Wilfrid Richmond.

The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 online

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islands which extend round the west of Scot-
land from the Shetlands to the Isle of Man.
Unless Britain has command of her seas the
Shetlands and the Orkneys, and indeed Ireland
itself, might be held by the foreigner against
her, and the foreign invader might establish his
bases even in the remoter peninsulas, say of
Scotland or Wales. It was from such a penin-
sular base at Lisbon that Wellington conducted
the ^rar against' France* tit the beginning of the
19th century!

The very need of sea power, or in other
words, of the sea itself, renders it impossible to
put territorial limits to naval action. Britain
can command in the British seas only if she
can also command in waters more remote. Her
fleets are now concentrated in European waters
because her possible naval opponents are there
to be found, and for no other reason. It fol-
lows, however, that Malta and Gibraltar, the
bases of the Mediterranean and Atlantic fleets,
are in reality not merely milestones on the road
to India, but also outposts for the defence of
London. It is this characteristic of sea power,
now familiar to all the world through the writ-
ings of Captain Mahan, which renders it neces-
sary for modern Britain — faced by Powers that
rest upon half continents — to extend her eco-
nomic bases beyond^ her original insular terri-
tory. Whether this is to be done by the method
of increasing the insular factories and. holding
open the over-seas markets, or by such a fed-
eration with her colonies as will in effect base
her navy on the agriculture and factories of
a wider land, is the present issue of British
politics — the outcome of many centuries of his-
tory in an insular and yet European geograph-
ical environment.

Bibliography. — Generally: Mackinder, c Britain
and the British Seas,* (2d Edition, 1907) ; Chis-
holm, Stanford's Compendium,* (Europe, Vol.
II, 1902.) On the geographical influences in the
early history: J. R. Green, <Tbe Making of
England* (1882); Hodgkin, <A Political His-
tory of England to io66> (1906).

H. J. Mackinder,
Director of the School of Economic;: and Polit-
ical Science in the University of London,
lately Reader in Geography in the Univer-
sity of Oxford.



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GREAT BRITAIN — THK CONQUESTS



3. Great Britain— The Conquests. Two, at
least, of the great inrolling waves of conquest,
which have left their mark on the people and
the institutions of Britain, had spent their force
before any historian arose to record them,
and are thus for us like the forgotten events of
our unconscious childhood. As to these we can
only speak darkly and doubtfully according to
the scanty evidence furnished by excavations
of the barrows in which the bones of Prehis-
toric Man are laid. Judging from these, we are
able to say that in the dawn of the history of
Britain, our island was inhabited by a race
ignorant of the use of metals, of the manufac-
ture of pottery, and of the art of weaving, but
accustomed to the use of stone implements such
as wedges, axes, and hammers, which they fash-
ioned with considerable skill. This race is one
of those called Neolithic, to distinguish them
from the incalculably older races of ' Palaeo-
lithic Man, who also used stone implements,
but who lived before that mighty parenthesis in
human history which is called the Great Ice
Age, What the Neolithic inhabitants of Britain
may have called themselves we are utterly un-
able to say. For convenience they are gener-
ally spoken of as Iberian, in order to indicate
a possible connection with the aboriginal in-
habitants of Soain, now represented by the
Basques; but this connection is only an ethno-
logical guess and must not be tajcen as an es-
tablished fact. The race in question buried
their dead in long barrows, the excavation of
whicn shows that they were of short stature,
with skulls tending to the long rather than the
broad shape (Dolicho-cephalic rather than
Brachy-cephalic) and that they were probably
black-haired and of dark complexion.

To these aborigines of Britain entered two
tall and fair-haired races, both of them prob-
ably belonging to that great family of nations
which we call Celtic. The first of these in-
vading races wielded weapons of bronze^ the
second was acquainted with the use of iron,
and this may account for their victory over
their predecessors. At present the tendency of
scholars is to identify the bronze-using people
with the Gaels (or as they are now generally
termed the Goidcls), who have left their chief
mark on the populations of the Scottish High-
lands, of Ireland, and of Gaul. The wielders
of iron would be the race (now called Bry-
thonic) which gave its name to Britain; which
occupied the greater part of the southern half
of the island when Caesar landed; which sur-
vives under the name of Cymri in the moun-
tains and valleys of Wales ; and whose language,
once spoken in Cornwall and Cumberland, is
the dearest possession of the eloquent Welsh
and has a large currency among the peasants of
Brittany. As to the date of these several move-
ments accurate information entirety fails us.
but it is probable that several centuries elapsed
between the arrival of the two waves, the
Goidelic and the Brythonic, and that all had
been accomplished several generations before
the birth of Christ

