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AO Bede text AmblesideOnline.org

AmblesideOnline: Selected Chapters from Bede

St. Bede The Venerable's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum: The History of the Primitive Church of England. Translated by Rev. William Hurst, 1814.

Week 1

Book 1

Chapter 2. The first Invasion of Britain by the Romans, under Caius Julius Caesar. [around 100 BC]

Britain was neither resorted to nor known by the Romans till the time of Caius Julius Caesar, who, in the year 593 [other MSS more accurately "693"; the accepted date is 699] from the building of Rome, the 60th before the birth of Christ, having been elected Consul with Lucius Bibulus, whilst he conducted the war against the nations of the Germans and the Gauls, separated only by the river Rhine, came into the province of the Morini, from which, as we just now observed, is the shortest passage into this island. Here, having soon equipped a fleet of about 80 ships, large and small, he sailed over into Britain, where he at first met with a warm reception from the Britons, who made the most vigorous stand against him, and greatly harassed him. Afterwards being overtaken by a violent storm, he not only lost the greatest part of his fleet, but a great portion of his infantry, and almost all his cavalry.

Returning into France, he put his legions into winter quarters, and gave orders for building large and small ships of different descriptions, to the number of 600. Then, passing over again into Britain, he landed with an immense army, and attacked the Britons; but, whilst he was engaged in the battle, a sudden tempest arose, by which the ships, riding at anchor, were either dashed one against another, or driven on the sands; and 40 of them lost. The rest were with much difficulty repaired. Caesar's cavalry was defeated by the enemy at the first charge, and here Labienus the tribune was killed: but Caesar, renewing the attack after a great loss of his men, at length put the Britons to flight.

Thence he marched as far as the river Thames, which is said to be fordable only in one place. On the farther side of this river, an immense multitude of the enemy had assembled, under the command of Cassabelan their general; and fenced the bank, and almost all the ford under water, with very sharp stakes; the remains of which stakes are to be seen there to this day. They appear to be about the thickness of a man's leg, and being cased with lead, remain immovably fixed in the bottom of the river. The Romans having discovered this stratagem, avoided the danger by passing over the river at a little distance from them: which the Britons having perceived, and not daring to meet the shock of the Roman Legions, fled into the neighbouring woods to conceal themselves; from which they afterwards frequently sallied out, and greatly harassed the Romans. In the mean time, the strongest city of the Trinovantes (London), with Androgorius their general, surrendered to Caesar, delivering forty hostages to him. This example was immediately followed by many other cities, which formed an alliance with the Romans. With their direction and assistance, Caesar at length, with much difficulty, took Cassabelan's town, which was situated between two marshes, fortified by the surrounding woods, and furnished with all necessaries.

Caesar, having afterwards returned into France, and put his legions into winter quarters, was suddenly surrounded and attacked on all sides by different nations, who rose in rebellion against the Romans.




Week 2

Chapter 3. The second Invasion of Britain by the Romans, under Claudius, who conquers the Orchades; and, sending Vespasian to the Isle of Wright, brings it into subjection to the Roman Empire. [around 50 AD]

Claudius, who was the fourth Emperor from Augustus, was no sooner raised to the imperial dignity in the year, from the building of Rome, 797, than he conceived an ardent desire to prove himself to be worthy of it; by performing such exploits as might promote greatly the interests of the empire. As war only could afford him opportunities of signalizing himself by his victories, he sought after it every where. Accordingly, he undertook an expedition into Britain, to repress the insurrection which had taken place there, on account of the Romans not having delivered up some deserters. He passed over into the island, which no one before or after Julius Caesar had dared to enter: and there, without either fighting or bloodshed, in a few days received the greatest part of it under his dominion. He also added the Orchades [Orkneys], situated beyond Britain, to the Roman Empire; and, returning to Rome the sixth month after he had departed from it, gave his son the name of Britannicus. This war he finished in the fourth year of his reign, and the 46th of Christ; when that most dreadful famine, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, as foretold by the prophet Agabus, happened in Syria.

Vespasian, who succeeded Nero in the imperial dignity, having been sent by Claudius into Britain, subdued also the Isle of Wight, which is situated not far to the South of Britain. From East to West it is about 30 miles, and about 12 from North to South, being six miles distant from the southern coast of Britain at the eastern end, and but three at the western extremity.

Nero, succeeding Claudius in the empire, had no courage sufficient to attempt any thing in martial affairs; and therefore, besides the great detriment he occasioned to the state in many other ways, he almost lost Britain; for under him two of the chief cities were then taken and destroyed.




Week 3

Chapter 4. Lucius, King of the Britons, writing to Pope Eleutherius, desires to become a Christian. [156 AD]

Mark Anthony Verus, the 14th from Augustus, with his brother Aurelius Commodus, were chosen Emperors, in the year of our Lord 156. In whose reign,when Eleutherius, a holy man, presided as Pontiff over the Roman church, Lucius, King of the Britons, sent a letter to him, requesting that by his means he might become a Christian. He immediately obtained the effect of his pious request; and the Britons preserved in peace, entire and unviolated, the faith which they had received, till the time of the Emperor Diocletian.

