Wednesday 17 October 2018

The Coming of the Saxons... by Mary Anne Yarde #History #Saxons #Jutes

The Coming of the Saxons...
 By Mary Anne Yarde

Britain 400–500: Anglo-Saxon Homelands and Settlements — Wikipedia

In the year AD 425 Vortigern became the High King of Southern Britain — or so said the 6th Century British monk, Gildas. Vortigern’s reign of 30 years was not, however, without conflict. There was the constant threat of invasion from the Irish on the western seaboard. The Picts were invading from the north, and in the eastern seaboard, the Saxons were trying to push into Vortigern’s realm. It was a war on all fronts. It was a war he could not possibly win.

Vortigern turned to his Roman friends for help. But instead of military assistance, Flavius Aetius, a Roman general, sent Bishop Germanus of Auxerre and Bishop Severus of Trier, to Vortigern’s kingdom to find out what was going on and report back to him. However, Germanus was more concerned about finding the Pelagian heretics than the threat that Vortigern spoke of. Germanus and Severus took their leave, having done very little. Vortigern realised he would not receive any military aid from Rome. If he wanted to save his kingdom, then he was going to have to think of something else.

Bishop Germanus of Auxerre

Vortigern did not have many choices open to him. If the Roman Empire would not come to his aid, then he would have to find someone who would. He looked to the land of the Jutes. Vortigern was not the first, and he was certainly not the last to employ mercenaries to fight for his cause.  He heard talk of two warrior brothers, Hengist and Horsa. These brothers had a fine army. It was these men that Vortigern struck a deal with. It is worth noting that although Hengist and Horsa were Jutes, they shared the same Germanic language (taking into account the different regional dialects), the same religious philosophies, and the same culture as the Saxons who were causing such a problem for Vortigern in the east.

Hengist and Horsa arriving in Britain, by Richard Rowlands (1605).

In return for their services, Vortigern gave the brothers land in the Isle of Thanet, Kent. The mercenaries brought over their families, and for a while, things seemed to work well for all. The brothers and their men kept in check their Germanic kinfolk along the east coast. They were also a good match for the Picts in the north. They also help to curb the Irish ambitions as well.

Thanks to Hengist and Horsa, the threat to Vortigern’s kingdom, although still present, was, for now, kept in check. It was then that Hengist and Horsa decided that they were not being paid enough. They were risking their lives for Vortigern. They deserved more. Much more. So they took their demands to Vortigern, along with a promise… If Vortigern did not meet their demands, then they would take his kingdom as payment. It was only fair.

Vortigern found himself in a very difficult position. He had invited these mercenaries into his kingdom. In fact, he had kept on inviting them. And now, there were an awful lot of them. Too many. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles states that:

“…the Saxons multiplied their numbers, and the British could not feed them.”

Vortigern raised taxes, in a bid to pay his mercenary army. But he could not raise sufficient funds. His people simply did not have the money, and they resented having to pay tax when these foreign settlers, Vortigern had invited over, did not have to pay at all. By the year AD 430 Vortigern faced the threat of civil war.  This unrest was led by a man, who the Welsh called, Emrys, and who others called Ambrosius Aurelianus. Vortigern did not know what to do. So he did what he always did. He recruited even more mercenaries. This decision would cost him his throne.

In the year AD 450, Hengist knew that the time was right for usurpation. However, although his mercenary army was great in number, it was not enough. So he called to arms the Angles and the Saxons that had settled in Britain. Then and only then, did he attack.

“Once lit, it did not die down. When it had wasted town and country in that area, it burnt up almost the whole surface of the island, until its red and savage tongue licked the western seas..”
 On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain — Gildas

The Celts, although their loyalty to their High King had been stretched to the limit, rose up against these foreign aggressors. Vortigern was mortally wounded while leading a campaign to drive the Jutes back to the Isle of Thanet. With Vortigern’s death, the native Celts look to Ambrosius. In the year AD 473, Hengist and his son, Aesc, fought the Celts in Kent and were victorious. In AD 488, Aesc became King of Kent. As for Ambrosius… Nothing more is said of him.

Kent became a secure beachhead for Germanic invasions and eventually the conquest of Britain.

(Author Unknown) — The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (J. M. Dent, New edition, 1972)
Bede — Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2012)
Berresford Elllis, Peter — Celt and Saxon (The struggle for Britain AD 410-937) (Constable and Company Ltd , 1994)
Geoffrey of Monmouth — The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Books Ltd, 1966)
Gildas — On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain (Serenity Publishers, LLC, 2009)
Nennius — The History of the Britons (Dodo Press, July 2007)
Pryor, Francis — Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (HarperCollins Publisher, 2005)
Wood, Michael — In Search of the Dark Ages (BBC Books, 2005)
Wood, Michael — In Search of England (Penguin Books, 1999)

The Du Lac Prophecy

(Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles)

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

Amazon US • Amazon UK  •  Amazon CA

 Mary Anne Yarde

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

Mary Anne loves to hear from readers, you can find her:  

Media Links: Website/Blog  •  Facebook  •  Twitter  •   Amazon Author Page  •  Goodreads 


  1. Twas a confusing period with so many different "viking" groups looking to expand. :-)

    1. Yes, it certainly was a confusing period, Paul. Hengist and Horsa are often referred to as being Saxon, when in fact they were Jutes. The Saxon's really came into their own when Cerdic and his Cynric landed and carved out a kingdom for themselves in Wessex — if, you go by what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles state!

  2. What troubled times! I can imagine that no one slept very well.

    1. It must have been a difficult period to live through. But it wasn't just the Jutes, Angles and Saxons that were causing all the trouble. But also the Irish, and the Picts were invading as well. A very troublesome time and without Rome to keep order it must have felt like a very uncertain future.

  3. Great post, Mary Anne! I am not too sure what Hengist and Horsa are wearing in that drawing by Richard Rowlands. I can't see them doing much fighting in those shoes! LOL!

    1. Thank you, Beatrice. Hengist and Horsa's shoes are fabulous! I think it reflect the era Richard Rowlands was from rather than the era it was meant to depict! LOL

  4. I realized that the English = Angles and the Saxons are really german.See also Wessex, Essex,Sussex Anglia all german

  5. You are absolutely right. They were all Germanic tribes, their Gods were the same, or very similar. Their customs again, were very similar. If you look at norse mythology, it is very similar to Saxon mythology. Their are a lot of similarities. Which is not surprising, really.

  6. Now I can understand what Mr Walker was talking about in his post. It seemed it was no garden party when they came over. But the Britain's only had themselves to blame if they invited them over. What a stupid thing to do.

    1. Vortigern needed help. When Rome refused he found himself in a very difficult situation. Even with hindsight, I don't think he really had a choice. He was facing a war on all fronts. Of course, once the Jutes came over and saw how fertile the land was, they wanted to stay, and this upset the natives, and eventually led to civil war. So the argument that was put forward on King Arthur's Britain, just doesn't make sense to those who study this era. There was conflict. If Gildas was writing about it, then there is an argument for the Saxons meeting resistance from the natives.

  7. This is such an interesting post. I did not know that the Saxon's were invited to Britain, that certainly puts a whole new twist on it!


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx