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CHAPTER III: Settlement of the Saxons in Britain. - John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government 
An Historical View of the English Government, From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688, in four volumes, edited by Mark Salber Philips and Dale R. Smith, introduction by Mark Salber Philips (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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Settlement of the Saxons in Britain.
The Saxons accepted with joy and alacrity the proposals made to them by the Britons; and it appears to have been stipulated, that they should immediately send a body of troops into Britain, to be employed in the defence of the country, and to receive a stated hire during the continuance of their services.* In consequence of this agreement, Hengist and Horsa,1 two brothers, and persons of distinction among the Saxons, with about sixteen hundred followers, landed in the isle of Thanet, in the year 449; and having defeated the Picts and Scots, confined them, in a short time, within their ancient boundaries. The Saxon troops, immediately after, were stationed by Voltigern partly upon the confines of<63> the northern wall, and partly upon the Kentish coast, the two places that had been usually secured with garrisons under the late dominion of the Romans. In such a situation these auxiliaries, who formed the principal strength of the country, could hardly fail to perceive their own importance, and to entertain the design of extorting a permanent settlement from the inhabitants. With this view, Hengist is said to have persuaded the Britons to hire an additional number of his countrymen, as the only effectual means for securing themselves from the future incursions of the enemy; and, upon an application for that purpose, was joined by a new body of Saxons, amounting to five thousand men. By this reinforcement he found himself superior to the disjointed and unwarlike forces of the country. Having therefore secretly concluded a treaty of peace with the Picts and Scots, and pretending that the articles of the original agreement, with relation to the pay of his troops, had not been observed, he ventured to throw off the mask, and openly to make war upon the Britons. His example was followed by other adventurers, among the same people, who, at the head of<64> different parties, allured by the hope of plunder, and of a new settlement, invaded the coasts of Britain, and endeavoured to penetrate into the country. Their attempts were crowned with success, and the most valuable part of the Island was at length reduced under their dominion. This great event, however, was not accomplished without a violent struggle, nor in less than a hundred and seventy years; during which time many battles were fought, with various fortune. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding their fears and pusillanimity, when first abandoned by the Romans, the Britons, in the course of their long-continued contest with the Saxons, defended themselves with more obstinate resolution, than, upon the downfal of the Roman empire, was discovered by any of the other provinces, though supported by the armies of Rome. The want of any foreign assistance was, in all probability, the cause of this vigorous and spirited behaviour; as it called forth the exertion of their powers, and produced in them a degree of courage and discipline, which the provinces enjoying the protection of the Roman government were not under the same necessity of acquiring.<65>
We have no full account of the circumstances attending the settlement of the Saxons in Britain; but we may form an idea of the manner in which it was completed, from the general situation of the people, from the imperfect relations of this event by our early historians, and from the more distinct information that has been transmitted concerning the settlement of other German nations, in some of the Roman provinces upon the continent of Europe.
The followers of any particular leader having gained a victory, became the masters of a certain territory, and enriched themselves with the spoil of their enemies. Willing to secure what they had obtained, they were led afterwards to offer terms of accommodation to the vanquished; with whom they appear, on some occasions, to have made a formal division of their land and other possessions. But even in those cases, where no express treaty of this nature had been formed, the same effects were produced, from the mere situation of the combatants; and upon the conclusion of a war, the parties were understood to have the property of the respective districts which they had been<66> able to occupy or to retain. Such of the Britons as had been made captives in war were doubtless, in conformity to the general practice of the ancient Germans, reduced into a state of servitude; but those who had escaped this misfortune resided in the neighbourhood of the Saxons, and often maintained a friendly intercourse with them.
The ambition, however, and avidity of these barbarians, incited them, at a future period, to renew their former hostilities; and these were generally followed by new victories, and by a farther extension of conquest. In this manner, after a long course of time, the country was completely subdued by these invaders; and the ancient inhabitants were, according to accidental circumstances, partly degraded into a state of slavery, and partly, by particular treaties, and by long habits of communication, incorporated with the conquerors.