Chapter 5. The Emperor Severus divides that part of Britain which he had subdued from the rest, by a trench and rampart. [around 200 AD]

Severus, who was born in the town of Lepti, in the country of Tripoli, in Africa, was the 17th from Augustus, who obtained the imperial diadem in the year of our Lord 189. He held it seventeen years. Being naturally of a martial disposition, he was always engaged in many wars, in which he displayed great industry and valour.

Returning therefore victorious from the civil wars, which he had found great difficulty in terminating, he was constrained to pass over into Britain, by the revolt of almost all the confederates; where, after successfully fighting many hard battles with them, he resolved to separate that part of the island which he had subdued from the rest which remained unconquered, not by a wall, (as some imagine,) but by a rampart. For a wall is usually built of stones; but a rampart, with which camps are fortified to repel the attacks of an enemy, is made of green turf; with which, cut out of the earth, something like a wall is raised, on which strong pallisades of wood are fixed, and in front of which a deep trench is dug. This kind of fortification Severus extended from sea to sea, and strengthened it with a great number of castles; soon after which, he fell sick at York, and died there, leaving two sons, Bassian and Geta. Geta, having been afterwards condemned as an enemy to the state, was put to death; and Bassian became Emperor, and took the surname of Antoninus.

Chapter 6. The Emperor Diocletian raises a violent Persecution against the Christians. [around 284 AD]

Diocletian having been chosen Emperor by the army, in the year of our Lord 286, was the thirty-third in succession from Augustus. He associated Maximian, surnamed Herculius, with him in the empire, and reigned twenty years. In their time, Carausius, a person of very low extraction, but a very able and skilful general, having been appointed to guard the sea coasts, then much infested by frequent invasions of the Franks and Saxons, acted in a manner more detrimental than profitable to the state. For, instead of restoring what he recovered from the enemy to the right owners, he kept it all for himself; and, by neglecting to repair the fortifications, was even suspected of wilfully giving these invaders an opportunity of infesting and plundering the country. Being therefore ordered by Maximian to be apprehended and put to death, he usurped the sovereign power, and possessed himself of Britain, which he governed with great valour for seven years; till he was at length assassinated by the treachery of his colleague Allectus: who, having thus obtained possession of the island, governed it three years, till his usurpation was suppressed by Asclepiodotus, the captain of the Pretorian bands, who thus, at the end of ten years, recovered Britain.

In the mean time, Diocletian in the East, and Maximian Herculius in the West, raising the tenth persecution since that of Nero, commanded the churches to be destroyed, and the Christians to be put to death; which persecution continued longer, and was carried on with greater cruelty than all the others before it, for ten years incessantly; by burning churches, and proscribing and assassinating innocent Christians. Thus at length was Britain, as well as other places, exalted to the highest honour of gloriously confessing the faith, by the martyrdom of many of its inhabitants.

Chapter 7. The Martyrdom of St. Alban and his Companions [around 250 ADAD]

During this persecution, one of the most illustrious of those who suffered death for the faith, was St. Alban, of whom the Priest Fortunatus, in the book which he wrote in commendation of Virgins, speaking of the great number of martyrs who were sent to heaven by it from every part of the world, says,

Albanum egregium fæcunda Britannia profert.
(Fruitful Britain holy Alban yields.--Stevens)

He was yet a Pagan, when the cruel Emperors first published their edicts against the Christians, and when he received a clergyman flying from his persecutors into his house as an asylum. Having observed that his guest spent whole days and nights in continual praying and watching, he felt himself on a sudden inspired by the grace of God, and began to emulate so glorious an example of faith and piety, and being leisurely instructed by his wholesome admonitions, casting off the darkness of idolatry, he became a Christian in all sincerity of heart.

And, when he had exercised his hospitality towards the before-mentioned clergyman, for some days, a report reached the ears of the impious prince, that the confessor of Christ, to whom the glory of martyrdom had not yet been granted, was concealed in Alban's house: upon which, he commanded some soldiers to make a strict search after him. When they came to his house, St. Alban immediately presented himself to them, dressed in the clothes which his guest and instructor usually wore. Now it happened that the Judge, at the time when Alban was carried before him, was standing at the altar, and offering sacrifice to the Dæmons. And, when he saw Alban, being much enraged at his having presumed, of his own accord, to deliver himself into the hands of the soldiers, and incur the danger of being put to death, he ordered him to be dragged to the idols of Devils, before which he stood, saying, "Because you have chosen to conceal a rebellious and sacrilegious person, rather than to deliver him up to the soldiers, that he might suffer the punishment due to him, for despising and blaspheming the gods -- you shall undergo all the punishment, which was to have been inflicted on him, if you refuse to comply with the rights of our religion."

