Click a green square to see the Latin text. Click a blue square to see a commentary note.
TO HENRY VIII, INVINCIBLE KING OF ENGLAND, FRANCE, AND IRELAND, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH, THE PROEM OF THE ENGLISH HISTORY BY POLYDORE VERGIL OF URBINO
ROM the beginning of human affairs, great King Henry, all men have striven to perpetuate the memory of virtue and achievements. Hence, surely, cities have been built and named after their founders, hence statues have been invented, hence the great masses of the pyramids and many magnificent works of that kind; hence, too, there have been men who have not hesitated to seek premature death in order to preserve their nation. But since all these things have partly been erased by the passage of time and partly cast into oblivion by forgetfulness, men next started to celebrate these works and deeds in literature, which confer immortality on them all so that in after time men could observe what good deeds were to be imitated, and what bad ones were to be avoided. For just as history speaks of and proclaims men’s praises, so it does not keep silent about their disgraces, nor does it conceal them, and so it passes its judgments about what things are of the greatest use for the conduct of our lives, stimulating some to achieve immortal glory and virtue, and deterring others from vice by fear of infamy. And this is the single thing which seems to be lacking from the supreme glory of your realm of English, that, although it is most blessed in all things, its greatness is unknown to a large number of nations since no history exists from which it would be possible to learn the nature of Britain (which is now England), the origin of this nation, the manners of its kings, the life of its people, and the arts whereby its government, as it was founded in the beginning and as it grew, attained to its greatness. It is that true that in a very short work Bede, an Englishman, sketched the history of England from the arrival into this island of Caius Julius Caesar down to his own times (and he lived about 700 A. D.), and before him Gildas cast some light on the antiquity of the British. But after them other men produced works which are so bound in shadows that they cannot shine forth. And latterly some men undertook to write almost day-by-day accounts. But they compiled annals in which both the arrangement and the style was so threadbare that they justly strike us, as they say, as food without seasoning. And yet they were such that, when read alongside the histories of other nations who have had dealings with the English, they can supply matter for the creation of a new work. Having perceived this, I, who had already dedicated myself to investigating old things, began to read, study, imbibe, and copy out these annals of the English and other nations more carefully, and for this reason I elected to gather my material, no matter how raw and unadorned, from all manner of sources, which I might learnedly polish and adorn when considerations of time did not prevent me. Thus I had to begin all over again ab ovo, as they say, in composing this history I have created with no small effort, and I have entitled it English because such today is the name of the island’s greater part, and by far the greatest part of its government. But just as a history is not completed in a small amount of time, so, after being completed and published, it does not acquire credibility, popularity, and authority overnight, particularly among a people whose accomplishments have long remained hidden. For it is the case that in the meanwhile grandsons have heard much from their grandfathers, and the things these grandsons have spread about are believed, although they are only old men’s dreams. As a result, if somebody omits these things in his writing, good God, what a drubbing he gets in common conversation! But if afterwards somebody will read this (and every man will read it who delights in the glory and honor of his nation), and shall have come to learn the causes of things, the chronology, and the deeds and sayings of his ancestors, then he will be led, willy-nilly, to approve this new history, to laud it, to praise it to the skies. I have no doubt that this will have some such utility. And perhaps the English reader (and likewise the Scotsman and the Frenchman) will be surprised to find no little in it that is contrary to what is commonly said, and other things which their writers either have not touched upon or have recounted differently. But when they have digested these things, they will undoubtedly understand that old wives’ tales do not agree with the truth, and that patriotism has sometimes robbed their writers of their judgment, deprived them of their intelligence, and stripped them of their senses, none of which things have been able to befall me, since I have not written so as to flatter any man’s ears, and in the end, the truth being grasped, they cannot help but approve of a history written honorably and sincerely. And you particularly among your Englishmen, most puissant king, if in your grace, gravity and wisdom you will not disdain (as I am confident you will not) to do this openmindedly, then I shall deem myself to have reaped the richest reward for all the years of effort I have spent in the writing. For which reason I have had no hesitation in submitting this work for censure by you first of all men, particularly since you know how to pass right judgment on things that have been done or need doing, being as you have been born for rule and for justice, are endowed with great prudence, are exceptionally well-read in letters both human and divine, and well understand all the goodly arts. And so for your singular virtue you easily surpass, not just the glory of sovereigns alive today, but also the memory of all antiquity. And in this history there are things that will give you no small delight, since from them you may understand the customs of your subject, which have always been constantly taken into account from the nation’s beginning, in matters both private and public. Farewell. London, August 1533.
HE whole of England, which is now called by the double name of England and Scotland) is an island set in the ocean opposite the shore of France, and is divided into four parts. The first is inhabited by the English, the second by the Scots, the third by the Welsh, and the fourth by the Cornish. These all differ from each other in language, manners, or customs. England, so called of the English who have occupied it, is by far the greatest part and is divided into thirty-nine districts called counties, of which ten occupy the first part of the island lying to the south between the Thames and the sea: Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Southampton, Berkshire, Wilshire, Dorsetshire, Somersetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall. From there to the river Trent, which flows through the middle of england, are located sixteen counties, of which the first six lie towards the east: Essex, Middlesex, Herfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire; the ten remaining are more inland: Bedfordshire, Huntingtonshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire (even if part of this lies beyond the Thames), Northamtonshire, Rutland, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, and Lincolnshire. Next come six which face Wales and the west: Glocestershire, Hertfordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire. At about the center of the region follows Derbyshire, then Yorkshire, Lancaster, and Cumberland on the left hand or westward side, and Westmoreland. On the other side are Country Durham and Northumbria, northwards and pertaining to Scotland. These counties are divided into seventeen ecclesiastical jurisdictions, which the Greeks call dioceses, which have boundaries as follows: the diocese of Kent (together with Rochester) embraces the Country of Kent in particular. That of London contains Essex, Middlesex, and part of Hertfordshire, while that of Chichester contains Sussex. Winchester diocese comprises Southampton, Surrey, and the Isle of Wight, whereas that of Essex governs Devonshire and Cornwall. Bath and Wells, taken together, rule Somerset. The dioceseof Worcester embraces Glocestershire, Worchestershire, and part of Warwickshire, and that of Hertford covers part of Shrophire and Hertfordshire. Coventry and Lichfield, combined into one, rule Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, the remainder of Warwickshire and Shropshire, and the part of Lancaster which belongs to the river Ribble. Eight counties lying between the Thames and the Humber comprise the dioceses of Lincoln (the largest of them all), i. e., Lincolnshire, Northamtonshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Huntingtonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and the rest of Hertfordshire. The diocese of Ely comprises Cambridgeshire and the Island of Ely itself, and that of Norwich Suffolk and Norwalk. This is the province of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primate of all England, together with Wales, which possesses four dioceses, as will be stated below. Likewise the diocese of York contains Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, and part of Lancaster. That of Durham embraces County Durham itself, together with Northumbria, Carlyle or Cumberland, and Westmoreland. And this second province belongs to the Archbishop of York, who is also a primate of England, and for a long time was of Scotland as well, as I shall relate elsewhere. And these dioceses take their names from the cities in which the bishops’ sees are located, of which the chief is London, and in the beginning this was therefore the see of the Archbishop. But in an appropriate place I shall narrate his translation to Canterbury, a city of Kent. For London is located in the county of Middlesex, on the north bank of the Thames.
2. This most pleasant river arises a little above the village of Winchecombe , and as it flows along, everywhere being increased, it first passes by Oxford, and then, with wonderful stateliness, by London itself, and discharges in the French sea, being received with the great tide of that sea, ebbing and flowing twice within the space of twenty-four hours for more than forty miles. This is a great convenience for humankind, since by this means wares are easily carried to the city. Over it is London Bridge, made of stone, assuredly a wonderful work. For it stands on twenty piers of squared stone forty feet in height and thirty wide, spaced at a distance of about twenty feet. On both sides are houses so located that it seems to be one continual town rather than a bridge.
3. So this England, the first part of Britain, is bounded on the east and south by the ocean, on the west by the borders of Wales and Cornwall, and on the north by the river Tweed, a river which separates the English from the Scots. Here at the Tweed its northern reach is terminated, which begins at the south coast and extends about 320 miles. The part on this side of the Humber is more fortunate than the rest, for on the far side it become more mountainous: even if it appears flat to those looking from afar, yet it is full of hills, and those for the most part treeless. It also has most pleasant vales in which men, especially those of the nobility, have their homesteads, and these men (according to a very ancient custom) seek out the neighborhoods of valleys and rivers rather than cities, and live clustered in villages, I suppose, for the sake of avoiding the more violent gales, for the island is windy by nature. The result is that these rustics, because of their intercourse with the country nobility, commonly adopt urban ways, and hence their cities are less populated. And the Humber, which rises a little this side of York, immediately turns southward, and then runs in an easterly direction and discharges into the sea, enlarged especially by the Dun and the Trent. This has its source not far from Stafford, and, having passed through Derbyshire and Leicesterhire, flows by Lichfield and Nottingham, the one on its right bank, the other on its left. Thus both the Trent and the Dun form an island called Axolme, and then combined on this side of the town of Kingston, also culled Hull (famous for its fair), they flow into the Humber itself, making an access, both capacious and safe, for shipping from France, Germany, and Dacia [i. e., Denmark]. This is fertile land, most abundant in cattle. Hence it happens that the English graze more than they farm or are devoted to tilling the soil, so that almost a third of the land is reserved for deer, does, and goats, and also the men of the north leave their land untilled for conies. For everywhere you find fenced parks and enclosures for games. Hence there is a great deal of hunting, with which the nobility in particular exercise themselves. So this is the first part of Britain, not to prolong my account, since below and throughout this work I shall speak of its topography, when appropriate.
