The Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein We met the Germanic tribes in a previous section when we read the myths of the Norse and Germanic peoples. We have looked at the history and culture of the Franks; now we’ll go north to Britain and look at the beginnings of Germanic culture there. As the Franks settled in what is modern-day France, so the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes settled in what is modern-day England. They came from Scandinavia, just as the Vikings did later. The Romans had conquered England at the time Julius Caesar was conquering the world of Northern Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia. But Rome abandoned England by 410. (There are still relics of Roman building in Britain; most notably, parts of Hadrian’s wall remain, as do the Roman baths in the city of Bath.) The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes went there about 450—so the Romans had abandoned it before these Germanic tribes came. This explains why the English didn’t end up speaking a Romance language when all the other countries that had Roman garrisons of soldiers did—the Latin speakers that influenced the development of the Romance languages weren’t there to exert an influence. When William the Conqueror of Normandy launched his invasion of Britain in 1066 and took it over, Old French became the language of the ruling class, but though Anglo-Saxon assimilated a few French words from that time period, and a bit of Latin from the church when it finally came to England, it retained its Germanic roots rather than becoming a totally new language form. French, by the way, became the language of diplomacy around Europe, and remained so even up to the middle of the modern century, when English finally took over. By the seventh century, the Angles were well ensconced in the eastern part of Britain, the Saxons were in the west, and the Jutes were in the south on the Isle of Wight and around what is now Canterbury. I’d also like to mention my favorite island in the British group, the Isle of Man, which claims to have the oldest continuing constitutional democracy still extant; they date it from c. AD 500, and it’s based on the Danish system, influenced by the invading Danes who left it as a legacy to the indigenous peoples. The Manx claim that when Richard the Lion-hearted left for the Crusades and his brother John took the throne and made a botched job of being king, the nobles decided to make him sign a charter delineating what his rights and responsibilities were as king and what their rights and responsibilities were as nobles, because they either wanted him to shape up as monarch or be deposed. So they went to the Isle of Man and modeled the Magna Carta on the Manx constitution, and on 6/15/1215 they made him sign it. You can view the Magna Carta (the Great Charter) in the British Museum today. And it was one of the documents that our Founding Fathers used as a model for our Constitution in this country (along with the organization of the Iroquois League of Nations). In any case, it is important to remember that these Germanic tribes were very independent, and very strong minded about freedom and individual rights. About AD 800, Viking invaders from Scandinavia, mostly from Denmark, began to raid, pillage, and plunder various parts of Europe, and they took over the eastern part of what is now England. And just as a sidebar, the term "Viking" is not an ethnic designation—it’s a job description. You go "viking," which basically means raiding, pillaging, and plundering. So this Danish influence is why Beowulf, which is the next piece we’ll examine, though written in Anglo-Saxon, otherwise known as English, is a tale about Danes and Geats, who were exerting their influence throughout this period of Anglo-Saxon residence in Britain. (see: Selections from Beowulf) Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily