Britannia, by William Camden


Britannia Saxonica map, left. Note overlap.
Britannia Saxonica map, right. Note overlap.

Britannia Saxonica

English Saxons. Big W WHEN the Roman Empire, under Valentinian the younger, was declining apace; and Britain, both (a) robb’d of her ablest men by frequent levies, and abandon’d by the Roman garrisons, was not in a condition to withstand the incursions of the Picts and Scots: * * Call’d also Guortigern.Vortigern (who either was constituted General by the Britains, or, as some think, usurp’d that title) (b) in order to confirm his government, and recover the sinking State, sends for the Saxons out of Germany to his relief. He was (says Ninnius) apprehensive of danger from the Picts and Scots, (c) from the Roman power, and from Aurelius Ambrosius. The Saxons, immediately, under the command of Hengist and Horsa, (d) arriv’d in Britain with their Ciules (e), (for so they call’d their flat-bottom’d boats or pinnaces,) and, by their success against the Scots and Picts in two several engagements, rais’d their reputation considerably. And because the Britains did absolutely depend upon their Valour, they sent for fresh supplies out of Germany, partly to man the frontier garrisons, and partly to annoy the enemy by sea. Guortigern (says Ninnius) at the instance of Hengist, sent for Octha and Ebissa to come to his aid; and they, with forty of their Ciules, sailing round the Pictish coasts, wasted the Orcades, and possess’d themselves of a great many Islands and countriesTrans mare Fresicum.beyond the Frith, as far as the borders of the Picts. At length, being mightily pleas’d with the lands, the way of living, and the plenty of Britain, and building upon the cowardice of the natives; under pretence of ill pay and short diet, they enter into a league with the Picts, raise a most bloody war against their Entertainers the Britains, put the poor frighted Inhabitants in all parts to the sword, waste their lands, raze their cities; and after many turns and changes in their several battles withAurelius Ambrosius; by Gildas Ambrosius Aurelianus. Aurelius Ambrosius (who had taken upon him the government, (f) in the administration whereof his parents had lost their lives) and with the (g) warlike Arthur; at length they dispossess the Britains of the best part of the Island, their hereditary estates. At which time (in a word) the miserable natives suffer’d whatever the Conqueror could inflict, or the Conquer’d fear. For auxiliary troops flocking daily out of Germany, still engag’d the harrass’d Britains afresh: such were the Saxons, the Jutes (for that is their right name, not Vites) and the Angles. They were indeed, strictly speaking, distinguish’d by these names; but yet promiscuously call’d Angles and Saxons. But let us now treat severally and briefly of each; that, as far as is possible, we may discover the originals of our own nation.

(a) It was most of all exhausted by the proceedings of Maximus; who, being set up Emperor by the soldiery in Britain, to secure himself against Gratian and Valentinian, carried over the flower of the Britains, and would not let them return home. See Ninnius, cap.23. Stillingfl. Orig. Brit. p.288.

(b) Not so much against the Scots and Picts, as his own Subjects. For tho’ those northern nations did (no doubt) very much terrifie him; yet he had more reason to be jealous of the Britains themselves, if what Gildas tell us be true, that, in the confusion they were left, they set up Kings and quickly dethroned them, advancing worse to that dignity.

(c) This must be meant of the Roman party left in the Island, who might be suppos’d to have a greater respect for Ambrosius. For the Northern nations, breaking in upon Rome at that time, did so effectually divert that nation, that no harm could be fear’d from those parts.

(d) See Bishop Usher’s Antiquit. Britann. p.207, &c.

(e) I rather think it was a general name for their ships. For William of Malmesbury, describing their coming, says, they brought three Ciules, which the Saxon Annals express by Scipas. And it is a word too, very commonly made use of in the names of men, which generally consisted of something sublime, and never of diminutives. Unless these Ciules were their pirating vessels; for then, we need not wonder that they pass’d into the names of men, since piracies were the peculiar talent and glory of that nation.

(f) Probably murder’d by their own subjects; according to Gildas’s character of their behaviour at that time.

(g) How far the British History of Arthur may be admitted; See Stillingfleet’s Orig. Britan. p.335. Usher. Primord. p.61, &c.

Only, I must first set down what Witichindus, a Saxon born, and an ancient writer, has left us concerning the coming over of the Saxons. Britain, having been long before reduced into the form of a Province by Vespasian the Emperor, and flourish’d a great while under the protection of the Romans; was at last invaded by the neighbouring nations, as seeming to be abandoned by the Roman aids. For the Romans, after * * In the text Martialis; but in the margin, Possibly Martianus.Martian the Emperor was murder’d by the soldiers, were heavily annoy’d with foreign wars, and so were not able to furnish their allies with aids, as they had formerly done. However, before they quitted the nation, they built a large wall for it’s defence, running along the borders thereof from sea to sea, where they imagin’d the enemy would make their Inroads. But after a soft and lazy people were left to encounter a resolute and well-disciplin’d enemy, it was found no hard matter to demolish that work. In the mean time, (a) the Saxons grew famous for their success in arms, and to them they dispatch’d an humble embassy to desire their assistance. The Embassadors, being admitted to audience, made their addresses as follows. Most noble Saxons, The miserable ¦ ¦ Bretti, for Britanni.Britains, shatter’d and worn out by the frequent incursions of their enemies, upon the news of your many signal victories, have sent us to you, humbly requesting that you would assist them at this juncture. A land large and spacious, abounding with all manner of necessaries, they give up entirely to your disposal. Hitherto, we have liv’d happily under the government and protection of the Romans; next to the Romans, we know none of greater valour than your selves, and therefore in your courage do now seek refuge. Let but this courage and those arms make us conquerors, and we refuse no service or duty you shall please to impose. The Saxon Nobles return’d them this short answer. Assure your selves, the Saxons will be true friends to the Britains; and as such, shall be always ready to relieve their necessities, and to advance their interests. The Embassadors, pleas’d with the answer, return home, and comfort their country-men with the welcome news. Accordingly, the succours they had promis’d being dispatch’d into Britain, are joyfully receiv’d by their allies; and do in a very little time clear the kingdom of Invaders, and restore the country to the Inhabitants. And indeed, there was no great difficulty in doing this, since the fame of the Saxon Valour had so far terrify’d them, that their very presence was enough to drive them away. The people who infested the Britains, were the Scots and * * Pehiti, in the margin Picti.Picts; and the Saxons were supply’d by the Britains with all necessaries to carry on the war against them. Upon which, they staid in the country for some time, and liv’d in very good terms with the Britains; till the Commanders (observing that the land was large and fruitful, and that the natives were not at all inclin’d to war; and considering that themselves, and the greatest part of the Saxons, had no fix’d habitation) send over for more forces, and striking up a peace with the Scots and Picts, make one body against the Britains, force them out of the nation, and divide the country among their own people. Annonae Thus far Witichindus; Stillingfl. Orig. Brit. p.320.⌈who yet seems too lavish in the Promises of duty and submission supposed to be made by the British Ambassadors. For neither Bede, nor Ethelwerd (both Saxons) mention the least promise of submission; and Gildas expressly says, That their first pretence of Quarrelling, was for greater Allowance (call’d by him Epimenia, and by Bede, Annonæ;) which shows, that they came over as mercenary soldiers, upon promise of pay.⌉