But St. Alban, who had before voluntarily professed himself a Christian to the persecutors of the faith, was not the least intimidated at the prince's threats; but, being armed with the armor of the spiritual warfare, plainly told him that, he would not obey his commands. "Then," said the judge, "of what family or descent are you?" "What does it concern you," answered Alban, "of what family I am? But if you desire to hear the truth of my religion, be it known unto you, that I am now a Christian, and employ my time in the practice of Christian duties." "I ask your name?" said the judge, "which tell me immediately." "I am called Alban by my parents," he replied, "and ever worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things." Then the judge, in a rage, said, "If you will enjoy the happiness of eternal life, do not delay to offer sacrifice to the great gods." To which Alban answered, "Those sacrifices, which you offer to devils, can neither avail the offerers any thing, nor obtain for them the effect of their petitions; on the contrary, whosoever offers sacrifices to these idols, shall receive the eternal pains of hell for his reward." The judge, on hearing him say these words, was exasperated even to fury. He therefore ordered the holy confessor of God to be scourged by the executioners, thinking that stripes would shake that constancy of heart which words could not affect. But he bore the greatest torments for our Lord, not only patiently, but joyfully.

When the judge perceived that he was not to be overcome by tortures, or withdrawn from the profession of the Christian religion, he sentenced him to be beheaded. Being led to execution, he came to a river, which was divided at the place where he was to suffer with a wall and sand, and the stream was very rapid. Here he saw a multitude of persons of both sexes, and of all ages and ranks, who were doubtless assembled by a divine impulse, to attend the most blessed confessor and martyr; and had so occupied the bridge on the river, as to render it almost impossible for him and all of them to pass over it that evening. Almost every body flocking out of the city to see the execution, the judge, who remained in it, was left without any attendance.

St. Alban therefore, whose mind was filled with an ardent desire to arrive quickly at his martyrdom, approached to the stream, and, lifting up his eyes to heaven, addressed his prayer to the Almighty; when, behold, he saw the water immediately recede, and leave the bed of the river dry, for them to pass over. The executioner, who was to have beheaded him among the rest, observing this prodigy, hastened to meet him at the place of execution; and, being moved by divine inspiration, threw down the drawn sword which he carried, and prostrated himself at his feet, earnestly desiring that he might rather suffer death, with or for the martyr, than be constrained to take away the life of so holy a man. Whilst he of a persecutor became a companion in the true faith, and the rest of the executioners hesitated to take up the sword from the ground, the most venerable confessor of God ascended a hill with the throng.

This very pleasant place was about half a mile from the river, enamelled with a great variety of flowers, or rather quite covered with them; where there was no part very steep or craggy, but the whole of it was levelled by nature, like the sea when it is calm: which beautiful and agreeable appearance seemed to render it fit and worthy to be enriched and sanctified with the martyr's blood. When St. Alban had reached the summit of this hill, he prayed to God to give him water; and immediately, an ever-flowing spring rose at his feet, the course being confined; so that every one might perceive that the river had been before obedient to the martyr. For it could not be supposed that he would ask for water at the top of the hill, who had not left it in the river below, unless he had been convinced that it was expedient for the glory of God that he should do so. That river, nevertheless, having been made subservient to the martyr's devotion, and performed the office which he enjoined it, returned; and continued to flow in its natural course as before.

Here, therefore, this most valiant martyr, being beheaded, received the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. But the executioner, who was so wicked as to embrue his sacrilegious hands in the martyr's sacred blood, was not permitted to rejoice at his death; for his eyes dropped to the ground at the same moment as the blessed martyr's head. At the same time was also beheaded there, the soldier, who before, through a divine inspiration, had refused to execute the sentence on the martyr: - concerning whom it is evident, that, though he was not baptized at the baptismal font, yet he was cleansed with the laver of his own blood, and made worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

The judge then, astonished at the novelty of so many heavenly miracles, ordered that the persecution should cease immediately, beginning thus to honour the saints for their patience and constancy, in suffering that death by the terrors of which he had expected to have withdrawn them from their adherence to the Christian faith. St. Alban suffered on the 20th of June, near the city of Verulam, now, from him, called St. Alban's; a church of most exquisite workmanship, and suitable to commemorate his martyrdom, having been afterwards erected there as soon as peace was restored to the Christian church; in which place there cease not to this day the miraculous cures of many sick persons, and the frequent working of wonders.

At the same time suffered Aaron and Julius, inhabitants of the city of Leicester [or Caerleon], and many others of both sexes, in other places; who, having been tormented on the rack till their members were dislocated, and having endured various other unheard-of cruelties, yielded their souls, after the conflict was over, to the joys of the city above.




week 4

Chapter 12. The Romans, being solicited to succour the Britons against the invasions of the Picts and Scots, return and build a wall across the island; but this being demolished, the Britons are reduced to greater distress than before. [around 400 AD??]

