History of the Kings of Britain: Historia Regum Britanniae By Geoffrey of Monmouth Book VI

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Now Gratian the Burgess, when he heard of Maximian’s being murdered, assumed the crown of the kingdom, and made himself King. Thenceforth such tyranny wrought he over the people, as that the common folk, banding them together, fell upon him and slew him. This news being bruited abroad among the other kingdoms, the enemies already spoken of returned from Hibernia, and bringing with them Scots, Norwegians and Danes, did lay waste the realm from sea to sea with sword and fire. On account of this devastation and most cruel oppression, messengers are sent with letters to Rome, begging and entreating that in answer to their tearful petition an armed force may be sent to avenge them, and promising faithful subjection for ever, so only the Romans will drive their enemies away. A legion accordingly that had not suffered in their former disasters is placed under their command, and after disembarking from the ships wherein it was carried across the ocean, soon came to close quarters with the enemy. At last, after that a passing great multitude of them had been stricken down, the Romans drove them all out of the country and freed the wretched commonalty from this outrageous havoc. They then bade the Britons make a wall from sea to sea betwixt Albany and Deira builded of turfs, that should be a terror to warn off the enemy and a safeguard to the men of the country. For Albany was utterly wasted by the barbarians that haunted therein, and whatsoever enemies made descent upon the land did there find a convenient shelter. Wherefore the native-born indwellers of the land did set them to work right diligently, and partly at the public charge and partly at private did complete the building of the wall.




The Romans thereupon gave public notice to the country that thenceforward they could in no wise be troubled again to undertake any more laborious expeditions of this kind, and that such and so great an army by land and sea as was that of the Romans held it disgrace to endure fatigue-work for the sake of a pack of cowardly, pilfering vagabonds. Wherefore henceforth they must look to fighting their own battles single-handed, and the best thing they could do was to inure them in arms and fight like men with all their might to defend their land and substance, their wives and children, and that which is even dearer than these—their freedom and their lives. And at the same time as they gave this public warning, they bade every man in the island that could bear arms come to an assembly in London, for that the Romans were making ready to embark for home. And when all were come together, Guethelin, Metropolitan of London, was charged to make a speech unto them, the which he did in these words:


‘At the bidding of the princes standing here present, my bounden duty it is to speak unto you, yet needs must I weep rather than make appeal unto ye in any lofty discourse. For sore it grieveth me of the feebleness and orphanhood that hath overtaken us sithence that Maximian hath stripped the realm of every single fighting man and youth. For ye were but the remnant, a folk that knew nought of the ways of war, but were employed in other toil, tillers of the soil and craftsmen in the several handicrafts of trade. Wherefore, when your foemen of foreign nations did fall upon ye, they drave ye forth of your sheepcotes into the wilderness as ye had been sheep straying without a shepherd, until such time as the Roman power did restore ye unto your holdings. Now, therefore, will ye always set your hopes upon being safeguarded by the foreigner? Will ye even yet not teach your hands to fight with shield and sword and spear against these thieves and robbers, no whit stronger than ye be yourselves, save for your own listlessness and lethargy? The Romans are aweary of the travail of these voyages to and fro for nought save to fight your battles. They have now chosen rather to lose the whole of the tribute ye pay than any longer to endure these fatigues by land and sea. What though ye were only common folk in the days when ye had soldiers, ween ye therefore that manhood hath departed from ye? Cannot men be born in thwart order, so as that a soldier may be the son of a farm-labourer, or a farm-labourer son of a soldier, the son of a shopkeeper soldier, or the soldier’s son a shopkeeper? And sithence that of common wont the one doth beget the other, I trow not that aught of manhood is lost by any. But if that men ye be, quit ye like men, and pray Christ He give ye hardihood to defend your freedom.’ And when he had made an end of speaking, such a cheering and shouting arose that ye would have said they were all brimming over with valour.




After this the Romans encourage the timid folk with brave counsel, and leave them patterns whereby to fashion their arms. They did likewise ordain that towers should be set at intervals overlooking the sea all along the ocean seaboard of the southern districts where they had their shipping, for that here was most peril to be dreaded from the barbarians. But easier is it to make a hawk of a haggard than presently to make a scholar of a ploughman, and he that poureth forth deep learning before them doth but scatter pearls before swine. For so soon as ever the Romans had bidden them farewell as they that never should return thither, behold the Dukes Guanius and Melga issue forth again from the ships wherein they had fled into Ireland, along with the rest of the companies of Scots and Picts, as well as of the Norwegians, Danes and others that they brought with them, and take possession of the whole of Albany as far as the wall. For knowing that the Romans had left the island, and had vowed never to return, they set to work to lay waste the island with more than their wonted assurance. And in face of all this, nought could the Britons find to do but to post their slow-witted yokels on the top of the wall, too clumsy to fight and too addle-pated with the quaking of their midriffs to run away, who so stuck there day and night squatting on their silly perches. Meanwhile the long hooked weapons of the enemy are never idle, wherewithal they dragged down the thrice-wretched clowns from the walls and dashed them to the ground. And well was it for them that were slain by this untimely death, for that by their speedy departure they avoided being snatched away by the same grievous and lingering torments as their brethren and their children. O, the vengeance of God upon past sins! Such was the doom that befell through the wicked madness of Maximian that had drained the kingdom of so many gallant warriors, who, had they been present in so sore a strait, no people could have fallen upon them that they would not have forced to flee, as was well seen, so long as they remained in the land. But enough hath been said. Forsaking the cities and the high wall, again the country folk are put to flight, again are they scattered, even more hopelessly than they were wont; again are they pursued by the enemy, again are they overtaken by a yet bloodier slaughter, and the wretched common folk are torn to pieces by their foes as sheep are rent by the wolves. Yet once again therefore do the miserable remnant send letters unto Agitius, the chief commander of the Roman forces, appealing unto him on this wise: ‘Unto Agitius, thrice consul, the groans of the Britons.’ Then, after some few words, the complaint proceedeth: ‘The sea driveth us upon the barbarians, the barbarians drive us back again unto the sea. Betwixt the twain we be thus but bandied from one death unto another, for either we be drowned or slain by the sword.’ Natheless, nought the more might they obtain the succour they sought. Sad and sorry return they home to tell their fellow-countrymen how ill their petition hath sped.




After taking counsel hereupon, Guethelin, Archbishop of London, passed across the Channel into Lesser Britain, which at that time was called Armorica or Letavia, to seek help of their brethren oversea. At that time Aldroen was the King thereof, the fourth from Conan, unto whom, as hath been said, Maximian had given the kingdom. Aldroen seeing a man so reverend, received him with honour and asked of him wherefore he had come. Unto whom Guethelin:


‘Your Highness ere now hath been acquainted with the misery—a misery, in truth, that may well move thee unto tears—which we, thy Britons, have suffered from the time that Maximian did despoil our island of all her warriors, and commanded that the realm which thou dost possess—and long in peace mayst thou possess the same—should be by them inhabited. For all they of the neighbour islands of the province have risen up against us, the poverty-stricken remnant of our name, and have so made void our island, of old replenished with abundant wealth of every kind, as that all the nations thereof are utterly destitute of the staff of food, save only such meat as they can kill by hunting to stay their hunger; nor was there any to help it, for not one strong man, not a single warrior was left unto us of our own people. For the Romans have conceived a weariness of us, and have utterly denied us their succour. Bereft of all other hope, we have now thrown us upon thy mercy, beseeching thee to grant us thy protection, and to defend the kingdom, of right thine own, from the incursions of the barbarians. For, if it be that thou thyself are unwilling, what other is there that Ought of right to be crowned with the diadem of Constantine and Maximian, the diadem that hath been worn by thy grandsires and great-grandsires? Make ready thy fleets and come! Behold, into thy hands do I deliver the kingdom of Britain!’


Thereupon Aldroen thus made answer:


‘The time hath been when I would not have refused to accept the island of Britain, had any offered it unto me, for other country, I wot, is there none more fruitful whilst it enjoyeth peace and tranquillity. But now that so sore calamity hath overtaken it, the value thereof is sore diminished, and hateful hath it become unto myself and unto other princes. But more than all other evil hath the power of the Romans done hurt thereunto, forasmuch as that no man may hold enduring sovereignty therein but that needs must he lose his freedom and bear the yoke of bondage. Who would not, therefore, choose rather to possess less elsewhere, than to hold all the riches thereof under the yoke of slavery? This realm that is now subject unto my dominion do I possess as sovereign, not as vassal unto any sovereign lord unto whom my homage is due. This single kingdom therefore have I chosen to prefer before all other nations, for that I can govern it in freedom; yet natheless, sithence that my grandsires and great-grandsires and their forefathers have held right in the island, I do commit unto thy charge my brother Constantine and two thousand men, who, if God so will, may free the land from the inroads of the barbarians, and crown him with the diadem thereof. For a brother I have of this name, skilled in warfare and of good conditions. Him will I not fail to commit unto thee with so many men as I have said, if it please thee to accept him. But as of a greater number I do deem it right to hold my peace, for that an inroad of the Gauls doth daily threaten me.’


Scarce had Aldroen made an end of his speaking, when the Archbishop rose up to thank him, and when Constantine was called unto him, smiled upon him in exultation, crying out: ‘Christ conquereth! Christ is Emperor! Christ is King! behold here the King of forsaken Britain! Only be Christ with us, and lo, here is he that is our safety, our hope, our joy!’ No need of more. The ships are made ready on the coast, the men are chosen from divers parts of the kingdom, and delivered unto Guethelin.




