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440s: Invasion under way: Hengest and Horsa land in Kent


Where did the invaders come from and why?   Traditionally, the first of them were two brothers, Hengest and Horsa, who arrived in Sheppey, Kent.   Some Britons fled to Wales, southern Scotland, the north-west, and the south-west.   Some even went to Brittany, giving that modern departement of western France its name.   Most Britons seem to have stayed and their top people started marrying into the top Anglo-Saxon people.


Written and presented by Robert Smith, Chairman of the Manorial Society of Great Britain - www.msgb.co.uk






Written and presented by

Robert Smith


Voice over

Barney Powell

Rebecca Cooper


Music production &

Original music

Simon Roberts

(Lyric media group)


Original film footage

Ian Phillips


Picture editor

Roberto Ekholm


Asst picture editor

Guilfre Jordan


Associate Producer

Ian Phillips



Antonio Parente


Picture sources:


Anglo-Saxon battles occur often in the chronicles, but skirmishes might have been more accurate:



Gildas, British cleric living in mostly Christian Wales, bewailed the destruction wrought on Britannia by the invasions of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes:



John Winthrop, an early governor of Massachussetts.   Survival of the early English colonists in North America required defence against the indigenous American Indians who lived there, becoming in the 19th century 'manifest destiny' which, without naming the policy, effectively confirmed genocide.    Despite the groans of the literate, like Gildas, there does not seem to have been a Saxon policy of mass murder against indigenous Britons.   An early West Saxon king, Cerdic, bore a British name, suggesting marriage at the highest level between the races:



Map Operation Sea Lion: Adolf Hitler's plan to invade Britain in early autumn, 1940, was defeated by Churchill's 'the Few' - RAF fighter pilots who denied the Germans superiority in the air.   But this was hardly the first attempt to invade the islands at the edge of the world.   Napoleon Bonaparte had had it in mind in the early years of the 19th century, but was thwarted at the great sea battle of Trafalgar by the men of the Royal Navy, led by Admiral Horatio Nelson.   We know that our forebears, the Anglo-Saxons and others, succeeded; as did the Vikings from the ninth to the 11th centuries; as did the Normans in 1066.   Less well known is that the French, under the future Louis VIII, seized London in 1216-17; and William of Orange's Dutch invasion in 1688 was completely successful, William taking the throne from King James II in what is called the Glorious Revolution.   It was bloodless:



Busy streets near Jama Masjid, Old Delhi.   Britain ruled about 350 million Indians with some 100,000 British administrators and troops, and English is a widely spoken language in the subcontinent.   Little surprise then that, at first, a smallish number of Anglo-Saxons, who were well prepared and armed, caused havoc in Britannia, the province eventually becoming known as England after the Angle invaders:



Fall of the Berlin Wall: how rapidly empires crash.   A Roman empire of a sort survived until 1453, but Rome itself had been lost a thousand years before.   Empires always crash, most recently the Soviet empire between 1989 and 1991:



Map Jutland and Saxony:



Saxon warriors:



Re-enactment: the Imperial Army:



Immutable view: Teisenkopf Mountain, Black Forest, Germany, by Andreas Frick: http://gfcelebration.com/tag/black-forest-torte/


As above: Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 1989


Roman galley assited by sail - possibly not dissimilar to ships used in the North Sea by Counts of the Saxon Shore:



As above: Saxon warriors


As above: John Winthrop


As above: Jutland and Saxony


Mounted Warlord: re-enactment of an Arthurian war-game :



The Hugin is a reconstructed Viking longship that is located at Pegwell Bay in Ramsgate, Kent, England.   It was a gift from the Danish Government:



Interior of Villa Armira with its complex ancient Roman floor mosaics:



Re-enactment of Feodaries:



 Tapestry depicting  the mythical King Arthur,  here holding a flag with three crowns upon it.   Copyright, Maurice Babey, Historisches Museum, Basel, Switzerland Anglo Saxons at war: 



Nothing changes: a representation of a burning village 1500 years ago in which non-belligerents were killed:



Hoxne Hoard: like most such safety measures, the gold and silver were buried and either the owner did not survive to return and reclaim it; or forgot where exactly it was buried: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoxne_Hoard


Staffordshire_hoard, the most important Saxon discovery since Sutton Hoo in 1939. The Staffordshire hoard is a treasure trove discovered in 2009: 



Using chronicle and archaeological evidence, a map of the distribution of the peoples of Britain circa 600 can be speculatively drawn: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Britain_peoples_circa_600.png


