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   Chapter 3 No.3

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 4392

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

A hundred and fifty years passed away between the landing of the East Saxons and their recorded occupation of the City. This long period made a great difference in the fierce savage who followed the standard of the White Horse and landed on the coast of Essex. He became more peaceful: he settled down contentedly to periods of tranquillity. Certain arts he acquired, and he learned to live in towns: as yet he was not a Christian. This means that the influence of Rome with its religion, its learning and its arts had not yet touched him.

But he had begun to live in towns; and he lived in London.

Perhaps the first of the new settlers were the foreign merchants returning, as soon as more settled times allowed, with their cargoes. London has always been a place of trade. But for trade no one would have settled in it. Therefore, either the men of Essex invited the foreign merchants to return; or the foreign merchants returned and invited the men of Essex to come into the City and to bring with them what they had to exchange.

In the year 597 Augustine, prior of a Roman monastery, was sent by Pope Gregory the Great with forty monks, to convert the English. Ethelbert, King of Kent, and most powerful of the English kinglets, was married to Bertha, a Christian princess. She had brought with her a chaplain and it was probably at her invitation or through her influence, that the monks were sent. They landed at Thanet. They obtained permission to meet the King in the open air. They appeared wearing their robes, carrying a crucifix, and chanting Psalms. It is probable that the conversion of the King had been arranged beforehand; for without any difficulty or delay the King and all his Court, and, following the King's example, all the people were baptised.

Augustine returned to Rome where he was consecrated Archbishop of the English nation. A church was built at Canterbury, and the work of preaching the Faith went on vigorously. The East Saxons made no more hesitation at being baptised than the men of Kent. Ethelbert, indeed, could command obedience; he was Over Lord of all the nations south of the Humber. He it was, according to Bede, who built the first church o

f St. Paul in London, a fact which proves his authority and influence in London, and his sincere desire that the East Saxons should become Christians.

They did, in a way. But when King Siebehrt died, they relapsed and drove their Bishop into exile.

Then-Bede says that they were punished for this sin-the East Saxons fell into trouble. They went to war with the men of Wessex and were defeated by them. After this, we find London in the hands of the Northumbrians and the Mercians-that is to say-these nations one after the other obtained the supremacy. It was in the year 616 or thereabouts, that Bishop Mellitus had to leave his diocese. Forty years later another conversion of London took place under Bishop Cedd, consecrated at Lindisfarne. The new faith was not strong enough to stand against a plague, and the East Saxons of London went back once more to their old gods. After another thirty years, before the close of the seventh century, London was again converted: and this time for good.

In the eighth century London passed again out of the hands of the East Saxon kings into those of the Mercians. The earliest extant document concerning London is one dated 734, in which King Ethelbald grants to the Bishop of Rochester leave to send one ship without tax in or out of London Port.

A witan-i.e. a national council-was held in London in 811. It is then spoken of as an illustrious place and royal city. The supremacy of Mercia passed to that of Wessex-London went with the supremacy. In 833 Egbert, King of Wessex, held a witan in London.


(From a drawing belonging to the Society of Antiquaries.)

When Egbert died the supremacy of Wessex fell with him. Then the Danish troubles fell thick and disastrous upon the country. When Alfred succeeded to the Crown the Danes held the Isle of Thanet, which commanded the river; they had conquered the north country from the Tweed to the Humber; they had overrun all the eastern counties twice-viz., in 839 and in 852: they had pillaged London, which they presently occupied, making it their headquarters. With this Danish occupation ends the first Saxon settlement of the City.

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