by Hilaire Belloc. Annotation of text copyright (c)2006 David Trumbull and Patrick McNamara. All Rights Reserved.

Here Begins Chapter V of Europe and the Faith being the continuation from Chapter IIII

I have now carried this study through four sections. My object in writing it is to show that the Roman Empire never perished but was only transformed; that the Catholic Church, which, in its maturity, it accepted, caused it to survive and was, in that origin of Europe, and has since remained, the soul of one Western civilization.
In the first chapter I sketched the nature of the Roman Empire, in the second the nature of the Church within the Roman Empire before that civilization in its maturity accepted the Faith. In the third I attempted to lay before the reader that transformation and material decline (it was also a survival ), which has erroneously been called "the fall" of the Roman Empire. In the fourth I presented a picture of what society must have seemed to an onlooker just after the crisis of that transformation and at the entry into what are called the Dark Ages: the beginnings of the modern European nations which have superficially differentiated from the old unity of Rome.
I could wish that space had permitted me to describe a hundred other contemporary things which would enable the reader to seize both the magnitude and the significance of the great change from Pagan to Christian times. I should in particular have dwelt upon the transformation of the European mind with its increasing gravity, its ripening contempt for material things, and its resolution upon the ultimate fate of the human soul, which it now had firmly concluded to be personally immortal and subject to a conscious destiny.
This doctrine of personal immortality is the prime mark of the European and stamps his leadership upon the world.
Its original seat–long before history begins–lay perhaps in Ireland, later in Britain, certainly reduced to definition either in Britain or in Gaul. It increasingly influenced Greece and even had some influence upon the Jews before the Romans subdued them. But it remained an opinion, an idea looming in the dark, till it was seen strong and concrete in the full light of the Catholic Church. Oddly enough, Mahomet, who in most things reacted towards weakness of flesh and spirit, adopted this Western doctrine fully; it provided his system with its vigor. Everywhere is that doctrine of immortality the note of superior intelligence and will, especially in its contrast with the thin pantheism and negations of Asia. Everywhere does it accompany health and decision.
Its only worthy counterpart (equally European but rare, uprooted and private) is the bold affirmation of complete and final death.
The transformation of the Roman Empire, then, in the fourth century and the fifth was eventually its preservation, in peril of full decay, by its acceptation of the Faith.
To this I might have attached the continued carelessness for the plastic arts and for much in letters, the continued growth in holiness, and all that "salting," as it were, which preserved civilization and kept it whole until, after the long sequestration of the Dark Ages, it should discover an opportunity for revival.
My space has not permitted me to describe these things, I must turn at once to the last, and what is for my readers the chief, of the historical problems presented by the beginning of the Dark Ages. That problem is the fate of Britain.
The importance of deciding what happened in Britain when the central government of Rome failed, does not lie in the fact that an historical conclusion one way or the other can affect the truth. European civilization is still one whether men see that unity or no. The Catholic Church is still the soul of it, whether men know it or do not know it. But the problem presented by the fate of Britain at that critical moment when the provinces of the Roman Empire became independent of any common secular control, has this practical importance: that those who read it wrongly and who provide their readers with a false solution (as the Protestant German school and their copiers in English, Freeman, Green and the rest have done) those who talk of "the coming of the English," "the Anglo-Saxon conquest," and the rest, not only furnish arguments against the proper unity of our European story but also produce a warped attitude in the mind. Such men as are deceived by false accounts of the fate of Britain at the entry into the Dark Ages, take for granted many other things historically untrue. Their presumptions confuse or conceal much else that is historical truth: for instance, the character of the Normans; and even contemporary and momentous truth before our eyes today: for instance, the gulf between Englishmen and Prussians. They not only render an Englishman ignorant of his own nation and therefore of himself, they also render all men ignorant of Europe: for a knowledge of Britain in the period 500-700 as in the period 1530-1630 is the test of European history: and if you are wrong on these two points you are wrong on the whole.
A man who desires to make out that the Empire–that is European civilization–was "conquered" by barbarians cannot today, in the light of modern research, prove his case in Gaul, in Italy, in Spain, or in the valley of the Rhine. The old German thesis of a barbaric "conquest" upon the Continent, possible when modern history was a child, has necessarily been abandoned in its maturity. But that thesis still tries to make out a plausible case when it speaks of Britain, because so much of the record here is lost that there is more room for make-believe; and having made it out, the tale of a German and barbaric England, his false result will powerfully affect modern and immediate conclusions upon our common civilization, upon our institutions, and their nature, and in particular upon the Faith and its authority in Europe.
For if Britain be something other than England : if what we now know is not original to this Island, but is of the Northern German barbarism in race and tradition, if, in the breakdown of the Roman Empire, Britain was the one exceptional province which really did become a separate barbaric thing, cut off at the roots from the rest of civilization, then those who desire to believe that the institutions of Europe are of no universal effect, that the ancient laws of the Empire as on property and marriage–were local, and in particular that the Reformation was the revolt of a race–and of a strong and conquering race–against the decaying traditions of Rome, have something to stand on. It does not indeed help them to prove that our civilization is bad or that the Faith is untrue, but it permits them to despair of, or to despise, the unity of Europe, and to regard the present Protestant world as something which is destined to supplant that unity.
Such a point of view is wrong historically as it is wrong in morals. It will find no basis of military success in the future any more than it has in the past. /11/ It must ultimately break down if ever it should attempt to put into practice its theory of superiority in barbaric things. But meanwhile as a self-confident theory it can do harm indefinitely great by warping a great section of the European mind; bidding it refer its character to imaginary barbaric origins, so divorcing it from the majestic spirit of Western Civilization. The North German "Teutonic" school of false popular history can create its own imaginary past, and lend to such a figment the authority of antiquity and of lineage.
To show how false this modern school of history has been, but also what opportunities it had for advancing its thesis, is the object of what follows.
Britain, be it remembered, is today the only part of the Roman world in which a conscious antagonism to the ancient and permanent civilization of Europe exists. The Northern Germanies and Scandinavia, which have had, since the Reformation, a religious agreement with all that is still politically powerful in Britain, lay outside the old civilization. They would not have survived the schism of the sixteenth century had Britain resisted that schism. When we come to deal with the story of the Reformation in Britain, we shall see how the strong popular resistance to the Reformation nearly overcame that small wealthy class which used the religious excitement of an active minority as an engine to obtain material advantage for themselves. But as a fact in Britain the popular resistance to the Reformation failed. A violent and almost universal persecution directed, in the main by the wealthier classes, against the religion of the English populace and the wealth which endowed it just happened to succeed. In little more than a hundred years the newly enriched had won the battle. By the year 1600 the Faith of the British masses had been stamped out from the Highlands to the Channel.
It is our business to understand that this phenomenon, the moral severance of Britain from Europe, was a phenomenon of the sixteenth century and not of the fifth, and that Britain was in no way predestined by race or tradition to so lamentable and tragic a loss.
Let us state the factors in the problem.
The main factor in the problem is that the history of Great Britain from just before the middle of the fifth century (say the years 420 to 445) until the landing of St. Augustine in 597 is a blank.
It is of the first importance to the student of the general history in Europe to seize this point. It is true of no other Roman western province, and the truth of it has permitted a vast amount of empty assertion, most of it recent, and nearly all of it as demonstrably (as it is obviously) created by a religious bias. When there is no proof or record men can imagine almost anything, and the anti-Catholic historians have stretched imagination to the last possible limit in filling this blank with whatever could tell against the continuity of civilization.