It was in the year 55 B.C. that the Roman
eagles were first seen on this side of the straits
of Dover. Whether Julius Caesar seriously con-
templated the conquest of Britain, or whether
his two expeditions in that and the following



year were only theatrical performances meant
to overawe the tribesmen of Gaul and to dazzle-
the populace of Rome, is a question not easily
answered. It is certain that, if an abiding con-
quest was his aim, he had greatly underrated
the difficulty of the task, His own narrative,
much more candid than that of most generals
who indite their own bulletins, shows clearly
that neither expedition was really successful,
that the Britond fought well, that the dense
forests of their land, and the chopping tides of
their seas powerfully aided their resistance, and
that Csesar himself, after the midsummer of 54.
b.c, never desired any closer view of the white
cliffs of Britain.

But though Caesar was foiled, Rome re-
mained and was still the world-conquering city.
In the year 43 a.d. when Claudius was Emperor
of Rome, an expedition was fitted out for the
conquest of Britain. The commander was the
high-born senator Aulus Plautius, and he had
under his orders four legions with a proportion-
ate number of cavalry and ^allies * The latter
were for the most part armed more lightly than
the legionaries and were generally stationed in
the wings, while the legionaries fought in the
centre. The total number of Plautius' soldiers
cannot have been less, and may have been con-
siderably more, than 40,000. For 17 years no-
serious misadventure hindered the onward prog-
ress of the Roman arms, though the Silures of
South Wales, under their king, Caratacus, kept
the invaders at bay for many years. In the
year, 59, however, we find the Roman general
Suetonius Paulinus crossing the Menai Straits
and conquering Anglesey, and the Roman sol-
diers quartered at Chester and at Lincoln. Thcnr
came (60) a terrible reverse of fortune, the only
seripus set-back to the Roman career of con-
quest in these early centuries. Maddened by
the tyranny of a grasping Roman official,
Boadicea, queen of the Iceni (a tribe who in-
habited what is now the county of Norfolk),
called her countrymen to arms, sacked the
Roman colony of Camulodunum (Colchester)
and the cities of Verulamium and Londinium„
and threatened to root the Romans out of the
land. Suetonius, however, hastened back into-
the centre of the island and there, giving battle
to the far more numerous forces of the barbar-
ians, achieved a decisive victory.

After this the Roman frontier was pushed
steadily forward, especially by the famous gen-
eral Julius Agricola (78-84) till it nearly coin-
cided with that which is now the northern bound-
ary of England. About the year 120 the Em-
peror Hadrian is believed- to have built
that noble stone wall from the estuary of the
Tyne to the Solway, of which important frag-
ments still remain, forming one of the most in-
teresting memorials of Roman domination-
north of the Alps. Another wall, of turf, was
drawn by Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius^
across the lowlands of Scotland from Forth to
Clyde, but it was probably not maintained for
long as a boundary of the empire, and the hold
of the Roman legions on any part of Caledonia
was always precarious. We cannot now do
more than briefly allude to the expedition of the
aged Emperor Severus, in which he is said to
have reached the northern extremity of the



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GRBAT BRITAIN— THE CONQUESTS



island and carefully noted the duration of the
long midsummer days.

Notwithstanding many incursions of the bar-
barians, and the obviously failing strength of
the Empire, the 3d and 4th centuries were
probably not on the whole calamitous times for
the now reconciled and submissive inhabitants
of Roman Britain. At last in 383 a general
named Maximus rebelled against the Emperor
Gratian, assumed the purple robe, and carried
his legions into Gaul to enforce his claim. It
may be doubted whether the wealthy and timid
provincials ever slept soundly after that fatal
departure. True, the rebellion was in course of
time suppressed, and some portion of the legions
struggled back to Britain, but more mutinies
followed, Rome itself was in danger from
Alaric and his Goths, and at last about 407, the
last of the Roman legions quitted the island
never to return.

Of the next act in the great drama, the con-
quest of England by the English, we have
hardly any trustworthy information. The
broad outlines of the conquest may be traced.
Three tribes of the Low German stock from die
shores of the Baltic and the North Sea cer-
tainly established themselves here in the course
of the 5th century. The Jutes settled in Kent and
the Isle of Wight, the South Saxons gave their
name to Sussex, the East Saxons to Essex, the
West Saxons established themselves in Hamp-
shire and Wilts, the East Angles in Norfolk and
Suffolk, the Middle Angles in the Midland coun-
ties where they founded the kingdom of
Mercia. Deira and Bernicia, the two kingdoms
which sometime coalesced into Northumbria,
were also Anglian settlements: but how and
when all these territorial changes took place
we really cannot state with certainty. Even the
1 Saxon Chronicle, > which professes to give dates
for the foundation of the kingdoms of Kent,
Sussex, and Wessex, tells us scarcely anything
about Northumbria in these early years, and
nothing at all about the other three kingdoms.

The ordinary story of the Saxon conquest
is thus told. On the departure of the Roman
legions the Britons, sore pressed by the incur-
sions of the Northern and Irish barbarians, the
Picts and Scots, called on tt Aetius, thrice con-
sul,* for aid which he was unable to give them.
Thereupon they foolishly turned to the Saxon
and kindred continental tribes for help. Hen-
gist and Horsa, Jutish princes, came at the call,
landed on the coast of Kent, repelled the Cale-
donians, but refused to quit the country after
the work of liberation was accomplished. The
infatuated passion of Vortigern, the elderly
British king, for Rowena, daughter of Hengist,
aided the designs of the invaders, who sent
over to the continent for more and ever more
of their countrymen till the conquest at least of
the eastern half of the island was accomplished.

For the story thus told the evidence is not
satisfactory. It chiefly consists of the narrative
of a Welsh ecclesiastic named Gildas, who lived
a century and a half after the legions quitted
Britain, and who, though an earnest Christian
patriot, was evidently but slenderly furnished
with historical knowledge. Nor do the very
meagre details of the conquest which are sup-
plied by the < Saxon Chronicle > carry us much
further. That Chronicle was itself probably not



compiled till three or four centuries after the
invasion, though some of the material included
in it may be of a much earlier date.

On the whole all that we can safely say ap-
pears to be that apparently throughout the 5th
century a series of attacks on the Romano-
British population was being made by the Ger-
manic tribes which the Romans had known by
the name of Saxons. These, attacks had begun,
even in the 4th century and, in order to
guard against them, the emperors had created
a high official who bore the name of ^Count of
the Saxon Shore.® The invasion may possibly
have culminated in the year 449, the year as-
signed by the < Saxon Chronicle* to the landing
of Hengist and Horsa, but there is some reason
to think that even that specific event took place
eight years earlier. The name of the first West
Saxon chieftain, Cerdic, interests us because it
is from him that the present royal house of
Great Britain derives its origin. His career ot
conquest, which had been most successful, was
possibly stayed about the year 516 by a great
victory which Gildas reports the Britons to
have won at *Mount Badon.* In the present
state of our historical knowledge no one can
deny that this victory (about which the < Saxon
Chronicle > is silent) may have been won by a
Romano-British hero named Arthur.

About 60 years later (577) the great victory
of Dcorham, won by Ceawlin, the grandson of
Cerdic, once more carried forward the invading
flood and finally separated the Britons of Wales
from their kinsmen in the district which was
then called West Wales, but which we now
know as Cornwall.

The Saxon conquest was apparently never
an easy one, and became harder and slower as
time went on. ^ By the middle of the 6th century,
roughly speaking, the invaders occupied all of
England that lies east of a line drawn from Ber-
wick to Portland ; but it had taken at least three
generations to reach so far. Then came the above-
mentioned victory of Deorham and the exten-
sion of the Saxon border far into Devonshire.
In the North-west during the 7th and
8th centuries, the Northumbrian kings cut
short the British kingdom of Strathclyde, and
perhaps reduced it into a condition of something
like vassalage, On the Welsh marches, Offa,
the great king of Mercia, in the 8th century,
carried the western border of England from the
Severn to the Wye, and by a substantial earth-
work, some vestiges of which still remain and
are known as OftVs Dyke, fixed the dividing
line between England and Wales almost in its
present position. The actual conquest of Wales
and its complete subjection to the English
kings had to wait till the T^th century, when it
was accomplished by Edward I.

