The Birth of Britain (A History of the English-Speaking Peoples #1)

And wherever men are fighting against barbarism, tyranny, and massacre, for freedom, law, and honour, let them remember that the fame of their deeds, even though they themselves be exterminated, may perhaps be celebrated as long as the world rolls round.

Boadicea then turned upon Verulamium (St Albans). Here was another trading centre, to which high civic rank had been accorded. A like total slaughter and obliteration was inflicted. “No less”, according to Tacitus, “than seventy thousand citizens and allies were slain” in these three cities. “For the barbarians would have no capturing, no selling, nor any kind of traffic usual in war; they would have nothing but killing, by sword, cross, gibbet, or fire.” These grim words show us an inexpiable war like that waged between Carthage and her revolted mercenaries two centuries before. Some high modern authorities think these numbers are exaggerated; but there is no reason why London should not have contained thirty or forty thousand inhabitants, and Colchester and St Albans between them about an equal number. If the butcheries in the countryside are added the estimate of Tacitus may well stand. This is probably the most horrible episode which our Island has known. We see the crude and corrupt beginnings of a higher civilisation blotted out by the ferocious uprising of the native tribes. Still, it is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invaders’ hearth.

Cold steel and discipline and the slight capital surplus necessary to move and organise armies constituted the sole defences.

In Germany they had no kings. They developed them in Britain from leaders who claimed descent from the ancient gods.

it is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invaders’ hearth.

King Alfred’s Book of Laws, or Dooms, as set out in the existing laws of Kent, Wessex, and Mercia, attempted to blend the Mosaic code with Christian principles and old Germanic customs. He inverted the Golden Rule. Instead of “Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you”, he adopted the less ambitious principle, “What ye will that other men should not do to you, that do ye not to other men”, with the comment, “By bearing this precept in mind a judge can do justice to all men; he needs no other law-books. Let him think of himself as the plaintiff, and consider what judgment would satisfy him.” The King, in his preamble, explained modestly that “I have not dared to presume to set down in writing many laws of my own, for I cannot tell what will meet with the approval of our successors.

Later these tales would be retold and embellished by the genius of Mallory, Spenser, and Tennyson.

No one can understand history without continually relating the long periods which are constantly mentioned to the experiences of our own short lives. Five years is a lot. Twenty years is the horizon to most people. Fifty years is antiquity. To understand how the impact of destiny fell upon any generation of men one must first imagine their position and then apply the time-scale of our own lives. Thus nearly all changes were far less perceptible to those who lived through them from day to day than appears when the salient features of an epoch are extracted by the chronicler. We peer at these scenes through dim telescopes of research across a gulf of nearly two thousand years. We cannot doubt that the second and to some extent the third century of the Christian era, in contrast with all that had gone before and most that was to follow, were a Golden Age for Britain. But by the early part of the fourth century shadows had fallen upon this imperfect yet none the less tolerable society. By steady, persistent steps the sense of security departed from Roman Britain. Its citizens felt by daily experience a sense that the world-wide system of which they formed a partner province was in decline.


St Patrick was a Roman Briton of good family dwelling probably in the Severn valley.

ten or twelve men, especially between brothers and between fathers and sons; but the offspring of these unions are counted as the children of the man with whom a particular woman cohabited first.

The conquest was not achieved without one frightful convulsion of revolt. “In this year A.D. 61”, according to Tacitus, “a severe disaster was sustained in Britain.” Suetonius, the new governor, had engaged himself deeply in the West. He transferred the operational base of the Roman army to Chester. Because it was the centre of Druid resistance he prepared to attack “the populous island of Mona [Anglesey], which had become a refuge for fugitives, and he built a fleet of flat-bottomed vessels suitable for those shallow and shifting seas. The infantry crossed in the boats, the cavalry went over by fords: where the water was too deep the men swam alongside of their horses. The enemy lined the shore, a dense host of armed men, interspersed with women clad in black like the Furies, with their hair hanging down and holding torches in their hands. Round this were Druids

The foundation of the Germanic system was blood and kin.

The invaders brought into Britain a principle common to all Germanic tribes, namely, the use of the money power to regulate all the legal relations of men. If there was any equality it was equality within each social grade. If there was liberty it was mainly liberty for the rich. If there were rights they were primarily the rights of property. There was no crime committed which could not be compounded by a money payment.

The Roman world, like an aged man, wished to dwell in peace and tranquillity and to enjoy in philosophic detachment the good gifts which life has to bestow upon the more fortunate classes. But new ideas disturbed the internal conservatism, and outside the carefully guarded frontiers vast masses of hungry, savage men surged and schemed. The essence of the Roman peace was toleration of all religions and the acceptance of a universal system of government. Every generation after the middle of the second century saw an increasing weakening of the system and a gathering movement towards a uniform religion. Christianity asked again all the questions which the Roman world deemed answered for ever, and some that it had never thought of.

The unnatural principle of human sacrifice was carried by the British Druids to a ruthless pitch. The mysterious priesthoods of the forests bound themselves and their votaries together by the most deadly sacrament that men can take. Here, perhaps, upon these wooden altars of a sullen island, there lay one of the secrets, awful, inflaming, unifying, of the tribes of Gaul. And whence did this sombre custom come?

Wales was pinned down by a legion at Chester and

When York’s son, hitherto Earl of March, learned that his father’s cause had devolved upon him he did not shrink. He fell upon the Earl of Wiltshire and the Welsh Lancastrians, and on February 2, 1461, at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, near Hereford, he beat and broke