A Short History of Early England

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

You will benefit from reading "Untangling the German Migrations" before this one.  Read it .

      An early people with an Old Stone Age culture (10,000 BC) permanently occupied England (as opposed to still earlier others, finished of by various ice ages) prior to the formation of the English Channel (in about 5,000 BC - not that long ago) prior to which, as a result of rising tides from a diminishing ice age, people from Europe walked across. Adding to these would be the first of what would prove to be many waves of Germanic and Nordic tribes arriving by boat, especially heavy around 2,000 BC. These people (no name assigned) progressed through the "Early Ages"and are remembered for erecting stone monuments in circles (best known: Stonehenge).

The next wave, about 500 BC, were called Celts ("kelts", not "selts"), who had priests called Druids, worshipped female deities, probably had human sacrifice as a part of the ritual, had a tin and a primitive iron culture, made cloth from wool and dyed it brightly. They used the stone monuments erected by the previous culture and are erroneously given credit for erecting them. The Celts were less a distinct people, more a collection of similar breeding groups sharing a common culture. They would pretty much cover what we know as Western Europe.

The Romans invaded in 54 BC under Julius Caesar and later established a 400 year hegemony under emperor Claudius. The Romans erected stone forts (with indoor plumbing!) and built roads (as was their fashion - for rapid troop deployment), and walls, the best preserved being Hadrian's, which held back the pesky Scots. But nothing would prevent continued invasion from the Germanic and Nordic lands: Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Danes.

By about 800 AD, Britain was dominated by seven population areas, three of them Angle in the north, and four Saxon in the south. The closest Angle-Land (England) could be said to have a "king" at this point was the authority over the 7 kingdoms held by Alfred ("the Great") who, we should add, initiated what has been known as the "English common law". His principle annoyance was the beginning of the invasions of the Danes. In 1016, a strong Dane named Canute conquered the seven kingdoms and became sole ruler. On Canute's death the last Saxon king appeared, known as Edward the Confessor, who, lacking an heir, told William, Duke of Normandy, that he could have the throne. When Edward died and the English elected Harold, Earl of Wessex, as king, William thought he had been doublecrossed, and invaded, solidifying the most famous date in English history: 1066. He would defeat Harold with a small mounted army, and his Norman Conquest would be England's last invasion.

What About the Names?

Since the "Britons", under the Romans, occupied the south and east of England, beyond which the Roman army never conquered, the name of the tribe became, in Roman eyes, the name of the whole. (The Roman name was Britto, which is what the Romans thought the Britons called themselves.) Since the Romans ruled the world, whatever they called a place generally became its name.

When the Romans left for good (400s AD) things got tough for the Britons, attacked by the "Scots" from Ireland, the "Picts" from Scotland (both being Celt tribes and essentially related) plus new Germanic invaders named Jutes, Angles, and Saxons. Although the Jutes were first and the Saxons last and strongest, the area known as Britain became known by common consent as Angle-land.

The tribes of Angleland (England) referred to the Picts as "Scotties" since they resembled in culture and dress the Scots of Ireland (who were not yet called Irish), and their portion of the island became known as Scotland. These names are really all knotted up but the tribes of Scotland were in fact displaced Irish. The word Britain returned later when a new name was needed to encompass England, Wales and Scotland.

So what became of the Britons? They got pushed north and, ultimately, into oblivion. But not before inspiring the greatest legend of English history, for it seems likely that "King Arthur" was a tribal chieftain of mixed Roman-Briton lineage (about 550 AD) who held off annihilation for many years. He was not a King, did not have plate armor, and certainly not a stone castle, and may not even have had a horse, but Hollywood has never let real history get in the way of a good story.

As we have noted, the final chapter was written by the Normans, who were actually displaced Germans who spoke French!
Gad - isn't this stuff great!?

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