4. Scotland, the second part of Britain (about which I have elected to speak more copiously in this place, because afterward there will be no reason to discuss its topography) once took its beginning at Mt. Grampius, and stretched to the island’s extreme northern limit. But after the Picts were eliminated it came down as far as the Tweed, sometimes as far as the Tyne, as the fortune of war (like everything else) varied. thus its longitude from the Tweed to the northern extremity is estimated to be 480 miles. But, just as Scotland is longer than England, so it is narrower, since it ends in a wedge. Mt. Grampius is uncouth and rough (Tacitus even mentions it in his Life of Julius Agricola), running through the middle of Scotland to the shore of the German sea, i. e., from the mouth of the river Dee to the Irish sea, even as far as the lake they call Lomond, which lies between the coast and the mountain. Southward along the Tweed, which originates in a low mountain a little beyond Roxburgh and runs into the German sea, runs that tract of land they call Merch, i. e. the borderland between the English and the Scotch. The Tweed separates this from Northumbria, the northernmost district of England, which faces the German sea. Its principal town is Berwick, which during my lifetime has been possessed by the King of England. I should say this was once the seat of the Ordolucae. Westward, the border of Scotland used to be Cumberland, separated from Anandale by the river Solway. Between these two regions the Cheviot hills rise up inland. Bordering Merch is Pictland, i. e., the land of the Picts, now called Lauden, which tends towards the east, quite hilly and clad by scarcely any trees. In it, the most populous towns are Dunbar, Haddington, Leath, North Berwick, and Edinburgh, the royal capital. There is the Maiden’s Castle, a very fast fortress. It is watered by the river Forth, which, flowing towards the German sea, creates a great estuary commonly called the Scottish sea, in which, among others, is an island sacred to St. Columbe called Aemonia. Lauden, again, is divided by a river from the next territory, fertile in all things, which is commonly called Fife, in which there are many towns, Dunfermline, Cupar, and St. Andrews, famous for its university and for being the see of an Archbishop. the primate of all Scotland. Across Scotland, by the shore of the Irish sea and northwards is Niddisdale, named from the river which waters it, containing the fortified towns of Douglas and Dunfreys. Adjoining it to the south is Galloway, better for cattle fodder than for grain. There is Whithorn, a very ancient church consecrated to St. Ninian, endowed with an episcopal see. In that district, hard by Wigton, is a lake possessed of a wonderful nature: the one half freezes in winter, the other does not. Next comes Carrict, once famous for the town of Caricton, from which, perhaps, it takes its name. Above Carrict, Elgovia (so Ptolemy calls it) reaches to the western sea. In it is Loch Lomond, quite large and containing a number of islands, located at the base of Mt. Grampius. No more than eight miles distant from this is the castle of Dunbarton, where the river Bodotria (now called the Leven) enters into the river Glote, of which I shall speak later. A great distance on this side of Mt. Grampus is the Tay, the longest river in Scotland, which has its origin in a lake of the same name, which, flowing through Athol and Calydon, waters many places, and particularly the town of Perth (which has been moved elsewhere and is now called St. Johns), and finally at Dundee, formerly called Alectum, it discharges into the German sea, and at its mouth creates by far the largest estuary, mentioned by Tacitus. Opposite the Tay is Angus, and the river waters this prosperous district, separating it from Fife. Neighboring this to the north is Athol, not unblessed by waters and the fertility of its soil.
5. On the other side Argyle shows itself, abounding in lakes. It supplies an abundance of fodder rather than grain, and its coastline stretches out towards Ireland, so that there are scarcely sixteen miles between them at that place whey call Headland. In his Book IV, in speaking of Ireland, Pliny attests that the Silures once held a long stretch of this coast, writing thus: This is situated above it, where there is a very short twenty-mile crossing to the Silures. Between this and Elgovia westward lies the district of Sterling, named from a town there. Here on the west side begins the Caledonian forest, which spreads far and wide through the region’s interior. This forest produces white cattle, with manes like lions, so wild that they cannot be tamed. But since their flesh is agreeablet to men’s tastes, they say that this breed is all but extinct. Also there is the citadel of Caledon, built alongside the Tay, which they call Dunchell. Glote arises from a little mountain belonging to that forest, which in its wide basin glides towards the Irish sea. For driven back, as it were, by the roots of Mt. Grampius, it is received with such a tide of the sea that, as Tacitus attests, what lay beyond struck the Romans as being like a second island. From that river the valley through which it flows takes the name of Glotesvale, in which is the city called Glasgow, distinguished for its university. Again, towards the east this region is joined to Angus and Mearns, in which is the town of Fordoun, very well defended by its location, famed for holding the remains of St. Palladius, the apostle to the Scots. On the same side is Mar, distinguished by the city of Aberdeen, which is located between two rivers, the Don and the Dee, which is also renowned for its university. Next comes Moray, enclosed between to noble rivers, the Ness and the Spey. And at the mouth of the latter is the town of Elgin, and along its banks there are great forests full of all manner of game, and likewise Loch Spynie, full of swans. Inland, a wide swathe is occupied by Ross, which stretches even to the extreme corner of Scotland, being as it touches both seas. And the more it reaches eastward, the better farmed it is. Within it is a bay, sometimes so handy for mariners that it is popularly called Safe Harbor. Its town is Thane. But the end of the island is very short, for it talks off into a wedge scarce thirty miles across, protected by three bastion-like promontories which regularly fend off the attacks of the ocean, and, girded by two areas enclosed by the promontories, it has two entryways in which it receives calm waters. Today they call this narrow tract Caithness, which turns toward the Deucalidonian Sea. So much for details.
6. The land of Scotland has safe harbors everywhere, and entranceways for ocean waters, and also lakes, marches, rivers, and fountains very well stocked with fish; likewise mountains having flat land at the top, which supply fodder in abundance for their cattle, and forests that mostly abound with grain. Sustained by the advantages of such places, the Scots have never been conquered, since everywhere the forests and marches provide them with refuge, and the flesh of game and fish prevent famine. Around Scotland, in the Irish sea, there are more than forty islands, called Britannic by Pliny, and the Mevaniae or Hebrides by others. The majority of these extend less than thirty miles in length and thirteen in breath. Among these is Iona, famous for the tombs of the ancient Kings of Scotland. And all their inhabitants speak Irish, which goes to show that their origin is Irish. Beyond Scotland northwards are the Orkneys, thirty in number according to Pliny, partly located in the Deucalidionian Sea, partly in the German. Their capital is called Panonia [i. e., Kirkwall], and these islands are governed by the King of Scotland. The islanders employ the Gothic language, which argues they are Goths by ancestry. They are tall, always healthy of body and mind and hence very long-lived, even if for the most part they live on fish. For the land, nearly always beset by cold, fails to produce wheat in many places, and scarcely any trees. After the Orkneys comes Thule, now called Ila. From that, as Pliny says, one day’s sailing through a frozen see brings you to Iceland, where even now our merchants sail every summer to buy fish and for the fishing. And since it is in the extreme north, some therefore believe it to be Thule. And this is what I have had do say about the topography of Scotland. Now I turn to the nature and manners of its people.
7. The Scots who live towards the south are much better-mannered, and, being more civilized, use the English language. And since forests here are rare, they make their fires with a black stone they excavate from the ground. The northern part, more mountainous, is occupied by a race of men much hardier and more rough, why are called the Wild. These wear a cloak and yellow-dyed inner tunic in the Irish style, and go barelegged up to the knee. Their weapons are the bow and arrow together with the sword and a dagger with a single sharpened edge. They all speak Irish, and they live on fish, milk, cheese and meat, and for this reason they possess a great number of cattle. The English differ from the Scots in laws and customs, since the Scots employ the same civil law as nearly all other nations, whereas the English (as will be shown below) observe only common law. In some other things they are not dissimilar, employing (as just said) the same language. And likewise their dress, their ferocity in war, and, among the nobility, their pursuit of hunting from boyhood. In the countryside their houses are small, floored with straw or reeds, in which they live together with their cattle, as if in barns. Save for St. John’s, none of their towns is walled, which you can ascribe to their courage, since they rely wholly on physical prowess for the protection of their lives. They are also strong in intellect, as their learning goes to show. For they easily progress in any art to which they apply themselves. But for those of them given to idleness, laziness and sloth, they, avoiding work, boast of their nobility even in the midst of extreme positive, as if it were more honorable for a wellborn man to be poor than seek to support himself by any livelihood. And in general the Scots are accounted pious in their religion. on.
8. The third part of the island is Wales, alongside the English midlands, which, like a bay, runs into the surrounding sea in the manner of a peninsula, save on the east where it is bounded by the river Severn, which separates the Welsh from the English. And yet there are some modern writers who make the city of Hereford the boundary, as I have said above, between Wales and England, and they want to have Wales begin at the town called Cheapstowe, where there is river named Vey, increased by the Lug, which flows by Hereford on its way to the sea. This river arises from same mountain, and perhaps from the same fountain, in inland Wales as does the Severn, and (as I shall show elsewhere) Cornelius Tacitus calls it the Anton. For even that far stretches a great arm of the sea, which, entering into the land from the west, abuts Cornwall on the left and Wales on the right. And this is a physical description I do not shrink from following. And so, taking its beginning at the town of Cheapstowe, Wales runs in a straight line a little above Shropshire as far as the town of Chester to the north. Tradition has it that those ancient Britons who survived the massacre after losing their homeland, took refuge here, some seeking its mountains for refuge, some its forests and marches, and lived here in security, where they still do. Afterwards the English called this land Wales and the Britons inhabitants themselves Welsh, for among the Germans wallsman means “stranger, inhabitant, newcomer, ” that is, a man who speaks a language other than German. For in their language wall means “outsider” (such as an Italian or a Frenchman) who differs from the Germans in language. And man means “man.” The English, therefore, having gained Britain, in their ancestral manner called the Britons who survived the downfall of their country Welshmen, since they spoke a language different from their own, and they called the land they inhabited Wales, which name has endured both for the nation and the region. Thus the Britons lost their name along with their kingdom. This is the true reason and origin of the name of Welsh nation, which, as far as I am aware, no man before me has comprehended. And those who report that this name is taken from some king or queen of theirs are undoubtedly dreaming. This province has land along the coast and in other places which is most fertile, which supplies an abundance of grass for cattle and grain for mane, but elsewhere it is in great part sterile and less fruitful because it lacks cultivation. Hence it comes about that the countrymen lead a harsher life, since they eat oaten bread and drink milk mixed with water or whey. There are many towns, with very stout castles, and four episcopal dioceses. The first of these was originally named after Meneva, but today is called st. David’s. This is an ancient city on the coast facing Ireland to the west. The second is Llandaff, the third Bangor, and the fourth Assaf, and all of these are subordinate to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Welsh have a language different from the English. The Welsh derive their ancestry from the Trojans, and claim that their language is partly made of Trojan, and partly of ancient Greek. But, whatever it may, be the Welsh do not pronounce their language as sweetly and softly as do the English, because the former, I believe, speak more in the throat, whereas the latter properly imitate the Latins in speaking only a little between the lips, which produces a pleasant sweet for listeners. I have had these few things to say about Wales, the third part of Britain.
9. There follows the fourth and final part, which they call Cornwall. This begins on that side of the island which stretches towards Spain and the west, and extends eastward for ninety miles, a little further than St. Germain’s, a well-known town on the right hand coast, where the width of is at most twenty miles. For this small plot of land on the right shore of the sea is bounded by the sea, and on the left the sea, as I have said, enters into the land as far as Cheapstowe, so that Cornwall has the shape of a horn, running at first narrow, then wider beyond St. Germain’s. It is bounded on the east by England, and has the sea surrounding it on the south, west, and north. This is a very sterile land that produces crops more because of the farmers’ industry than its own goodness, but it produces black and white lead (I mean tin) more abundantly, and the livelihood of its inhabitants consists mainly in mining. In this part of the island alone persists to this day the race of Britons who originally settled this island out of Gaul, if we are to believe them. For they, as I shall show below, maintain the tradition that the first inhabitants of Britain came from Armorica. The proof of this is that those who live in Cornwall possess the same language as the Bretons in France. And it is confirmed by a very ancient manuscript of a history, in which I found Cornugallia written instead of Cornwall, so that the name is compounded of the word for “horn,” the shape (as I have shown) of this land, and “Gaul,” from which it received its first settlers, and the logic of this name scarcely displeases me. Their language is very different from English, but has some affinities with Welsh, since both names share the same words for many things. But there is this difference, that, when a Welshman is speaking, a Cornishman can understand individual words far better than his discourse as a whole. From this it is clear that these three people do not understand each other any more than do the southern and northern Scotsmen. And furthermore, it is a wonder that there is such variety of tongues in one and the same island. Cornwall (or Cornugallia) belongs to the see of Exeter, and once deserved being reckoned as the fourth part of the island, both because of its dissimilarity of language and because it had received the first settlers, as has been said. But afterwards the Normans, who reorganized the kingdom, preferred to reckon Cornwall among the counties. I have chosen to set forth these details about the division of Britain first, so that, now understanding the whole in terms of its parts, I may more easily describe its nature, which is as follows.
10. The shape of all Britain is manifestly triangular, for it has three corners and three sides. Two of these sides, one on the east and the other on the west, run northwards and are the longest. The third, that to the south, is far shorter than these, so that the island is much longer than it is wide, and, given its latitude and longitude, as will be shown below, it follows that the island is broad at the beginning, but has a narrow finish in the north. Its first and right-hand corner facing east is in Kent, near Dover and the port of Sandwich, from where there is a thirty-mile crossing to Calais or Boulogne, two towns on the French coast distant from each other by twenty miles, where nearly all ships land. It is commonly thought that the harbor of Icius was near Calais or Boulogne, for its name seems enlarged into Calicius because the harbor is adjacent. And not far from one or the other of these towns once existed the village of Gessoriacus, mentioned by Pliny IV.xvii, where, as Suetonius says, Claudius Caesar hastened from Marseilles so he might cross over into Britain, and this makes one believe that at that time the crossing into the island was similar in distance to that from Boulogne (a town of no great antiquity) nowadays. But back to our business. From this corner, the side of the island opposite France runs to the third corner, at the north, which faces Germany but has no land opposite it, where the island shrinks, wedge-like, into this corner. The shore of this side is very lacking in harbors and spans about 700 miles. And again, the contiguous side on the south, running from this first corner in Kent to the second corner, which is located in the leftward part of the island, is brought to an end by the extremity of Cornwall. This side is, as it were, the front and face of the entire island, for, with its arms outspread towards these two corners, it shows its broad breast. For here Britain is widest, for the longitude from Dover to St. Michael’s promontory (on the ultimate coast of Cornwall) is estimated to be three hundred miles, and in this side are frequent and very populous harbors and the safest roads for shipping. Finally, at this second, leftward corner begins the third side, which faces Spain and the west (in this direction is located Ireland, set between Britain and Spain), and takes its inward and outward curve by Wales, which is in its middle, as it extends to the third corner in the north, occupying a space of 800 miles. And there the island comes to an end. Beyond it is perpetual ocean.
11. On this side there are very safe harbors, and from it the passage over to Ireland requires a day’s sailing, but it is shorter from Wales to the maritime town of Waterford, an equal or slightly greater distance as Calais is from Dover, and shortest of all from Scotland, as I have shown above. From this corner to Anton, which, being a maritime port with like-named harbor and facing southward, is called Southampton, men measure the entire island’s longitude in a straight line and pronounce it to be 800 miles, just as the latitude from Meneva or St. David’s to Yarmouth, at the easternmost point of the island, consumes 200 miles. For, as has been shown, the island is broad and widespread at its southern side, which I have claimed to be its face (i. e., its beginning), and ends in narrowness. Thus the entire island’s circuit consists of no more than 1800 miles, and therefore is 200 less than was estimated by Caesar.
12. As said above, England is surrounded by many small islands, of which two of about equal size are well known and separated from the mainland by a narrow straight. One is called the Isle of Wight, facing the south side of Britain. It is distant from it a minimum of four miles, although in other places seven, and yet elsewhere twelve. The oldest writers tell us it is egg-shaped, for it is more oblong in an east-west direction, thirty miles long, but its north-south span is only twelve. It is inhabited by Englishmen in some numbers, and belongs to the see of Winchester. Once upon a time Vespasian, sent to Britain by the Emperor Claudius, brought it under Roman domination. The second is the very famous Isle of Man, having Scotland as its neighbor to the north, England to the east, and Ireland to the west. This used to be separated by such a narrow body of water and was so near the mainland that whenever the sea ebbed (and the tide runs large there) a man could cross over to it without using a boat. And Cornelius Tacitus tells us this was once done by the Romans, who in Book XIV of his Histories and in his Life of Julius Caesar recounts that first Paulinus Suetonius and then Julius Agricola himself, legates of Britain, subdued Man by force of arms, since it was strong because of its inhabitants and was a place of refuge for runaways. And when they wished to attack it, they set aside all their baggage and sent ahead the best of their auxiliaries, familiar with the shallows and who had their nation’s experience with swimming. These guided the rest of the army, which swam in deeper water. And thus the islanders, suddenly amazed because they had been expecting a fleet and ships, sought peace from Agricola. But, as Tacitus also says, Paulinus did not accomplish this feat with so little trouble. When he had overcome the strait and came to the island, of a sudden a motley battle-line of islanders appeared at the shore, bristling with weapons, with their men running to and fro and their women, like furies, in funeral garb, their hair hanging down, bearing torches. Meanwhile their Druid priests stood around offering up dire prayers, their hands lifted up to heaven. The novelty of this sight so astonished the Roman soldiers that they stood paralyzed, offering up their limbs for the wounding. But in the end, with Paulinus urging them and they themselves exhorting one another not to fear this womanish, fanatic crew, they advanced their standards, joined battle, and cut down those in their way. Thus, the islanders defeated, Paulinus established a garrison, and by his command the groves dedicated to their savage superstitions were cut down, in which the islanders thought it permissible to make their altars reek with the blood of captives and consult oracles by inspecting the guts of men.
13. Now I have digressed enough. The Scottish initially possessed this island, and within our memory the crossing to them was shorter than twenty-six miles. It is inhabited by both English and Irish, who share the same language. But the Earl of Derby, an Englishmen, possesses it, distinguished for the see of Sodor and Man. But see what the passage of time can accomplish: the island is now twenty-five miles distant from the mainland although it was once barely a mile away. For this reason some are so bold as to affirm that Mona is that island which men call Anglesey, lying hard by Wales, and that it belongs to the diocese of Bangor, the nature of which place between the island’s shore and the Continent is even now such as I have reported it to have been out of Tacitus. But because of the smallness of the place (its circumference is barely forty miles), because of the infertility of its soul, because of the scarcity of trees and all crops, it is possible to imagine that it did not belong to men but rather to cattle, by whom this nearly deserted and untilled island is constantly grazed.
14. But let me return to Britain, which we call England, so I may describe what it is like, especially in our day. The air is heavy, in which clouds, rains, and winds are easily conjured up, and because of this heaviness of the air it is less cold and hot. The nights are clear, and in the extreme north so short that the beginning and ending of daylight are separated by a very small interval. In summer the days are longer, the reason for which is that the island lies almost under the North Pole, and summer days are longer than in the south, because the sun lingers longer as it passes eastward through northern climes, whereas in winter it is further removed as it moves eastward closer to the south. At London (a city in the southern part) I have observed that around the summer solstice the night scarcely lasts five hours. The region itself is most temperate at any time of the year, and there is no oppression in the climate, so that diseases are rare and there is less need for medicine than elsewhere, for which reason many men live to be 110, some even to 120. There are almost no earthquakes here, and lightning is rare. The soil is fertile and fruitful, so that (except for grains and beans) it produces trees of all kinds save for the fir and (as Caesar says) the beech. Now, however, the beech is also widespread, as are other trees save for the olive and others of the kind which grow in warmer lands. Vines are grown in gardens, more for shade than for their fruit’s sake, and they bear a grape which rarely ripens except in a warm summer. In due season they sow rye, wheat, barley and oats, but have no other grains, and their only pulses are the bean and the pea. Their crops sprout quickly but take their time in ripening. The reason for both things is the considerable dampness both of the ground and the climate. Their ripe grain and pulse are taken to barns, ear, husk and all, and stored there until it is necessary to thresh them for use. As I have shown, the land does not produce wine. Instead of wine they use ale made out of barley, a drink assuredly both useful and pleasant for those accustomed to it. They have wine imported from France, Spain, and the island of Crete. Their groves bear apples and are most pleasant for their acorns. They also have very pleasant rivers to water their land. It is strange to tell but most true that the Thames, the Humber, and some other rivers are not readily swollen by rains, which comes about because the soil, sandy by nature, absorbs a great deal of water. There are many hills all over, neither covered with trees nor watered by fountains, which produce the thinnest and shortest grass, yet grass which supplies fodder in abundance for sheep. The whitest flocks of sheep roam these, which, due to the goodness of the soil or the climate, bear the finest fleece. But this is especially to be ascribed to the sterility of the soil, as Vergil attests when he teaches of this thing in Book III of the Georgics: “If wool is your care, first avoid thorny woods, burrs and briers, happy with rich fodder.” And although today English wool, as I have said, is the costliest, the writers of antiquity nevertheless make no mention of it. For in Book IV of the Georgics Vergil celebrates the wool of Miletus: “But in her bower deep beneath the river his mother heard the sound, round about her the nymphs were spinning Milesian wool.” Miletus is a city in Asia. And then Columella, who flourished under Claudius about 53 A. D., in Book VII of his book De Re Rustica, wrote as follows about precious sheep: “Our people used to reckon those of Miletus, Calabria and Apulia to be excellent, and the best to be those of Tarentum. Now those of Gaul are considered more precious, particularly those which are kept about Altina, Parma, and Mutina.” Thus he wrote. And finally, in Book VIII Pliny says pretty much the same about the nature of sheep and wool. From this we can understand that in antiquity there was no concern for sheep among the ancient Britons or Angles, but they acquired this after the age of Pliny or at least were quite late in doing so and their wool was distributed to other nations by French merchants, being nearer to them. Hence even now Italians call English wool francesca, just as if it were French. And thus men were gradually made more industrious. And the cultivation of wool subsequently became a pursuit for the Scots, although their wool is coarser.
15. I return to my subject. This indeed is wonderful, that these sheep of theirs drink nothing but dew, to the point their shepherds keep them away from fountains, since experience has taught that it is fatal for them to drink from these. This fleece is truly golden, for it the nation’s wealth primarily consists. For every year great amounts of gold and silver are brought from all quarters by merchants for the purpose of purchasing it, and remain there forever since it is forbidden by law to export precious metals. The result is that no nation is wealthier. Indeed, not even taking into account the great amount of money which circulates through the hands of buyers and sellers, and the plate belonging to churches, the value of which cannot be estimated because of its plenty, there is almost no humble man who does not have a silver saltcellar, cups and spoons, and every man owns a lot of various plate in proportion to his wealth. England abounds in every manner of domestic animal except for donkeys, mules, camels and elephants. But it produces no poisonous or predatory ones save the fox and formerly the wolf, as I shall record elsewhere. For this reason sheep may roam in safety with next to no protection. It is also possible to see herds of oxen, horses, and sheep ranging the mountains and valleys day and night, moving through common pasture land or through farms where (by a traditional custom) the owner lets it be used as common grazing land after his crops have been gathered in. And for this reason horses are castrated, so that, having been made geldings, they might wander in the open with less range. A goodly portion of their horses walk but do not trot, nor are their trotters or pacers of the strongest, being gentle animals with less high spirits. The nature of their cattle is similar, for which reason several can be yoked to one plow or carriage. For the earth is tiled with horses and oxen alike, and they are much used for pulling plows and carts. But their cow and their sheep are bred especially for the eating, for nowhere else does their flesh have such a pleasing taste. And this is particularly true of beef, especially if it has been salted for a few days. Nor is this very surprising, for this animal is kept free from all labor and is bred up for their common feasting. And in fact the greatest part of the English diet consists in meat. And cattle which are slaughtered at an advanced age after long labor are not lacking in their delights, albeit their meat is tougher. They have an infinite number of tame and wild birds.
16. The chickens of Kent are the largest. Young geese that have not yet lost their down are prized as a delicacy, but when they have matured they are not. Of wild birds the daintiest are partridges, pheasants, quail, ouzels, thrushes and larks. This last during the winter season (which is not at all harsh) grows wonderfully fat, and then a countless number are caught and grace every man’s table. There are swans, which can be seen (with not the slightest pleasure, but with the greatest sadness) swimming in lakes and rivers at all times, and every day rooks and crows can be heard croaking in the early morning. Nowhere in the world are crows more plentiful, a naughty kind of bird. Yet here this breed is preserved, because it eats vermin and worms, with which the earth here more greatly abounds because it is damper. Yet on the other hand they do more damage, since they do not only eat ripe crops, but also use their beaks to pull them up when just sprouting, to the extent that farmers are obliged during this season to station little boys in their fields with bows to drive them off, since crows are not frightened by the human voice. And because herons are in the habit of appropriating the abandoned nests of crows, these unfortunate birds are to be found around the houses of noblemen (who delight in hunting heron), the crows roost with impunity in the tops of the lofty trees that are planted around homesteads to protect them from high winds, and thus the breed persists to the great harm of farmers. I can remember an act of Parliament that birds of this kind should be extirpated, with a bounty offered to those who killed them. Likewise they have an abundance of fish of all sorts, but the names of many are not the same as in Latin, such as gurnards, whitings, mullets, turbots, bream, mackerel (disdained by them for its dryness), shad (held in no esteem or value), sturgeon, and pike. This fish, although once regarded as a cheap fish, is now much more highly esteemed among the English since, removed from marsh-water to ponds and so cleansed of its muddy flavor, and being fed on eels and small fry, it is wonderfully fat. Being brought live to the fishmongers, its belly is sliced open, if needs be, to display its fatness. But if it is not sold (remarkable to tell), this wound can be sewn up and it is healed. And nowhere else are oysters more delicate, nor more plentiful. England likewise produces gold, silver, tin, lead, and copper. Iron is found in the maritime regions, but in small amounts, and England has pearls and jet. So much for a summary of the goodness of the climate and land. Now I propose to discuss the nature of its men.
17. Englishmen are tall, with handsome open faces, grey-eyed for the most part. And just as they are very similar to the Italians in the sound of their language, so the build of their bodies and their manners do not greatly differ from theirs. They have fine manners, they take counsel with deliberation (since they know that nothing is as inimical to counsel as haste), they are gentle and inclined by nature to every act of kindness. At least this applies to the nobility, even with respect to foreigners, but not to the urban rabble. They invite their friends into their homes, and in banquets and feasts they receive them merrily, elegantly, politely, and liberally, and they account this as civility, even if, as Tacitus say), it is no small part of servility to indulge your palate at another man’s expense. Furthermore, they are intrepid in war, excellent bowmen, and when in the field they are intolerant of delay. Therefore when it comes to a battle, they immediately fight so as to risk their all, since everything goes to the victor. Nor do they build castles: indeed, they let ancient tumbledown ones go to ruin. But outside their own nature, if they must deal with an enemy, they observe military discipline in all things. The others, who apply themselves to learning and letters, make easy progress, and of these there flourishes a great number nowadays. Their costume does not greatly differ from that of the French. Their women are snow-white and handsome, and graced with the most decent apparel. They have excellent cities and towns, a large number of villages, and everywhere you can see magnificent manors. But since I am minded to discuss the situation of their places and the manners of their people in appropriate places, I have chosen to omit this labor for the present. I shall therefore only add something about this nation’s religion. As Gildas attests, from the origin of the Gospel, Britain embraced Christian piety, to which it has always clung tightly, even among the savage persecutions of the Romans. For indeed at that time the Britons worshiped Christ, albeit not openly since, conquered by the Romans and the Saxons, they were compelled to sacrifice to pagan gods. And yet in private many men did not fail in their duty, with the result that the Christian religion (as another place will show below) has always existed in this island, until at length, by the doing of St. Gregory, it was rescued from damnation, and since then Christianity has grown to the extent that, as I believe, no nation today is more devoted to divine worship, or observes it more piously and carefully. This is attested to be so by all the very fine churches it has in every villages, the throngs which come to these churches and attend divine service, and also by the costly tombs of so many saints. Wherefore the English are especially be praised for this, that they are by far the most Christian and pious of men. I have chosen to place these this in the first part of my work, before I commence writing of wars, so that the readers might know from the very beginning what a great nation’s deeds these were, and what kinds of national characteristics he will hear about hereafter. And God grant that I may bring this work I have begun to a good conclusion.
18. What manner of men initially inhabited Britain, whether they were native-born or colonists, is quite unknown. As a result, from antiquity onwards authors have scarcely agreed about this matter. Regarding this subject (that I may not on the one hand rashly give my faith in affirming something, nor on the other gain unpopularity by refuting something), here in due order I shall rehearse and set before the reader’s eyes the opinions of those men, so that everything might be subjected to the judgment of others, as ought to be done in an uncertain case of this kind. For history is the narration of things that have been done, but not divination. Caius Julius Caesar affirms in Book V of his Commentaries on the Gallic War that the island’s interior was inhabited by those who were remembered to have been born there, but the maritime part by those who had crossed over from Belgium for the purpose of plundering or waging war, and that those who had come from there and fought a war remained and began to till the soil. In his Life of Julius Agricola (who obtained Britain under Domitian), Cornelius Tacitus pretty much agrees. Opining that the island had from the outset been settled by its neighbors, and desiring to show this by proofs, he says as follows: “Their huge limbs show a German origin. The painted faces of the Silures and their hair, for the most part curly, and Britain’s location opposite Spain, make one believe that the ancient Iberi crossed over and gained it for a home. They are near the Gauls and similar to them,” and so forth. Bede, an Englishman (and nothing chaster, better, or truer), who flourished about 700 A. D., having a quite different opinion about the nation’s origin, wrote in Book I of his Ecclesiastical History that those continental Britons or Bretons who dwelt between the Gauls and the Spaniards, living by the ocean and transported out of the region of the Armorican cities, first settled this island and gave it its name, since previously (as I shall show below) it was called Albion rather than Britain. Pomponius Laetus, too, the gravest of modern authors, favors this view about the island’s etymology, just as he agrees with Caesar about the native-born who first possessed the island. But before Bede Gildas, a Welshmen I have previously mentioned in my proem, to whom nothing was more foreign than falsification, nothing dearer than reliance on the truth, threw some light on this origin. For in his description of Britain he says, “this nation, stiff of neck and stubborn of mind, from the time it was inhabited has sometimes ungratefully risen up against God, sometimes against its own citizenry, and sometimes against kings across the sea.” Here Gildas implies that the island’s first inhabitants possessed an awareness of God, such as men had after the Flood that occurred in Noah’s day, and filled the earth with their multitude, so that from the beginning the island was not lacking in inhabitants, as will be said more fully below. Likewise he shows that its citizens sometimes held the government, and sometimes the Romans, whom in more than one place he calls “kings across the sea.” And the calls Britain ungrateful because it sometimes failed in its due loyalty to God the Father and to its princes. This most holy man wrote a letter resembling a little book, in which he first provides a physical description of the island, then briefly touched on this history of his time, and finally deplored the evils of his Welshmen and of the times, quoting many passages of Scripture by which he might deter his people from evildoing and lead them back to goodness. And because he wrote in a rather obscure style, his book is therefore rare. But I have found two manuscripts from which I have learned few things, but true ones. There exists a second little book (that I may issue the reader a timely warning about a wicked fraud), which is most falsely entitled The Commentary of Gildas, doubtless written by some rascal in order to corroborate the lie of a certain modern writer. But this villain, by far the most impudent since Man’s creation, has summarized this modern writer’s farrago, tricking it out with frequent mention of Brutus, a thing of which Gildas never dreamed, and so that he might do a more clever job of deceiving his readers, he has concocted his own invention that there were two men named Gildas, or at least that you can believe this little book is a summary of Gildas’ earlier tract. But both possibilities are so far from being acceptable to the learned that even any moderately educated man can easily penetrate the scheme and regard it as a pack of lies. But, so that no man may henceforth be deceived, I have recently published Gildas’ own work. Now let my discourse return to the place from which it has strayed. These are the things which I thought right to set forth, the opinions of ancient writers concerning the beginning of the British people, which I think I have now done sufficiently.
19. Some other authors, who have a popular esteem which their care or accuracy in writing do not deserve, have found another origin for the nation. How important this question has come to be is shown by William of Newbury, an Englishman and their contemporary who lived about 1195 under Richard I. In the proem of his history, when he speaks of Gildas’ authority, he writes as follows: “It is no small proof of his integrity that in telling the truth he is unsparing of his own people, and, although he is sparing in speaking good of them, he deplores their many evils. And so that he might not conceal the truth, he does not shrink from writing of the Britons (though one himself) that they were neither brave in war nor trustworthy in peace. But on the other hand, in our times a writer has come forth to excuse these faults in the Britons, manufacturing many silly fictions about them, and with his impudent vanity extolling them for their virtue far above the Macedonians and the Romans. This man is named Geoffrey, having the surname of Arthur because he writes much about Arthur taken from the fables of the ancient Britons and embroidered by himself, and passing it off as honest history by giving it the coloration of the Latin language. Indeed with a greater boldness he has published very spurious prophecies of Merlin, supplying additions of his own invention when translating them into Latin, and passing them off as genuine and guaranteed by unshakable truth.” Thus he wrote, as did Gildas before him. But not I, who write what is written, because there is no man who can justly grow irate at me for passing on that old dictum “nether brave in war,” &c. Nor did Sallust gain an ill reputation among the Romans of his time because he committed to writing that reproach leveled against Rome by King Jugurtha (and not unjustly), which he called “a city for sale, and soon bound for perdition, if it finds a buyer.” And he did so because the historians’ law is that a writer should neither dare to say a falsehood, nor shrink from telling a truth. So then, it is written in that book, of whatever quality it may be, that Brutus was the son of Silvius, the agreed son of Aeneas’ son Ascanius, and when he had traveled through Greece and conquered Aquitane, by the instruction of Diana he sailed to Britain and killed off the giants, who possessed the island at the time, when they speedily flocked together under arms to drive off the newcomers. Then he occupied the island and named it Britain after himself, and so Brutus was the father of the British nation and empire. But Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and many others who wrote diligently about Roman antiquities never made mention of this Brutus. Nor can this be fetched from the Britons’ annals, since long ago they lost all their written records, as Gildas attests: “I will attempt to relate those evils which Britain suffered and inflicted on others in Roman times, insofar as I can, but not out of my nation’s writings or the remains of its writers, since if any such existed, they have disappeared, either burned by the fires of our enemies or transported far away when our countrymen sailed into exile, but rather by foreign testimony, which too, being interrupted by many gaps, is not clear enough,” and so on. But this licence has been given this liberty, since many peoples have dared to trace their ancestry even to the gods, as Roman authors took the lead in doing, so that the beginnings of their nation and its cities would be more dignified and blessed, and those things, though they were taken from poetic fictions rather than incorrupt records of things done, have nonetheless been taken for the truth. Both theese things and what has been reported by later writers about the oriigns of the Britons has come down to posterity.
20. But, although I have promised I would not take either side, neither affirming any view of the nation’s origin to be true, nor reproaching it for being false, but rather that I would set it out for my readers’ judgment, as I have done until now, yet, after the matter has been placed in conjecture, I shall nevertheless speak up in this place, which seems scarcely inconsistent with the truth. When confronted with such a variety of ancient writers’ opinions, I may with at least some show of probability offer up and demonstrate something certain about the first inhabitants of this land which, as far as I can see, is absent from those writers’ testimony, since I hold it dishonorable to leave a self-evident thing unspoken as if it were not comprehended. So, then, since particularly on clear days, the island can easily be seen from the French coast, and the white cliffs along its shore (because of which it was once called Albion) are visible from afar to sailors, it could at no time have been unknown to the people of the Continent. And so it is impossible to believe that it ever lacked inhabitants, such as other lands received at the same time, and was not obliged, as more modern writers have it, to wait the be settled by some exile or runaway (often a guilty one, at that) from Spain, Germany, France or Italy. And so we may believe that from the very beginning of this world the island was inhabited, and after Noah’s Flood it received its occupiers just like other lands, and it was these that Caesar called native-born. In this matter Gildas agrees with me, as shown above. And yet I do not deny that afterwards an admixture of neighboring Germans, Gauls and Spanish settled in it, as they do at this day, and among them Bretons of the Continent, after whom, being the first settlers and more numerous, Bede says the island received its new name. But in his fourth Book Pliny, when he speaks of Britain, appears to indicate that the island took its name from the small islands that lie between it and Ireland, for he says, “its name was Albion, while all the ones of which I shall soon speak are designated by the name of Britain.” Thus this the true origin, which does not diminish, weaken or obscure, the praise and glory of the Britons, but greatly increases, confirms and ennobles it. For if we choose to keep silent about the other endowments of happiness, and measure nobility in terms of length of time, as is done nowadays, what can be ancient and honorable then to be born initially in an honorable station, and then to propagate a family, a race, a dominion for all but endless years? Hence the ancient Latins regarded it as most highly to their honor that, having been created in that land, they long ruled there. The same glory of domestic praise belongs to the British aborigines, and is an eternal monument to their glory. But, thinking I have gone far enough in this business for the necessity of my task, let me to come to the matter itself.
21. But where shall I do, since I perceive everything to be full of darkness? Indeed there is nothing more hidden, nothing more uncertain, nothing more unknown than early deeds of the Britons, in part because their annals, if there were any (as I have previously shown Gildas to testify) have wholly perished and cannot be drawn on by historians as a source, and partly because that nation, being located at a far distance, was very lately discovered by both the Greeks and the Romans. This silence was the reason why good writers failed to record much about the origin of this people, and why no few have dared to prate much and invent a new history, by which the unschooled common run of men (for whom novelty always counts more than truth) seem transported to heaven with wonder. And there I will not unwillingly leave them, since I scarcely wish to debate these inventions with them. But since my plan is, at appropriate places when the need requires, to include what Caesar, Tacitus and Gildas have selected to write about affairs in Britain, I shall therefore run through the lives of the kings which this new history has suddenly and, as it were, with one birthing, engendered and brought to light. And I shall do this (albeit not without indignation) both for the sake of having regard for the age in which we llive, and also to avoid ill will. And at the same time I shall strive to remove the errors in them (and yet these are countless), so they do not trouble may readers, and so these readers do not fall into them headlong. And this is my purpose, which I shall follow until in my writing I come to the beginning of the government of the Romans and the Saxons. For then there will be better-equipped guides I may follow. But come, now let us begin our journey to arrive the quicker at our destination. Well then, this Brutus or Brito (for so he is to be named, so that Britain may appear to have been in some way named after him), is reported to have gained the original government of this island and to have been the father of the Britons’ race, and afterwards he was not long seen on earth. Next three of his sons, Locrinus, Camber and Albanactus are said to have divided the realm between themselves. But soon afterward, his brothers dead, Locrinus acquired rule over the whole island, and he was murdered by his wife Guindelon, the daughter of Coroneus, one of Brito’s companions, because he had divorced her out of love for a concubine.
22. Madan succeeded his father, and begat Mempricus and Manlius. Foul strife arose between them after the death of their father, wherein Manlius was slain. In his life Mempricus achieved nothing and so was not honored in death, since when he was at the hunt and far removed from his men he was torn apart by wolves, with which the island abounded at that time. Next reigned his son Ebrancus. He is supposed to have founded York, a very populous city in the north, between the Ouse and the Fosse rivers which flow past the city, then join and discharge into the Humber, and to have established in the uttermost part of Britain, which today we call Scotland, the City of Maidens. Today, as I have stated above, this is the castle of Edinburgh. Brito Greenshield followed his father Ebrancus, who was undistinguished at home and abroad. He was succeeded by his son Leylus, said to have built the town of Carlisle in the left part of Britain, hard by Scotland on the river Eden, today a city notable for its episcopal see. Roger de Hoveden, an annalist who came after Bede, writes thus: “it is called Carlisle in the Britons’ language, but Lucubalia in Latin.” After Lelus Rudubras gained the throne. They say he founded two cities, Canterbury in Kent, which the Angles once called Dorovernia, twelve miles from the sea, and Winchester, and also a town named Septonia in the south region, which the inhabitants of our time call Shaftesbury. Winchester is a city on the seacoast facing south, set between two hills and very well populated. In the place of the deceased Rudibras was set Badudus, whom they report to have built the town of Bath, which today is distinguished by the common see of it shares with Wells, and the story goes that he established the baths with their running waters which some men falsely attribute to Julius Caesar, although it is sufficiently clear that Caesar did not come as far as this place. The baths still exist, where warm waters flow and bubble, and children particularly take pleasure in washing in them. I have seen little boys swimming in the pond and fetching un in their teeth the silver coins which bystanders throw in as an amusement. And this Badudus, relying on the magical art he always taught, and inspired by the tricks of demons, grew so mad that he fitted himself out with wings for flight and, equipped with these, he tried to launch himself aloft but took a sudden fall, and, crushed by this accident, died and went to Hell. Thus his evil art proved evil for him. Leyrus his son came next, who reigned many years, excellently and prudently. He founded the town of Leicester in the interior of the island and only had three daughters. And when he was at a very advanced age he decided to marry them to certain of his lords and divide his property equally, but he bequeathed this only to his two elder daughters because they seemed to love him more. But later, contrary to what he had thought, he found them and their husbands to be ungrateful, cruel and disloyal. But his youngest daughter, Cordilla, endowed with manners and beauty, had been given in marriage to a certain French lordling. She (endowed by nature with a pert wit), asked if she loved her father more, answered that she always carried her father in her eyes, and always would, although it might happen in the future that she would love another more ardently (meaning her husband). Leyrus, indignant at this answer, wise though it was, gave her to the French lordling sans dowry, as he was smitten with the girl’s beauty. But not long thereafter he was robbed of his kingdom by his sons-in-law, who thought they had been waiting too long for his death, and was compelled to take refuge with Cordilla. And by her he was restored to his throne and, his sons-in-law killed, reigned for three years. During that time Cordilla came back to Britain, having lost her husband, and at the people’s bidding gained her father’s kingdom. Meanwhile Morgan and Conedag, the sons of her sisters, most grudgingly submitted to a woman’s government, and were ashamed to bear such a vile yoke of servitude any longer. And so, having collected an army, they began to lay waste to everything with slaughter, arson and plunder, in order to draw the woman into a battle. Soon thereafter they encountered her, defended by only a small army, captured her, and cast her in prison. Here this excellent lady (who wanted nothing but a man’s sex to surpass the glory of the kings who preceded her), grief-stricken over the loss of her kingdom, killed herself five years after she had begun her rule. The victors divided the island between themselves, but soon there intervened a great greed for the crown, so much so that Morgan was murdered and Conedag seized the sole power. Then ruled Rivallo, Gurgustius or Gorguntus, Silius, Iagus, Chinemarch, and Gorbodio. After Gorbodio, his sons Ferrex and Porrex began to contend for the throne, and in this competition Ferrex was killed. And his death so saddened his mother (who loved him dearly) that, with the help of her handmaidens, she butchered her other son in his sleep. After this ensued an age ferocious with wars, discordant with rebellions, savage even during peace itself. When every stout fellow claimed the throne for himself, they fought it out between themselves until all power of government devolved on five petty kings.
23. Here I must turn a little aside from my planned subject and warn the readers of an error which casts no small blemish on the attractiveness (if there is any such) of the new history. After those five petty kings or tyrants, who are not reckoned in the number of kings, is placed King Dunwallo Molmicius, the father of Bellinus and Brennus, and we read that after his death his sons divided the realm between themselves, and that, when the seditions arising from this division had been settled, they joined arms and conquered first the Gauls, and then the Romans, captured and burned the city of Rome, and then Brennus remained in Italy after having gained the victory. The time between the coming of Brutus into the island and Brennus’ taking of Rome does not square chronologically with placing Brennus’ father Dunwallo Molmicius right after those five tyrants. For Brutus (or Brito) is said to have gained his kingdom about ten years after the death of his father Sylvius, which was about 4100 years after the Creation. But 710 years after Brito entered the island Rome was captured by the Gallic Sennones under the leadership of Brennus, as we learn from Eusebius’ Epitome and historians both Greek and Roman. But this Brennus, if we trust the new history, flourished about 400 years after Brutus’ arrival in the island, if we count up its number of years (although its reckoning is incorrect). So it is clear that this Brennus by whom Rome was taken according to the historical record, lived 350 years before the battle was fought. And so, lest error follow upon this manifest error, out of necessity I will modify the order and disposition of the remaining kings until I come to the time in which reason itself bids me speak of Bellinus and Brennus. But back to our subject.
24. And so these five tyrants, driven by lust for rule, immediately fell to warring between themselves out of mutual hatreds. The great rage of sedition spreads through a citizenry and bitterly oppresses it. But it came about that the tyrants soon fell, destroyed by each others’ swords, the commonwealth was restored to itself, and its form of government was returned to a monarchy. Therefore by popular acclaim Gitolinus was enthroned, a man good in counsel, whose wife Martia was a woman who surpassed all others in beauty in wisdom. Men think it an act of God that Gitolinus came to rule a nation distraught by civil wars, so he might restore it to its former condition. Which he industriously accomplished. For after he he had gained it, he strove, as it were, to found anew and beautify a British commonwealth almost defaced by the other kings in its justice, laws, and manners. But above all he quite settled and abolished the discords which had endured like remnants of those factions. And yet death quickly took him off as he was doing such things. By his wife Martia he fathered a single son, Sicilius, and since he was not old enough to govern, Martia, who was skilled in many things, assumed the government for the interim. And thinking that her chief business was to do that which was beneficial for the commonwealth, she passed laws which posterity called Martian. After Sicilius (who did not live long) reigned Chimarius, Danius, and Morvidius. This latter was strong-minded but notable for his cruelty. When he could not slake the savagery of his depraved character by torturing men whom he tormented and struck with his own hand, in the end he fought with wild beasts and died a disgraceful death, and, as they say, his own fortitude was his destruction. His son Corbonianus succeeded to his thrown, most unlike his father. He was an upright man to whom peace was always far dearer than war. His brother Archigallo was next made king. He quickly grew hostile towards his nobles and prepared death for those whose power was a source of fear, instead always placing the basest of men in positions of high honor. For which reason he was quickly deposed by nobles unable to bear such great cruelty. His brother Eliodorus, a just man, was substituted in this place, and he, thinking he would be blamed if he did not look out for his brother’s welfare, dealt marvelously with the nobles that Archigallo might be restored to the throne. And in the end the lords’ minds were softened by his entreaties and he achieved this, a rare example of piety if one reflects the lust for power that exists among men. And he was henceforth called The Pious for his piety towards this brother. And this Archigallo, having learned at his own expense that he could not retain the kingdom unless he changed his ways, lived some time free of all vice, and after regaining the kingdom reigned for ten years.
25. So sometimes calamity is so far from working harm that it renders one praiseworthy. Eliodorus the Pious became king a second time, and at London his younger brother Vigenius and Perydorus captured him by treachery and thrust him into prison in that place called the Tower, which still exists. The common folk falsely proclaim that this citadel, well defended and built with many towers (hence its name) was established by Julius Caesar, who makes no mention of London because he never came there. Vigenius and Perydorus immediately divided the kingdom, but when they were soon thereafter killed by a disease, Eliodorus (now quite thoroughly buffeted by fortune’s turns, which always mock mankind) was made king once more, a man assuredly most famous, for the less he sought the throne the more he was summoned to it for the sake of the virtue wherewith he was endowed. Afterwards followed a time of martial glory, not wholly devoid of the other virtues, when the kings were Reginus, Morgan, Enannus, Iduvallo, Rynio, Geruntius, Catellus, Coyllus, Porrex the Second, Cherinus, Fulgentius, Eldalus, Androgeus, Uranius, and Elius. This last was followed by Dunwallo Molmicius (for here is his position, if we want to preserve the sequence of events and have regard for chronology), whom I have shown to have been carelessly placed out of his due order. From the very beginning of his realm he strove to do that which he thought beneficial for the commonwealth, and so he brought back the military art (almost forgotten) to its former employment. He dispensed justice and new, salubrious laws which men afterwards called Mormican. He appointed the gods’ temples as places of refuge for all manner of fugitives. He was the first to wear a golden crown. With his wealth and favor helped men who studied the goodly arts, so that by his example the leading of the realm might do the same and youths would be more inspired to acquire the virtues. Likewise he appointed weights and measures for commodities, and most harshly punished thieves and every wicked kind of men. He constructed many roads, decreed their width, and established by law that their right of possession should belong only to the king, and appointed fearful penalties for those who violated this law and also for those who committed any misdeed. Further, so that the land would not lie empty, and lest the populace be oppressed by frequent famine or be reduced in number if only cattle should occupy fields which ought to be cultivated by men, he decreed how many plows every county should possess, appointed a penalty for those by whom the number was diminished, and forbade beasts of burden used for plowing to be confiscated by magistrates or assigned to creditors for a money debt, as long the debtor’s other goods remained. This was provided lest fields remain uncultivated for profit. And within our memory this law has been progressively ignored, not without great damage to the common people as a whole. And, that I might come back to my subject, at length Dunwallo left his kingdom in common to his sons Bellinus and Brennus. They immediately began to contend about the mastery and power, but when their friends had urged them to make peace, at length they were reconciled and divided the kingdom. The worse part of the kingdom came to Brennus, being the younger. Since he was filled with pride, having great trust in his prowess, he did not suffer with patience his brother to have the better portion of the kingdom, and thought this had been achieved by fraud. And so he decided to avenge the insult by resorting to arms. Therefore, collecting an army both of Britons and of men from over the sea, he waged war against his brother. Bellinus, no slower in taking up arms, confronted his brother, and now they were coming to blows when, behold, at their mother’s intervention both were suddenly compelled to break off the fight, since, overcome by their mother’s entreaties, they both abhorred such a foul battle. Then Brennus, with nothing at home to please him, settled his domestic affairs and, lest he grow idle in disgraceful sloth, he crossed over into Gaul with the intention of serving a mercenary among that warlike people. He was held in great honor among the Gallic Senones (as I find is more correct than the tradition that he lived among the Allobroges).
26. At that time the Gallic Senones, either desiring to relieve their nation of surplus population, or summoned by the Italians to wage war, crossed over into Italy in huge numbers, with Brennus their leader. Having overcome the Alps, they marched into Etruria and suddenly assaulted the town of Clusium, destroying the countryside far and wide. The Romans, although they had no alliance with the Clusians, nevertheless, since they perceived that, if they were conquered, some danger would be able to menace themselves, sent three ambassadors as soon as they could, the sons of Marcus Fabius Ambustus. They, acting on behalf of the Senate and people of Rome, treated with the Gauls lest they attack friends and allies of the Romans. To this Brennus replied that he did not disdain peace, if the Clusians, who owned more land than they could cultivate, yielded a portion of it to the needy Gauls. But the Romans, offended by such words, asked if the Gauls had any business in Etruria. Among these and other fierce exchanges, both sides growing angry, they resorted to arms. The legates, so they could show what virtue lay in Roman arms, drew their weapons, contrary to international law. Burning with just indignation against the Romans, all through the camp the Gauls roared that they should break off the siege and march against Rome. And yet Brennus preferred first to send ambassadors to Rome to demand that these lawbreakers be punished, which was done. But when afterwards it was reported that these three Fabii, the authors of the injury, were not only unpunished but also appointed tribunes for the following year, then everybody, yet more filled with wrath, seeing there was nothing to be expected from their wilful enemy other than war, insults and deceptions, turned all their military might against the Romans and marched toward Rome, leaving nothing unwasted. Such was the speed of these Gauls, who are said to have amounted to 40,000 armed men, that in their haste they encountered their enemy near the river Allia. This is a river that glides out of the Crustinine Hills, and not far below the highway mingles with the Tiber. There in a joined battle the Romans were quickly defeated. Brennus could scarcely believe that he had conquered so swiftly, and so he stood stock-still, as if paralyzed with fear. But when he saw that all was safe, he gathered up the weapons of the slaughtered and hastened Romeward by his chosen route. When the loss of the battle was first announced at Rome, there was great shouting and all the citizens were panic-stricken. And since amidst such great despair there was no hope of keeping the city, the senate and the young men of fighting age occupied the Capitoline and its citadel, having collected their grain and weaponry there, so that they might protect the name of Rome. But the old men of consular rank remained in the city, together with the helpless masses, as if they had decided to die together with their nation, should it fail.
27. Meanwhile the Gauls arrived at the city and, having entered through the Colline Gate, headed straight for the Forum, very surprised to see the plebeians’ doors shut tight and only those of patricians thrown open. And so, suspicious lest they be overwhelmed by some deceit, they proceeded more cautiously. Then they espied the ancient fathers sitting in their chairs, they beheld them as if they were statues of gods. Marcus Papirius used his staff to hit over the head a certain Gaul who was stroking his beard. So he, angered at the injury, stabbed the old man. Then, the massacre beginning with a single man, the other men who had once won triumphs were slaughtered sitting in their chairs. Next those in the city were killed indiscriminately, everywhere houses were looted, buildings were fired. And thus Rome was taken by the Gauls under the leadership of Brennus, in the 365th year after the foundation of the city. Next they stealthily assaulted the Capitoline by night, and nothing came closer than that they took it when, behold, betrayed by the sudden racket of geese they were sent a-tumbling down the hill. As a last remedy the Romans appointed Camillus (then an exile at Ardea) Dictator and, in the traditional manner begged him to come to the aid of themselves and of his ungrateful nation. Camillus, forgetting the injury he had received but mindful of his duty and lamenting his nation’s misfortune, prepared forces for war without delay. Meanwhile those on the Capitoline, all but starved to death, came to an agreement with Brennus that the Roman people would ransom itself for a thousand pounds of gold, and he would depart the Roman territory with his army. But by happenstance the Roman race was not covered with such a disgrace. For the Gauls, not content with the fair weight of the gold, added a sword to the scales. The Romans, for their part, refused to pay out the gold according to an unfair weight. And while time was wasted in his dispute before the gold was paid out, Camillus appeared. Then, the gold taken away at his bidding, he said that no treaty could be entered into by a lesser magistrate without the Dictator’s, and advised the Gauls to gird themselves for a final combat. Thus battle was joined and the Gauls (who had been expecting gold, not a battle), were overcome in a moment with virtually no effort. Then they left the city by the Via Gabinia and at the eighth milestone were slaughtered in a more savage fight, their camp was taken, and they were massacred to the point that (if we can credit Livy) not even a messenger was left to report such a great catastrophe. By Polybius says that the Gauls were called away from the siege of the city by a domestic war, and so struck a treaty with the Romans so that the city had its liberty restored and the Gauls went home. But, however the thing was accomplished, it is well enough agreed that Brennus, by far the stoutest captain in human history, for whose sake I am making this digression, nevermore returned to Britain, for he either died in the battle by the Via Gabinia or spent the rest of his life in Gaul. But where he died, his death must have been glorious after so many famous exploits. One hundred and ten years later there was a second Brennus, a Gaul by nationality, under whose leadership another part of the Gauls arrived in Greece. I thought it useful to recall this second Gallic captain Brennus at this point, lest the similarity of names mislead those ignorant of ancient history to imagine these were the same man, the one who captured, burned and plundered Rome, and the one who led a second band of Gauls (for they split in two and poured into Asia) first into Greece, and then into Macedonia. But let us return to Bellinus.
28. After making peace with his brother Brennus, nothing was more important to Bellinus than to decorate his kingdom with new works, and in Wales he founded a town now called Caerleon, famous for its buildings and pleasant situation (remains of it are visible today), and since later Roman legions often wintered there it is called The City of Legions. There is also a town called Legion in the other corner of the Welsh coast, to the south, so called because legions were often there too, and they call it Chester. It is watered by the river Dee, which disgorges into the ocean about six miles distant. Likewise he built a gate on the bank of the Thames, which men of later times men called Belinsgate, and even now it retains that name. He also added a little port as a haven for the small boats which bring upriver things needful for the city. In the end this man famous in peace in war, and in all his fortune not unlike his brother Brennus, lost his life and was placed on a pyre, the first of the British kings to be cremated. Then succeeded Gurguntius the Second, Bellinus’ son, then Merianus, Blandanus, Capenus, Ovinus, Silius, Bledgabredus, Archemalus, Eldolus, Rodianus, Redargius, Samulius, Penisellus, Pyrrhus, Caporus, Dinellus, Helius, and Lud. Nothing worth the writing is recorded of these kings save Lud, because out of sloth they cultivated none of the goodly arts. As soon as Lud was made king he immediately reformed the commonwealth. For he abolished some laws, put an end to no few abuses, and likewise eliminated certain other things of evil example. Then, turning to the beautification of London, he restored its tumbledown walls and strengthened it with frequent turrets. For which reason these are called Lundonian, Likewise he built a magnificent gate on the east side of the city, which is today called Ludsgate. We read nothing earlier about this city than what is said by Tacitus, who mentions London, and by his testimony it once was a humble town. For he writes, “London is not distinguished by the title of a colony, but it is very notable for its number of merchants and its trade.” It is for this reason, perhaps, that Caesar does not mention it. But in my lifetime it is the noblest of all maritime cities, the capital of the nation, the royal seat, and wealthy. The river Thames waters the south side of the city, over which (as I have said above) is a bridge leading over into Kent, built with nineteen arches, and magnificent for its long row of houses. I return to Lud. In death he left two surviving sons, Androgeus and Theomantius, and since they were boys his brother Cassivellaunus obtained the kingdom. And, lest his nephews might seem to have been thrust aside by him, he assigned to Androgeus the city of London and Kent, and Cornwall to Theomantius. These things are taken from the new history. From the beginning down to Cassivellaunus, these kings reigned a total of 1040 years, if we carefully follow the chronology of Eusebius. In that there are 1050 years from the death of Sylvius, the second king of the Latins, whom they assign to Brutus or Brito as a father, down to the time when Julius Caesar fought the Britons and conquered Cassivellaunus. And if you subtract ten years to allow Brito the time to arrive in Britain after his father’s death and gain possession over it, 1040 years can be rightly reckoned from his coming to the island down to this Cassivellaunus. But whether these were kings, or rather princes and tyrants over the commonwealth (as I would prefer to believe on the basis of the quotation from Gildas I have already given) is far from clear, since no ancient writer makes mention of them. Indeed, from Caesar we can gather that some cities governed themselves, as will be said in more detail below, and he does not even mention the names of the towns which the new history says these kings founded. Here the carelessness of writers is certainly manifest, who in disregard of history heedlessly claim that names subsequently given places by Angles, Dacians and Normans were invented by these ancient kings. Does anybody read of Canterbury, Bath, Carlisle, Leicester, and names of this kind in Caesar, Tacitus, Strabo, Ptolemy and Pliny? For if they had existed in those times, doubtless they would not have escaped the notice of these writers. So they expressly mention those that existed then, which subsequently fell into oblivion, so that now we are unsure who the Brigantes, the Trinobantes, the Iceni, and the Silures were, or what places they possessed.
29. These are the things that I have had to write so far about the origin of the Britons, their government, and the state of their affairs. But before I pursue the rest, I think it not irrelevant to provide some information about their physiques, and about the ancient manners and customs of that people, so that it will be clear what they were like prior to the Romans’ arrival in the island. For they altered everything (as victors are wont to do) and improved much, and by their means the Britons were made far more civilized, as will be said in the appropriate places below. Tacitus reports that the stature and faces of the Britons were various, since some resembled the Germans, some the Gauls, and yet others the Spanish, in accordance with their descent. They wore their long and for the most part without curls. Their faces were austere but not unattractive, and they smeared them with plantagenet, which produces a blue color. Some think this is the same which the Italians call guadum and the English woad, used to dye cloth. The wives and daughters-in-law of the Britons also smeared themselves with this plant, and, thus painted, participated in certain rites, according to Pliny XXII.i. Then too, their men shaved every part of their body except for the head and upper lip. Their forest-dwellers went clad in skins and lived on milk and meat, because they sowed little grain. Those who inhabited the coast were more wealthy and cultivated. But the former were not the same, since no foreign man nor merchant visited them, for it was forbidden by law for such men to gain familiarity with the interior. They were most skilled in the military art, and employed various manners of fighting. For this reason Caesar says his soldiers were frightened, because they were not prepared to deal with these. Their weapons were swords, spears, clubs, bows, helmets, and breastplates consisting of many layers of linen. For the most part their wealth consisted of cattle, of which they have a great number. They raised rabbits, chickens and geese for pleasure, since they considered it sinful to eat them. They employed brass coins or iron rings of fixed weights in lieu of money. Afterwards in the time of the Emperor Claudius they began to stamp gold and silver coinage with Caesar’s image, according to Gildas. Their buildings were similar to the Gauls’, and their dress almost identical. They used to learn Greek letters. They shared their religion and their Druidical priests with the Gauls, and by them were instructed in various sciences which, however, they did not commit to writing lest this become common knowledge, and so that students might more diligently commit them to memory. For Druids taught young men that souls do not perish, but after death migrate from one person to another, in order to inspire them to virtue, the fear of death cast aside. Likewise they taught about the stars and their movements, about the size of the universe and this earth, about nature and the power of the gods. Indeed, they say that these sciences were first discovered in Britain and that the Druids imported them to Gaul (so Caesar in Book VI of De Bello Gallico).
30. At that time, Caius Julius Caesar, having conquered nearly all Gaul, decided to invade Britain, which was still unknown to the Romans. His reason for so doing is that he understood that they had given much aid to his enemies in the Gallic wars. Although the time of year did not permit a war to be waged (for little of summer remained), he nevertheless thought it would be of great use simply to visit the island, have a look at its inhabitants, and learn about its places, ports and avenues of access. Therefore, although he assembled merchants from all quarters and diligently interrogated them, he could satisfy none of his curiosity. So to discover all the things which would be helpful for the war he planned, before he any risk he thought it would suffice to send ahead Caius Volusenus with a ship of war, with instructions to return immediately after all these things had been scouted. He himself, together with all his forces, marched to the land of the Morini on the Gallic coast, because the crossing from there to Britain is shortest. Here there once existed the port of Icius, which could accommodate many ships, but nowadays it is much narrower and no ship can enter except on a rising tide. This appears to have been done deliberately, so that either Calais or Boulogne (the question is debated, as I have noted above), being located there and held by a strong garrison, might be less exposed to harm from enemies. Here Caesar ordered ships to come from the nearby regions. And because in the previous year he had built a fleet for war against the Veneti (these were a people of Gaul, i. e. of continental Britanny, who dwell by the sea), it was commanded to come too. Meanwhile the Morini sent him ambassadors promising to do his bidding. He gladly received them to his allegiance, happy not to be leaving an enemy at this back. And meanwhile, as his plan became common knowledge and related to the Britons by merchants, all men of fighting age armed themselves and rushed together by the seaside to ward off their enemies. But Caesar says that ambassadors from a number of the island’s states came to him, and that, after he had exhorted them to remain steadfast in that policy, he sent them home. He does not mention Cassivellaunus except in this account of his second war. For he writes that by the common consent of the British people the supreme command of their army was given to him, but does not identify him as a king. On the other hand, in modern histories we read that Caesar had written a letter to King Cassivellaunus demanding tribute, and he replied to Caesar that he had not yet learned how to be a slave, but rather how to defend his nation with arms, if needs be, as Caesar would discover if, blind with avarice, he should dare disturb the British. At this point and elsewhere everything is reported variously. For this reason, as I have professed in the beginning, judge it right to give modern and ancient accounts, so that, the more labor I take on myself, the more pleasure readers will obtain, when in their reading they come across something worthy of credit, others that give pleasure, and yet others deserving of laughter. I return to my subject.
31. Meanwhile Caius Volusenus, returning on the fifth day after he had been sent by Caesar, made a report of the places he had explored. So then Caesar, delaying no more, chose out of the multitude of assembled ships a number sufficient for the transportation of two legions. Afterwards, obtaining satisfactory weather for the crossing, he set sail during the second watch of night. And using a wind that did not blow against him, about the fourth hour of the following day he reached Britain. Armed islanders were occupying the shore in great numbers watching for their enemies’ arrival, and when they saw this to be hanging over their heads, they immediately prepared themselves to resist. Caesar saw this and, although he had been riding at anchor until the cavalry arrived (for it was being brought over in transport ships), was obliged to change his plan lest he be obliged to fight a battle against his enemy on his first landing, even before his soldiers gained dry land. So he sailed onward about eight miles and grounded his ships on a flat beach. Nor were the Britons idle at that juncture. Rather, sending ahead their horsemen and charioteers to encounter Caesar, the rest of the multitude followed along to the place where the ships had landed. And so there was a lengthy battle fought there, the Romans disembarking while the islanders sought to prevent this, running right up to the ships. Since the standard-bearer had planted the eagle on the shore, the Romans left their ships out of a sense of shame rather than because it could be done in safety, and gradually they pushed back their enemy. For some time the struggle’s outcome hung in doubt, until more and more Romans disembarked and the Britons were driven off. And as soon as they had gained safety by their flight, they soon sent ambassadors to Caesar about peace. Caesar gave his pardon to those who asked for it, demanding hostages. Part of these were surrendered immediately, the rest were supposed to come quickly, when a storm blew up quickly and damaged all of Caesar’s fleet, particularly the transport ships riding at anchors, so that some were dashed together and others stripped of their rigging, so that they were of no further use. This setback greatly troubled Caesar’s men, for neither was wood handy for repairing the ships, nor had food for wintering been provided. The British leaders, seeing this difficulty, thought the Roman general with his small number of men would be endangered, and secretly conspired together. As a result of the destruction of the ships and the fact that the Britons had ceased to give hostages, Caesar suspected this was the case and did not fail to take timely measure by gathering provisions and ordering the ships to be repaired. Nor did the islanders hold their peace, suddenly attacking the Seventh Legion when it was out of camp on a foraging expedition. They would have inflicted a serious slaughter had Caesar not immediately come to to their aid after a dust-cloud had been seen from his camp. Therefore the legion was surrounded by the Britons and its troopers thrown into disarray by the inroads of the charioteers, and while it was being hard pressed on all sides it was in a single moment rescued by the arrival of its commander. In battle the Britons employed chariots, which in their first onslaught used to throw a hostile force into confusion and fear thanks to the noise of their horses and wheels. Afterwards, abandoning their chariots, they would fight on foot. Then ensued some foul weather which prevented the Romans from fighting for several days. Meanwhile the Britons increased their forces, joined together, and launched another attack on the Romans, whom they hoped to destroy with ease. Battle was joined over and over, and in the end the Britons, routed and thrown into flight, sent to Caesar considering peace, and he gave them a temporary one in exchange for twice the number of hostages Thus being a conqueror in war, he returned to Gaul a little before the impending winter, the equinox now approaching. These are ancient traditions, now I shall provide modern ones. They say that Caesar was routed by the Britons at the first combat and fled back to Gaul, and that Cassivellaunus, exulting over his victory, offered many ceremonial sacrifices to his ancestral gods. Back to our subject.
32. The next year Caesar, desiring to place Britain under Roman control and having his fleet and everything in great readiness, crossed over to Britain right after the beginning of summer, and having pitched camp in a suitable place, began to press the islanders with fighting. Cassivellaunus to whom at the Romans’ coming, as Caesar reports, the Britons had entrusted the management of the entire war (though he had previously been unpopular to the rest of the islanders), occupied the shore to meet the arriving enemy. But, thinking it more useful to draw then further from the sea before coming to grips, he pitched his camp nearby and kept his men under arms for that day. On the morrow the two sides came out to fight, and had almost joined battle when at that very moment Caesar was informed that his whole fleet had been terribly storm-tossed along the shore. For this reason he ordered the legions to hold their ground, recalled the cavalry to their standards, and returned to the ships. There he beached the surviving ships and collected a great crew of workmen to repair them, and wrote to Gaul that more should be sent him at the earliest possible moment. These arrangements made, he returned to the enemy. Meanwhile greater British forces had collected, and they were burning to fight a battle against the Romans. Not much later, as Caesar’s cavalry approached, they began to attack them in their journey. But they were gradually driven back and, secretly turning their army around, they launched an attack against the enemy camp. There was hard fighting at the rampart, and this battle was doubtful and exhausting for the Romans, as many men were killed therein, but the camp was defended. The following day the Britons quietly stationed themselves atop hills far from camp, and, observing the Romans coming out to inflict destruction, with a shout they attacked. In the end they were routed by the legionaries and the cavalry who were present to assist. Withdrawing after this flight, the Britons decided never again to join battle with the Romans with all their forces, and so, crossing the Thames, they stationed new forces on its bank and planted sharp stakes in its shallows to keep the enemies from crossing. Caesar, learning their plan from captives, marched to the river and halted at a place where the river could be crossed on foot, albeit with difficulty. This place, as Caesar says, was about eighty miles from the sea, so that on the basis of his estimate of the distance we can conjecture that this ford was a little beyond the village of Windsor, twenty miles east of London. And as soon as Caesar came there, although he saw a great number of men drawn up by Cassivellaunus on the opposing bank, where (as Caesar testifies) was located the territory he ruled, and although he was aware the bank was protected by sharpened stakes in the riverbed, nevertheless he ordered his men to cross. Boldly they entered the stream, although their heads were barely above the water, and emerged on the other side with such a rush that they immediately made the enemy take to their heels. As a result, the Romans ranged more freely through the fields. Cassivellaunus, who with a select band of fighters kept the enemy’s marches under observation, troubled them with frequent skirmishing. Meanwhile the Trinobantes sent ambassadors to Caesar promising they would surrender and do his bidding, if he would protect Mandubratius from harm at the hands of Cassivellaunus, and send him to them so he might rule over them. For his father Imantuentius had reigned in their state and been murdered by Cassivellaunus, and so this young man, avoiding death by flight, had placed his trust in Caesar and gone to him in Gaul. Caesar demanded hostages of them and sent them Mandubratius. They quickly complied with his commands, Afterwards the Cenimagni, Segontinaci, Ancalites, Bibroci and Cassi Trinobantes imitated them in placing themselves in Caesar’s protection. After these things, Caesar attacked Cassivellaunus’ town, was not far from the place I have mentioned, which was protected by woods and marshes, where a reasonably large number of men and cattle had collected. This was defended by a forest, ditch and wall, and was what the Britons called a town. Meanwhile Cassivellaunus sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kent, ruled by the four petty kings Cingetorix, Carnilus, Taximagulus and Segonax, and ordered them to launch an unexpected attack against Caesar’s naval camp. They dutifully complied but fought with no luck, being routed and slaughtered. Then Cassivellaunus, beset by so many reversals, finally gave hostages and entered into a treaty that Britain would be a tributary to the Roman people. So the victorious Caesar, loading a great number of captives on his ships, returned safely to Gaul about the time of the autumnal equinox.
33. This was the result of the war in which Caius Julius Caesar added Britain to the Roman empire, i. e., he brought its nearest part into subjection to the people of Rome. So there is no reason for anyone to suspect that Caesar had anything to do with the Britons of the north country, as he barely saw and conquered the first part. Since in after times the Roman emperors went to great exertions to reduce it to obedience when it refused to obey, Caesar himself can be seen, not to have given Britain to later generations, but only to have shown it. But Gildas, that very grave author, pretty well agrees with Caesar about this outcome of the British war, and from him I have taken a fairly large part of what I have written above. For he, accusing his own Britons of cowardice, writes of this thing thus: “For when the rulers of Rome had obtained the empire of the world, subdued all the neighboring nations and islands towards the east, and strengthened their renown by the first peace which they made with the Parthians, who border on India, there was a general cessation from war throughout the whole world; the fierce flame which they kindled could not be extinguished or checked by the Western Ocean, but passing beyond the sea, imposed submission upon our island without resistance, and entirely reduced to obedience its unwarlike but faithless people, not so much by fire, and sword and warlike engines, like other nations, but threats alone, and menaces of judgments frowning on their countenance, whilst terror penetrated to their hearts.” So much for Gildas. Britain was conquered by Caesar about 60 B. C. Cassivelaunus died about seven years after having been defeated, and was followed by his nephew Theomantus. His son Cymbelline succeeded him, and whom say performed military service under Augustus Caesar. I have nothing memorable to say of either, except that at that time the true Light illuminated this earth, since during the reign of Cymbelline the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ.
Go to Book II