To understand aright the story we
are about to relate, one must hark back to the days of Feudalism in the
British Isles. Indeed, we must go much further back, even into the dim
past, when the British Isles had no written story, and no particular name
that has come down in the pages of history. Fortunately for us, the story
of our country and, indeed, that of the whole world, can be read by the
capable few in the book of Nature, or the testimony of the rocks. No one
knows who were the first inhabitants of our island home. Geologists say
that in past ages it was part of the Continent of Europe, and that the
Continent in those dim ages extended westwards far beyond the limits of
the British Isles. In that ease we need not stay to enquire who were its
inhabitants or whence they came, for they were bound to be of the tribes
common to Europe.
We may now come down to the dawn of
history, and find that by some convulsion of Nature the British Isles were
lopped off from the adjoining Continent and were converted into a series
of islands. The Phoenicians were probably the first outsiders, or traders,
who visited Britain. They were a great maritime people as early as
1000 B.C. The Greek philosopher,
Aristotle, is about the first writer to refer to these islands by name. He
lived in the fourth century B.C.,
and speaks of Britain as Nesoi Brittoniki, or
The Romans of a later date spoke of
them as Insula Brittonica. To them France was known as Gaul,
for the name "Franks" and "France" had not as yet arrived. In the
south-west of Gaul there lived a warlike tribe of people called "Bretons."
Their country the Romans named Brittonica Cismarina, to distinguish
it from Brittonica Transmarina,
or the "Briton over the
water." Presumably, therefore, the Bretons in Cismarina (Gaul) and
those in Transmarina (Briton) were the same stock of people.
Language also is a link in the chain of evidence, for many words in the
Breton (France) tongue of to-day are the same as in the Gaelic tongue of
The word "Celt" now comes into
evidence. The Greeks used the word Keltoi and the Romans Celtae
as a name given to certain tribes who occupied a part of western
France, or Gaul. Both nations also used the word as denoting a people who
used stone and bronze axes. Hence even to this day stone axes are known in
the British Isles as Kelts or Celts.
We may now ask ourselves when those
Gauls, Bretons, or Celts arrived in Briton. The best answer to this
question comes from the testimony of the rocks, and that places their
arrival about 1000 B.C.
In Sussex, on the south-east coast of England, there
have recently been unearthed the ruins of two villages which throw a lurid
light upon our early history. On the top of a hill there has been
discovered the ruins of the dwellings of a people who have left only
traces of the early stone age. A little below it were found the ruins of
dwellings the occupants of which knew the bronze axe and clay vessels.
This shows a long gap in the advancement of the two peoples, and
presumably the later or bronze men exterminated the ruder or stone men
they found on the hilltop. The Celts introduced the bronze and iron age
into Briton, and, therefore, this village in Sussex is about the first or
earliest evidence of Celtic occupation. The date of this village is given
as from 1000 to 700 B. C. Thus we see that the rocks and soil of Briton
faithfully record the history of our early ancestors.
ARRIVAL OF ROMANS.
The Rornans made their descent upon
Briton in 55 B.C. Various
reasons are given as to the motives behind their coming. One, the lust of
conquest with its trade in goods, soldiers, and slaves; while pearls and
gold were common articles of trade in those days in Britain. The other was
the desire of Caesar, the Roman General, to punish the Celtic tribes in
Briton because of the help they rendered their fellow tribesmen in Gaul
(France). The Romans had a trained army, well equipped with weapons of
warfare, and accustomed to fight in unison under trained leaders; while
the British tribes lacked similar weapons and the habit of fighting in
concert. It was, therefore, not surprising that the Romans defeated the
separately acting tribes whom they encountered in Briton. As the Roman
galleys approached the British coast near Dover, the soldiers noticed the
white chalk cliffs, and shouted albus (white). From this arose the
name Albion, by which Briton has been known from that day until now. It is
curious, however, that the English people rarely if ever refer to their
country as "Albion." They prefer the name England, and occasionally
Britain. The Gaelic-speaking people in Scotland and Ireland have no name
for Scotland but "Alba," their form of the word "Albion," or the Roman
Albus. These same people have never called England by that name, but
use the word "Sasunn," that being their form of the word "Saxon." Gaelic
was the language spoken in Briton on the arrival of the Romans. The word
"London," the Capital of our Empire, is of Gaelic origin. Its Celtic
inhabitants of the Roman period called it "Loan dunn" (Loanmeadow, dunna
hill fort). The two principal hills at its site were "Tower Hill " and "Ludgate
Hill." The Romans latinized this into Londinium. The Gaelic
speakers of to-day call it "Luinnin," and the Saxons "Lundn." Hills in
those days were selected as forts or village settlements. Every such hill
was a "Dun," while the Chiefs name was usually associated with his "Dun,"
as in "Duneidinn," or Gaelic for Edinburgh, which means "Edwins (King of
Northumbrias) fort or dun." There are many Gaelic place
names in England, but the Saxons being unable to pronounce them changed
their spelling slightly in the course of ages, so
that to-day it takes a scholar to reveal their origin and proper
spelling. The Scottish Celts have no
word corresponding to Scotland. They speak of the whole country as
"Alba," and their part of it "Gaidhealtachd" or "Gaeltachd,"
Gaeldom, which means the country of the Gaels, they themselves being the
Gaels, or in Gaelic "Gaidheal."
