Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Anglo-Saxon Invasion

Historical Note

AFTER the withdrawal of the Roman garrisons the Britons were harassed by the Scots (Irish) on the west, and the Picts (Gaels) on the north. Against these marauders they struggled bravely, but in vain. There was also trouble from the east, for bands of Teuton pirates from the western shores of the Baltic were coming down upon them. At length, as tradition says, the Britons invited these pirates to come to aid them in repelling the other invaders, and promised them the island of Thanet as their reward.

The newcomers were known as Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. They were pagans, fierce in battle, but they also cultivated the ground. In their home land those who were relatives often clustered together in a tiny village. Each family had its house lot and garden; but around the little village extended land known as the "mark," or boundary. This was divided into pasture, woodland, and tillage, and was used in common. The people were of four ranks: athels,  or nobles; ceorls,  or free landowners; laets,  or tenants, who paid rent by service; and slaves,  who were generally captives taken in war. Each village had its governor and its council, the latter comprising all the freemen. Each hundred, or collection of villages, had also a governor and council; and the whole tribe had a king, and a council (witan ), who elected the king annually.

These invaders soon pushed on from Thanet and conquered lands for themselves in the new country. Early in the sixth century they appear to have suffered a series of defeats at the hand of some British chief, perhaps the King Arthur of the later legends, which checked their advance for nearly fifty years, but by the close of the century all Britain was in their hands, and the former inhabitants were killed, enslaved, or driven into the mountains of Wales. In 827, the various small kingdoms formed by the invaders were united by Egbert, King of Wessex, and from this monarch every English king except the four Normans has traced his descent.

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