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   Chapter 1 PART I.

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 4574

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The Romans left London. That was early in the fifth century; probably in the year 410.

Two hundred years later we find the East Saxons in London.

What happened during this long interval of seven generations? Not a word reaches us of London for two hundred years except once when, after a defeat of the British by the Saxons at Crayford in the year 457, we read that the fugitives crossed over London Bridge to take refuge within the walls of the City. What happened during this two hundred years?[1]

[1] On this subject, see the author's book London (Chatto & Windus).

We know what happened with other cities. Anderida, now called Pevensey, was taken by the Saxons, and all its inhabitants, man, woman and child, were slaughtered, so that it became a waste until the Normans built a castle within the old walls. Canterbury, Silchester, Porchester, Colchester-all were taken, their people massacred, the walls left standing, the streets left desolate. For the English-the Saxons-loved not city walls. Therefore, we might reasonably conclude that the same thing happened to London. But if it be worthy of the chronicler to note the massacre of Anderida, a small seaport, why should he omit the far more important capture of Augusta?

Let us hear what history has to tell. Times full of trouble fell upon the country. Long before the Romans went away the Picts and Scots were pouring their wild hordes over the north and west, sometimes getting as far south as the Middlesex Forest, murdering and destroying. As early as the year 368, forty years before they left the country, the Romans sent an expedition north to drive back these savages. Already the Saxons, the Jutes and the Angles were sending piratical expeditions to harry the coast and even to make settlements. The arm of the Roman was growing weak, it could not stretch out so far: the fleets of the Romans, under the officer called the 'Count of the Saxon Shore'-whose duty was to guard the eastern and southern coasts-were destroyed and their commander slain. So that, with foes on the eastern seaboard, foes in the Channel, foes in the river, foes in the north and west, it is certain that the trade of Augusta was declining long before the City was left to defend itself.

What sort of defence were the people

likely to offer? For nearly four hundred years they had lived at peace, free to grow rich and luxurious, with mercenaries to fight for them. Between the taking of the City by Boadicea and the departure of the Romans, a space of three hundred and fifty years, the peace of the City was only disturbed by the lawlessness of Allectus's mercenaries. Their attempt to sack the City was put down, it is significant to note, not by the citizens but by the Roman soldiers who entered the City in time. The citizens were mostly merchants: they were Christians in name and in form of worship, they were superstitious, they were luxurious, they were unwarlike. Many of them were not Britons at all, but foreigners settled in the City for trade. Moreover, for it is not true that the whole British people had grown unfit for war, a revolt of the Roman legions in the year 407 drew a large number of the young men into their ranks, and when Constantine the usurper took them over into Gaul for the four years' fighting which followed, the country was drained of its best fighting material. The City, then, contained a large number of wealthy merchants, native and foreign; it also contained a great many slaves who were occupied in the conduct of the trade, and few, since the young men went away with Constantine, who could be relied upon to fight.

One more point may be made out from history. Since London was a town which then, as now, lived entirely by its trade and was the centre of the export and import trade of the whole country, the merchants, as we have seen, must have suffered most severely long before the Romans went away. We are, therefore, in the year 410, facing a situation full of menace. The Picts and Scots are overrunning the whole of the north, the Saxons are harrying the east and the south-east, trade is dying, there is little demand for imports, there are few exports, it is useless for ships to wait cargoes which never arrive, it is useless for ships to bring cargoes for which there is no demand.


(Now in the University at Christiania.)

A declining city, a dying trade, enemies in all directions, an unwarlike population. When the curtain falls upon the scene in the year 410 that is what we see.

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