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Old 06-25-2021, 05:12 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Chapter I: Ruled Britannia: The First Conquest of Britain

Timeline: Approx 6,000 BC - 87 AD

There are certain sectors of English society who believe, rather naively or perhaps in a pig-headed way, that they are “true” Englishmen, original inhabitants of England, proper English and the only pure English. They are, of course, wrong; as is the case with just about any country, the original population are long gone, destroyed or gone extinct, they have vanished into the mists of time with often very little to mark their passing. I mentioned in my History of Ireland journal that even the Celts, seen by many as the original Irish, are not the first to have lived on the island, and so it is with the English*. Although the island (not an island at the time, as I’ll explain in a moment) has been occupied for about a million years, in common with every other habitation of humanity we have no written records to go on, and must glean the scant details of these disappeared civilisations through the artefacts and structures they left behind.

With stone tools and footprints thought to date back 900,000 years on the Norfolk Coast, this makes that area the oldest known part of England to have been inhabited by humans, Sussex providing the oldest human fossils (about 500,000 years old) and Neanderthal fossils found in Kent which date back 400,000 years, it’s clear England was occupied long before human history began being recorded, and this is probably, almost certainly, true of any country you look at. Possibly fleeing from advancing ice and rising seas, for about 120,000 years England was unoccupied by humans, with Neanderthals coming back about 40,000 years ago but only lasting a mere 20,000 years before becoming extinct. With the end of the last ice age, about 11,700 years ago (ah I remember it as if it were only yesterday!) modern humans, or Homo Sapiens, repopulated England and have remained ever since.

For a long time, as alluded to a short while ago, England and indeed Ireland were connected to the mainland of Europe by a chalk ridge known as the Weald-Artois Anticline, which ran from southeast England to southern France, but rising sea levels as ice sheets melted and glaciers retreated, about 425,000 years ago, swamped the bridge and no longer made it possible for Englishmen to pop over to France by way of Shank’s mare. In place of the Weald-Artois Anticline was the English Channel, and as this now made of England an island, it was effectively cut off from the technological and cultural advances taking place in Europe at the time. Paul Pettitt and Mark White writing about Britain call it, rather fatalistically and quite dramatically, an island of the living dead.


* Note: though much of this concerns the history of Britain as an island, I'm mostly going to refer to the inhabitants as English where I can, as I want to differentiate them from the Scottish and the Welsh, with whom this history is not concerned. Initially though, they're all going to be called the Britons, because, well, that's what they were called back then.

Pytheas of Massalia (fl 310 - 306 BC)

The first written records of England come from the Greek navigator Pytheas, covered in my World Exploration journal, from which I’m going to shamelessly paste the article concerning him.

Pytheas is said to have travelled south to Spain and Portugal, and thence across to Britain and Ireland, becoming perhaps the first one to use the word “Britain” for the island country. His impressions of the British seem to indicate that he found the land cold and wet (quelle surprise!) which to a native of France would be quite a shock, that the people lived in thatched cottages and were ruled by many kings - another odd thing to a democratic Greek - but were at heart a simple people who lived in peace with each other. When they did war, he says, they rode in chariots just like his own people.
(From The Men Who Drew the Map of the World)

The origin of the word Britain is disputed, but seems to have been coined by Pytheas (or at least, he seems to have been the first to use it) to denote a “people of forms”, meaning that the British understood and used pictures and shapes, as they tended to tattoo their bodies for war or decoration. He described three “corners of Britain”, these translating as Kent, Orkney and Cornwall. By this point the English are already what could be called civilised, as engaging in commerce. They make tin ingots and sell them in France and other countries, and as they have to deal with buyers Pytheas says they are quite approachable.

There’s probably a lot more to be said about Neolithic Britons, but who cares about them? They couldn’t even be bothered to leave us any written record, so fuck them. The next period therefore in which we’re interested in some thousands of years later.

Settling Down (200 BC - 43 AD)

Expansion by the Roman Empire forced refugees from Gaul to migrate towards England, and probably Ireland too, bringing with them their Celtic language and customs, and also sophistication to the English way of life, Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex becoming the centre of the pottery trade around 175 BC, with iron bars replacing, um, whatever they had been using as currency up to that from about 100 BC.

What's quite interesting about this is that unlike we Irish, who knocked seven bells out of the original Celts and then snaffled their country (Go Tuatha!) England does not seem to have proceeded along the same lines at all, with their peoples moving to and from Britain as it got colder or harder to live there, and returning when the weather or the living conditions improved. Nobody seems to have kicked anything out of anyone, and really, for a country that ended up being the bully of the world for a very long time, the top dog and the one all others would bow and scrape to (while secretly plotting their overthrow beneath the doffed cap, so to speak) that's quite remarkable. So other than the likes of Neanderthals and so on going extinct, there was no major shift as to who controlled England. Makes us like the aggressive ones!

