The Ecclesiastical History of the English People - Bede - ebook
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The Ecclesiastical History of the English People considered to be one of the most important original references on Anglo-Saxon history as it played a key role in the development of an English national identity. It is believed to have been completed in 731 when Bede was approximately 59 years old. Divided into five sections, the book covers the history of England, ecclesiastical and political, from the time of Julius Caesar to the date of its completion.

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Bede

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Christian Classics

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This Edition first published in 2016

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ISBN: 9781911535416

Contents

PREFACE

INTRODUCTION

BOOK 1

BOOK 2

BOOK 3

BOOK 4

BOOK 5

PREFACE

The English version of the “Ecclesiastical History” in the following pages is a revision of the translation of Dr. Giles, which is itself a revision of the earlier rendering of Stevens. In the present edition very considerable alterations have been made, but the work of Dr. Giles remains the basis of the translation. The Latin text used throughout is Mr. Plummer’s. Since the edition of Dr. Giles appeared in 1842, so much fresh work on the subject has been done, and recent research has brought so many new facts to light, that it has been found necessary to rewrite the notes almost entirely, and to add a new introduction. After the appearance of Mr. Plummer’s edition of the Historical Works of Bede, it might seem superfluous, for the present at least, to write any notes at all on the “Ecclesiastical History.” The present volume, however, is intended to fulfil a different and much humbler function. There has been no attempt at any original work, and no new theories are advanced. The object of the book is merely to present in a short and convenient form the substance of the views held by trustworthy authorities, and it is hoped that it may be found useful by those students who have either no time or no inclination to deal with more important works.

Among the books of which most use has been made, are Mr. Plummer’s edition of the Ecclesiastical History, Messrs’ Mayor and Lumby’s edition of Books III and IV, Dr. Bright’s “Early English Church History,” and Dr. Hunt’s “History of the English Church from its foundation to the Norman Conquest.” Many of the articles in the “Dictionary of Christian Biography “ and the “Dictionary of Christian Antiquities,” Dr. Mason’s “Mission of St. Augustine,” Dr. Rhys’s “Celtic Britain,” and a number of other books, mentioned in the notes, have been consulted.

For help received in different ways I wish to express my gratitude to various correspondents and friends. I am particularly indebted to Mr. Edward Bell, who has kindly revised my proofs and made many valuable suggestions. For information on certain points I have to thank the Rev. Charles Plummer, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Professor Lindsay of St. Andrews University, Miss Wordsworth, Principal, and Miss Lodge, Vice-Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford; and in a very special sense I wish to acknowledge my obligations to Miss Paterson, Assistant Librarian at the University Library, St. Andrews, whose unfailing kindness in verifying references, and supplying me with books, has greatly lightened my labours.

INTRODUCTION

There are, it has been estimated, in England and on the Continent, in all about 140 manuscripts of the “Ecclesiastical History.” Of these, four date from the eighth century: the Moore MS. (Cambridge), so called, because, after being sold by auction in the reign of William III, it came into the possession of Bishop Moore, who bequeathed it to the University of Cambridge; Cotton, Tiberius A, xiv; Cotton, Tiberius C, ii; and the Namur MS. A detailed account of these, as well as of a great number of other manuscripts, will be found in Mr. Plummer’s Introduction to his edition of Bede’s Historical Works. He has been the first to collate the four oldest MSS., besides examining numerous others and collating them in certain passages. He has pointed out that two of the MSS. dating from the eighth century (the century in which Bede died), the Moore MS. and Cotton, Tiberius A, xiv, point to a common original which cannot be far removed from Bede’s autograph. We are thus brought very near to our author, and may have more than in most cases the assurance that we have before us what he actually meant to say.

The earliest editions were printed on the Continent; the “editio princeps” is believed to date from 1475. A number of editions followed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the first in England was published by Abraham Whelock at Cambridge in 1643-4. Smith’s edition in 1722 marked a new era in the history of the book. It was the first critical edition, the text being based on the Moore MS. collated with three others, of which two were eighth century MSS.; and succeeding editors, Stevenson (1841), Giles (1842), Hussey (1846), the editor in the “Monumenta Historica Britannica” (1848), Moberly (1869), Holder (1882), base their work mainly on Smith’s. Mr. Mayor and Mr. Lumby together edited Books III and IV with excellent notes in 1878. Their text “reproduces exactly the Moore MS.” which they collated with some other Cambridge MSS. (cf. Mayor and Lumby, Excursus II). In 1896 the Rev. C. Plummer published his edition of Bede’s Historical Works, the first critical edition since Smith’s, and “the very first which exhibits in an apparatus criticus the various readings of the MSS. on which the text is based.” For the student of Bede this admirable book is of the highest value, and the labours of all succeeding editors are made comparatively light. Besides the most minute and accurate work on the text, it contains a copious and interesting commentary and the fullest references to the various sources upon which the editor has drawn.

The first translation of the “Ecclesiastical History” is the Anglo-Saxon version, executed either by Alfred himself or under his immediate supervision. Of this version Dr. Hodgkin says: “As this book had become a kind of classic among churchmen, Alfred allowed himself here less liberty than in some of his other translations. Some letters, epitaphs, and similar documents are omitted, and there is an almost complete erasure of the chapters relating to the wearisome Paschal controversy. In other respects the king’s translation seems to be a fairly accurate reproduction of the original work.” Mr. Plummer, however, finds it “very rarely available for the settlement of minute differences of reading.”