(a) The former experience that Britain had had of the Saxon courage, was sufficient to point out that nation before any other. For even in the times of the Romans, they were not afraid to prey upon our coasts; and to that degree, as to oblige them to guard the coasts, with the Officer call’d Comes Littoris Saxonici.

Original of the Saxons. The original and etymology of the Saxons, like those of other nations, have been confounded with fabulous conjectures, not only by Monks, who understood nothing of Antiquity, but even by some modern Pretenders. One will have them deriv’d from Saxo, son of Negnon, and brother of Vandalus; another, from their stony temper; a third, from the remains of the Macedonian army; a fourth, from certain knives; which gave occasion to that rhime in Engelhusius,

Quippe brevis gladius apud illos Saxa vocatur,
Unde sibi Saxo nomen traxisse putatur.

The Saxon people did, as most believe,
Their name from Saxa, a short sword, receive.

Crantzius derives them from the German Catti; and the learned Capnio, from the Phrygians. Of these, every man is at liberty to take his choice; nor shall I make it my business to confute such fabulous opinions.

Sacae Only, I think the conjecture of those learned Germans, who imagin that the Saxons are descended from the Sacæ,Saxons from the Sacæ of Asia. the most considerable People of Asia; (b) that they are so called, as if one should say Sacasones, that is, the Sons of the Sacæ; and that out of Scythia or Sarmatia Asiatica, they came by little and little into Europe, along with the Getes, the Suevi, and the Daci;Melancthon, L.11. this, in my judgment, deserves credit the best of any other. For indeed, the opinions of those who fetch the Saxons out of Asia, where mankind had its rise and growth, has some colour of reason: Since, besides what Strabo affirms, that the Sacæ (as the Cimerii had done) did invade remote Countries, and call a part of Armenia, Sacacena, after their own name; besides this, Ptolemy places the Sassones, Suevi, Massagetes, and Dahi, in that part of Scythia: andCisner. Cisner has observed, that those nations, after they came into Europe, retain’d in great measure the same vicinity which they had formerly in Asia.

(b) See Seld. Polyolb. p.27.

Michael Neander. Nor is it less probable, that our Saxons came from either the Sacæ or Sassones of Asia, than it is that the Germans are descended from the Germani of Persia, mention’d by Herodotus; which yet they positively conclude from the affinity of those Languages. For the learned Joseph Scaliger has told us, that Fader, muder, brader, tutchter, band, and the like, are still used in the Persian Language, in the same sense as Father, mother, brother, daughter, bond, are with us.

Stillingfl. Orig. Brit. p.305, 306. ⌈However, this original of the Saxons from the Sacæ of Asia, may be thought too far fetch’d; unless there were some fair historical account, how the Saxons came to be propagated by those Sacæ; and no such account being given, it may seem to be little more than a possibility. Nor may that other original from the short swords call’d Sachs seem altogether vain, when it is consider’d, that the Quirites had their name from Quiris, a short spear, and the Scythians from Scytten, to shoot with a Bow. Tacitus also, speaking of some of the Northern Germans, saith, That the common Badges they wear, are round shields, and short swords; and the Arms of Saxony to this day, as Pontanus observes, are two short swords a-cross.⌉

But when the Saxons first began to have a name in the world, they liv’d in Cimbrica Chersonesus, which we now call Denmark; where they are settled by Ptolemy, who is the first that makes mention of them. And in that place of Lucan,

Longisque leves Axônes in armis.

—Light Axons in long arms,

we are not to read Saxones (as some Copies have it) but the true reading isAxones, a People of Gaul. Axones. ⌈And that the reading is the same in Ptolemy, where he places them in the Cimbrick Chersonese, is probable, from a MS. which belong’d to Mr. Selden, and which leaves out the initial Σ.⌉

While they liv’d in that Cimbrica Chersonesus, in the time of Dioclesian, they came along with their neighbours the Franks, and mightily annoy’d our coasts; and the Romans committed it to the care of Carausius to repel them. (a) Afterwards, passing the river Albis, part of them broke in by degrees upon the Suevian Territories (which at this day is the Dukedom of Saxony,) and part took possession of Frisia and Batavia, which the Franks had quitted. For the Franks, who had formerly inhabited the inmost of those Fens in Friseland (some whereof are now washed into that Sea, which at this day we call the Zuider-see,) and who afterwards had possessed themselves of Holland; being* * In leges recepti. receiv’d into protection by Constantius Chlorus, and Constantine the Great, and his sons, and sent to cultivate the desarts of Gaul: these (I say) either forcing a passage with the sword into more plentiful countries, or else (as Zosimus.Zosimus tells us) driven out by the Saxons, left Holland. From which time, all the inhabitants of that German Coast, who lived by piracy, have gone under the name of Saxons, as before they were called Franks. Those (I mean) who lived in Jutland, Sleswick, Holsatia, Ditmarse, the Bishoprick of Breme; the County of Oldenburg, East and West Friseland, and Holland. For the Saxon nation (as is observed by Fabius QuæstorQuaestor Ethelwerd,Ethelwerd
Nephew’s Nephew to King Adulf, flourish’d about the year 950.
who was of the Royal line of the Saxons) included all the Sea-coast, between the river Rhine, and the city Donia, which now is commonly called Dane-marc. This Author (not to conceal the name of a person, who has been so serviceable to me) was first discovered by the eminent Mr. Thomas Allen of Oxford, a person of great learning and humanity, and was, with many others, communicated to me.

(a) Whether the early piracies of the Saxons upon that coast (mention’d by many Authors,) is to be so interpreted, as if they then dwelt between the Elb and the Rhine, or only drew down thither to carry on their trade of robbing, whilst still their habitation was in the Cimbrick Chersonese; is a question amongst the learned. Camden here, and Bishop Stillingfleet (Orig. Britan. p.309.) favour the former Opinion. But Archbishop Usher (Primord. c.12. p.215. fol.) thinks they came down much later.

From this coast it was, that the Saxons, encouraged by their many slaughters of the Romans, made frequent Inroads into the Provinces, and for a long time annoy’d this Island, till at last Hengist himself came. That this Hengist set sail for England out of Batavia or Holland, and built the Castle of Leyden, is confirm’d, not only by the Annals of Holland, but also by the noble Janus Dousa, a person of admirable parts and learning, who of that burg, or tower, writes thus,

Quem circinato mœnium ut ambitu
The second Ode of Leyden. Sic arcuatis fornicibus novum
Putatur Hengistus Britanno
Orbe redux posuisse victor

The mighty Hengist, if we credit fame,
On circling arches rais’d this stately pile,
O’er British Seas when he in triumph came,
And brought new Lawrels from the conquer’d Isle.

The Jutes,Jutes. so call’d (as (b) many think) from the Gutes, Getes or Goths (for a Manuscript copy reads Geatun) did certainly inhabit the upper part of Cimbrica Chersonesus, which the Danes to this day call Juitland. It is possible, they may have descended from the Gutti, whom Ptolemy places in Scandia, and whose present seat is Gothland. But here I must caution you against assenting to the opinion of Jornandes, that this was the Country of those Goths,Spartian, Trebellius Pollio Capitolinus, &c. who conquered and over-ran Europe; since the most ancient and best approved writers have told us, that they liv’d beyond the Ister, near the Euxine Sea, and were formerly called Getes.

(b) See Sir Henry Spelman’s Glossary, under the title Guti.

The Angles. In what place the Angles liv’d, is a debated point, and the opinions concerning it are various. Most Authors place them in Westphalia, where Engern now stands, and where the Suevi-Angli, mentioned by Tacitus and Ptolemy, had their abode. With whom I agree, if they mean of Tacitus’s age; but I fansy they came down afterwards to the Sea-coasts. Others seek them in Pomerania, where there is a very considerable town called Angloen. But seeing these reach into the more inland parts of Germany, at so great a distance from the sea, we must seek some other place where to seat our Angles; and Bede has directed us to look for them between the Saxons and the Jutes. The AnglesLib.1. c.15. (says he) came out of that country, which is called Angulus, and is said from that time to lye waste, between the countries of the * * Gutarum. And in the margin of Camden, So the Manuscript reads it, not Vitarum.
Angel in Dennark; the seat of the Angles.
Jutes and Saxons. Seeing between Juitland and Holsatia (the ancient seat of the Saxons) there is a small province in the Kingdom of Denmark and under the City of Flemsburg, called at this day † Angel, which Lindebergius in his Epistles terms Little-England; I am pretty well assur’d, that I have found the ancient Seat of our Forefathers; and that from this very place the Angles came into our Island. And what makes me more confident herein, is the authority of that ancient Author Ethelwerd, who writes thus; Old Anglia is situated between the Saxons and Giots, the capital town whereof is called in Saxon Sleswick, but by the Danes Haithby. In the very same place, Ptolemy seems to seat the Saxons; so that the middle-age Poet is probably in the right,

Saxonia protulit Anglos,
Hoc patet in lingua, niveoque colore

Their rise to Saxony the Angles owe,
Their language, this, and native whiteness show.

Some of these Angles, marching into the inner parts of Germany, and mixing with the Longobards and Suevians, broke into Italy, and are generally supposed to have left behind them some remains of their name; such are, Engelheim, the native country of Charles the Great, Ingolstad, Engleburg, Englerute in Germany, and Angleria in Italy.

What the etymology of the name is, I dare not say: however, I utterly reject that Angulus, Son of Humbius, and his Queen Angela, whom some silly people would have to be the founders of our Nation. Nor can I believe, that it had the name from Angulus, a corner (as if it were a corner of the world) which is intimated in those common verses,

Anglia terra ferax, & fertilis angulus orbis,
Insula prædives quæ toto vix eget orbe

With richest wares, that take their happy birth,
Or from the face, or bowels of the earth,
Our fruitful corner of the world is blest,
Not joyn’d, and scarce beholden to the rest.

