| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
THE STORY OF THE COMING OF HENGIST AND HORSA
 VORTIGERN now became king, for he was so powerful that none
of the other princes dared to oppose him. But the Picts and
Scots were very angry when they heard how their friends had
been treated. They resolved to avenge them and at once made
war on the Britons. They defeated Vortigern in many battles,
and killed more than half of his soldiers.
The Britons were in despair. Then Vortigern called all the
nobles and princes together in council, to discuss what was
best to do.
At this time there were really no very clever men among the
nobles of Britain. They were all in great fear of the Picts
and Scots, and they had no good counsel to offer. Vortigern
therefore was able to do very much as he liked.
"We must have help," he said, "if we are not to be
thoroughly conquered by these wild barbarians from the
north. The Romans will not help us. We must ask some one
else. Across the sea, called the North Sea, there is a great
country called Germany. The people who live in this country
are Saxons. They are very brave and valiant fighters. Let us
send over to Germany and ask the Saxons to come and help
 Then all the nobles and princes said, "That is good advice;
let it be done."
So Vortigern sent messengers to Germany with promises of
money and land to the Saxons, if they would come to fight
against the Picts and Scots. The Saxons were very glad to
come, and soon there appeared sailing over the sea three
ships, filled with some of their strongest and bravest men.
Their captains were two brothers, called Hengist and Horsa.
Both these names, in the old Saxon language, mean horse.
They were so called because they were strong and brave.
The Saxons landed in Britain in 449 A.D. And little did the
Britons think that they had come, not only to help, but to
As soon as the strangers landed, Vortigern led them
northward to fight the Picts and Scots. There was a terrible
battle. Both sides fought with the fiercest bravery, and on
both sides many soldiers were killed. But in the end the
Saxons had the best of it, and the Picts and Scots were
driven back to their own country.
The Britons were greatly delighted, and rewarded the Saxons
with money and lands. Then Hengist and Horsa, seeing what a
fine country Britain was, resolved never to go away again.
They resolved rather to stay and conquer it for themselves.
So they first told Vortigern that Aurelius Ambrosius and
Uther Pendragon, the brothers of the dead King Constans,
were coming to fight against him, and then they advised him
to send over to Germany for more soldiers.
Vortigern was very much afraid of the dead king's brothers,
so he said, "Send messengers to Germany and ask whom you
like to come. I can refuse you nothing, since you have freed
us from the Picts and Scots."
 Then Hengist said, "You have indeed given us lands and
houses, but as we have helped you so much I think you should
give me a castle and make me a prince."
"I cannot do that," replied Vortigern. "Only Britons are
allowed to be princes in this land. You are strangers and
you are heathen. My people would be very angry if I made any
one but a Christian a prince."
At that Hengist made a low bow, pretending to be very
humble. "Give your servant then just so much land as can be
surrounded by a leather thong," he said.
Vortigern thought there could be no harm in doing that, so
he said, "Yes, you may have so much." But he did not know
what a cunning fellow Hengist was.
As soon as Vortigern had given his consent, Hengist and
Horsa killed the largest bullock they could find. Then they
took its skin and cut it round and round into one long
narrow strip of leather. This they stretched out and laid
upon the ground in a large circle, enclosing a piece of land
big enough upon which to build a fortress.
If you do not quite understand how Hengist and Horsa managed
to cut the skin of a bullock into one long strip, get a
piece of paper and a pair of scissors. Begin at the edge and
cut the paper round and round in circles till you come to
the middle. You will then find that you have a string of
paper quite long enough to surround a brick castle. If you
are not allowed to use scissors, ask some kind person to do
it for you.
Vortigern was very angry when he learned how he had been
cheated by Hengist and Horsa. But he was beginning to be
rather afraid of them, so he said nothing, but allowed them
to build their fortress. It was called Thong Castle, and
stood not far from Lincoln, at a place now called Caistor.
While this fortress was being built, messengers were
 sent to
Germany for more men. They returned with eighteen ships full
of the bravest soldiers they could find. In one of the
ships, too, was a very beautiful lady. This was Rowena,
Soon after these soldiers and this beautiful lady arrived,
the castle was finished. Then Hengist gave a great feast and
asked Vortigern to it.
Vortigern came and admired the castle very much, although he
was still rather angry with Hengist for having cheated him
about the land.
Towards the end of the feast, Rowena came into the room,
carrying a beautiful golden cup in her hands. Vortigern
stared at her in surprise. He had never seen any one so
pretty before. He thought that she must be a fairy, she was
Rowena came into the room carrying a beautiful golden cup.
Rowena went up to Vortigern, and kneeling before him held
out the cup, speaking in the Saxon language.
Vortigern did not understand. "What does she say?" he asked
"She calls you 'Lord, King,' and offers to drink your
health. You must say, 'Drinc heil,' " he answered.
Vortigern said "Drinc heil," although he did not know what
Rowena then drank some of the wine and handed the cup to
Vortigern, who drank the rest.
Then Vortigern made Rowena sit beside him. They could not
talk to each other because he could only speak British and
she could only speak Saxon. But they looked at each other
all the more. Vortigern loved Rowena. He loved her so much
that he wanted to marry her.
This was just what Hengist had hoped would happen. He knew
he would have a great deal of power in Britain when his
daughter was queen. But at first he pretended to object, and
only consented at last as if it
 were a great favour. He made
Vortigern give him the whole of Kent, too, in return for
allowing him to marry Rowena.
When the people heard that the King had married a Saxon
lady, they were very angry. Vortigern had been married
before, and his sons, who were now men, were very angry too.
But the Prince of Kent was most angry of all, when he heard
that his land had been given to the Saxons.
Hengist, seeing how angry the Britons were, though it would
be safer to have more of his own people round him. So he
sent over to Germany for men, and almost every day more and
more Saxons landed in Britain. And Vortigern loved Rowena so
much that he allowed her father Hengist to do anything he
But the Britons did not mean to let their country be
conquered a second time, so they rebelled against Vortigern
and chose his son Vortimer to be king.
Vortimer was young and brave, and loved his country. Under
his leadership the Britons fought so well that they soon
drove the Saxons away. Horsa was killed in one of the
battles, and soon afterwards Hengist and most of his
soldiers took their ships and fled back to Germany. They
left their wives and children behind them, however, which
looked very much as if they expected to come back again some
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