The first modern English translation is Thomas Stapleton’s (1565), published at Antwerp. It is a controversial work, intended to point out to Queen Elizabeth “in how many and weighty pointes the pretended refourmers of the Church . . . have departed from the patern of that sounde and Catholike faith planted first among Englishmen by holy S. Augustine, our Apostle, and his vertuous company, described truly and sincerely by Venerable Bede, so called in all Christendom for his passing vertues and rare lerning, the Author of this History.” To save Elizabeth’s time “in espying out the particulars,” the translator has “gathered out of the whole History a number of diversities between the pretended religion of Protestants and the primitive faith of the English Church.” If charm and appropriateness of style were the only qualities to be aimed at in a translation, we might well content ourselves with this rendering, which fills with despair the translator of to-day, debarred by his date from writing Elizabethan English.

The work was again translated by John Stevens (1723), and a third time (with some omissions) by W. Hurst in 1814. In 1840 Dr. Giles published a new edition of Stevens’s translation with certain alterations; and a second edition of the same volume was published in 1842, and incorporated in the collected works of Bede, edited by Dr. Giles. In 1870 a literal translation by the Rev. L. Gidley was published. The present volume is a revision of the translation of Dr. Giles.

A brief analysis of the work may be of some use to the student in keeping distinct the different threads of the narrative, as owing to the variety of subjects introduced, and the want of strict chronological order, it is difficult to grasp the sequence of events as a coherent whole.

The sources from which Bede draws his material are briefly indicated in the dedication to King Ceolwulf which forms the Preface, and in it he acknowledges his obligations to the friends and correspondents who have helped and encouraged him. For the greater part of Book I (cc. 1-22), which forms the introduction to his real subject, he depends on earlier authors. Here he does not specify his sources, but indicates them generally as priorum scripta. These authors are mainly Pliny, Solinus, Orosius, Eutropius, and the British historian Gildas. In the story of Germanus and Lupus he follows closely the Life of Germanus by Constantius of Lyons. Prosper of Aquitaine also supplies him with some materials. When he comes to his main subject, the History of the English Church, he appears to rely but little upon books. Only a very few are referred to here and there, e.g., The Life of St. Fursa, The Life of St. Ethelburg, Adamnan’s work on the Holy Places, and the Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert. That some form of annalistic records existed before his time, and that these were consulted by him, we may infer from some of his chronological references (cf. iii, I, 9). Local information with regard to provinces other than Northumbria he obtains from his correspondents in various parts of England, and these are expressly mentioned in the Preface.

For the history of the Roman mission and of Kent generally, as well as some particulars with regard to the conversion of other provinces, his chief source is the Church of Canterbury, which apparently possessed, besides oral tradition, written documents relating to the first beginnings of the Church. Moreover, Nothelm, who was the bearer of much important material, had been to Rome and had permission to search the papal archives. But it is in dealing with the history of Northumbria, as is natural, that Bede’s information is most varied and copious. Much of it is apparently obtained directly from eye-witnesses of the events, much would doubtless be preserved in the records of the Church of Lindisfarne, to which he had access, perhaps also in his own monastery. We know that the monasteries kept calendars in which the death-days of saints and others were entered, and other records of similar nature (cf. iv, 14), and that these were used as materials for history.

Passing to the history itself, we may trace a division of subjects or periods roughly analogous to the division into books. Book I contains the long introduction, the sending of the Roman mission, and the foundation of the Church; Books II and III, the period of missionary activity and the establishment of Christianity throughout the land. Book IV may be said to describe the period of organization. In Book V the English Church itself becomes a missionary centre, planting the faith in Germany, and. drawing the Celtic Churches into conformity with Rome.

BOOK I.— In Book I, cc. 1-22, Bede sketches the early history of Britain, describing the country and giving some account of the various races by whom it was inhabited. The story of the Roman occupation is narrated at some length, the invasions of the Picts and Scots and consequent miseries of the Britons, their appeals for help to the Romans, the final departure of their protectors, and the coming of the ,Saxons are described. We have some shadowy outlines of British Church History in the legendary account of the conversion of King Lucius, in the story of St. Alban, affording evidence of a great persecution of Christians during the Roman occupation, in the allusions to the Arian and Pelagian heresies, and in the mission of Germanus and Lupus. A brief allusion to the mission of Palladius is all that we hear of the Irish Church at this period.

These chapters are introductory to the main subject, the History of the English Church, which begins in Chapter 23 with the mission of St. Augustine in 597 AD. The reception of the Christian faith in the kingdom of Kent and the foundation of a national Church occupy the remaining chapters of the book. Various letters of Pope Gregory relating to the mission and his answers to the questions of Augustine are given at length ;and the Book concludes with a piece of Northumbrian history, Ethelfrid’s conquests of the Britons and the defeat of Aedan, king of the Dalriadic Scots, at Degsastan in 603 A.D.

BOOK II.— Book II opens with a biographical sketch of Gregory the Great, the founder of the Mission. This is followed by an account of Augustine’s negotiations with the leaders of the British Church with regard to the Paschal question and some other matters, his failure to win them over (a failure apparently largely due to his own want of tact in dealing with the susceptible Celtic temperament), his alleged prophecy of disaster and its fulfilment some time after at the battle of Chester. Then we have the consecration of Mellitus to London, as Bishop of the East Saxons, and Justus to Rochester (604 A.D.); the evangelization of the East Saxons by Mellitus; the death of Augustine and succession of Laurentius as Archbishop (no date is given; it may have been in 605); fresh attempts at union with the Celtic Churches, in which again we can perceive a failure of courtesy on the one side met by an obstinate pride on the other. The death of Ethelbert in Kent (616 A.D.) and that of Sabert in Essex, soon after, lead to a pagan reaction in both provinces; Mellitus apd Justus take refuge on the Continent; Laurentius, intending to follow them, is stopped by a vision which leads to the conversion of King Eadbald and the recovery of Kent for Christianity. Essex, however, continues to be pagan. On the death of Laurentius (619 A.D.), Mellitus succeeds to Canterbury and is himself succeeded by Justus (in 624). In Chapter 9 we enter upon a new development of the highest importance in the work of the mission. The marriage of Edwin, king of Northumbria, and the Kentish princess, Ethelberg, brings about the conversion of Northumbria through the preaching of Paulinus. The story is told in detail. Letters from Pope Boniface to Edwin and his consort are quoted at length, Edwin’s early history with its bearing on the great crisis of his life is related; finally we have the decisive debate in the Witenagemot at Goodmanham and the baptism of the king at Easter, 627 A.D. Through the influence of Edwin on Earpwald, king of East Anglia, that province is next converted, but on the death of Earpwald the people lapse into paganism for three years, till Christianity is finally established by the labours of Bishop Felix, under the enlightened King Sigbert, who had himself been drawn to the faith in Gaul.

Meanwhile, peace and prosperity reign in Northumbria, and Paulinus extends his preaching to Lindsey. He receives the pall from Pope Honorius, in accordance with the original intention of Gregory that the Bishop of York should rank as a metropolitan. At Canterbury, Justus is succeeded by Archbishop Honorius. Parenthetically we have extracts from letters, probably of the year 640 A.D., addressed by the Roman see to the Irish clergy on the Paschal question and the Pelagian heresy.

In Chapter 20 we have a dramatic climax to the book in the overthrow and death of Edwin at the battle of Hatfield in 633 A.D.; the devastation of Northumbria by the British king, Caedwalla, and Penda of Mercia; and the flight of Paulinus, taking with him Ethelberg and Eanfled to Kent, where he ends his life in charge of the Church of Rochester. His work in Northumbria seems for the time, at least, wholly overthrown. Only James the Deacon remains heroically at his post to keep alive the smouldering embers of the faith.

BOOK III.—Book III opens with the story of the apostasy of the Northumbrian kings and the miseries of the “Hateful Year,” terminated by the victory of Oswald at Heavenfield in 634 A.D. Christianity is brought again to Northumbria (635 A.D.) by the Celtic Mission, sent from lona at the request of Oswald, who nobly cooperates with Aidan in the work of evangelization. Aidan fixes his see at Lindisfarne. The mention of lona leads to a short account of the mission of St. Columba to the Northern Picts in 565 A.D., and incidentally of St. Ninian’s mission to the Southern Picts “long before the grant of Iona to St. Columba, and its constitution, the character of its monks and their error with regard to Easter. The characters of Aidan and Oswald are described; and the union of Deira and Bernicia under Oswald is briefly mentioned.

In Chapter 7 we pass to a fresh missionary enterprise. Birinus, sent to Britain by Pope Honorius, converts the West Saxons. Their king, Cynegils, is baptized, and a see is established at Dorchester, in Oxfordshire. Under Coinwalch, the successor of Cynegils, the province passes through various vicissitudes, political and ecclesiastical, and finally the West Saxon see is fixed at Winchester.

In Kent, Earconbert succeeds Eadbald in 640 A.D., and takes vigorous measures for the suppression of idolatry. His daughter, Earcongota, and many other high-born English ladies enter the religious life in Gaul, for convents are still scarce in England.

In Chapter 9, reverting to the history of Northumbria, Bede tells us of the death of Oswald at Maserfelth in 642, and relates at length various miracles wrought by his relics. Oswald is succeeded by Oswy in Bernicia and in Deira by Oswin. The latter is treacherously murdered by Oswy; his character is described. The death of Aidan (in 651) immediately follows that of his beloved king; Aidan’s miracles are related, and a warm tribute is paid to his character, in spite of the inevitable error with regard to Easter, which is severely condemned.

In Chapter 18, passing again to East Anglian history, we hear of King Sigbert’s services to education, and of his retirement to a monastery from which he was forcibly drawn to fall in battle against the Mercians. (The chronology is here very vague.) A vision of the Irish St. Fursa, who founded the monastery of Cnobheresburg in East Anglia is told in detail. Changes in the episcopate in East Anglia and elsewhere are mentioned. Deusdedit succeeds Honorius as Archbishop of Canterbury in 654.

Again, a Northumbrian prince gives a fresh impulse to the spread of Christianity. In 653 the Middle Angles (who occupied a part of Mercia) are converted, their prince, Peada, being persuaded chiefly by his brother-in-law, Alchfrid, a son of Oswy. Four priests are sent to them to preach and baptize, Cedd, Adda, Betti, and Diuma, and Diuma becomes bishop of the Middle Angles and Mercians. Similarly, at this time, King Sigbert of Essex listens to the exhortations of his friend, King Oswy, and, at the preaching of Cedd, the East Saxons receive the faith a second time. Cedd becomes their bishop. Sigbert’s tragic death is related. His successor, Suidhelm, receives baptism at the hands of Cedd. The foundation of Lastingham by Ethelwald of Deira and its consecration by Cedd are described. Cedd dies of the plague of 664.

Meanwhile, important political changes have taken place in the north: the defeat and death of Penda at the Winwaed in 655 are followed by Oswy’s rule, which established Christianity in Mercia, in spite of a successful rebellion after three years, when the Mercians threw off the yoke of Northumbria and set up Penda’s son, Wuifhere, as their king.

In Chapter 25 we come to the Synod of Whitby (664 A.D.), which settled the Easter question for the English Church. Wilfrid comes to the front as a champion of the Catholic rules. The opposing party either retire or conform. The self-denial and devotion of the Celtic missionaries are highly praised, and some account of the life led by English students in Ireland follows, with the story of the self-dedication of Egbert, who is destined to play a prominent part afterwards in the history of the Church.

The consecration of both Wilfrid and Ceadda (664 A.D.), as bishops of Northumbria leads to complications in the episcopate. An important step towards the unity of the English nation in ecclesiastical matters is taken when Wighard is sent to Rome by the kings Oswy and Egbert, acting in concert, to be consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury (667 A.D.). Wighard dies there, and Pope Vitalian undertakes to find an archbishop for the English Church.