From the declamatory representations of some early annalists, the greater part of historians have been led to suppose, that such of the Britons as escaped captivity were either put to death by their barbarous enemies, or, disdaining submission, and expecting no mercy,<67> retired into Wales, or withdrew into the country of Armorica in France, to which, from them, the name of Bretagne has been given. An acute and industrious antiquary, Mr. Whitaker,2 has lately shown, I think in a satisfactory manner, that this extraordinary supposition is without any solid foundation. That many of the Britons were at that period subjected to great hardships, and, in order to save themselves from the fury of their enemies, were even obliged to quit their native country, may be easily believed; but that the Saxons were animated with such uncommon barbarity, as would lead them, in direct opposition to their own interest, to root out the ancient inhabitants, must appear highly improbable. Of the total extirpation of any people, by the most furious conquerors, the records of well authenticated history afford not many examples. It is known, at the same time, that no such cruelty was exhibited by any of the German nations who conquered the other provinces of the Roman empire; and it must be admitted, that the situation of all those nations was very much the same with that of the Saxons, as also that they were a people in all respects of<68> similar manners and customs. There is even complete evidence that, in some parts of the Island, the Britons were so far from being extirpated, that they were permitted to retain a certain proportion of the landed property; and it is remarkable, that this proportion, being a third part of the whole, was the same with that retained by the ancient inhabitants in some of those provinces, upon the continent of Europe, which were conquered by the other German tribes. Though, in other cases, the vestiges of such early transactions have not been preserved, it is highly probable that a similar division of the land was made, either by express contract, or by tacit agreement. There can be no reason to believe that the same Saxons would, in one part of the Island, exhibit such moderation and humanity to the vanquished people, and in another, such unprecedented ferocity and barbarity.
It is further to be observed, that the language which grew up in Britain after the settlement of the Saxons, and in which a large proportion of the British and the Latin tongues were incorporated with the Saxon, affords a sufficient proof that the inhabitants were compounded<69> of the different nations by whom these languages were spoken.
When the Saxons invaded Britain, they were entirely a pastoral people; but as they came into a country which had been long cultivated, they could scarcely fail to acquire very rapidly a considerable knowledge of agriculture. Having obtained a quantity of land that was formerly employed in tillage, and having procured a proportionable number of servants, already acquainted with the various branches of husbandry, it may easily be imagined that they would avail themselves of this favourable situation, for the prosecution of an employment so conducive to their comfortable subsistence.
In consequence of a general attention to agriculture, they must have been induced to quit the wandering life; since, in order to practise the employment of a farmer with any advantage, a continued residence upon the same spot is necessary. In the occupancy and appropriation of landed estates, those persons who had been most connected in war were most likely to become neighbours; and every little knot of kindred and friends were com<70>monly led to build their houses together, that they might be in readiness to assist one another in their labour, and to unite in defending their possessions. The villages of German shepherds were thus converted into villages of husbandmen, which, in proportion to the progress of their arms, and to their advances in improvement, were gradually enlarged and spread over the country. It should seem that, upon the first settlement of the Saxons, the whole people were distributed into little societies of this kind; and no individual was so opulent, that he could expect to live in security, without maintaining an alliance and intimate communication with others. This custom of resorting to villages, introduced by necessity, in times of extreme barbarism and disorder, is even at present retained by many of the farmers in England; although, from a total change of manners and circumstances, it is evident that a separate residence, upon their different farms, would often be much more convenient.
While the Saxons, by their intercourse with a more civilized people, were thus excited to a considerable improvement of their circumstances, the Britons were, from an opposite situation,<71> degraded in the same proportion, and continued to sink in ignorance and barbarism. Engaged in a desperate conflict, in which every thing dear to them was at stake, and having to cope with an enemy little practised in the refinements of humanity, they were obliged, in their own defence, to retaliate those injuries which they were daily receiving; and by the frequent exercise of depredation, they became inured to rapine and injustice. The destructive wars, in the mean time, which were incessantly kindled, and which raged with so much violence in every quarter of the country, were fatal to the greater part of its improvements. The numerous towns which had been raised under the protection and security of the Roman government, and which now became the usual refuge of the weaker party, were often sacked by the victorious enemy, and after being gradually depopulated, were at length either laid in ruins, or left in the state of insignificant villages. In those times of universal terror and confusion, the ancient schools and seminaries of learning were abandoned, and every person who cultivated the arts subservient to luxury and refinement, was<72> forced to desert such useless occupations, and betake himself to employments more immediately requisite for preservation and subsistence. In the course of two centuries, within which the conquest of the more accessible and valuable parts of Britain was completed, the monuments of Roman opulence and grandeur were entirely erased; and the Britons who remained in the country, and who retained their liberty, adopted the same manner of life with their Saxon neighbours, from whom they were no longer distinguishable, either by the places of their residence, or by their usages and political institutions.
Those conquerors of Britain who received the general appellation of Saxons had issued from different parts of the German coast, at some distance from one another, and belonged to different tribes or nations: they have been divided, by historians, into three great branches, the Angles, the Jutes, and the Saxons,3 properly so called. As the leaders of the several parties belonging to any of these divisions possessed a separate influence over their own adherents, and prosecuted their enterprises in different parts of the country, so they naturally<73> rejected all ideas of subordination, and endeavoured to acquire a regal authority; the result of which was, that, after various turns of fortune, no less than seven independent states, each under its own particular monarch, were at length established.
The followers of Hengist and Horsa, composed of Jutes, acquired a settlement in the east corner of the Island, and established their dominion in what is now the county of Kent. Different parties of the proper Saxons occupied a much larger territory, and laid the foundations of three different kingdoms. Those who, from their situation, were called the Southern Saxons, established themselves in the counties of Sussex and Surrey; the West Saxons extended their authority over the counties to the westward, along the southern coast; and the East Saxons took possession of Essex, Middlesex, and a considerable part of Hertfordshire. The Angles were still more numerous, and the territories which they occupied were much more extensive. By them was formed the kingdom of the East Angles, in the counties of Cambridge, Norfolk, and Suffolk; that of Northumberland, extending over<74> all the country which these barbarians had subdued, from the Humber to the Friths of Forth; and that of Mercia, comprehending the inland counties, which were in a manner included by the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy.4
In the western part of the Island, from the Land’s-End to the Frith of Clyde, the ancient inhabitants were still able to maintain their independence; and in this large tract of country were erected four British principalities or kingdoms; those of Cornwall, of South Wales, of North Wales, and of Cumberland. To the North of the Friths of Forth and Clyde the Picts and Scots retained their ancient possessions.
The changes produced in the manners and customs of the Saxons, by their settlement in Britain, were such as might be expected, from the great change of situation which the people experienced, in passing from the state of shepherds to that of husbandmen.5 As in following the employment of the latter, they necessarily quitted the wandering life, and took up a fixed residence, they were enabled to acquire property in land; with which it is probable they were formerly unacquainted. The<75> introduction of landed property among mankind has uniformly proceeded from the advancement of agriculture, by which they were led to cultivate the same ground for many years successively; and upon the principle that every man has a right to enjoy the fruit of his own labour, became entitled, first, to the immediate crops they had raised, and afterwards to the future possession of the ground itself, in order that they might obtain the benefit of the improvement which their long cultivation had produced. In this appropriation, of so great importance to society, the Saxons in Britain were undoubtedly stimulated, and instructed, from the cultivated state of the country, as well as from the example of the people whom they had subdued.
This alteration in their circumstances had necessarily a mighty influence upon the conduct of their military operations. As a great part of their property was now incapable of being transported, the inhabitants of each village were induced to fortify, in some degree, the place of their abode, for the preservation of their most valuable effects; and therefore, in going out to meet an enemy, instead of carrying along with them their cattle, and other<76> moveables, and being accompanied by their wives and children, as well as by the aged and infirm (the usual practice in the pastoral life) none but the actual warriors had occasion to take the field. The immediate plunder, therefore, arising from a victory, was rendered more inconsiderable; and even this the victors were commonly obliged to secure at home, before they could conveniently undertake a new enterprize. Thus, after the settlement of the Saxons in Britain, they were less in a condition to carry on wars at a great distance; and they appear to have laid aside, for the most part, their foreign piratical expeditions.
