Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ultimate Taboo

Nennius completes his chapter 37 with these words: "Thus the maid was delivered up to the king, who slept with her, and loved her exceedingly."

The story continues in chapter 38 that Hengist (the Anglo-Saxon chief) became the father-in-law to Vortigern and advised him to accept more Saxons to the island. Hengist then sent for his son and brother who brought "forty ships". Nennius states that the "incautious sovereign" agreed to this.

As if Vortigern needed more to make his name odious to the people Ninnus was writing, he adds in chapter 39: "In the meantime, Vortigern, as if desirous of adding to the evils he had already occasioned, married his own daughter, by whom he had a son." Can you believe it? Incest, the taboo of all time was added to the "evils" that Vortigern committed.

Much more of this story as given by Nennius is found in chapters 39-49. It would seem that Vortigern was advised by "his twelve wise men", to "Retire to the remote boundaries of your kingdom: there build and fortify a city to defend yourself, for the people you have received are treacherous; they are seeking to subdue you by stratagem, and even during your life, to seize upon all the countries subject to your power, how much more will they attempt, after your death!"

It is here, in the "remote boundaries" that Vortigern founds his fortify city in the mountains of Snowdonia.

For those who have an interest in reading the rest of the story, see Medieval-Sourcebook:Nennius: Historia Brittonum, 8th century.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Resigned to Foreigners

"And now the Saxon chief prepared an entertainment, to which he invited the king, his officers, and Ceretic, his interpreter, having previously enjoined his daughter to serve them so profusely with wine and ale, that they might soon become intoxicated."

Here we go. Interesting that Nennius calls Hengist "the Saxon chief" and Vortigern "king". They also needed an "interpreter", thus indicating that their languages were by this time separate and distinct. But the plan was simple. Get everyone drunk and let the hormones fly!

"This plan succeeded, and Vortigern, at the instigation of the devil, and enamoured with the the beauty of the damsel, demanded her, through the medium of his interpreter, of the father, promising to give for her whatever he should ask. Then Hengist, who had already consulted with the elders who attended him of the Oghgul race, demanded for his daughter the province, called in English Centland, in British, Ceint, (Kent). This cession was made without the knowledge of the king, Guoyrancgonus who then reigned in Kent, and who experienced no inconsiderable share of grief, from seeing his kingdom thus clandestinely, fraudulently, and imprudently resigned to foreigners. Thus the maid was delivered up to the king, who slept with her, and loved her exceedingly."

Quotes taken from: Medieval Sourcebook: Nennius: Historia Brittonum, 8th century

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Made Themselves at Home

Writing in his "Historia Brittonum" around 942 AD, Nennius continues the story of our grandfather Jones Vortigern. In paragraph 36 he writes:

"After the Saxons had continued some time in the island of Thanet, Vortigern promised to supply them with clothing and provision, on condition they would engage to fight against the enemies of his country. But the barbarians having greatly increased in number, the Britons became incapable of fulfilling their engagement, and when the Saxons, according to the promise they had received, claimed a supply of provisions and clothing, the Britons replied: 'Your number is increasing; your assistance is now unnecessary, you may, therefore, return home, for we can no longer support you.' and hereupon they began to devise means of breaking the peace between them."

So in the mind of Nennius, the Saxons made themselves at home on the land of Thanet. [Thanet is the eastern most part of the county of present day Kent.] They were then asked nicely to go back home, but of course they refused. In paragraph 37 the Saxons respond:

"But Hengist, in whom united craft and penetration, perceiving he had to act with an ignorant king, and a fluctuating people, incapable of opposing much resistance, replied to Vortigern, 'We are, indeed, few in number, but, if you will give us leave, we will send to our county, for an additional number of forces, with whom we will fight for you and your subjects." Vortigern assenting to this proposal, messengers were dispatched to Scythia, where selecting a number of warlike troops, they returned with sixteen vessels, bringing with them the beautiful daughter of Hengist."

By now you can already guess what is going to happen. Much like the fall of Troy, the fall of the Britons is blamed partly on the beautiful daughter of Hengist! More to come.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Rest of the Story

Some 200 years after Bede, another Celtic monk named Nennius wrote his account of the history of Britain. He was originally from what became North Wales, and had a great deal to say about our grandfather Vortigern. His view was certainly from the ancient Britons who had received the oral stories regarding the period after Roman withdrawal. He includes a complete account, "the rest of the story", regarding Vortigern and his activities. In the prologue his Historia Brittonum Nennius writes:

"Nennius, the lowly minister and servant of the servants of God, by the grace of God, disciple of St. Elbotus, to all the followers of truth sendeth health."

Here, Nennius certainly saw himself as God's spokesman writing to the "...followers of truth...". He goes on to say:

"...I was indignant, that the name of my own people, formerly famous and distinguished, should sink into oblivion, and like smoke be dissipated."

In chapter 31. he gets to the time of Vortigern stating:

"Vortigern then reigned in Britain. In his time, the natives had cause of dread, not only from the inroads of the Scots and Picts, but also from the Romans, and their apprehensions of Ambrosisus."

Interestingly, here Ambrosisus is viewed as a threat to the Britons and could not be the "King Arthur" that some writers have postulated!

