English in Great Britain
When the Roman legions left Britain, the native Britons were left to defend themselves.
At this time, the Britons were less warlike than they had been prior to the Roman occupation.
The Britons had not been trained to meet that need when it arose, a fact that made them more vulnerable when the attacks from outside began.
The Britons were exposed to the threat of attack from the Picts of caledonia to the north.
The Roman patrolling of Hadrian's Wall had ceased.
The southern and eastern coasts were also exposed since no Roman fleet patrolled the Channel and the North Sea.
The rich towns and gracious villas stood unprotected, easy prey for the barabarians who now arrived annually.
Each spring they came from across the seas for a season of plundering and looting, burning and sacking the villas and dsestroying the towns.
The Picts and Scots of Caledonia attacked the northern border.
The Britons were faced with a cruel choice; either to flee or else to come to some kind of agreement with the raiders.
Some did leave the country, but most remained.
Their solution was to give land to the barbarians in return for military service for their defence.
The Britons requested help from the Jutes, a Germanic tribe, to push the Picts and the Scots back.
In return for their help, the Jutes were given the Isle of Thanet off the north-east coast of Kent.
The English Conquest
By the middle of the 5th century A.D. there were settlers all over the country.
By this time, the villa life of the Romans had had to be abandoned.
Most of the towns carried on within their walls.
As the attacks became ever more severe, there was sometimes a retreat to more easily defended hilltop sites.
All around them, the Britons saw the way of life they had taken for granted gradually grind to a halt.
Pottery and glass, for example, ceased to be made.
The the coinage stopped, which meant the collapse of trade and commerce.
The Anglo-Saxons were a people with their own rich traditions.
They were pagans who worshipped gods like Tiw, Woden, Thor and Frig, whose names were to be the origin of our Tuesday (Tiw's day), Wednesday (Woden's day), Thursday (Thor's day), and Friday (Frig's day).
They had no interest in the Roman way of life.
Their society was organised along strict lines:
- at the top came the "nobles" who fought.
- next, the "ceorls" who farmed.
- and at the bottom, the "slaves."
The Anglo-Saxons were not town-dwellers, living instead in villages constructed of wood, in clusters of huts and a large central hall.
Unlike the Britons, their whole existence was based on warfare.
Fighting bound them together in ties of loyalty to their leaders.
Loyalty was seen as the greatest of human virtues and, as a consequence, the most detestable of all crimes was the betrayal of a king.
In their own way, the Anglo-Saxons were civilised, producing great works of heroic poetry ("Beowulf," "The Wayfarers") and magnificent art (broaches, shields, weapons, jewelry etc.)
The English conquest of Britain got underway in the middle of the 5th century A.D.
In 449 A.D., the Jutes, led by two brothers, Hengist and Horsa, landed at Ebbsfleet, off the coast of Kent.
Not content with the Isle of Thanet, the Jutes spread all over Kent.
The Britons defended the territory fiercely.
The Jutish leader, Horsa, was killed at the Battle of Aylesford, but the Britons were eventually forced to draw back.
Other Germanic tribes, the Saxons and the Angles, followed the Jutes.
Over the next 150 years, a large part of Great Britain was conquered and occupied bit by bit.
At first, small groups of Germanic tribespeople crossed the North Sea to Britain with their families, settling on the east coast.
With time, the Britons were displaced westwards.
The leaders of the Briton kingships were eroded as chiefs and forced to carve out small kingships for themselves.
By the end of the 6th. century, most of Britain was occupied by the invaders.
The Jutes settled in Kent and on the Isle of Wight.
The Saxons set up kingdoms in the rest of the south-east in Essex, Middlesex, Surrey, Sussex and Wessex.
The Angles settled in the midlands, north and north-east of Britain, with kingdoms in East Anglia, Mercia, Deira and Bernicia.
It took a hundred years for all these gradually to take shape.
The Jutes, Angles and Saxons were similar in terms of life-style, language and religion.
But their relationships with each other was in the main one of war.
The English nation, though not united, had been formed.
The Effects of the English Conquest
What happened to the Britons?
