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The Early English

By February 12, 2013February 18th, 2021No Comments

For the fatherland of the English race we must look far away from England itself.  In the fifth century after the birth of Christ, the one country which bore the name of England was what we now call Sleswick [or Schleswig], a district in the heart of the penninsula which parts the Baltic from the Northern seas [ie, the mainland of modern Denmark]. Its pleasant pastures, its black-timbered homesteads, its prim little townships looking down on inlets of purple water, were then but a wild waste of heather and sand, girt along the coast with sunless woodland, broken only on the western side by meadows which crept down to the marshes and the sea.  The dwellers in this district were one out of three tribes, all belonging to the same Low German branch of the Teutonic family, who at the moment when history discovers them were bound together in some loose fashion by the ties of a common blood and a common speech.  To the north of the English [ie, the Angles] lay the tribe of the Jutes, whose name is still preserved in their district of Jutland.  To the south of them the tribe of the Saxons wandered over the sand-flats of Holstein, and along the marshes of Friesland and the Elbe. How close was the union of these tribes was shown by their use of a common name, while the choice of this name points out the tribe which at the moment when we first meet them must have been the strongest and most powerful in the confederacy.  Although they were all known as Saxons by the Roman people who touched them only on their southern border where the Saxons dwelt, and who remained ignorant of the very existence of the English or the Jutes, the three tribes bore among themselves the name of the central tribe of their league, the name of Englishmen.

Of the temper and life of these English folk in this Old England we know little. But from the glimpses we catch of them when conquest had brought these Englishmen to the shores of Britain, their political and social organization must have been that of the German race to which they belonged.

Green J R, 1885,  A Short History of the English People,  London: Macmillan, pp 1-2

The Jutes were the first of the English to conquer land in Britain, winning Kent from the Britons in 457 and founding a kingdom there. The Jutes also occupied the island of Vectis (ie, the Isle of Wight) and the maritime districts of present day Hampshire.

The South Saxons landed some twenty years later, in 477 and created the kingdom of Sussex.

The West Saxons landed in 495 and founded the kingdom of Wessex.

The district around London was won and settled by men of Saxon blood – the Middle-Sexe and East-Sexe, or Essex.

Over time the smaller kingdoms, such as Kent and Sussex, were absorbed by larger and more powerful neighbours, such as Wessex.

The Angles founded: the kingdom of East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire); the kingdom of Mercia (the East and West Midlands); and the northern kingdoms of Bernicia (Durham, Northumberland and the eastern Lowlands south of the Firth of Forth) and Deira (the East and North Riding of Yorkshire), which were united in 593 by King Aethelfrith to form the kingdom of Northumbria.

To paraphrase King Alfred the Great: do not blame me if any know our history better than I, for every man must say what he says and do what he does according to his ability.