Wednesday, March 23, 2011

History of England Part One

A word of explanation.  My spouse and her sister are going to visit England later this year.  It is a trip put on by the extention service of a university, so there was a recommended reading list.  I heard some gripes about the dry nature of the brief history of England they were supposed to read.  Opining that I could make it more brief and less dry, I had to actually deliver on the promise...... 

History of England part one.

Well, it’s been there a rather long time, but it was part of Europe until fairly recently.  Then the water levels rose and the puzzled locals couldn’t herd the sheep over to France and back.  Not that they knew it was France in any case.

Rather little being written down in that era, there were just a few crumbs of information that came to the Greeks and were considered worth writing down.  It was a good place to mine tin, out in the Cornwall end where you will be visiting.  Greek traders came there to buy it and ship it back home.  A really ambitious guy name Pythius sailed all the way around England and might have glimpsed Iceland, but we only have later writers quoting him and they probably left out the interesting parts.

Fast forward to the Romans.  Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, as France was known long before some guys called Franks took it over.  It was a little frustrating, because the Gauls did not always stand and fight, sometimes they just sailed over to England, as it was later called when some guys named Angles took it over, and visited their relatives.

Being a rather industrious fellow Caesar decided to teach the Britons a lesson.  So twice he sailed over, marched around a while defeating the local tribesmen and after declaring victory went home and left them alone for several generations.

After Caesar was bumped off the Roman Empire was formed with Augustus being its first and probably best emperor.  He said the borders of the Empire were big enough, thanks, and that they should not be expanded.

Claudius, same guy as in the BBC series “I Claudius”, decided to make an exception.  He invaded Britain in the first century AD, and what with the locals being disorganized and the Romans pretty good at this sort of thing, it was not too much of a chore to take over the southern two thirds of the Island.  Maybe the elephants he brought along were just too much for them.

Oh, sure there was that little unpleasantness when local Roman officials disrespected Queen Boadiccia and took liberties with her daughters.  Yes, and if you want to be negative about the whole thing she did raise an army and burn London and Colchester to the ground, killing pretty much everyone that did not go on the lam and quick. 

But the Romans were pretty experienced at putting down rebellions too, so before too long they owned the lower two thirds again and would periodically march all the way up into Scotland and teach a stern lesson to the guys up there who supposedly painted their bodies blue but given the climate might just have been really cold.

After a while, Hadrian, probably the second best emperor “evah” decided to build a wall across the narrowest part of England about at the 2/3 mark.  This was in 82 AD, and did a fairly good job keeping the blue painted n’er do wells on their side of things. 

The Romans had about 300 years then to build roads, some of them still in use, cities, great country villas and so forth.  Sure, as a part of the Empire it was still Hicksville, and anyone who lived there got teased about the blue painted locals, but overall it was pretty sweet.

But all good things come to an end.  The Romans never did figure out a good way to pick the next emperor….too often the sons of the emperor turned out to be spoiled brats, or psychos, or ninnies.  And the alternative was usually to round up the local garrison, bump off the emperor and put an army officer in charge.  Trouble was there were too many ambitious army officers.

Various guys from the province of Britannia got to be emperor, but over time the process tended to wreck the economy and drain the local garrisons off to fight on the continent.

Eventually the barbarians north of the wall, by this time they were Picts and Scoti charged south.  Btw, the Scoti came from Ireland but stayed on and became the Scots.  The Picts were so called because of the whole blue body paint thing.

Joining them were seaborne raiders from present day Germany, Saxons, Angles and Jutes.  The Angles must have had the best press agent; otherwise you would be going to visit Jutland or Saxony, which are both real places but probably less fun.

The barbarians took over.  Everyone stopped taking baths.  There were no more deliveries of coins so the economy descended to a goat based format.  One of the last recorded pleas to Rome was to the emperor Honorius, a total dimwit who spent most of his time tending pigeons.  He said, in effect, adios guys; you are on your own.

And the Dark Ages began.

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