The book ends with a fresh apostasy in Essex during the miseries of the great plague of 664. Mercia, so lately itself evangelized, becomes a new missionary centre, King Wulfhere sending Bishop Jaruman to recall the East Saxons to the faith.

BOOK IV.—In all but one of the kingdoms of England Christianity is now, at least in name, established, and the Church settles down to the work of organization. The man for this task is found in Theodore of Tarsus, consecrated Archbishop of the English in 668. He arrives at Canterbury in 669. We hear at once of the vigorous impulse given by him and Abbot Hadrian to the various departments of education there. Finding an irregularity in Ceadda’s orders, he completes his ordination and makes him Bishop of the Mercians (probably in 669), with his see at Lichfield. Ceadda’s death (672 A.D.), his character, and the miracles and visions connected with him are described. Parenthetically we get an account of Colman’s activity in Ireland after his retirement, in consequence of the decision at Whitby. The most important political events at this time are the death of Oswy and succession of Egfrid in Northumbria in 670 or 671, and the death of Egbert and succession. of Hlothere in Kent in 673.

In the same year the Council of Hertford, the first English provincial council, is held, and marks the strength and independence of the Church. Theodore proceeds with his reforms in the episcopate. Various events of ecclesiastical importance follow; the East Anglian diocese is divided about this time, and other changes are effected.

Essex, so long prone to lapses into paganism, becomes at this time a centre of religious life under its Bishop Earconwald and its king Sebbi. Earconwald, whose holiness is attested by many miraculous circumstances, was the founder of the monasteries of Chertsey and Barking, the latter of which was ruled by his sister, the saintly Ethelburg. Various miracles are related in connection with her and her monastery. The king of the East Saxons, Sebbi, is a man of unusual piety who resigns his kingdom and receives the tonsure.

After a brief allusion to West Saxon history, the devastation of Kent by Ethelred of Mercia in 676, and certain changes in the episcopate, we come to an important step in the organization of the Church taken by Theodore. In pursuance of his policy of increasing the number of bishops, he subdivides the great Northumbrian diocese. Wilfrid is expelled (678 AD.). From these events we pass summarily to the evangelization of the South Saxons by Wilfrid, who extends his labours to the Isle of Wight, and thus the last of the English provinces is won for the faith.

In the Council of Hatfield (68o A.D.) the English Church asserts its orthodoxy and unites with the continental Churches in repudiating the heresy of the Monothelites. Turning to Northumbrian history, we have the story of Egfrid’s queen, Ethelthryth, and a hymn composed in her honour by Bede. The war between Mercia and Northumbria in 679 is ended by the mediation of Theodore, and a miracle in connection with the battle of the Trent is related.

The remainder of the book is occupied mainly with Northumbrian history, the life and death of Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, the story of the poet Caedmon, the destruction of Coldingham, prophesied by the monk Adamnan, Egfrid’s invasion of Ireland (684 A.D.) and of the country of the Picts (685 A.D.), his defeat and death in that year, the decline of Northumbria, the flight of Bishop Trumwine from Abercorn, and the succession of Aldfrid to the kingdom. The death of Hlothere of Kent (685 A.D.) is followed by anarchy in that province, till Wictred succeeds and restores peace.

In Chapters 27-32 we have an account of the life of St. Cuthbert and stories of the miracles wrought by his relics.

Book V.—Book V opens with the story of the holy Ethelwald, who succeeded Cuthbert as anchorite at Fame, and a miracle wrought through his intercession. This is followed (cc. 2-6) by an account of John of Beverley, Bishop of Hexham, and the miracles attributed to him. In Chapter 7 we have a piece of West Saxon history: Caedwalla, King of Wessex, after a life of war and bloodshed, goes to Rome to receive baptism there, and dies immediately after his admission into the Church (689 A.D.). He is succeeded by Ini, who in 725 likewise ended his days at Rome.

In 690 Theodore dies, after an episcopate of twenty-two years. Bertwald succeeds him at Canterbury in 693.

At this time Englishmen begin to extend their missionary enterprise abroad. Various missions are undertaken by men who have lived long in Ireland and caught the Celtic zeal for the work of evangelization. The story is told of the attempted mission of Egbert to Germany and the unsuccessful venture of Witbert. Wilbrord (in 690) and others plant the faith among the German tribes.

The vision of Drytheim is inserted here, probably on chronological grounds (“his temporibus”), and other visions of the future world follow.

Apparently about the same time a change is effected in the attitude of the greater part of the Celtic Church towards the Paschal question. The Northern Irish are converted to the Roman usages by Adamnan, Abbot of lona, whose book on the “Holy Places” is here described.

The death of Aldfrid and succession of Osred in Northumbria in 705 are the next events narrated.

About this time the division of the West Saxon diocese is carried out, Aldhelm being appointed to Sherborne and Daniel to Winchester; the South Saxons receive a bishop of their own for the first time. In 709 A.D. Coenred of Mercia and Offa of Essex receive the tonsure at Rome, and in the same year Bishop Wilfrid dies. The story of his life is told.

Not long after, Hadrian dies and is succeeded by Albinus as Abbot of St. Augustine’s. Bede’s friend, Acca, succeeds Wilfrid as Bishop of Hexham. His services to the Church are enumerated.

An important step is taken at this time by the Northern Picts in the acceptance of the Roman rules with regard to Easter and the tonsure. The letter of Abbot Ceolfrid of Wearmouth and Jarrow to the Pictish king Naiton on this subject is quoted at length. Soon after, lona yields to the preaching of Egbert, and receives the Catholic usages. Egbert dies in 729. In Chapter 23 a number of events are briefly mentioned; the death of Wictred of Kent in 725, and the succession of his sons, the death of the learned Tobias, Bishop of Rochester, in 726, the appearance of two comets in 729, followed by the devastation of Gaul by the Saracens, the death of the Northumbrian king Osric, and succession of Ceolwulf in 729; finally, the death of Archbishop Bertwald in 731 and the succession of Tatwine. Then follows an account of the state of the English episcopate in 731, the year in which Bede finished the History. The relations of the English with Picts, Scots, and Britons are described, and some allusion is made to the growth of monasticism in this time of external peace.

The book closes in Chapter 24 with a chronological summary of the whole work, an autobiographical sketch of the author, and a list of his works.

BOOK 1

Britain, an island in the Atlantic, formerly called Albion, lies to the north-west, facing, though at a considerable distance, the coasts of Germany, France, and Spain, which form the greatest part of Europe. It extends 800 miles in length towards the north, and is 200 miles in breadth, except where several promontories extend further in breadth, by which its compass is made to be 4,875 miles. To the south lies Belgic Gaul. To its nearest shore there is an easy passage from the city of Rutubi Portus, by the English now corrupted into Reptacaestir. The distance from here across the sea to Gessoriacum, the nearest shore in the territory of the Morini, is fifty miles, or as some writers say, 450 furlongs. On the other side of the island, where it opens upon the boundless ocean, it has the islands called Orcades. Britain is rich in grain and trees, and is well adapted for feeding cattle and beasts of burden. It also produces vines in some places, and has plenty of land and water fowl of divers sorts; it is remarkable also for rivers abounding in fish, and plentiful springs. It has the greatest plenty of salmon and eels; seals are also frequently taken, and dolphins, as also whales; besides many sorts of shell-fish, such as mussels, in which are often found excellent pearls of all colours, red, purple, violet and green, but chiefly white. There is also a great abundance of snails, of which the scarlet dye is made, a most beautiful red, which never fades with the heat of the sun or exposure to rain, but the older it is, the more beautiful it becomes. It has both salt and hot springs, and from them flow rivers which furnish hot baths proper for all ages and both sexes, in separate places, according to their requirements. For water, as St. Basil says, receives the quality of heat, when it runs along certain metals, and becomes not only hot but scalding. Britain is rich also in veins of metals, as copper, iron, lead, and silver; it produces a great deal of excellent jet, which is black and sparkling, and burns when put to the fire, and when set on fire, drives away serpents; being warmed with rubbing, it attracts whatever is applied to it, like amber. The island was formerly distinguished by twenty-eight famous cities, besides innumerable forts, which were all strongly secured with walls, towers, gates, and bars. And, because it lies almost under the North Pole, the nights are light in summer, so that at midnight the beholders are often in doubt whether the evening twilight still continues, or that of the morning has come; since the sun at night returns to the east in the northern regions without passing far beneath the earth. For this reason the days are of a great length in summer, and on the other hand, the nights in winter are eighteen hours long, for the sun then withdraws into southern parts. In like manner the nights are very short in summer, and the days in winter, that is, only six equinoctial hours. Whereas, in Armenia, Macedonia, Italy, and other countries of the same latitude, the longest day or night extends but to fifteen hours, and the shortest to nine.

There are in the island at present, following the number of the books in which the Divine Law was written, five languages of different nations employed in the study and confession of the one self-same knowledge, which is of highest truth and true sublimity, to wit, English, British, Scottish, Pictish, and Latin, the last having become common to all by the study of the Scriptures. But at first this island had no other inhabitants but the Britons, from whom it derived its name, and who, coming over into Britain, as is reported, from Armorica, [Editor’s note: In Caesar’s time, the whole district lying along the northwestern coast of Gaul, afterwards narrowed down to the modern Brittany. That the Britons (or Brythons)came from Gaul is doubtless a fact. Another branch of the Celtic race, the Goidels or Gaels, appears to have been in possession in Britain before them. They possessed themselves of the southern parts thereof. Starting from the south, they had occupied the greater part of the island, when it happened, that the nation of the Picts, putting to sea from Scythia, as is reported, in a few ships of war, and being driven by the winds beyond the bounds of Britain, came to Ireland and landed on its northern shores. [Editors note: By Scythia Bede means Scandinavia. He only mentions this account as a tradition. The problem of the Picts has not been solved yet. According to one view, they belonged to the pre-Aryan inhabitants of Britain, pushed westward and northward by the Celtic invaders. In Scotland they held their own for a considerable time in a wide tract of country, and they may have to some extent amalgamated with the Celts who dispossessed them (Rhys). Others regard them as Celts of the same branch as Welsh, Cornish, and Britons, being probably nearest to Cornish. The absence of all but the scantiest remains of their language makes the question of their origin one of great difficulty.] There, finding the nation of the Scots, they begged to be allowed to settle among them, but could not succeed in obtaining their request. Ireland is the largest island next to Britain, and lies to the west of it; but as it is shorter than Britain to the north, so, on the other hand, it runs out far beyond it to the south, over against the northern part of Spain, though a wide sea lies between them. The Picts then, as has been said, arriving in this island by sea, desired to have a place granted them in which they might settle. The Scots answered that the island could not contain them both; but “We can give you good counsel,” said they, “whereby you may know what to do; we know there is another island, not far from ours, to the eastward, which we often see at a distance, when the days are clear. If you will go thither, you can obtain settlements; or, if any should oppose you, we will help you.” The Picts, accordingly, sailing over into Britain, began to inhabit the northern parts thereof, for the Britons had possessed themselves of the southern. Now the Picts had no wives, and asked them of the Scots; who would not consent to grant them upon any other terms, than that when any question should arise, they should choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male: which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day. In process of time, Britain, besides the Britons and the Picts, received a third nation, the Scots, who, migrating from Ireland under their leader, Reuda, either by fair means, or by force of arms, secured to themselves those settlements among the Picts which they still possess. From the name of their commander, they are to this day called Dalreudini; for, in their language, Dal signifies a part.