During the defence of Britain, many had been killed, others had been taken prisoner and forced into slavery, and many Briton women were forced into marriage with the Germanic occupiers.
The remaining Britons took refuge in the extreme western areas of Great Britain, namely, Cornwall, Wales and Cumberland, now Cumbria.
Some Britons fled to north-west France and settled in the territory known as Brittany today.
For the English, i.e. the Jutes, the Saxons and the Angles, these remaining Britons were called the "Welsh."
The Britons in Cornwall were called the "West Welsh", those in present-day Wales the "North Welsh" and those in Cumberland the "Cumbrian Welsh."
The Welsh were gradually brought under the control of the English by means of conquest.
The civilised Britons had been conquered by "barbarians."
England was now made up of a number of small warring kingdoms.
All that held them together was a tradition whereby one of those kings was recognised as having some kind of supremacy over the others, expressed in the title "bretwalda."
This was a turbulent age during which first one kingdom was dominant and then another.
What is so striking is that, with these barbarian kings, the memory and tradition of the Roman Empire still lingered on.
The Christianised Britons had been replaced by the heathen English.
The English conquest of Britain was a setback for Christianity.
However, the Christian religion had been driven out of Britain entirely.
The Welsh were Christian and so were the Irish who had been converted to Christianity in the 5th. century by St. Patrick.
The Welsh and the Irish sent missionaries to convert the Picts and Scots of Caledonia.
A great monastery was founded on the island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland.
But the Irish, Welsh and Scottish Christians were separated from the rest of Europe and Rome, the centre of European Christianity, by the heathen English.
This situation gave rise to the foundation of the Celtic Church.
The Celtic Church differed from the Roman Christian Church in that it was nut under the rule of the Pope.
The Celtic Church also developed a distinct iconography and set of religious symbols.
The English were the only barbarians not to be converted to Christianity soon after occupying a part of the Western Roman Empire.
For this reason, there was pressing need on the part of the rest of the Western Roman Empire to convert the English to Christianity.
In 590 A.D., Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine and forty monks to convert the English peoples.
In 597 A.D., Christian missionaries landed at Ebbsfleet on the coast of Kent, where the Jutes had first landed 150 years previously.
At the time, the King of Kent was a man called Ethelbert.
Ethelbert was not a Christian.
However, he was married to Bertha, a Frankish princess, who was a Christian.
Berta has refused to give up her religion when she married Ethelbert of Kent.
Ethelbert had repaired an old ruined Roman Christian church at a place called Canterbury for Bertha to worship in.
When Augustine arrived at the coast of kent, he asked to be permitted to meet Ethelbert.
The meeting between Ethelbert and Augustine took place in the open air; Ethelbert was wary of any magical tricks Augustine might play on him!
Following their meeting, Ethelbert gave Augustine permission to enter Canterbury to preach to the people of Kent.
Soon there were many converts and old churches began to be restored and new ones built.
Ethelbert remained heathen for some time, but after a year he converted to Christianity.
The Jutes of Kent followed their king's example and 10,000 Jutes were baptised in one day.
Christianity became the religion of the Kingdom of Kent and the religion soon spread to the neighbouring Saxon kingdoms of Essex, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex.
In this way, the territories in the south-east of Great Britain (today referred to as the "Home Counties") became Christian.
For his part, Augustine was named the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
He began to construct on the ruins of the old Roman Christian church a new one which is the antecedent of the present-day Canterbury Cathedral, the most important Anglican cathedral.
Bishops were subsequently appointed in Rochester and London.
By 627 A.D., Christianity was spreading northwards.
Edwin of Northumbria, after whom Edinburgh (Edwin's Town) is named, was king of Bernicia and Deira at the time.
Edwin wants to marry Ethelburga, daughter of Ethelbert and Bertha of Kent.
Bertha agrees to the marriage on condition that Edwin allows Ethelburga to remain a Christian.
Edwin agrees to this condition.
On her marriage to Edwin, Ethelburga moves to the north of Great Britain, taking Paulinus, her priest, with her.
Paulinus converts Edwin to Christianity.
