Heroes of the Middle Ages  by Eva March Tappan

The Coming of the Teutons to England

T he Celts, as has been said before, left their old home in Asia in very early times and moved slowly across Europe. At length they came to the ocean. The tribes behind were pressing upon them, and the Celts were not to be stopped by so narrow a body of water as the English Channel. Many of them crossed to Britain. There they lived in small huts made of poles fastened together at the top. They knew how to make boats with planks and nails, but oftener they made them by covering wicker frameworks with skins. Their priests were called Druids, and it is thought that the great stones at Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, are the remains of rude temples in which sacrifices were offered. These Celts, or Britons, painted their bodies blue, for they thought this would make them seem more terrible to their enemies. Rough as they were, they were fond of pretty things, and they made themselves bracelets and necklaces of gold. Those who lived inland were savage, but those who dwelt nearest to the Continent were somewhat civilized. They raised wheat and barley and kept many cattle. They had no towns, but gathered in little villages.



This is the way the Britons lived when the Romans came upon them. The Romans were always ready to conquer a new country; and they meant to subdue Britain, or Albion, as it was then called. They obliged the Britons in the greater part of England to obey them; but they were unable to subdue the savage tribes of the northern part of the island; and finally, to keep them from raiding the land which they ruled, they built two great walls with watchtowers and strongholds across the country. Some of the Teutons on the Continent were also troublesome, and therefore the Romans erected a line of forts around the south-eastern shore of England. These Romans were famous road-makers, and they built excellent highways, some of which exist to this day. They made settlements; they erected handsome town houses and country houses with statues and vases and pavements of many-colored marble, and they built many of their famous baths. The Romans were the rulers, and the Britons had to obey. It is probable that many of the Britons were obliged to enter the Roman army, and that many of those who did not become soldiers were treated as slaves.


Landing of the Romans in Britain.

The Romans could have conquered the troublesome northern tribes, but as we have seen, the Goths were pressing upon the boundaries of their empire, and Alaric had invaded Italy and plundered Rome itself. Every soldier in the Roman army was now needed to help protect the empire, and so officers and men sailed away from the British shores and left the people to take care of themselves.


Roman Baths
(At Bath, an English watering-place noted for its hot springs.)

The Britons were better able to do this before the coming of the Romans. They were excellent fighters, but they had become so used to being led by Roman officers that when left alone they were helpless. The savages were coming down upon them from the north, and the three tribes of Teutons, the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, were threatening them from the region between the Baltic and the North Sea. The Britons could not protect themselves, and they sent a pitiful appeal to the Roman commander Aëtius to come and help them. "The barbarians," it said, "drive us to the sea, and the sea drives us back to the barbarians; and between them we are either slain or drowned." Aëtius, however, was too busy trying to keep other barbarians from Rome to help people so far away as England, and he could do nothing for them. The Britons believed that of all their enemies the Teutons were the strongest; and they decided to ask them to come to Britain and help drive away the others. They might have the island of Thanet for their home, the Britons promised.


Ancient Jutish Boat.

The Jutes came first, under the two brothers, Hengist and Horsa, it is said; and they were followed by the Angles and Saxons. These Teutons helped to drive away the other tribes, according to the bargain; but soon they found Thanet too small for them, and so, just as one tribe had been driving another to the westward for centuries, they drove the Britons to the westward. Some Britons were killed, some became slaves, and some hid away in the mountains of Western England. The Teutons called these Wealh, or Welsh, that is, strangers or foreigners; and it is from this that the country of Wales takes its name.

The Britons were not conquered all at once by any means, for they fought most courageously, and it was many years before the Teutons became masters of the entire country. The Angles scattered so widely throughout the land that it took its name from them and became known as the land of the Angles, or Angle-land, and finally England. The Saxons, however, were strongest of the three peoples, and therefore their name is generally given to all the invaders. Their descendants take both names and are known as Anglo-Saxons.


Saint Gregory and the English Slave Children.

The Britons had become Christians long before the coming of the Saxons, but the Saxons were heathen. After these savage invaders had been in England about a century, some young people of their race were sold in Rome as slaves. They had golden hair and blue eyes, and to a saintly monk named Gregory who was passing through the market-place they seemed exceedingly beautiful. "Who are they?" he asked. The answer was, "Angli," that is, Angles. He declared that they would be not Angles but angels, if they were Christians. Gregory never lost his interest in the Angles, and if he had been permitted, he would gladly have gone to England as a missionary. After some years he became Pope Gregory the Great, and then, although he himself could not go, he sent Saint Augustine to preach to them. The king of Kent had a Christian wife, and therefore Saint Augustine went first to him and asked if he might tell him about the religion of Christ. The king was willing to hear him, but not in a house, for if there was any magic about this new faith, he thought the evil spirits would have far less power in the open air. He listened closely, and then he went home to think over what he had heard. After a while he told Saint Augustine that he believed the Christian faith was true. This teaching spread over England, and soon the country was no longer heathen.