The permanent residence of the people tended likewise to open a regular communication between different villages; the inhabitants of which, by remaining constantly in the same neighbourhood, were led by degrees to contract a more intimate acquaintance. From the acquisition of landed possessions, which by their nature are less capable than moveables of being defended by the vigilance and personal prowess of the possessor, the necessity of the public interposition, and of public regulations for the security of property, must have been<77> more universally felt. From these causes, it is natural to suppose that the connections of society were gradually multiplied, and that the ideas of justice, as well as of policy and government, which had been entertained by the primitive Saxons, were considerably extended and improved.
The introduction of landed property 6 contributed, on the other hand, to increase the influence and authority of individuals, by enabling them to maintain upon their estates a greater number of dependents than can be supported by persons whose possessions are merely moveable. The heads or leaders of particular families were thus raised to greater consideration; and, in the respective communities of which they were members, obtained more completely the exclusive direction and management of public affairs. The influence of the great leader, or prince, by whom they were conducted in their common expeditions, was proportioned, in like manner, to his private estate, and extended little farther than to his own tenants; for which reason, in the several kingdoms of the Heptarchy, the sovereign possessed a very limited authority, and the<78> principal powers of government were lodged in a Wittenagemote, or national council, composed of the independent proprietors, or leading men in the state.
Although the monarchs of these different kingdoms claimed an independent sovereignty, yet, in their struggles with the Britons, they often procured assistance from one another, and were combined against the ancient inhabitants of the country, their common enemies. The direction of their forces was, on those occasions, committed to some particular monarch, who, in conducting their joint measures, was frequently under the necessity of calling a wittenagemote, or great council, from all the confederated kingdoms. Thus the idea of a permanent union among all the kingdoms of the Heptarchy, and of a leader, or chief magistrate, at the head of that large community, together with a set of regulations extending to all its members, was gradually suggested: according to the opulence or abilities of the different Saxon princes, they were, by turns, promoted to that supreme dignity; which became, of course, the great object of their ambition, and the source of those violent<79> animosities which, for a period of about two hundred years, continually subsisted among them. The most powerful of the states belonging to this confederacy were those of Wessex, Mercia, and Northumberland, to which the rest were gradually reduced into a kind of subordination; till at length, about the year 827, the several kingdoms of the Heptarchy were subdued by Egbert,7 the king of the West Saxons, who transmitted to his posterity the sovereignty of those extensive dominions. The same prince extended his authority over all the Britons on the south side of the Bristol channel, and became master of a considerable part of Wales, and of the Cumbrian kingdom. From this time the distinctions among the different Saxon states were in a great measure abolished, and the several territories, united under Egbert, received the general name of England; as the people, from the union of the two principal nations, and in contradistinction to their countrymen in Germany, were called the Anglo-Saxons.
Several circumstances appear to have contributed to the accomplishment of this great revolution. With the bravery and military<80> accomplishments usual among the chiefs and princes of that age, Egbert, who had been educated in the court of Charles the great,8 is said to have united an uncommon degree of political knowledge and abilities. His own kingdom, situated along the southern coast of Britain, was probably the most improved, if not the most extensive, of those which had been erected by the Anglo-Saxons. In almost all the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy, a failure of the lineal heirs of the crown had given rise, among the principal nobility, to a contest about the succession: Northumberland, in particular, was weakened by intestine disorders, and in no condition to resist a foreign power; so that, by the conquest of Mercia, the only other independent state, the king of Wessex was left without a competitor, and found no difficulty in establishing an universal sovereignty.* <81>
There can be no doubt that the reduction of all these different kingdoms into one monarchy contributed to improve the police of the country, and to civilize the manners of the people. The scene of anarchy and violence which was constantly exhibited during the conquest of Britain by the Saxons was incompatible with any attention to the arts of civil life, and in a great measure extinguished the remains of Roman improvement. The beginning of the seventh century, which falls about the conclusion of that period, may, therefore, be regarded as the aera of greatest darkness and barbarism in the modern history of Britain. The advances, however, that were made, even after this period had elapsed, were very slow and gradual. So long as the country was divided into a number of petty states, independent of each other, and therefore often engaged in mutual hostilities, the persons and property of individuals were not secured in such a manner as to encourage the exercise of useful employments.
