A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance

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Author: The Venerable Bede

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CHAPTER V. The Angles and Saxons in Britain

8.

The Saxon Invasion (cir. 449)

Source—Bæda, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum [Bede, "Ecclesiastical History of the English People"], Bk. I., Chaps. 14–15. Translated by J. A. Giles (London, 1847), pp. 23–25.

The Britons decide to call in the Saxons; The Saxons settle in the island

They consulted what was to be done,1 and where they should seek assistance to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations. And they all agreed with their king, Vortigern, to call over to their aid, from the parts beyond the sea, the Saxon nation; which, as the outcome still more plainly showed, appears to have been done by the inspiration of our Lord Himself, that evil might fall upon them for their wicked deeds.

In the year of our Lord 449,2 Martian, being made emperor with Valentinian, the forty-sixth from Augustus, ruled the Empire seven years. Then the nation of the Angles, or Saxons, being invited by the aforesaid king, arrived in Britain with three long ships, and had a place assigned them to reside in by the same king, in the eastern part of the island,1 that they might thus appear to be fighting for their country, while their real intentions were to enslave it. Accordingly they engaged with the enemy, who were come from the north to give battle, and obtained the victory; which, being known at home in their own country, as also the fertility of the islands and the cowardice of the Britons, a larger fleet was quickly sent over, bringing a still greater number of men, who, being added to the former, made up an invincible army. The newcomers received from the Britons a place to dwell, upon condition that they should wage war against their enemies for the peace and security of the country, while the Britons agreed to furnish them with pay.

Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany—Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent and of the Isle of Wight, and those also in the province of the West Saxons who are to this day called Jutes, seated opposite to the Isle of Wight. From the Saxons, that is, the country which is now called Old Saxony, came the East Saxons, the South Saxons, and the West Saxons. From the Angles, that is, the country which is called Anglia, and which is said, from that time, to remain desert to this day, between the provinces of the Jutes and the Saxons, are descended the East Angles, the Midland Angles, Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the River Humber, and the other nations of the English.

Hengist and Horsa; The Saxons turn against the Britons

The first two commanders are said to have been Hengist and Horsa. Horsa, being afterwards slain in battle by the Britons,1 was buried in the eastern part of Kent, where a monument bearing his name is still in existence. They were the sons of Victgilsus, whose father was Vecta, son of Woden; from whose stock the royal races of many provinces trace their descent. In a short time swarms of the aforesaid nations came over into the island, and they began to increase so much that they became a terror to the natives themselves who had invited them. Then, having on a sudden entered into a league with the Picts, whom they had by this time repelled by the force of their arms, they began to turn their weapons against their confederates. At first they obliged them to furnish a greater quantity of provisions; and, seeking an occasion to quarrel, protested theft unless more plentiful supplies were brought them they would break the confederacy and ravage all the island; nor were they backward in putting their threats in execution.

Their devastation of the country

They plundered all the neighboring cities and country, spread the conflagration from the eastern to the western sea without any opposition, and covered almost every part of the island. Public as well as private structures were overturned; the priests were everywhere slain before the altars; the prelates and the people, without any respect of persons, were destroyed with fire and sword; nor were there any to bury those who had been thus cruelly slaughtered. Some of the miserable remainder, being taken in the mountains, were butchered in heaps. Others, driven by hunger, came forth and submitted themselves to the enemy for food, being destined to undergo perpetual servitude, if they were not killed upon the spot. Some, with sorrowful hearts, fled beyond the seas. Others, continuing in their own country, led a miserable life among the woods, rocks, and mountains, with scarcely enough food to support life, and expecting every moment to be their last.1

1 James H. Ramsay, The Foundations of England (London, 1898), I., p. 121.

1 Bede has just been describing a plague which rendered the Britons at this time even more unable than usual to withstand the fierce invaders from the north; also lamenting the luxury and crime which a few years of relief from war had produced among his people.

2 This date is evidently incorrect. Martian and Valentinian III. became joint rulers of the Empire in 450; hence this is the year that Bede probably meant.

1 That is, Thanet, which practically no longer exists as an island. In Bede’s day it was separated from the rest of Kent by nearly half a mile of water, but since then the coast line has changed so that the land is cut through by only a tiny rill. The intervening ground, however, is marshy and only partially reclaimed.

1 This battle was fought between Hengist and Vortimer, the eldest son of Vortigern, at Aylesford, in Kent.

1 It is by no means probable that the invasion of Britain by the Saxons was followed by such wholesale extermination of the natives as is here represented, though it is certain that everywhere, except in the far west (Wales) and north (Scotland), the native population was reduced to complete subjection.

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Chicago: The Venerable Bede Bede, "Chapter 5. The Angles and Saxons in Britain," A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, ed. Frederic Austin Ogg (1878-1951) (New York: American Book Company, 1908), 68–72. Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PJWD57BUWQHY3SS.

MLA: Bede, The Venerable Bede. "Chapter 5. The Angles and Saxons in Britain." A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, edited by Frederic Austin Ogg (1878-1951), New York, American Book Company, 1908, pp. 68–72. Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PJWD57BUWQHY3SS.

Harvard: Bede, T, 'Chapter 5. The Angles and Saxons in Britain' in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance. cited in 1908, A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, ed. , American Book Company, New York, pp.68–72. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PJWD57BUWQHY3SS.