As temperatures began to rise and weather improve around about 5,000 – 6,000 BC, the hunter-gatherer population began to settle down a little more, and some animals, like the dog, were domesticated. DNA in human remains seems to indicate the migration of people from what would become Finland and Estonia, as well as other European countries, so it could possibly be said that the first real Englishmen were in fact what are now considered by certain sectors of their society as “foreigners”. Take that, English Defence League! Around 4,500 BC the idea of farming and raising crops seems to have been considered a good one, and more settling down occurred as the woodlands grew and hunting became more difficult. In fact, a program of extensive deforestation began around 4,300 BC to provide more land for crops and farming.

The original inhabitants of Britain were soon supplanted by what were known as the Beaker people. No, not them! These people came from all over Europe, and are so-called due to their creation of and usage of the inverted bell-shaped beaker which became prevalent everywhere. I don’t know, but I presume the precursor to that was a normal tumbler-style thing? Not sure, but anyway this is the reason they were called that, and by about 2400 BC they had more or less taken over Britain. They were able to exploit the vast reserves of tin in England, especially in Cornwall and Devon, and this provided them something to trade with other countries, and a form of commerce began.

Evidence of a certain belief in some sort of religion began around 2,500 BC – 2.000 BC, when huge stone monuments, burial chambers and possibly sites of religious worship, began to appear all over Britain. The most famous of these of course is Stonehenge, still a popular attraction in England today. Nobody has ever been able to work out definitively what Stonehenge was intended for - some say burial mounts, some say a place of worship, others say something to do with astronomy or even a place to gather at certain times such as the Summer and Winter Solstice (June and December 21 respectively). In addition to burying their dead the Britons also cremated them, with the urns then buried in cemeteries.

Manufacturing processes were changing too. From around 2150 BC British people learned to smelt copper and then bronze, heralding the arrival of what is known as the Bronze Age in Britain. As the previous age, the Stone Age, receded then, bronze became the go-to material, replacing stone in things such as weapons and tools until about 750 BC, when this great new thing was imported from Europe. They called it iron, and it was even stronger than bronze, making better weapons and better agricultural implements, and so improving the lives of the Britons and ushering in (say it with me) the Iron Age. This saw the organisation of people into clans headed by chieftains, and almost by default, the first proper wars between tribes.

They would soon have a new and powerful enemy to fight though, and would have to band together and forget old enmities, or perish under the onslaught of the greatest empire the world had ever seen.
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Old 06-25-2021, 06:34 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Romans go home (55 BC - 43 AD)

One man, of course, would make it his business to attempt to bring Britain to heel, and he was perhaps the most famous of all the Roman emperors. It is pretty amazing to hear that Romans feared the area in which Britain was said to lie, the island existing, as it was seen at the time, on the edge of the known world. It’s even more intriguing to find there were Romans who refused to believe Britain existed at all! Fake News, huh, in the Empire! Nevertheless, news of Britain’s vast stores of tin (very much a coveted item in those times, it seems) had reached the empire, and so they naturally assumed they could just go and take it.

And they did.

Well, they tried.

I’m not going to run a profile of Julius Caesar, as I don’t think it’s warranted. Anyone who doesn’t know him or of him, or know something about him clearly has not been paying attention, or has been holidaying on Alpha Squiggle IX for most of their lives. I hear it’s lovely there. But back down here on Earth, I might as well try to tell you about Hitler (which I do, in my World War II journal, but that’s different). So suffice to say we won’t be going too deeply into Caesar’s biography.

Part of the reason for invading Britain seems to have been a matter of revenge, as the Britons had supported the Gauls in their war against the Roman general, and as already noted, some of the refugees from that defeat had fled to the shores of Britain to escape the advancing Roman hordes. Caesar landed in Britain in 55 BC but did not have things his own way, the capricious English weather proving as much an enemy to him as the Britons, swamping his low-built ships and driving them against each other, wrecking some. In essence, Caesar’s first attempt at subduing the Britons failed miserably, on just about every level, but with his usual talent for turning potentially bad press about him to good (in other words, Julius Caesar was as good a propagandist as Goebbels, if not better) he claimed victory in having successfully sailed “beyond the known world” and come back alive. The Senate agreed, and ordered a twenty-day holiday of thanksgiving in his honour. It wasn’t quite the triumph he had hoped for, but it was a good result for him that papered over the cracks in his campaign, and ignored the fact that he had utterly failed in his objective.

He would not, of course, leave it at that.

The next year, armed with his experience of England and with better-built boats (and also with hundreds of allies, traders who were willing to shift loyalties in return for the chance of earning more than a few sesterces) Caesar was back. This time, whether due to the size of the fleet or as a delaying tactic while they prepared defences, the Britons did not oppose him, and the legions marched inland, where they met a British force in Kent. These guys did offer opposition, but to no avail. Rather oddly, it seems our man Julius had not taken on board (sorry) all the lessons he had learned in the previous year’s campaign, as once again the high tides and wild winds that plagued the English coast damaged his ships, and he had to return to oversee their repair. Having done so, he returned to Kent, where he met his first real challenge.

Cassivelaunus

If we want to frame it in such terms, seeing Caesar as Hitler, trying to advance across England as Der Fuhrer swept across Europe in 1939, then it would seem that Cassivelaunus was the equivalent of perhaps Churchill, or maybe Montgomery. He was the one who marshalled all the English tribes together to resist Caesar, realising that no one clan could hope to defeat him alone. However, such alliances have always been fragile and hard to hold together, and given that Cassivelaunus had defeated the king of the Trilobites, sorry Trinovantes, and caused his son Mind Your Braces sorry Mandubracius to flee to Gaul to seek Caesar’s aid in regaining his father’s kingdom, well, you can see where this is going, can’t you?

As almost always happens in history, and as we’ve certainly seen happen time and time again in Irish history, the deposed and vanquished look to a foreign power to restore them to their throne, in return for which they will sell out their countrymen. And so it was with Mandubracius, who revealed the location of Cassivelaunus’s stronghold, which was then put under siege by Caesar. Although he fought well, and enlisted four other kings to his cause, Cassivelaunus had to surrender, and Mandubracius was crowned king of the Trinovantes, his erstwhile enemy having had to undertake not to engage in war against him. With things wrapped up and unrest simmering back in good old Gaul, Julius Caesar once again bad farewell to the shores of old Blighty and left for friendlier climes.

An interesting point to note here is that, until he beheld them being used in Britain, Caesar had never seen chariots used in war, in fact no Roman had, and the intelligence of these he brought back to the empire surely set in motion their own love affair with the things, which in turn must have been of great assistance to them in winning future battles and wars. He notes, with obvious deep interest, “Their mode of fighting with their chariots is this: firstly, they drive about in all directions and throw their weapons and generally break the ranks of the enemy with the very dread of their horses and the noise of their wheels; and when they have worked themselves in between the troops of horse, leap from their chariots and engage on foot. The charioteers in the meantime withdraw some little distance from the battle, and so place themselves with the chariots that, if their masters are overpowered by the number of the enemy, they may have a ready retreat to their own troops. Thus they display in battle the speed of horse, [together with] the firmness of infantry; and by daily practice and exercise attain to such expertness that they are accustomed, even on a declining and steep place, to check their horses at full speed, and manage and turn them in an instant and run along the pole, and stand on the yoke, and thence betake themselves with the greatest celerity to their chariots again.”

He also reported back on other aspects of Britain, such as the geographical layout (such of it as he got to see anyway) and the climate: “The climate is more temperate than in Gaul, the colds being less severe. The island is triangular in its form, and one of its sides is opposite to Gaul. One angle of this side, which is in Kent, whither almost all ships from Gaul are directed, [looks] to the east; the lower looks to the south. This side extends about 500 miles. Another side lies toward Hispania and the west, on which part is Ireland, less, as is reckoned, than Britain, by one half: but the passage from it into Britain is of equal distance with that from Gaul. In the middle of this voyage, is an island, which is called Mona: many smaller islands besides are supposed to lie there, of which islands some have written that at the time of the winter solstice it is night there for thirty consecutive days. We, in our inquiries about that matter, ascertained nothing, except that, by accurate measurements with water, we perceived the nights to be shorter there than on the continent. The length of this side, as their account states, is 700 miles. The third side is toward the north, to which portion of the island no land is opposite; but an angle of that side looks principally toward Germany. This side is considered to be 800 miles in length. Thus the whole island is about 2,000 miles in circumference.”

He had things to say too about the people: “The interior portion of Britain is inhabited by those of whom they say that it is handed down by tradition that they were born in the island itself: the maritime portion by those who had passed over from the country of the Belgae for the purpose of plunder and making war; almost all of whom are called by the names of those states from which being sprung they went thither, and having waged war, continued there and began to cultivate the lands. The number of the people is countless, and their buildings exceedingly numerous, for the most part very like those of the Gauls... They do not regard it lawful to eat the hare, and the cock, and the goose; they, however, breed them for amusement and pleasure.

