« ForrigeFortsett »
character both of the prince and people. Their consterna. tion magnified the danger; the want of union diminished their resources; and the madness of civil factions was more solicitous to accuse, than to remedy, the evils, which they imputed to the misconduct of their adversaries. Yet the Britons were not ignorant, they could not be ignorant, of the manufacture or the use of arms; the successive and disorderly attacks of the Saxons allowed them to recover from their amazement, and the prosperous or adverse events of the war added discipline and experience to their native valor. While the continents of Europe and Africa yielded, without resistance, to the Barbarians, the British island, alone and unaided, maintained a long, a vigorous, though an unsuccessful, struggle, against the formidable pirates, who, almost at the same instant, assaulted the Northern, the Eastern, and the Southern coasts. The cities which had been fortified with skill, were defended with resolution; the advantages of ground, hills, forests, and morasses, were diligently improved by the inhabitants; the conquest of each district was purchased with blood; and the defeats of the Saxons are strongly attested by the discreet silence of their annalist. Hengist might hope to achieve the conquest of Britain ; but his ambition, in an active reign of thirtyfive years, was confined to the possession of Kent; and the numerous colony which he had planted in the North, was extirpated by the sword of the Britons. The monarchy of the West Saxons was laboriously founded by the persevering efforts of three martial generations. The life of Cerdic, one of the bravest of the children of Woden, was consumed in the conquest of Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight; and the loss which he sustained in the battle of Mount Badon, reduced him to a state of inglorious repose. Kenric, his valiant son, advanced into Wiltshire; besieged Salisbury, at that time seated on a commanding eminence; and vanquished an army which advanced to the relief of the city. In the subsequent battle of Marlborough,” his British enemies displayed their military science. Their troops were formed in three lines; each line consisted of three distinct bodies, and the cavalry, the archers, and the pikemen, were distributed according to the principles of Roman tac. ties. The Saxons charged in one weighty column, boldly encountered with their short swords the long lances of the Britons, and maintained an equal conflict till the ". of night. Two decisive victories, the death of three British kings, and the reduction of Cirencester, Bath, and Gloucester, established the fame and power of Ceaulin, the grandson of Cerdic, who carried his victorious arms to the banks of the Severn. After a war of a hundred years, the independent Britors still occupied the whole cytent of the Western coast, from the wall of Antoninus to the extreme promontory of Cornwall; and the principal cities of the inland country still opposed the arms of the Barbarians. Tesistance became more languid, as the number and boldness of the assailants continually increased. Winning their way by slow and painful efforts the Saxons, the Angles, and their various confederates, advanced from the North, from the East, and from the South, till their victorious banners were united in the centre of the island. Beyond the Severn the Britons still asserted their national freedom, which survived the heptarchy, and even the monarchy, of the Saxons. The bravest warriors, who preferred exile to slavery, found a secure refuge in the mountains of Wales: the reluctant submission *A*- r - - • 135 b d f of Cornwall was delayed for some ages; ” and a band o fugitives acquired a settlement in Gaul, by their own valor, or the liberality of the Merovingian kings.” The Western angle of Armorica acquired the new appellations of Cornwall, and the Lesser Britain ; and the vacant lands of the Osismii were filled by a strange people, who, under the authority of their counts and bishops, preserved the laws and language of their ancestors. To the feeble descendants of Clovis and Charlemagne, the Britons of Armorica refused the customary tribute, subdued the neighboring 185 Cornwall was finally subdued by Athelstan (A. D. 927-941), who planted an Engli h colony at Exeter, and coniined the IBritons beyond the River Tamar. See William of Malmsbury, l. ii., in the Scriptores post Bedan), p. 50. The spirit of the Cornish knights was degraded by servitude ; and it should seem, from the Romance of Sir Tristram, that their cowardice was almost proverbial. * The establishment of the Britons in Gaul is proved in the sixth century, by Procopius, Gregory of Tours, the sceond council of Tours (A. D. 507), and the least suspicious of their chronicles and lives of saints. The subscription of a bishop of the Britons to the sirt council of Tours (A. D. 461, or rather 481), the army of Riothamus, and the loose declamation of Gildas (alii transmarinas petebant regiones, c. 25, p. 8). may countenance an emigration as early as the middle of the fifth century. Beyond that era, the Brivons of Armorica can be sound only in romance; and I am surprised that Mr. Whitaker (Genuine History of dioceses of Wannes, Rennes, and Nantes, and formed a powerful, though vassal, state, which has been united to the crown of France.” In a century of perpetual, or at least implacable, war, much courage, and some skill, must have been exerted for the defence of Britain. . Yet if the memory of its champions is almost buried