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Transcriber's notes:

(1) Characters following a carat (^) were printed in superscript.

(2) Side-notes were relocated to function as titles of their respective

(3) Macrons and breves above letters and dots below letters were not

(4) The following typographical errors have been corrected:

ARTICLE ENGLISH HISTORY: "Though he disguised himself, he was
detected by his old enemy and imprisoned." 'himself' amended from

ARTICLE ENGLISH HISTORY: "Having so done they dispersed, not
guessing that Lancaster had yielded so easily because he was set on
undoing their work the moment that they were gone." 'Lancaster'
amended from 'Lancester'.

ARTICLE ENGLISH HISTORY: "... but purely and solely to attaint his
brother, the duke of Clarence, whom he had resolved to destroy."
'the duke' was missing.

ARTICLE ENGLISH HISTORY: "... so as to appeal to the
constituencies, which did not always share in the passions of their
representatives." 'the' appeared twice.

ARTICLE ENGLISH HISTORY: "The arrogant spirit of Englishmen made
them contemptuous towards the colonists, and the desire to thrust
taxation upon others than themselves made the new colonial
legislation popular." 'contemptuous' amended from 'comtemptuous'.

ARTICLE ENGLISH HISTORY: "... and was surprised by the Zulus while
reconnoitering, created a deep and unfortunate impression."
'reconnoitering' amended from 'reconnoitring'.





English History



ENGLISH HISTORY. - The general account of English history which follows
should be supplemented for the earlier period by the article BRITAIN.


With the coming of Augustine to Kent the darkness which for nearly two
centuries had enwrapped the history of Britain begins to clear away.
From the days of Honorius to those of Gregory the Great the line of
vision of the annalists of the continent was bounded by the Channel. As
to what was going on beyond it, we have but a few casual gleams of
light, just enough to make the darkness visible, from writers such as
the author of the life of St Germanus, Prosper Tiro, Procopius, and
Gregory of Tours. These notices do not, for the most part, square
particularly well with the fragmentary British narrative that can be
patched together from Gildas's "lamentable book," or the confused story
of Nennius. Nor again do these British sources fit in happily with the
English annals constructed long centuries after by King Alfred's scribes
in the first edition of the _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_. But from the date
when the long-lost communication between Britain and Rome was once more
resumed, the history of the island becomes clear and fairly continuous.
The gaps are neither broader nor more obscure than those which may be
found in the contemporary annals of the other kingdoms of Europe. The
stream of history in this period is narrow and turbid throughout the
West. Quite as much is known of the doings of the English as of those of
the Visigoths of Spain, the Lombards, or the later Merovingians. The 7th
century was the darkest of all the "dark ages," and England is
particularly fortunate in possessing the _Ecclesiastica historia_ of
Bede, which, though its author was primarily interested in things
religious, yet contains a copious chronicle of things secular. No
Western author, since the death of Gregory of Tours, wrote on such a
scale, or with such vigour and insight.

[Illustration: Map - Anglo-Saxon Britain 597-825.]

Conversion of England.

The conversion of England to Christianity took, from first to last, some
ninety years (A.D. 597 to 686), though during the last thirty the
ancestral heathenism was only lingering on in remote comers of the land.
The original missionary impulse came from Rome, and Augustine is rightly
regarded as the evangelist of the English; yet only a comparatively
small part of the nation owed its Christianity directly to the mission
sent out by Pope Gregory. Wessex was won over by an independent
adventurer, the Frank Birinus, who had no connexion with the earlier
arrivals in Kent. The great kingdom of Northumbria, though its first
Christian monarch Edwin was converted by Paulinus, a disciple of
Augustine, relapsed into heathenism after his death. It was finally
evangelized from quite another quarter, by Irish missionaries brought by
King Oswald from Columba's monastery of Iona. The church that they
founded struck root, as that of Paulinus and Edwin had failed to do, and
was not wrecked even by Oswald's death in battle at the hands of Penda
the Mercian, the one strong champion of heathenism that England
produced. Moreover, Penda was no sooner dead, smitten down by Oswald's
brother Oswio at the battle of the Winwaed (A.D. 655), than his whole
kingdom eagerly accepted Christianity, and received missionaries, Irish
and Northumbrian, from the victorious Oswio. It is clear that, unlike
their king, the Mercians had no profound enthusiasm for the old gods.
Essex, which had received its first bishop from Augustine's hands but
had relapsed into heathenism after a few years, also owed its ultimate
conversion to a Northumbrian preacher, Cedd, whom Oswio lent to King
Sigeberht after the latter had visited his court and been baptized, hard
by the Roman wall, in 653.