And as for Goropius’s conjecture, that the Angli are derived from an angle, i.e. a Fishing-rod, or Fishing-hook, because (as he adds) they hook all to them, and are, as we commonly say, good anglers; this does not deserve so much to be credited, as laughed at. But whoever finds out the etymology of Engelbert, Engelhard, and such like German names, does in all probability at the same time discover the original of the Angli. That the Frisons came along with them into Britain, is plain from Procopius. Ann. 1607. And because that book is not extant, it may not be amiss to give you the place entire, as I had it transcribed from a Copy in the King’s Library at Paris, by that singular good man, and compleat Antiquary, Franciscus PithæusPithaeus . De Bell. Goth. Lib. 4. Greek text
Greek text. i.e. (in my rude translation;) The Island of Britain is inhabited by three most populous nations, each whereof has their several Kings. The names of the People are, the ANGLES, the FRISONES, and those of the same name with the Island, the BRITONS. As to the inhabitants, they seem to be so numerous, that every year they flock over in great companies, with their wives and children, to the Franks, who assign them that part of their Island, which is least cultivated. Upon this, they pretend a claim to the whole Island of [Britain;] and it is not long, since the King of the Franks, dispatching some of his own subjects on an embassie to Justinian at Constantinople, sent along with them some of the Angles, out of pure ostentation, as if the Island were part of his dominions.

Usher Primord. 21 ⌈And yet this passage is refer’d by others, not to our Britain, but to Brittia; placed by the same Procopius between our Island of Britain, and Thule, which in him is Scandinavia. And Isacius Tzetzes is to be understood of the same, when he speaks of the Island of Britain (read Britia,) with Britain on the West, and Thule on the East.⌉

Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, one nation. These are the several people of Germany, who seated themselves in Britain. That they were but one nation, and called by one general name, sometimes Saxons, sometimes Angles, or (to distinguish them from those who were left behind in Germany) Anglo-Saxons; is plain from Gildas, Boniface, Bede, Paulus Diaconus and others. But in Latin they are most frequently term’d Gens Anglorum (i.e. the nation of the Angles) and in their own Language, to the same sense, Engla-Theod.

When the Saxons came into Britain. The (a) exact time when they were invited into Britain by Vortigern, is a dispute amongst writers: but to wave the rest, Bede and his followers do thus settle the Chronology of those dark and confused times.

(a) See this matter stated at large by Bishop Usher Antiquitat. Britann. p.217, &c. and Dr. Stillingfleet, Orig. Britan. p.316.

In the 23d year of Theodosius the Younger, and that of Christ 430, the Britains, overpower’d by the Picts and Scots, desire aid of Ætius,AEtius then in his third Consulship; but without success.

Under Valentinian the third, S. German came over into Britain two several times, to oppose the Pelagians; and leading-up the Britains against the Picts and Saxons, by virtue of his intercession to God gain’d them the victory.

In the first year of Martian, and that of Christ 449, the nation of the English Saxons came over into Britain.

But since it is evident from the Kalendar of the Consuls, that the third Consulship of Ætius fell in the xxxixth year of that Theodosius, and of Christ 446; and since it appears by the most authentick writers,Baronius. that S. German dy’d in the year of Christ 435; there is great reason to suspect that the numerals in Bede have been corrupted, and that the Saxons came over hither before the year of Christ 449. For otherwise, how is it possible that S. German, who died in 435, should lead up the Britains against the Saxons, who by that computation were not then come over? Besides, Ninnius affirms, that S. German return’d out of Britain into his own country after the death of Vortigern, who was the person that invited the Saxons into Britain: so that their coming over must necessarily have been before the year 435, (b) the last of S. German’s life. Farther yet, in the second year after Leo the Great was made Pope (which falls in with that of Christ 443.) Prosper Tiro, who lived at the same time, tells us, That Britain, after several bloody defeats, was at last subdued by the Saxons. Which puts it beyond all dispute, that they came over before that year, I mean 449. But to remove all scruples about that matter, let me add this Chronological note, which is at the end of some copies of Ninnius, and satisfies me beyond all the rest.

(b) Concerning the precise time, when S. German lived, see Stillingfl. Orig. p.208.

From the Consulship of the two Gemini, * * Read Fusius.Rufus and Rubellius, to that of Stilico, 373 years.

From Stilico to Valentinian, son of Placidia, and to the reign of Vortigern, 28 years.

From the reign of Vortigern, to the Discord between Gaitolinus and Ambrosius, are 12 years: which is Guoloppum, i.e. Cathguoloph.

Vortigern reign’d in Britain when Theodosius and Valentinian were Consuls; and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came over, and were received by Vortigern, when Felix and Taurus were Consuls.

From the year that the Saxons came into Britain, and were received by Vortigern, to† Otherwise, Decius Paulinus.Decius Valerianus, are 69 years.

By this computation, the English-Saxons must have come into Britain in the 21st year of Theodosius the Younger, which is nearest to Bede’s account, that is, the year of Christ 428; for then Felix and Taurus were Consuls: and other circumstances, both of person and time, agree to it.

Stillingfl. Orig. Brit. p.316. ⌈But others think, that in this matter there are but two certain Characters as to the Time, viz. That it was after the third Consulship of Ætius, and after the death of Theodosius; and finding that this Chronological note at the end of Ninnius, agrees not with either, they chose to govern themselves in this matter by the Authority of Gildas and Bede, with the Series of the British and Roman affairs at that time; by which it falls at or after the year 449.