And when everything was ready they put to sea and made for the haven of Totnes. Forthwith they assembled what was left of the youth of the island, and attacking the enemy, through the merits of the blessed man, obtained the victory. Thereupon the Britons that afore were scattered flocked unto them from every quarter, and a great council was held at Silchester, where they raised Constantine to be King and set the crown of the realm upon his head. They gave him also unto wife a damsel born of a noble Roman family whom Archbishop Guethelin had brought up, who in due course did bear unto him three sons, whose names were Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon. Constans, the eldest born, he made over to the church of Amphibalus in Winchester, that he might there be admitted into the order of monks. The other twain, Aurelius, to wit, and Uther, he gave in charge to Guethelin to be brought up. At last, after ten years had passed away, a certain Pict that was his vassal came unto him, and feigning that he did desire to hold secret converse with him, when all had gone apart, slew him with a knife in a spring-wood thicket.




On the death of Constantine a dissension arose among the barons whom they should raise to the throne. Some were for Aurelius Ambrosius, others for Uther Pendragon, and others for others of the blood royal. At last, while they were still contending now for this one and now for that, Vortigern, Earl of the Gewissi, who was himself panting to snatch the crown at all hazards, went unto Constans the monk and spake unto him on this wise: ‘Behold, thy father is dead, and neither of thy brethren can be made King by reason of their childish age, nor none other of thy family do I see whom the people can raise to be King. Now, therefore, if thou wilt be guided by my counsel, and wilt multiply my substance, I will bring the people into such a mind as that they shall choose thee for King, and albeit that thy religious order be against it, I will free thee from this habit of the cloister.’ When Constans heard him speak thus, he rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and promised with a solemn oath that he would do whatsoever he might will. So Vortigern took him and led him to London clad in royal array and made him King, albeit scarce with the assent of the people. At that time, Guethelin the Archbishop was dead, nor was there none other that durst presume to anoint him King, for that he had been monk and might not of right be so translated. Natheless, not for that did he refuse the crown that Vortigern did set upon his head in lieu of a bishop.




When Constans was thus raised to the throne, he committed unto Vortigern the whole ordinance of the kingdom, and gave him up utterly unto his counsel in such sort as that nought did he do without his bidding. And this did he out of sheer feebleness of wit, for that in the cloister nought had he learnt of the governance of a kingdom. The which when Vortigern understood, he began to take thought within himself by what means he might be made King in his stead, for of a long time this was that he had coveted above all other thing, and he now saw that this was a fitting time when his wish might lightly be carried into effect. For the whole realm had been committed unto his ordinance, and Constans, who was called King, was there as nought save the shadow of a prince. For nought of stern stuff had he in him, nor no will to do justice, insomuch as that of none was he dreaded, neither of his own people nor of the nations around. His brethren, moreover, the two children, to wit, Uther Pendragon and Aurelius Ambrosius, were not yet out of the cradle, and incapable of the rule of the kingdom. A further mischance, moreover, had befallen inasmuch as that all the elder barons of the realm were dead, and Vortigern alone, politic and prudent, seemed the only counsellor of any weight, for the rest were well-nigh all of them but mere lads and youths that had come into their honours as it might happen when their fathers and uncles had been slain in the battles that had been fought aforetime. Vortigern, accordingly, finding all these things favourable, took thought by what contrivance he might most easily and craftily depose Constans the monk and step into his shoes with most renown. He therefore chose rather to put if his scheme for a time, until he had better stablished his power in the divers nations of the kingdom and accustomed them unto his rule. He began, therefore, by demanding that the King’s treasures should be given into his custody, as well as the cities with their garrisons, saying that there was talk of the out-islanders intending an attack upon them. And when this demand was granted, he set everywhere familiars of his own to hold the cities in allegiance unto himself. Then, scheming in furtherance of the treason he designed, he went unto Constans and told him that needs must he increase the number of his household that he might the more safely withstand the enemies that were coming against him. Unto whom Constans: ‘Have I not committed all things unto thy disposition? Do, therefore, whatsoever thou wilt, so only that they abide in mine allegiance.’ Whereupon Vortigern: ‘It hath been told me that the Picts are minded to lead the Danes and Norwegians against us so as that they may harry us to the uttermost. Wherefore I propose, and unto me seemeth it the safest counsel, that thou shouldst retain certain of the Picts in thy court that may serve as go-betweens to bring us witting from them that be without. For, and it be true that already they have begun to rebel, they will spy out the contrivances and crafty devices of their fellows in such sort as that lightly mayst thou escape them.’ Herein behold the secret treachery of a secret enemy! For not in this wise did he counsel Constans as having regard unto his safety, but rather for that he knew the Picts to be a shifty folk and swift to every crime. When that they were drunken, therefore, or moved to wrath, they might full easily be egged on against the King, and so murder him out of hand. Whence, if aught of the kind should happen, the way would be open unto him of advancing himself unto the kingdom even as he had so often coveted to do. Sending messengers, therefore, into Scotland, he invited a hundred Pictish soldiers from thence and received them into the King’s retinue. And after that they were received, he showed them honour above all other, filling their pouches with all manner of bounties and their bellies with meats and drinks beyond measure, in such sort as that they held him to be a very king. Accordingly, they would wait upon him through the streets singing songs in his praise, saying: ‘Worthy is Vortigern of the empire! Worthy is he of the sceptre of Britain, whereof Constans is unworthy!’ Upon this, Vortigern would bestow more and more largesse upon them that he might be yet more pleasing in their eyes. But when he had won the hearts of them all, he made them drunken, saying that he was minded to retire from Britain that he might acquire more abundant treasure of his own, for that the scanty allowance he had could not possibly be enow to keep fifty soldiers in his pay. Then, in sorrowful-seeming wise he betook him privily unto his own lodging and left them drinking in the hall. Upon seeing this, the Picts, believing that what he said was true, were aggrieved beyond telling and began to mutter one with another, saying: Wherefore suffer we this monk to live? Why do we not rather slay him, so that Vortigern may possess the throne of the kingdom? For who but he ought to succeed him in the kingdom? For worthy is he of all dominion and honour, worthy is he of all sovereignty, that stinteth not to bestow such largesse upon us!’