Ireland is broader than Britain and has a much healthier and milder climate; for the snow scarcely ever lies there above three days: no man makes hay in the summer for winter’s provision, or builds stables for his beasts of burden. No reptiles are found there, and no snake can live there; for, though snakes are often carried thither out of Britain, as soon as the ship comes near the shore, and the scent of the air reaches them, they die. On the contrary, almost all things in the island are efficacious against poison. In truth, we have known that when men have been bitten by serpents, the scrapings of leaves of books that were brought out of Ireland, being put into water, and given them to drink, have immediately absorbed the spreading poison, and assuaged the swelling. The island abounds in milk and honey, nor is there any lack of vines, fish, or fowl; and it is noted for the hunting of stags and roe-deer. It is properly the country of the Scots, who, migrating from thence, as has been said, formed the third nation in Britain in addition to the Britons and the Picts.

There is a very large gulf of the sea, which formerly divided the nation of the Britons from the Picts; it runs from the west far into the land, where, to this day, stands a strong city of the Britons, called Alcluith. The Scots, arriving on the north side of this bay, settled themselves there.

Now Britain had never been visited by the Romans, and was entirely unknown to them before the time of Caius Julius Caesar, who, in the year 693 after the foundation of Rome, but the sixtieth year before the Incarnation of our Lord, was consul with Lucius Bibulus. While he was making war upon the Germans and the Gauls, who were divided only by the river Rhine, he came into the province of the Morini, whence is the nearest and shortest passage into Britain. Here, having provided about eighty ships of burden and fast-sailing vessels, he sailed over into Britain; where, being first roughly handled in a battle, and then caught in a storm, he lost a considerable part of his fleet, no small number of foot-soldiers, and almost all his cavalry. Returning into Gaul, he put his legions into winter-quarters, and gave orders for building six hundred sail of both sorts. With these he again crossed over early in spring into Britain, but, whilst he was marching with the army against the enemy, the ships, riding at anchor, were caught in a storm and either dashed one against another, or driven upon the sands and wrecked. Forty of them were lost, the rest were, with much difficulty, repaired. Caesar’s cavalry was, at the first encounter, defeated by the Britons, and there Labienus, the tribune, was slain. In the second engagement, with great hazard to his men, he defeated the Britons and put them to flight. Thence he proceeded to the river Thames, where a great multitude of the enemy had posted themselves on the farther side of the river, under the command of Cassobellaunus, and fenced the bank of the river and almost all the ford under water with sharp stakes: the remains of these are to be seen to this day, apparently about the thickness of a man’s thigh, cased with lead, and fixed immovably in the bottom of the river. This being perceived and avoided by the Romans, the barbarians, not able to stand the charge of the legions, hid themselves in the woods, whence they grievously harassed the Romans with repeated sallies. In the meantime, the strong state of the Trinovantes, with their commander Androgius, surrendered to Caesar, giving him forty hostages. Many other cities, following their example, made a treaty with the Romans. Guided by them, Caesar at length, after severe fighting, took the town of Cassobellaunus, situated between two marshes, fortified by sheltering woods, and plentifully furnished with all necessaries. After this, Caesar returned from Britain into Gaul, but he had no sooner put his legions into winter quarters, than he was suddenly beset and distracted with wars and sudden risings on every side.

In the year of Rome 798, Claudius, fourth emperor from Augustus, being desirous to approve himself a prince beneficial to the republic, and eagerly bent upon war and conquest on every side, undertook an expedition into Britain, which as it appeared, was roused to rebellion by the refusal of the Romans to give up certain deserters. No one before or after Julius Caesar had dared to land upon the island. Claudius crossed over to it, and within a very few days, without any fighting or bloodshed, the greater part of the island was surrendered into his hands. He also added to the Roman empire the Orcades, which lie in the ocean beyond Britain, and, returning to Rome in the sixth month after his departure, he gave his son the title of Britannicus. This war he concluded in the fourth year of his reign, which is the forty-sixth from the Incarnation of our Lord. In which year there came to pass a most grievous famine in Syria, which is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles to have been foretold by the prophet Agabus.

Vespasian, who was emperor after Nero, being sent into Britain by the same Claudius, brought also under the Roman dominion the Isle of Wight, which is close to Britain on the south, and is about thirty miles in length from east to west, and twelve from north to south; being six miles distant from the southern coast of Britain at the east end, and three at the west. Nero, succeeding Claudius in the empire, undertook no wars at all; and, therefore, among countless other disasters brought by him upon the Roman state, he almost lost Britain; for in his time two most notable towns were there taken and destroyed.

In the year of our Lord 156, Marcus Antoninus Verus, the fourteenth from Augustus, was made emperor, together with his brother, Aurelius Commodus. [Editor’s note: Marcus Antoninus Verus, commonly called Marcus Aurelius, succeeded in 161 A.D. His colleague in the empire was his adopted brother, Lucius Verus, whose full adoptive name was Lucius Aurelius Antoninus Verus Commodus. He died in 169. Eleutherus became Pope between 171 and 177. Bede’s chronology is therefore wrong.] In their time, whilst the holy Eleutherus presided over the Roman Church, Lucius, king of Britain, sent a letter to him, entreating that by a mandate from him he might be made a Christian. He soon obtained his pious request, and the Britons preserved the faith, which they had received, uncorrupted and entire, in peace and tranquillity until the time of the Emperor Diocletian.