The most civilised of all these nations are they who inhabit Kent, which is entirely a maritime district, nor do they differ much from the Gallic customs. Most of the inland inhabitants do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins. All the Britons, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which occasions a bluish colour, and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight. They wear their hair long, and have every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip. Ten and even twelve have wives common to them, and particularly brothers among brothers, and parents among their children; but if there be any issue by these wives, they are reputed to be the children of those by whom respectively each was first espoused when a virgin.”


Shipbuilding: “[T]he keels and ribs were made of light timber, then, the rest of the hull of the ships was wrought with wicker work, and covered over with hides.”

Religion: "The institution [of Druidism] is thought to have originated in Britain, and to have been thence introduced into Gaul; and even now those who wish to become more accurately acquainted with it, generally repair thither, for the sake of learning it.”

And resources: “[T]he number of cattle is great. They use either brass or iron rings, determined at a certain weight, as their money. Tin is produced in the midland regions; in the maritime, iron; but the quantity of it is small: they employ brass, which is imported. There, as in Gaul, is timber of every description, except beech and fir.“

For all his bluster however, the greatest general the world had ever seen since Alexander the Great proved unable to subdue Britain, leaving without so much as a Roman garrison in place, although he did sponsor two separate kings to rule over Britain, and in that way made it part of the Roman Empire, if in name only. It would be almost another century before Rome would try again to take on this mysterious land beyond the known limits of the world.

The British would probably have been conquered by helpless laughter alone, had they seen the so-called preparations for war laid by the unhinged emperor Caligula, who lined his troops up at the sea facing in the direction of Britain and ordered them, without prejudice and without mercy or quarter, on pain of death to… gather seashells! Yeah, well, the guy was a nut, we all know that. You only have to read a little history to see what he was like, or if you prefer to give my Serial Killers journal a look…
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Old 06-26-2021, 10:31 PM   #13 (permalink)
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But is it a history of England or Britain? Or the UK? Hmmm?
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Old 06-27-2021, 03:42 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Just some general comments that can go..I really enjoy your stories and will continue to print them off for reading at leisure, but cannot come on line again here...I had joined an over 50's General Forum a while back as I could tell I was not going to make it here. I do need to communicate with people I really do. I have help with a simple prog to improve they way I say stuff. Not perfect but better. Wish you all what you wish yourselves in life.
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Old 06-27-2021, 07:41 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adidasss View Post
But is it a history of England or Britain? Or the UK? Hmmm?
England, as already explained; but in the beginning it's pretty much Britain, until England as a nation is more or less formalised. Up to this point you have the Britons (English) the Welsh and the Caledonians (Scottish). I only intend to concentrate on the land south of the Scottish border and east of the Welsh. As much as I can, anyway.
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Originally Posted by DianneW View Post
Just some general comments that can go..I really enjoy your stories and will continue to print them off for reading at leisure, but cannot come on line again here...I had joined an over 50's General Forum a while back as I could tell I was not going to make it here. I do need to communicate with people I really do. I have help with a simple prog to improve they way I say stuff. Not perfect but better. Wish you all what you wish yourselves in life.
Sorry to hear that, Dianne. Hope to see you back here some time, and feel free to stay in touch via PM or email, or drop a comment in here whenever you wish. Hope you continue enjoying the histories and my other journals.
Take care.
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Old 06-27-2021, 07:48 PM   #16 (permalink)
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If I invite you to my pity party, will you then answer my PMs?
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Old 06-27-2021, 08:51 PM   #17 (permalink)
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If I invite you to my pity party, will you then answer my PMs?
No, because a) I hate parties and b) I have no PMs from you that request or suggest you're looking for an answer...
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Old 07-04-2021, 11:51 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Still waiting for the next chapters Trolleybookends...no pressure but..............taking up MMA now so watch out...
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Old 07-04-2021, 12:07 PM   #19 (permalink)
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They'll be posted as soon as I can get off this damned train! Anyone know where they put the emergency cords on these things?
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Old 07-04-2021, 03:13 PM   #20 (permalink)
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The next, proper invasion would be prosecuted by, again, one of the greatest Roman emperors ever known, and here’s a clue as to its success or failure: it’s gone down in history as the Claudian conquest of Britain.

It’s one thing to set up client - which is to say, puppet - rulers in another country, but unless you have a way of reinforcing your wishes (in other words, unless you have an actual force that will ensure they’re carried out) there’s nothing to stop your new king being deposed by another who seizes power.