Harun-Charlemagne:  Harun al-Rashid, fifth caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, receiving a delegation sent by Charlemagne at his court in Baghdad, more than 2,000 miles from from the German court at Aachen.   This must have taken place towards the end of the eighth century.   The Abbasid empire stretched from Egypt to the plains of the Indus River, in modern Pakistan.   Harun al-Rashid and his lavish court are best remembered in The Thousand and One Nights.   Painting by Julius Kochert (1827-1918), dated 1864, hangs in the Maximilianeum Foundation, Munich, Germany.   This image was created and provided by Zereshk:



Francisco I Madero Avenue, Mexico City, named after Francisco Madera, a leader of the Mexican Revolution, briefly President in 1910 when he was assassinated.   Equivalent of Oxford Street, London and Madison Avenue, New York:



Taj Mahal, Agra, India.   Built by Shah Jahan (Shahbuddin Muhammad) (r 1627-54), a Muslim ruler, to commemorate his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.   He ordered many other great buildings, including the Red Fort, in Dehli, which would become, ironically, the heart of the British Raj in the 19th century.   English remains one of the official languages of the subcontinent.   Despite long Anglo-Indian links - not least the use of Indian imperial troops in two world wars - Britain has lost out to China and America in trade, and British politicians, most recently David Cameron, British Prime Minister between 2010 and 2015, who treat Indians in a patronizing fashion.   Shah Jehan's reign was a Golden Age in Indian history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Featured_picture_candidates/Taj_Mahal,_Agra


Old Delhi - Busy streets near Jama Masjid, as above Map of Northumbria, an amalgamation of two separate and rival principalities: Deira, based on York, and Bernicia, based on Bamburgh.   The two provinces were united in the 620s and 630s as Northumbria, reaching its apogee under King Oswiu, who died in 670: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Northumbria


Map The Heptarchy, according to Bartholomew's A literary & Historical Atlas of Europe (1914).   The Heptarchy was seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms believed to have existed in England in the seventh and eighth centuries: Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria, deriving from the Greek 'hepta', seven: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heptarchy


Dumnonia is the Latinized name of the Brythonic kingdom in south-west England, said to have been a Celtic kingdom, different perhaps in race from the Britons.   The map is speculative, intending to show the several British tribal areas on the eve of the Roman conquest of the Emperor Claudius in AD43.   The Iceni, who seem to have occupied modern Norfolk, and were led in revolt by Queen Boudicca, or Boadicea, against Roman rule in the 60s:






Cædwalla of Wessex - this depiction of the king, a detail from the Lambert Barnard mural, is to be found in the south transept of Chichester Cathedral, and was commissioned by Bishop Robert Sherburne between 1508 and 1536; the earlier date is perhaps to be preferred as, by 1536, the Henrcian dissolution of the monasteries was well under way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%A6dwalla_of_Wessex


Map The main political centres in early medieval Scotland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotland_in_the_Early_Middle_Ages


Arch of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r 193-211), a native who was born in Lepcis Magna, Tripolitania (modern Lybia).   He married as his second wife Julia Domna, a beautiful Syrian woman, who presided over a salon which included the famous doctor, Galen, whose writings on medicine would hold sway in Europe into the 16th century.   She also encouraged Favius Philostratus The Lives of the of the Sophists (professional, often itinerant, teachers to the rich, who were condemned by Plato and sophistry today is seen as specious and irresponsible.   Lepcis Magna was greatly beautified by Septimus and was one of the finest Roman remains around the Mediterranean.   We can only hope that the troubles in Lybia since 2011 have not damaged such a world heritage site:



Bust of Septimius Severus, Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septimius_Severus


Manifest destiny in action: An 1899 chromolithograph of U.S. cavalry pursuing American Indians; artist unknown, at the Werner Company, Akron, Ohio, USA (1923): http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cavalry_and_Indians.JPG


Priests singing - from a manuscript at the Henry Charles Lea Library, University of Pennsylvania, USA:



Arch of Constantine:



King Henry VIII, whose Reformation of the English Church severed a thousand-year link with Rome:



Arch of Constantine :




Episode transcript:


We might take the expression 'barbarian invasions' to mean some kind of blood and thunder influx.   There will be drama, but the invasion was hardly new when it started with Hengest and Horsa in Kent.