Yet even in those English regions where the missionaries from Iona were
the founders of the Church, the representatives of Rome were to be its
organizers. In 664 the Northumbrian king Oswio, at the synod of Whitby,
declared his adhesion to the Roman connexion, whether it was that he saw
political advantage therein, or whether he realized the failings and
weaknesses of the Celtic church, and preferred the more orderly methods
of her rival. Five years later there arrived from Rome the great
organizer, Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus, who bound the hitherto
isolated churches of the English kingdoms into a well-compacted whole,
wherein the tribal bishops paid obedience to the metropolitan at
Canterbury, and met him frequently in national councils and synods.
England gained a spiritual unity long ere she attained a political
unity, for in these meetings, which were often attended by kings as well
as by prelates, Northumbrian, West Saxon and Mercian first learnt to
work together as brothers.

The English church.

In a few years the English church became the pride of Western
Christendom. Not merely did it produce the great band of missionaries
who converted heathen Germany - Willibrord, Suidbert, Boniface and the
rest - but it excelled the other national churches in learning and
culture. It is but necessary to mention Bede and Alcuin. The first, as
has been already said, was the one true historian who wrote during the
dark time of the 7th-8th centuries; the second became the pride of the
court of Charles the Great for his unrivalled scholarship. At the coming
of Augustine England had been a barbarous country; a century and a half
later she was more than abreast of the civilization of the rest of

Formation of the kingdoms.

But the progress toward national unity was still a slow one. The period
when the English kingdoms began to enter into the commonwealth of
Christendom, by receiving the missionaries sent out from Rome or from
Iona, practically coincides with the period in which the occupation of
central Britain was completed, and the kingdoms of the conquerors
assumed their final size and shape. Æthelfrith, the last heathen among
the Northumbrian kings, cut off the Britons of the North from those of
the West, by winning the battle of Chester (A.D. 613), and occupying the
land about the mouths of the Mersey and the Dee. Cenwalh, the last
monarch who ascended the throne of Wessex unbaptized, carried the
boundaries of that kingdom into Mid-Somersetshire, where they halted for
a long space. Penda, the last heathen king of Mercia, determined the
size and strength of that state, by absorbing into it the territories of
the other Anglian kingdoms of the Midlands, and probably also by
carrying forward its western border beyond the Severn. By the time when
the smallest and most barbarous of the Saxon states - Sussex - accepted
Christianity in the year 686, the political geography of England had
reached a stage from which it was not to vary in any marked degree for
some 200 years. Indeed, there was nothing accomplished in the way of
further encroachment on the Celt after 686, save Ine's and Cuthred's
extension of Wessex into the valleys of the Tone and the Exe, and Offa's
slight expansion of the Mercian frontier beyond the Severn, marked by
his famous dyke. The conquests of the Northumbrian kings in Cumbria were
ephemeral; what Oswio won was lost after the death of Ecgfrith.

The "Bretwaldas."

That the conversion of the English to Christianity had anything to do
with their slackening from the work of conquest it would be wrong to
assert. Though their wars with the Welsh were not conducted with such
ferocious cruelty as of old, and though (as the laws of Ine show) the
Celtic inhabitants of newly-won districts were no longer exterminated,
but received as the king's subjects, yet the hatred between Welsh and
English did not cease because both were now Christians. The westward
advance of the invaders would have continued, if only there had remained
to attract them lands as desirable as those they had already won. But
the mountains of Wales and the moors of Cornwall and Cumbria did not
greatly tempt the settler. Moreover, the English states, which had
seldom turned their swords against each other in the 5th or the 6th
centuries, were engaged during the 7th and the 8th in those endless
struggles for supremacy which seem so purposeless, because the hegemony
which a king of energy and genius won for his kingdom always disappeared
with his death. The "Bretwaldaship," as the English seem to have called
it, was the most ephemeral of dignities. This was but natural: conquest
can only be enforced by the extermination of the conquered, or by their
consent to amalgamate with the conquerors, or by the garrisoning of the
land that has been subdued by settlers or by military posts. None of
these courses were possible to a king of the 7th or 8th centuries: even
in their heathen days the English were not wont to massacre their beaten
kinsmen as they massacred the unfortunate Celt. After their conversion
to Christianity the idea of exterminating other English tribes grew even
more impossible. On the other hand, local particularism was so strong
that the conquered would not, at first, consent to give up their natural
independence and merge themselves in the victors. Such amalgamations
became possible after a time, when many of the local royal lines died
out, and unifying influences, of which a common Christianity was the
most powerful, sapped the strength of tribal pride. But it is not till
the 9th century that we find this phenomenon growing general. A kingdom
like Kent or East Anglia, even after long subjection to a powerful
overlord, rose and reasserted its independence immediately on hearing of
his death. His successor had to attempt a new conquest, if he felt
himself strong enough. To garrison a district that had been overrun was
impossible: the military force of an English king consisted of his
military household of _gesiths_, backed by the general levy of the
tribe. The strength of Mercia or Northumbria might be mustered for a
single battle, but could not supply a standing army to hold down the
vanquished. The victorious king had to be content with tribute and
obedience, which would cease when he died, or was beaten by a competitor
for the position of Bretwalda.

Supremacy of Northumbria.

Supremacy of Mercia.

In the ceaseless strife between the old English kingdoms, therefore, it
was the personality of the king which was the main factor in determining
the hegemony of one state over another. If in the 7th century the
successive great Northumbrians - Edwin, Oswald, Oswio and Ecgfrith - were
reckoned the chief monarchs of England, and exercised a widespread
influence over the southern realms, yet each had to win his supremacy by
his own sword; and when Edwin and Oswald fell before the savage heathen
Penda, and Ecgfrith was cut off by the Picts, there was a gap of anarchy
before another king asserted his superior power. The same phenomenon
was seen with regard to the Mercian kings of the 8th century; the long
reigns of the two conquerors Æthelbald and Offa covered eighty years
(716-796), and it might have been supposed that after such a term of
supremacy Mercia would have remained permanently at the head of the
English kingdoms. It was not so, Æthelbald in his old age lost his
hegemony at the battle of Burford (752), and was murdered a few years
after by his own people. Offa had to win back by long wars what his
kinsman had lost; he became so powerful that we find the pope calling
him _Rex Anglorum_, as if he were the only king in the island. He
annexed Kent and East Anglia, overawed Northumbria and Wessex, both
hopelessly faction-ridden at the time, was treated almost as an equal by
the emperor Charles the Great, and died still at the height of his
power. Yet the moment that he was dead all his vassals revolted; his
successors could never recover all that was lost. Kent once more became
a kingdom, and two successive Mercian sovereigns, Beornwulf and Ludica,
fell in battle while vainly trying to recover Offa's supremacy over East
Anglia and Wessex.

Supremacy of Wessex.

The ablest king in England in the generation that followed Offa was
Ecgbert of Wessex, who had long been an exile abroad, and served for
thirteen years as one of the captains of Charles the Great. He beat
Beornwulf of Mercia at Ellandune (A.D. 823), permanently annexed Kent,
to whose crown he had a claim by descent, in 829 received the homage of
all the other English kings, and was for the remainder of his life
reckoned as "Bretwalda." But it is wrong to call him, as some have done,
"the first monarch of all England." His power was no greater than that
of Oswio or Offa had been, and the supremacy might perhaps have tarried
with Wessex no longer than it had tarried with Northumbria or Mercia if
it had not chanced that the Danish raids were now beginning. For these
invasions, paradoxical as it may seem, were the greatest efficient cause
in the welding together of England. They seemed about to rend the land
in twain, but they really cured the English of their desperate
particularism, and drove all the tribes to take as their common rulers
the one great line of native kings which survived the Danish storm, and
maintained itself for four generations of desperate fighting against the
invaders. On the continent the main effect of the viking invasions was
to dash the empire of Charles the Great into fragments, and to aid in
producing the numberless petty states of feudal Europe. In this island
they did much to help the transformation of the mere Bretwaldaship of
Ecgbert into the monarchy of all England.