And that’s exactly what happened once Julius Caesar left Britain. Wars broke out - or, I should probably say, resumed, as the Britons had been at war with each other for yonks, only ostensibly joining forces to oppose the invader - and our man Mandy Brunches sorry Mandubracius was unceremoniously (or perhaps with great ceremony; it amounted to the same thing) kicked off the throne of Britain, the throne basically given to him by Rome, and another chieftain, Cataractus sorry Caracatus had taken his place.

The problem here for Rome was not the deposing of Mandubracius; his tribe had already fallen out of favour with the empire for the heinous sin of allowing a stronger enemy to defeat and supplant him, and they left him to his fate. What they did not take kindly to was that chieftain ignoring the edict of Rome, which held that Verica, of the Mastur - sorry Atrebates clan was the officially sanctioned ruler of Britain, and taking the throne for himself, in the process exiling poor old Verica. Who, as had his predecessor, went crying to the emperor, demanding his throne back.

With the supposed intention of reasserting the claim to the throne of Verica, Claudius set sail in 43 AD for the shores of merry old England, to have a frank exchange of views and see if they couldn’t sort this out over tea and crumpets. Possibly.

Now it wasn’t just a case of taking their lands and resources due to the Hillary principle, ie because it was there. No, now it was personal. Caratacus had given the finger to the world’s mightiest empire, and the world’s mightiest empire did not take that sort of insult lying down.

Caratacus

Probably one of the first great leaders of the Britons, and given how he stood up to Claudius, possibly one of their first real heroes. Caratacus was a member, and later leader of the Catavellauni, one of the two most powerful and respected tribes in Britain at that time. He was a prince, son of the king Cunobelinus, taken under the wing of his uncle Epaticcus, who was responsible for expanding the territory of the Catavellauni as far as that of their rivals, the Atebates, whose leader, Verica, as already explained, had been chosen by Rome as king.

That didn’t matter a red deer’s jawbone to Epaticcus though, and after his death in 35 AD his protege carried on his work, eventually defeating the Atebates, exiling their king and setting himself up as ruler of Britain. After Claudius invaded Caratacus had enough sense to see that the only way to deal with the Roman legions was with guerilla warfare, and in this he was quite successful. For a time. But unlike Julius Caesar ninety years ago, Claudius had come to Britain with the very definite intention of conquering it, and to that end brought with him three legions, as well as other allies, so Caratacus would have been well outnumbered and would not have stood a chance in open, direct combat with the battle-hardened and well-armed and armoured Roman legionnaires.

Not surprisingly, Caratacus’s stronghold at Camulodunon - where the city of Colchester now stands - became the focus of the Roman efforts, and he and his brother fought but lost two major battles, the Battle of the River Medway (no I said MEDway) and the Battle of the River Thames, where his brother was killed.

Caratacus could only hold out so long, and eventually he was defeated and fled to Wales, where he took up the fight again, but when his wife and daughter were captured by the Romans and his other brothers surrendered, Caratacus legged it to Yorkshire (then called Brigantes) seeking sanctuary there with its ruler, Queen Cartman I mean Cartimandua. She, however, betrayed and sold him out and he went back to Rome in chains.

Sentenced to death, he earned himself an unlikely reprieve due to the eloquence of his speech, which he made before the Senate, proving, perhaps surprisingly to them, that he, and indeed all Britons, might not be the unprincipled, ignorant barbarians they had been told they were. Caratacus was allowed to live in peace in Rome, and marvelling at its wealth and opulence, wondered why such people would covet a crappy land like Britain?

Not on your nelly! Living engines of war

If, when Julius Caesar had first visited Britain, Romans had never before seen chariots being used in war, they were able to repay the compliment by bringing as part of their invasion force something no Briton had ever laid eyes on: elephants. And not just any elephants (though the mere sight of the beasts was enough to send the Britons into a panicked rout) - war elephants. Elephants armoured for war, carrying men on their backs who fired spears down from their great height advantage. This was enough to force the surrender of most of the tribes of southeast Britain, and the conquest continued apace.

By 47 AD there was a Roman governor of Britain, Publius Ostorius Scapula, and he launched an invasion of Wales. The Welsh, however, proved harder to conquer than the English, and Claudius decided to leave them to it. What, after all, was there of worth in Wales? Nero, when he came to the throne, thought differently, and consequently many Welsh druids were killed when he had the new governor, Quintus Veranius, invade Anglesey. He was almost directly responsible for the creation and rise of one of Britain’s first true legendary figures, and as you might expect, she was a woman.
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