in oblivion, we need not repine; since every age, however destitute of science or virtue, sufficientl abounds with acts of blood and military renown. . The tom of Vortimer, the son of Vortigern, was erected on the margin of the sea-shore, as a landmark formidable to the Saxons, whom he had thrice vanquished in the fields of Kent. Ambrosius Aurelian was descended from a noble family of Romans; ” his modesty was equal to his valor, and his valor, till the last fatal action,” was crowned with splendid success. But every British name is effaced by the illustrious name of ARTHUR,” the hereditary prince of the Silures, in South Wales, and the elective king or general of the nation. According to the most rational account, he defeated, in twelve successive battles, the Angles of the North, and the Saxons of the West; but the declining age of the hero was imbittered by popular ingratitude and domestic misfortunes. The events of his life are less interesting than the singular revolutions of his fame. During a period of five hundred years the tradition of his exploits was preserved, and rudely embellished, by the obscure bards of Wales and Armorica, who were odious to the Saxons, and unknown to the rest of mankind. The pride and curiosity of the Norman conquerors prompted them to inquire into the ancient history of Britain : they listened with fond credulity to the tale of Arthur, and eagerly applauded the merit o, prince who had triumphed over the Saxons, their common enemies. His romance, transcribed in the Latin of Jeffrey of Monmouth, and afterwards translated into the fashionable idiom of the times, was enriched with the various, though incoherent, ornaments which were familiar to the experience, the learning, or the fancy, of the twelfth century. The progress of a Phrygian colony, from the Tiber to the Thames, was easily ingrafted on the fable of the AEneid; and the royal ancestors of Arthur derived their origin from Troy, and claimed their alliance with the Caesars. His trophies were decorated with captive provinces and Imperial titles; and his Danish victories avenged the recent injuries of his country. The gallantry and superstition of the British hero, his feasts and tournaments, and the memorable institution of his IGmights of the Joound Table, were faithfully copied from the reigning manners of chivalry; and the fabulous exploits of Uther's son appear less incredible than the adventures which were achieved by the cnterprising valor of the Normans. I’llgrimage, and the holy wars, introduced into Europe the specious miracles of Arabian magic. Fairies, and giants, flying dragons, and enchanted palaces, were blended with the more simple fictions of the West; and the fate of Britain depended on the art, or the predictions, of Merlin. IEvery nation embraced and adorned the popular romance of Arthur, and the Inights of the Round Table: their names were celebrated in Greece and Italy; and the voluminous tales of Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristram were devoutly studied by the princes and nobles, who disregarded the genuine heroes and historians of antiquity. At length the light of science and reason was rekindled; the talisman was broken; the visionary fabric melted into air; and by a natural, though unjust, reverse of the public opinion, the severity of the present age is inclined to question the existence of Arthul’.141 Tesistance, if it cannot avert, must increase the miseries of conquest; and conquest has never appeared more dreadful and destructive than in the hands of the Saxons; who hated the valor of their enemies, disdained the faith of treaties, and violated, without remorse, the most sacred objects of the Christian worship. The fields of battle might be traced, almost in every district, by monuments of bones; the fragments of falling towers were stained with blood; the last of the Britons, without distinction of age or sex, was massacred,” in the ruins of Anderida; * and thre repetition of such calamities was frequent and familiar under the Saxon heptarchy. The arts and religion, the laws and language, which the Romans had so carefully planted in Britain, were extirpated by their barbarous successors. After the destruction of the principal churches, the bishops, who had declined the crown of martyrdom, retired with the holy relics into Wales and Armorica; the remains of their flocks were left destitute of any spiritual food ; the practice, and even the remembrance, of Christianity were abolished; and the British clergy might obtain some comfort from the damnation of the idolatrous strangers. The kings of France maintained the privileges of their Roman subjects; but the ferocious Saxons trampled on the laws of Rome, and of the emperors. The proceedings of civil and criminal jurisdiction, the titles of honor, the forms of office, the ranks of society, and even the domestic rights of marriage, testament, and inheritance, were finally suppressed ; and the indiscriminate crowd of noble and plebeian slaves was governed
184 At Beran-birig, or Barbury-castle, near Marlborough. The Saxon chromiicle assigns the name and date. Camden (Britannia, vol. i. p. 128) ascertains the place; and Henry of Huntingdom (Scriptores post Bedam, p. 314) relates the circumstances of this battle. They are probable and characteristic ; and the his..." Of the twelfth century might consult some materials that no longer exist. lie Britons, pp. 214–221) should so faithfully transcribe the gross ignorance of rte, whose venial errors he has so rigorously chastised.
