The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D.

A Summary Account

In 400 A.D. most of Britain (the part south of Hadrian's wall) has been part of the Roman Empire for over three and a half centuries, and all free-born Britons have been Roman citizens for half that time. Christianity is well established and the cities remain relatively prosperous, if somewhat less so than in the past. In the preceding half century there have been a number of worrying raids by barbarians: the Picts from north of the Antonine wall, the Scots from Ireland and the Saxons from the Continent (Saxons was the generic term used in the Roman world for the north-western Germanic tribes including Angles, Jutes and Frisians as well as Saxons). The Roman general Magnus Maximus had largely countered the Pictish threat by enlisting the British tribes between the Hadrianic and Antonine walls as federate allies of the Empire. However, he subsequently withdrew most of the Roman troops in his failed bid to usurp the Imperium from 383 to 388. The Empire is forced to dispatch an expedition to restore order and peace to the diocese, lead by the general Stilicho.
 
402  Stilicho withdraws troops from Britain to face a threat to Italy by the Goths.
407 Gaul is invaded by Germans. Britain revolts and nominates Constantine III as Emperor. He moves to Gaul with many of the remaining troops in Britain.
410 Britain is raided by the Saxons. The Britons appeal to Honorius, the legitimate Emperor, for aid. They are told to look after themselves. 
411 The Britons arm themselves and overthrow Constantine's administration.
418-29 Britain is raided heavily by Picts and Scots, and probably Saxons. 
c.427  The Britons appeal to Aetius, Roman commander in Gaul, but get no aid.
429 St. Germanus visits Britain and leads local troops to a victory over Pictish and Saxon raiders.
430s A time of peace and prosperity but political instability.
?440 Vortigern comes to power as the head of a council of Britain.
?443 In response to the threat of renewed Pictish raiding, Angle tribes are invited to settle in the East of Britain as federates.
c.446 A plague devastates Britain.
c.449 Vortigern invites Jute/Frisian mercenaries under Hengest, and settles them in Thanet, to use in punitive raids against the Picts, and to counter the threats of British rivals and Imperial invasion.
?453  Civil strife between Vortigern's party and Ambrosius (possibly leader of pro-Imperial party).
c.453-5 Hengest's mercenaries are reinforced from Saxony and Anglia. Vortigern marries Hengest's daughter and cedes Kent to Hengest. Hengest's son Octha leads a raid against the Picts and founds an English settlement in north of the Firth of Forth. 
c.456  Vortigern's son Vortimer seizes power and repudiates his father's agreement with Hengest. He invades Kent but is defeated by Hengest at Crayford and driven back to London.
?458  Vortimer and Hengest fight indecisively in Kent. Their respective brothers Cattegirn and Horsa are killed.
?461  Vortimer invades Kent again and this time defeats Hengest, who retreats to Thanet.
?462-5 Vortimer besieges Thanet, and finally retakes it, forcing Hengest to withdraw to the continent.
c.469  In response to an Imperial request, Riothamus (?=Vortimer?), high-king of the Britons, leads his army to Gaul to fight the Visigoths. He is betrayed by the Imperial prefect in Gaul.
c.470 The Britons in Gaul are routed before Imperial troops arrive. Vortimer dies.
c.471  Vortigern takes power again, and invites Hengest and his army back.
c.472  In a meeting with the council of Britain, Hengest's men murder all 300 British elders by surprise, and ransom Vortigern for Essex and Sussex. Vortigern hands over power to Ambrosius Aurelianus, son of the above Ambrosius.
c.473 Perhaps in response to resistance to his claim on Essex and Sussex, Hengest leads a great raid against Britain, destroying many towns. The Angles subsequently revolt also. Many Britons migrate to Brittany (little Britain).
c.475  Ambrosius Aurelianus rallies the Britons and defeats the English. From then until 518, the fortunes of war fluctuate.
c.477  Aelle lands in Sussex with 3 keels (ships). He conquers Sussex over the next 14 years.
?480 The Angle king Icel migrates from Angeln (Denmark/Germany) to Britain.
c.495  Cerdic lands in Hampshire with 5 keels. He establishes the kingdom of the Gewissae over the next 13 years.
?495-  Arthur is Dux Bellorum (battle-leader) of the Britons. He is victorious over the English in Lindsey, the Picts (presumably) in Caledonia and the Irish (presumably) in Caerleon.
?506 Arthur assumes Ambrosius' power as high king.
c.511 Bretons accept nominal Frankish suzerainty.
c.518  Battle of Badon (Bath) in which Arthur defeats the English. Aelle (probably the English leader) and Cerdic die. Britain is partitioned by treaty between the British and the English. Gildas is born.
530s  Many Saxons migrate back to Germany.
530s
Theodoric, king of the Franks, claims to rule Britain. Britons, perhaps led by Arthur, occupy Frankish territory in the west, and Angles undertake a punitive raid against the Varni, Frankish allies in the east.
c.539 Arthur dies in civil war probably against Medraut.
?545 Gildas writes "The ruin of Britain".
547  Ida becomes king of Bernicia and begins a policy of expansion.
552 Cynric, grandson of Cerdic, also breaks the peace of Badon.
539-65 British engage in many civil wars. 
565-84 The Mercians capture the Northern midlands from the British. The East Saxons reclaim Essex.
571-84 Ceawlin, son of Cynric, captures the Southern midlands, from the Severn to the Chilterns, from the British.
570-90 Urien of Rheged leads the Northern British heroic age in warfare against the Bernicians, but is assassinated by a rival on the brink of victory.
c.582 York is captured by the Deirans.
?597 Catterick (in the Eastern Pennines) is captured by the Northumbrians.
?598  The mounted host of the Northern British is annihilated in attempting to recover Catterick. The Northumbrians secure all of the lands east of the Pennines. 

With their victory at Catterick, the English gain control of most of England: a solid block of territory from Bernicia to Wessex, cutting the British in Dumnonia (the South-West) from their countrymen in Wales and the North-West. Although it will take the English many centuries to conquer all of what is now England, the British at the start of the 7th century are confined to the western highlands of the Island. Britannia has given way to England and Wales.


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