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Anglo-Saxon Britain (410-1066)
The Arts of Fair Rowena (1) : Charles Dickens believed that Britain’s Saxon invaders gained power by force of arms – but not by weapons.
The Arts of Fair Rowena
Part one

Abridged from ‘A Child’s History of England’ by Charles Dickens.

Whether or not the fifth-century Saxon warlords Hengist and Horsa were historical figures (St Bede and JRR Tolkien both thought so), the Saxon invasions, and General Flavius Aetius’s failure to respond to Roman Britain’s heartbreaking appeals in the late 440s, were quite real.

THEY [the British] sent a letter to Rome entreating help — which they called the Groans of the Britons;* and in which they said, ‘The barbarians chase us into the sea, the sea throws us back upon the barbarians, and we have only the hard choice left us of perishing by the sword, or perishing by the waves.’ But, the Romans could not help them, for they had enough to do to defend themselves against their own enemies.

At last, the Britons resolved to make peace with the Saxons, and to invite the Saxons to come into their country, and help them to keep out the Picts and Scots. It was a British Prince named Vortigern who took this resolution, and who made a treaty of friendship with Hengist and Horsa, two Saxon chiefs. Hengist and Horsa drove out the Picts and Scots; and Vortigern, being grateful to them for that service, made no opposition to their settling themselves in the Isle of Thanet, or to their inviting over more of their countrymen to join them. 

* It was addressed to Flavius Aetius in or after his third one-year term as Consul in 446, and before his fourth in 454. The Western Emperor was Valentinian III. Would-be Emperor Constantine III has removed most Roman troops from Britain in 407 to support his futile bid.

Abridged from ‘A Child’s History of England’ by Charles Dickens.

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Picture: By Gabriel von Max (1840-1915), via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
‘Ophelia’, Hamlet’s lover in the play by William Shakespeare, as imagined by Czech-Austrian artist Gabriel von Max (1840-1915). Hengist’s effortlessly manipulative daughter Rowena figures prominently in Nennius’s ninth-century ‘Historia Brittonum’ (History of the Britons), though whether she belongs to fact or fiction is debated. Her husband King Vortigern is mentioned by name as a fifth-century British king by St Bede in his ‘History of the English Church and People’ (AD 731), along with Rowena’s father Hengist.
By Charles Dickens

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