Saxons Part 2
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Part II



How did the Saxons manage to defeat Britain?

ith no Roman fleet to protect Britain or England now. It was much easier to raid. The co-ordination so evident with Roman subjugation collapsed. Saxon pirates raided the coasts. With ever increasing confidence started to sail up estuaries and rivers, murdering and pillaging. They were very cruel people. Vortigen a Romanised Briton took a leaf out of the Roman book by employing Jutes as mercenaries to protect his kingdom of Kent. These Teutons were led by two chiefs named Horsa and Hengest. Employing these people turned out to be the biggest mistake a Briton has ever made. Within a short period of time. Horsa and Hengest approached Vortigen and asked for more rations and pay. Vortigen refused. Considering where the Jutes originated from, it is strange that Vortigen would have employed them in the first place. One event lead to another culminating in the Jutes throwing in their lot with the Saxon pirates and going on a plundering and murdering spree. Learning, culture and especially law and order was not one of the Saxons strong points. Coming from the more northern parts of Europe they were virtually untouched by the Roman influence and such despised the owners of wealth. They were quite happy to take the animals, crops and the contents but had no interest in urban life. They burned and destroyed all inhabited camps or chesters they came across. They tended to live a rural lifestyle akin to their natural homeland. Having over run Kent and hence built a bridgehead, They considered it safe enough to bring their families to England. Hordes of Saxons entered England to continue the work of Horsa and Hengest, fighting the Celtic and Celtic Roman people for their land. The indigenous population were no match for the Saxons and were pushed further and further to the west of England, finally halting in the counties of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. Some retreated to Wales and the rest to the Lake District and southern Scotland in the area now known as Strathclyde. By the end of the sixth century, the once proud British people had degenerated into nothing better than the invaders who were now pushing them into a corner. Any animal forced into a corner becomes dangerous. The disease and hunger the Saxons had inflicted on them by taking their land resulted in a fight for existence.

Origin of the Jutes


The Jutes - as their name might suggest - originated from Jutland and the Frisian coast and islands.

Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

he plight of the British could get no worse. The caged animal fought back. It takes leaders and planning to stage an uprising. The next chain of events lives more as a legend than it does in reality. It is an established fact that there were two Celtic leaders who were involved in challenging the Saxons. These leaders had the Roman names of Ambrosius Aurelianus and Arturius. We believe that Arturius became better known today as the gallant King Arthur, where honour and chivalry meant all. This romanticized version of a Celt leader was written many years later and embossed by generations to the image we have of him now. Despite history going awry, these leaders did exist and were responsible for the famous battle between the British and Saxons at Mount Baldon which ensured the survival of the Celtic tribes and the Christian faith. Until the middle of the sixth century there was an uneasy truce between them. Each with their own language and culture. 

The Saxons resume hostilities

t was amazing how a truce could last quite as long as it did. Eventually though, the Saxons resumed where they left off. The Celts were pushed even further west and north. The west Celts became cut off by the Severn Estuary from their Welsh kin. The northern Celts pushed up into Scotland. To all intents and purposes, Britain became England. The country was Saxon.

The Saxons in England

ost of what has been written concerning the Saxons relates more to their aggressive and conquering tendencies. There is another side of them that has made England the country it is today. When Hengist and Horsa took over Kent prior to expanding outwards, their families and children followed. It was necessary therefore to farm the land, as pillaging is only a short term measure if you intend to stay. The Saxons were excellent farmers. they used four and eight ox ploughs to farm the land. this allowed the heavy soils that were not used by the British or the Romans to grow crops into production. They worked together as a team to produce food, in fact, very similar to the way they fought. The Saxons lived in thatched tent like huts called tuns which were usually built in forest clearings or next to rivers. Many of the place names that are still in existence today, such as Hastings and Barking are areas colonized by the Saxons. When the settlements became overpopulated, more forest was felled and the name Bottom, East, West, North, South, Ley and Hurst appended to the name. English maps are littered with such places today. If you fly over England, you will see the whole country segmented into small fields. These are of Saxon origin. As stated earlier, Saxon is a generic term for a number of northern European people. As such, they still tended to act tribally and populate different areas of England. In the earlier days of Saxon colonization, the Jutes favoured Kent and the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area. The Angles were in abundance in East Anglia and the South Saxons lived in Sussex. As the population increased, they expanded outwards. The Angles tended to move north through Lincolnshire and over the Humber into Yorkshire and as far north as southern Scotland, intermarrying on the way. 

Saxon Law

ike today, money speaks louder than words. When it came to Saxon law, it was no different. Every man had a price which was directly proportional to his status in the community. The name for this system was the wergild. The wergild was a prescribed price in shillings. In those times a shilling would buy a cow or sheep. A serf or laet who were the lowest of the low was worth between 50 to 80 shillings, depending on how really low he was. A churl or yeoman farmer could command 100 shillings. A nobleman was valued at 300 shillings. A aetheling or prince 1500 shillings. There was also various other tariffs depending on status. The laws and tariffs applied to all. So the ability to pay was not always taken into consideration. As a couple of examples. If a prince killed a serf he would be liable to pay about 50 shillings. Quite reasonable for a prince. If it were the other way round, there would be no way a serf could pay 1500 shillings, so his fate would be sealed. On the other hand if the prince committed slander, he would have to pay wergild of 1500 shillings or have his tongue cut out, whereas a serf would only have to pay 50 shillings. This system worked reasonably well for many years. In the words of Alfred the Great many years later, "It was better than a blood feud". 

How Saxon kings were made

ur impression of a king today is of an aloof person living in a luxurious castle or palace. Nothing could have been further from the truth in those days. It is strange that kings were ever appointed in England as none existed in the Germanic areas that the Saxon tribes originated from. In England, they were elected more out of necessity. Kings were made from leaders who considered they were the descendants of their gods or had built a reputation on the battlefield or were the largest landowners. There must have been many kings controlling settlements all over the country. Being a king, however, was a precarious position. He was subject to the same Saxon law as everybody else and as such was more vulnerable to wergild and usurpers. To protect his interests, he employed his most loyal warriors or those he had fought with. The only thing that he could give was land. The land usually came with a title of some description As most Saxon settlements were separated from each other by impenetrable forest, The call on the available land became great. The need to protect what you had became paramount. From the seventh century onwards, a landed aristocracy began to develop, with everybody owing all that they had, directly or indirectly to their king. It would take two hundred and fifty years and many generations with many battles fought and much land cultivated before England was ruled by one king.

Saxons part 1

Saxon Photographs


copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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