The Beginnings of the English Nation

Вересень 25th, 20114:56 am


The Beginnings of the English Nation

1. CELTIC tribes (e.g. Gaols, Gaels, Britons) crossed the Channel and starting to settle in Britain already in the 7th century BC. The very word “Britain” seems to be the name given by the pre-Celtic inhabitants of the island, accepted by first Indo-Europeans. The Celts quickly spread over the island, and only in the north still existed non-Indo-European peoples which are sometimes called “Picts” (the name given by Romans). Picts lived in Scotland and on Shetland Islands and represented the most ancient population of the Isles, the origin of which is unknown. Picts do not seem to leave any features of their language to Indo-European population of Britain – the famous Irish and Welsh initial mutations of consonants can be the only sign of the substratum left by unknown nations of Britain.

At the time the Celts reached Britain they spoke the common language, close to Gaulish in France. But later, when Celtic tribes occupied Ireland, Northern England, Wales, their tongues were divided according to tribal divisions. These languages will later become Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Cornish, but from that time no signs remained, because the Celts did not invent writing yet.

Not much is left from Celtic languages in English. Though many place names and names for rivers are surely Celtic (like Usk – from Celtic *usce “water”, or Avon – from *awin “river”), the morphology and phonetics are untouched by the Celtic influence. Some linguists state that the word down comes from Celtic *dun “down”; and, certainly, the word whiskey which means the same as Irish uisge “water”. But this borrowing took place much later. (Hiberno-English)

2. In the 1st century AD first ROMAN colonists begin to penetrate in Britain. In A.D. 43, Claudius (10 B.C.-A.D. 54) invaded ihe island, and after putting down an uprising led by the Celtic Queen Boadicea, finally brought Britain into the Empire. (Hadrian’s Wall)

Roman legions built roads, camps, founded towns and castres. But still they did not manage to assimilate the Celts, maybe because they lived apart from each other and did not mix. Tens of Latin words in Britain together with many towns, places and hills named by Romans make up the Roman heritage in the Old English. Such cities as Dorchester, Winchester, Lancaster, words like camp, castra, many terms of the Christian religion and several words denoting armaments were borrowed at that time by Britons, and automatically were transferred into the Old English, or Anglo-Saxon language already when there was no Romans in the country. In 409 AD the last Roman legion left British shores, and in fifty years the Islands became a victim of invaders.

3. In 449 the legendary leaders of two GERMANIC tribes, Hengist and Horsa, achieved British shores on their ships. The Anglo-Saxon conquest, however, lasted for several centuries, and all this period Celtic aborigines moved farther and farther to the west of the island until they manage to fortify in mountainous Wales, in Cornwall, and preserved their kingdoms in Scotland. Germanic tribes killed Celtic population, destroyed Celtic and former Roman towns and roads. In the 5th century such cities as Durovern in Kent, Virocon, Trimontii, Camulodunum, were abandoned by the population.

Angles settled around the present-day Noridge, and in Northern England; Saxons, the most numerous of the tribes, occupied all Central England, the south of the island and settled in London (Londinii at that time). Jutes and Prises, who probably came to Britain a bit later, settled on the island of White and in what is now Kent – the word Kent derives from the name of the Celtic tribe Cantii. Soon all these tribes founded their separate kingdoms, which was united after centuries of struggle only in 878 by Alfred, king of Wessex. Before that each of the tribes spoke its language, they were similar to each other but had differences which later became the dialectal peculiarities of Old English, (kingdoms Saxons: Essex, Wessex, Sussex; Angles: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia; Jutes: Kent. = Heptarchy)

4. The Celts called their Germanic conquerors Saxons indiscriminately, probably because they had had their first contact with the Germanic peoples through the Saxon raids on the coast. Early Latin writers, following Celtic usage, generally call the Germanic inhabitants of England Saxones and the land Saxonia. But soon the terms Angli and Anglia occur beside Saxones and refer not to the Angles individually but. to the West Germanic tribes generally. Aethelbert, king of Kent, is styled rex Anglorum by Pope Gregory in 601, and a century later Bede called his history the Historia Ecclesiastic a Gentis Anglorum. In time Angli and Anglia become the usual terms in Latin texts. From the beginning, however, writers in the vernacular never call their language anything but Englisc (English).

The word is derived from the name of the Angles (OE Engle) but is used without distinction for the language of all the invading tribes. In like manner the land and its people are early called Angelcynn (Angle-kin or race of the Angles), and this is the common name until after the Danish period. From about the year 1000 Englaland (land of the Angles) begins to take its place. The name English is thus older than the name England. It is not easy to say why England should have taken its name from the Angles. Possibly a desire to avoid confusion with the Saxons who remained on the continent and the early supremacy of the Anglian kingdoms were the predominant factors in determining usage.

5. The SCANDINAVIAN attacks on Britain took place between 787 and 850. These people were commonly known as the Vikings and they were Germanic inhabitants in presently Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They were originally also neighbours of the Anglo-Saxons, and therefore spoke a closely related language (Old Norse).