Angles and Saxons - Franks, Frisians, Jutes, and others - had been coming to the western provinces of the Roman Empire, and some must have settled and been romanised, from at least the first century AD.   Some came as imperial troops.   Many others must have come as traders, some of them settling, others returning, still others perhaps going back and forth.   Some may have come as refugees, seeing the Roman Empire as a more comfortable option to remaining in the dank, uncivilized forests of Germany.   This is how Roman writers saw that region just beyond imperial control - across the river Rhine.   But with the fall of the Empire in the West, these incomers became more numerous, rather as some East Europeans have been arriving in the West since the fall of the most recent of the European empires - the Soviet Union - in 1989-91.


By the middle of the fourth century, these races may have become more piratical, or appeared so to the imperial government in the new Roman capital of Constantinople.   About that time, a Count of the Saxon Shore was appointed to serve in the distant province of Britannia, possibly with some kind of coastguard functions at sea and on his landward side.   With the withdrawal of regular Roman forces, from about 381, Britain had to fend for itself - and over the next hundred years there was an influx from modern north Germany, and elsewhere.   It became an invasion, resulting sometimes in pitched battles between natives and incomers.   We can imagine this from comparable, observable influxes of foreigners into places in more recent times: Spanish and Portuguese into South and Central America from the 16th century, and English and other races from the 17th century into what were to become the United States and Canada.


If you are of my generation, you were probably taught early on at school, that the Anglo-Saxons arrived in copious numbers, driving the native Britons northward into Scotland and Cumbria, and westward into Wales, Cornwall, and Devon.   The 'Anglo-Saxons' are thought to have been a mish-mash of people from Denmark and North Germany (known then as Saxony).   There were probably other adventurers from other parts of Germany, or even farther, who were led by Angle or Saxon warlords, whose language and manners their followers spoke and shared, or they adopted.   Hengest and Horsa were two such leaders who gathered about themselves small bands of armed men, and led them on adventures into Britain.   Although their boats are called long ships, the capacity of these vessels was small.   By the time you had got on board weapons, armour, water, provisions - even horses - there may have been room for ten fighting men, pirates or soldiers, as you like.  


If you were Franks, you just walked into the Roman province of Gaul from Germany, in very much larger numbers, we might safely assert, than Anglo-Saxons who were restricted by the capacity of their boats.   The sea - named the English moat in Shakespeare's Henry V - was still very much in use as late 1940-41, when Adolf Hitler abandoned Operation Sealion - the German invasion plan of Britain from the French Channel ports.  


According to the chronicler Nennius, probably a Welsh monk, Hengest and Horsa came with only three ships.   The number of expeditions grew as word got back that the land was rich and the people no match in warfare.   They may have found a more or less peaceful, post Roman, partly Christianized people, where the Roman villa survived in places.   What had not survived since the Romans was a central authority capable of gathering taxes and arranging defence.   No doubt the wealthy bought their own security on the withdrawal of Roman troops and Roman protection of property.   These protectors - called feodaries - may have been Britons who had fought for Rome in Europe, and who found a ready market for their skills when they returned home.   The legend of King Arthur may have arisen from one such mercenary.   The incomers were an organized war band.   They would have established bridgeheads and deliberately caused local havoc to cow the indigenous population, as they looked for food and booty.   Where they might have faced stiff resistance, they probably took to their boats, as the Vikings were to do three centuries later, when the going got tough.   In a conquest - organization, determination, and fear of the indigenous population are everything.


In the fifth century, some Britons - the wealthy ones - moved out of what was to become England.   Hordes of coin and household items have been unearthed by archaeologists, which suggest that Britons fled, burying the valuables they could not carry, but expecting to return to retrieve them in better times.    But most must have stayed put, and just as the Britons four hundred years before had gradually adopted the language and social mores of their Roman conquerors, so they adopted the language and social mores of their latest conquerors - the Anglo-Saxons.   There are today, apparently, no ethnic differences among a great swath of the English people, or southern Scottish or Welsh, and it is likely that most of us are not pure Anglo-Saxons at all, but Britons with squirts of all sorts of other blood in our veins.   This must have long have been the case.   The new warlords spoke a different language, and the Britons adopted it because it made sense to be able to communicate with the new masters, as it had made sense to speak Latin under the Romans.   It would make sense in the seventh and eighth centuries, in the Near East, for the conquered peoples there to speak Arabic under their new Muslim rulers, the Caliphs.   Previously, they had spoken Greek and Aramaic, the former now confined to the country of Greece, the latter a dead language.