From this period, Britain, being deprived, by the indiscretion and tyranny of the Roman Governors, of all her warlike stores, and of the flower of her army, (all her active youth having been led away into foreign countries, and never returning home,) was exposed to the ravages of her enemies on every side. Being totally unacquainted with the art of war, she groaned and languished, for many years, under the oppression of two very barbarous foreign nations, the Scots from the West, and the Picts from the North.

We call these foreign nations, not for their dwelling out of the island of Britain, but because they were remote from that part of it, which was possessed by the Britons; two friths of the sea, one on the East, and the other on the West, which run far, and extend themselves very widely into the land, forming certain natural boundaries between them, though they do not entirely separate them. The eastern creek has the city of Guidin, situated on a small isle in the middle of it; and the western, the city of Alcuith [Dumbarton], which in their language signifies the rock Cluith, for it is near the river of that name, situated to the North of it.

On account of the frequent irruptions of these nations, the Britons, sending ambassadors to Rome with suppliant letters, prayed for succours, and promised perpetual subjection to the Romans, on condition that they would rescue them from the impending danger, by compelling these enemies to withdraw from their confines. An armed legion was immediately sent to them, which, arriving in the island, and engaging with the Picts and Scots, made a great slaughter of their troops, and drove the rest out of the territories of their allies. They then advised the Britons to build a wall across the whole island, from sea to sea, of a sufficient strength effectually to prevent their enemies from making such inroads on them, or oppressing them for the future, now that they were happily delivered from their tyranny. The legion, having so successfully performed this service, returned home to Rome in great triumph.

But the Britons, having no artificer capable of conducting such a work, instead of building a wall of stone, as they had been directed by the Romans, raised a useless one of earth. They extended it many miles in length, between the two friths or creeks, of which we have just made mention; so that they might protect their country from the invasions of their enemies, by a rampart and trench, on that side where the natural fence of the sea was wanting. Some vestiges of this work, viz. of a wide and deep trench, are to bee seem there to this day. It begins at the distance of almost two miles from the monastery Æburcurnig [Abercorn], to the West, in a place which is called by the Picts, Peanhuael, and by the English, Penuelt [Kinneil]; and, running eastward, end by the city of Alcuith.

Now their former enemies, observing, that the Roman army had abandoned the island, immediately equipped a fleet, and, sailing over, rushed in upon them; and bearing down all before them, as if they were mowing ripe corn, cut down and trampled on every thing that came in their way. Upon this, ambassadors are again sent to Rome with a commission, to entreat the Romans in a most impressive manner not to permit their unfortunate country to be entirely destroyed; nor that the name of a Roman province, so long renowned amongst them, should be brought into contempt, by the unjust oppression of foreign nations. A legion is again sent over to their aid, which, falling suddenly on their enemies in autumn, killed a great number of them, and forced the rest to fly to their ships, and make the best of their way home, empty handed; whereas before, they used every year to carry away great plunder, without any opposition. The Romans told the Britons, that they could not any more undertake such troublesome expeditions for their defense, but advised them rather to take up arms themselves, and study and apply themselves to the art of war: since their enemies could not be superior to them on any other account, then that they suffered themselves to be enervated by idleness. Moreover, as they judged it would be of advantage to these allies, whom they were now constrained to abandon, they erected a strong wall, on a right line, between the towns which had been built on the frontiers as a defense against their enemies, in the same place where Severus had formerly drawn a trench and rampart from sea to sea; which famous wall is to be seen at this day. This they raised, (the Britons also labouring at the work,) partly at the expense of private persons, and partly at the public expense. It was twelve feet high, being eight feet wide, and extended in a straight line from East to West, as plainly appears to any one who inspects it.

Which being finished, they gave this dispirited people proper instruction in the art of war, and models by which they might furnish themselves with suitable armor. Besides, they built several castles, at a convenient distance from each other, on the southern coast of the sea, where their fleet was usually stationed, as that was the side on which there was the greatest danger of invasion to be apprehended. After which, they took leave of their allies, intending to return to them no more.

As soon as they were gone, the Picts and Scots, having intelligence that they had declared they would not succour the Britons again, recommenced hostilities, and being animated with greater confidence of success than they had ever been before, invaded and took possession of all the northern and farthest parts of the island, as far as the wall. On this occasion, the Britons stationed a body of men on the fortifications ; by they, stupefied at the appearance of danger, lost all their courage, and, being thus disheartened, were unable to defend themselves, But their enemies on the other side ceased not to ply them with hooked weapons, by which the cowardly defendants were dragged down to the ground and killed.

In short, leaving the wall and their cities, they were put to flight and scattered in all directions. The enemy pursues, the slaughter increase, which is more dreadful that all the former; for the wretched native are torn to pieces by their enemies, as lambs are by wolves. Thus being expelled from their habitations and possessions, they only escaped the imminent danger of perishing, by being famished, by robbing and plundering one another; adding to their calamities, occasioned by foreigners, their domestic broils, till the whole country was left destitute of every kind of food, except that procured by hunting wild beasts.

Chapter 13. During the reign of Theodosius the younger, (in whose time Palladius was sent to the Scots, who had embraced the Christian faith,) the Britons, petitioning the Consul Boetius to send them succours, cannot obtain them. [around 433 AD]

Theodosius, the younger, was created Emperor after Honorius, and the 45th from Augustus, in the year 423. He swayed the sceptre twenty-seven years. In the eighth year of his reign, Palladius was sent by Celestine, Pontiff or the Roman church, as the first Bishop of the Scots who had received the Christian faith. Boetius, a person of an illustrious rank, and a Patrician, was chosen a third time to be Consul with Symachus; in the twenty-third year of his reign. To him the wretched remnant of the Britons sent a letter, which begins thus: "To Boetius, thrice Consul, the sighs of the Britons." And in the sequel of the letter they thus express their calamities. "Our enemies drive us to the sea, the sea drives us back again to them; so that we are reduced to the necessity of either being drowned or killed."

But with all this lamentation they could procure no assistance from him, as he was then engaged in a most important war against Bleda and Attila, kings of the Huns. And although Bleda had been assassinated by the secret machinations of his brother Attila, the year before this, yet Attila continued so dangerous an enemy to the empire, that he almost ravaged all Europe, storming and destroying every city in his way.

Moreover, at the same time, there was a famine at Constantinople, which was immediately succeeded by the plague, and most of the walls, with fifty-seven towers of that city, fell down. Many other cities also falling to ruin, the famine and pestilential air destroyed many thousands of men and cattle.




Week 5

Chapter 14. The Britons, compelled by famine, at length drive their enemies out of their territories. After which succeed abundance, luxury, the plague, and the subversion of the nation. [around 426 AD]

In the mean time, the before-mentioned famine afflicting the Britons more and more; and leaving lasting marks of its malignity to posterity, constrained many of them to deliver themselves as prisoners to their enemies. But others would never do so. On the contrary, placing so much the greater confidence in the divine assistance, as they were destitute of any that was human, they continually made excursions from the mountains, caves, and woods, and then first began to slaughter them who had for so many years successfully plundered their country. The Scots, observing that now their numbers were much diminished, thought it prudent to retreat for a while to their own country, intending to return soon after. The Picts also withdrew their forces; and after this, they generally remained quiet in the farthest part of the island. From time to time, however, they would make inroads, and carry off plunder from the Britons. The ravages of these enemies thus ceasing, the island began to abound with such plenty of grain, as had never been known in any former age. With plenty luxury increased, and this was immediately followed by all sorts of crimes; particularly cruelty, hatred of truth, and love of falsehood; in so much, that if any one among them happened to be more mild, or more inclined to speak the truth than the rest, they all abhorred and persecuted him, as if he had been a common enemy of the country. These disorders were not committed by the laity only; for the pastors of the church, who should be regarded as the chosen flock, of Christ, were also addicted to intemperance, anger, contention, quarrelling, and other crimes; thus exchanging the sweet yoke of Christ, for the heavy one of their passions. In the mean time, a dreadful plague suddenly attacked this wicked race, and in a short time destroyed so many of them, that the living were scarcely sufficient to bury the dead; yet could not those who survived, be raised from the spiritual death which they had incurred by sin, either by the fortunate death of their friends or the fear of their own. For which reason, not long afterwards, a more severe vengeance also fell upon this sinful nation for their horrid impiety: for, holding a consultation with their king Vortigern, what they should do, or where they should seek for assistance, to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations, they unanimously determined to call over the Saxon nation from beyond the seas to their aid: which, as the event soon after clearly shewed, happened by the disposition of the providence of God, designing to punish them for their manifold crimes.

Chapter 15. The Angles and Saxons, being invited, come over to Britain; and at first assist the Britons in repelling their enemies; but not long after, confederating with the latter, turn their arms against their former allies. [around 450 AD]

Martian, who was the 46th Emperor from Augustus, having with Valentinian obtained the empire in the year 409, reigned seven years; during which period, the king, whom we just now mentioned, inviting the Angles, or Saxons, into Britain, they immediately sailed over to this island in three large vessels, and by his appointment took up their residence on the eastern coast, as if they were come to fight for the defence of the country; whereas, in reality, they intended to subdue it. Having accordingly engaged with the hostile army which advanced from the North to give them battle, they obtained the victory; the news of which being carried home to the country from which they originally came, with a description of the fertility of the island, and of the indolence of the Britons, a much more numerous fleet was immediately equipped and sent over, armed with a far greater force than the former. These, all uniting, composed an invincible army. The new adventurers had a place for their habitation assigned them by the liberality of the Britons, on condition that they should fight for the peace and safety of the country, and receive their pay for it.