The army of Alfred the Great resisted them for seven years before taking refuge in the marshes of Somerset. However, fresh troops enabled him to attack the Scandinavians, under Guthrum, and defeat them convincingly (878, the Battle of Ethandun.). Alfred and Guthrum signed the Treaty of Wedmore in 878, and the Scandinavians (‘Danes’) agreed to settle on the east of the line, running roughly from Chester to London. This region would be subject to Danish law, and is therefore known as the Danelaw (Danelag). The Danes also agreed to become Christians and Guthrum was baptised. This began the process of the fusion of these two peoples, coming to a head in the next period of history.

There were more Scandinavian attacks later on, and in the new millennium, England was ruled by Canute (or Cnut), the Danish king.

After taking over the land, the Scandinavians often lived peaceably with the English, and there were many intermarriages. They adopted English customs, and the English accepted them. Linguistically, the personal pronouns they, them and their come from ON. So does the 3rd person inflexion for verbs —s. Words that are borrowed from ON include anger, cake, egg, loan, root, skirt, steak, take and window.

Many suggest that the contact between OE and ON might have led to the loss of many inflexions. Because the inflexions were different in OE and ON, they were often unhelpful in conversation between OE and ON speakers. They suggest that speakers might have deliberately not used the inflexions to facilitate communication. In situations of intermarriage, the children might grow up learning this ‘simplified’ version of English.

The Old English language, which has quite a lot of literature monuments, came to the end after the Norman conquest in 1066. The new period was called Middle English.

6. The conversion of England to Christianity began during the reign of Aethelberht In 597, St. Augustine became the first in an army of missionaries that would Christianize Kent in just seven years. And after contesting with Celtic Christianity (the Celts having already been converted by the Romans), they would win over Northumbria in 664. By 700 England could be called a moderately Christian nation. But Christianity did more to England than institute a new religion that encouraged new values. It re-introduced Latin and created monastic environments in which learning and scholarship flourished so richly that Europe was soon sending its students to Canterbury, Jarrow, and York. From the eighth to the eleventh century, southern England was one of the most advanced intellectual communities in the western world. During this period, England also began to develop a national many were farmers and not professional soldiers, they wished to return to their lands. Morale was low, desertion was increasing, and his fleet was disbanding when Harold finally got the news he had been expecting for so long. His realm was being invaded – but in Nor-thumbria, more than 200 miles away.

Harald Hardrada was making his way to the city of York, burning all in his path, delighting in destruction. By September 19, the same day Harold learned of the invasion, Harald came to York. The next day’s battle saw the Vikings slaughter the Englishmen just outside the city. But, by coincidence, Harald did not destroy the city. He paused to enjoy his victory, and for four days he camped a few miles from York, at Riccall. Then, on September 25, he went with only a portion of his army to Stamford Bridge to accept the full surrender of the people of York.

Harald was in for a surprise, for his party was rudely met by the forces of Harold of England. Harold had driven his men more than 200 miles in 4 days; exhausted but motivated by the need to defend their homeland, the English army utterly defeated the Norwegians, avenging the slaughter of the men of York just days earlier. The Viking threat was eliminated.

But Harold’s troubles were just beginning, for, by coincidence, the wind in the English Channel suddenly turned. William put to sea, and three days after the battle of Stamford Bridge the Normans landed on the English coast.

William’s forces came ashore at Pevensey Harbor, less than ten miles from the town of Hastings where William seemed to have a few supporters. He made his way toward that town slowly and deliberately, destroying most of what was in his path.

Harold’s army was still licking its wounds when the news of the invasion came. Harold re-traced his steps to the south, though not as rapidly, as he had to replenish and rest his army. Finally, by mid-October he approached Hastings. Messengers traveled between Harold and William, issuing challenges and giving responses. William’s messenger also told Harold the news which David Howarth thinks was especially devastating. Harold was told that he had been excommunicated, and from that point on, Howarth suggests, he acted as a man who knew he was doomed.

On October 14, the armies met just outside Hastings. Harold had a very good defensive position; he held the higher ground, and, thanks to marshes on his left and right, he could not easily be out-flanked. At first William made little headway against the English front, even with his archers and cavalry. But at one point, the English forces on the right side of the line moved forward to attack some Norman knights who were struggling in the marshes. But other Normans surrounded this small English contingent, and destroyed it.

On the left side of the line, a similar situation occurred; English forces, trying to rout some fleeing Normans, were surrounded and slaughtered.

With his flanks unguarded, Harold’s defensive position began to crumble. The Norman cavalry took advantage of Harold’s weakness, and soon the Englishmen were either dead or in retreat. Harold himself was killed, unmercifully hacked to pieces.

The failure of the English forces to counter-attack as one unit is easily explained. A vast force of mostly unprofessional soldiers had to be given simple orders. These orders also had to be given before the battle, as there was no way to communicate with all the men once battle had begun. So Harold told his men to defend their position, and, for the most part, they simply followed orders. David Howarth suggests that the two divisions who attacked on their own were led by Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine; they ordered their men to move forward, and hoped that the rest of the army would follow. Had the English forces done so, William might not have ever been remembered.

As it was, the Anglo-Saxon monarchy came to an end. The great string of coincidences-some might call it the inexorable workings of “wyrd”-ended with the death of Harold among a force that really could have won the day.”

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