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BRITANNICA, OR CONCERNING THE ANCIENT KINGS OF BRITAIN,
UNTIL THE DESTRUCTION OF THE NATION AND THE SAXON RULE
A History Written in Verse by John Ross, a Member of the Inner Temple,
Tto Which Is Added an Apostrophe at the Present Time on the Terrible
Recent Conspiracy against King James I
by Those Who Call Themselves Catholics and Jesuits
And an Apology concerning the Truth and Antiquity if This History
The age of the parents is worse than that of the grandparents."
Horace (Odes. III.6.46)
Printed at Frankfurt, in the workshop of Matthais Becker, 1607
SALUTATIONS TO THE MOST AUGUST AND SERENE JAMES, PRINCE OF GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND IRELAND, GREATEST PATRON OF LETTERS AND MOST WELL-DESERVING OF THE MUSES
ILLINGLY or not, most august King, I am obliged by a certain requirement of reverence to you to take on this literary project, not as abler but as readier to do it than perhaps others. What might be thought boldness in an obscure man, stupidity in an unlearned one, or rashness in an indiscreet one should be more readily tolerated in my case if your Serenity will, as he usually does, give fair and reasonable consideration. My intention, most illustrious King, is to portray the ancient kings of your majesty’s Britain in as lively a way as I can. Let others judge whether I have accomplished this in my great zeal for truth and reverence for antiquity. As those who walk in gardens for pleasure usually pluck not all flowers but the best of them, and sparingly at that, so I, poring over Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history of the deeds of the Britons day and night, have selected only those which are most useful to the present time. I did this all the more readily so I might be regarded as responding in some way to some of the private murmurings of certain people, who — led by error, I think, rather than malice — hold that the Britons were obscure, ignoble, and powerless. It did not occur to me to develop this little history, whatever its merits, from head to foot, as they say. As cannot be unknown, it is a laborious task, full of difficulty, to add absolute completeness to such undertakings; so if in the reading something seems in the reader’s judgment to be missing, may it be thought intentional rather than an error. For it did not seem necessary to attend without distinction to all the fortunes and conditions of everyone, lest like an unskilled pharmacist I appear to mix poison with anodyne. For even misdeeds have their allurements with which, as often as they move better minds, they will lead lesser ones astray. I have, then, brought to light not all, but as far as possible the best princes of Britain, long sleeping in the darkness of oblivion. But as we neither produce wheat without darnel or wine without dregs, since the chronology of this history necessarily influenced me, I hope not to be blamed if at times I seem, contrary to my intention in writing, to intermingle evil with good princes. Indeed, since the rose is not easily separated from the thorns, nor the fish from the seaweed, necessity will stand in place of virtue for me, in that what is good of itself may be better understood by opposition with its contrary. Meanwhile (most serene King), you have here a little flower of histories, not a garden, extracted, I confess, less elegantly than faithfully, composed in verse rather than prose, so I won’t seem to be doing what has already been done. I recount material received from Geoffrey. Yet I hope to be cleared from any charge of arrogance if I take to myself what belongs to the honor of this poem. It is not that anyone envies me my leisure, and if I am allowed a little time from more useful pursuits in private business, I should not be accused of vanity. I know how many there are in schools and elsewhere whom I have long expected would perform this task, who could and perhaps would treat this subject with more elegance and polish, which I have lightly touched, in brief skirmishes, as it were, and in passing, so as to arouse others to write rather than to say the last word on this project now in hand. I confess that I do not know many things, though I know what many do not. Yet if I can bring only one stone to the building of this work in what I do know, undertaken in the Britain newly constructed by your Majesty, I will claim that I have made a thoroughly satisfactory contribution. How easily this can be done, how it ought necessarily to be done, is worthwhile completing, and would be wrongly left undone has been very well discussed, fully and copiously, by others elsewhere. It only remains in my prayers that the ancient kings of the Britons and their stalwart virtues will arise as from the dead, so that we who have for a thousand years enjoyed the glorious name of English, so many invincible kings and princes, so many distinguished victories and triumphs, so many sacred ecclesiastical and political laws, may think it no less glorious if we may again be dedicated on this occasion to the most noble name of Britons, and that so many state letters, so much coinage, so much voting in public assemblies, so much enthusiasm in private circles, so many discussions in various books here and abroad will not come entirely to nothing. Under your Majesty’s influence Britain comes to life again. May you nourish this tender infant who implores your aid with continual crying. Cherish the weak child lest he languish, support him in his unsteadiness lest he fall, and strengthen him as he grows up lest he fail, so that when he comes to the maturity of a more perfect age, he may ascribe it entirely to your excellence. This is necessary so that, if this tiny infant (which your wisdom should provide for) die in the crib, it should not seem to be wholly stillborn.
Wholly and long dedicated to your Majesty.
1. TO THE KING
You are great, and in your great virtues live up to your name; as honor comes from merits, let there be splendor in titles: we praise Phoebus not because he is great but because everywhere he adorns the world with his rays. I once wrote of your wedding in a poem, now I sue for a marriage of kingdoms. And as that was happy, so I hope will this be, God willing. This, I pray, quickens my devotions: that peace may flow from this union, and prosperity from both.