And the foregoing Arguments, upon which it is fix’d to a more early date, seem to them to be liable to several Exceptions. Usher. Prim. p.204. The first is grounded upon St. German’s dying in the year 435; but that he liv’d much longer is prov’d from Honoratus in the life of Hilary Bishop of Arles, who mentions St. German as present when Chelidonius was deposed by Hilary in his Visitation; which Sirmondus places Anno Dom. 444, and which appears to be rightly plac’d by the Epistle of Leo, and the Rescript of Valentinian upon Chelidonius’s Appeal, which bears date in the year 445. Add to this, what Bede saith, That he was kindly receiv’d by Valentinian and Placidia, at Ravenna, and there died; and what Constantine saith in his life, That he sat thirty years after Amantor in his See, who died in the year 418. The second Argument from Prosper Tiro, is objected against, because it contradicts Gildas, who may deserve greater credit than Prosper Tiro in matters relating to the British History. And the third Argument from the Calculation at the end of Ninnius, is therefore dislik’d, because it makes their coming-in to be near twenty years before the third Consulship of Ætius.AEtius

I think fit to advertise the reader of one thing more (not in the mean time, to assume the character of a Critick) (a) that in many copies of Gildas, from whence Bede took that passage about Ætius, it is read Agitio III. Consuli: and in others, the numerals are omitted, and it is written ÆgitioAEgitio ; and in one, ÆquitioAEquitio Cos. But I could never find in the Fasti, any Consul of that name, (b) unless we may imagin that he was an extraordinary Consul.

(a) See Camden’s Epistles, p.7.

(b) The learned Selden seems to be of opinion, that this Ætius was really no Consul, but only a person of great note and authority at that time; for (says he) Illustres sæpius Viros indigitant historici nostri Consules; i.e. Our Historians very often call eminent men, Consuls. Which conjecture might hold, if the numerals were left out (as they are indeed in some Copies;) but if they are supposed to stand, there is plainly no room for it. See Bishop Stillingfleet’s Origines BritannicæBritannicae, p.300.

But at what time soever they came over, it is certain they shew’d wonderful courage, and this temper’d with great prudence.Victory of the Saxons. For in a short time, they became so considerable, both for numbers, discipline, and Conquests, that they were in a most prosperous and powerful condition, and their victory in a manner entire and absolute. All the conquer’d, except some few who took refuge in the uncultivated Western parts, yielded, and became one Nation with them, and embrac’d their Laws, name, and language. For besides England, the English-Saxons possessed themselves of the greatest part of Scotland (and the High-landers, who are the true Scots, call them Sassons to this day;) where they use the same language with us, only varying a little in the Dialect. And this language we and they have kept in a manner uncorrupted, together with the kingdom, for 1150 years. By which it appears how trivial and false that was (like others of the same nature) which the Saxon ProphetsGildas. foretold, when they set sail for this Island, That they should stay here only 300 years, and that 150 of these should beSæpiùs vastaturos.taken up in frequent Wars.

The subject matter, and place, seem next to require, that something be added concerning the Manners and Customs of our Fore-fathers the Saxons; and therefore I shall set down what I have observed upon that head.

Customs and manners of the Saxons. The Saxons were in general a warlike nation; and (as Zosimus has told us) were looked upon to be the most valiant of all the Germans, both for greatness of mind, strength of body, and a hardy constitution. Marcellinus observes, That the Romans dreaded them above all others, because their motions were always sudden. And Orosius says, that, for their courage and activity, they were terrible. Saxony is a place inaccessible by reason of the marshes, and the frontiers of it are unpassable. But tho’ this may seem to secure them in great measure against invasions, and though the captive Saxons frequently made up a part in the Roman triumphs; yet are they accounted a most stout People, excelling all others in piracies: however, in these they rely more upon their fly-boats, than their courage, and make it their business, not so much to fight, as to run: Orig. Lib.9. c.2.
Thus far Egesippus; who is followed by Isidore: The Saxons, situate upon the Sea-shore, and among fenns unpassable, are very stout and very active. From whence they took their names, as being aSaxum.hardy resolute sort of men, and in piracy out-doing all others. They were eminent for their tallness, symmetry of parts, and exactness of features: Whereupon, Witichindus the Monk has left us this description of them; The Franks were amazed to see men of such vast bodies, and so great souls. They wondered at their strange habit and armour, at their hair hanging down upon their shoulders, and above all at their courage and resolution. Their cloaths were * * Sagæ.Sagae close-coats; their armour, long spears: when they stood, they lean’d upon little shields; and wore a sort of large knives, hanging before. But formerly they us’d to shave their heads to the very skin, except a little about the crown, and wore a plate round their heads; as Sidonius Apollinaris plainly intimates in these verses;

Istic Saxona cærulum videmus,
Adsuetum antè salo, solum timere,
Cujus verticis extimas per oras,
Non contenta suos tenere morsus,
Altat lamina marginem comarum.
Et sic crinibus ad cutem rescissis,
Decrescit caput, additurque vultus

Here ’twas we saw the purple Saxon stand,
Us’d to rough seas, yet shaking on the land.
The frozen plate that on their crown they wear,
In one great turf drives up their bushy hair:
The rest they keep close shav’d; and thus their face
Appears still bigger, as their head grows less.

What their Habits were, may be learnt from Paulus Diaconus’s observation upon the Longobards: Their cloaths were loose, and generally linnen, such as the English-Saxons use; the trimming, broad, and of several colours.

The Saxons skill in naval Affairs. They were admirably well skill’d in naval affairs; and by their long and continual piracies had inured themselves so to the sea, that (as one has it) they dreaded the land. They annoy’d the coasts of Britain and France, even as far as Spain, to that degree, that it was found necessary to guard the shores of both kingdoms with officers and soldiers, against any attempts they might make upon them. And these, for that reason, were called (c) Counts of the Saxon-shoreThe Count of the Saxon-shore. along Britain and France. But for all that, by the help of their nimble Fly-boats, they made a shift very frequently to plunder our coasts. To which allude those verses of Sidonius Apollinaris:

Quin & Aremoricus piratam Saxona tractus
* * Timebat.Sperabat, cui pelle salum sulcare Britannum
Ludus, & assuto glaucum mare findere lembo

Armorica the Saxon pirates fear’d,
That on the British coasts in shoals appear’d,
And thro’ the narrow sea in boats of leather steer’d.

But in France, near Little-Britain, they got possession of all that part about Baieux, and kept it a long time; as is evident from Gregorius Turonensis, who calls themBaiocassin Saxons. Saxones Baiocassini, as the vulgar term them Sesnes Bessins.

(c) See more of these in Kent; and Sir Henry Spelman’s MS. Iceni, in Bodley’s Library.

With what barbarity they plunder’d our coasts, SidoniusLib. 9. Epist. ad Numantium. himself will tell you. The messenger (says he) whom we discoursed pretty largely about your affairs, assured us that you had lately charged the enemy at sea, that you were wholly taken up between rowing and fighting, and that you were upon the winding sea-coasts, giving chase to thePandos myoparones. In the margin of the Saxons. And in these, assure your self of as many head-pirates as there are rowers: they are all at the same time both masters and servants, all teach and learn in this their trade of robbing. So that a caution to take great care of your self, is highly necessary at this time. It is the most terrible Enemy you can engage. He takes you unawares, is gone in a moment, despises opposition, and certainly worsts you, if you are not very well provided. If he pursue, he undoubtedly catches you; if he fly, he always escapes. Shipwracks are so far from frighting him, that they harden him. These people do not only understand the dangers of the seas, but are intimately acquainted with them. In a Tempest, if they are pursued, it gives them an opportunity of escaping; if they are pursuing, it secures them against being discovered at a distance. They readily venture their lives among waves and rocks, if there is any hope of surprising the enemy. Always, before they weigh anchor and set sail homewards from the Continent, their custom is, to take every tenth Captive and put them to death by equal and exquisite tortures; which is the more melancholy, because it proceeds from superstition; and, after those who are to dye, are got together, they pretend to temper the injustice of their death, by a seeming equity of Lots.

Such are their vows, and with such victims do they discharge them. Thus, being rather polluted with sacrilege, than purified by sacrifices, those bloody murderers look upon it as a greater piece of religion to rack a poor captive, than to let him be ransom’d. To this purpose is that fragment of an ancient History, which we find in Isidore. The Saxon nation relies more upon their fly-boats, than their courage; and are always provided rather to run than fight. And that of Salvian (who lived in those times) concerning the barbarous nations, The Alani are immodest, but not treacherous; the Franks are treacherous, but very courteous; the Saxons are very cruel, but exceeding chaste. Of so great constancy and resolution were they (if one may so call it,) that they would rather chuse to murder themselves, than be exposed to the contempt of others. So that when Symmachus had provided a number of them against the publick shows, the very day they were to be brought into the Theatre, they strangled themselves, and so disappointed the people of that piece of diversion. Of these, SymmachusL.2. Epist. 46. himself writes thus: The number of the Saxons is lessen’d by death; for the private guards not watching narrowly enough the wicked hands of that desperate nation, the first day of the sword-play discovered nine and twenty of them strangled, without a halter.

The Saxon nation was likewise strangely superstitious; for which reason, whenever they had any weighty matters under debate, they were, besides their soothsaying, principally directed by the neighing of horses, which they look’d on as the surest Presage. A Horse, the Arms of the Saxons. (a) And this may possibly be the reason why the Dukes of Saxony bore in their Arms a horse. But why our Hengist and Horsa had their names from an horse (for both these names in Saxon signifie an horse) is a mystery to me; unless it was to portend their warlike courage; according to that of Virgil,

Bello armantur equi, bella hæc armenta minantur.

Horses are arm’d for war, approaching war
Such beasts presage.—

Adam Bremensis refers these to the Saxons, but Tacitus to the Suevi. They also very much us’d the casting of Lots: for, cutting a branch from some fruit-tree, they divided it into little slips: each of these they distinguished by several marks, and so cast them promiscuously upon a white cloth. Next, if the consultation was upon publick affairs, the Priest, but it upon private, the master of the family, after intercessions to the Gods, looking up to heaven, took each of them up three several times, and then gave an interpretation according to the mark set upon them. To foretell the events of war, they used to take a Captive of the Nation against which their Design was, and to oblige him to fight a duel with some one of their own country; each was to fight with the arms of his country; and by the issue of this, they concluded which side would be conqueror. Saxon Gods.The God they worshipped most, was Mercury, whom they called Wooden; his sacrifices were Men; and the day consecrated to him, was the fourth of the week, which we therefore at this day call Wednesday.Wednesday (b). The sixth day, they consecrated to Venus, whom they called Frea and Frico, from whence we call that dayFriday. Friday: as Tuesday.Tuesday is derived from Tuisco, the founder of the German nation. They had also a Goddess calledThe Goddess Eoster. Eoster, to whom they sacrificed in the month of April; whereupon, saith Bede, they called April, Eoster-monath; and we at this day call theTime of Sacrifice. Paschal Feast, Easter. The Angles (saith Tacitus) as did the other neighbouring nations, worship’dHerthus, a Goddess. Herthus, i.e. their mother earth; as (c) believing that she interested her self in the affairs of men and nations. In our language, that word still signifies earth,Earth. but not in the German; for they use Arden to signifie earth. The foremention’d Ethelwerd has left us this account of their Superstitions, as to what relates to his own times. The Northern Infidels have been seduced to such a degree, that to this day the Danes, Normans, and Suevians, worship Woodan as their Lord. And, in another place, The barbarous nations honour’d Woodan as a God; and those Pagans offer’d Sacrifice to him, to make them victorious and valiant.

(a) See Barkshire, under the Title, Vale of White-horse.

(b) From the same original is Wodensdic, Wodensburrow, &c. in Wiltshire.

(c) See Sir Henry Spelman’s Glossary, under the title Herthus.

