Saturday 18 May 2013

An extract from my history of the British monarchy

As some regular readers of the blog may now, I am currently working on a history of the British monarchy, which will be published later this year. It's currently going well and I am very excited to share it with everyone when it's ready. As a preview, here is a short extract from early on in the book, about the transition from Roman imperial rule to an Anglo-Saxon Britain. Edits may occur between now and publication, but I hope you enjoy it. In the meantime, my new novel The Immaculate Deception is available on Amazon, both UK and US, and every sale and review is hugely appreciated in a very competitive market! There is also a Facebook fan page for my non-fiction work.

In 367, Britannia was attacked on all sides by the peoples beyond the borders. The empire provoked both resentment and envy in the “barbarian” countries around it. As Rome weakened, they seized their opportunity to strike. Hadrian’s famous wall did not repel the invaders and the Picts, who populated what is now Scotland, invaded Britannia from the north. This sweeping-south trauma was added to by invasions from the west and the south. The invasion from the west came from the Scots in Ireland – or Hibernia, as the Romans had called it. The invasion on the southern coastline was led by the Saxons, a sea-faring tribe of Germanic pagans, who the Briton-Christian chronicler Gildas described as ‘a race hateful to God and men.’ At the time of these attacks, the Roman empire’s power may have been declining, but it was not yet broken and Britannia was exceptionally lucky that the imperial throne had recently been taken by the Emperor Valentinian, who had undertaken the promethean task of trying to hold the decaying empire together and thus earned his future sobriquet of “the Great”. Livid at the so-called “barbarian conspiracy” to end Roman rule in the British Isles, Valentinian set off for Britannia himself. When he was delayed in Gaul, he dispatched one of his most gifted generals, Flavius Theodosius, to expel the invaders. He was successful in completing the task the Emperor had set for him, but the three-pronged invasion of Roman Britannia, defeated though it was, nonetheless suggested how seriously the empire’s power was deteriorating and how vulnerable it now was to threats from those it had long dismissed as contemptibly uncivilized. 
In 409, the barbarians struck again. This time, the throne was not held by a man like Valentinian, but by the weak and unlucky Honorius. Honorius was an erratic monarch who scandalised his Christian subjects by developing an incestuous passion for his younger sister, Galla Placidia, who fled to the eastern city of Constantinople to escape him. The entirety of the Roman Empire was now being besieged by incursions and attacks; Rome itself was threatened and the imperial capital was now the city of Ravenna, since Rome could no longer be adequately defended. Britannia, as an island on the farthest reaches of the empire with hostile neighbours on every side, was particularly vulnerable. The soldiers stationed there made their dissatisfaction with the current emperor clear by backing several rebellions against him. In 409, this instability was added to when Britannia was once again invaded by its enemies. Faced with the collapse of imperial rule and overstretched resources, Honorius could or would do nothing for the Britons. In 410, he declared that Britannia must look after itself for the time being and recalled the Roman legions to Italy to defend the empire’s capital. They never returned. Britain was at last free of Roman rule, but as with so many regime changes in history, the price of this freedom was a devastating loss of security. The native Britons were left defenceless to deal with multiple invasions. Initially, they coped badly and the archaeological evidence left to us would suggest that the sudden end of Roman Britain was a violent and bloody affair, with numerous casualties. Eventually, however, the Britons grew up, as all children must, and acquired something of the independent collective thought process which the empire had so long discouraged them from possessing. Some of the lessons of imperial rule still remained and in order to face the invaders, they knew that they must unite behind a strong leader. That leader’s name is given by tradition as Vortigern, but that may be a later fiction. Whatever his name, it seems that the dominant warlord of Briton decided that the main threat lay with the Celtic invaders from the north. In order to expel them, the man known as Vortigern decided to ally with the other invading force, the Saxons. Operating under the mentality of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, the hostilities between the Saxons and the Britons were halted and the former were allowed to flood into the country in order to supplement Vortigern’s attack on the northern Celts. It turned out to be Britain’s equivalent of the Trojan horse.

Copyright  © Gareth Russell 2013 All Rights Reserved 
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