2. ON ALBION AND ALBANY
Scotland was called Albany by antiquity, England was called Albion by our forefathers. What then is to prevent the English from becoming one people with the Scots, the Scots with the English, without difference? Albany and Albion sound alike in name, but if in substance they also meet, Albion will be rich [olbos]. May there be only one people, one mind, one king, and let there be one law, one alliance, and one faith.
3. THE BOOK TO THE READER
If anyone wants to know of the deeds of the Britons or their origins, let him read me, and he will know in brief what they were. I will deliver in few words, so as not to weary you, what their deeds were at home and abroad. Here under a new title I sing of the ancient deeds of the Brigantines — wars, armies, peace, alliances, festivals.
4. BRUTUS AND CORINEUS
After the Greeks were subdued under King Pandrasus and the Aquitani were driven out with Prince Grossarius, Brutus, as yet unsure where in the world there might be a people who would dwell with him and his companions, consulted the virgin Diana, to whom he offered sacrifice. When he had offered sacrifice in his prayers he spoke thus: "Goddess, triple power of earth, heaven, and Erebus, tell us where on earth you want us to dwell." She turned an ear not deaf to his prayers and at once the Delian answered: “In Ocean lies an island on which the sun sinks toward the north. It has been called Albion, after its white shoreline. Go with good omens and make your peaceful dwelling place there, Brutus. You will become a populous race: here stand your herds, your pastures, meadows, and mines.” When they heard this answer, as they wished, Brutus and powerful Corineus made haste to Albion, and the land took its name from his name: a barbarous land, inhabited only by giants of huge limbs, horrible in their ferocity. Brave Corineus eliminated them, driving Gogmagot headlong from on high into the sea. A city was built, Brutus ordered that it be built as New Troy, after his own country’s name, and so it was. The most beautiful nymph of the sea, Thamesis, loved her, often embraced and sought to kiss her. And that she might again caress the city whom she chastely loves, she always comes and goes twice a day. Winding along in her revolutions she waters the fields nearby (a task deserving the thanks of the rude farmers), daily glistening on her way through the green meadows. There she brings forth violets, lilies, strawberries, roses. She tends the fruits and woods of her lands and what benefits does she not bring for others? France sends wine through her, Greece her mead, Denmark brings fish, Russia honey and pitch, Africa sugar, India precious gems, balsam, incense, pepper, Persia silk. Whatever wealthy Arabia or happy America has, whatever is sold in Europe or Asia, Thames brings here to her lover on ships, from which, in short, New Troy becomes the world’s emporium.
5. ON LOCRINE AND THE DEFENSE OF GWENDOLYN FROM DISGRACE
The Britons’ greatness did not die with Brutus’s funeral but increased in his posterity. When the kingdom was divided he gave part to Locrine, part to Locrine, and part, Cambrus, to you. Albany is so called from Albanact, whom the King of the Huns attacked, overthrew, and killed. With Cambrus’s aid Locrine drowned the King of the Huns in the waters of the river (hence its name). Locrine captured Estrildis and was captured by love for Estrildis, the victor is vanquished by his plunder. Gwendolyn, beautiful daughter of Duke Corineus, was given by her father to the king and the king rejected her. Estrildis was exceptional; compared to hers, any other face was loathsome to the king. The father took this gravely and unable to endure it remonstrated with the king: “For this have I borne so many wounds in support of Brutus? That his son should scorn me and dare to esteem my child less than Humber’s? Do as you wish,” and in his right hand he waved his sword, “yet do not think that if you do so you will get by unscathed.” Fierce war was threatened for the king if he did not accept the daughter, and since he was more afraid of the threats than moved by love, he married her and pretended to love what he hated, and seemed to scorn what he dearly loved. Within, all the while, he fed the flames of an illicit love, doing this in secret so his father-in-law would not know. For there was a subterranean cavern far off where he often met unseen with Estrildis. Whether fear or shame brought this to pass I do not know, but what cannot be done chastely ought to be done charily. Public toleration encourages vice, virtue never more serious a matter than when it is despised. Unwitnessed, Locrine penetrated the recesses of the cave, believing that no traps lay hidden here. And so as to enter without suspicion he made it look — I don’t know how — as if he were sacrificing to his gods. Cunning love offered empty forms to conceal its own furtive pleasures. Estrildis became pregnant, Gwendolyn as well: the latter gave birth to Maddan, Sabrina was born to Estrildis. The Duke died on finding out, and after his misfortunes Locrine turned on Gwendolyn and rejected her. The mistress took her place and possessed the nuptial fires that the king had extinguished for his true wife. Fear is a bad advocate for love and a worse guardian, love and fear do not belong together at all. Gwendolyn withdrew, most angered by this, and grew as furious as a lioness bereft of her cubs. At Cornwall she gathered a large army, all the youth of the country coming to her side. The battle lines met at the river Stour, and there in midstream a bloody fight was held. And here you went down, Locrine, pierced by an arrow, and many young men paid the penalty of your crime. Estrildis, her beautiful daughter Sabrina hurled into the river, enjoyed a short marriage. And still today, that such defilement should not be forgotten, the river takes its name from the event. Gwendolyn, once things were set right, resumed royal power. A just God gives to each his own.
6. ON MADDAN, MEMPRICIUS, EBRANCUS ET BRUTUS THE SECOND
After Gwendolyn Maddan reigned and Mempricius succeeded him to his father’s throne, a man powerful only in his ferocity, an enemy to virtue for whom nothing was more important than to be honored. A wolf devoured him while he was hunting, as he for his part had devoured others. He who was so fierce with others became prey to the fierce. Fate so willed it, he was punished by his sin so no one would think that heaven’s threats are empty. After Mempricius was killed Ebraucus received the crown, worthiest son of the unworthiest father. He made up for his father’s infamies with his own virtue, and he allayed hatred of the former king with love for himself. There is a place in the northern climes whose meadows the Ouse often washes with its waves; there he built a famous city named for him, one that later ages called Eboracum. There is another place far from Hyperborean shores; here Aldud founded Agnedium, now called Maiden’s Castle. There he built it and it may be seen today if anyone travels there. It was not penetrable except through the gates, for its walls were atop a steep mountain. Happy in his rule, fertile in seed, bold in his soldiery, splendid in buildings and powerful in wealth, noble Ebrancus yielded to the Fates, and his son Brutus succeeded him, and Leir next.
7. ON LEIR THE FIRST
Leir built Carleiron at the time Solomon built the holy Temple of Jerusalem. He was wholly inclined to peace but passively so, and you might think he put public affairs second to personal ones. Once the people realized his laziness, everywhere there was murmuring, and the rumor spread widely and flew through men’s mouths that the king was neglecting the daily management of his kingdom, and weighing things on the scale of his own wishes. Every nobleman would behave carelessly as if he were the foremost person and put his own leisure ahead of his duties. A diminished reputation, which often joins with the true much that is false, brought on these and many other effects. Once this process was underway, discord arose which the commons increased and he was justly cast down. Neglect of government brings countless harms; contempt thereof, I am afraid to say, countless sufferings.
8. ON HUDIBRAS AND BLADUD, ALIAS BALDUD
Leir gave up his crown when the flames of war were ignited, and Hudibras was elevated to the throne. Nothing memorable to say of him remains, except that he built Cairgnenna, now called Wintonia. And he set up the first walls of Cairkenna, now at the site of your famed metropolis, Kent. When the wars subsided he died and left peace to his son Baldud, no mean gift. Baldud had drunk in the Muses at famous Athens, a learned man excelling in the occult arts. Where the evening sun goes down in Thetis’ lap he built Bath. There he set up baths for the sick, lame, and aged heated by sulfurous metals. He pledged these to the care of divine Pallas, to put them under the auspices of such a great divinity. To you, sacred Minerva, he dedicated hymns and the eternal flames of an unextinguishable fire. Intent on magic, he tried to fly and fitted light feathers to his shoulders. He then rashly pressed on for an aerial journey and was so confident that he stirred up the birds. He did not know how to avoid the ruin of Icarus or to shun the fate of evil Phaeton. He fell from on high, the summit of the heavenly sanctuary, and falling his body was split into pieces, broken by its weight. And a good thing: for necromancy had then crept through the whole kingdom, prompted by his evil example.
9. ON THE LOYALTY OF CORDELLA TO HER FATHER LEIR THE SECOND
Dear was Genorill to her father, and Regan was Leir’s delight; he divided his kingdom between them. They pretended to love their father dearly; Lear believed them (as every love is too credulous). They took the crown from him, weakened by old age, forbade him lodging, and forced him into exile. But Cordella, who did not know how to pretend her love, seriously displeased her father with her simplicity. He married Regan to Henninus, Genorill to Maglannus, one lord of Cornwall, the other of Scotland. The French king Aganippus married the third, but received no dowry unless the dowry was love. She was lucky in her husband, but (if there can be such a thing) unlucky in kingdom, father, sister. Her father abandoned her, who was later himself abandoned; he suffered the evil from others that he committed himself. Deprived of scepter, reduced in his attendants, this king, father, old man, stood in need of shelter, clothing in rags, not pretending to be poor when he was not, but poor. Thus, I say, laboring with old age, with poverty, the king (yet beggar) went to the kingdom of France. When Cordella heard of her father’s arrival, O how she rejoiced, rejoiced in her heart that the old man was there! With diverse motions her mind was tossed here and there as one for whom joy would mingle with silent modesty: she longed to go to her father but then wanted to call him to her. She considered the latter, and did so. She sent magnificent clothes, swift-oared boats and to accompany him, as was fitting, servants. Thus restored, the king came to the court and desired to embrace her whom he earlier denied. He feared that Cordella would recall the past, and feared not in vain, for there was reason to fear thus. She forgave all (which was truly generous), and as forgetful of the matter, remembered nothing of it. They met, tears and kisses mingled as often light rains fall while the sun is shining. After a feast the father, not unmindful of vengeance, longed for arms and asked his daughter’s aid. What more need be said? Let it suffice that she furnished Leir with an army and restored the kingdom. The rejected duaghter received her father, the loved one turned him away. She whom he loved took flight; she from whom he took flight loved him. Let all the world turn its eyes to her. Greater loyalty to a father never was, is, or shall be.
10. FERREX AND PORREX
I will said nothing about the civil wars that Porrex waged with Ferrex, how much blood was lost in the fighting. The Muse trembles to expound upon the slaughter that dread Videna brought on between her offspring. Silence is fitter for a secret war, there is nothing in this to please the serious reader.
11. DUNWALLO MULMUTIUS
War of every sort was waged throughout; now men killed enemies, now their own people. Meanwhile, Dunwallo stripped his slaughtered foe of their regalia and put them on, casting off his own. With enmity in arms he entered the enemy’s lines where friend could not be told from foe. He attacked their kings. Staterius died there, here Rudaucus, and here a whole courageous phalanx. He did many things with distinction, but nothing more excellent or worthier of such a man.
He made many laws. With them a commonwealth can enjoy peace, carry out justice, and repress wrongdoing. Where law holds sway God rules, but where passion and affection are foremost, brutality holds sway. The frenzy of the populace is no substitute for law, nor the king’s will, but tempered law governs all things. A people cannot exist safely without peace, nor peace without laws: law is the rule of Justice. It always says the same: it favors, envies, or hates no one, it fears nothing, it is the same for all people. It knows neither kindred nor friend, but weighs both great and small on impartial scales. It is not over-obscure like the Sphinx’s riddle, wrapping everything in equivocal words; not extremely drawn out like the Labyrinth, so that its beginning or end is at variance with its middle. Let it have no prologue; let it command, not persuade, so as to compel more thorough obedience to what it enjoins. Let there be few laws, but let them pertain to the public good, drawing their strength from their weight, not their number. As at a feast, with a meal of great diversity, the many courses will weigh down one’s stomach; better to have a few. In the same manner, a tangle of laws dulls our minds; if they are few and simple there will be no sickness. It is an easy labor to propose laws, but to observe them strictly as occasion requires, that is the reward of the task.
Relying on these principles so that he who had glory in war might have tranquility in peace, Mulmutius set up the laws. For the sake of brevity I do not include them; Gildas discusses them more learnedly, therefore read him.
12. ON BELINUS AND BRENNUS AND THE ADMIRABLE COURAGE OF CORRIVENA TOWARD HER SONS
Brennus forced Belinus, Belinus forced Brennus into arms, and each man was enraged, stirred up by envy. When peace was made, Scotland belonged to Brennus: Loegria, Cornwall, and Wales were his brother’s. In every kingdom, especially in the king’s court, there is no lack of people for whom peace is especially hateful. These men (because the hornet’s nature is to sting and to fish in muddy water) study nothing but war. O damnable pestilence of humanity which, rejoicing in blood, feeds on its own mother’s vitals! A flatterer said, “What cowardice has overcome you, Brennus? Do you want to remain under your brother’s control? Didn’t you have the same mother? the same father? Is your status in the family any less noble? You are tested in war, besides. Didn’t you overcome Chelnuphus, and are you worried about rousing your brother to war? Go on, let the treaty be broken, don’t worry. Does he make fun of your youth? Aren’t you both alike in your desires? Don’t let him go unanswered. Why are you waiting? Daring is the chief part of any deed, and you have that; the rest is a matter of luck. If you win, all Britain will fall to you. The faithless multitude doesn’t follow unworthy leaders. If you lose, you are cut off for the sake of a great undertaking; glory will restore your loss, fame your calamity. Take ship to Norway, where the king’s daughter will be yours in marriage, never fear.”
Brennus trusted too much in advice, went to Norway, and received the royal daughter as his bride. Never betray your heart to another’s tongue. No one gets good advice unless he can give it. After the marriage Brennus armed his ship and, provided with soldiers, he and his wife set sail. He cut through the vast sea, but as he did so a Dacian prince followed with his ships. This man was burning with love for Brennus’ wife and railed against her husband with all his strength. A great sea-fight broke out and the Dacian captured the girl he sought despite her husband. Yet in a short time he was driven by adverse winds to an unfriendly shore and almost brought to destruction.
While Brennus was all preoccupied with love, abandoned Scotland yielded to powerful Belinus. When Brennus realized that his kingdom had become Belinus’ and that his enemy had stolen his beautiful wife, O how tormented he was! He marched against Belinus but was beaten amidst great bloodshed. In his flight Brennus took refuge with the Gauls, and there among the Allobrogi he found a wife. Your rites, Hymen, had scarcely been rendered when he performed (as was fitting) the spousal role. He regained his strength, renewed the war, and soon made up for the dishonorable flight taken before. An army was assembled, hatred supported arms, and he sent ships against the wide shores of Britain. His brother went to met him but in the midst of the embattled squadrons their mother Connivenna put herself between them. The fearless parent stood between the two battle lines and said, “O sons, hold your hands, I pray.” She turned now to this one, now to the other. Now she anxiously begged Brennus, now Belinus, now both. She unbound her breasts and laid them bare before Brennus. “Look upon these, my son,” she said. “By this womb that brought you into the world, and the kisses I have often placed on your lips, and by my breasts that have nursed you, Brennus, I conjure you, if a mother has any right to weep, withdraw your battle lines and fortifications. Join, I pray, with your brother Belinus in friendship. What are you doing? Are you stirring your brother to war because he is a ruler? Is he not your elder? Does he not rule by right? That you were beaten and (if I may say, with all due respect) ran from your brother is your fault. Didn’t you make war? Isn’t getting beaten the chance you take in war? Doesn’t one look for victory however possible? Aren’t you going to war because your Northumbria went over to Belinus while you yourself were absent? Why are you doing this? He is not keeping you from your kingdom, he keeps it for you. No one would have it if you hadn’t abandoned it. He was the cause without which you would not be a prince of the Allobrogi, and as strong in land, military might, and wealth as you are. The gods were kind to you in your brother’s opposition and give you new kingdoms along with those that you abandoned. Fortune moves on to better things and favors the downcast. He who is too happy has a place from which to fall.”
His mother said these things and much else; knees bent, he bowed to the ground at her feet. He granted whatever his mother asked in peace; obedience overcame anger, love hatred. The brothers came together; their armies, mute and silent, stood about them, and everywhere there were whispers. One clung to the other in a long embrace, and they exchanged many kisses. They made plans to use the arms at hand and to join forces, since it was not safe to lay down their weapons. Without delay they sped their joined ranks into Gaul. Hope and glory now had a spur. The hope (not vain) was to overthrow the Gauls, whom they easily brought under their control as a subject people. The isle of Britain, thus augmented by neighboring Gaul, dared to march even to your walls, Rome. Whither am I borne? To speak briefly, Rome was conquered because of the battles of Brennus and the deeds of Belinus.
Martia gave laws to her country which later King Alfred endeavored to set firm. There is no thought of reviewing these, which are many; much reading will bring them fully to mind.
14. THE PUNISHMENT OF CRUELTY IN MORINDUS
If you had not been so cruel, Morindus, there would have been much to sing of about you. which I leave in silence: sung of you that I am silent about: but everyone must suffer for what he does. You defiled everything with blood, and a wild beast ate you alive.
15. ON THE VIRTUES OF MORINDUS’ SON GORBIANUS
But it would be gravely wrong of me, Gorbonianus, to overlook your praises among the others treated in my song. Your practice was always to offer constant prayers to heaven at the dawn’s first light. You were generous with your soldiers so they did not have to meet their needs in wrongful ways. You gave much, but did not lose the power of giving in giving, as fire is often extinguished by fire. You were beloved by the plowmen, imposing strict restraints on their landlords; every countryman was also a good citizen. You were loving in peace, powerful in war, loyal in both, and wealthy for the nation’s rather than your own sake. You knew, as is especially kingly, how to use peace with moderation so that your people might become richer thereby. Peace was not a moral decline from war as it usually is when the spoils for the great a fewer, and the good man has less than the bad. As the wolf runs amok with the calves, the fox with the sheep, the grim lioness did not rage among your young. The nation then prospered, rich in power, fields, flocks, and men; and there was no discord among the people. Virtue then flourished, vice lay low without praise; your rod was gentle for good men, hard on the evil ones.
16. ON ELIDURIS’ LOVE FOR HIS BROTHER ARCHIGALLO
What brotherly love can do Elidurus shows in epitome, an example of justice and loyalty. His wicked brother was Archigallo, a negligent ruler, a criminal, devoid of honor. Greedy for others’ fortunes while he wasted his own, he kept good men down and advanced evil ones with money. The nobles of the kingdom deposed him for governing so dishonestly. In his place they put Elidurus. He took the kingdom as a man who was sought-out but reluctant, he did not desire it. What the vine rejects the thorn-bush seeks: so it happens often that wicked men are in places of honor while the good go unhonored. The king serves his country, rules by the people’s will, and bears the burden of whatever glory will provide to his kingdom. Ruling is hard work, no pleasure; the good king is a shepherd, the evil one a real wolf. The gods grant pleasure to few rulers, hard work to many, and in great affairs no tranquility is allowed. Archigallo wanted the crown that he could not get back, fled the crown that his brother held securely. Elidurus later took the crown from his own head to give it back to his brother. It is a matter of fortune to enjoy a kingdom, but an honor to give one away.
17. AN OMISSION OF MANY KINGS
Here I readily pass over some kings without pause, and am pleased to follow my author by keeping silence on them. Let me envelop them in Cimmerian darkness, if I may, for they did nothing memorable. Perhaps, not unwisely, someone will say, "Did they not do good in not doing evil?" To anyone that would make this objection I say that virtue’s applause is loudest in action. Virtue as the absence of vice is a paltry thing — the gift of a thief who gives life by not taking it away. The prince scarcely deserves praise in doing very little, such perhaps more befits a private man or a monk. The prince’s role is to uphold faith, to do everything with grace, magnificence, justice, courage, and strength: to extend the boundaries of his rule and safeguard the peace by rooting out evil men and putting good ones in their place. Let him be a cynosure to his people, a refuge for the law, a pillar of virtue, the summit of religion.
18. ON THE POWER AND BRAVERY OF THE BRITONS
Whoever says the British kings were not powerful does not know of your strength, Cassibelan. Caesar twice turned tail on you, till you were overcome by the ambition of your Androgeus, something your enemy could not do.
This man’s older brother was Lud, who put the gate named for him on the west side of London. Androgeus was the first of Lud’s offspring, Taenantius the second. He willed them his kingdom on his death. Until they could attain manhood their uncle Cassibelan was ruler. Meanwhile this is what happened. After Caesar had beaten the Gauls he went to the land of the Ruteni. From here he saw the white cliffs on the British coast, and asked many questions about that land and its inhabitants. When he heard from those standing by that they were Britons he proceeded in these words: "Both Romans and Britons come from the same Trojan root, we are of the same posterity. After the ever-lamentable destruction of Troy, famous Aeneas was the origin of our nation. Brutus, fourth in line from Aeneas, is father of this nation as Aeneas is of Italy. Unless I am deceived, these Britons are not our equals in arms, though related by blood. Surely no one calls these unknown people to war; they have not known combat and the glory of war. They lie concealed under the northern pole, where the Great Bear presses with its jaws on the huge Ocean. Unruly Boreas dulls their spirits, icy winter freezes their bodies. Those whom Phoebus scarcely sees on his horse-drawn journey around the world have sat hidden in their humble cottages. The world has banished them beyond the ocean as a despised people, as if no nation would be less worthy of enjoying the world. But if that secluded race were not part of the world it would not be about to fall prey to us this day. To attack is to conquer them, though it would not be proper, martial Rome, for you to make war on them. For us who have beaten the Germans, Cimbri, Galls and Spaniards, Illyrians, Parthians, and Dacians, us to whom the world from Tanais to Nile pays homage, us at whose sound the earth and sea tremble, for us now to call these Britons, wretched as they are, to war, this would be laurels for me indeed, after so many achievements. No doubt we will carry off ample and excellent spoils from there, and Italy will become richer. As eagles are to flies, as lions to mice, so are arms to barbarians. Our hope rests on the ability to win. Yet since there is no glory in the blood of base men, and conquering the unskilled brings no praise, it seems to me that I should ask for the Britons’ loyalty through diplomacy, while insinuating threats, so those not of a mind to fight can yield or at least take flight before destruction.”
He spoke; and he wrote to the Britons either to yield or, if they should refuse, to prepare for war. He added that the power of Rome was so great in the world that fear should move them to pay tribute.
19. CASSIBELAN’S ANSWER TO CAIUS JULIUS CAESAR
“The Roman people’s glory, most invincible Caesar, is as you say great, I admit, and I don’t scorn you. Yet I wonder that Caesar, whom the world fears, would deem it beneath him to come see us Britons who have been placed on the edge of the world, uncivilized people with no ability in arms whom Phoebus never looks upon. We really did not expect such an enemy, whom it would be a great honor to meet in battle! Is this what our kinship, our common ancestry, means? our Trojan race descended from Aeneas? What do you want here, Caesar? Neither Arabia, Persia, nor India can satisfy your longings. Here there is nothing but miserable winter, cold, darkness, bodies stiffened by constant freezing. Here there is nothing to satisfy the summer’s heat of your greed, here no riches can be dug from the earth. Here when young Romans go to enjoy themselves there will be no cities, circuses, or amphitheaters in town. It isn’t worthy of you, Caesar, to conquer us, poor as we are, nor will it gain you anything. And to be beaten by us would be eternal disgrace to Rome — eagles overcome by mice. Let’s forget this: victory in an obscure war is doubtful and the fortunes of war make the outcome uncertain. Your hope is also vain that we will yield to you; we are not a people suited to fearful flight. We will guard our liberty and our hearths, unpracticed in putting our necks into an Italian yoke. Try it and you will find we cannot be overcome by an easy attempt in a test of will. Be satisfied with this answer, Caesar: we do not want to arouse your power, but neither will we endure it. Farewell.”
20. THE MEETING OF CAESAR AND CASSILBELAN
At this answer a vast rumor went through the Roman rank and file, as happens with any new event; Caesar gave the call and his divisions were ready in arms. The other leader, to block Caesar’s invasion, hurried his numerous troops to the ocean’s edge. The Britons were far from wanting to take flight. As Caesar saw the countless men on the shore, their helmets and long hair gleaming, he started to change his mind about the British and regretted his error. He was ashamed to have had vain hopes, shame brought on anger, and a cold tremor ran through his bones. But a leader, however disturbed, must contain his feelings, and must pretend as best he can not to be afraid. Caesar knew this well enough, and so as not to be inconsistent made light of the Britons in speech as before:
“You, O comrades,” he said, “whom Caesar always holds as sharers in the burdens as in the blessings of warfare, you have endured many dangers with me on land and sea. Do not now desert me in my good fortune. I urge you who under Caesar rule over the conquered world to add this isthmus to those other places. You see these shores teeming with many soldiers. Perhaps it seems there is a populous nation here. Not so: the whole nation is drawn together on the shore, the beach has emptied the kingdom of its people. They are armed with sharpened sticks and iron pots that make a gleaming appearance, certainly nothing more. This line marks the farthest Roman region and the victor has nothing beyond to seek for. Let no man fail in this final action, for the end crowns this last undertaking with praise.”
When he had said this, trumpets sounded and tuneful clarions, and the boats moved onto the British shoreline. Ships violated the bosom of the Thames: you, Cassibelan, held the city of Dorobellum. The battle lines clashed like two bolts of lightning, and for a long time the outcome hung in the balance. Julius was moving everywhere, now here, now there, quick to bring in fresh troops. Now you would think the Britons had won, now the Romans, as earth trembled everywhere with the blows that were given. Breaking out of the ranks, Nennius and Julius met on equal terms, far from any support. Nennius, shield high, took a staggering blow on his helmet from Caesar. Dumbstruck and wavering from the heaviness of the blow (it is not easy to bear the hand of Caesar), wounded Nennius drew out as best he could the sword Caesar had left stuck in his shield. This done, he took it to rage in the midst of the enemy, and rushing on him, Labienus, you fell. Now the legions of Caesar fell back more and more, till each man’s safety stood in fleeing. Caesar himself showed his back to the despised British, and feared the Britons he had scorned before. This lord of the world, threatening the lowly with such harm, was not ashamed to decide to flee for his life. Ingloriously he sped back to Gaul; and he was careful to influence them with gifts so they would receive him in his defeat. He charmed them with flattery; the lion bleated with a sheepish tongue, promising, as it pleased him, everything to everyone. The common herd fears the fortunate man and tramples on the downcast; in misfortune it is rare to find acceptance. It is no easy matter to win back a people who have lost faith. Caesar knew this from experience with the Gauls and won these foolish people over with gifts. They took pleasure in this, as do savages everywhere.
21. ON CAESAR’S SECOND EXPEDITION AGAINST BRITAIN
Phoebus had scarcely as yet traversed the world twice, and his beautiful sister twice ten times renewed herself when Caesar, mindful of the beating he had received and burning to vindicate his flight from cruel Mars, repaired his battered ships made ready for soldiers, furnished them, and again set out for the British coast. Cassibelan, meanwhile, concealed stakes beneath the flowing waters of Thames. Caesar went on confidently and plowed the sea with his ships, ignorant of the trap that lay hidden. The device succeeded, force was overcome by art, a sailor suddenly ran against the hidden stakes. Most of the ships were pierced by them and dashed to pieces. Caesar himself stood in terror of shipwreck. He ordered his ships to the bank of the Thames where the damaged ones could be unloaded. His boldness fronted his Gallic defenses — courage always quickens under the threat of dishonor. But neither the numbers of the Gauls, their weapons, nor their fires could prevail against the enemy, since God was not on their side. The Britons again slew them in great numbers as before, and hardly one remained unwounded. Caesar himself, willingly or otherwise, turned his frightened back once more and proved he could be overcome. He then went to the land of the Morini where he built a well-equipped stronghold, for he was afraid that the Gauls would rebel against him beaten as before. Devotion is rarely won in times of trouble. He withdrew with his companions for safety into this fort, where he worked to improve his defenses. He waited for better luck to turn up and often offered threats in his prayers, prayers in his threats. Meanwhile, throughout the kingdom the Britons celebrated their triumphs and along with their trophies carried off many spoils of war. The veteran Cassibelan was now resplendent in purple and gold, and rode forth behind white horses. Their sacred rites performed, they undertook games in honor of Mars. Their field was crowded with games. One played with sword, another hurled the javelin, here a spear flashed and won out over the others. Splendid Hireldas, a handsome youth, nephew of the king himself, was foremost among the athletes. Cruel Euclinus killed him in a fight and thirsting for vengeance on him cut off his head with a sword. He was nephew of Androgeus, cruel and bold, born of fatal lineage, born for destruction. As soon as the king heard word of that deed he grew angry and considered what penalty should be paid. He warned Androgeus to bring his nephew Euclinus forward, but Androgeus would not allow it. The outraged king invaded Cornwall, laid waste the cities of Androgeus with sword and destroyed them with fire. Androgeus, neither able nor prepared to stave off the angry king’s attacks, sought aid. He asked assistance from twice-beaten Caesar, and set out to achieve by treachery what could not be done by force. Caesar, disposed in his favor but slow to believe him, asked why he had fled and what he hoped from his enemy. The other made things much worse by telling all, and vowed also that he could and would hand over his country to Caesar. Having accurately searched out this man’s character and motives, Julius gave assurances of loyalty to his plot. In short, he attacked the Britons, whom he could not conquer on the field, with secret sedition on the homefront. Caesar at last won, though not without blood, and forced the Britons to be ruled by Rome. Who, unless brought forth from Stygian Avernus, could instigate so dark a crime? Who would want to convert a private grievance into public harm, unless he were a tiger’s or bear’s offspring? O courage of the Britons, O invincible courage of the Britons! To have to submit unknowing to the Roman yoke. Yet though you became subject to Roman overlords and a new scepter was laid on you against your will, it remains to be said in your praise, Britain, that though you were betrayed you cannot be called conquered.
22. ON THE RULE OF TENANTIUS, KYMBELINUS, AND GUIDERIUS
Androgeus, traveling to Rome with Caesar, left the kingdom because of the shame of his crime. Tenantius meanwhile held the scepter, a terror in war, calm in peace. By paternal right Kymbelinus succeeded him.
During his reign Jesus savior of the world was born into the world, who washed our sins away with His blood. Both man and God, of a virgin yet without father; as a man he was without father, as God, without mother.
The dual offspring of Kymbelinus succeeded him, the elder Guiderius, the younger Arviragus. Guiderius refused to give the tribute exacted by the Romans, thus the foolish multitude delighted in their folly. The Roman people would not put up with this; they took arms to force the Britons to pay what they refused. Claudius Caesar and Laelius Hamo hastened to stir the savage Britons up for a new war. It was not fought well in the first attack, and Claudius himself retreated. Laelius, unable to play the lion’s part, played the fox — always at heart a crafty man. He changed his uniform, put on the shield, insignia, and arms of Brut’s race, and pretended to speak their language. Outfitted with these things, behind a false exterior, adding strength to his crafty deceits (luck did its part), he mingled with the British troops, and you would have thought he was a Briton, and no Roman. When he had gotten near the king, who was not on his guard, he killed Guiderius on the spot with his sword. Laelius safely returned from there to his own side in the midst of the retreating enemy as the lamentations arose.
23. ARVIRAGUS’ REVENGE ON LAELIUS HAMO, AND HIS COURAGE
Arviragus attacked proud Hamo for this wicked murder and revenged his brother’s death with the sword. Claudius had his daughter Genuissa married to him, by this union seeking to make a friend from an enemy. Arviragus, for the sake of his country’s liberty, refused the union with Rome and the Roman yoke. He undertook a very bloody war with the Romans and, Vespasian, was victorious over your forces. This was not the final glory of the Britons, unwilling to become slaves to Italian masters. Arviragus was scourge of vice and refuge of virtue, a terror to the Romans, the glory of Brut’s race. He made firm his country’s laws so that from that time on the crown, which without law is doomed, could rest more safely: this openhearted man was perhaps not as ready to punish evildoers as he was to lavish his personal attention on good men. And as he grew advanced in years he quit making war and, Mars being inactive, endeavored to follow the way of peace. It is uncertain whether Rome feared or loved him more, but it admired and respected him. Since their family lines were joined, a statue of Claudius was put in the temple at Gloucester which he built for his father.
24. ON MARIUS’ WAR WITH THE PICTS AND THEIR FIRST DWELLING IN SCOTLAND
When Arviragus died his son Marius, like his father in goodness, took the scepter. While he was ruling, the unruly Scythians and Picts, under their leader Londricus, started a bloody war with the Britons. Marius’ forces overcame them after many battles and sent the Picts into retreat. In the midst of the fighting the Scythian king Londricus fell, and showed what it means to start wars rashly. Caithness became home to the remaining Picts, near Thule, and the race of Picts was given a place to live.
25. ON THE BEGINNINGS OF RELIGION IN LUCIUS’ TIME
Lucius now came into the light, born of Coellus his father and rightly called Lucius, for he brought forth the light of the Gospel and was the first to promote religion among the Britons. He wrote to Pope Eleutherius and asked earnestly that the pagan Britons might become Christians. Godly Eleutherius gave ear to the royal request and sent men of learning here. You had a hand in this work, Dunianus, and Faganus was there to aid in the speedy performance of this work. Lucius himself entered the sacred waters of baptism: the people and nobles followed his example. So strong is the king’s example with the people, they are always ready to accept what he sees or hears. We always more readily follow what has been received by observation than by reason: the latter is manifest through Ideas, the former through deeds. False superstition vanished gradually, but what struck root was not easily eradicated. A bishop succeeded to the flamens’ office, and the temples that had been devoted to the gods are now devoted to God. Christ does not sow the good seed so quickly that the devil’s wrath cannot sow his weeds. For afterward in the reign of Asclepiodotus a savage wolf was brought into the sheepfold and during the tyranny of Diocletian became thoroughly violent, longing to tear out the throat of the infant church. He made Christians suffer in many ways. Some had their limbs pulled apart by wild horses, others were roasted alive on spits, and others had their naked bodies crushed beneath heavy wheels. A cruel executioner tortured still others with acid, boiled some in lead, hanged others. For this person he mixed poisons, this one he crushed with stones, that one he drowned in a bag under the sea waves. From one he tore off strips with red hot forceps, and when he could not inflict a torture repeatedly, he drew it out over a long time. As tyranny increased, among the worthy fathers who lay down their lives for the sake of the faith Alban of Verulam shines like a star: he showed his faith as much by his death as by his true love. The tyrants sought to kill his confessor Amphibalus; Albanus would not permit this to happen, but having secretly hidden Amphibalus he put on this man’s clothing and went out to his death so that another might live.
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