The people of Northumbria follow their king's example.
A later Northumbrian king, Oswald, turned to Celtic monks to re-Chritianise the country.
In 635 A.D., St. Aidan settled on the island of Lindisfarne and began his work of conversion.
Everywhere churches and monasteries sprang up as the Celtic and Roman missionaries triumphed, but they also clashed.
The problem was that the Celtic Church followed the old Briton Christian Church which, in its isolation, had developed traditions which were different from those of the Roman missionaries.
They celebrated Easter on a different day, for instance.
Their Bishops were free-roaming, whereas the Rome Bishops each had a diocese, a fixed area of the country over which they presided.
Their monasteries were also different; the Celts had ones in which both sexes lived together.
The process of conversion in the rest of England, however, is more gradual.
In 664 A.D., the Council of Whitby is held at which the Roman Christian Church and the Celtic Christian Church are brought face to face.
The Council is held to resolve the differences between the two Christian Churches.
The Roman Christian Church emerges as the dominant Christian Church in Great Britain.
In 668 A.D., the Pope sends Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek, to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
His arrival in Great Britain signalled the golden age of the Anglo-Saxon church.
Theodore of Tarsus is Archbishop of Canterbury for twenty-two years.
Theordore appoints bishops all over England and a great number of churches and cathedrals are built throughout the land.
On his death in 690 A.D., Theodore leaves behind a well-organised Christian Church in almost the whole of Britain.
It had taken nearly a hundred years to convert the English to Christianity and to organise the Church.
For a century, the Church is the focus of huge enthusiasm, attracting members of royal and noble families to enter the monastic life.
Anglo-Saxon kings often went on pilgrimages to Rome.
Monks crossed from England to convert those who still lived in the lands their ancestors had come from.
Along with the Christian faith, they also carried the fruits of a great cultural renaissance which had taken place in England, stemming from Rome and the Celtic Church.
Although most English people were members of one Church by this time, England was far from being united.
In the world of 7th century politics, it was possible to gain great power, but difficult to keep it for long.
The reason why kings rose and fell so quickly was that power and domination depended on military forces; forces were attracted by gift-giving and gift-giving depended on wealth which in turn depended on the attainment of more power and conquest.
Society was riddled with feuds and the succession to kingships was fluid and uncertain.
Hence, there were many royal and noble exiles from their own kin in search of generous and congenial lords.
The Church of England is older than the unified English nation.
The fact that English people were united by a single religion smoothed the way towards their political and social unification.
This long period stretching from the time the Romans left Britain in 410 A.D. up to the end of the 9th century A.D., some six hundred years, is called the Anglo-Saxon period.
The period has also been labelled "The Dark Ages".
The period may have been "dark" in the sense that Christianity was undergoing a gradual process of assimilation for most of the time.
"Dark" may also refer to the fact that a whole civilisation disintegrated, and also to the fragmentary nature of our knowledge of what actually took place
However, the period was characterised by relative peace and a flowering of artistic creativity.
Monasteries such as Canterbury and Malmesbury became centres of teaching and learning where both Greek and Latin were taught.
Latin and Greek were taught, together with what were called the Seven Liberal Arts, subjects which for over a thousand years were regarded as embracing the sum of human knowledge: the trivium, that is, grammar of the art of writing, rhetoric or the art of speaking; and dialectic, that of reasoned argument; and the quadrivium which consisted of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.
Combined, these seven topics were all seen as essential for expounding the mysteries of the scriptures.
Oral literature of the period has come down to the present day in the form of ancient manuscripts written in Anglo-Saxon.
The most famous examples of such texts are "Beowulf," "The Wayfarers" and the Icelandic Sagas.
"Beowulf," a major epic, is a relatively late and sophisticated work, perhaps written for a clerical audience.
This long poem lays before us the heroic, essentially pagan world of the 7th century aristocracy, transmuted by Christianity but not effaced.
The political world of the poem is violent and unstable.
A king who loses support will quickly perish, and his kingdom with him.
The ethos is one of loyalty and feud.
Beowulf fights with monsters and dragons, inhabitants of a pre-Christian mental world.