The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins. — H. L. Mencken

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

Early Times

If you look at a map of Europe, you will notice two large islands and many small ones at a short distance west of the mainland. It is the story of the people who have lived upon these islands that you are now going to hear. As you can see, the islands are so small that no matter how far inland you travel, you are never more than one hundred miles away from the water which hems them in on all sides. On the north and west there is the Atlantic Ocean, on the south the English Channel, and on the east the North Sea.

These islands are now called the United Kingdom of Great. Britain and Ireland, and they form one of the foremost countries of the world. Great Britain includes England, Scotland, and Wales, besides the many little islands near by; and as the language, laws, and customs of Great Britain are mostly English, you will find that you will hear more about England than about the other parts of the realm.

Nobody knows just when the history of England really begins, because it commenced long before people learned how to read or write, or keep any kind of record of passing events. Many, many years before Christ, these islands were inhabited by a rude race, who hunted and fished, lived in caves, dressed in the skins of the beasts they had slain, and often made war against one another. We know this because, from time to time, farmers have dug up stone arrowheads and spears, knives and axes made of flint, and have found the bones of these ancient men and women. Among the ashes of their fires there have also been found the bones of the animals whose flesh they ate, or the shells of oysters and clams.

As these early inhabitants used stone weapons, their time is generally known as the Stone Age. In the course of time the people grew more civilized, discovered metals, and learned how to make better weapons. Some of these weapons have also been dug up: they belong to the second period, which is called the Bronze Age. Such stone and bronze weapons are carefully kept in museums, where you can see them to-day, although the people who once used them have been dead for thousands of years.

The British Isles are far out in the ocean, and since the ships which ancient people used were as clumsy as their knives and spears, the early inhabitants of this country could not leave their homes to visit the mainland. They did not need to do so, for these islands are very fertile, owing principally to the mist which rises from the sea, and which keeps the grass in England green nearly all the year round.

On bright, clear days, when there is no mist at all, people standing on the coast of France, at the spot where the English Channel is narrowest, can just see the tall white chalk cliffs on the southern coast of England. These cliffs are so dazzlingly white that the people who lived in France used to call England the White Land. This name was translated into Latin by the Romans, who called the country Albion, a name which you will still sometimes find in poetry, but rarely in prose.

The white cliffs of Great Britain roused the curiosity of the early inhabitants of France, the Gaels, to such a point that some of them at last went out to sea in their little boats, which were fashioned of roughly woven willow, and covered with skins so as to be water-tight.

In such rude craft the Gaels, after a time, either paddled or drifted to England; and when they found what a beautiful country it was, and saw that game was plentiful, they settled down there. These Gaels, however, were only one tribe of a very large nation which is known as the Celtic race. They talked a language of their own, of which there are many traces in the Gaelic, a tongue which is still spoken in some parts of Ireland and Scotland, but which is very unlike our English.


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