Those, who came from Germany on this occasion, were of the three bravest nations, Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent, and of the Isle of Wight; and those who to this day are called Jutes in the province of the West Saxons, situated opposite to the Isle of Wight. From the Saxons, that is to say from that country, which is now called Old Saxony, came the East, the West, and the South Saxons. From the Angles, or the country called Anglia, (which is said to have remained almost destitute of inhabitants ever since,) and is situated between the countries of the Jutes and Saxons, are descended the East Angles, the Mercians, the Midland Angles, and the whole race of the Northumbrians, who possess that part of the island which lies to the North of the river Humber, and the rest of the English People.

The two first commanders are said to have been Hengist and Horsa. The latter, having been afterwards killed in battle, was honoured with a stately monument, erected to his memory, which is still to be seen in the eastern parts of Kent. They were the sons of Victgilsus, whose father was Vecta, and his grandfather Woden; from whom the royal families of many kingdoms trace their descent. Immense multitudes, following the example of these adventurers, soon poured into the island, till they increased so, that the natives who had invited them began to be alarmed, at seeing so formidable an army of foreigners in the heart of their country. Nor was this apprehension groundless; for they had no sooner collected all their forces, and vanquished the Picts and Scots, than they treacherously entered into a confederacy with them, and turned their arms against their former allies, the Britons. At first they obliged them to furnish their troops with a greater plenty of provisions; and, seeking for a pretext to break peace with them, they declared that, unless more abundant stores were immediately provided for them, they would separate from them, and carry devastation over the whole island. Nor did they delay long the execution of these menaces. For the fire kindled by the hands of these Pagans proved the just vengeance of God for the crimes of the people: not unlike that which formerly, being lighted by the Chaldeans, consumed the walls and all the buildings of Jerusalem. So this, carried on by the impious fury of the conquerors, or rather by the decree of the just Judge, spreading desolation over every town and city from East to West, continued its conflagration without any opposition, till it nearly covered the whole island with ruins. Neither private nor public edifices of any kind were spared; the priests were every where assassinated as they stood by the altars; prelates and people, without any distinction of rank or dignity, were destroyed both by fire and sword: nor was there any one to bury them after they had been thus cruelly massacred. Some of the wretched remains fled to the mountains, where they were soon overtaken and butchered in heaps. Others, perishing with hunger, surrendered themselves into the hands of their enemies; and, for the common necessaries of life, were doomed to perpetual slavery, unless they were immediately killed. Others with heavy hearts crossed the seas to distant climes, whilst others again, remaining in their own country, led a miserable life, in continual dread and agitation of mind, on the summits of high mountains and craggy rocks, or in the midst of forests.

Chapter 16. The Britons, under the command of Ambrose, a Roman General, gain their first Victory over the English. [around 400's AD]

After the hostile army had thus destroyed or dispersed the natives of the island, they disbanded, and retired to their habitations; when the Britons began by degrees to resume their strength and courage, and, coming out of the secret places where they had concealed themselves, unanimously prayed for the divine assistance, humbly beseeching the Almighty that they might not be utterly exterminated. On this occasion, they chose for their general, Ambrose Aurelian, a person distinguished for his good conduct, who alone probably had survived the storm in which his parents, who had been honoured with the regal dignity and title, were destroyed with the rest of the Roman people in this country. Under this commander the Britons revived, and, offering battle to the conquerors, by the favour of heaven obtained the victory: and from this period to the year of the siege of Baddesdown-hill, which was the forty-fourth after the arrival of the invaders, when they made a great slaughter of them, as we shall hereafter relate, the war continued with various success, the Britons sometimes prevailing over the English, and at other time the English prevailing over the Britons.




Week 6

Chapter 25. Augustine, coming into Britain, first preached in the Isla of Thanet to King Ethelbert, and having obtained license, entered the kingdom of Kent, in order to preach therein. [A.D. 597.]

Augustine, thus strengthened by the confirmation of the blessed Father Gregory, returned to the work of the word of God, with the servants of Christ, and arrived in Britain. The powerful Ethelbert was at that time king of Kent; he had extended his dominions as far as the great river Humber, by which the Southern Saxons are divided from the Northern. On the east of Kent is the large Isle of Thanet containing according to the English way of reckoning, 600 families, divided from the other land by the river Wantsum, which is about three furlongs over, and fordable only in two places, for both ends of it run into the sea. In this island landed the servant of our Lord, Augustine, and his companions, being, as is reported, nearly forty men. They had, by order of the blessed Pope Gregory, taken interpreters of the nation of the Franks, and sending to Ethelbert, signified that they were come from Rome, and brought a joyful message, which most undoubtedly assured to all that took advantage of it everlasting joys in heaven and a kingdom that would never end with the living and true God. The king having heard this, ordered them to stay in that island where they had landed, and that they should be furnished with all necessaries, till he should consider what to do with them. For he had before heard of the Christian religion, having a Christian wife of the royal family of the Franks, called Bertha; whom he had received from her parents, upon condition that she should be permitted to practice her religion with the Bishop Luidhard, who was sent with her to preserve her faith. Some days after, the king came into the island, and sitting in the open air, ordered Augustine and his companions to be brought into his presence. For he had taken precaution that they should not come to him in any house, lest, according to an ancient superstition, if they practiced any magical arts, they might impose upon him, and so get the better of him. But they came furnished with Divine, not with magic virtue, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board; and singing the litany, they offered up their prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and of those to whom they were come. When he had sat down, pursuant to the king's commands, and preached to him and his attendants there present, the word of life, the king answered thus:--"Your words and promises are very fair, but as they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot approve of them so far as to forsake that which I have so long followed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we will not molest you, but give you favourable entertainment, and take care to supply you with your necessary sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion." Accordingly he permitted them to reside in the city of Canterbury, which was the metropolis of all his dominions, and, pursuant to his promise, besides allowing them sustenance, did not refuse them liberty to preach. It is reported that, as they drew near to the city, after their manner, with the holy cross, and the image of our sovereign Lord and King, Jesus Christ, they, in concert, sung this litany: "We beseech Thee, O Lord, in all Thy mercy, that thy anger and wrath be turned away from this city, and from the holy house, because we have sinned. Hallelujah."

Chapter 26. St. Augustine in Kent Followed the Doctrine and manner of Living of the Primitive Church, and Settled His Episcopal See in the Royal City [A.D. 597.]

As soon as they entered the dwelling-place assigned them they began to imitate the course of life practiced in the primitive church; applying themselves to frequent prayer, watching and fasting; preaching the word of life to as many as they could; despising all worldly things, as not belonging to them; receiving only their necessary food from those they taught; living themselves in all respects conformably to what they prescribed to others, and being always disposed to suffer any adversity, and even to die for that truth which they preached. In short, several believed and were baptized, admiring the simplicity of their innocent life, and the sweetness of their heavenly doctrine. There was on the east side of the city a church dedicated to the honour of St. Martin, built whilst the Romans were still in the island, wherein the queen, who, as has been said before, was a Christian, used to pray. In this they first began to meet, to sing, to pray, to say mass, to preach, and to baptize, till the king, being converted to the faith, allowed them to preach openly, and build or repair churches in all places.

When he, among the rest, induced by the unspotted life of these holy men, and their delightful promises, which, by many miracles, they proved to be most certain, believed and was baptized, greater numbers began daily to flock together to hear the word, and, forsaking their heathen rites, to associate themselves, by believing, to the unity of the church of Christ. Their conversion the king so far encouraged, as that he compelled none to embrace Christianity, but only showed more affection to the believers, as to his fellow-citizens in the heavenly kingdom. for he had learned from his instructors and leaders to salvation, that the service of Christ ought to be voluntary, not by compulsion. Nor was it long before he gave his preachers a settled residence in his metropolis of Canterbury, with such possessions of different kinds as were necessary for their subsistence.




Week 7

Chapter 34. Ethelfrid, King of the Northumbrians, having vanquished the nations of the Scots, expels them from the territories of the English. [A.D. 603.]

At this time, Ethelfrid, a most worthy king, and ambitious of glory, governed the kingdom of the Northumbrians, and ravaged the Britons more than all the great men of the English, insomuch that he might be compared to Saul, once king of the Israelites, excepting only this, that he was ignorant of the true religion. For he conquered more territories from the Britons, either making them tributary, or driving the inhabitants clean out, and planting English in their places, than any other king or tribune. To him might justly be applied the saying of the patriarch blessing his son in the person of Saul, "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil." Hereupon, Ædan, king of the Scots that inhabit Britain, being concerned at his success, came against him with an immense and mighty army; but was beaten by an inferior force, and put to flight; for almost all his army was slain at a famous place, called Degsastan, that is, Degsastone. In which battle also Theodbaid, brother to Ethelfrid, was killed, with almost all the forces he commanded. This war Etheifrid put an end to in the year 603 after the incarnation of our Lord, the eleventh of his own reign, which lasted twenty-four years, and the first year of the reign of Phocas, who the governed the Roman empire. From that time, no king the Scots durst come into Britain to make war on the English to this day.

Book 2

Chapter 3. St. Austin ordains Mellitus and Justus Bishops. His death. [604 AD]

In the year of our Lord 604, Austin Archbishop of Britain, consecrated two bishops, viz. Mellitus and Justus. He sent Mellitus to preach the gospel to the kingdom of the East-Saxons, which is separated from that of Kent by the river Thames, and bounded by the sea to the East, having for its metropolis the city of London, situated on the banks of the said river, which is the general emporium of many nations, constantly resorting to it both by sea and land. Sebert, the nephew of King Ethelbert, by his sister Ricula, reigned there at that time, though he was tributary to his uncle, who, as we before observed, had command over all the English nations as far as the river Humber.

Now, after Mellitus had converted this kingdom to the true faith, King Ethelbert built the church of St. Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he an his successors might establish their Episcopal See.

Justus he ordained bishop of a city in Kent, which by the English is called Rochester, from the name of the principal person there. It is situated about twenty-four miles to the West of Canterbury. King Ethelbert built the church of St. Andrew the Apostle, and bestowed many donations on the bishops of both these churches, as well as on that of Canterbury; adding lands and possessions for the support of those who were with the bishops.

