| 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 LAST OF THE ROMANS
 CARACTACUS was dead, Boadicea was dead, many other brave
British leaders were dead, but the Britons still continued
to give the Romans a great deal of trouble.
At last Vespasian, who was then Emperor of the Romans, sent
a general called Julius Agricola to see if he could subdue
the people and govern the island of Britain.
Julius Agricola was a very clever soldier and a wise man.
When he had gained one or two victories over the Britons, he
tried what kindness would do. This was something the Romans
had never done before.
Julius Agricola tried to understand the people. He was just
and fair. He not only took away many of the heavy taxes
which the Romans had made the British pay, but he built
schools and had the people taught to read and write. For up
to this time the Britons had had no teachers and no schools.
None of them could read or write, and perhaps there was not
a single book in the whole island.
Of course, books in those days were quite different from
what they are now. There was no paper, and printing was
unknown, so when people wanted to make a book they wrote
upon strips of parchment, which was made from the skins of
animals. These strips were then rolled up, and looked very
much like the maps we hang upon the wall, only they were
 Besides building schools, Agricola built public halls and
courts where the people might come and ask for justice,
whenever they had been wronged. He taught the Britons what
obedience, law and order meant, and in every way tried to
make them live good lives.
Soon the Britons began to understand that the Romans could
give them some things which were worth having. So there was
much more peace in the land.
Julius Agricola also built a line of forts across the island
from the Forth to the Clyde. He did this to keep back the
wild Picts and Scots, or people of the north. For as they
could not be brought under Roman rule nor tamed in any way,
he thought it was better to try to shut them into their own
country. Later on an emperor, called Antonine, built a great
wall along the line of Agricola's forts for the same
But while Julius Agricola was doing all this good work in
Britain, the emperor who had sent him died, and another
This emperor was jealous of Agricola because he managed the
people of Britain so well. He was so jealous that he told
Agricola to come back to Rome, and sent another man to
govern Britain instead of him.
It was very foolish of a great emperor to be angry with his
general because he did his work well. He ought rather to
have been glad.
The people of Britain soon showed him how foolish he had
been, for they once more rebelled against Roman rule.
Later on another great emperor who was called Hadrian
reigned, and he himself came to Britain. He found the wild
people of the north very troublesome, so he built a wall
across Britain from the Tyne to the Solway. He did not try
to drive these wild people so far
 north as Agricola had
done. The wall which Hadrian built is still called by his
name, and is still to be seen to this day; so you can
imagine what a very strong wall it was and what a fierce
people they were who lived beyond it.
Hadrian was wise as Agricola had been. He taught the Britons
many things which were good and useful to know. But very
soon after he left the island, the people rebelled again.
And so it went on until, at last, nearly five hundred years
after the first coming of Julius Cæsar, the Romans gave up
and left Britain altogether. That was about the year 410
A.D. The wonder is that they had stayed so long, for the
Britons had certainly given them a great deal of trouble.
But after all, although the Britons always fought against
the Romans, they had learned many things from them.
Before the Romans came, the Britons had been very ignorant
and wild. In many parts of the country they wore no clothes
at all. Instead, they stained their bodies blue with a dye
called woad. Their houses were only little round huts, with
a hole in the middle of the roof which let some light in and
the smoke of the fire out. There were no schools, and little
boys and girls were taught nothing except how to fish and
hunt, and how to fight and kill people in battle.
There were hardly any roads and there were no churches.
The ancient Britons were heathen. They worshipped the
oak-tree and the mistletoe.
The British priests were called Druids. It is said that they
received their name from Druis, who was a very wise king of
Albion in far-off times.
The Druids were the wisest people in the land. When
 any one
was in doubt or difficulty he would go to them for advice.
They were very solemn and grand old men with long white
beards and beautiful robes. There were no churches, as I
said, but the people worshipped in dark hollows in the woods
and in open spaces surrounded by great oak-trees. Some of
the teaching of the Druids was very beautiful, but some of
it was very dreadful, and they even killed human beings in
But the Romans taught the Britons many things. They taught
them how to build better houses and how to make good roads,
how to read and write, and much more that was good and
useful. And presently priests came from Rome, bringing
tidings of a new and beautiful religion.
They came to tell the people of Britain how the Son of God
came to earth to teach men not to hate and kill each other,
but to love each other, and above all to love their enemies.
It is difficult to understand what a wonderful story this
must have seemed to the wild island people. For they were a
people who were born and who lived and died among wars and
hatred. Yet many of them believed and followed this new
religion. Gradually the Druids disappeared, and the priests
of Christ took their place.
Although the religion of Christ came from Rome, the Romans
themselves were nearly all pagans. And one of the last Roman
emperors who tried to rule Britain hated the Christians very
much. He forbade the worship of God and Christ, and killed
and tortured those who disobeyed his orders.
But the people who had once become Christian would not again
become heathen. They chose rather to die. A person who dies
for his religion is called a martyr.
In the next chapter is the story of the first Christian
martyr in Britain.
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