Regarding the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, Nennius reports that three vessels had been "exiled from Germany", and arrived in Britain. Here it is clear that Nennius felt that an "exile" was the cause of their arrival, not an invitation!

The story continues: "Vortigern received them as friends, and delivered up to them the island which is in their language called Thanet, and, by the Britons, Ruym."

"The Saxons were received by Vortigern four hundred and forty-seven years after the passion of Christ, and, according to the tradition of our ancestors, from the period of their first arrival in Britain, to the first year of the reign of king Edmund, five hundred and forty-two years; and to that in which we now write, which is the fifth of his reign, five hundred and forty-seven years." [Edmund I, King of English - 27 Oct. 939 - 26 May 946.]

So, at the beginning, this Celtic cleric did not blame Vortigern for inviting the Anglo-Saxons. It was the fact that a certain group had been exiled from Germany! More to come.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wicked Deeds

Between Gildas, writing around 550 AD, and the Anglo-Saxons, beginning their writing around 850 AD, was another cleric named Bede. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation is considered by most to be the first true history of the English Nation. He was born in 673 AD and ordained deacon in 692 AD. He was made a priest in 703 AD and died 735 AD. He wrote his account around 700 AD. He is brought up in an Anglo-Saxon world, that had become Christians since Gildas called them "...a race hateful both to God and men...".

In Chapter XIV of his book, Bede writes the following: "...Whereupon, not long after, [a severe plague is described], a more severe vengeance, for their horrid wickedness, fell upon the sinful nation. They consulted what was to be done, and where they should seek assistance to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations; and they all agreed with their King Vortigern to call over to their aid, from the parts beyond the sea, the Saxon nation; which, as the event still more evidently showed, appears to have been done by the appointment of our Lord Himself, that evil might fall upon them for their wicked deeds."

Here is recorded that "...they all agreed.." to invite the Saxons over for a visit. Thus grandfather Vortigern had help in his decision. Bede also feels that God himself arranged the whole thing so that the Britons would be punished for such evil ways. It certainly seems to make a difference as to who is writing the checks!

Bede's writings are found in "Bede's Ecclesiastical History of The English Nation", J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London, 1910. The quote above can be found on pages 21-22.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fleeing Fire

The Anglo-Saxons are believed to originate from three tribes of Germanic peoples who occupied what is now Denmark and part of the costal areas around this peninsula. Angles, Jutes, and Saxons are the names. It is thought that they had already established trade relationships with the Britons and had for many years prior to our Vortigern been in contact with the island. When the Picts arrived from the north, and the Irish (Scotti) from the west, they were part of the defense of the island. The Anglo-Saxon historians, writting some 400 years after Gildas around 900 AD, write the events this way:

446. The British sent men over the sea to Rome, and asked help against the Picts, but they never had it, because they were on an expedition against king Attila the Hun. They sent then to the Angles, and the Anglian athelings, with the same request.

449. ...In their days the Anngles were invited here by king Vortigern, And they then came to Britain in three longships, landing at Ebbesfleet. King Vortigern gave then territory in the southeast of this land, on the condition that they fight the Picts. This they did, and had victory wherever they went. They then sent to Angel, commanded more aid, and commanded that they should be told of the Britons' worthlessness, and the choice nature fo the land. They soon sent hither a greater host to help the others. Then came the men of three Germanic tribes: Old Saxons; Angles and Jutes...First of all, they killed and drove away the king's enemies: then later they turned on the king and the British, destroying through fire and the sword's edge.

455. Hengest and Horsa fought Vortigern the king, in the place called Aegelesthrep his brother Horsa was killed, and after that Hengest and his son Aesc received the kingdom.

456. Hengest and Aesc fought the Britons in the place called Crecganford. There they killed four companies. The Britons gave up Kent. and in great fear fled to London.

465. Hegest and Aesc foought the Wesh near Wippedesfleot and killed twelve Welsh ealdormen. One of their own thanes was killed there, whose name was Wipped.

473. Hengest and Aesc fought the Welsh and seized countless spoils of war. The Welsh fled the English as one flees fire.

The above was taken from: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, translated and collated by, Anne Savage, Crescent Books, New York, 1995, p. 29.

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Indolent and Slothful Race

Gildas was the first local writer to record his feelings after the Roman world collapsed. Born around 500 AD in what was to become north Wales, he grew up to become a Celtic monk who felt the turmoil of the years following Roman withdrawal. He also composed a "Rule" for monastic life which clearly shows he was from that side of the street. The Anglo-Saxons had arrived, and Gildas was trying to make heads or tails what what was happening around him. He states in his opening that his premise is: "...for it is my present purpose to relate the deeds of an indolent and slothful race,...". He states: "..for, alas! the subject of my complaint is the general destruction of every thing that is good, and the general growth of evil throughout the land..."

In section II, which he calls "THE HISTORY", item 23, he records the following:

"Then all the councillors, together with that proud tyrant Gurthrigern [Vortigern]
,the British king, were so blinded, that, as a protection to their country, they sealed its doom by inviting in among them (like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations. Nothing was ever so pernicious to our country, nothing was ever ever so unlucky."

Thus begins the history of our great grandfather Vortigern!

[The reference for these quotes is: Medieval Sourcebook (Gildas (c.504-570) Works (complete).