In the year of our Lord 189, Severus, an African, born at Leptis, in the province of Tripolis, became emperor. He was the seventeenth from Augustus; and reigned seventeen years. Being naturally of a harsh disposition, and engaged in many wars, he governed the state vigorously, but with much trouble. Having been victorious in all the grievous civil wars which happened in his time, he was drawn into Britain by the revolt of almost all the confederated tribes; and, after many great and severe battles, he thought fit to divide that part of the island, which he had recovered, from the other unconquered nations, not with a wall, as some imagine, but with a rampart. For a wall is made of stones, but a rampart, with which camps are fortified to repel the assaults of enemies, is made of sods, cut out of the earth, and raised high above the ground, like a wall, having in front of it the trench whence the sods were taken, with strong stakes of wood fixed above it. Thus Severus drew a great trench and strong rampart, fortified with several towers, from sea to sea. And there, at York, he fell sick afterwards and died, leaving two sons, Bassianus and Geta; of whom Geta died, adjudged an enemy of the State; but Bassianus, having taken the surname of Antonius, obtained the empire.

In the year of our Lord 286, Diocletian, the thirty-third from Augustus, and chosen emperor by the army, reigned twenty years, and created Maximian, surnamed Herculius, his colleague in the empire. In their time, one Carausius, of very mean birth, but a man of great ability and energy, being appointed to guard the sea-coasts, then infested by the Franks and Saxons, acted more to the prejudice than to the advantage of the commonwealth, by not restoring to its owners any of the booty taken from the robbers, but keeping all to himself; thus giving rise to the suspicion that by intentional neglect he suffered the enemy to infest the frontiers. When, therefore, an order was sent by Maximian that he should be put to death, he took upon him the imperial purple, and possessed himself of Britain, and having most valiantly conquered and held it for the space of seven years, he was at length put to death by the treachery of his associate Allectus. The usurper, having thus got the island from Carausius, held it three years, and was then vanquished by Asclepiodotus, the captain of the Praetorian guards, who thus at the end of ten years restored Britain to the Roman empire.

Meanwhile, Diocletian in the east, and Maximian Herculius in the west, commanded the churches to be destroyed, and the Christians to be persecuted and slain. This persecution was the tenth since the reign of Nero, and was more lasting and cruel than almost any before it; for it was carried on incessantly for the space of ten years, with burning of churches, proscription of innocent persons, and the slaughter of martyrs. Finally, Britain also attained to the great glory of bearing faithful witness to God.

When the storm of persecution ceased, the faithful Christians, who, during the time of danger, had hidden themselves in woods and deserts and secret caves, came forth and rebuilt the churches which had been levelled to the ground; founded, erected, and finished the cathedrals raised in honour of the holy martyrs, and, as if displaying their conquering standards in all places, celebrated festivals and performed their sacred rites with pure hearts and lips. This peace continued in the Christian churches of Britain until the time of the Arian madness, which, having corrupted the whole world, infected this island also, so far removed from the rest of the world, with the poison of its error; and when once a way was opened across the sea for that plague, straightway all the taint of every heresy fell upon the island, ever desirous to hear some new thing, and never holding firm to any sure belief.

At this time Constantius, who, whilst Diocletian was alive, governed Gaul and Spain, a man of great clemency and urbanity, died in Britain. This man left his son Constantine [Constantine the Great] born of Helena, his concubine, emperor of the Gauls. Eutropius writes that Constantine, being created emperor in Britain, succeeded his father in the sovereignty. In his time the Arian heresy broke out, and although it was exposed and condemned in the Council of Nicaea, nevertheless, the deadly poison of its evil spread, as has been said, to the Churches in the islands, as well as to those of the rest of the world.

In the year of our Lord 377, Gratian, the fortieth from Augustus, held the empire for six years after the death of Valens; though he had long before reigned with his uncle Valens, and his brother Valentinian. Finding the condition of the commonwealth much impaired, and almost gone to ruin, and impelled by the necessity of restoring it, he invested the Spaniard, Theodosius, with the purple at Sirmium, and made him emperor of Thrace and the Eastern provinces. At that time, Maximus, a man of energy and probity, and worthy of the title of Augustus, if he had not broken his oath of allegiance, was made emperor by the army somewhat against his will, passed over into Gaul, and there by treachery slew the Emperor Gratian, who in consternation at his sudden invasion, was attempting to escape into Italy. His brother, the Emperor Valentinian, expelled from Italy, fled into the East, where he was entertained by Theodosius with fatherly affection, and soon restored to the empire, for Maximus the tyrant, being shut up in Aquileia, was there taken by them and put to death.

n the year of our Lord 394, Arcadius, the son of Theodosius, the forty-third from Augustus, succeeding to the empire, with his brother Honorius, held it thirteen years. In his time, Pelagius, [Pelagius, the founder of the heresy known as Pelagianism, was probably born in 370 A.D., and is said to have been a Briton. His great opponent, St. Augustine, speaks of him as a good and holy man; later slanders are to be attributed to Jerome’s abusive language. The cardinal point in his doctrine is his denial of original sin, involving a too great reliance on the human will in achieving holiness, and a limitation of the action of the grace of God] a Briton, spread far and near the infection of his perfidious doctrine, denying the assistance of the Divine grace, being seconded therein by his associate Julianus of Campania, who was impelled by an uncontrolled desire to recover his bishopric, of which he had been deprived. St . Augustine, and the other orthodox fathers, quoted many thousand catholic authorities against them, but failed to amend their folly; nay, more, their madness being rebuked was rather increased by contradiction than suffered by them to be purified through adherence to the truth; which Prosper, the rhetorician, has beautifully expressed thus in heroic” verse :— “They tell that one, erewhile consumed with gnawing spite, snake-like attacked Augustine in his writings. Who urged the wretched viper to raise from the ground his head, howsoever hidden in dens of darkness? Either the sea-girt Britons reared him with the fruit of their soil, or fed on Campanian pastures his heart swells with pride.”

IN the year of our Lord 407, Honorius, the younger son of Theodosius, and the forty-fourth from Augustus, being emperor, two years before the invasion of Rome by Alaric, king of the Goths, when the nations of the Alani, Suevi, Vandals, and many others with them, having defeated the Franks and passed the Rhine, ravaged all Gaul, Gratianus, a citizen of the country, was set up as tyrant in Britain and killed. In his place, Constantine, one of the meanest soldiers, only for the hope afforded by his name, and without any worth to recommend him, was chosen emperor. As soon as he had taken upon him the command, he crossed over into Gaul, where being often imposed upon by the barbarians with untrustworthy treaties, he did more harm than good to the Commonwealth. Whereupon Count Constantius, by the command of Honorius, marching into Gaul with an army, besieged him in the city of Arles, took him prisoner, and put him to death. His son Constans, a monk, whom he had created Caesar, was also put to death by his own follower Count Gerontius, at Vienne.

IN the year of our Lord 407, Honorius, the younger son of Theodosius, and the forty-fourth from Augustus, being emperor, two years before the invasion of Rome by Alaric, king of the Goths, when the nations of the Alani, Suevi, Vandals, and many others with them, having defeated the Franks and passed the Rhine, ravaged all Gaul, Gratianus, a citizen of the country, was set up as tyrant in Britain and killed. In his place, Constantine, one of the meanest soldiers, only for the hope afforded by his name, and without any worth to recommend him, was chosen emperor. As soon as he had taken upon him the command, he crossed over into Gaul, where being often imposed upon by the barbarians with untrustworthy treaties, he did more harm than good to the Commonwealth. Whereupon Count Constantius, by the command of Honorius, marching into Gaul with an army, besieged him in the city of Arles, took him prisoner, and put him to death. His son Constans, a monk, whom he had created Caesar, was also put to death by his own follower Count Gerontius, at Vienne. Rome was taken by the Goths, in the year from its foundation, 1164. Then the Romans ceased to rule in Britain, almost 470 years after Caius Julius Caesar came to the island. They dwelt within the rampart, which, as we have mentioned, Severus made across the island, on the south side of it, as the cities, watch-towers, bridges, and paved roads there made testify to this day; but they had a right of dominion over the farther parts of Britain, as also over the islands that are beyond Britain.

FROM that time, the British part of Britain, destitute of armed soldiers, of all military stores, and of the whole flower of its active youth, who had been led away by the rashness of the tyrants never to return, was wholly exposed to rapine, the people being altogether ignorant of the use of weapons. Whereupon they suffered many years from the sudden invasions of two very savage nations from beyond the sea, the Scots from the west, and the Picts from the north. We call these nations from beyond the sea, not on account of their being seated out of Britain, but because they were separated from that part of it which was possessed by the Britons, two broad and long inlets of the sea lying between them, one of which runs into the interior of Britain, from the Eastern Sea, and the other from the Western, though they do not reach so far as to touch one another. The eastern has in the midst of it the city Giudi. On the Western Sea, that is, on its right shore, stands the city of Alcluith, which in their language signifies the Rock Cluith, for it is close by the river of that name.

In the year of our Lord 423, Theodosius, the younger, the forty-fifth from Augustus, succeeded Honorius and governed the Roman empire twenty-six years. In the eighth year of his reign, Palladius was sent by Celestinus, the Roman pontiff, to the Scots that believed in Christ, to be their first bishop. In the twenty-third year of his reign, Aetius, a man of note and a patrician, discharged his third consulship with Symmachus for his colleague. To him the wretched remnant of the Britons sent a letter, which began thus :—”To Aetius, thrice Consul, the groans of the Britons.” And in the sequel of the letter they thus unfolded their woes:—” The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea drives us back to the barbarians: between them we are exposed to two sorts of death; we are either slaughtered or drowned.” Yet, for all this, they could not obtain any help from him, as he was then engaged in most serious wars with Bledla and Attila, kings of the Huns. And though the year before this Bledla had been murdered by the treachery of his own brother Attila, yet Attila himself remained so intolerable an enemy to the Republic, that he ravaged almost all Europe, attacking and destroying cities and castles. At the same time there was a famine at Constantinople, and soon after a plague followed; moreover, a great part of the wall of that city, with fifty-seven towers, fell to the ground. Many cities also went to ruin, and the famine and pestilential state of the air destroyed thousands of men and cattle.

IN the meantime, the aforesaid famine distressing the Britons more and more, and leaving to posterity a lasting memory of its mischievous effects, obliged many of them to submit themselves to the depredators; though others still held out, putting their trust in God, when human help failed. These continually made raids from the mountains, caves, and woods, and, at length, began to inflict severe losses on their enemies, who had been for so many years plundering the country. The bold Irish robbers thereupon returned home, intending’ to come again before long. The Picts then settled down in the farthest part of the island and afterwards remained there; but they did not fail to plunder and harass the Britons from time to time. Now, when the ravages of the enemy at length abated, the island began to abound with such plenty of grain as had never been known in any age before; along with plenty, evil living increased, and this was immediately attended by the taint of all manner of crime; in particular, cruelty, hatred of truth, and love of falsehood; insomuch, that if any one among them happened to be milder than the rest, and more inclined to truth, all the rest abhorred and persecuted him unrestrainedly, as if he had been the enemy of Britain. Nor were the laity only guilty of these things, but even our Lord’s own flock, with its shepherds, casting off the easy yoke of Christ, gave themselves up to drunkenness, enmity, quarrels, strife, envy, and other such sins. In the meantime, on a sudden, a grievous plague fell upon that corrupt generation, which soon destroyed such numbers of them, that the living scarcely availed to bury the dead: yet, those that survived, could not be recalled from the spiritual death, which they had incurred’ through their sins, either by the death of their friends, or the fear of death. Whereupon, not long after, a more severe vengeance for their fearful crimes fell upon the sinful nation. They held a council to determine what was to be done, and where they should seek help to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations; and in concert with their King Vortigern, it was unanimously decided to call the Saxons to their aid from beyond the sea, which, as the event plainly showed, was brought about by the Lord’s will, that evil might fall upon them for their wicked deeds.