Danish invasions.

Already ere Ecgbert ascended the throne of Kent the new enemy had made
his first tentative appearance on the British shore. It was in the reign
of Beorhtric, Ecgbert's predecessor, that the pirates of the famous
"three ships from Heretheland" had appeared on the coast of Dorset, and
slain the sheriff "who would fain have known what manner of men they
might be." A few years later another band appeared, rising unexpectedly
from the sea to sack the famous Northumbrian monastery of Lindisfarne
(793). After that their visits came fast and furious on the shore-line
of every English kingdom, and by the end of Ecgbert's reign it was they,
and not his former Welsh and Mercian enemies, who were the old monarch's
main source of trouble. But he brought his Bretwaldaship to a good end
by inflicting a crushing defeat on them at Hingston Down, hard by the
Tamar, probably in 836, and died ere the year was out, leaving the
ever-growing problem to his son Æthelwulf.

Influence of viking sea-power.

The cause of the sudden outpouring of the Scandinavian deluge upon the
lands of Christendom at this particular date is one of the puzzles of
history. So far as memory ran, the peoples beyond the North Sea had been
seafaring races addicted to piracy. Even Tacitus mentions their fleets.
Yet since the 5th century they had been restricting their operations to
their own shores, and are barely heard of in the chronicles of their
southern neighbours. It seems most probable that the actual cause of
their sudden activity was the conquest of the Saxons by Charles the
Great, and his subsequent advance into the peninsula of Denmark. The
emperor seemed to be threatening the independence of the North, and in
terror and resentment the Scandinavian peoples turned first to strike at
the encroaching Frank, and soon after to assail the other Christian
kingdoms which lay behind, or on the flank of, the Empire. But their
offensive action proved so successful and so profitable that, after a
short time, the whole manhood of Denmark and Norway took to the pirate
life. Never since history first began to be recorded was there such a
supreme example of the potentialities of sea-power. Civilized Europe had
been caught at a moment when it was completely destitute of a war-navy;
the Franks had never been maritime in their tastes, the English seemed
to have forgotten their ancient seafaring habits. Though their ancestors
had been pirates as fierce as the vikings of the 9th century, and though
some of their later kings had led naval armaments - Edwin had annexed for
a moment Man and Anglesea, and Ecgfrith had cruelly ravaged part of
Ireland - yet by the year 800 they appear to have ceased to be a
seafaring race. Perhaps the long predominance of Mercia, an essentially
inland state, had something to do with the fact. At any rate England was
as helpless as the Empire when first the Danish and Norwegian galleys
began to cross the North Sea, and to beat down both sides of Britain
seeking for prey. The number of the invaders was not at first very
great; their fleets were not national armaments gathered by great kings,
but squadrons of a few vessels collected by some active and enterprising
adventurer. Their original tactics were merely to land suddenly near
some thriving seaport, or rich monastery, to sack it, and to take to the
water again before the local militia could turn out in force against
them. But such raids proved so profitable that the vikings soon began to
take greater things in hand; they began to ally themselves in
confederacies: two, six or a dozen "sea-kings" would join their forces
for something more than a desultory raid. With fifty or a hundred ships
they would fall upon some unhappy region, harry it for many miles
inland, and offer battle to the landsfolk unless the latter came out in
overpowering force. And as their crews were trained warriors chosen for
their high spirit, contending with a raw militia fresh from the plough,
they were generally successful. If the odds were too great they could
always retire to their ships, put to sea, and resume their predatory
operations on some other coast three hundred miles away. As long as
their enemies were unprovided with a navy they were safe from pursuit
and annihilation. The only chance against them was that, if caught too
far from the base-fort where they had run their galleys ashore, they
might find their communication with the sea cut off, and be forced to
fight for their lives surrounded by an infuriated countryside. But in
the earlier years of their struggles with Christendom the vikings seldom
suffered a complete disaster; they were often beaten but seldom
annihilated. Ere long they grew so bold that they would stay ashore for
months, braving the forces of a whole kingdom, and sheltering themselves
in great palisaded camps on peninsulas or islands when the enemy pressed
them too hard. On well-guarded strongholds like Thanet or Sheppey in
England, Noirmoutier at the Loire mouth, or the Isle of Walcheren, they
defied the local magnates to evict them. Finally they took to wintering
on the coast of England or the Empire, a preliminary to actual
settlement and conquest. (See VIKING.)

