Imágenes de página


men from these regions were sent into Britain, and the Romans made their own countrymen generals and officers over these foreigners. They also exacted heavy taxes from the states they conquered, and in Britain their rule was oppressive in this particular.

One of the greatest troubles the Britons had, arose from their barbarian neighbours in the North. The Picts and Scots used to make inroads into the more civilized Southern districts, and carry off all the plunder they could lay their hands on. Several attempts were made to stop their ravages. Agricola built a wall across the country from the Mouth of the Clyde to the Firth of Forth, and this wall was strengthened and improved fifty years later. Another wall was also built across the island between the Solway Firth, and the Mouth of the Tyne, and parts of this rampart still remain. In spite of the walls, however, the Picts and Scots managed sometimes to break into the Southern part of the island, and on one occasion they penetrated as far as London. We shall read more about them as we go on.

The two chief cities in Roman Britain were Eboracum (York), and Verulamium (St. Albans). This latter town had its name changed in honour of the first British Christian martyr. His name was Alban, and he was put to death in the year 304 A.D. In later times, about 780 A.D., a noble abbey was built in remembrance of him, and it still remains a massive monument, and a landmark for the country for miles around. The Romans, when they came to the country were heathens, but they and the Britons became Christians very soon after Alban’s death.

Not long after, the Romans were in their turn invaded by hordes of barbarians from central and northern Europe. They made head against them for a considerable time, and sometimes seemed to have quite defeated them. But fresh armies arose continually, and Rome was obliged to call her soldiers home to defend Italy. The Britons were thus left to take care of themselves, and as the Romans had carried off very many of their young men as soldiers, and as the people themselves were not used to war, they had but a poor chance against their old enemies the Picts and Scots. From time to time the Romans gave them what help they could, but at last they could help no longer, and as the Britons were still troubled by their fierce and warlike neighbours in the North, they decided to call in the aid of the Saxons, of whom we shall read in our next lesson.


[ocr errors]

457 A, D,

Kent, the first Saxon kingdom founded. 586. Mercia, the latest formed Saxon kingdom founded. 787, Danes first invade England. 827. Egbert becomes supreme. 871--901, Alfred the Great. 937.

Battle of Brunanburg gained by Athelstan; this victory really established

the kingdom of England. 959975. Edgar, the Peaceful, the most powerful Saxon king. St. Dunstan lived

about this time. Entire-whole.

Polytheists—people who worship many Predominant-ruling, supreme (Latin gods (Greek polus, many; theos, a dominus, a lord).

god). Monasteries-religious houses inhabited Imprecation—the act of invoking evil by monks.

upon (Lat. precor, I pray). Paganism, the religion of pagans, hea- Diagonal—the line joining the opposite thenism.

corners of a square or parallelogram, Acquitted - declared not guilty, set at

the direction of this line (Gr. dia, liberty.

through; gonia, a corner). Four distinct peoples have combined at different times to form our modern England. They are :—the Britons, the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans. Of these, the Saxons are the most important to us, for their descendants form the bulk of the nation, and they have exercised the greatest influence over the character of the entire English people.

We shall have occasion to speak of the Danes and the Normans at a future time. We have given an account of the Britons and of their Roman conquerors in former lessons, and we have n to talk about the Saxons.

When the Romans left Britain, the Britons, unable

to defend themselves against their old enemies, the Picts and Scots, invited two Saxon chiefs, named Hengist and Horsa, who were cruising in the English Channel, to aid them, promising to reward them for their help by giving them the Isle of Thanet, that part of Kent on which Margate and Ramsgate now stand. The Saxons accepted the offer, and uniting their forces with those of the Britons, they soon drove the barbarians back into Scotland. The Britons then gave over the Isle of Thanet to their allies. This was in the year 449 A.D.

But the Saxons were not satisfied with so small a share, and as they found they were superior to the Britons, they invited large numbers of their countrymen over from the coast of Northern Germany. When a sufficient number had arrived, they picked a quarrel with their British neighbours, defeated them in battle, and possessed themselves of the whole of Kent, which they formed into a kingdom, under Hengist, 457 A.D.

