term for the plunderers from the Elbe to the Rhine. Whether the term " Saxon Shore" represented also a settlement similar to that of the Burgundians and Vandals we cannot say ; at any rate, very probably there were already such settlements along the coast of Britain. Somewhere about this time we find an army of Frank mercenaries in the City of London, who had sacked the town, but were defeated and destroyed by a body of Roman soldiers, who, losing their way on a foggy sea, chanced to land just in time to rescue the provincials. In the year 306 Constantius died at York, and Constantine his son, " assisted by all who were about, but especially by Eroc, King of the Alenamni, assumed the Empire." These Alenamni are mentioned more than half a century later. " Valentinian placed Fraomarius as King over the Buccinobantes, a nation of the Alenamni, near Mentz. Soon afterwards, however, an attack upon his people devastated their country. He was then transferred to Britain, and placed as tribune over the Alenamni, at that time flourishing both in numbersandpower." In the year 360, when Julian was Comer, the Scoti and Picti are first mentioned as com- bining together against the provincial Britons, and about the year 364 we are told by a contemporary authority that " the Picti and Saxons, and the Scoti and Attacotti vexed the Britons with inces- sant [continues] harassings." From this time we have a series of similar notices. In 367 it is the Franks and Saxons who infest the coast of Gaul. In the same year Theodosius, father of the great Emperor of that name, is ordered to proceed to Britain, to defend it against the invaders, who are described as the "Picti, at this time divided into two nations—the Dicalidones and the Vecturiones, combined with the Attacotti and Scoti. In 374 we read of a descent of the Saxons on Britain, and in 394 of Ninias as made Bishop over the southern Picts, who seem to be now embrac- ing Christianity. Two years later the great Roman General Stilicho sends a legion to assist the Britons against their invaders, but on the withdrawal of the legion in 402 the attacks are renewed. As an explanation of this assistance being needed, we find that in 387 Maximus, one of the rival Emperors, had drawn off a large part of the defensive forces of Britain to assist him in his wars on the continent, and these troops are said to have never returned. In the year 406 we learn that the Vandals, Suevi, and Alans made themselves formidable even to the armies in Britain. The next year seems to have been one of a general revolt of the legions in Britain, and down to the year 411 a number of chiefs, Marcus, Gratian a Briton and member of a municipium, Constan- tine, and his sons Constans and Julian, Gerontius a Briton, and another Maximus contend for the sovereignty of the island, while the Empire is too distracted by the invasions of Alaric and the attacks of the Vandals, Maus, and Saxons on Gaul to intervene. In the last-named year, however, their General, Constans, recovers the island from this anarchy. Here our Roman authorities desert us. Nothing more that was definite seems to have been known at Rome of the condition of Britain. We are only told that in the eighteenth year of the Emperor Theodosius Britain was lost to the Empire and subjugated by the Saxons. This is satisfactory as far as the former assertion is concerned, but as to the latter, all that the writer could know would be that the Saxons in the year 441 were engaged in an attempt to conquer Britain, and that from that time Britain disappeared from the Roman world.

Where, then, are we to look in default of these Roman authori- ties for the history after the year 411 ? Our sources of information on the British side are the works of the Briton Gildas in the middle of the sixth century (or about a hundred and fifty years later than our latest Roman authority)—the Annales Cambria', a collection of dates composed probably in the last quarter of the tenth century, and the History ascribed to the Briton Nennius, which incorporates and enlarges greatly the few facts of Gildas, and is attributed to the ninth century. On the Anglo-Saxon side we have the " Venerable Bede," at the end of the seventh century, who seems to rely for his early facts on Gildas, and the Saxon Chroni- cle, which copies Bede very much, and which was evidently composed at very different times, but is certainly not contemporary till long after the establishment of the Saxon monarchies. Besides these authorities, we have the Welsh poems attributed to bards of the sixth and seventh centuries, but of which, even if genuine, we pos- sess no early manuscripts. Until the authority of the last-named source of information is better established than it is, it is useless

to refer to it, or to its successors, the later Welsh poems and chro- nicles, as a guide through this obscure period. The other authori- ties afford us some means, when taken in connection with the pre- ceding Roman accounts, of testing the value of the dates assigned to those conquests of the West Saxons which laid the foundations