It is the business of those who love historic truth to get rid of such speculations as of so much rubbish, and to restore to the general reader the few certain facts upon which he can solidly build.
Let me repeat that, had Britain remained true to the unity of Europe in that unfortunate oppression of the sixteenth century which ended in the loss of the Faith, had the populace stood firm or been able to succeed in the field and under arms, or to strike terror into their oppressors by an efficient revolt, in other words had the England of the Tudors remained Catholic, the solution of this ancient problem of the early Dark Ages would present no immediate advantage, nor perhaps would the problem interest men even academically. England would now be one with Europe as she had been for a thousand years before the uprooting of the Reformation. But, as things are, the need for correction is immediate and its success of momentous effect. No true historian, even though he should most bitterly resent the effect of Catholicism upon the European mind, can do other than combat what was, until quite recently, the prevalent teaching with regard to the fate of Britain when the central government of the Empire decayed.
I will first deal with the evidence–such as it is–which has come down to us upon the fate of Britain during the fifth and sixth centuries, and next consider the conclusions to which such evidence should lead us.
When we have to deal with a gap in history (and though none in Western European history is so strangely empty as this, yet there are very many minor ones which enable us to reason from their analogy), two methods of bridging the gap are present to the historian. The first is research into such rare contemporary records as may illustrate the period: the second is the parallel of what has happened elsewhere in the same case, or better still (when that is possible) the example of what was proceeding in similar places and under similar circumstances at the same time. And there is a third thing: both of these methods must be submitted to the criterion of common sense more thoroughly and more absolutely than the evidence of fuller periods. For when you have full evidence, even of a thing extraordinary, you must admit its truth. But when there is little evidence guess-work comes in, and common sense is the correction of guess-work.
If, for instance, I learn, as I can learn from contemporary records and from the witness of men still living, that at the battle of Gettysburg infantry advanced so boldly as to bayonet gunners at their guns, I must believe it although the event is astonishing.
If I learn, as I can learn, that a highly civilized and informed government like that of the French in 1870, entering into a war against a great rival, had only the old muzzle-loading cannon when their enemies were already equipped with modern breech-loading pieces, I must accept it on overwhelming evidence, in spite of my astonishment.
When even the miraculous appears in a record–if its human evidence is multiple, converging and exact–I must accept it or deny the value of human evidence.
But when I am dealing with a period or an event for which evidence is lacking or deficient, then obviously it is a sound criterion of criticism to accept the probable and not to presuppose the improbable. Common sense and general experience are nowhere more necessary than in their application, whether in a court of law or in the study of history, to those problems whose difficulty consists in the absence of direct proof. /12/
Remembering all this, let us first set down what is positively known from record with regard to the fate of Britain in the hundred and fifty years of "the gap."
We begin by noting that there were many groups of German soldiery in Britain before the Pirate raids and that the southwest was–whether on account of earlier pirate raids or on account of Saxon settlers the descendants of Roman soldiers–called "the Saxon shore" long before the Imperial system broke down.
Next we turn to documents.
There is exactly one contemporary document professing to tell us anything at all of what happened within this considerable period, exactly one document set down by a witness; and that document is almost valueless for our purpose.
It bears the title, De Excidio Brittaniś Liber Querulus . St. Gildas, a monk, was its author. The exact date of its compilation is a matter of dispute–necessarily so, for the whole of that time is quite dark. But it is certainly not earlier than 545. So it was written one hundred years after the beginning of that darkness which covers British history for one hundred and fifty years; most of the Roman regulars had been called away for a continental campaign in 410. They had often so left the island before. But this time the troops sent out on expedition did not return. Britain was visited in 429 and 447 by men who left records. It was not till 597 that St. Augustine landed. St. Augustine landed only fifty years at the most after Gildas wrote his Liber Querulus , whereas the snapping of the links between the Continent and southeastern Britain had taken place at least a hundred years before.
Well, it so happens that this book is, as I have called it, almost valueless for history. It is good in morals; its author complains, as all just men must do in all times, of the wickedness of powerful men, and of the vices of princes. It is a homily. The motive of it is not history, but the reformation of morals. In all matters extending to more than a lifetime before that of the writer, in all matters, that is, on which he could not obtain personal evidence, he is hopelessly at sea. He is valuable only as giving us the general impression of military and social struggles as they struck a monk who desired to make them the text of a sermon.
He vaguely talks of Saxon auxiliaries from the North Sea being hired (in the traditional Roman manner) by some Prince in Roman Britain to fight savages who had come out of the Highlands of Scotland and were raiding. He says this use of new auxiliaries began after the Third Consulship of AŽtius (whom he calls "Agitius"), that is, after 446 A.D. He talks still more vaguely of the election of local kings to defend the island from the excesses of these auxiliaries. He is quite as much concerned with the incursions of robber bands of Irish and Scotch into the civilized Roman province as he is with the few Saxon auxiliaries who were thus called in to supplement the arms of the Roman provincials.
He speaks only of a handful of these auxiliaries, three boatloads; but he is so vague and ill-instructed on the whole of this early period–a hundred years before his time–that one must treat his account of the transaction as half legendary. He tells us that "more numerous companies followed," and we know what that means in the case of the Roman auxiliaries throughout the Empire, a few thousand armed men.
He goes on to say that these auxiliaries mutinying for pay (another parallel to what we should expect from the history of all the previous hundred years all over Europe), threatened to plunder the civil population. Then comes one sentence of rhetoric saying how they ravaged the countrysides "in punishment for our previous sins," until the "flames" of the tumult actually "licked the Western Ocean." It is all (and there is much more) just like what we read in the rhetoric of the lettered men on the Continent who watched the comparatively small but destructive bands of barbarian auxiliaries in revolt, with their accompaniment of escaped slaves and local ne'er-do-wells, crossing Gaul and pillaging. If we had no record of the continental troubles but that of some one religious man using a local disaster as the opportunity for a moral discourse, historians could have talked of Gaul exactly as they talk of Britain on the sole authority of St. Gildas. All the exaggeration to which we are used in continental records is here: the "gleaming sword" and the "flame crackling," the "destruction" of cities (which afterward quietly continue an unbroken life!) and all the rest of it. We know perfectly well that on the Continent similar language was used to describe the predatory actions of little bodies of barbarian auxiliaries; actions calamitous and tragic no doubt, but not universal and in no way finally destructive of civilization.
It must not be forgotten that St. Gildas also tells us of the return home of many barbarians with plunder (which is again what we should have expected). But at the end of this account he makes an interesting point which shows that–even if we had nothing but his written record to judge by–the barbarian pirates had got some sort of foothold on the eastern coasts of the island.
For after describing how the Romano-British of the province organized themselves under one Ambrosius Aurelianus, and stood their ground, he tells us that "sometimes the citizens" (that is, the Roman and civilized men) "sometimes the enemy were successful," down to the thorough defeat of some raiding body or other of the Pagans at an unknown place which he calls "Mons Badonicus." This decisive action, he also tells us, took place in the year of his own birth.
Now the importance of this last point is that Gildas after that date can talk of things which he really knew. Let anyone who reads this page recall a great event contemporary with or nearly following his own birth, and see how different is his knowledge of it from his knowledge of that which came even a few years before. This is so today with all the advantages of full record. How much greater would be the contrasts between things really known and hearsay when there was none!
This defeat of the pagan Pirates at Mt. Badon Gildas calls the last but not the least slaughter of the barbarians; and though he probably wrote in the West of Britain, yet we know certainly from his contemporary evidence that during the whole of his own lifetime up to the writing of his book –a matter of some forty-four years–there was no more serious fighting. In other words, we are certain that the little pagan courts settled on the east coast of Britain were balanced by a remaining mass of declining Roman civilization elsewhere, and that there was no attempt at anything like expansion or conquest from the east westward. For this state of affairs, remember, we have direct contemporary evidence during the whole lifetime of a man and up to within at the most fifty years–perhaps less–from the day when St. Augustine landed in Kent and restored record and letters to the east coast.
We have more rhetoric and more homilies about the "deserted cities and the wickedness of men and the evil life of the Kings;" but that you might hear at any period. All we really get from Gildas is: (1) the confused tradition of a rather heavy predatory raid conducted by barbaric auxiliaries summoned from across the North Sea in true Roman fashion to help a Roman province against uncivilized invaders, Scotch and Irish; (2) (which is most important) the obtaining by these auxiliary troops or their rulers (though in small numbers it is true), of political power over some territory within the island; (3) the early cessation of any racial struggle, or conflict between Christian and Pagan, or between Barbarian and Roman; even of so much as would strike a man living within the small area of Britain, and the confinement of the new little pagan Pirate courts to the east coast during the whole of the first half of the sixth century.
Here let us turn the light of common sense on to these most imperfect, confused and few facts which Gildas gives us. What sort of thing would a middle-aged man, writing in the decline of letters and with nothing but poor and demonstrably distorted verbal records to go by, set down with regard to a piece of warfare, if (a) that man were a monk and a man of peace, (b) his object were obviously not history, but a sermon on morals, and (c) the fighting was between the Catholic Faith, which was all in all to the men of his time, and Pagans? Obviously he would make all he could of the old and terrified legends of the time long before his birth, he would get more precise as his birth approached (though always gloomy and exaggerating the evil), and he would begin to tell us precise facts with regard to the time he could himself remember. Well, all we get from St. Gildas is the predatory incursions of pagan savages from Scotland and Ireland, long, long before he was born; a small number of auxiliaries called in to help the Roman Provincials against these; the permanent settlement of these auxiliaries in some quarter or other of the island (we know from other evidence that it was the east and southeast coast); and (d) what is of capital importance because it is really contemporary, the settling down of the whole matter, apparently during Gildas' own lifetime in the sixth century –from say 500 A.D. or earlier to say 545 or later.
I have devoted so much space to this one writer, whose record would hardly count in a time where any sufficient historical document existed, because his book is absolutely the only one contemporary piece of evidence we have upon the pirate, or Saxon, raiding of Britain . /13/ There are interesting fragments about it in the various documents known (to us) collectively today as "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle"–but these documents were compiled many hundreds of years afterwards and had nothing better to go on than St. Gildas himself and possibly a few vague legends.
Now we happen to have in this connection a document which, though not contemporary must be considered as evidence of a kind. It is sober and full, written by one of the really great men of Catholic and European civilization, written in a spirit of wide judgment and written by a founder of history, the Venerable Bede.
True, the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History was not produced until three hundred years after the first raids of these predatory bands, not until nearly two hundred years after St. Gildas, and not until one hundred and forty years after reading and writing and the full tide of Roman civilization had come back to Eastern Britain with St. Augustine: but certain fundamental statements of his are evidence.
Thus the fact that the Venerable Bede takes for granted permanent pirate settlements (established as regular, if small, states), all the way along the North Sea coast from the northern part of Britain in which he wrote, brought down to the central south by Southampton Water, is a powerful or rather a conclusive argument in favor of the existence of such states some time before he wrote. It is not credible that a man of this weight would write as he does without solid tradition behind him; and he tells us that the settlers on this coast of Britain came from three lowland Frisian tribes, German and Danish, called Saxons, Jutes and Angles.
The first name "Saxon" was at that time the name of certain pirates inhabiting two or three small islands on the coasts between the Elbe and the Rhone. /14/ Ptolemy puts these "Saxons" two hundred years earlier, just beyond the mouth of the Elbe; the Romans knew them as scattered pirates in the North Sea, irritating the coasts of Gaul and Britain for generations. The name later spread to a large island confederation: but that was the way with German tribal names. The German tribal names do not stand for fixed races or even provinces, but for chance agglomerations which suddenly rise and as suddenly disappear. The local term, "Saxon," in the fifth and sixth century had nothing to do with the general term, "Saxon," applied to all northwest of the Germanies two hundred years and more afterwards. These pirates then provided small bands of fighting men under chieftains who founded small organized governments north of the Thames Estuary, at the head of Southampton Water, and on the Sussex coast, when they may or may not have found (but more probably did find) existing settlements of their own people already established as colonies by the Romans. The chiefs very probably captured the Roman fiscal organization of the place, but seem rapidly to have degraded society by their barbaric incompetence. They learnt no new language, but continued to talk that of their original seat on the Continent, which language was split up into a number of local dialects, each of which was a mixture of original German and adopted Greek, Latin and even Celtic words.
Of the Jutes we know nothing; there is a mass of modern guess work about them, valueless like all such stuff. We must presume that they were an insignificant little tribe who sent out a few mercenaries for hire; but they had the advantage of sending out the first, for the handful of mercenaries whom the Roman British called into Kent were by all tradition Jutish. The Venerable Bede also bears witness to an isolated Jutish settlement in the Meon Valley near Southampton Water, comparable to the little German colonies established by the Romans at Bayeux in Normandy and near Rennes.
The Angles were something more definite; they held that corner of land where the neck of Denmark joins the mainland of Germany. This we know for certain. There was a considerable immigration of them; enough to make their departure noticeable in the sparsely populated heaths of their district, and to make Bede record the traveler's tale that their barren country still looked "depopulated." How many boatloads of them, however, may have come, we have of course no sort of record: we only know from our common sense that the number must have been insignificant compared with the total free and slave population of a rich Roman province. Their chiefs got a hold of the land far above the Thames Estuary, in scattered spots all up the east coast of Britain, as far as the Firth of Forth.
There are no other authorities. There is no other evidence save St. Gildas, a contemporary and–two hundred years after him, three hundred after the first event–Bede. A mass of legend and worse nonsense called the Historia Brittonum exists indeed for those who consult it–but it has no relation to historical science nor any claim to rank as evidence. As we have it, it is centuries late, and it need not concern serious history. Even for the existence of Arthur–to which it is the principal witness–popular legend is a much better guide. As to the original dates of the various statements in the Historia Brittonum , those dates are guesswork. The legendary narrative as a whole, though very ancient in its roots, dates only from a period subsequent to Charlemagne, much more than a century later than Bede and a time far less cultured.
The life of St. Germanus, who came and preached in Britain after the Roman legions had left, is contemporary, and deals with events sixty years before St. Gildas' birth. It would be valuable if it told us anything about the Pirate settlements on the coast–whether these were but the confirmation of older Roman Saxon garrisons or Roman agricultural colonies or what–but it tells us nothing about them. We know that St. Germanus dealt in a military capacity with "Picts and Scots"–an ordinary barbarian trouble–but we have no hint at Saxon settlements. St. Germanus was last in Britain in 447, and it is good negative evidence that we hear nothing during that visit of any real trouble from the Saxon pirates who at that very time might be imagined, if legend were to be trusted, to be establishing their power in Kent.
That ends the list of witnesses; that is all our evidence . /15/ To sum up. So far as recorded history is concerned, all we know is this: that probably some, but certainly only few, of the Roman regular forces were to be found garrisoned in Britain after the year 410; that in the Roman armies there had long been Saxon and other German auxiliaries some of whom could naturally provide civilian groups and that Rome even planted agricultural colonies of auxiliaries permanently within the Empire; that the south and east coasts were known as "the Saxon shore" even during Imperial times; that the savages from Scotland and Ireland disturbed the civilized province cruelly; that scattered pirates who had troubled the southern and eastern coasts for two centuries, joined the Scotch and Irish ravaging bands; that some of these were taken in as regular auxiliaries on the old Roman model, somewhere about the middle of the fifth century (the conventional date is 445); that, as happened in many another Roman province, the auxiliaries mutinied for pay and did a good deal of bad looting and ravaging; finally that the ravaging was checked, and that the Pirates were thrown back upon some permanent settlements of theirs established during these disturbances along the easternmost and southernmost coasts. Their numbers must have been very small compared with the original population. No town of any size was destroyed.
Now it is most important in the face of such a paucity of information to seize three points:
First, that the ravaging was not appreciably worse, either in the way it is described or by any other criterion, than the troubles which the Continent suffered at the same time and which (as we know) did not there destroy the continuity or unity of civilization.
Secondly, that the sparse raiders, Pagan (as were also some few of those on the Continent) and incapable of civilized effort, obtained, as they did upon the Continent (notably on the left bank of the Rhine), little plots of territory which they held and governed for themselves, and in which after a short period the old Roman order decayed in the incapable hands of the newcomers.
But, thirdly (and upon this all the rest will turn), the position which these less civilized and pagan small courts happened permanently to hold, were positions that cut the link between the Roman province of Britain and the rest of what had been the united Roman Empire .
This last matter–not numbers, not race–is the capital point in the story of Britain between 447 and 597.
The uncivilized man happened, by a geographical accident, to have cut the communication of the island with its sister provinces of the Empire. He was numerically as insignificant, racially as unproductive and as ill provided with fruitful or permanent institutions as his brethren on the Rhine or the Danube. But on the Rhine and the Danube the Empire was broad. If a narrow fringe of it was ruined it was no great matter: only a retreat of a few miles. Those sea communications between Britain and Europe were narrow–and the barbarian had been established across them.
The circulation of men, goods and ideas was stopped for one hundred and fifty years because the small pirate settlements (mixed perhaps with barbarian settlements already established by the Empire) had, by the gradual breakdown of the Roman ports, destroyed communication with Europe from Southampton Water right north to beyond the Thames.
It seems certain that even the great town of London, whatever its commercial relations, kept up no official or political business beyond the sea. The pirates had not gone far inland; but, with no intention of conquest (only of loot or continued establishment), they had snapped the bond by which Britain lived.
Such is the direct evidence, and such our first conclusion on it.
But of indirect indications, of reasonable supposition and comparison between what came after the pirate settlements and what had been before, there is much more. By the use of this secondary matter added to the direct evidence one can fully judge both the limits and the nature of the misfortune that overtook Britain after the central Roman government failed and before the Roman missionaries, who restored the province to civilization, had landed.
We may then arrive at a conclusion and know what that Britain was to which the Faith returned with St. Augustine. When we know that, we shall know what Britain continued to be until the catastrophe of the Reformation.
I say that, apart from the direct evidence of St. Gildas and the late but respectable traditions gathered by the Venerable Bede, the use of other and indirect forms of evidence permits us to be certain of one or two main facts, and a method about to be described will enable us to add to these a half-dozen more; the whole may not be sufficient, indeed, to give us a general picture of the time, but it will prevent us from falling into any radical error with regard to the place of Britain in the future unity of Europe when we come to examine that unity as it re-arose in the Middle Ages, partly preserved, partly reconstituted, by the Catholic Church.
The historical method to which I allude and to which I will now introduce the reader may properly be called that of limitations .
We may not know what happened between two dates; but if we know pretty well how things stood for some time before the earlier date and for sometime after the later one, then we have two "jumping off places," as it were, from which to build our bridge of speculation and deduction as to what happened in the unexplored gap of time between.
Suppose every record of what happened in the United States between 1862 and 1880 to be wiped out by the destruction of all but one insufficient document, and supposing a fairly full knowledge to survive of the period between the Declaration of Independence and 1862, and a tolerable record to survive of the period between 1880 and the present year. Further, let there be ample traditional memory and legend that a civil war took place, that the struggle was a struggle between North and South, and that its direct and violent financial and political effects were felt for over a decade.
The student hampered by the absence of direct evidence might make many errors in detail and might be led to assert, as probably true, things at which a contemporary would smile. But by analogy with other contemporary countries, by the use of his common sense and his knowledge of human nature, of local climate, of other physical conditions, and of the motives common to all men, he would arrive at a dozen or so general conclusions which would be just. What came after the gap would correct the deductions he had made from his knowledge of what came before it. What came before the gap would help to correct false deductions drawn from what came after it. His knowledge of contemporary life in Europe, let us say, or in western territories which the war did not reach, between 1862 and 1880, would further correct his conclusions.
If he were to confine himself to the most general conclusions he could not be far wrong. He would appreciate the success of the North and how much that success was due to numbers. He would be puzzled perhaps by the different positions of the abolitionist theory before and after the war; but he would know that the slaves were freed in the interval, and he would rightly conclude that their freedom had been a direct historical consequence and contemporary effect of the struggle. He would be equally right in rejecting any theory of the colonization of the Southern States by Northerners; he would note the continuity of certain institutions, the non-continuity of others. In general, if he were to state first what he was sure of, secondly, what he could fairly guess, his brief summary, though very incomplete, would not be off the rails of history; he would not be employing such a method to produce historical nonsense, as so many of our modern historians have done in their desire to prove the English people German and barbaric in their origins.
This much being said, let me carefully set down what we know with regard to Britain before and after the bad gap in our records, the unknown one hundred and fifty years between the departure of St. Germanus and the arrival of St. Augustine.
We know that before the bulk of Roman regulars left the country in 410, Britain was an organized Roman province. Therefore, we know that it had regular divisions, with a town as the centre of each, many of the towns forming the Sees of the Bishops. We know that official records were kept in Latin and that Latin was the official tongue. We further know that the island at this time had for generations past suffered from incursions of Northern barbarians in great numbers over the Scottish border and from piratical raids of seafarers (some Irish, others Germanic, Dutch and Danish in origin) in much lesser numbers, for the amount of men and provisions conveyable across a wide sea in small boats is highly limited.
Within four years of the end of the sixth century, nearly two hundred years after the cessation of regular Roman government, missionary priests from the Continent, acting on a Roman episcopal commission, land in Britain; from that moment writing returns and our chronicles begin again. What do they tell us?
First, that the whole island is by that time broken up into a number of small and warring districts. Secondly, that these numerous little districts, each under its petty king or prince, fall into two divisions: some of these petty kings and courts are evidently Christian, Celtic-speaking and by all their corporate tradition inherit from the old Roman civilization. The other petty kings and courts speak various "Teutonic" dialects, that is, dialects made up of a jargon of original German words and Latin words mixed. The population of the little settlements under these eastern knights spoke, apparently, for the most part the same dialects as their courts. Thirdly, we find that these courts and their subjects are not only mainly of this speech, but also, in the mass, pagan. There may have been relics of Catholicism among them, but at any rate the tiny courts and petty kinglets were pagan and "Teutonic" in speech. Fourthly, the divisions between these two kinds of little states were such that the decayed Christians were, when St. Augustine came, roughly-speaking in the West and centre of the island, the Pagans on the coasts of the South and the East.