Their countrymen, hearing of their success, were anxious to get a share of Britain also, and bodies of them landed from time to time on different parts of the coast, and after defeating the Britons, established themselves in the island. In this way the seven kingdoms

. were formed, which are known in history as the Saxon Heptarchy. They were Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Essex, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia.

We are not to suppose, however, that the Saxons found it an easy task to get possession of the country. On the contrary, the Britons fought bravely, and were subdued with difficulty. King Arthur, who fought against the Saxons in Wessex, is especially noted as a brave and successful British chieftain. It was not till 586 A.D., that the kingdom of Mercia was founded, so that the Saxons were 130 years in establishing themselves here. The Britons were driven into Wales and Cornwall, and some went over to France, to what is now called "

Brittany,” and the Saxons became undisputed masters of the country.

But they did not agree among themselves. There were continual wars between the various states of the Heptarchy, and in the end, the kingdom of Wessex became predominant, and its king became the ruler of the country. Some one of the kings had been looked on as supreme before this, and had been called “ Bretwalda,but Egbert of Wessex was the last of the Bretwaldas, and the first king of England. Many historians, however, do not look on Egbert as actual king of England, and say that Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, is the first who really deserves that title. But we may say with certainty, that the king of Wessex was supreme from the time of Egbert, and the sovereigns of England, our present Queen among them, are descended from him.

LESSON 4.—THE SAXONS.—Part 2. THE Saxons were rude uncultivated heathens when they conquered Britain, and the first effect of their inroad was very unfavourable, for the Romans had left Britain civilized, and its conquest by these wild uncivilized men, threw it back into barbarism.

But when they were settled in the country, they soon improved. They began to cultivate the land, and to live on the corn they grew, and the cattle they reared, and in a comparatively short time we find that they grew rye, barley, wheat, oats, apples, pears, grapes, and nuts, that they had herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, to say nothing of great numbers of pigs. They also kept bees and used the honey to make mead, an intoxicating drink of which they were very fond.

They soon found out that it was necessary to have a code of laws, in order to restrain and punish evil-doers, and to secure themselves and their property. Ethelbert, a king of Kent, and Ina, a king of Wessex, are celebrated as law-givers. But after a time, there was a general assembly of the bishops, abbots, earls, and



noble and wise men of the kingdom, in order to deliberate on matters of importance, and to make and alter laws as they were needed. This assembly was something like our parliament, except that the people do not appear to have chosen the men to represent them as we do now. It was called the “

Witanagemot,” the assembly of “Witans” or wise men, and met three times a year, and sometimes oftener.

From the mention of bishops and abbots as members of the Witan, you will probably have thought the Saxons were Christian by this time. It was so. When they came over at first, they were heathens, and polytheists. The names of the days of the week are taken from the Saxon gods, the Sun, the Moon, Tuisco, Woden, Thor, Friga, Saturn or Seater. “Sunday" was the sun's day, "Monday,” the moon's day, and so

They looked on Woden as the ancestor of all their princes, and as the god of war, and he became their chief divinity. Thor, the god of thunder, was also highly reverenced. They were a race of hardy and cruel warriors, and their religion was of the same cast. But in the year 597 A.D., Gregory the Great, who was then Bishop of Rome, sent over a missionary, Augustine by name, accompanied by forty monks. He was favourably received by Ethelbert, who was king of Kent at that time, and allowed to preach to the people. It does not appear that the Saxons had a very firm faith in their idol gods, and great numbers of them embraced Christianity on the preaching of Augustine. In a comparatively short time the new religion spread over the whole country, churches were built, monasteries established, and bishoprics founded, and paganism was entirely abolished.

Very many of our institutions have descended to us from the Anglo-Saxons. They have often been altered in parts, in the course of centuries, but they can be traced to them. Among these we may mention the division of the country into counties, and the origin of

« AnteriorContinuar »