There is something more horrible than hoodlums, churls and vipers, and that is knaves with moral justification for their cause. — Thomas More

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Anglo-Saxons

You have seen how the poor Britons had vainly appealed to the Roman general in Gaul to come and deliver them from the Picts and Scots, who were ravaging the whole country and driving them into the sea. When the Britons found out that the Romans could not help them, they began to look around them for other aid.

In the days of the Romans, light willow barks, covered with skins, had sometimes visited the shores of the island. These boats carried hardy warriors, who came from the shores of the Baltic Sea. They belonged to the Teutonic, or German, race—a race never subdued by the Romans, who were then masters of nearly all the known world.

These men were so brave that Vortigern, the British chief, begged some of them to come over to Britain and help him drive back the Picts and Scots. One of the Teutonic tribes, the Jutes, consented; and about the year 449 a whole fleet of little ships came dancing over the sea, which the Teutons called the "Swan Road," because when winter drew near they often watched the birds flying or swimming southward over the waters.

The leaders of the Jutes, it is said, were two brothers, Hengist and Horsa, the descendants of Woden, who was the principal god of the Teutonic nations. The Jutes were used to fighting, and helped the Britons drive back the Picts and Scots. The marauders were forced to retreat to the other side of the walls, which were repaired and provided with defenders.

In reward for their services, Vortigern gave the Jutes the island of Thanet; and while some of them settled down there contentedly, others went back to their native country to tell what they had seen. But, as Britain was much more fertile than the land where they dwelt, they soon came back, with their families, to settle in it.

The Jutes were followed, before long, by another Teutonic tribe, the Saxons. As there was not room enough for them all in the island of Thanet, the Saxons settled on the mainland, where they were joined by other Saxons; and their numbers multiplied so fast that they soon covered much territory.

The Britons were forced to retreat before the new-comers; and as they were afraid of the Picts and Scots, and dared not go north, they withdrew to the west, where they took possession of Cornwall and Wales, Now that it was too late, Vortigern saw what a mistake he had made in inviting the Jutes to come over and help him. He could not quarrel with them, however, because he had married Rowena, Hengist's beautiful young daughter. It seems that he had fallen in love with this maiden at first sight, when she came to offer him a drink, as was the custom in her country whenever a stranger came into the house.

The Jutes and Saxons spread farther and farther over the southern part of Britain, until they took entire possession of Vortigern's kingdom, driving him far into the west, where he died of grief. After the Jutes and Saxons came a third Teutonic tribe, the Angles, who, in their turn, settled in the eastern part of Britain.

They killed all the natives who would not peaceably make way for them, sparing only the women and children, whom they made their slaves. But the Angles were not nearly so civilized as the Britons, who had learned much from their Roman conquerors, and they destroyed many of the Roman buildings, which they were too ignorant to admire.

When they first came over to Britain, the Anglo-Saxons—as the Angles and Saxons are often called for short—knew nothing at all about Christianity, and brought with them their own language, laws, and religion. This old Anglo-Saxon religion soon gave way before Christianity, as you will see; but the names of the heathen gods of the Anglo-Saxons are still found in our names of the days of the week. Thus, Sunday was the day of the sun god; Monday, of the moon deity; Tuesday was named after Tiu, god of war: Wednesday, after Woden, their principal divinity, and the ancestor of their kings; Thursday took its name from Thor, god of thunder; Friday, from Frea, goddess of beauty; and Saturday, from Saturn, a Roman divinity.

But, although there are now very few traces left of the old Teutonic religion, the Anglo-Saxon laws and language form the basis of the present English laws and language, so they are of great interest to the one hundred and fifty million English-speaking people of this century.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee