History of England, Part I For the use of Middle Forms of Schools

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER I: Britain and the Britons.

1. The first people we know to have lived in our island were but a few families of wandering savages of the lowest type and intelligence, who picked up a wretched livelihood by the banks of our southern and eastern rivers, where their remains and the rude flint chips which served them for tools and weapons are sometimes found. In their day the climate was far colder than it is now; there were great glaciers stretching over the higher valleys, where the musk ox and the Arctic fox found their food. In the wild wooded plains and moors below lived herds of deer, the wild bull, the giant elk, the wild horse, and their enemies the cave-lion, the cave-bear, and the hyena, while the swamps and lowlands by the river mouths were haunted by many kinds of river-horse, rhinoceros, and elephant.

[1]  But when our history really begins, the climate had become warmer, the glaciers had melted away, and the little savages and the huge beasts they had hunted or fled from had alike died out. In their place was a new race of men, wiser, stronger, and more numerous, who had come from the south over the sea, and spread over the plains of and Erin. As yet we know little about these people, though it is certain that many of us now living in England are come of their blood.

They were short of stature, with long narrow heads, large jaws, and high cheekbones; their hair, worn long and unkempt or knotted above their heads, was dark. Their clothing was of roughly-dressed skins, but they painted their faces and bodies with red ochre and blue woad juice, and decked


themselves with beads of stone and shell and jet. Their tools and weapons, axes, knives, and darts, were made of stone, wood, or bone. They made rough clay vessels which would carry water but could not stand the fire. They kept dogs, and lived mostly by hunting (for they never tilled the ground, and for a long time had no cattle) or on the wild fruits and herbs of the forests, or the shellfish on the shore. They used to make a kind of pemmican of venison and wild berries which could be stored for some time. Some of them were cannibals, although there was still no lack of game, wild cattle, beavers, bears, and many birds and beasts besides those we now have.

Their dwellings were caves or earth-houses of one room, with a long low passage leading to it through which the family that lived therein could creep in or out. The long egg-shaped barrows so common in many parts of England are the graves of the chiefs of this people, and we find in them the ashes of the dead and ornaments and weapons put there for the use of their spirits, often, too, the remains of the funeral feast. If the great stone monuments such as the Avenues of Carnac and the Rings at Avebury be the work of this people, they must have had a religion strong enough to bring them together in great numbers to set up such huge works. The Irish stories always talk of them as wizards using charms and poisoned weapons and enchantments. Among the few relics of their language are the names and Iverio (Erin), which they gave to England and Ireland.

2. About the KELTS, an Aryan people coming from the East, who had already conquered great part of Iberia (Spain) and Liguria (France) from the brethren of the people of , sent colonies into our islands, and won them too, driving their enemies into the wild western corners of the land, where many of them were still living when and Tacitus wrote. Of these KELTS, whose speech is still spoken by more than two millions of us (Welsh, Irish, and Scots), much more may be told. The Greeks and Romans speak of them as tall and well made, round headed, light haired, and blue eyed, dressed in shirts and hose of linen, and wrapped in cloaks or gowns of light striped plaid-cloth (whence the name Briton or clothed borne by the Kelts who conquered ), and adorned with gold and silver neck and arm rings. Their weapons and tools were bronze ; they were clever at metal-work, basket-making, and pottery; worked mines for lead and tin, which they sold to Phoenician merchants, and even struck gold money copied from the Greek


pieces they got in trade. They kept large herds of cattle and pigs, bred horses for driving, and had fine mastiffs and wolf-hounds for hunting; but they also tilled the ground, ploughing with oxen, and grew grain. They used canoes made of wood and coracles of wicker and leather on the rivers and lakes, but they never loved the sea.

The BRITONS were divided into many tribes, each with its own king (though sometimes two or three tribes would obey one head-king), the power in each tribe lying in the hands of the gentry and priests, the mass of the people being the clients of the gentry, who lent them the cattle upon which their livelihood rested, and got from them rent and service in return. The gentry's chief business was war, and they were brave soldiers. notices their skill in managing their war-chariots, turning and wheeling them quickly and leaping in or out at a given signal, or running along the shafts to hurl their spears, while the swift little horses were going full speed over broken ground.

Their arms were broadswords, dirks, spears, and axes; the northern tribes used long swords and a short dart with a rattling ball at the butt-end, which they clashed in the charge. The chiefs wore helmets, and nearly every man had a shield of skin and wicker and a horn which he blew up for the battle; so that with the roaring of the horns, the clashing of the arms, the creaking of the chariots, and the war-cries of the warriors the onslaught of a Keltic tribe was very terrible even to trained soldiers.

Of the learned class, who enjoyed high honours, had a share of all spoil, and were sacred even in battle, were the Druids, prophets and priests, who worshipped in hallowed groves, slaying men and beasts on their altars for omens, or burning them in huge wicker images as offerings to their gods. There were also the , who kept the records and traditions and pedigrees of the tribes, and acted as ambassadors and heralds, besides singing for the amusement of the chiefs and people at banquets and merry-makings. There were judges too, who knew the old laws and customs and

" spoke them"

to the people. These men took great trouble in training themselves and learning the verses which enshrined all the wisdom of their forefathers; but they had no books, though tells us they used the Greek alphabet for writing short messages and the like.

All the Kelts believed in the deathlessness and transmigration of the soul, and trusted in many gods, such as Brigantia and her two sisters, goddesses of poetry, healing, and metal-work; Manannan, the son of the sea; Ana, mother of


the gods; Ogmios, god of eloquence; Neit, lord of battle, and Nemon, his wife (gods of the people of ); Maponos, the young hunter-god; Camulos, the god of the under-world, father of all men; the three Great Queens that warn the warrior of his fate appearing in the form of birds, and many others of lesser power that haunted woods and springs and lakes and rocks. The dead were buried in a splendid and costly way with great lamentation and feasting, the ashes of the chiefs being put into urns and set in stone-slabbed chambers under large round barrows.

The Britons did not live in towns, but in scattered villages of neat wattled cots thatched with straw or bracken; the chiefs' houses were of like kind but larger, and fenced about with a palisaded earthen wall. Each tribe had a dun (stronghold) stockaded, walled, and entrenched, within which people and cattle could take shelter in war-time. London, Sinodun, and Dumbarton were fortresses of this kind. Between these duns ran rough roads along the downs and hill-tops, and at convenient places where these roads crossed, or on open plains or hill-sides beside the graves of great chiefs, fairs were held at certain seasons of the year, where trade between different tribes was carried on, and no doubt, as in Ireland later, much merry-making (games, horse-racing, singing of poetry, and so on) took place.

In character the Britons were, in the main, like their descendants, brave to recklessness, open-handed, polite, fond of show and talk and novelty, dearly loving their country, and faithful to their family; but too quarrelsome, fickle, and restless under control to make steady progress, to combine long in any undertaking, or to withstand a persevering foe.


[1] People of Albion and Erin.

  • In-text illustrations for this text are cataloged in MS004/002.001#DO01.
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