It appears, indeed, that the monarchs in several of those kingdoms were anxious to prevent disorders among their subjects, and, with<82> the assistance of their national councils, made a variety of statutes, by which the punishment of particular crimes was defined with great exactness. Such were the laws of Ethelbert,9 and some of his successors, in the kingdom of Kent; those of Ina,10 the king of the West Saxons; and Offa,11 of the Mercians.† These regulations, however, were probably of little avail, from the numerous independent states into which the country was divided; because an offender might easily escape from justice, by taking sanctuary in the territories of a rival or hostile nation; but when the different kingdoms of the Heptarchy were united under one sovereign, private wars were more effectually discouraged, justice was somewhat better administered, and the laws established throughout the Anglo-Saxon dominions were reduced to greater uniformity. We are not, however, to imagine that, from this period, the same regulations in all respects were extended over the whole English monarchy. The system of private law, being formed in good measure by<83> long usage, was necessarily different in different districts; and the customs which prevailed in the more considerable had obtained a currency in the smaller states of the Heptarchy. Thus we find that the law of the West Saxons was extended over all the states on the south side of the Thames,* while the law of the Mercians was introduced into several territories adjacent to that kingdom.† In a subsequent period a third set of regulations, probably a good deal different from the two former, was adopted in the northern and eastern parts of the country.<84>
[* ]Stillingfleet Orig. Brit.—Bede says, that the Saxons first took occasion to quarrel with the Britons, by demanding an increase of their allowance, to which he gives the name of annona. Hist. Eccles. lib. i. c. 15.
[1. ]Hengist and Horsa (d. 488 and 455, respectively) were brothers who invaded England from Jutland. They are supposed to have landed on the Isle of Thanet at Ebbsfleet, on the Kentish coast of England. Millar’s generalizing approach to the early historians can be compared with Hume’s exasperation. Noting that the Saxon leaders, Hengist and Horsa, claimed descent from the god Woden, he writes: “It is evident what fruitless labour it must be to search, in those barbarous and illiterate ages, for the annals of a people, when their first leaders, known in any true history, were believed by them to be the fourth in descent from a fabulous deity, or from a man, exalted by ignorance into that character.” HE, 1:17.
[2. ]John Whitaker (1735–1808): British historian and author of the History of Manchester, 2 vols. (London, 1771–75), as well as The Genuine History of the Britons Asserted (1773).
[3. ]The Jutes and the Angles are believed to have come to Britain from the northern and southern parts of the Danish peninsula, respectively. The Saxons came from northern Germany.
[4. ]The Heptarchy refers to the seven most significant English kingdoms of the later Anglo-Saxon period: Wessex, Kent, Sussex, Essex, East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumberland.
[5. ]This description of the advance of the Saxons from wandering pastoralists to settled agriculturalists follows the stadial outline set out by Smith in LJ, 14–16, 404–9, and which forms a major theme of Distinction of Ranks. See also Adam Ferguson, Essay on the History of Civil Society, ed. Fania Oz-Salzberger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 94ff.
[6. ]Millar discusses the consequences of landed property throughout the Distinction of Ranks. See, for example, DR, 71–72.
[7. ]Egbert, king of Wessex (r. 802–39): commonly recognized as the first king of a united England.
[8. ]Charlemagne, or Carolus Magnus: king of the Franks (r. 768–814) and Holy Roman Emperor (r. 800–814).
[* ]It must not however be supposed that the power of all the kings of the Heptarchy was at this period entirely destroyed; they retained a subordinate authority, founded upon their great property. The princes of Northumberland and Mercia still retained the title of king; and in the reign of Alfred we find them still claiming independence.—See William of Malmsbury.
[9. ]Ethelbert: king of Kent (r. ca. 560–ca. 616), the first English king to issue a law code.
[10. ]Ina: king of Wessex (r. 688–726).
[11. ]Offa: king of Mercia (r. 757–96).
[† ]See the Collections of the two former, in Wilkins Leg. Anglo-Sax.—The laws of king Offa have not been preserved.
[* ]Called Westsaxenlaga.
[† ]Called Mercenlaga. The inhabitants were denominated, from the kind of law which they observed. See Ran. Higden Polychron.—In France the Pays de Droit écrit and the Pays des Coutumes, were distinguished from a similar circumstance. [[Pays de Droit écrit: district of statute law (i.e., the south of France); Pays des Coutumes: district of customary law (i.e., the north of France).]]