More recent comparisons might be found in South America, where Spanish and Portuguese are today spoken as the main languages, which is reflected in the alternative name for this continent - Latin America.   Another example might be British India. There, three or four hundred million people were ruled in peacetime, at the height of the Raj, in the late 19th century, by about a hundred thousand British.   Hindi, Urdu, and other local languages thrive, but English is widely understood in India and Pakistan - not just among the elite - and English remains one of the legal languages of the subcontinent.   This is the more so in recent years because English is the language of business and commerce, thanks to the economic superiority of America.   In Britannia, the ruled adopted the language of the new rulers in what became known as Anglo-Saxon England.As we saw, the earliest recorded dispute between host and incomers, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was the fall-out between Vortigern, and Hengest and Horsa.   At the time of his History in the early eighth century, St Bede, as quoted in annal 449 of the Chronicle, may well have got the identities of the invaders and their places of settlement about right.


The Roman province of Britannia had been divided, by Bede's time, into shifting kingdoms or chieftainships, one of the first important of which was the kingdom of Bernicia, later to be absorbed and to become Northumbria, where Bede lived.   We noted earlier that Bede distinguished three groups of incomers in his History: Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, who came from Jutland, that spur of land that forms the Danish mainland today.   The Saxons settled Wessex, Sussex, Essex, those places that end with -S.E.X.   The Angles settled East Anglia, the Midlands (which was called Mercia), Yorkshire, and Northumbria; and the Jutes settled Kent and the south coast as far as Southampton Water and the Isle of Wight.   Franks and Gauls (from France) had also formed some settlements in the south, and some Irish had settled in modern Merseyside, a settlement that was to become their own a thousand years later, as landless Irish flooded into England to provide much of the muscle for the Industrial Revolution.   By mid-eighth century, England was divided into seven principal kingdoms, known as the Heptarchy. British kingdoms survived in Dumnonia, roughly Devon and Cornwall, and in Wales.   There had been British principalities in the west, particularly in Wales, since the early days of Roman rule.   St Gildas, a Briton living in independent Wales in the sixth century, writes of an influx of Britons to Wales in his Ruin of Britain as Anglo-Saxons established themselves. But, like most chroniclers, he was writing for his privileged audience and may well have been biased.  Some Britons in the higher echelons of society, including St Gildas, certainly decamped to Brittany, hence that French province's name.   But there is strong circumstantial evidence - from the king lists of early Anglo-Saxon tribal leaders - of their adopting British names: Caedwalla, 11th King of Wessex, being an illustration in the seventh century.   Intermarriage at the highest levels of Anglo-British society implies intermarriage at all levels.  


There are reports in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of bloody battles of these German settlers with the British and Welsh, but there is nothing in the Chronicle from which one could infer that the English prosecuted a policy of ethnic cleansing - or of the British-Welsh being treated as a second class race by the incomers.      Domination is often borne of a sense of self-preservation.   Angles, Saxons, and Jutes intermarried with the Britons.   Scots from Ireland intermarried with indigenous Picts, and a royal marriage was to result in the kingdom of Scotland.   There must also have been intermarriage long before - under Roman rule.   Romans themselves must have intermarried, and there had been African and German emperors.   It has probably been well said of the Anglo-Saxons by Charles Mosley, in Blood Royal, that there was 'no apartheid ban on cross-racial mating for them.'   Genocide does not appear to have been an Anglo-Saxon policy.   It certainly became one in the colonization of the United States, where, after Independence - in 1783 - those Americans of British descent were preponderant, and soon propounded the theology of 'Manifest Destiny' whereby the new country should spread from sea to shining sea - from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.   This enabled the new republic to justify the wholesale slaughter of the indigenous Americans, or their confinement to small reservations, which duly took place.


Back in Britain, at the end of the seventh century, like Bede, we may be able to start talking about the 'English', whose conversion to Catholic Christianity had begun a century before.   As we have noticed, Christianity was not just important in the religious context, at a period when religion was all, it was politically important.   It was a binding agent, helping to smooth out the racial creases.   And the inter-dependence of the Roman Church and the embryonic English states can be dated from this time - an inter-dependence that was to last until the reign of King Henry VIII nine hundred years later.


Another Episode is suddenly over.   Next time, we shall be looking at a Roman emperor who declared Christianity the State religion of his Empire, which included Britain.


Copyright Robert Smith, Manorial Society of Great Britain



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