Soon after this, our holy Father, the beloved man of God, Austin, departed this life, and his body was interred near the church of the blessed Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, of which we have before made mention; but which was not yet finished nor consecrated. Immediately after it was dedicated, the sacred body was removed and buried in the North porch of it, with all due respect. In which place also were afterwards deposited the bodies of all the succeeding Archbishops, except those of two of them, viz. Theodore and Berthwald, whose remains were laid in the church itself, because the aforesaid porch was so completely filled, that it could contain no more. Almost in the middle of this church is an altar, dedicated in honour of the blessed Pope Gregory, at which their memories are solemnly celebrated every Saturday, by the priest of the place. The following epitaph was written on the tomb of St. Austin: "Here lies the Lord Austin, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who, being formerly sent hither by the blessed Gregory, bishop of the city of Rome, and assisted by God with the working of miracles, converted both King Ethelbert and his people from the worship of idols to the faith of Christ: and, having fulfilled the days of his office in peace, departed this life on the twenty-sixth of May, in the reign of the same king."

Chapter 4. Laurence, with other Bishops his colleagues, admonish the Scots of the necessity of preserving the Unity of the holy Church, particularly in the celebration of Easter. Mellitus's journey to Rome. [605 AD]

Laurence, whom Austin had ordained bishop, lest at his death the church in her infant state should be exposed to danger, if she should be left destitute of a Pastor for ever so short a time, succeeded him in the see of Canterbury. In this, the holy Prelate followed the example of the chief pastor of the church, i.e. of the most blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles, who, having founded the church of Christ at Rome, is recorded to have consecrated Clement as his coadjutor in preaching the gospel; and, at the same time, to have appointed him to be his successor. Laurence, therefore, having been exalted to the dignity of an Archbishop, strenuously laboured to build up the church, the foundation of which he had seen so nobly laid, and to raise it to its proper height of perfection by frequent pious exhortations, and continual examples of good works. In a word, he not only took care of the new church, collected amongst the English, but employed also his pastoral solicitude on the ancient inhabitants of Britain, as likewise among the Scots, who inhabit the island of Ireland, which is next to Britain.

For, when he understood that the course of life, held by the Scots and Britons, was not according to the laws of ecclesiastical discipline, especially with regard to the celebration of the solemnity of Easter at the due time, but that they were accustomed to observe the feast of the resurrection of our Lord, as has been said above, between the fourteenth and the twentieth day of the moon; he wrote jointly with the other bishops his colleagues an epistle, in which he admonished, entreated, and conjured them to keep the unity of peace and conformity with the church of Christ, spread throughout the world. The epistle began thus:

"To our most dearly beloved Brethren the Lords, Bishops, and Abbots, throughout Scotland, [now called Ireland,] Laurence, Mellitus, and Justus, Servants of the Servants of God.

"When, being sent to these western countries to preach to the pagan nations by the See Apostolic, (which is accustomed to send missionaries to all parts of the world,) we happened to arrive in this island of Britain, we held both the Britons and Scots in great estimation for sanctity, judging that they followed the customs of the universal church. But, afterwards, we learned with great concern, that the Britons had departed from several of those customs. However, we hoped that the Scots would be better; whereas, we have lately been informed by Bishop Dagamus, coming into this island, and by the Abbot Columban from Gaul, that the Scots no way differ from the Britons in this respect. For, Bishop Dagamus, on his arrival amongst us, refused to eat not only in the same apartment, but even in the same house with us."

The same Laurence and his fellow-bishops sent also letters suitable to his dignity to the British Prelates, by which they laboured to prevail on them to preserve Catholic unity; but with what success the present times show!

At this time, Mellitus, Bishop of London, went to Rome, to confer with the Apostolic Pope Boniface, concerning the most important affairs of the English church. On this occasion, the Pope called a Synod of the Bishops of Italy, in the eighth year of the reign of the Emperor Phocas; the thirteenth indiction; and the twenty-seventh day of February, to appoint certain rules and regulations for the monastic profession, that no contentions or disagreements might happen amongst the monks, but that they might live in perfect harmony and concord. Mellitus was invited to take his seat amongst them, that he might by his signature confirm with his authority whatever should be regularly decreed at the synod; and, afterwards, propose the same as rules and regulations to be observed by the English church, together with letters which the same Pope sent to the holy servant of God Archbishop Laurence, and to all the clergy, as well as to King Ethelbert and to the whole English nation.

This Pope was Boniface, the fourth Bishop of the city of Rome after St. Gregory. He prevailed on the Emperor Phocas to give to the church of Christ a temple, which was called by the ancients Pantheon, that is, the temple of all the Gods; which he converted into a church of the holy Mother of God, and of all the martyrs of Christ, that, by thus excluding the abominable worship of a multitude of demons, the memory of a multitude of saints might be celebrated.