137 The antiquities of Bretagne, which have been the subject even of political controversy, are illustrated by Hadrian V ale; it s (Notitia Galliarum, sub voce Joritannia Cismarina, pp. 98-100). M. D’Anville (Notice de l'Ancienne Gaule, Corisoniti Curiosolites Osismii, Vorganium, pp. 248, 258, 508 720, and Etats de l'Europe, ". 76–80), Longerue (Descriptions de la France, tom. i. pp. 84-94), and the Abbé de Vertot (Hist. Critique de l’Etablissement des Bretons dans les Gaules, 2 vols. in 12mo, Paris, 1720). I may assume the merit of examining the original evidence which they have produced.*
To Bede, who in his chronicle (p. 28) places Ambrosius under the reign of Zeno (A. D. 474–491), observes, that his parents had been “purpurå induti; ” which he * in his ecclesiastical history, by “regium momen et insigne ferentibus” (l. i. c. 16, p. 53). The expression of Nennius (c. 44, p. 110, edit. Gale) is still more singular," Unus de consulibus gentis Romanicae est pater meus.”
18. By the unanimous, though doubtful, conjecture of our antiquarians, Ambrosius is confounded with Natanleod, who (A. D. 508) lost his own life, and five thousand of his subjects, in a battle against Cerdic, the West Saxon (Chron. Saxon. pp. 17, 18).
* As I am a stranger to the Welsh bards, Myrdhin, Llomarch,t and Taliessin, my faith in the existence and exploits of Arthur_principally rests, on the simple and circumstantial testimony of Nennius (Hist. Brit. c. 62,63, p. 114). Mr. Whitaker (Hist. of Manchester, vol. ii. pp. 31-71), has framed an interesting, and even probable, narrative of the wars of Arthur; though it is impossible to allow the reality of the round table.
* Comnare Gallet, Mémoires sur la Bretagne, and Daru, Histoire de Bretagne. These authors appear to me to establish the point of the und-pendence of Bretagne at the time that the insular Britons took refuge in their country, and that the greater partianded as fugities rather than as conquerors... I observe that M: Lannenberg (Geschichte von England, vol. 1. p. 56) supposes the settlement of a military colony formed of British soldiers (Milites limitanei, laiti), during the usurpation of Maximus ($81,388), who gave their name and peculiar civilization to Bretagne. M. Lannenberg expresses his surprise that Gibbon here rejects the authority which he follows elsewhere.—M.
fi presume that Gibbon means Illywarch Hen, or the Aged.—The Elegies of this Welsh prince and bard have been published by Mr. Owen, in whose works and in the Myvyrian Archaeology, slumbers much curious information on the snbject of Welsh tradition and poetry. But the Welsh antiquarians have never obtained a hearing from the public : they have had no Macpherson to compensate for his corruption of their poetic legends, by forcing them into populariy. -See also Mr. Sharon Turner's Essay on the Welsh Bards.-M
14. The progress of romance, and the state of learning, in the iniddle ages, are illustrated by Mr. Thomas Warton, with the taste of a poet, and the minute dilience of an antiquarian. I liave derived much instruction's rom the two learned issertations prefixed to the first volunye of luis History of English Poetry.* 142 Hoc anno (490) AElla et Cissa obsederunt Andredes-Ceaster; et interfecerunt omnes qui id incoluerunt ; adeo ut he unus Brito ibi superstes fuerit (Chron. Saxon. p. 15); an expression more dreadful in its simplicity, than all the vague and tedious lamentations of the British Jeremiah. 143 Andredes-Ceaster, or Anderida, is placed by Camden (Britannia, vol. i. F. 258) at Newenden, in the marshy grounds of Kent, which might be formerly covered by the sea, and on the edge of the great forest (Anderida) which overspread so large a portion of liampshire and Sussex.
* These valuable dissertations should not now be read without the notes and preliminary essay of the late editor, Mr. Price, which in point of taste and fulness §:information, are worthy of accompanying and completing those of Warton.—M.