Page images

packed in eighty vessels. He had left behind him the whole of his cavalry-the Roman horse-marines-who were detained by contrary winds on the other side of the sea, and, though anxious to be in communication with their leader, they never could get into the right channel. At about three in the afternoon, Cæsar, having taken an early dinner, began to disembark his forces at a spot called to this day the Sandwich Flats, from the people having been such flats as to allow the enemy to effect a landing, While the Roman soldiers were standing shilly-shallying at the side of their vessels, a standardbearer of the tenth legion, or, as we should call him, an ensign in the tenth, jumped into the water, which was nearly up to his knees, and, addressing a claptrap to his comrades as he stood in the sea, completely turned the tide in Cæsar's favour. After a severe shindy on the shingles, the Britons withdrew, leaving the Romans masters of the beach, where Cesar erected a marquee for the accommodation of his cohorts. The natives sought and obtained peace, which had no sooner been concluded than the Roman horse-marines were seen riding across the Channel. A tempest, however, arising, the horses were terrified, and the waves beginning to mount, added so much to the confusion, that the Roman cavalry were compelled to back to the point they started from. The same storm gave a severe blow to the camp of Cæsar, on the beach, dashing his galleys and transports against the rocks which they were sure to split upon. Daunted by these disasters, the invaders, after a few breezes with the Britons, took advantage of a favourable gale to return to Gaul, and thus for a time the dispute appeared to have blown over.

، Casar's thoughts, however, still continued to run in one, namely, the British, Channel. In the spring of the ensuing year he rigged out 800 ships, into which he contrived to cram 32,000 men, and with this force he was permitted to land a second time by those horrid flats at Sandwich. The Britons for some time made an obstinate resistance in their chariots, but they ultimately took a fly across the country, and retreated with great rapidity. Cæsar had scarcely sat down to breakfast the next morning when he heard that a tempest had wrecked all his vessels. At this intelligence he burst into tears, and scampered off to the sea-coast, with all his legions in full cry hurrying after him.'-pp. 4—6.

Ninety-seven years after the island was seized by Cæsar, it was clawed by Claudius. Aulus Plautius, the Roman general. pursued the Britons under that illustrious character Caractacus. He retreated towards Lambeth Marsh, and the swampy nature of the ground gave the invaders to feel that it was somewhat


[ocr errors]

Far into the bowels of the land

They had marched on without impediment.'

'Vespasian, the second in command, made a tour in the isle of Wight, then called Vectis, where he boldly took the bull by the horns, and seized upon Cowes, with considerable energy. Os

torius Scapula, a sharp blade, erected a line of defences-a line in which he was so successful, that it may have been called his forte. Ostorius suffocated every breath of liberty in Suffolkhauled the inhabitants of Newcastle over the coals-drove the Welsh before him like Welsh rabbits, and made Caractacus fly with the remains of one wing of his army. This brave Celt was taken to Rome in chains; but, by his dignified conduct, he caused his chains to be struck off, and thus we lose the chain of his history. In the reign of Nero, Boadicea, after burning London, was defeated by Suetonius, and poisoned herself. The serial attacks of the Romans were continued by Ceriales. Agricola, the father-in-law of Tacitus, certainly did considerable havoc in Britain.'

'He sent the Scotch reeling over the Grampian Hills, and led the Caledonians a pretty dance. He ran up a kind of rampart between the Friths of Clyde and Forth, from which he could come forth at his leisure and complete the conquest of Caledonia. In the sixth year of his campaign, A.D. 83, he crossed the Frith of Forth, and came opposite to Fife, which was played upon by the whole of his band with considerable energy. Having wintered in Fife, upon which he levied contributions to a pretty tune, he moved forward in the summer of the next year, A.D. 84, from Glen Devon to the loot of the Grampians. He here encountered Galgacus and his host, who made a gallant resistance; but the Scottish chief was soon left to reckon without his host, for all his followers fled like lightning, and it has been said that their bolting came upon him like a thunderbolt.

Agricola having thoroughly beaten the Britons-on the principle, perhaps, that there is nothing so impressible as wax-began to think of instructing them. He had given them a few lessons in war which they were not likely to forget, and he now thought of introducing among their chiefs a tincture of polite letters, commencing, of course, with the alphabet. The Britons finding it as easy as A, B, C, began to cultivate the rudiments of learning, for there is a spell in letters of which few can resist the influence. They. assumed the toga, which, on account of the comfortable warmth of the material, they very quickly cottoned; they plunged into baths, and threw themselves into the capacious lap of luxury.'-p. 9.

Severus and Caracalla successively maintained the Roman power in Britain. Carausius, the pirate, joining the Britons, the Roman eagles were put to flight, and both wings of the imperial army exhibited the white feather.' Carausius was murdered by Alectus-Alectus at the instigation of Constantius Chlorus— the murderers becoming in succession the rulers and masters of the island after their victims. Internal decay compelled the Romans to look at home, and abandon Britain to a British party,

and a Roman faction, of which Vortigern and Aurelius Ambrosius were the chiefs. Britain was abandoned by the Romans about the year 420 after the Roman civilization had been impressed more or less effectually on parts of the island for five centuries. Thus, to the Celtic element, which is the basis of our social condition, was added the indestructible seeds of Roman culture in arts and arms.

Mr. A'Beckett's account of the Saxons and the Heptarchy opens with some jokes on their arms, the battle-axe and the hammer, and their wicker boats. We obtain a glimpse of Rowena, the daughter of Hengist, presenting a wine-cup to King Vortigern, and intoxicating him with love and drink. The story of the massacre at Stonehenge is repeated, where the Saxons are said to have assassinated the Britons at a feast, with swords or knives concealed in their hose. Hengist became king of Kent, Middlesex, Essex, and a part of Surrey. The success of Hengist induced several of his countrymen, after his death, to attempt to walk in his shoes; but it has been well and wisely said, that in following the footsteps of a great man, an equally capacious understanding is requisite.'

In the year 447, Ella the Saxon landed in Sussex with his three sons, and drove the Britons into a forest one hundred and twenty miles long and thirty broad, according to the old writers, but in our opinion just about as broad as it was long, for otherwise there could have been no room for it in the place where the old writers have planted it. Ella, however, succeeded in clutching a very respectable slice, which was called the kingdom of South Saxony, which included Surrey, Sussex, and the New Forest; while another invading firm, under the title of Cerdic and Son, started a small vanquishing business in the West, and by conquering Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, founded the kingdom of Wessex. Cerdic was considerably harassed by King Arthur of fabulous fame, whose valour is reported to have been such, that he fought twelve battles with the Saxons, and was three times married. His first and third wives were carried away from him, but on the principle that no news is good news, the historians tell us that as there are no records of his second consort, his alliance with her may perhaps have been a happy one. The third and last of his spouses ran off with his nephew Mordred, and the enraged monarch having met his ungrateful kinsman in battle, they engaged each other with such fury, that, like the Kilkenny cats, they slew one another.'-pp. 14, 15.

In 547, Ida, with a host of Angles, settled on a small wild space between the Tyne and the Tees, a tiny possession, in which he was much teased by the beasts of the forest.

Our author conjectures that the disturbed condition known as a state of sixes and sevens, may have derived its title from the

turmoils of the seven Saxon sovereigns of the Heptarchy. In Kent, Ethelbert, a successor of Hengist, was always acting on the principle of give and take. He took what he could, and gave battle. He seized the throne of Mercia, resigning it only on condition that Webba, the rightful heir, should become his tributary. He introduced Christianity into England, and was the correspondent of Gregory, the punster pope, and author of the celebrated jeu de mot on the word Angli in the market-place,'Non Angli sed Angeli forent si fuissent Christiani.' Ethelbert was the pretwalda or chairman of seven kings. Egbert, King of Wessex, managed, in 723, to seat himself on all the seven thrones at once. The successive kings of Northumberland assassinated each other, until the people quietly submitted to Egbert. In East Anglia was seen a similar succession of murderers and monarchs. Offa, King of Mercia, or the midland counties, invited Ethelbert, King of the East Angles, to marry his daughter Elfrida. During the nuptial festivities at Hereford, the bridegroom was asked into a back room by his father-inlaw, and had scarcely taken a chair when his head was struck off his shoulders. In proof of his penitence, he exacted a penny from the people from every house possessed of thirty pence ayear, which he sent to the pope. These Peter's pence may have originated the expression respecting robbing Paul to pay Peter. The throne of East Anglia fell under Wiglaff, and the remaining stock of royalty was seized by Egbert. Of the histories of Essex and Sussex little is known. Egbert had acquired at the court of Charlemagne that French polish which ought to be found on every gentleman's table.' The King Beatric of Wessex being accidentally poisoned by his wife, Egbert was embraced by the people as the rightful heir. Egbert subdued in battles the Mercians, who were fat, corpulent, and shortwinded.' Mercia, Kent, and Essex subdued, East Anglia protected, Northumberland protected, and Wessex belonging to Egbert by succession, the Heptarchy became a monarchy about four hundred years after the arrival of the Saxons. The Danes, in alliance with the Britons, gave Egbert and the Saxons much trouble, until he defeated them at Kingsdown Hill, and closed a long and prosperous reign victoriously.

Alfred the Great was the grandson of Egbert. His father, Ethelwolf, took him when only six--and, therefore, Alfred the Little-on a pilgrimage to Rome.

He spent a large sum of money abroad, gave the pope an annuity for himself, and another to trim the lamps of St. Peter and St. Paul, which has given rise to the celebrated jeu de mot that, instead of roaming about and getting rid of his cash in trimming foreign lamps, he ought to have remained at home for the purpose of trimming his enemies.'

'On his return through France he fell in love with Judith, the daughter of Charles the Bald, the king of the Franks, who probably gave a good fortune to the bride, for Charles being known as the bald, must of course have been without any heir apparent.-pp. 20, 21.

His sons resented this marriage. 'Athelstane being dead, Ethelbald was now the king's eldest son, and had made every arrangement for a fight with his own father for the throne, when the old gentleman thought it better to divide his crown than run the risk of getting it cracked in battle.'

[ocr errors]

'Ethelbald immediately cried halves when he found his father disposed to cry quarter, and after a short debate they came to a division. The undutiful son got for himself the richest portion of the kingdom of Wessex, leaving his unfortunate sire to sigh over the eastern part, which was the poorest moiety of the royal property. The ousted Ethelwolf did not survive more than two years the change which had made him little better than half-a-sovereign, for he died in 857, and was succeeded by his son Ethelbald. This person was, to use an old simile, as full of mischief as an egg is full of meat,' and indeed somewhat fuller, for we never yet found a piece of beef, mutton, or veal, in the whole course of our oval experience. Ethel bald, however, reigned only two years, having first married and subsequently divorced his father's widow Judith, whose venerable parent Charles the Bald was happily indebted to his baldness for being spared the misery of having his grey hairs brought down in sorrow to the grave by the misfortunes of his daughter. This young lady, for she was still young in spite of her two marriages, her widowhood, and divorce, had retired to a convent near Paris, where a gentleman of the name of Baldwin, belonging to an old standard family, ran away with her. He was threatened with excommunication by the young lady's father, but treating the menaces of Charles the Bald as so much balderdash, Mr. Baldwin sent a herald to the pope, who allowed the marriage to be legally solemnised.

'We have given a few lines to Judith because, by her last marriage, she gave a most illustrious line to us; for her son having married the youngest daughter of Alfred the Great, was the ancestor of Maud, the wife of William the Conqueror.'-p. 22.

Ethelbald was succeeded by his brothers Ethelbert, Ethelred, and Alfred, in turn. Constant resistance to the ravages of the Danes was the chief business of all the successors of Egbert. Alfred taught Britannia her first lesson in ruling the waves, by destroying the fleet of Guthrum the Dane. Amidst the festivities of Twelfth Night, Alfred was surprised at Chippenham by the Danes, and deserted by his subjects. It was on this occasion that he assumed the disguise of a swineherd, and was rebuked by the peasant's wife for neglecting to turn the cakes

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »