A History of Great Britain by Robert Balmain Mowat - CHAPTER II - The Anglo-Saxon Conquest

July 3 2018

Chapter II - The Anglo-Saxon Conquest

The Romans have deserted Britain and the land is now in the hands of new rulers: the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes.

These new foes are from Northern Germany, there occupying the rivers and forests. Mowat describes them as a strong people, faithful to their leaders, oaths, their heathen deities (Thor and Wodin are named specifically), devoted to their families and appalled by impurity and treason.

The Britons were used to occupation but the Roman and Saxon conquest differed significantly. For one, Mowat informs us, they differ in reasoning. The Romans had as their core belief, an idea of order. Their conquest of Britain was driven by the “irresistible extension of orderly government”. The Romans did not seek to make every Briton a Roman, but to bring Roman peace to the British Isles.

The Saxons had no such ideologies. Their interests were territorial - they had been threatened by famine in their homelands, and thus come with little regard for the existing societal system. Unlike the Romans, the Saxons brought no education or progress but rather a regression to pagan beliefs and general mayhem.

The Saxons succession can be attributed to the destructive influence of Roman slavery and their excellent timing - Rome was on the decline and thus, vulnerable.

When the Saxons from the Elbe region of modern-day Germany invaded Britain, they brought with them the Angles from Schleswig and the Jutes from Jutland. All three tribes brought their families and settled the British lands their took.

The Jutes settles in Kent and the Isles of Wight, the Saxons took Essex, Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset and the Angles found themselves in Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincoln, Yorkshire and Northumberland.

Despite their joined efforts to take over Britain, the three tribes intermittently fought each other for the next 100 years until three kingdoms emerged.

Wessex - held by the Saxons and compromising most of England south of the Thames, Northumbria - occupied by the Angles and extending from Humber to the Forth, and Mercia - also held by the Angles, wedged between the two other kingdoms and thus aptly named the Middlelands. The Jutes continued to hold Kent and the Isles of Wight.

The native Britons meanwhile, were rather sick of invaders. Resistance was ultimately futile, but the Britons won one battle, known as the Halleluliah Victory in 429, before falling to the Anglo-Saxons completely by the six century.

Over time, the Anglo-Saxons blended with their British subjects (with the exception of Wales and Cornwall) but, Mowat speculates, a few isolated and forgotten communities of native Britons must have survived in the depth of the forests.

“[…] to the strength of the conqueror was added something of the versatility and imagination of the conquered.”