A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
The Anglo-Saxons: kings and men

HEIRS OF ROME

AT the dawn of the Christian era the Roman legions had subdued the larger part of Europe. Roman rule meant almost universal law, order and peace. Throughout all the Empire there was the Roman culture, the Roman institutions, the Latin language.

Upon the outer edges of the Empire stood the British Isles. Julius Caesar had first attacked the Celts of Britain in 55 B.C. After nearly a hundred years the Emperor Claudius slowly drove the Britons back and established Roman authority over the area we now call England. The Roman Empire brought law and order, town life, roads.

But neither Claudius nor his successors ever subdued Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Devon, or Wales beyond the Grampians. Long before the final collapse of Rome the unconquered Celts attacked Roman Britain from Scotland, from the barrier backlands of Wales and Cornwall, from untamed Ireland. From Europe came marauding forces of Angles, Jutes and Saxons to pillage and destroy.

Early in the fifth century the Burgundians, Franks, Goths and Vandals plunged southwards towards Rome, the heart of an enfeebled Empire. In 410 Rome was sacked. From the sprawling Roman provinces the legions had slowly departed. The Roman Empire in the West was at an end. The writ of Caesar ran no more.

After the power of the Empire crumbled, the Picts and Scots and the Angles, Jutes and Saxons increased the pace and strength of their attacks upon Britain. Then, about 450, the European tribesmen began to migrate from their homelands. They travelled to the west and invaded the island areas the Romans could no longer defend.

These events covered a long period of time. At last, in a tangled

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