The Romans looked upon the Britons as barbarians, and
treated them accordingly. Slaughter, pillage, and expropriation were their
modes of dealing with all barbarians, and this no doubt was the cause of
the constant warfare existing between the two peoples: Roman rule did some
good, but at a terrible cost in life to the native
On their departure in the fifth century to defend their
territories near to Rome from the Hun invasion, hordes of
marauding Germans entered the country, and by means of
fire, pillage, and slaughter gradually established small settlements along
the east coast of Briton.
ANGLES AND SAXONS.
These were the Angles and Saxons who gradually
increased in numbers and ultimately drove away or slew most of the males
of the Celtic tribes, and made slaves or worse of
the native women. Then they changed the name Briton to "Angle-land," and
now "England." Many of the English people of to-day pride themselves
upon the supposition of their being pure Saxons. A
little reflection will show the claim to be untenable, for their
ancestors, according to the habit of the conqueror in all ages, killed the
native men and appropriated the women and children. The succeeding races
of children would, therefore, be half German and half British Celt, and
this mixture of races applies more or less to the whole population of the
During the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries hordes of
Norwegian marauders founded settlements along the east coast of Britain.
Indeed, on the northern and western coasts of Scotland and in parts of
Ireland they took complete possession, and had an arm of soldiers
keeping the various tribes in subjection. This is partly
the explanation why so many red and fair-haired
people are to be found in those localities. The original Celt was a
dark-skinned, darkhaired, dark-eyed, long-headed (Dolicho-cephalic)
individual; but the Norwegian soldiers living amongst them
for some 400 years left many traces of the broad-faced (Brachy-cephalic),
fair-skinned, red and fair haired people common to the Nordics. Thus we
see that it is unwise to claim any pure race blood, for the study of
history and anthropology readily prove the contrary.
The Normans, under William, conquered England in 1066.
This was the last of the foreign invasions of the
British Isles. By this time there was a fairly large
native population in the country, so that a few
thousand Normans, or Nordic French, added to the population did not much
matter. The Norman leaders, however, were an exceedingly grasping lot of
men, who managed by fraud or murder or kingly influence to acquire large
tracts of land in England. A few of these men found their way into
Scotland, and by the same methods obtained possession of large tracts of
land in that country.
It is probable that the feudal system is as old as man.
In all ages men have been compelled to combine in self-defence. The early
tribes in Britain all lived under this system. They appointed one of their
number as their leader. Sometimes the office of leader was hereditary, and
sometimes elective. The system was based upon service, principally of a
military character, to the chief, over-lord, or king of the period. For
this service every clansman, serf, or villain, was entitled to the use of
land and the protection of his life and property.
The land was held by the power of the tribe, so that every male was
compelled to be a warrior. The land, therefore, was the common property of
the tribe, and not of any single individual. Strangers who entered the
tribe by marriage or favour or otherwise had perforce to forswear their
previous allegiance, and become members of their adopted clan or tribe.
The word clan is merely an English modification of the Gaelic word "chloinne,"
signifying children, for it was the patriarchal fashion of those days for
the chief to speak of all his clansmen as his children, or clan. Various
nations had various modifications of the feudal system, hence when the
Normans entered England and Scotland they imposed their form of it upon
the various lands which they acquired. As time rolled on towns and
villages sprang up, so that the modes of land tenure had to be altered.
Villages and towns had large commonages attached to them as the common
property of the people. Then the churches began making claims for church
lands, and by favour of some powerful chief, baron, or king they gradually
acquired enormous tracts of land. Thus the breaking up of the feudal
system began, and was ended by civil war, bribery, and kingly favours,
depriving the common people of their land and commonages. There are a few
towns and villages, however, which still retain small areas of land of
these once large commonages. All these changes were slow in entering the
more remote parts of Scotland, so that more or less of the old feudal
system continued in the Highlands down to 1745; while the Church lost most
if not all of its lands during the Reformation period.