All this tallies with the old and distorted legends and traditions, as it does with the direct story of Gildas, and also with whatever of real history may survive in the careful compilation of legend and tradition made by the Venerable Bede.
The first definite historical truth which we derive from this use of the method of limitations, is of the same sort as that to which the direct evidence of Gildas leads us. A series of settlements had been effected upon the coasts of the North Sea and the eastern part of the Channel from, let us say, Dorsetshire or its neighborhood, right up to the Firth of Forth, They had been effected by the North Sea pirates and their foothold was good.
Now let us use this method of limitations for matters a little less obvious, and ask, first, what were the limits between these two main groups of little confused and warring districts; secondly, how far was either group coherent; thirdly, what had survived in either group of the old order; and, fourthly, what novel thing had appeared during the darkness of this century-and-a-half or two centuries? /16/
Taking these four points seriatim :
(1) Further inland than about a day's march from the sea or from the estuaries of rivers, we have no proof of the settlement of the pirates or the formation by them of local governments. It is impossible to fix the boundaries in such a chaos, but we know that most of the county of Kent and the seacoast of Sussex, also all within a raiding distance of Southampton Water, and of the Hampshire Avon, the maritime part of East Anglia and of Lincolnshire, so far as we can judge, the East Riding of Yorkshire, Durham, the coastal part at least of Northumberland and the Lothians, were under numerous pagan kinglets, whose courts talked this mixture of German and Latin words called "Teutonic dialects."
What of the Midlands? The region was a welter, and a welter of which we can tell very little indeed. It formed a sort of march or borderland between the two kinds of courts, those of the kinglets and chieftains who still preserved a tradition of civilization, and those of the kinglets who had lost that tradition. This mixed borderland tended apparently to coalesce (the facts of which we have to judge are very few) under one chief. It was later known not under a Germanic or Celtic name, but under the low Latin name of "Mercia" that is the "Borderland." To the political aspect of this line of demarcation I will return in a moment.
(2) As to the second question: What kind of cohesion was there between the western or the eastern sets of these vague and petty governments? The answer is that the cohesion was of the loosest in either case. Certain fundamental habits differentiated East from West, language, for instance, and much more religion. Before the coming of St. Augustine, all the western and probably most of the central kinglets were Christians; the kinglets on the eastern coasts Pagan.
There was a tendency in the West apparently to hold together for common interests, but no longer to speak of one head. But note this interesting point. The West that felt some sort of common bond, called itself the Cymry , and only concerned the mountain land. It did not include, it carefully distinguished itself from the Christians of the more fertile Midlands and South and East, which it called " Laghans ."
Along the east coast there was a sort of tradition of common headship, very nebulous indeed, but existent. Men talked of "chiefs of Britain," " Bretwaldas ," a word, the first part of which is obviously Roman, the second part of which may be Germanic or Celtic or anything, and which we may guess to indicate a titular headship. But–and this must be especially noted–there was no conscious or visible cohesion among the little courts of the east and southeast coasts; there was no conscious and deliberate continued pagan attack against the Western Christians as such in the end of the sixth century when St. Augustine landed, and no Western Celtic Christian resistance, organized as such, to the chieftains scattered along the eastern coast. Each kinglet fought with each, pagan with pagan, Christian with Christian, Christian and pagan in alliance against pagan and Christian in alliance–and the cross divisions were innumerable. You have petty kings on the eastern coasts with Celtic names; you have Saxon allies in Celtic courts; you have Western Christian kings winning battles on the coasts of the North Sea and Eastern kings winning battles nearly as far west as the Severn, etc., etc. I have said that it is of capital importance to appreciate this point–that the whole thing was a chaos of little independent districts all fighting in a hotchpotch and not a clash of warring races or tongues.
It is difficult for us with our modern experience of great and highly conscious nations to conceive such a state of affairs. When we think of fighting and war, we cannot but think of one considerable conscious nation fighting against another similar nation , and this modern habit of mind has misled the past upon the nature of Britain at the moment when civilization reŽntered the South and East of the island with St. Augustine. Maps are published with guesswork boundaries showing the "frontiers" of the "Anglo-Saxon conquest," at definite dates, and modern historians are fond of talking of the "limits" of that conquest being "extended" to such and such points. There were no "frontiers:" there was no "conquest" either way–of east over west or west over east. There were no "extending" limits of Eastern (or of Western) rule. There was no "advance to Chester," no "conquest of the district of Bath." There were battles near Bath and battles near Chester, the loot of a city, a counter raid by the Westerners and all the rest of it. But to talk of a gradual "Anglo-Saxon conquest" is an anachronism.
The men of the time would not have understood such language, for indeed it has no relation to the facts of the time.
The kinglet who could gather his men from a day's march round his court in the lower Thames Valley, fought against the kinglet who could gather his men from a day's march round his stronghold at Canterbury. A Pagan Teutonic-speaking Eastern kinglet would be found allied with a Christian Celtic-speaking Western kinglet and his Christian followers; and the allies would march indifferently against another Christian or another pagan.
There was indeed later a westward movement in language and habit which I shall mention; that was the work of the Church. So far as warfare goes there was no movement westward or eastward. Fighting went on continually in all directions, from a hundred separate centres, and if there are reliable traditions of an Eastern Pagan kinglet commanding some mixed host once reaching so far west as to raid the valley of the Wiltshire Avon and another raiding to the Dee, so there are historical records of a Western Christian kinglet reaching and raiding the Eastern settlements right down to the North Sea at Bamborough.
(3) Now to the third point: What had survived of the old order in either half of this anarchy? Of Roman government, of Roman order, of true Roman civilization, of that palatium of which we spoke in a previous chapter, nothing had anywhere survived. The disappearance of the Roman taxing and judicial machinery is the mark of Britain's great wound. It differentiates the fate of Britain from that of Gaul.
The West of Britain had lost this Roman tradition of government just as much as the East. The "Pict and Scot" /17/ and the North Sea pirates, since they could not read or write, or build or make a road or do anything appreciably useful–interrupted civilized life and so starved it. The raids did more to break up the old Roman society than did internal decay. The Western chieftains who retained the Roman Religion had thoroughly lost the Roman organization of society before the year 600. The Roman language, probably only really familiar in the towns, seems to have gone; the Roman method of building had certainly gone. In the West the learned could still write, but they must have done so most sparingly, if we are to judge by the absence of any remains. The Church in some truncated and starved form, survived indeed in the West; it was the religion to which an Imperial fragment cut off from all other Roman populations might be expected to cling. Paganism seems to have died out in the West; but the mutilated Catholicism that had taken its place became provincial, ill-instructed, and out of touch with Europe. We may guess, though it is only guesswork, that its chief ailment came from the spiritual fervor, ill-disciplined but vivid, of Brittany and of Ireland.
What had survived in the eastern part of Britain? On the coasts, and up the estuaries of the navigable rivers? Perhaps in patches the original language. It is a question whether Germanic dialects had not been known in eastern Britain long before the departure of the Roman legions. But anyhow, if we suppose the main speech of the East to have been Celtic and Latin before the pirate raids, then that main speech had gone.
So, perhaps altogether, certainly for the most part had religion. So certainly had the arts–reading and writing and the rest. Over-sea commerce had certainly dwindled, but to what extent we cannot tell. It is not credible that it wholly disappeared; but on the other hand there is very little trace of connection with southern and eastern Britain in the sparse continental records of this time.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, the old bishoprics had gone.