But Adam Bremensis gives a more full account of these matters. In a Temple (call’d in their tongue Ubsola, the furniture whereof is all of gold) the people worship the Statues of three Gods. Thor, the most powerful of them, has a room by himself in the middle; and on each side of him, are, Wodan, and Fricco. TheSignificationes.
emblems of them are these: Thor they take to be the ruler of the air, and to send, as he sees convenient, thunder and lightning, winds and showers, fair weather, and fruit. Wodan, the second, is more valiant; it is he that manages wars, and inspires people with courage against their Enemies. Fricco, the third, presents men with peace and pleasure; and his statue is cut with a large * * Priapo ingenti.privy-member. They engrave Wodan armed, as Mars is with us. Thor seems to be represented, with the Scepter of Jupiter. But these errors have at length fled before the Truth of Christianity.

A Monarchy always, even in the Saxon Heptarchy. After they had fix’d in Britain, they divided it into seven Kingdoms, and made it a Heptarchy. But even in that, he who was most powerful, was (as BedeLib. 2. c.5. has observ’d) stil’d King of the English nation; so that in the very Heptarchy, there seems always to have been a sort of Monarchy. 596. Afterwards, Austin, commonly call’d the English Apostle,Austin the English Apostle. was dispatch’d hither by Gregory the Great; and, banishing those monsters of heathenish profaneness, did with wonderful success plant Christ in their hearts, and convert them to the Christian Faith.Conversion of the English to Christianity. How it came to pass that Gregory should have so peculiar a concern for the Conversion of the English nation, we may learn from venerable Bede, who has left us what himself receiv’d by tradition. Lib. 2. c.1. The report goes, that on a certain day, when the merchants were newly come, and great variety of wares were exposed to sale, many Chapmen flock’d together, and amongst the rest Gregory himself. He took notice, among other things, of some boys that were to be sold: their bodies were white, their looks ingenuous, and their hair very lovely. After he had view’d them, he enquir’d (as the story goes) from what country or nation they came? They told him, from the Isle of Britain, the inhabitants whereof were all of that make and complexion. Next, he ask’d them, whether the people of that Island were Christians, or were yet involv’d in the errors of Paganism? The answer was, that they were Pagans. At which, fetching a deep sigh, Alas! (says he) that the father of darkness should be master of such bright faces, and that such graceful looks should carry with them a mind void of inward grace. Another question he put to them, was about the name of that country. They told him, the people were called Angles. And (says he) not amiss: for as they have Angelical looks, so it is fit that such should be fellow-heirs with the Angels in heaven. But what was the name of that peculiar Province from whence these were brought? It was answer’d, the inhabitants of it were called Deiri.Hol. Deirness. Yes (says he) Deiri, as much as de ira eruti, i.e. deliver’d from wrath, and call’d to the mercy of Christ. What is the name of the King of that Province? They told him, ÆlleAElle . And, alluding to the name, it is fit (says he) that Alleluia should be sung in those parts, to the praise of God our Creator. Upon this, going to the Pope (for this happen’d before he was made Pope himself) he beg’d him to send the Nation of the Angles, in Britain, some Ministers of the Gospel, by whose preaching they might be converted to Christ; adding, that himself was ready, by the assistance of God, to perform this great work, if it should please the Pope to have it done.

Concerning the same Conversion, Gregory the Great writes thus: Behold, it has pierced the hearts of all nations! how the utmost bounds of East and West are joyned in one common Faith! Even the British tongue, which used to mutter nothing but barbarity, has a good while since begun to eccho forth the Hebrew Halleluia in divine Anthems. And in a Letter to Austin himself: Who can express the general joy and satisfaction among all faithful people, since the English nation (by the Grace of Almighty God, and the endeavours of you our Brother) hath quitted the Errors of Darkness, and is enlighten’d with the beams of our holy Faith; since, with a most pious zeal, they now tread under-foot those Idols, before which they formerly kneeled with that blind veneration. In an ancient fragment of that age, we read thus: Upon one single Christmas-day (to the eternal honour of the English nation) Austin baptized above ten thousand men, besides an infinite number of women and children. But pray, how should Priests, or others in holy Orders, be got, to baptise such a prodigious number? The river Swale, in Yorkshire.Bede tells this whole matter of Paulinus, Archbishop of York, not of Austin. The Archbishop, after he had consecrated the river Swale, commanded, by the Criers and principal men, that they should with faith go in two by two, and in the name of the holy Trinity baptize each other. Thus were they all regenerate, by as great a miracle, as once the people of Israel passed thro’ the divided Sea, and thro’ Jordan, when it was turned back. For in the same manner here, so great a variety of sex and age, pass’d such a deep chanel, and yet (which in human account is incredible) not one receiv’d harm. A strange miracle this was! but what is yet a greater, the River cures all diseases and infirmities. Whoever steps in faint and disordered, comes out sound and whole. What a joyful sight was this for Angels and men! So many thousands of a Proselyte nation, coming out of the chanel of the same River, as out of the womb of one Mother! One single pool preparing so many inhabitants for the heavenly mansions! Hereupon, Pope Gregory (with all the companies of the Saints above) broke forth into joy; and could not rest till he had written to Eulogius, the holy Patriarch of Alexandria, most joyfully to congratulate him upon so vast a number being baptized on one Christmas-day.

Religion of the Saxons. No sooner was the name of Christ preach’d in the English Nation, but with a most fervent zeal they gave up themselves to it, and employ’d their utmost endeavours to promote it, by discharging all the duties of Christian Piety, and by erecting Churches, and plentifully endowing them: so that no part of the Christian world could show either more or richer Monasteries, than they. Nay, even some of their Kings preferred a Religious life before their very Crowns. So many holy men did it produce, who, for their firm profession of the Christian Religion, their resolute perseverance in it, and their unfeigned piety, were Sainted; that in this point it is equal to any country in the whole Christian world. And as that prophane Porphyry stiled Britain a Province fruitful in tyrants, so England might juftly be called an Island most fruitful in Saints.

The learning of the Saxons. Afterwards, they began to promote humane learning, and by the help of Winifrid, Willebrod, and others, conveyed that and the Gospel together into Germany; as a German Poet has told us in these Verses:

Hæc tamen Arctois laus est æterna Britannis,
Quòd post Pannonicis vastatum incursibus orbem,
Illa bonas artes, & Graiæ munera linguæ,
Stellarumque vias, & magni sydera cœli
Observans, iterum turbatis intulit oris.
Quin se relligio, multum debere Britannis
Servata, & latè circum dispersa fatetur:
Quis nomen, Winfride, tuum, quis munera nescit?
Te duce, Germanis pietas se vera, fidesque
Insinuans, cœpit ritus abolere prophanos.
Quid non Alcuino facunda Lutetia debes?
Instaurare bonas ibi qui fœliciter artes,
Barbariemque procul solus depellere cœpit.
Quid? tibi divinumque Bedam, doctissimus olim
Tam varias unus bene qui cognoverat artes

Let this to Britain’s lasting fame be said,
When barbarous troops the civil world o’respread,
And persecuted Science into exile fled:
’Twas happy she did all those arts restore,
That Greece or Rome had boasted of before:
Taught the rude world to climb the untrod spheres,
And trace th’ eternal courses of the stars.
Nor Learning only, but Religion too,
Her rise and growth to British soil doth owe.
’Twas thou, blest Winifred, whose virtue’s light
From our dull climate chased the fogs of night:
Profanest rites thy pious charms obeyed,
And trembling superstition own’d thy power and fled.
Nor smaller tokens of esteem from France
Alcuinus claims, who durst himself advance
Single against whole troops of ignorance.
’Twas he transported Britain’s richest ware,
Language and arts, and kindly taught them here.
With him his Master Bede shall ever live,
And all the learning he engross’d, survive.

Britain twice School-mistress to France. And Peter Ramus farther adds, that Britain was twice School-mistress to France; meaning, first by the Druids, and then by Alcuinus, who was the main instrument made use of by Charles the Great, in erecting an University at Paris.

The marching back of the Saxons into Germany. And as they introduc’d into Germany Learning and Religion, so also did they introduce military discipline. Nay, what is more, those Saxons who live in the Dukedom of Saxony are descended from them, if we may depend upon Eginhardus’s words: The Saxon nation (as Antiquity tells us) leaving those Angles which inhabit Britain, out of a desire, or rather necessity, of settling in some new home, pass’d the sea, making to the German Coast, and came ashore at a place named Haduloha. It was about that time, that Theoderick King of the Franks made war upon Hirminfrid, Duke of the Thuringi, his son-in-law, and barbarously wasted the land with fire and sword. After two set battles, the victory was still depending, tho’ abundance of Blood had been shed on both sides. Upon which, Theoderick, disappointed of his hopes of Conquest, sent Ambassadors to the Saxons. Their Duke at that time was one Hadugato; who, as soon as he heard their business, and their proposals of living together in case of victory, marched with an Army to their assistance. By the help of these (who fought it out stoutly, as if they had been disputing for their own Liberty and Property) he conquer’d the enemy, spoil’d the inhabitants, put most of them to the sword, and, according to promise, yeilded up the land to the Auxiliaries. They divided it by lot; and, because the war had reduced them to so small a number that they could not people the whole; they let out part of it, especially that which lies Eastward, to the Boors; each of which, according to his quantity, was to pay a certain Rent. The rest they cultivated themselves. On the South-side of them, liv’d the Franks, and a party of the Thuringi, who had not been engaged in the late war; from whom they were divided by the river Unstrote. On the North-side, were the Normans, a fierce and resolute nation: on the East, the Obotriti; and on the West, the Frisians. Against these they were always maintaining their ground, either by truce, or by Engagements when necessary. But now let us return to our English Saxons.

The Saxons, for a long time, liv’d under their Heptarchy in a flourishing condition; till at last, all the other Kingdoms, shatter’d with civil wars, were subdu’d to that of the West-Saxons. For Egbert, King of the West-Saxons, after he had conquered four of these Kingdoms, and had a fair prospect of the other two; to unite them in name, as he had already done in government, and, to keep up the memory of his own nation, publish’dAbout the year 800. on Edict, wherein it was ordered that the whole Heptarchy which the Saxons had possessed themselves of, should be called Englelond, i.e. the land of the Angles.England. From hence came the Latin name Anglia; taken from the Angles, who, of the three nations that came over, were the most numerous and most valiant. The Kingdoms of Northumberland and Mercia, two of the largest, with that of the East-Angles, were theirs; whereas the Jutes had no more than Kent, and the Isle of Wight; and the Saxons, the territories of the East, West, and South-Saxons; very narrow bounds, if compared with those large territories of the Angles. From these, many ages since, they were call’d by one general name, Angles, and in their own language,Theod, i.e. a nation. Englatheod, Anglcynne, Englcynne, Engliscmon; tho’ at the same time every particular Kingdom had a distinct name of its own. And this is evident, as from other Writers, so especially from Bede, who entitles his history, The History of the English nation. So, even in the Heptarchy, the Kings who were more powerful than the rest, were stiled Kings of the English nation. Then it was, that the name of Britain fell into disuse in this Island; and was only to be found in Books, being never heard in conversation. Epist. ad Zachariam P. P. So that Boniface, Bishop of Mentz, an English-man born, terms our nation Transmarine Saxony. But King Eadred (as appears from certain Charters) stil’d himself King of Great Britain, about the year 948; and Eadgar, about the year 970, Monarch of all Albion.

When it was first called England, then were the Angles in the height of their glory; and as such (according to the common fate of things in this world) were ready for their fall. For the Danes, after they had prey’d upon our Coasts for many years together, began at last to make miserable havock of the Nation it self.


Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06