Thereupon they burst into the sleeping-chamber, and fall suddenly upon Constans, and smiting off his head, bare it to show to Vortigern, who when he beheld it burst into tears as one overborne by sorrow, albeit that never aforetime was he so beside himself with joy. Calling together the citizens of London, for it was there that all this befell, he bade all the traitors be first set in fetters and then beheaded for presuming to perpetrate a crime so heinous. Some there were that deemed the treason had been devised by Vortigern, for that the Picts never durst have done the deed save with his knowledge and consent. Others again stuck not a moment to purge him of so black a crime. At last, the matter not being cleared up, they unto whom had been committed the nurture of the two brethren, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, fled away with them into Little Britain, fearing lest they should be slain of Vortigern. There King Budec received them and brought them up in due honour.




Now Vortigern, when he saw that there was none his peer in the kingdom, set the crown thereof upon his own head and usurped precedence over all his fellow-princes. Howbeit, his treason at last being publicly known, the people of the neighbouring out-islands, whom the Picts had led with them into Albany, raised an insurrection against him. For the Picts, indignant that their comrades-in-arms had been thus put to death on account of Constans, were minded to revenge them upon Vortigern, who was thereby not only sore troubled in his mind, but suffered heavy loss amongst his fighting-men in battle. On the other hand, he was still more sorely troubled in his mind by his dread of Aurelius Ambrosius and his brother Uther Pendragon, who, as hath been said, had fled into Little Britain for fear of him. For day after day was it noised in his ears that they were now grown men, and had builded a passing huge fleet, being minded to adventure a return unto the kingdom that of right was their own.




In the meanwhile three brigantines, which we call ‘long-boats,’ arrived on the coasts of Kent full of armed warriors and captained by the two brethren Horsus and Hengist. Vortigern was then at Dorobernia, which is now called Canterbury, his custom being to visit that city very often. When his messengers reported unto him that certain men unknown and big of stature had arrived, he took them into his peace, and bade them be brought unto him. Presently, when they came before him, he fixed his eyes upon the two brethren, for that they did surpass the others both in dignity and in comeliness. And, when, he had passed the rest of the company under review, he made inquiry as to the country of their birth and the cause of their coming into his kingdom. Unto whom Hengist, for that he was of riper years and readier wit than the others, thus began to make answer on behalf of them all:


‘Most noble of all the Kings, the Saxon land is our birthplace, one of the countries of Germany, and the reason of our coming is to offer our services unto thee or unto some other prince. For we have been banished from our country, and this for none other reason than for that the custom of our country did so demand. For such is the custom in our country that whensoever they that dwell therein do multiply too thick upon the ground, the princes of the divers provinces do meet together and bid the young men of the whole kingdom come before them. They do then cast lots and make choice of the likeliest and strongest to go forth and seek a livelihood in other lands, so as that their native country may be disburdened of its overgrown multitudes. Accordingly, owing to our country being thus overstocked with men, the princes came together, and casting lots, did make choice of these young men that here thou seest before thee, and bade them obey the custom that hath been ordained of time immemorial. They did appoint, moreover, us twain brethren, of whom I am named Hengist and this other Horsus, to be their captains, for that we were born of the family of the dukes. Wherefore, in obedience unto decrees ordained of yore, have we put to sea and under the guidance of Mercury have sought out this thy kingdom.’


At the name of Mercury the King lifted up his countenance and asked of what manner religion they were. Unto whom Hengist:


‘We do worship our country gods, Saturn, Jove and the rest of them that do govern the world, but most of all Mercury, whom in our tongue we do call Woden. Unto him have our forefathers dedicated the fourth day of the week that even unto this day hath borne the name of Wednesday after his name. Next unto him we do worship the goddess that is most powerful above all other goddesses, Frea by name, unto whom they dedicated the sixth day, which we call Friday after her name.’ Saith Vortigern: ‘Right sore doth it grieve me of this your belief, the which may rather be called your unbelief, yet natheless, of your coming do I rejoice, for either God or some other hath brought ye hither to succour me in mine hour of need. For mine enemies do oppress me on every side, and so ye make common cause with me in the toils of fighting my battles, ye shall be worshipfully retained in my service within my realm, and right rich will I make ye in all manner of land and fee.’


The barbarians forthwith agreed, and after the covenant had been duly confirmed remained in the court. Presently thereupon, the Picts issuing from Albany, mustered a huge army and began to ravage the northern parts of the island. As soon aft as ever Vortigern had witting thereof, he called his men together and marched forth to meet them on the further side Humber. When the men of the country came into close quarters with the enemy, both sides made a passing sharp onset; but little need had they of the country to do much of the fighting, for the Saxons that were there did battle in such gallant fashion as that the enemies that aforetime were ever wont to have the upper hand were put to flight, hot foot, without delay.




Vortigern accordingly, when he had won the victory by their means, increased his bounties upon them and gave unto their duke, Hengist, many lands in the district of Lindsey for the maintenance of himself and his fellow-soldiers. Hengist therefore, as a politic man and a crafty, when that he found the King bare so great a friendship towards him, spake unto him on this wise:


‘My lord, thy foemen do persecute thee on every side, and few be they of thine own folk that bear thee any love. They all do threaten thee and say that they will bring in hither thy brother Aurelius Ambrosius from the shores of Armorica, that, after deposing thee, they may raise him to be King. May it therefore please thee that we send unto our own country and invite warriors thence so that the number of our fighting men may be increased. Yet is there one thing further that I would beseech of the discretion of thy clemency, were it not that I misdoubt me I might suffer a denial thereof.’ Upon this saith Vortigern: ‘Send therefore thine envoys unto Germany and invite whomsoever thou wilt, and, as for thyself, ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and no denial thereof shalt thou suffer.’ Thereupon Hengist bowed his head before him and gave him thanks, saying: ‘Thou hast enriched me of large dwelling-houses and lands, yet withal hast thou withheld such honour as may beseem a Duke, seeing that my forefathers were dukes in mine own land. Wherefore, methinketh amongst so much beside, some city or castle might have been given unto me, whereby I might have been held of greater account by the barons of thy realm. The rank of an Earl or a Prince might have been granted unto one born of a family that hath held both these titles of nobility.’ Saith Vortigern: ‘I am forbidden to grant any boon of this kind upon thee, for that ye be foreigners and heathen men, nor as yet have I learnt your manners and customs so as that I should make ye the equals of mine own folk; nor yet, were I to hold ye as mine own very country-folk, could I set precedent of such a grant so the barons of the realm were against it.’ Whereunto Hengist: ‘Grant,’ saith he, ‘unto thy servant but so much only as may be compassed round about by a single thong within the land that thou hast given me, that so I may build me a high place therein whereunto if need be I may betake me. For loyal liegeman unto thee have I been and shall be, and in thy fealty will I do all that it is within my mind to do.’ Whereupon the King, moved by his words, did grant him his petition, and bade him send his envoys into Germany forthwith, so that the warriors he invited thence might hasten at once unto his succour. Straightway, as soon as he had despatched his envoys into Germany, Hengist took a bull’s hide, and wrought the same into a single thong throughout. He then compassed round with his thong a stony place that he had thought cunningly chosen, and within the space thus meted out did begin to build the castle that was afterwards called in British, Kaercorrei, but in Saxon, Thongceaster, the which in the Latin speech is called Castrum corrigiæ.




Meantime the envoys returned from Germany, bringing with them eighteen ships full of chosen warriors. They convoyed also the daughter of Hengist, Rowen by name, whose beauty was unparagoned of any. When they were arrived, Hengist invited King Vortigern into his house to look at the new building and the new warriors that had come into the land. The King accordingly came privily forthwith, and not only praised the work so swiftly wrought, but received the soldiers that had been invited into his retinue. And after that he had been entertained at a banquet royal, the damsel stepped forth of her chamber bearing a golden cup filled with wine, and coming next the King, bended her knee and spake, saying: ‘Laverd King, wacht heil!’ But he, when he beheld the damsels face, was all amazed at her beauty and his heart was enkindled of delight. Then he asked of his interpreter what it was that the damsel had said, whereupon the interpreter made answer: ‘She hath called thee “Lord King,” and hath greeted thee by wishing thee health. But the answer that thou shouldst make unto her is “Drinc heil.”‘ Whereupon Vortigern made answer: ‘Drinc heil!’ and bade the damsel drink. Then he took the cup from her hand and kissed her, and drank; and from that day unto this hath the custom held in Britain that he who drinketh at a feast saith unto another, ‘Wacht heil!’ and he that receiveth the drink after him maketh answer, ‘Drinc heil!’ Howbeit, Vortigern, drunken with the divers kinds of liquor, Satan entering into his heart, did wax enamoured of the damsel, and demanded her of her father. Satan entering into his heart, I say, for that he, being a Christian, did desire to mate him with a heathen woman. Hengist, a crafty man and a prudent, herein discovering the inconstancy of the King’s mind, forthwith held counsel with his brother Horsus and the rest of the aldermen that were with him what were best to be done as touching the King’s petition. But they all were of one counsel, that the damsel should be given unto the King, and that they should ask of him the province of Kent in return for her. So the matter was settled out of hand. The damsel was given unto Vortigern, and the province of Kent unto Vortigern without the knowledge of Gorangon the Earl that of right; was lord thereof. That very same night was the weddeth King unto the heathen woman, with whom thenceforth was he beyond all measure well-pleased. Natheless, thereby full swiftly did he raise up enemies against him amongst the barons! of the realm and amongst his own children. For aforetime had three sons been born unto him, whereof these were the names: Vortimer, Katigern and Pascentius.




At that time came St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, to preach the word of God unto the Britons. For their Christianity had been corrupted, not only on account of the King having set a heathen folk in their midst, but on account of the Pelagian heresy, by the venom whereof they had long time been infected. Natheless, by the preaching of the blessed men the religion of the true faith was restored amongst them, the which they did daily make manifest by many miracles, for many miracles were wrought of God by them, as Gildas hath set forth in his tractate with abundant clearness and eloquence. Now, when the damsel was given unto the King as hath been told, Hengist said unto him: ‘Behold, I am now thy father, and meet is it that I be thy counsellor; nor do thou slight my counsel, for by the valour of my folk shalt thou subdue all thine enemies unto thyself. Let us invite also hither my son Octa with his brother Ebissa, for gallant warriors they be; and give unto them the lands that lie in the northern parts of Britain nigh the wall betwixt Deira and Scotland, for there will they bear the brunt of the barbarians’ assaults in such sort that thou upon the hither side of Humber shalt abide in peace. So Vortigern obeyed, and bade them invite whomsoever they would that might bring him any strength of succour. Envoys accordingly were sent, and Octa, Ebissa and Cerdic came with three hundred ships all full of an armed host, all of whom did Vortigern receive kindly, bestowing upon them unstinted largesse. For by them he conquered all his enemies and won every field that was fought. By little and little Hengist invited more and more ships and multiplied his numbers daily. So when the Britons saw what he was doing, they began to be adread of their treason and spake unto the King that he should banish them forth of his realm, for that Paynims ought not to communicate with Christians nor be thrust into their midst, for that this was forbidden by the Christian law; and, moreover, that so huge a multitude had already arrived as that they were a terror to the folk of the country, insomuch as that none could tell which were the Paynims and which Christians, for that the heathens had wedded their daughters and kinswomen. Upon these and the like grounds of objection they did urge the King to dismiss them from his retinue, lest at any time they should deal treacherously with him and overrun the folk of the country. But Vortigern did eschew giving heed unto their counsel, for he loved the Saxons above all other nations on account of his wife. Which when the Britons understood, they forthwith forsook Vortigern and with one accord raised up Vortimer his sin to be their King, who accepting their counsel, at once began to drive out the barbarians everywhere, fighting against them and continually harassing them with fresh incursions and slaughter. Four pitched battles he fought with them; the first on the river Derwent, the second at the ford of Episford, where Horsus and Catigern, another son of Vortigern, met hand to hand, both falling in the encounter, each wounded to the death by the other. The third battle was on the seacoast, when the Saxons fled, sneaking away like women to their ships and taking refuge in the Isle of Thanet. But Vortimer there beleaguered them, and harassed them day after day by attacking them from his ships. And when they could no longer withstand the attack of the Britons, they sent King Vortigern who had been with them in all their battles to his son Vortimer to petition for leave to depart and to repair unto Germany in safety. And while a conference was being held upon the matter, they took the occasion to embark on board their brigantines, and returned into Germany leaving their women and children behind them.




Vortimer thus having won the victory, at once began to restore their possessions unto the plundered countrymen, to treat them with affection and honour, and to repair the churches at the bidding of St. Germanus. But the devil did straightway wax envious of his goodness, and entering into the heart of his step-mother Rowen, did egg her on to compass his destruction. She, calling to her aid all the sleights of witchcraft, gave him by a certain familiar of his own, whom she had corrupted with bribes innumerable, a draught of poison. No sooner had the noble warrior drunk thereof than he was smitten with a sudden malady so grievous that hope of his life was none. Forthwith he bade all his soldiers come unto him, and making known unto them that death was already upon him, distributed amongst them his gold and silver and all the treasure that his forefathers had heaped together. He did comfort, moreover, them that were weeping and groaning around him, telling them that this way along which he was now about to journey was none other than the way of all flesh. The brave young warriors, moreover, that wont to fight at his side in every battle, he did exhort to fight for their country and to defend the same against all attacks of their enemies. Moved by an impulse of exceeding hardihood, moreover, he commanded that a brazen pyramid should be wrought for him, and set in the haven wherein the Saxons were wont to land, and that after his death his body should be buried on the top thereof, so as that when the barbarians beheld his image thereupon they should back sail and turn them home again to Germany. For he said that not one of them durst come anigh so they did even behold his image. O, the passing great hardihood of the man who was thus desirous that even after death he might be dreaded by those unto whom while living he had been a terror! Natheless, after his death, the Britons did otherwise, for they buried his corpse in the city of Trinovantum.




