| 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 |
VORTIGERN AND KING CONSTANS
 DURING nearly all the time that the Romans remained in
Britain, the Britons fought with them and rebelled against
them. But, strange to say, hardly had the Romans gone away
than the Britons wanted them to come back.
While they remained in Britain the Romans took all the
strongest and bravest of the Britons for soldiers. They made
them go into the Roman army and taught them how to fight
like the Romans. When they left Britain they took away all these
British soldiers as well as their own. So the poor country
was left with very few men who were able to fight. There
were no great generals either like Cassivelaunus, Caractacus
or Boadicea to lead them. And in those days, when people
were almost always fighting and quarrelling, it was very
necessary not only to have brave soldiers, but wise
You will remember that the Romans built two walls across
Britain, in order to keep back the wild people who lived in
the north—that is, in the part of the island which we now
As long as the Romans remained in Britain they rebuilt and
repaired these walls whenever it was necessary. Soldiers,
too, lived in the forts, which were placed at short
distances along the walls. These soldiers kept
 watch so that
the Picts and Scots had not much chance of getting into the
south part of the island.
But when the Romans went away, there was no one to guard and
repair these walls. The Picts and Scots soon found this out.
They broke down the walls and overran the whole south
country, reaching even as far as London. Fierce and brave as
the Britons were, they were no match for the Picts and
Scots. Besides, they had very few soldiers left, and no
great leader. So in despair they sent a letter to the Roman
Emperor, asking for help. This letter was so sad, that it
was called "The groans of the Britons."
"Come and help us," it said, "for the barbarians drive us
into the sea, and the sea drives us back again to the
barbarians. So those of us who are not killed in battle are
drowned, and soon there will be none of us left at all."
The Romans, you remember, called the Britons barbarians, and
now the Britons in their turn called the Picts and Scots
But by this time the Romans had as much as they could do to
fight their own battles. They could spare no soldiers to
send to Britain, so the Britons had to help themselves as
best they could.
It was a very sad and miserable time for Britain, till at
last a wise king called Constantine began to reign, and he
succeeded in driving the Picts and Scots back into their own
But one day a wicked Pict killed this wise king, and things
became as bad as ever, if not worse. For the people, besides
fighting with their enemies, began to quarrel among
themselves as to who should be king next.
King Constantine had three sons. The eldest, Constans, was a
monk. A monk is a man who takes a vow that he will not marry
and have a home of his own.
 He lives in a big house with
other monks, and spends his time in praying, in reading good
books, and in helping people who are poor or ill.
Constantine's eldest son was a man like this; his two
younger sons, who were called Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther
Pendragon, were little boys.
Now some people said, "We cannot have a monk for
our king." Others said, "We cannot have little boys." So they
Among the nobles of Britain was a prince called Vortigern.
He was very wise, but not very good. He now went to Constans
and said to him, "Your father is dead. Your brothers are
only little boys. You ought to be king. Be a monk no longer,
but trust yourself to me and I will make you king. Only you
must promise to take me for your chief adviser."
It is considered a very wicked thing for a man to break his
vows and cease to be a monk, after he has promised to be one
for all his life. But perhaps Constans was rather tired of
that way of living, for he promised to do everything that
Vortigern took Constans away from the monastery, as the
house in which monks live is called. They went to London
together and Vortigern marched into the king's palace, took
the crown, and put it on Constans's head. Then he told the
people that Constans was their new king.
The people were not very pleased at having a king chosen for
them in this way, but, as Vortigern was such a powerful
prince, they were afraid to fight with him. So they let
Constans be king.
Now Vortigern really wanted to get the whole of the power
for himself. He knew that Constans, having lived all his
life in a monastery, could not know much about
 ruling people. So, although Constans was called king, it was really
Vortigern who ruled. First, Vortigern took charge of the
king's money. Next, he got all the strong castles into his
hands, and filled them with his own soldiers. Then he said
to the King, "I hear that the Picts and Scots are coming to
fight against us again. We ought to have more soldiers."
King Constans replied, "I leave everything to you. Get more
soldiers if you think we need them."
Then Vortigern said, "I think the Picts would be the very
best soldiers to get. They will come and fight for us, if we
pay them well." In those days people did not always fight
for their own country. There were many soldiers who would
fight for any country and any cause, if only they were paid
So Vortigern sent to Scotland for a hundred Picts. When they
came he treated them very kindly. He gave them more money
and better food and clothes than any of the other soldiers.
The Picts thought Vortigern was a very kind master. They
soon saw that he really had all the power, and that Constans
was only a pretence king.
Now Vortigern wanted these Picts to murder Constans. But he
was too cunning to tell them this plainly, so one day he
appeared with a sad face and told the Picts that Constans
gave him so little money that he could not afford to live in
Britain any more, and must go somewhere else.
This made the Picts very angry with Constans. They were so
afraid of losing their kind master, that they resolved to
kill Constans and make Vortigern king.
That night, while Constans was asleep, they rushed into his
room, cut off his head, and carried it to Vortigern.
Vortigern was really delighted that his plan had
so well. But he pretended to be very sad at the death of
Constans, and very angry with those who had killed him. He
ordered all the Picts to be put into prison, and then had
their heads cut off. He did this because he was afraid they
might say afterwards that he had told them to murder
When the two little boys, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther
Pendragon, heard what had happened to their brother, King
Constans, they were afraid that Vortigern might kill them
too. For although Vortigern tried hard to make believe that
he had had nothing to do with the murder of Constans, the
people felt quite sure that he was really to blame for it.
So Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon fled away to that
part of France called Brittany, where they remained in
safety for many years.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics