The Beginning of the End
by Steve Haas
are now at 435 A.D., and are getting closer and closer to Arthur. Unfortunately,
the closer we get to Arthur, the further we get from facts. In fact, I shall
probably not be able to finish this story to anyone’s satisfaction because any
answer would be as good a speculation as any other. I’ll give several lines of
speculation, but that is probably the best I can do.
policies had proven successful. He had neutralized the Picts and the Irish, and
his treaty Anglo-Saxon troops were successful in keeping the foreign
Anglo-Saxons at bay. There were internal problems, however, and these had to do
with another player in the field, the Ambrosii.
Ambrosii were an old, Roman family who had holdings in Wales, probably in Devon
and Cornwall. I know this contradicts, in some ways, my previous assertion that
Vortigern defeated the Irish in Devon and Wales, and I accept that. One can’t
go through this without contradicting oneself…
Ambrosii led the faction that wanted a return to Roman rule; they believed that
if they held out long enough, Rome would return and Britain would be returned to
the Roman fold. They were in distinct opposition to Vortigern, who was
establishing Britain as a power in and of itself. They held aloof from
Vortigern’s wars, probably refused to send troops to help him and opposed his
introduction of Anglo-Saxon treaty troops into Britain. The leading member of
the family, Aurelianus Ambrosii counciled that the introduction of these troops
would inevitably be fatal to the British cause. They waited patiently for
Vortigern’s policy to fail.
449, Vortigern expanded the lands that the Anglo-Saxons were allowed to include
most of the province of Kent. For the first time, the Anglo-Saxons were being
given land to settle on the mainland of Britain. Why Vortigern did this is open
to speculation; perhaps he was feeling comfortable with his foreign allies, and
wanted to cement the relationship with them. More likely, his earlier promises
of providing food and weapons to them were becoming burdensome, and he wanted to
pay them in other ways.
as part of the deal, Vortigern married the daughter of the Saxon leader, Hengist,
Reweina. To me, this is a far more compelling reason. Vortigern might have been
in his 40’s by this time. His former wife was dead, and she had been ten years
older than him when they married, It is not at all unforeseeable that Vortigern
became smitten with a beautiful young woman and, as a result, sold out Britain
in the hopes of becoming part of his family. This is the idea that I like, best,
as it gives a hint of romance and passion to the story, though there is
absolutely no evidence for this in literature or history.
Ambrosius reacted strongly to this move, which would have blown red flags in
front of his eye from East to West. There is record of a battle between
Vortigern’s troops and Ambrosius,’ which Ambrosius lost. In retrospect,
Ambrosius was right.
demands of the Anglo-Saxons became more and more insistent, and finally
Vortigern could not meet them. In 455 there is a record of a battle between in
‘a place that is called Aylesford.” The son of the Anglo-Saxon leader, Horsa,
was killed there, and so was Vortigern’s son, Vortimer. Ayelesford can be
found on the Medway river, and it is the place the Anglo-Saxons would have to
cross to break out from Kent. No one knows who won the battle, but it is known
in the British language as Saessenaeg Habail, “The Slaughter of the
Saxons,:” so maybe Vortigern won this one.
years later the Anglo-Saxons inflicted a crushing defeat on the Britons at
Crayford, where they claimed to have killed 4000 men. The Britons, says the
Anglo Saxon Chronicle, fled to London. The defenses of London were strong, and
the Anglo-Saxons had to pass London to break out from Kent, but it was a matter
473 that breakout occurred. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has a laconic and terrible
entry: “This year, Hengist and Esc (his son) fought with the Britons and took
immense booty. And the Britons fled from the English like fire.’ The reference
to immense booty must mean either that the Saxons so completely broke the army
of Britain, or they captured a great city. Both probably happened; Vortigern’s
army was destroyed and London taken and sacked. There was nothing holding the
English (for this is how they are now called) back from sacking and taking the
rest of Britain.
Vortigern’s policy of treaty troops discredited, the people of Britain looked
to Ambrosius, who had always opposed this policy, for help. Ambrosius now became
the acknowledged leader of Britain. His first campaign was not against the
Saxons, but against Vortigern. Vortigern, his army in disarray, his political
support gone, took refuge in a fortified town, someplace, and there Ambrosius
besieged him. Ambrosius used sieged engines against the walls, reminding us that
he was a Roman with a Roman equipped army, and that he was still fighting a
classical war. But, he was using Roman methods against a Roman fortified town,
and his methods failed. Finally, he set fire to the town and Vortigern perished
in the flames. Thus we see the last of Vortigern.
was able to hold the English back for 17 years, from 473 to about 490. The
people who had rallied to Ambrosius in utter dispair must have gleaned some hope
for final victory over the Saxons…but Ambrosius was not able to defeat them,
only prevent their further breakout from their strongholds. Hengist was defeated
and beheaded in 488, and his place taken over by other Saxon kings. In 490, the
English took their revenge, for Aelle and his sons landed in Sussex, capturing
the Roman fort of Pevensey. It is said that Ambrosius died here, but he would
have been over 80 at the time, and this is doubtful. Nevertheless, the Saxons
were triumphant, and Britain was in need of a new leader.
we are at the point of searching for Arthur, for he was the new leader. I shall
give various lines of speculation of who he was but, to me, the most likely was
that he was connected with the Ambrosii, somehow, more than likely a son.
King Arthur written by
Copyright © 2001 Steve Haas