Britannia, by William Camden


Small T THE Romans having now withdrawn their Forces and abandon’d Britain, the whole frame of affairs fell into great disorder and misery; Barbarians invading it on one hand, and the Inhabitants breaking out into factions on the other; whilst each one was usurping the Government to himself. They lived (says Ninius) about forty years together, in great consternation. For Vortigern their King was apprehensive of the Picts and Scots, and of some attacks from the Romans who still remained here. He was also fearful of Ambrosius Aurelius or Aurelianus; for he surviv’d that desperate engagement, wherein his parents, the then Governours, were cut off. Upon this, Vortigern sent for the Saxons out of Germany to his assistance; who instead of auxiliaries, became the most cruel enemies, and after the various Events of a long war, at lengthGildas.
Saxons called into Britain.
dispossess’d the poor Britains of the most fruitful parts of the Island, their ancient inheritance.

But this woful destruction of Britain, shall be represented (or rather deplor’d) in the melancholy words of Gildas the Britain, who liv’d a little after, and who is all in tears at the thoughts of it. * * This Gildas is in some MS. Copies in France call’d Querulus, as I had it from the famous Barnab. Brisonius.The Romans being return’d home, there creep in great crowds out of the little narrow holes of theirCarucis.
Scitick vale
Carroghes or Carts (in which they were brought over the Scitick vale, about the middle of summer, in a scorching hot season,) a duskish swarm of vermine, a hideous crew of Scots and Picts, somewhat different in customs, but alike thirsting after blood. Who finding that their old confederates, the Romans, were march’d home, and refus’d to return; put on greater boldness than ever, and possessed themselves of all the North, and the remote parts of the Kingdom to the very Wall; as if they had been the true Proprietors. To withstand this invasion, the towers along the wall are defended by a lazy garrison, undisciplin’d, and too cowardly to engage an enemy; being enfeebled with continual sloth and idleness. In the mean while, the naked enemy advance with their hooked weapons, by which the miserable Britains, being pull’d down from the tops of the wall, are dash’d against the ground. Yet they who were destroyed after that manner, had this advantage in an untimely death, that they escap’d those miserable tortures which immediately befell their brethren and children. To be short, having quitted their Cities and the high Wall, they betake themselves to flight, in a more desperate and hopeless dispersion than ever. Still the enemy give them chase, still more cruel punishments are prepared; as Lambs by the bloody butcher, so were these poor creatures cut to pieces by their enemies. So that, while they stay’d there, they might justly be compared to herds of wild beasts. For these miserable people did not stick at robbing one another for present sustenance; and so, domestick dissentions enhanc’d the misery of their sufferings from abroad, and brought things to that pass, by spoil and robbery, that the very support of life was wanting in the country, and no comfort of that kind was to be had, but by recourse to hunting. Again, therefore, the remaining Britains send a lamentable petition to ÆtiusAEtius (a person of great authority in the Roman State) as follows:

This is in some Copies Agitius; in others Equitius Cos. without the numerals. To Ætius, thrice Consul,
The Groans of the Britains.

The Barbarians drive us to the Sea, the Sea again to the Barbarians; thus, between two deaths, we perish, either by Sword, or by Water.

Notwithstanding, they obtain no remedy for these evils. In the mean time, a terrible famine grows among the faint and strowling Britains; who, reduc’d to such straits by these intolerable sufferings, surrender themselves to the enemy, that they may have food to recruit their spirits. However, some would not comply, but chose rather to infest them from their mountains, caves, and thickets, with continual sallies. From that time forth, for many years, they made great slaughter of the enemy as oft as they went to forage; not relying on their own strength, but trusting in God, according to that of Philo, The help of God is certainly at hand, when man’s help faileth. The boldness of our enemies ceas’d for some time, but the wickedness of our Britains was without end. The enemies left us, but we did not leave our vices. For it has ever been the custom of this nation (as it is at this day,) to be faint-hearted in repelling an Enemy, but valiant in killing one another, and bearing the burden of our Iniquities, &c. Well, these impudent Irish robbers return home, with a design to come again shortly.insulae provinciae The Picts in the remotest parts of the * * In the text Insulæ; in the margin Provinciæ.Island, began from henceforth to be quiet; only now and then they made a little spoil and ravage. In these cessations of arms, the scars of the famin began to wear out among the desolate Britains, but another disease more keen and virulent succeeded. For during the forbearance of these Inroads, the Kingdom enjoy’d such excessive plenty, as was never remember’d in any age before; and that is ever accompany’d with debauchery, which then grew to so high a pitch, that it might be truly said, Here is such fornication, as is not named among the Gentiles. Nor was this the only prevailing sin, but they had all other vices incident to humane nature, especially such as at this day overthrow all goodness; a hatred of truth and the teachers of it, a fondness for lyes and those that forge them, an imbracing evil for good, a venerationNequitiæ pro benignitate.for Vice instead of virtue, a desire of darkness rather than light, and the entertaining Satan before an Angel of light. Kings anointed. Kings were not anointed by God, but were such men as they knew to be more cruel than the rest; and were soon after put to death without Tryal, by their own Anointers, and others more fierce and cruel elected. If any one of these Kings seemed more mild than other, or more just in his proceedings; all their malice was darted at him, as the subverter of Britain; and they weigh’d every thing that offended them, in the same scale: If there was any difference, it was the condemning of good actions, which were most displeasing; so that the prophesie denounced of old against Israel, might well be apply’d to them, Ah! sinful Nation, ye have forsaken the Lord, ye have provoked the holy one of Israel unto anger: why should ye be stricken any more, ye will revolt more and more, the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it. Thus they acted contrary to their own safety, as if no cure were bestow’d upon the world, by the mighty Physician of us all. Nor was this the demeanor of the Laity only; but of the Clergy and Pastors also, whose examples should be a guide to others. Many of them were notorious drunkards, swoln with pride and animosity, full of contention, full of gall and envy, and incompetent judges of good and evil. So that (as it is at this day) the Princes were contemned and slighted, and the people seduc’d by their own follies into endless Errors. In the mean time, God intending to purge his family, and reform it from such corruptions by the apprehension of miseries at hand, a report is again broach’d, and presently flies abroad, that now our old Enemies are approaching, with design to destroy us, and to inhabit the land, as they did formerly, from one end to the other. Notwithstanding all this, they became not penitent, but like mad horses, refusing the reins of reason, run on in the broad way of wickedness, leaving the narrow paths which lead to happiness. Wherefore (as Solomon says) when the obstinate servant is not reform’d with words, he is whip’d for a fool, and continues insensible. A Plague. For a plague rag’d so terribly among this foolish people, and, without the help of the sword, swept off such numbers, that the living could scarce bury the dead. But they were not yet amended by this judgment: that the saying of the Prophet Esay might be also fulfilled in them, And God called them to weeping and mourning, to baldness and sackcloth; but behold the killing of calves, and slaying of rams; behold eating flesh and drinking wine; and saying, Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we die. For the time drew near, wherein the measure of their Iniquities, like that of the Amorites, was to be full. They took counsel, as to the most effectual course for withstanding the frequent inroads of those barbarous nations, and how the booties which they took, should be divided. Then the whole Council, together with the proud Tyrant, being infatuated, devise this security, or rather destruction, for their country; that the Saxons of execrable memory,Saxons let into the Island. detested by God and man, should be invited into the Island (like so many wolves into the sheep-fold,) to repel the northern Nations. A thing more destructive and pernicious, than ever befel this Kingdom! O grossness of apprehension! O the incurable stupidity of these Souls! Those, whom at a distance they dreaded more than death, the foolish Princes of Egypt voluntarily invite into their own houses; giving mad counsel to Pharaoh.

Then that kennel of whelps issued out upon us, from the den of the barbarous Lioness, in three vessels, called in their language Cyules,The German Cyules. or long Galleys; with full sails, and lucky omens and auguries, portending that they should possess the land whither they were bound, for three hundred years; and, that one hundred and fifty years (being half of that time) would be spent in ravages. Having first landed in the east part of the Island, by the appointment of this unfortunate Tyrant, they stuck close there, pretending to defend the country; but rather oppress’d it. The foresaid Lioness, being advis’d that her first brood succeeded, pours in a larger herd of these devouring brutes; which arriving here, joyn themselves to the former spurious issue. From hence, the seeds of iniquity, the root of bitterness, those plagues justly due to our impieties, shoot out and grow among us with terrible increase. These Barbarians being received into the Island, obtain an allowance of provisions, pretending themselves falsly to be our guards, and that they were willing to undergo any hardships for the sake of the kind Britains, their Entertainers. This favour being granted, stopped (as we say) the Cur’s mouth, for some time. Then they complain that their * * Epimenia.monthly pay was too little (industriously seeking occasions of quarrel,) and declare that they would break their league, and plunder the Island, unless a more liberal subsistance was allow’d. Without more ado, they presently shew they were in earnest by their actions (for the causes which had pull’d down vengeance upon us before, were encreas’d:) From sea to sea, the country is set on fire by this prophane eastern crew, who ceased not to consume the Cities and country around, till the whole surface of the Island, as far as the western Ocean, was burnt by these dreadful flames. In this devastation, not inferior to that of the Assyrians heretofore upon Juda, was fulfilled in us (according to the History) that which the Prophet, by way of lamentation, says, They have burnt thy sanctuary with fire, they have polluted the tabernacle of thy name in the land. And again, O God, the Heathen are come into thine Inheritance, thy holy temple have they defiled, &c. So that all the Colonies were overturned with Engines; and the inhabitants, together with Bishops, Priests, and People, were cut off by fire and sword, together. In which miserable prospect, a man might likewise see in the streets, the ruins of towers pulled down, † Edito cardine.with their stately gates; the remains of high walls; the sacred altars, and limbs of dead bodies, with clods of blood, hudled together in one mixt ruin, as in a wine-press: for there were no other graves for the dead bodies, than what the fall of houses, or the bowels of beasts and fowls, gave them.

In reading this account, we ought not to be angry with honest Gildas, for inveighing so keenly against the vices of his Country-men the Britains, and the barbarous outrages of the Picts and Scots, and the insatiable cruelty of our Saxon Ancestors. But being now, by engraftings or mixtures for so many ages, become all one people, and civilized by Religion and Humanity, let us consider what they were, and what we ought to be; lest God, provok’d by our sins, should transplant other nations hither, that may either root us out, or enslave us.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52