When St. Gregory sent St. Augustine and his missionaries to refound the old Sees of Britain, his original plan of that refounding had to be wholly changed. He evidently had some old imperial scheme before him, in which he conceived of London, the great city, as the Metropolis and the lesser towns as suffragan to its See. But facts were too strong for him. He had to restore the Church in the coasts that cut off Britain from Europe, and in doing so he had to deal with a ruin. Tradition was lost; and Britain is the only Roman province in which this very great break in the continuity of the bishoprics is to be discovered.
One thing did not disappear, and that was the life of the towns.
Of course, a Roman town in the sixth or seventh century was not what it had been in the fourth or fifth; but it is remarkable that in all this wearing away of the old Roman structure, its framework (which was, and is, municipal) remained.
If we cast up the principal towns reappearing when the light of history returns to Britain with St. Augustine's missionaries, we find that all of them are Roman in origin; what is more important, we find that the proportion of surviving Roman towns centuries later, when full records exist, is even larger than it is in other provinces of the Empire which we know to have preserved the continuity of civilization. Exeter (perhaps Norwich), Chester, Manchester, Lancaster, Carlisle, York, Canterbury, Lincoln, Rochester, Newcastle, Colchester, Bath, Winchester, Chichester, Gloucester, Cirencester, Leicester, Old Salisbury, Great London itself–these pegs upon which the web of Roman civilization was stretched–stood firm through the confused welter of wars between all these petty chieftains, North Sea Pirate, Welsh and Cumbrian and Pennine highlander, Irish and Scotch.
There was a slow growth of suburbs and some substitution of new suburban sites for old city sites–as at Southampton, Portsmouth, Bristol, Huntingdon, etc. It is what you find all over Europe. But there was no real disturbance of this scheme of towns until the industrial revolution of modern times came to diminish the almost immemorial importance of the Roman cities and to supplant their economic functions by the huge aggregations of the Potteries, the Midlands, South Lancashire, the coal fields and the modern ports.
The student of this main problem in European history, the fate of Britain, must particularly note the phenomenon here described. It is the capital point of proof that Roman Britain, though suffering grievously from the Angle, Saxon, Scotch, and Irish raids, and though cut off for a time from civilization, did survive.
Those who prefer to think of England as a colony of barbarians in which the European life was destroyed, have to suppress many a truth and to conceive many an absurdity in order to support their story; but no absurdity of theirs is worse than the fiction they put forward with regard to the story of the English towns.
It was solemnly maintained by the Oxford School and its German masters that these great Roman towns, one after the other, were first utterly destroyed by the Pirates of the North Sea, then left in ruins for generations, and then re-occupied through some sudden whim by the newcomers! It needs no historical learning to laugh at such a fancy; but historical learning makes it even more impossible than it is laughable.
Certain rare towns, of course, decayed in the course of centuries: the same is true, for that matter, of Spain and Gaul and Italy. Some few here (as many in Spain, in Gaul and in Italy) may have been actually destroyed in the act of war. There is tradition of something of the sort at Pevensey (the old port of Anderida in Sussex) and for some time a forgery lent the same distinction to Wroxeter under the Wrekin. A great number of towns again (as in every other province of the Empire) naturally diminished with the effect of time. Dorchester on the Thames, for instance, seems to have been quite a large place for centuries after the first troubles with the pirates, though today it is only a village; but it did not decay as the result of war. Sundry small towns became smaller still, some few sank to hamlets as generation after generation of change passed over them: but we find just the same thing in Picardy in the Roussillon, in Lombardy and in Aquitaine. What did not happen in Britain was a subversion of the Roman municipal system.
Again, the unwalled settlement outside the walled town often grew at the expense of the municipality within the walls. I have given Huntingdon as an example of this; and there is St. Albans, and Cambridge. But these also have their parallels in every other province of the West. Even in distant Africa you find exactly the same thing. You find it in the northern suburb of Roman Paris itself. That suburb turns into the head of the mediśval town–yet Paris is perhaps the best example of Roman continuity in all Europe.
The seaports naturally changed in character and often in actual site, especially upon the flat, and therefore changeable, eastern shores–and that is exactly what you find in similar circumstances throughout the tidal waters of the Continent. There is not the shadow or the trace of any widespread destruction of the Roman towns in Britain. On the contrary there is, as much or more than elsewhere in the Empire, the obvious fact of their survival.
The phenomenon is the more remarkable when we consider first that the names of Roman towns given above do not pretend to be a complete list (one may add immediately from memory the southern Dorchester, Dover, Doncaster, etc.), and, secondly, that we have but a most imperfect list remaining of the towns in Roman Britain.
A common method among those who belittle the continuity of our civilization, is to deny a Roman origin to any town in which Roman remains do not happen to have been noted as yet by antiquarians. Even under that test we can be certain that Windsor, Lewes, Arundel, Dorking, and twenty others, were seats of Roman habitation, though the remaining records of the first four centuries tell us nothing of them. But in nine cases out of ten the mere absence of catalogued Roman remains proves nothing. The soil of towns is shifted and reshifted continually generation after generation. The antiquary is not stationed at every digging of a foundation, or sinking of a well, or laying of a drain, or paving of a street. His methods are of recent establishment. We have lost centuries of research, and, even with all our modern interest in such matters, the antiquary is not informed once in a hundred times of chance discoveries, unless perhaps they be of coins. When, moreover, we consider that for fifteen hundred years this turning and returning of the soil has been going on within the municipalities, it is ridiculous to affirm that such a place as Oxford, for instance–a town of importance in the later Dark Ages–had no Roman root, simply because the modern antiquary is not yet possessed of any Roman remains recently discovered in it: there may have been no town here before the fifth century: but it is unlikely.
One further point must be noticed before we leave this prime matter: had there been any considerable destruction of the Roman towns in Britain, large and small, we should expect it where the pirate raids fell earliest and most fiercely. We should expect to find the towns near the east and the south coast to have disappeared. The historical truth is quite opposite. The garrison of Anderida indeed and of Anderida alone (Pevensey) was, if we may trust a vague phrase written four hundred years later, massacred in war. But Lincoln, York, Newcastle, Colchester, London, Dover, Canterbury, Rochester, Chichester, Portchester, Winchester, the very principal examples of survival, are all of them either right on the eastern and southern coast or within a day's striking distance of it.
As to decay, the great garrison centre of the Second Legion, in the heart of the country which the pirate raiders never reached, has sunk to be little Caerleon-upon-Usk, just as surely as Dorchester on the Thames, far away from the eastern coast, has decayed from a town to a village, and just as surely as Richboro', an island right on the pirate coast itself, has similarly decayed! As with destruction, so with decay, there is no increasing proportion as we go from the west eastward towards the Pirate settlements.
But the point need not be labored. The supposition that the Roman towns disappeared is no longer tenable, and the wonder is how so astonishing an assertion should have lived even for a generation. The Roman towns survived, and, with them, Britain, though maimed.
(4) Now for the last question: what novel things had come in to Britain with this break down of the central Imperial authority in the fifth and sixth centuries? To answer that is, of course, to answer the chief question of all, and it is the most difficult of all to answer.
I have said that presumably on the South and East the language was new. There were numerous Germanic troops permanently in Britain before the legions disappeared, there was a constant intercourse with Germanic auxiliaries: there were probably colonies, half military, half agricultural. Some have even thought that "Belgic" tribes, whether in Gaul or Britain, spoke Teutonic dialects; but it is safer to believe from the combined evidence of place names and of later traditions, that there was a real change in the common talk of most men within a march of the eastern sea or the estuaries of its rivers.
This change in language, if it occurred (and we must presume it did, though it is not absolutely certain, for there may have been a large amount of mixed German speech among the people before the Roman soldiers departed)–this change of language, I say, is the chief novel matter. The decay of religion means less, for when the pirate raids began, though the Empire was already officially Christian at its heart, the Church had only just taken firm root in the outlying parts.
The institutions which arose in Britain everywhere when the central power of Rome decayed–the meetings of armed men to decide public affairs, money compensation for injuries, the organizing of society by "hundreds," etc., were common to all Europe. Nothing but ignorance can regard them as imported into Britain (or into Ireland or Brittany for that matter) by the Pirates of the North Sea. They are things native to all our European race when it lives simply. A little knowledge of Europe will teach us that there was nothing novel or peculiar in such customs. They appear universally among the Iberians as among the Celts, among the pure Germans beyond the Rhine, the mixed Franks and Batavians upon the delta of that river, and the lowlands of the Scheldt and the Meuse; even among the untouched Roman populations.
Everywhere you get, as the Dark Ages approach and advance, the meetings of armed men in council, the chieftain assisted in his government by such meetings, the weaponed assent or dissent of the great men in conference, the division of the land and people into "hundreds," the fine for murder, and all the rest of it.
Any man who says (and most men of the last generation said it) that among the changes of the two hundred years' gap was the introduction of novel institutions peculiar to the Germans, is speaking in ignorance of the European unity and of that vast landscape of our civilization which every true historian should, however dimly, possess. The same things, talked of in a mixture of Germanic and Latin terms between Poole Harbour and the Bass Rock, were talked of in Celtic terms from the Start to Glasgow; the chroniclers wrote them down in Latin terms alone everywhere from the Sahara to the Grampians and from the Adriatic to the Atlantic. The very Basques, who were so soon to begin the resistance of Christendom against the Mohammedan in Spain, spoke of them in Basque terms. But the actual things–the institutions–for which all these various Latins, Basque, German, and Celtic words stood (the blood-fine, the scale of money–reparation for injury, division of society into "hundreds," the Council advising the Chief, etc.) were much the same throughout the body of Europe. They will always reappear wherever men of our European race are thrown into small, warring communities, avid of combat, jealous of independence, organized under a military aristocracy and reverent of custom.
Everywhere, and particularly in Britain, the Imperial measurements survived–the measurement of land, the units of money and of length and weight were all Roman, and nowhere more than in Eastern Britain during the Dark Ages.
Lastly, let the reader consider the curious point of language. No more striking simulacrum of racial unity can be discovered than a common language or set of languages; but it is a simulacrum , and a simulacrum only. It is neither a proof nor a product of true unity. Language passes from conqueror to conquered, from conquered to conqueror, almost indifferently. Convenience, accident, and many a mysterious force which the historian cannot analyze, propagates it, or checks it. Gaul, thickly populated, organized by but a few garrisons of Roman soldiers and one army corps of occupation, learns to talk Latin universally, almost within living memory of the Roman conquest. Yet two corners of Gaul, the one fertile and rich, the other barren, Amorica and the Basque lands, never accept Latin. Africa, though thoroughly colonized from Italy and penetrated with Italian blood as Gaul never was, retains the Punic speech century after century, to the very ends of Roman rule–seven hundred years after the fall of Carthage: four hundred after the end of the Roman Republic!
Spain, conquered and occupied by the Mohammedan, and settled in very great numbers by a highly civilized Oriental race, talks today a Latin only just touched by Arabic influence. Lombardy, Gallic in blood and with a strong infusion of repeated Germanic invasions (very much larger than ever Britain had!) has lost all trace of Gallic accent, even in language, save in one or two Alpine valleys, and of German speech retains nothing but a few rare and doubtful words. The plain of Hungary and the Carpathian Mountains are a tesselated pavement of languages quite dissimilar, Mongolian, Teutonic, Slav. The Balkan States have, not upon their westward or European side, but at their extreme opposite limit, a population which continues the memory of the Empire in its speech; and the vocabulary of the Rumanians is not the Greek of Byzantium , which civilized them, but the Latin of Rome!
The most implacable of Mohammedans now under French rule in Algiers speak, and have spoken for centuries, not Arabic in any form, but Berber; and the same speech reappears beyond a wide belt of Arabic in the far desert to the south.
The Irish, a people in permanent contrast to the English, yet talk in the main the English tongue.
The French-Canadians, accepting political unity with Britain, retain their tongue and reject English.
Look where we will, we discover in regard to language something as incalculable as the human will, and as various as human instinct. The deliberate attempt to impose it has nearly always failed. Sometimes it survives as the result of a deliberate policy. Sometimes it is restored as a piece of national protest–Bohemia is an example. Sometimes it "catches on" naturally and runs for hundreds of miles covering the most varied peoples and even the most varied civilizations with a common veil.
Now the Roman towns were not destroyed, the original population was certainly not destroyed even in the few original settlements of Saxon and Angles in the sea and river shores of the East. Such civilization as the little courts of the Pirate chieftains maintained was degraded Roman or it was nothing. But the so-called "Anglo-Saxon" language –the group of half-German /18/ dialects which may have taken root before the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the East of Britain, and which at any rate were well rooted there a hundred years after–stood ready for one of two fates. Either it would die out and be replaced by dialects half Celtic, half Latin vocabulary, or it would spread westward. That the Teutonic dialects of the eastern kinglets should spread westward might have seemed impossible. The unlettered barbarian does not teach the lettered civilized man; the pagan does not mold the Christian. It is the other way about. Yet in point of fact that happened. Why?
Before we answer that question let us consider another point. Side by side with the entry of civilization through the Roman missionary priests in Kent, there was going on a missionary effort in the North of the Island of Britain, which effort was Irish. It had various Celtic dialects for its common daily medium, though it was, of course, Roman in ritual at the altar. The Celtic missionaries, had they alone been in the field, would have made us all Celtic speaking today. But it was the direct mission from Rome that won, and this for the reason that it had behind it the full tide of Europe. Letters, order, law, building, schools, re-entered England through Kent–not through Northumberland where the Irish were preaching.
Even so the spread westward of a letterless and starved set of dialects from the little courts of the eastern coasts (from Canterbury and Bamborough and so forth) would have been impossible but for a tremendous accident.
St. Augustine, after his landing, proposed to the native British bishops that they should help in the conversion of the little pagan kinglets and their courts on the eastern coast. They would not. They had been cut off from Europe for so long that they had become warped. They refused communion. The peaceful Roman Mission coming just at the moment when the Empire had recovered Italy and was fully restoring itself, was thrown back on the Eastern courts. It used them. It backed their tongue, their arms, their tradition. The terms of Roman things were carefully translated by the priests into the Teutonic dialects of these courts; the advance of civilization under the missionaries, recapturing more and more of the province of Britain, proceeded westward from the courts of the Eastern kinglets. The schools, the official world–all–was now turned by the weight of the Church against a survival of the Celtic tongues and in favor of the Eastern Teutonic ones.
Once civilization had come back by way of the South and East, principally through the natural gate of Kent and through the Straits of Dover which had been blocked so long, this tendency of the Eastern dialects to spread as the language of an organized clerical officialdom and of its courts of law, was immediately strengthened. It soon and rapidly swamped all but the western hills. But of colonization, of the advance of a race, there was none. What advanced was the Roman organization once more and, with it, the dialects of the courts it favored.
What we know, then, of Britain when it was re-civilized we know through Latin terms or through the half-German dialects which ultimately and much later merge into what we call Anglo-Saxon. An historic King of Sussex bears a Celtic name, but we read of him in the Latin, then in the Teutonic tongues, and his realm, however feeble the proportion of over-sea blood in it, bears an over-sea label for its court–"the South Saxon."
The mythical founder of Wessex bears a Celtic name, Cerdic: but we read of him if not in Latin then in Anglo-Saxon. Not a cantref but a hundred is the term of social organization in England when it is re-civilized; not an eglywys but a church /19/ is the name of the building in which the new civilization hears Mass. The ruler, whatever his blood or the blood of his subjects, is a Cynning , not a Reg or a Prins . His house and court are a hall /20/ not a pl‚s . We get our whole picture of renovated Britain (after the Church is restored) colored by this half-German speech. But the Britain we see thus colored is not barbaric. It is a Christian Britain of mixed origin, of ancient municipalities cut off for a time by the Pirate occupation of the South and East, but now reunited with the one civilization whose root is in Rome. This clear historical conclusion sounds so novel today that I must emphasize and confirm it.
Western Europe in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries was largely indifferent to our modern ideas of race. Of nationality it knew nothing. It was concerned with the maintenance of the Catholic Church especially against the outer Pagan. This filled the mind. This drove all the mastering energies of the time. The Church, that is, all the acts of life, but especially record and common culture, came back into a Britain which had been cut off. It reopened the gate. It was refused aid by the Christian whom it relieved. It decided for the courts of the South and East, taught them organization, and carried their dialects with it through the Island which it gradually recovered for civilization.
We are now in a position to sum up our conclusions upon the matter:
Britain, connected with the rest of civilization by a narrow and precarious neck of sea-travel over the Straits of Dover, had, in the last centuries of Roman rule, often furnished great armies to usurpers or Imperial claimants, sometimes leaving the Island almost bare of regular troops. But with each return of peace these armies also had returned and the rule of the central Roman government over Britain had been fairly continuous until the beginning of the fifth century. At that moment–in 410 A.D.–the bulk of the trained soldiers again left upon a foreign adventure. But the central rule of Rome was then breaking down: these regulars never returned–though many auxiliary troops may have remained.
At this moment, when every province of the West was subject to disturbance and to the over-running of barbarian bands, small but destructive, Britain particularly suffered. Scotch, Irish and German barbarians looted her on all sides.
These last, the Saxon pirates, brought in as auxiliaries in the Roman fashion, may already have been settled in places upon the eastern coast, their various half-German dialects may have already been common upon those coasts; but at any rate, after the breakdown of the Roman order, detached communities under little local chiefs arose. The towns were not destroyed. Neither the slaves, nor, for that matter, the greater part of the free population fell. But wealth declined rapidly in the chaos as it did throughout Western Europe. And side by side with this ruin came the replacing of the Roman official language by a welter of Celtic and of half-German dialects in a mass of little courts. The new official Roman religion–certainly at the moment of the breakdown the religion of a small minority–almost or wholly disappeared in the Eastern pirate settlements. The Roman language similarly disappeared in the many small principalities of the western part of the island; they reverted to their original Celtic dialects. There was no boundary between the hotchpotch of little German-speaking territories on the East and the little Celtic territories on the West. There was no more than a vague common feeling of West against East or East against West; all fought indiscriminately among themselves.
After a time which could be covered by two long lives, during which decline had been very rapid, and as noticeable in the West as in the East throughout the Island, the full influence of civilization returned, with the landing in 597 of St. Augustine and his missionaries sent by the Pope.
But the little Pirate courts of the East happened to have settled on coasts which occupied the gateway into the Island ; it was thus through them that civilization had been cut off, and it was through them that civilization came back. On this account:
(1) The little kingdoms tended to coalesce under the united discipline of the Church.
(2) The united British civilization so forming was able to advance gradually westward across the island.
(3) Though the institutions of Europe were much the same wherever Roman civilization had existed and had declined, though the councils of magnates surrounding the King, the assemblies of armed men, the division of land and people into "hundreds" and the rest of it were common to Europe, these things were given, over a wider and wider area of Britain, Eastern, half-German names because it was through the courts of the Eastern kinglets that civilization had returned . The kinglets of the East, as civilization grew, were continually fed from the Continent, strengthened with ideas, institutions, arts, and the discipline of the Church. Thus did they politically become more and more powerful, until the whole island, except the Cornish peninsula, Wales and the Northwestern mountains, was more or less administered by the courts which had their roots in the eastern coasts and rivers, and which spoke dialects cognate to those beyond the North Sea, while the West, cut off from this Latin restoration, decayed in political power and saw its Celtic dialects shrink in area.
By the time that this old Roman province of Britain re-arises as an ordered Christian land in the eighth century, its records are kept not only in Latin but in the Court "Anglo-Saxon" dialects: by far the most important being that of Winchester. Many place names, and the general speech of its inhabitants have followed suit, and this, a superficial but a very vivid change, is the chief outward change in the slow transformation that has been going on in Britain for three hundred years (450-500 to 750-800).
Britain is reconquered for civilization and that easily; it is again an established part of the European unity, with the same sacraments, the same morals, and all those same conceptions of human life as bound Europe together even more firmly than the old central government of Rome had bound it. And within this unity of civilized Christendom England was to remain for eight hundred years.

Here Ends Chapter V of Europe and the Faith; which continues in Chapter VI.


/11/ I wrote and first printed these words in 1912. I leave them standing with greater force in 1920.

/12/ For instance, there is no contemporary account mentioning London during the last half of the fifth and nearly all the sixth century. Green, Freeman, Stubbs, say (making it up as they go along) that London ceased to exist: disappeared! Then (they assert) after a long period of complete abandonment it was laboriously cleared by a totally new race of men and as laboriously rebuilt on exactly the same site. The thing is not physically impossible, but it is so exceedingly improbable that common sense laughs at it.

/13/ The single sentence in Prosper is insignificant–and what is more, demonstrably false as it stands.

/14/ The name has retained a vague significance for centuries and Is now attached to a population largely Slavonic and wholly Protestant, south of Berlin–hundred of miles from its original seat.

/15/ On such a body of evidence–less than a morning's reading–did Green build up for popular sale his romantic Making of England .

/16/ A century-and-a-half from the very last Roman evidence, the visit of St. Germanus in 447 to the landing of St. Augustine exactly 150 years later (597); nearly two centuries from the withdrawal of the expeditionary Roman Army to the landing of St. Augustine (410-597).

/17/ The "Scots"–that is, the Irish–were, of course, of a higher civilization than the other raiders of Britain during this dark time. The Catholic Church reached them early. They had letters and the rest long before Augustine came to Britain.

/18/ I say " half -German" lest the reader should think, by the use of the word "German" or "Teutonic" that the various dialects of this sort (including those of the North Sea Pirates) were something original, uninfluenced by Rome. It must always be remembered that with their original words and roots was mixed an equal mass of superior words learned from the civilized men of the South in the course of the many centuries during which Germans had served the Romans as slaves and in arms and had met their merchants.

/19/ This word "church" is a good example of what we mean by Teutonic dialect. It is straight from the Mediterranean. The native German word for a temple–if they had got so far as to have temples (for we know nothing of their religion)–is lost.

/20/ And "hall" is again a Roman word adopted by the Germans.