Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape and they will prefer death to flight. — Sun Tzu

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Great Walls

To protect the northern part of Britain from the raids of the Picts and Scots, the Romans built three walls all across the island at its narrowest point. These walls, which are more than seventy miles long, are known by the names of the emperors by whose order they were built, and are hence called the walls of Hadrian, of Antoninus, and of Severus.

As the Romans were noted for their solid masonry, their walls stood firm for many long years, and even now, nearly seventeen centuries after the last wall was finished, there are some parts of it still standing. Along the walls, at certain intervals, were towers where the Roman soldiers stood on guard night and day, so that the Picts and Scots could not force their way into the cultivated lands.

Nearly five hundred years after the Romans first set foot in Britain, and when the country was quite used to their rule, Rome was threatened by a terrible invasion of barbarians. The legions were all needed to protect the frontier nearer home, so an order was sent to Britain recalling all the troops.

building a wall

The Britons were in despair, for those who were now left on the island did not know how to fight, and all the people were afraid of the Scots and Picts. But the Roman legions could not stay; so they gave the Britons weapons, taught them how to fight, and bade them keep watch on the walls and drive back their enemies whenever they came down from Caledonia, as Scotland was then called.

As soon as the Romans had left the country, the Picts and Scots marched southward. When they came near the great walls, they were surprised to see men on guard there, and hesitated for a little while; but they soon took courage, and, rushing forward, they climbed over the walls and drove away the Britons, who dared not resist.

There was nothing now to stop these marauders, who overran the whole country, destroying all that they could not carry away, and killing the inhabitants, or leading them off to sell them as slaves. Encouraged by success, the Picts and Scots came into Britain again and again. Each time they went a little farther south, and the inhabitants fled at their approach. The Britons could not protect themselves against the inroads of these barbarians, who were not much more civilized than the Britons had been at the time of Caesar's invasion; so they wrote a pitiful letter to the Roman general in Gaul, begging him to come over and help them. This letter was entitled "The Groans of the Britons," and ran thus: "The barbarians drive us into the sea; the sea throws us back upon the swords of the barbarians: and we have only the hard choice of perishing by the sword or by the waves."

This letter reached the Roman general safely, but he could not help the Britons, because he had to defend Gaul against Attila, the "Scourge of God," the terrible king of the Huns, who was sweeping all over Europe with his hordes of barbarians. As Rome itself was threatened, the Romans could not spare any troops to help the Britons, who, as you will soon see, were thus driven to seek help elsewhere.


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