The four centuries which intervened be-
tween the departure of the legions and the ac-
cession of Egbert are generally felt by the his-
torical student as a wearisome interlude in
which nothing is done toward the real business
of the drama, the creation of an united England,
In truth, no thought that such was the real action
of the play probably visited the minds of the
chief performers. The invaders belonged to
various clans, tribes, and communities, and
though they must have spoken the same or
nearly the, same language, they had only the



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GREAT BRITAIN — THE CONQUESTS



feeblest conception of duty toward one common
country: Even within the limits of the same
race we look in vain for any active principle of
brotherhood. Angle seems to war against
Angle, and Saxon against Saxon, just as cheer-
fully as either would war against the other. It
is true that the moral conquest which lies out-
side the scope of this paper, the conversion of
the English to Christianity (600-686), did
something toward quickening the sense of na-
tional unity; but notwithstanding the Church's
influence, this was still weak when Egbert
ascended the West Saxon throne, nor can he,
notwithstanding the ascendency which he ex-
ercised over the other still subsisting kingdoms,
be regarded as truly king over all England. It
was the terrible Danish invasions and the fact
that only one champion, the hero king of Wes-
sex, was found able to resist them, which finally
established the unity of Anglo-Saxon Britain
under the rule of Alfred and his descendants.
We call the new invaders, for convenience sake,
Danes, but in truth they came not only from
Denmark, but from Norway, perhaps from all
the harbors of the Scandinavian seas. In 789
the Danish storm began to blow, and with one
or two lulls, it blew for three centuries, till
Harold Hardrada lay dead on the field of Stam-
ford Bridge. In the year just mentioned (789)
three Danish ships appeared off the coast of
Devonshire. The manners resisted the attempt
of the king's steward to levy toll upon them,
slew him, and sailed away. Four years after-
ward came another and more deadly invasion.
4 The heathen men,» says the Chronicle, *miser-
ably destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne,
with rapine and slaughter. * This ravage of one
of the holiest places in Western Christendom
showed the savage heathenism of the invaders
and struck terror into the hearts of noble and
peasant alike, who saw that no sanctuary could
be of any avail when the terrible raven standard
of the Danes was flapping in their harbors.

The usual course of one of the early Danish
invasions was something like this. When spring
days dawned a little fleet of ships, or rather long
boats, undecked, with one mast in each, and
seats for 60 rowers, would push off from the
Danish or Norwegian coast and appear in Eng-
lish or French waters. (It must be remembered
that France and Germany suffered almost as
severely as England from the Danish ravages.)
The mariners steered their barks into some
estuary, such as that which then severed
Thanet from the mainland, and leaving them
there under a sufficient guard, spread them-
selves over the country in quest of horses.
When they had thus mounted themselves at the ex-
pense of the victim country, they made rapid
excursions far and wide over the land, burning
towns, plundering monasteries and churches,
fighting with and generally defeating the eal-
dorman or lord-lieutenant of a county, who at
the head of his rustic militia (fyrd) came forth
tc fight his brave but stupid battle of defense.
Their enemies accuse them of inhuman crimes:
the torture of prisoners, the violation of
women, the mirthful slaughter of little children ;
but there is some doubt how far these atrocities
can be fairly taken as typical of the general
character of the Danish invasions. Of one
feature of these invasions there can be no



doubt: that is, of the special hostility which
they displayed to the churches and monasteries
of Western Europe. The historical literature
of our country has probably to lament the loss
of priceless manuscripts, especially in the con-
vents of Northumbria and Mercia, caused by
the ravages of the Danes.

When the summer was drawing to a close,
and when the long boats were gorged with the
plunder of half a dozen counties, the unwelcome
intruders would return to their ships, glide
away out of the channel in which they had cast
anchor, and for that year the harried and
wasted land would see them no more. This, at
least, was the case in the first stage of the in-
vasions, for about 60 years after the sack of
Landisfarne. Then, in 851, as the Chronicles
tell us, a the heathen men settled themselves
over winter in Thanet* From that time the
invasions of the Danes assumed a more and
more permanent character: from mere free-
booters they became conquerors: Northumbria
and Mercia were bound to their chariot wheels,
and the whole of England would have been sub-
jugated by them but for the war of liberation
which was successfully waged against them by
Alfred the Great (871-900).

Though Alfred broke the Danish yoke,
and although his son and grandson, Edward
and Athelstan, triumphantly asserted the su-
premacy of the English crown over the Danish
chieftains who were left in the land, the result
of the warlike operations of the 9th and 10th
centuries was to cause an immense infusion of
Scandinavian blood into the population of Eng-
land. The Danelaw, as it was called, included
the greater part of the country northeast of the
Watling Street, the old Roman road which ran
from London to Chester; and in many parts of
this region, notably in Lincolnshire and the
East Riding of Yorkshire, the names of places
sti'.l bear witness by their terminations to the
existence there of a large number of Danish
settlements. It cannot be doubted that this
Scandinavian element when subjected, as it
soon was, to the humanizing influence of
Christianity, was a most valuable and virile in-
gredient in the population of England.

Through the greater part of the 10th century
the Danish inhabitants of England were kept
under by the strong hand of the English kings,
and the Danish invasions nearly ceased. Near
the end of that century they were resumed, and
owing to the portentous weakness of Ethelred
and his counsellors, they achieved a greater
measure of success than ever before. An arch-
bishop was martyred: six successive payments
of tribute were paid in the vain hope of induc-
ing the invaders to cease from ravage; and
finally the descendants of Cerdic had to quit
the realm, and Canute the Dane sat upon the
throne of England. As kir.g, however, the
Scandinavian conqueror healed many of the
wounds which his countrymen had inflicted as
ravagers ; and the long and prosperous reign of
the Christian Canute marks practically the end
of the period during which the Danish pirates
were a source of terror to the Saxons. The
reign of Canute, however, coincided with one
event in the nature of a conquest, not favorable
to England. In the year 1018 Malcolm, king of
Scotland, won the battle of Carham over the



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GREAT BfttTAIN — THE CONQUESTS



men of Northumbria and thereby succeeded in
forcing back the English frontier from the Firth
of Forth to the line which it now occupies of the
Cheviots and the Tweed. The rich country of
the Lothians, which for near five centuries had
formed part of the kingdom of Northumbria,
was now permanently added to Scotland.

The line of Canute came to a speedy end in
the persons of his worthless sons; and there-
after, during the central years of the nth cen-
tury, under the reign of Edward the Confessor,
there was going forward a peaceful conquest of
England by the Normans under favor of the
Norman-minded king. In truth there was
much to admire in this young Norman race,
strong with Scandinavian energy, but refined
and liberalized by the memories of Roman cul-
ture which still lingered in the shattered empire
of Charlemagne. Hard and grasping as the
Norman warrior might be — and William the
Conqueror was a typical Norman in this re-
spect — he was at this period generally chaste
and temperate. His devotion to the Church was
not a mere hypocritical pretense, nor was it
only testified by the magnificent cathedrals
which he erected. As statesman, as architect,
and as warrior, it must be admitted that the
Norman knight much outshone the Saxon
thegns whom he supplanted.

The peaceful conquest of England by Nor-
man influence which had been for a time ar-
rested by the successful rebellion of the half-
Danish family of Godwin was succeeded by the
bloody conquest of 1066. Many causes con-
curred toward this event: the utter feebleness
of the representatives of the line of Cerdic ; an
uneasy consciousness that Harold Godwineson,
who had been raised to the throne on the
death of Edward the Confessor, was no
rightful wearer of the West Saxon crown;
the long-lasting feud between his family
and that of the sons of Leof ric ; but above all
the grieviously ill-timed invasion of the Nor-
wegian Harold Hardrada. It was on an ill day
for Scandinavia as well as for himself that he
landed with his ally, the traitor Tostig, on the
coast of Yorkshire. Unable to conquer Eng-
land himself, and winning nothing from her
king but the seven feet of earth assigned for
his grave at Stamford Bridge, he nevertheless
left her panting and breathless for the en-
counter with a mightier and unwearied foe.

By the battle of Hastings, England, which
had been for centuries closely linked with
Scandinavian interests, was wrenched away
from that connection, and was forced to revolve



Online LibraryWilfrid RichmondThe Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 → online text (page 3 of 185)