of the kingdom of Wessex, and ultimately overwhelmed the British principalities of the West Country. The genuineness of the writ- ings attributed to Gildas—and even his existence—have been dal- puted by the distinguished antiquary, Mr. Thomas Wright, but, as it seems to us, on strangely insufficient grounds, and we shall unhesitatingly use him as an authority. But his writings are a lamentation and tirade, rather than a chronicle, and he supplies us with only two dates. He tells us that the siege of Badonicus Mons, a great success achieved over the invaders by the Britons, under the command of the quasi-Roman, Ambrosias Aurelianus, the only great national hero mentioned by him, and the only Arthur of History, occurred in the year of his own birth, just forty-four years from the time at which he was writing. We have no other reliable dates as to his birth or time of writing, so are thrown back on the authority of the Annales Cambria, which place the " Bellum Badonis," as they call it, and of which they make Arthur the hero, in the year 516. Gildas (if this is accurate) wrote in the year 560, and as he states that the Saxons arrived 150 years before his own time, we obtain a second date, which carries us into the period of Saxon invasion of which we have already given some account from Roman sources. Now, the Saxon Chronicle gives us a string of dates for the Saxon conquests beginning with the year 449 ; that is to say, it ignores altogether all the earlier invasions of the Saxons from at least the time of Carausius. The utter untrustwor- thiness of the dates themselves has been shown by Dr. Lappen- berg, they being based on a regular system of multiples of the favourite number of the Northern invaders — eight, but who shall assure us that the events do not belong to the traditions of the ,earlier invasions of the Saxons to which Gildas seems to refer them ?

We are able to apply another test from Gildas. Writing in 560, he says that the Britons remained free from attacks from foreign enemies from the siege of Badonicus Mons to the time when he was writing. Now, turning to the Saxon Chronicle, we find two different dates assigned for the arrival of the West Saxons—the year 495 and the year 514—(at the latter date they come in three vessels, like Hengist and Horsa). There are two battles placed between these two dates. Then, after the victory of the year 514, down to the year 560, we have no less than five battles. We may conclude, there- fore, that these five battles, at any rate, are misplaced, and belong either to earlier invasions or to some of the later conquests of the Saxons after the renewal of their attacks. Where, then, shall we find our first certain date? Probably in the mission of Augustine by Pope Gregory to the " Angle people " (as the Chronicle calls them). This is assigned to the dates 596 and 597. We here seem to be dealing with real personages, and standing on firm his- torical ground. We may say, then, that about the end of the sixth century the Anglo-Saxon invasion had obtained a permanent footing in the south-eastern portion of Britain, and the interval between that date and the year 560 must be assigned for this achievement, any more special dates being unattainable. When the West Saxons succeeded in obtaining a similar hold it is less easy to determine. The year 635 is given as the date of the baptism at Dorchester, of Cnegils, one of the Princes of the Gewissas, or West Saxons, and soon afterwards Dorchester was assigned as the episcopal see of the Christian missionary, Birinus, whom Pope Honorius had despatched on a general mission to Britain. We may, therefore, conclude that the kingdom, or one of the kingdoms (for there seem to have been at one time no less than seven) of the West Saxons, extended then at least to the frontiers of the West Country in that direction. Probably the fact of Dorsetshire being the scene of the conversion of the West Saxon Prince and Dorchester the principal seat of his government at that time, accounts for the strong ecclesiastical organization of this county, there having been during the Saxon time no less than two episcopal sees (Dorchester and Sherborne), and six im- portant monastic houses within its limits. The establishment of the kingdom of the West Saxons seems to have been achieved only after long and bloody contests, is which the fortune of war varied extremely, at one time the Saxons penetrating into Gloucestershire and the confines of East Somerset, and then, again, as it would seem, being obliged to abandon all their western acquisitions, fall back on Winchester, and even, it is pro- bable, from the words of the Chronicle, withdraw to the Isle of Wight. Their efforts (whether our accounts refer to their first or their latest invasions) seem to have been mainly directed against three British towns—Cirencester, Gloucester, and Bath, which appear to have been gained and lost again within a year or two. They were probably aiming at this when they were over- thrown by Ambrosius in 516, at the siege of Badonicus Mons. This place, which he describes as being near " the Severn mouth," has been identified with many localities, and with Bath especially. The position of Cirencester, however, suite better in all respects. Here three great Roman roads meet—the Fosse-Way, Ermine- Street, and the Ikenild-Way—and about three miles to the north of the town, a little to the south-east of Bagendon (or Baclgington) Church, between two of these roadways, are " two very con- siderable entrenchments, fronting each other, one of which extends for above a quarter of a mile down to a place called Barrow's Bridge, with the ramparts and graff entire in some parts, and two or three large barrows (near which have been found several spear heads and other warlike weapons) stand not far distant from them." Barrow's Bridge has been set down as the scene of another engage- ment between the West Saxons and the Britons. The downs here still bear the name of Baunton Downs, and may have suggested the name " Badonicns Mona" At any rate this position would be the key to the defence of Cirencester, Gloucester, and Bath. At length, however, mile by mile almost, as it would seem, the British frontier was forced backward to the Parret and the Axe, which for some time continued the boundary line of the two peoples. Bravely do the British provincials still seem to have defended themselves, and slow was the tide of conquest in this direction, slower and slower as the advancing Saxons passed within the frontiers of the West Country. At last the Exe became the boundary of the indepen- dent Britons, and in Exeter itself the Britons and Saxons lived together, seemingly in two different portions of the town. The most important reign of these earlier Princes of Wessex was that of file, from 688 to 725. He extended his possessions westward in Somerset as far as the river Tone, and in 700 built a fortress at Taunton, to secure his new conquests. Taunton then seems to have become for some little time a royal residence for the West-Saxon Kings. At a later period Dunster became a frontier fortress of the West Saxons, being long called Torre, the fortress, the name "dun" referring to the ridge of hills close to it oh the sea coast.

King Lie, of Wessex, is, however, chiefly known for his code of laws, which give us a considerable insight into the condition of the Saxon and British population under his sway. The " wergyld," or estimated value of the life of a Saxon freeman (ceorl) in Wessex was two hundred shillings, the noble's (eorl's) wergyld being twelve hundred shillings, and hence these two classes are called " twyhyade" and " twelfhynde." Besides these classes, usual in the other Anglo- Saxon kingdoms, we find in Wessex a third class, whose "wergyld" was half that of the " twelfhynde," and three times that of the " ceorl ;" they are called " syhynde," or men of six hundred. Mr. Kemble believes them to have been an intermediate class, or middle class, which had sprung up among the West Saxons between the nobles and the mass of freemen. If so, we possess in this fact a strong testimony to the rising prosperity of Wessex, and the rapid advance of the lower population in position and civil rights. Besides these classes, however, we find another mentioned in the laws of ke. " A Wealh, a scotpayer, is rated for his were at 120 shillings, his son 100 shillings, a servant 60 shillings, sometimes at 50 shillings, a Wealh's skin at 12 shillings. A Wealh, if he bath five hides, he is a six- hundred man." " Wealh" was the Saxon name for the British population, Wealas signifying men of another kindred (a similar term being employed by the Germans now to designate the Italians). Again, as the law provides, "If a Wealh' has a hide of land his were is 120 shillings; if he has half, 80 shillings ; if he has none, 60 shillings." There is little trace of excessive degra- dation here in the position of a Briton. And in another case he and the Saxon were treated much alike. " If an Englishman steal he goes forth to acquittal by twofold, i. e., 120 hides of land. If he be Briton, he is not compelled to more." By another law, if a British thrall should kill a free Englishman, his master is to give him up to the law, or the dead man's kindred could set'him free, or buy him off with 60 shillings. Such was the footing on which the Saxon and the Briton lived together in Wessex in the time of Ine, and as Mr. Barnes has observed, in an interesting article on ancient Dorset in the Archaeological Journal, " Moat likely English and British were in many places living side by side as neighbours, with many wedded pairs of the two raees, and with English and British children mingled in their play." The Britons, then, who were compelled to succumb to the West Saxons, made good terms for themselves, such as showed the respect felt by their conquerors for their valour and long and stubborn re- sistance, and it must be remembered that in the later stages of the conquest at any rate it was no longer the wild Pagan invader, but the humanized and Christianized citizen, long domesti- cated, if not actually born on the soil, with whom they had to contend.