Progress of Danish conquest.

King Ecgbert died long ere the invaders had reached this stage of
insolence. Æthelwulf, his weak and kindly son, would undoubtedly have
lost the titular supremacy of Wessex over the other English kingdoms if
there had been in Mercia or Northumbria a strong king with leisure to
concentrate his thoughts on domestic wars. But the vikings were now
showering such blows on the northern states that their unhappy monarchs
could think of nothing but self-defence. They slew Redulf - king of
Northumbria - in 844, took London in 851, despite all the efforts of
Burgred of Mercia, and forced that sovereign to make repeated appeals
for help to Æthelwulf as his overlord. For though Wessex had its full
share of Danish attacks it met them with a vigour that was not seen in
the other realms. The defence was often, if not always, successful; and
once at least (at Aclea in 851) Æthelwulf exterminated a whole Danish
army with "the greatest slaughter among the heathen host that had been
heard of down to that day," as the Anglo-Saxon chronicler is careful to
record. But though he might ward off blows from his own realm, he was
helpless to aid Mercia or East Anglia, and still more the distant

It was not, however, till after Æthelwulf's death that the attack of the
vikings developed its full strength. The fifteen years (856-871) that
were covered by the reigns of his three short-lived sons, Æthelbald,
Æthelbert and Æthelred, were the most miserable that England was to see.
Assembling in greater and ever greater confederacies, the Danes fell
upon the northern kingdoms, no longer merely to harry but to conquer and
occupy them. A league of many sea-kings which called itself the "great
army" slew the last two sovereigns of Northumbria and stormed York in
867. Some of the victors settled down there to lord it over the
half-exterminated English population. The rest continued their advance
southward. East Anglia was conquered in 870; its last king, Edmund,
having been defeated and taken prisoner, the vikings shot him to death
with arrows because he would not worship their gods. His realm was
annexed and partly settled by the conquerors. The fate of Mercia was
hardly better: its king, Burgred, by constant payment of tribute, bought
off the invaders for a space, but the eastern half of his realm was
reduced to a wilderness.

Practically masters of all that lay north of Thames, the "great army"
next moved against Wessex, the only quarter where a vigorous resistance
was still maintained against them, though its capital, Winchester, had
been sacked in 864. Under two kings named Halfdan and Bacsceg, and six
earls, they seized Reading and began to harry Berkshire, Surrey and
Hampshire. King Æthelred, the third son of Æthelwulf, came out against
them, with his young brother Alfred and all the levies of Wessex. In the
year 871 these two gallant kinsmen fought no less than six pitched
battles against the invaders. Some were victories - notably the fight of
Ashdown, where Alfred first won his name as a soldier - but the English
failed to capture the fortified camps of the vikings at Reading, and
were finally beaten at Marten ("Maeretun") near Bedwyn, where Æthelred
was mortally wounded.

Alfred the Great.

He left young sons, but the men of Wessex crowned Alfred king, because
they needed a grown man to lead them in their desperate campaigning. Yet
his reign opened inauspiciously: defeated near Wilton, he offered in
despair to pay the vikings to depart. He must have known, from the
experience of Mercian, Northumbrian and Frankish kings, that such
blackmail only bought a short respite, but the condition of his realm
was such that even a moderate time for reorganization might prove
valuable. The enemy had suffered so much in the "year of the six

Online LibraryVariousA Book of Natural History Young Folks' Library Volume XIV → online text (page 1 of 43)