Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Liber querulus de excidio Britanniae. English - On the Ruin of Britain
Author: Gildas, 516-570
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Liber querulus de excidio Britanniae. English - On the Ruin of Britain" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



On The Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae)

by Gildas



Translation by J.A. Giles



The Works of Gildas surnamed "Sapiens", or The Wise.



I. The Preface


1. Whatever in this my epistle I may write in my humble but well
meaning manner, rather by way of lamentation than for display,
let no one suppose that it springs from contempt of others or that
I foolishly esteem myself as better than they; for alas! the subject
of my complaint is the general destruction of every thing that is
good, and the general growth of evil throughout the land;--but
that I rejoice to see her revive therefrom: for it is my present
purpose to relate the deeds of an indolent and slothful race, rather
than the exploits of those who have been valiant in the field*.
I have kept silence, I confess, with much mental anguish, compunction
of feeling and contrition of heart, whilst I revolved all these
things within myself; and, as God the searcher of the reins is
witness, for the space of even ten years or more, [my inexperience,
as at present also, and my unworthiness preventing me from taking
upon myself the character of a censor.  But I read how the
illustrious lawgiver, for one word's doubting, was not allowed
to enter the desired land; that the sons of the high-priest, for
placing strange fire upon God's altar, were cut off by a speedy
death; that God's people, for breaking the law of God, save two
only, were slain by wild beasts, by fire and sword in the deserts
of Arabia, though God had so loved them that he had made a way
for them through the Red Sea, had fed them with bread from heaven,
and water from the rock, and by the lifting up of a hand merely
had made their armies invincible; and then, when they had crossed
the Jordan and entered the unknown land, and the walls of the
city had fallen down flat at the sound only of a trumpet, the
taking of a cloak and a little gold from the accursed things caused
the deaths of many: and again the breach of their treaty with the
Gibeonites, though that treaty had been obtained by fraud, brought
destruction upon many; and I took warning from the sins of the
people which called down upon them the reprehensions of the prophets
and also of Jeremiah, with his fourfold Lamentations written in
alphabetical order.  I saw moreover in my own time, as that prophet
also had complained, that the city had sat down lone and widowed,
which before was full of people; that the queen of nations and
the princess of provinces (i.e. the church), had been made
tributary; that the gold was obscured, and the most excellent
colour (which is the brightness of God's word) changed; that the
sons of Sion (i.e. of holy mother church), once famous and clothed
in the finest gold, grovelled in dung; and what added intolerably
to the weight of grief of that illustrious man, and to mine,
though but an abject, whilst he had thus mourned them in their
happy and prosperous condition, "Her Nazarites were fairer than
snow, more ruddy than old ivory, more beautiful than the saphire."
These and many other passages in the ancient Scriptures I regarded
as a kind of mirror of human life, and I turned also to the New,
wherein I read more clearly what perhaps to me before was dark,
for the darkness fled, and truth shed her steady light-I read
therein that the Lord had said, "I came not but to the lost sheep
of the house of Israel;" and on the other hand, "But the children
of this kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness; there
shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth:" and again, "It is not
good to take the children's meat and to give it to dogs:" also,
"Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites!"  I heard how
"many shall come from the east and the west and shall sit down
with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven:" and on
the contrary, "I will then say to them 'Depart from me, ye workers
of iniquity!'"  I read, "Blessed are the barren and the teats
which have not given suck;" and on the contrary, "Those, who were
ready, entered with him to the wedding; afterwards came the other
virgins also, saying 'Lord, Lord, open to us:' to whom it was
answered, 'I do not know you.'"  I heard, forsooth, "Whoever shall
believe and be baptized, shall be saved, but whoever shall not
believe shall be damned."  I read in the words of the apostle that
the branch of the wild olive was grafted upon the good olive, but
should nevertheless be cut off from the communion of the root of
its fatness, if it did not hold itself in fear, but entertained
lofty thoughts.  I knew the mercy of the Lord, but I also feared
his judgment: I praised his grace, but I feared the rendering to
every man according to his works: perceiving the sheep of the
same fold to be different, I deservedly commended Peter for his
entire confession of Christ, but called Judas most wretched, for
his love of covetousness: I thought Stephen most glorious on
account of the palm of martyrdom, but Nicholas wretched for his
mark of unclean heresy: I read assuredly, "They had all things
common:" but likewise also, as it is written, "Why have ye
conspired to tempt the Spirit of God?"  I saw, on the other hand,
how much security had grown upon the men of our time, as if there
were nothing to cause them fear.  These things, therefore, and
many more which for brevity's sake we have determined to omit,
I revolved again and again in my amazed mind with compunction
in my heart, and I thought to myself, "If God's peculiar people,
chosen from all the people of the world, the royal seed, and holy
nation, to whom he had said, 'My first begotten Israel,' its
priests, prophets, and kings, throughout so many ages,  his
servant and apostle, and the members of his primitive church, were
not spared when they deviated from the right path, what will he do
to the darkness of this our age, in which, besides all the huge
and heinous sins, which it has common with all the wicked of the
world committed, is found an innate, indelible, and irremediable
load of folly and inconstancy?"  "What, wretched man (I say to
myself) is it given to you, as if you were an illustrious and
learned teacher, to oppose the force of so violent a torrent,
and keep the charge committed to you against such a series of
inveterate crimes which has spread far and wide, without
interruption, for so many years?  Hold thy peace: to do otherwise,
is to tell the foot to see, and the hand to speak.  Britain has
rulers, and she has watchmen: why dost thou incline thyself thus
uselessly to prate?"  She has such, I say, not too many, perhaps,
but surely not too few: but, because they are bent down and pressed
beneath so heavy a burden, they have not time allowed them to take
breath.  My senses, therefore, as if feeling a portion of my debt
and obligation, preoccupied themselves with such objections, and
with others yet more strong.  They struggled, as I said, no short
time, in fearful strait, whilst I read, "There is a time for
speaking, and a time for keeping silence."  At length, the creditor's
side prevailed and bore off the victory: if (said he) thou art not
bold enough to be marked with the comely mark of golden liberty
among the prophetic creatures, who enjoy the rank as reasoning
beings next to the angels, refuse not the inspiration of the
understanding ass, to that day dumb, which would not carry forward
the tiara'd magician who was going to curse God's people, but in
the narrow pass of the vineyard crushed his loosened foot, and
thereby felt the lash; and though he was, with his ungrateful
and furious hand, against right justice, beating her innocent
sides, she pointed out to him the heavenly messenger holding the
naked sword, and standing in his way, though he had not seen him.]

