The last Romans left Britain in 410, leaving the island completely unprotected. The British appealed desperately to Rome for protection, but no help came. The Romans had their own problems in the menacing person of Alaric, who proceeded to sack the city. They had no stomach nor resoures to grant any help to a distant little outpost somewhere in the North Sea.
The Picts and Scots thought that since Britain was now devoid of Romans, it would be a splendid opportunity to invade. The idea was good, but there was one large barrier to their plans in the shape of Hadrian’s Wall. The northern Britons had little trouble in repelling them, but a far more serious threat was manifesting itself far further south.
Saxon pirates were exploring the British coastline, travelling up the rivers and pillaging and destroying anything that stood in their way. They were a cruel lot. Man, woman, child. It made no difference. They were all fodder for their swords and axes.
Others who landed on British shores were the Jutes and Angles. The former populated what’s now Sussex and Hampshire, and the latter the midlands and the north. The Saxons eventually took the south and west.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend many years ago, who’d been a salesman for farm products. His area was on the south coast, a large patch covering Sussex and Hampshire. One day, he went into a pub for lunch and over in the corner he heard a group of men talking. They were obviously farmers, but he simply couldn’t understand what they were saying. He assumed it was a dialect he’d never heard before, which surprised him, because he thought he knew them all. Anyway, after they left, he went to the landlord and asked him about them. It turned out that they were speaking the ancient Jutish tongue. They could speak English all right, but apparently they weren’t very sociable and kept themselves to themselves.
Vortigen, a Romanised Briton, made a terrible mistake with the Jutes. In an effort to protect his kingdom of Kent from the Saxon pirates, he recruited the Jutes as mercenaries. They were under the leadership of Hengist and Horsa and for a time, all was well. Then they approached Vortigern and demanded more supplies and money. He refused. Considering that the Jutes came from the same area as the Saxons, Vortigen’s employment of them in the first place was strange, even dangerous. He wouldn’t budge at Hengist’s demands. No negotiation, no attempt to meet the Jutes halfway.
Hengist and Horsa simply turned round and threw in their lot with the pirates, making matters a great deal worse. The German settlers started to bring their families over, and vast hordes of them made their homes in Britain.
They farmed the land and despised anyone with wealth, simply taking what they needed and fought the Celts for their lands. The indiginous population found themselves being pushed further and further west, since they were no match for the newcomers, but finally they halted in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.
The Britons were in dire straits. They had no alternative but to fight. At this time, two leaders arose. One was named Ambrosius Aurelianus, the other Arturius. It’s from the latter that the legend of King Arthur sprang.
We’ll explore the Saxons in greater depth in later articles.
My thanks to Wikipedia for all their help with dates and continuity.