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§ 9. The Anglo-Saxons.


I. The sources for the planting of Roman Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons are several Letters of Pope Gregory I. (Epp., Lib. VI. 7, 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59; IX. 11, 108; XI. 28, 29, 64, 65, 66, 76; in Migne’s ed. of Gregory’s Opera, Vol. III.; also in Haddan and Stubbs, III. 5 sqq.); the first and second books of Bede’s Eccles. Hist.; Goscelin’s Life of St. Augustin, written in the 11th century, and contained in the Acta Sanctorum of May 26th; and Thorne’s Chronicles of St. Augustine’s Abbey. See also Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, etc., the 3d vol., which comes down to a.d. 840.

II. Of modern lives of St. Augustin, we mention Montalembert, Monks of the West, Vol. III.; Dean Hook, Archbishops of Canterbury, Vol. I., and Dean Stanley, Memorials of Canterbury, 1st ed., 1855, 9th ed. 1880. Comp. Lit. in Sec. 7.

British Christianity was always a feeble plant, and suffered greatly, from the Anglo-Saxon conquest and the devastating wars which followed it. With the decline of the Roman power, the Britons, weakened by the vices of Roman civilization, and unable to resist the aggressions of the wild Picts and Scots from the North, called Hengist and Horsa, two brother-princes and reputed descendants of Wodan, the god of war, from Germany to their aid, a.d. 449.1919    The chronology, is somewhat uncertain. See Lappenberg’s Geschichte von England, Bd. I., p. 73 sqq.

From this time begins the emigration of Saxons, Angles or Anglians, Jutes, and Frisians to Britain. They gave to it a new nationality and a new language, the Anglo-Saxon, which forms the base and trunk of the present people and language of England (Angle-land). They belonged to the great Teutonic race, and came from the Western and Northern parts of Germany, from the districts North of the Elbe, the Weser, and the Eyder, especially from Holstein, Schleswig, and Jutland. They could never be subdued by the Romans, and the emperor Julian pronounced them the most formidable of all the nations that dwelt beyond the Rhine on the shores of the Western ocean. They were tall and handsome, with blue eyes and fair skin, strong and enduring, given to pillage by land, and piracy by sea, leaving the cultivation of the soil, with the care of their flocks, to women and slaves. They were the fiercest among the Germans. They sacrificed a tenth of their chief captives on the altars of their gods. They used the spear, the sword, and the battle-axe with terrible effect. “We have not,” says Sidonius, bishop of Clermont,2020    Quoted by Lingard, I. 62. The picture here given corresponds closely with that given in Beowulf’s Drapa, from the 9th century. “a more cruel and more dangerous enemy than the Saxons. They overcome all who have the courage to oppose them .... When they pursue, they infallibly overtake; when they are pursued, their escape is certain. They despise danger; they are inured to shipwreck; they are eager to purchase booty with the peril of their lives. Tempests, which to others are so dreadful, to them are subjects of joy. The storm is their protection when they are pressed by the enemy, and a cover for their operations when they meditate an attack.” Like the Bedouins in the East, and the Indians of America, they were divided in tribes, each with a chieftain. In times of danger, they selected a supreme commander under the name of Konyng or King, but only for a period.

These strangers from the Continent successfully repelled the Northern invaders; but being well pleased with the fertility and climate of the country, and reinforced by frequent accessions from their countrymen, they turned upon the confederate Britons, drove them to the mountains of Wales and the borders of Scotland, or reduced them to slavery, and within a century and a half they made themselves masters of England. From invaders they became settlers, and established an octarchy or eight independent kingdoms, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Essex, Northumbria, Mercia, Bernicia, and Deira. The last two were often united under the same head; hence we generally speak of but seven kingdoms or the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy.

From this period of the conflict between the two races dates the Keltic form of the Arthurian legends, which afterwards underwent a radical telescopic transformation in France. They have no historical value except in connection with the romantic poetry of mediaeval religion.2121    King Arthur (or Artus), the hero of Wales, of the Chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the romances of the Round Table, if not entirely mythical, was one of the last Keltic chiefs, who struggled against the Saxon invaders in the sixth century. He resided in great state at Caerleon in Wales, surrounded by valorous knights, seated with him at a round table, gained twelve victories over the Saxons, and died in the battle of Mount Badon or Badon Hill near Bath (a. d.520). The legend was afterwards Christianized, transferred to French soil, and blended with the Carlovingian Knights of the Round Table, which never existed. Arthur’s name was also connected since the Crusades with the quest of the Holy Grail or Graal (Keltic gréal, old French san gréalor greel), i.e. the wonderful bowl-shaped vessel of the Lord’s Supper (used for the Paschal Lamb, or, according to another view, for the cup of blessing), in which Joseph of Arimathaea caught the blood of the Saviour at the cross, and which appears in the Arthurian romances as the token of the visible presence of Christ, or the symbolic embodiment of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Hence the derivation of Grail from sanguis realis, real blood, or sang royal, the Lord’s blood. Others derive it from the Romanic greal, cup or dish; still others from the Latin graduale. See Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chronicon sive Historia Britonum (1130 and 1147, translated into English by Aaron Thomson, London, 1718); Sir T. Malory, History of Prince Arthur (1480-1485, new ed. by, Southey, 1817); Wolfram von EschenbachParcival and Titurel (about 1205, transl. by K. Simrock, Stuttg., 1842); Lachmann, Wolfram von Eschenbach (Berlin, 1833, 2nd ed, 1854); Göschel Die Sage von Parcival und vom Gral nach Wolfram von Eschenbach(Berlin, 1858); Paulin Paris, Les Romans de la Table Ronde(Paris, 1860); Tennyson, The Idylls, of the King (1859), and The Holy Grail (1869); Skene, Four Ancient Books of Wales (1868); Stuart-Glennie, Arthurian Localities (1869); Birch-Herschfeld, Die Sage vom Gral, (Leipz., 1877); and an article of Göschel, Gral in the first ed. of Herzog’s Encykl. V. 312 (omitted in the second ed.).

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