After the death of his son, Vortigern was restored unto his kingdom, and at the earnest instance of his wife sent his envoys to Hengist in Germany, bidding him to come back again to Britain, but privily and with but few men only, as he was afeard, in case he came over otherwise, a quarrel might arise betwixt the barbarians and the men of the country. Howbeit, Hengist, hearing of Vortimer’s death, raised an army of three hundred thousand armed men, and fitting out a fleet returned unto Britain. But as soon as the arrival of so huge a host was reported to Vortigern and the princes of the realm, they took it in high dudgeon, and taking counsel together, resolved to give them battle and drive them forth of their coasts. Tidings of this resolve were at once sent to Hengist by messengers from his daughter, and he forthwith bethought him what were best to do by way of dealing a counter-stroke.—After much brooding over divers devices, the one that he made choice of in the end was to betray the people of the kingdom by approaching them under a show of peace. He accordingly sent messengers unto the King, bidding them bear him on hand that he had not brought with him so mighty an armament either with any purpose that they should remain with him in the country, or in any way do violence unto any that dwelt therein. The only reason he had brought them with him was that he believed Vortimer to be still alive, and that in case Vortimer had opposed his return he was minded to be able to withstand him. Howbeit, now that he had no longer any doubt as to Vortimer being dead, he committed himself and his people unto Vortigern to dispose of as he should think best. So many of their number as he might wish to retain with him in the kingdom might stay, and so many as he might desire to dismiss he was quite willing should return to Germany forthwith. And, in case Vortigern were willing to accept these terms, he himself besought him to name a day and place for then to meet, and they would then settle everything in accordance with his wishes. When such a message was brought unto Vortigern, passing well-pleased was he, for he had no mind that Hengist should again depart. So at last he bade that the men of the country and the Saxons should meet together nigh the monastery of Ambrius on the Kalends of May, then just drawing on, that then and there the matter might be solemnly settled. Now Hengist, having a mind to put in use a new manner of treason, made ordinance unto his comrades that every single one of them should have a long knife hidden along the sole of his boot, and when the Britons were without any suspicion discussing the business of the meeting, he himself would give the signal, ‘Nemet oure saxas,’ whereupon each of them should be ready to fall boldly upon the Briton standing next him, and drawing forth his knife to cut his throat as swiftly as might be. Accordingly on the day appointed all met together in the city aforesaid, and began to talk together over the terms of peace, and when Hengist espied that the hour had come when his treachery might most meetly be carried into effect, he shouted out, ‘Nemet oure saxas!’ and forthwith laid hold on Vortigern and held him fast by his royal robe. The moment the Saxons heard the signal they drew forth their long knives and set upon the princes that stood around, thinking of nought less at the instant, and cut the throats of about four hundred and sixty amongst the barons and earls, whose bodies the blessed Eldad did afterward bury and place in the ground after Christian fashion not far from Kaercaradoc, that now called Salisbury, within the churchyard that lieth about the monastery of Abbot Ambrius, who of yore had been the founder thereof. For all of them had come unarmed, nor never deemed of aught save treating as touching the peace. Whence it came to pass that the others, which had come for nought but treachery, could lightly slay them as having done off their arms. Howbeit the Paynims wrought not their treason unavenged, for many of themselves were slain whilst that they were putting the others to death, he Britons snatching the stones and sticks that were on the ground, and in self-defence doing no little execution upon their betrayers.




Among others that were there was Eldol, Earl of Gloucester, who, seeing this treachery, took up a stake that he had found by chance and defended himself therewithal. Whomsoever he got at, he brake him the limb he struck and sent him to hell forthwith. Of some the head, of others the arms, of others the shoulders, and of many more the legs did he shatter, causing no small terror wheresoever he laid about him, nor did he stir from the place before he had slain seventy men with the stake he wielded. But when he could no longer stand his ground against so great a multitude, he made shift to get away and betook him to his own city. Many fell on the one side and the other, but the Saxons had the upper hand, as well they might, seeing that the Britons, never suspecting aught of the kind, had come without arms and so were the less able to defend them. Natheless, they were not minded to slay Vortigern, but bound him and threatened him with death, and demanded his cities and strong places as ransom for his life; he straightway granting all they had a mind to, so he were allowed to escape on live. And when he had confirmed this unto them by oath, they loosed him from his fetters, and marching first of all upon London, took that city, taking next York and Lincoln as well as Winchester, and ravaging the country at will, slaying the country folk as wolves do sheep forsaken of their shepherd. When therefore Vortigern beheld so terrible a devastation, he betook him privily into the parts of Wales, not knowing what to do against this accursed people.




Howbeit, he at last took counsel of his wizards, and bade them tell him what he should do. They told him that he ought to build him a tower exceeding strong, as all his other castles he had lost. He sought accordingly in all manner of places to find one fit for such a purpose and came at last unto Mount Eryri, where, assembling a great gang of masons from divers countries, he bade them build the tower. The stonemasons, accordingly, came together and began to lay the foundations thereof, but whatsoever they wrought one day was all swallowed up by the soil the next, in such sort as that they knew not whither their work had evanished unto. And when word was brought hereof unto Vortigern, he again held counsel with his wizards to tell him the reason thereof. So they told him that he must go search for a lad that had never a father, and when he had found him should slay him and sprinkle his blood over the mortar and the stones, for this, they said, would be good for making the foundation of the tower hold firm. Forthwith messengers are sent into all the provinces to look for such manner of man, and when they came into the city that was afterward called Carmarthen, they saw some lad playing before the gate and went to look on at the game. And being weary with travel, they sate them down in the ring and looked about them to see if they could find what they were in quest of. At last, when the day was far spent, a sudden quarrel sprang up betwixt a couple of youths whose names were Merlin and Dalbutius. And as they were wrangling together, saith Dalbutius unto Merlin: ‘What a fool must thou be to think thou art a match for me! Keep thy distance, prithee! Here am I, born of the blood royal on both sides of the house; and thou? None knoweth what thou art, for never a father hadst thou!’ At that word the messengers lifted up their faces, and looking narrowly upon Merlin, asked the bystanders who he might be. They told them that none knew his father, but that his mother was daughter of the King of Demetia, and that she lived along with the nuns in St. Peter’s Church in that same city.




The messengers thereupon hurried off to the reeve of the city, and enjoined him in the King’s name that Merlin and his mother should be sent unto the King. The reeve, accordingly, so soon as he knew the errand whereon they came, forthwith sent Merlin and his mother unto Vortigern for him to deal withal as he might list. And when they were brought into his presence, the King received the mother with all attention as knowing that she was of right noble birth, and afterward began to make inquiry as to who was the father of the lad. Unto whom she made answer: ‘As my soul liveth and thine, O my lord the King, none know I that was his father. One thing only I know, that on a time whenas I and the damsels that were about my person were in our chambers, one appeared unto me in the shape of a right comely youth and embracing me full straitly in his arms did kiss me, and after that he had abided with me some little time did as suddenly evanish away so that nought more did I see of him. Natheless, many a time and oft did he speak unto me when that I was sitting alone, albeit at never once did I catch sight of him. But after that he had thus haunted me of a long time I did conceive and bear a child. So much, my lord King, is my true story, and so much leave I unto thee to interpret aright, for none other have I known that is father unto this youth.’ Amazed at her words, the King commanded that Maugantius should be called unto him to declare whether such a thing might be as the lady had said. Maugantius was brought accordingly, and when he had heard the story from first to last, said unto Vortigern: ‘In the books of our wise men and in many histories have I found that many men have been born into the world on this wise. For, as Apuleius in writing as touching the god of Socrates doth make report, certain spirits there be betwixt the moon and the earth, the which we do call incubus dæmons. These have a nature that doth partake both of men and angels, and whensoever they will they do take upon them the shape of men, and do hold converse with mortal women. Haply one of these hath appeared unto this lady, and is the father of the youth.’




And when Merlin had hearkened unto all this, and the he came unto the King and said: ‘Wherefore have I and my mother been called into thy presence?’ Unto whom Vortigern: ‘My wizards have declared it unto me as their counsel that I should seek out one that had never a father, that when I shall have sprinkled his blood upon the foundation of the tower my work should stand firm.’ Then said Merlin: ‘Bid thy wizards come before me, and I will convict them of having devised a lie.’ The King, amazed at his words, straightway bade his wizards come and set them down before Merlin. Unto whom spake Merlin: ‘Know ye not what it is that doth hinder the foundation being laid of this tower? Ye have given counsel that the mortar thereof should be slacked of my blood, that so the tower should stand forthwith. Now tell me, what is it that lieth hid beneath the foundation, for somewhat is there that doth not allow it to stand?’ But the wizards were adread and held their peace. Then saith Merlin, that is also called Ambrosius: ‘My lord the King, call thy workmen and bid delve the soil, and a pool shalt thou find beneath it that doth forbid thy tower to stand.’ And when this was done, straightway a pool was found under the earth, the which had made the soil unconstant. Then Ambrosius Merlin again came nigh unto the wizards and saith: ‘Tell me now, ye lying flatterers, what is it that is under the pool?’ But they were all dumb and answered unto him never a word. And again spake he unto the King, saying: ‘Command, O King, that the pool be drained by conduits, and in the bottom thereof shalt thou behold two hollow stones and therein two dragons asleep.’ The King, believing his words for that he had spoken true as touching the pool, commanded also that the pool should be drained. And when he found that it was even as Merlin had said he marvelled greatly. All they that stood by were no less astonished at such wisdom being found in him, deeming that he was possessed of some spirit of God.

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