* Notwithstanding this remark of Gildas, the Britons must have
shown great bravery and resolution in their battles against the
Saxons, or they would not have resisted their encroachments so
Long.  When Gildas was writing, a hundred years had elapsed, and
The Britons still possessed a large portion of their native country.

Wherefore in zeal for the house of God and for his holy law,
constrained either by the reasonings of my own thoughts, or by
the pious entreaties of my brethren, I now discharge the debt so
long exacted of me; humble, indeed, in style, but faithful, as I
think, and friendly to all Christ's youthful soldiers, but severe
and insupportable to foolish apostates; the former of whom, if I
am not deceived, will receive the same with tears flowing from
god's love; but the others with sorrow, such as is extorted from
the indignation and pusillanimity of a convicted conscience.

2. I will, therefore, if God be willing, endeavour to say a few
words about the situation of Britain, her disobedience and subjection,
her rebellion, second subjection and dreadful slavery--of her
religion, persecution, holy martyrs, heresies of different kinds--of
her tyrants, her two hostile and ravaging nations--of her first
devastation, her defence, her second devastation, and second
taking vengeance--of her third devastation, of her famine, and
the letters to Agitius*-of her victory and her crimes--of the
sudden rumour of enemies--of her famous pestilence-of her counsels--of
her last enemy, far more cruel than the first-of the subversion
of her cities, and of the remnant that escaped; and finally, of
the peace which, by the will of God, has been granted her in
these our times.

* Or Aetius



II. The History


3. The island of Britain, situated on almost the utmost border
of the earth, towards the south and west, and poised in the divine
balance, as it is said, which supports the whole world, stretches
out from the south-west towards the north pole, and is eight
hundred miles long and two hundred broad[1], except where the
headlands of sundry promontories stretch farther into the sea.
It is surrounded by the ocean, which forms winding bays, and is
strongly defended by this ample, and, if I may so call it,
impassable barrier, save on the south side, where the narrow sea
affords a passage to Belgic Gaul.  It is enriched by the mouths
of two noble rivers, the Thames and the Severn, as it were two
arms, by which foreign luxuries were of old imported, and by
other streams of less importance.  It is famous for eight and
twenty cities, and is embellished by certain castles, with walls,
towers, well barred gates, and houses with threatening battlements
built on high, and provided with all requisite instruments of
defence.  Its plains are spacious, its hills are pleasantly
situated, adapted for superior tillage, and its mountains are
admirably calculated for the alternate pasturage of cattle, where
flowers of various colours, trodden by the feet of man, give it
the appearance of a lovely picture.  It is decked, like a man's
chosen bride, with divers jewels, with lucid fountains and abundant
brooks wandering over the snow white sands; with transparent
rivers, flowing in gentle murmurs, and offering a sweet pledge
of slumber[2] to those who recline upon their banks, whilst it
is irrigated by abundant lakes, which pour forth cool torrents
of refreshing water.

[1] The description of Britain is given in very nearly the same
terms, by Orosius, Bede, and others, but the numbers denoting
the length and breadth and other dimensions, are different in
almost every MS. Copy.

[2] "Soporem" in some MSS., "saporem" in others; it is difficult
from the turgidity and superabundance of the style to determine
which is the best meaning.


4. This island, stiff--necked and stubborn--minded, from the
time of its being first inhabited, ungratefully rebels, sometimes
against God, sometimes against her own citizens, and frequently
also, against foreign kings and their subjects.  For what can
there either be, or be committed, more disgraceful or more
unrighteous in human affairs, than to refuse to show fear to God
or affection to one's own countrymen, and (without detriment to
one's faith) to refuse due honour to those of higher dignity, to
cast off all regard to reason, human and divine, and, in contempt
of heaven and earth, to be guided by one's own sensual inventions?
I shall, therefore, omit those ancient errors common to all the
nations of the earth, in which, before Christ came in the flesh,
all mankind were bound; nor shall I enumerate those diabolical
idols of my country, which almost surpassed in number those of
Egypt, and of which we still see some mouldering away within or
without the deserted temples, with stiff and deformed features
as was customary.  Nor will I call out upon the mountains, fountains,
or hills, or upon the rivers, which now are subservient to the
use of men, but once were an abomination and destruction to them,
and to which the blind people paid divine honour.  I shall also
pass over the bygone times of our cruel tyrants, whose notoriety
was spread over to far distant countries; so that Porphyry, that
dog who in the east was always so fierce against the church, in
his mad and vain style added this also, that "Britain is a land
fertile in tyrants."*  I will only endeavour to relate the
evils which Britain suffered in the times of the Roman emperors,
and also those which she caused to distant states; but so far as
lies in my power, I shall not follow the writings and records of
my own country, which (if there ever were any of them) have been
consumed in the fires of the enemy, or have accompanied my exiled
countrymen into distant lands, but be guided by the relations of
foreign writers, which, being broken and interrupted in many places
are therefore by no means clear.

* Gildas here confuses the modern idea of a tyrant with that
of an usurper.  The latter is a sense in which Britain was said
to be fertile in tyrants, viz. In usurpers of the imperial dignity.

5. For when the rulers of Rome had obtained the empire of the
world, subdued all the neighbouring nations and islands towards
the east, and strengthened their renown by the first peace which
they made with the Parthians, who border on India, there was a
general cessation from war throughout the whole world; the fierce
flame which they kindled could not be extinguished or checked by
the Western Ocean, but passing beyond the sea, imposed submission
upon our island without resistance, and entirely reduced to
obedience its unwarlike but faithless people, not so much by fire
and sword and warlike engines, like other nations, but threats
alone, and menaces of judgments frowning on their countenance,
whilst terror penetrated to their hearts.

6. When afterwards they returned to Rome, for want of pay, as
is said, and had no suspicion of an approaching rebellion, that
deceitful lioness (Boadicea) put to death the rulers who had been
left among them, to unfold more fully and to confirm the enterprises
of the Romans.  When the report of these things reached the senate,
and they with a speedy army made haste to take vengeance on the
crafty foxes,* as they called them, there was no bold navy on
the sea to fight bravely for the country; by land there was no
marshalled army, no right wing of battle, nor other preparation
for resistance; but their backs were their shields against their
vanquishers, and they presented their necks to their swords, whilst
chill terror ran through every limb, and they stretched out their
hands to be bound, like women; so that it has become a proverb
far and wide, that the Britons are neither brave in war nor faithful
in time of peace.

* The Britons who fought under Boadicea were anything but "crafty
foxes."  "Bold lions" is a much more appropriate appellation; they
would also have been victorious if they had half the military
advantages of the Romans.


7. The Romans, therefore, having slain many of the rebels, and
reserved others for slaves, that the land might not be entirely
reduced to desolation, left the island, destitute as it was of
wine and oil, and returned to Italy, leaving behind them taskmasters,
to scourge the shoulders of the natives, to reduce their necks to
the yoke, and their soil to the vassalage of a Roman province;
to chastise the crafty race, not with warlike weapons, but with
rods, and if necessary to gird upon their sides the naked sword,
so that it was no longer thought to be Britain, but a Roman island;
and all their money, whether of copper, gold, or silver, was
stamped with Caesar's image.

8. Meanwhile these islands, stiff with cold and frost, and in a
distant region of the world, remote from the visible sun, received
the beams of light, that is, the holy precepts of Christ, the true
Sun, showing to the whole world his splendour, not only from the
temporal firmament, but from the height of heaven, which surpasses
every thing temporal, at the latter part, as we know, of the reign
of Tiberius Caesar, by whom his religion was propagated without
impediment, and death threatened to those who interfered with its
professors.

9. These rays of light were received with lukewarm minds by the
inhabitants, but they nevertheless took root among some of them
in a greater or less degree, until the nine years' persecution
of the tyrant Diocletian, when the churches throughout the whole
world were overthrown, all the copies of the Holy Scriptures
which could be found burned in the streets, and the chosen pastors
of God's flock butchered, together with their innocent sheep,
in order that not a vestige, if possible, might remain in some
provinces of Christ's religion.  What disgraceful flights then
took place-what slaughter and death inflicted by way of punishment
in divers shapes,--what dreadful apostacies from religion; and
on the contrary, what glorious crowns of martyrdom then were
won,--what raving fury was displayed by the persecutors, and patience
on the part of the suffering saints, ecclesiastical history informs
us; for the whole church were crowding in a body, to leave behind
them the dark things of this world, and to make the best of their
way to the happy mansions of heaven, as if to their proper home.

10. God, therefore, who wishes all men to be saved, and who calls
sinners no less than those who think themselves righteous, magnified
his mercy towards us, and, as we know, during the above-named
persecution, that Britain might not totally be enveloped in the
dark shades of night, he, of his own free gift, kindled up among
us bright luminaries of holy martyrs, whose places of burial and
of martyrdom, had they not for our manifold crimes been interfered
with and destroyed by the barbarians, would have still kindled
in the minds of the beholders no small fire of divine charity.
Such were St. Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Julius, citizens of
Carlisle, * and the rest, of both sexes, who in different places
stood their ground in the Christian contest.

* Or Caerleon.

11. The first of these martyrs, St. Alban, for charity's sake
saved another confessor who was pursued by his persecutors, and
was on the point of being seized, by hiding him in his house, and
then by changing clothes with him, imitating in this example of
Christ, who laid down his life for his sheep, and exposing himself
in the other's clothes to be pursued in his stead.  So pleasing
to God was this conduct, that between his confession and martyrdom,
he was honoured with the performance of wonderful miracles in
presence of the impious blasphemers who were carrying the Roman
standards, and like the Israelites of old, who trod dry-foot an
unfrequented path whilst the ark of the covenant stood some time
on the sands in the midst of Jordan; so also the martyr, with a
thousand others, opened a path across the noble river Thames,
whose waters stood abrupt like precipices on either side; and
seeing this, the first of his executors was stricken with awe,
and from a wolf became a lamb; so that he thirsted for martyrdom,
and boldly underwent that for which he thirsted.  The other holy
martyrs were tormented with divers sufferings, and their limbs
were racked in such unheard of ways, that they, without delay,
erected the trophies of their glorious martyrdom even in the gates
of the city of Jerusalem.  For those who survived, hid themselves
in woods and deserts, and secret caves, waiting until God, who
is the righteous judge of all, should reward their persecutors
with judgment, and themselves with protection of their lives.

12. In less than ten years, therefore, of the above-named persecution,
and when these bloody decrees began to fail in consequence of the
death of their authors, all Christ's young disciples, after so
long and wintry a night, begin to behold the genial light of heaven.
They rebuild the churches, which had been levelled to the ground;
they found, erect, and finish churches to the holy martyrs, and
everywhere show their ensigns as token of their victory; festivals
are celebrated and sacraments received with clean hearts and lips,
and all the church's sons rejoice as it were in the fostering
bosom of a mother.  For this holy union remained between Christ
their head and the members of his church, until the Arian treason,
fatal as a serpent, and vomiting its poison from beyond the sea,
caused deadly dissension between brothers inhabiting the same house,
and thus, as if a road were made across the sea, like wild beasts
of all descriptions, and darting the poison of every heresy from
their jaws, they inflicted dreadful wounds upon their country,
which is ever desirous to hear something new, and remains constant
long to nothing.

13. At length also, new races of tyrants sprang up, in terrific
numbers, and the island, still bearing its Roman name, but casting
off her institutes and laws, sent forth among the Gauls that bitter
scion of her own planting Maximus, with a great number of followers,
and the ensigns of royalty, which he bore without decency and
without lawful right, but in a tyrannical manner, and amid the
disturbances of the seditious soldiery.  He, by cunning arts rather
than by valour, attaching to his rule, by perjury and falsehood,
all the neighbouring towns and provinces, against the Roman state,
extended one of his wings to Spain, the other to Italy, fixed
the seat of his unholy government at Treves, and so furiously
pushed his rebellion against his lawful emperors that he drove
one of them out of Rome, and caused the other to terminate his
most holy life.  Trusting to these successful attempts, he not
long after lost his accursed head before the walls of Aquileia,
whereas he had before cut off the crowned heads of almost all
the world.

14. After this, Britain is left deprived of all her soldiery
and armed bands, of her cruel governors, and of the flower of
her youth, who went with Maximus, but never again returned; and
utterly ignorant as she was of the art of war, groaned in amazement
for many years under the cruelty of two foreign nations--the
Scots from the north-west, and the Picts from the north.

15. The Britons, impatient at the assaults of the Scots and Picts,
their hostilities and dreadful oppressions, send ambassadors to
Rome with letters, entreating in piteous terms the assistance of
an armed band to protect them, and offering loyal and ready
submission to the authority of Rome, if they only would expel their
foes.  A legion is immediately sent, forgetting their past rebellion,
and provided sufficiently with arms.  When they had crossed over
the sea and landed, they came at once to close conflict with their
cruel enemies, and slew great numbers of them.  All of them were
driven beyond the borders, and the humiliated natives rescued
from the bloody slavery which awaited them.  By the advice of their
protectors, they now built a wall across the island from one sea
to the other, which being manned with a proper force, might be a
terror to the foes whom it was intended to repel, and a protection
to their friends whom it covered.  But this wall, being made of
turf instead of stone, was of no use to that foolish people, who
had no head to guide them.

16. The Roman legion had no sooner returned home in joy and
triumph, than their former foes, like hungry and ravening wolves,
rushing with greedy jaws upon the fold which is left without a
shepherd, and wafted both by the strength of oarsmen and the
blowing wind, break through the boundaries, and spread slaughter
on every side, and like mowers cutting down the ripe corn, they
cut up, tread under foot, and overrun the whole country.

17. And now again they send suppliant ambassadors, with their
garments rent and their heads covered with ashes, imploring
assistance from the Romans, and like timorous chickens, crowding
under the protecting wings of their parents, that their wretched
country might not altogether be destroyed, and that the Roman
name, which now was but an empty sound to fill the ear, might
not become a reproach even to distant nations.  Upon this, the
Romans, moved with compassion, as far as human nature can be, at
the relations of such horrors, send forward, like eagles in their
flight, their unexpected bands of cavalry by land and mariners
by sea, and planting their terrible swords upon the shoulders of
their enemies, they mow them down like leaves which fall at the
destined period; and as a mountain-torrent swelled with numerous
streams, and bursting its banks with roaring noise, with foaming
crest and yeasty wave rising to the stars, by whose eddying
currents our eyes are as it were dazzled, does with one of its
billows overwhelm every obstacle in its way, so did our illustrious
defenders vigorously drive our enemies' band beyond the sea, if
any could so escape them; for it was beyond those same seas that
they transported, year after year, the plunder which they had
gained, no one daring to resist them.

18. The Romans, therefore, left the country, giving notice that
they could no longer be harassed by such laborious expeditions,
nor suffer the Roman standards, with so large and brave an army,
to be worn out by sea and land by fighting against these unwarlike,
plundering vagabonds; but that the islanders, inuring themselves
to warlike weapons, and bravely fighting, should valiantly protect
their country, their property, wives and children, and, what is
dearer than these, their liberty and lives; that they should not
suffer their hands to be tied behind their backs by a nation which,
unless they were enervated by idleness and sloth, was not more
powerful than themselves, but that they should arm those hands
with buckler, sword, and spear, ready for the field of battle;
and, because they thought this also of advantage to the people
they were about to leave, they, with the help of the miserable
natives, built a wall different from the former, by public and
private contributions, and of the same structure as walls generally,
extending in a straight line from sea to sea, between some cities,
which, from fear of their enemies, had there by chance been built.
They then give energetic counsel to the timorous natives, and
leave them patterns by which to manufacture arms.  Moreover, on
the south coast where their vessels lay, as there was some
apprehension lest the barbarians might land, they erected towers
at stated intervals, commanding a prospect of the sea; and then
left the island never to return.

19. No sooner were they gone, than the Picts and Scots, like
worms which in the heat of the mid-day come forth from their
holes, hastily land again from their canoes, in which they had
been carried beyond the Cichican* valley, differing one from
another in manners, but inspired with the same avidity for blood,
and all more eager to shroud their villainous faces in bushy hair
than to cover with decent clothing those parts of their body which
required it.  Moreover, having heard of the departure of our friends,
and their resolution never to return, they seized with greater
boldness than before on all the country towards the extreme north
as far as the wall.  To oppose them there was placed on the heights
a garrison equally slow to fight and ill adapted to run away, a
useless and panic-struck company, who slumbered away days and
nights on their unprofitable watch.  Meanwhile the hooked weapons
of their enemies were not idle, and our wretched countrymen were
dragged from the wall and dashed against the ground.  Such premature
death, however, painful as it was, saved them from seeing the
miserable sufferings of their brothers and children.  But why
should I say more?  They left their cities, abandoned the protection
of the wall, and dispersed themselves in flight more desperately
than before.  The enemy, on the other hand, pursued them with
more unrelenting cruelty than before, and butchered our countrymen
like sheep, so that their habitations were like those of savage
beasts; for they turned their arms upon each other, and for the
sake of a little sustenance, imbrued their hands in the blood of
their fellow countrymen.  Thus foreign calamities were augmented
by domestic feuds; so that the whole country was entirely destitute
of provisions, save such as could be procured in the chase.

* The meaning of this expression is not known.  O'Connor thinks
it is the Irish Sea.


20. Again, therefore, the wretched remnant, sending to Aetius,
a powerful Roman citizen, address him as follow:--"To Aetius,*
now consul for the third time: the groans of the Britons."  And
again a little further, thus:--"The barbarians drive us to the
sea; the sea throws us back on the barbarians: thus two modes of
death await us, we are either slain or drowned."  The Romans,
however, could not assist them, and in the meantime the discomfited
people, wandering in the woods, began to feel the effects of a
severe famine, which compelled many of them without delay to yield
themselves up to their cruel persecutors, to obtain subsistence:
others of them, however, lying hid in mountains, caves and woods,
continually sallied out from thence to renew the war.  And then
it was, for the first time, that they overthrew their enemies, who
had for so many years been living in their country; for their
trust was not in man, but in God; according to the maxim of Philo,
"We must have divine assistance, when that of man fails."  The
boldness of the enemy was for a while checked, but not the
wickedness of our countrymen; the enemy left our people, but the
people did not leave their sins.

* Or Agitius, according to another reading.

21. For it has always been a custom with our nation, as it is
at present, to be impotent in repelling foreign foes, but bold
and invincible in raising civil war, and bearing the burdens of
their offences: they are impotent, I say, in following the standard
of peace and truth, but bold in wickedness and falsehood.  The
audacious invaders therefore return to their winter quarters,
determined before long again to return and plunder.  And then,
too, the Picts for the first time seated themselves at the extremity
of the island, where they afterwards continued, occasionally
plundering and wasting the country.  During these truces, the
wounds of the distressed people are healed, but another sore,
still more venomous, broke out.  No sooner were the ravages of
the enemy checked, than the island was deluged with a most
extraordinary plenty of all things, greater than was before known,
and with it grew up every kind of luxury and licentiousness.  It
grew with so firm a root, that one might truly say of it, "Such
fornication is heard of among you, as never was known the like
among the Gentiles."  But besides this vice, there arose also
every other, to which human nature is liable and in particular
that hatred of truth, together with her supporters, which still
at present destroys every thing good in the island; the love of
falsehood, together with its inventors, the reception of crime
in the place of virtue, the respect shown to wickedness rather
than goodness, the love of darkness instead of the sun, the
admission of Satan as an angel of light.  Kings were anointed,
not according to god's ordinance, but such as showed themselves
more cruel than the rest; and soon after, they were put to death
by those who had elected them, without any inquiry into their
merits, but because others still more cruel were chosen to succeed
them.  If any one of these was of a milder nature than the rest,
or in any way more regardful of the truth, he was looked upon
as the ruiner of the country, every body cast a dart at him, and
they valued things alike whether pleasing or displeasing to God,
unless it so happened that what displeased him was pleasing to
themselves.  So that the words of the prophet, addressed to the
people of old, might well be applied to our own countrymen:
"Children without a law, have ye left God and provoked to anger
the holy one of Israel?*  Why will ye still inquire, adding
iniquity?  Every head is languid and every heart is sad; from the
sole of the foot to the crown, there is no health in him."  And
thus they did all things contrary to their salvation, as if no
remedy could be applied to the world by the true Physician of all
men.  And not only the laity did so, but our Lord's own flock and
its shepherds, who ought to have been an example to the people,
slumbered away their time in drunkenness, as if they had been
dipped in wine; whilst the swellings of pride, the jar of strife,
the griping talons of envy, and the confused estimate of right
and wrong, got such entire possession of them, that there seemed
to be poured out (and the same still continueth) contempt upon
princes, and to be made by their vanities to wander astray and
not in the way.

* Isa. I. 4,5.  In most of these quotations there is great verbal
variation from the authorised version: the author probably quoted
from memory, if not from the Latin version.

22. Meanwhile, God being willing to purify his family who were
infected by so deep a stain of woe, and at the hearing only of
their calamities to amend them; a vague rumour suddenly as if on
wings reaches the ears of all, that their inveterate foes were
rapidly approaching to destroy the whole country, and to take
possession of it, as of old, from one end to the other.  But yet
they derived no advantage from this intelligence; for, like frantic
beasts, taking the bit of reason between their teeth, they
abandoned the safe and narrow road, and rushed forward upon the
broad downward path of vice, which leads to death.  Whilst,
therefore, as Solomon says, the stubborn servant is not cured
by words, the fool is scourged and feels it not: a pestilential
disease morally affected the foolish people, which, without the
sword, cut off so large a number of persons, that the living
were not able to bury them.  But even this was no warning to them,
that in them also might be fulfilled the words of Isaiah the
prophet, "And God hath called his people to lamentation, to baldness,
and to the girdle of sackcloth; behold they begin to kill calves,
and to slay rams, to eat, to drink, and to say, 'We will eat and
drink, for to-morrow we shall die.'"  For the time was approaching,
when all their iniquities, as formerly those of the Amorrhaeans,
should be fulfilled.  For a council was called to settle what was
best and most expedient to be done, in order to repel such frequent
and fatal irruptions and plunderings of the above-named nations.

23. Then all the councillors, together with that proud tyrant
Gurthrigern [Vortigern], the British king, were so blinded, that,
as a protection to their country, they sealed its doom by inviting
in among them like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and
impious Saxons, a race hateful both to God and men, to repel the
invasions of the northern nations.  Nothing was ever so pernicious
to our country, nothing was ever so unlucky.  What palpable
darkness must have enveloped their minds-darkness desperate and
cruel!  Those very people whom, when absent, they dreaded more
than death itself, were invited to reside, as one may say, under
the selfsame roof.  Foolish are the princes, as it is said, of
Thafneos, giving counsel to unwise Pharaoh.  A multitude of whelps
came forth from the lair of this barbaric lioness, in three cyuls,
as they call them, that is, in there ships of war, with their
sails wafted by the wind and with omens and prophecies favourable,
for it was foretold by a certain soothsayer among them, that they
should occupy the country to which they were sailing three hundred
years, and half of that time, a hundred and fifty years, should
plunder and despoil the same.  They first landed on the eastern
side of the island, by the invitation of the unlucky king, and
there fixed their sharp talons, apparently to fight in favour of
the island, but alas! more truly against it.  Their mother-land,
finding her first brood thus successful, sends forth a larger
company of her wolfish offspring, which sailing over, join
themselves to their bastard-born comrades.  From that time the
germ of iniquity and the root of contention planted their poison
amongst us, as we deserved, and shot forth into leaves and branches.
the barbarians being thus introduced as soldiers into the island,
to encounter, as they falsely said, any dangers in defence of
their hospitable entertainers, obtain an allowance of provisions,
which, for some time being plentifully bestowed, stopped their
doggish mouths.  Yet they complain that their monthly supplies
are not furnished in sufficient abundance, and they industriously
aggravate each occasion of quarrel, saying that unless more
liberality is shown them, they will break the treaty and plunder
the whole island.  In a short time, they follow up their threats
with deeds.

24. For the fire of vengeance, justly kindled by former crimes,
spread from sea to sea, fed by the hands of our foes in the east,
and did not cease, until, destroying the neighbouring towns and
lands, it reached the other side of the island, and dipped its
red and savage tongue in the western ocean.  In these assaults,
therefore, not unlike that of the Assyrian upon Judea, was fulfilled
in our case what the prophet describes in words of lamentation;
"They have burned with fire the sanctuary; they have polluted on
earth the tabernacle of thy name."  And again, "O God, the gentiles
have come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they
defiled," &c.  So that all the columns were levelled with the
ground by the frequent strokes of the battering-ram, all the
husbandmen routed, together with their bishops, priests, and
people, whilst the sword gleamed, and the flames crackled around
them on every side.  Lamentable to behold, in the midst of the
streets lay the tops of lofty towers, tumbled to the ground, stones
of high walls, holy altars, fragments of human bodies, covered
with livid clots of coagulated blood, looking as if they had
been squeezed together in a press;* and with no chance of being
buried, save in the ruins of the houses, or in the ravening
bellies of wild beasts and birds; with reverence be it spoken
for their blessed souls, if, indeed, there were many found who
were carried, at that time, into the high heaven by the holy
angels.  So entirely had the vintage, once so fine, degenerated
and become bitter, that, in the words of the prophet, there was
hardly a grape or ear of corn to be seen where the husbandman
had turned his back.

25. Some therefore, of the miserable remnant, being taken in
the mountains, were murdered in great numbers; others, constrained
by famine, came and yielded themselves to be slaves for ever to
their foes, running the risk of being instantly slain, which truly
was the greatest favour that could be offered them: some others
passed beyond the seas with loud lamentations instead of the voice
of exhortation.  "Thou hast given us as sheep to be slaughtered,
and among the Gentiles hast thou dispersed us."  Others, committing
the safeguard of their lives, which were in continual jeopardy,
to the mountains, precipices, thickly wooded forests, and to the
rocks of the seas (albeit with trembling hearts), remained still
in their country.  But in the meanwhile, an opportunity happening,
when these most cruel robbers were returned home, the poor remnants
of our nation (to whom flocked from divers places round about our
miserable countrymen as fast as bees to their hives, for fear of
an ensuing storm), being strengthened by God, calling upon him
with all their hearts, as the poet says,--"With their unnumbered
vows they burden heaven," that they might not be brought to utter
destruction, took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus,
a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the
confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive.  His
parents, who for their merit were adorned with the purple, had
been slain in these same broils, and now his progeny in these
our days, although shamefully degenerated from the worthiness
of their ancestors, provoke to battle their cruel conquerors,
and by the goodness of our Lord obtain the victory.

26. After this, sometimes our countrymen, sometimes the enemy,
won the field, to the end that our Lord might in this land try
after his accustomed manner these his Israelites, whether they
loved him or not, until the year of the siege of Bath-hill, when
took place also the last almost, though not the least slaughter
of our cruel foes, which was (as I am sure) forty-four years and
one month after the landing of the Saxons, and also the time of
my own nativity.  And yet neither to this day are the cities of
our country inhabited as before, but being forsaken and overthrown,
still lie desolate; our foreign wars having ceased, but our civil
troubles still remaining.  For as well the remembrance of such
terrible desolation of the island, as also of the unexpected
recovery of the same, remained in the minds of those who were
eyewitnesses of the wonderful events of both, and in regard
thereof, kings, public magistrates, and private persons, with
priests and clergymen, did all and every one of them live orderly
according to their several vocations.  But when these had departed
out of this world, and a new race succeeded, who were ignorant
of this troublesome time, and had only experience of the present
prosperity, all the laws of truth and justice were so shaken and
subverted, that not so much as a vestige or remembrance of these
virtues remained among the above-named orders of men, except among
a very few who, compared with the great multitude which were
daily rushing headlong down to hell, are accounted so small a
number, that our reverend mother, the church, scarcely beholds
them, her only true children, reposing in her bosom; whose
worthy lives, being a pattern to al men, and beloved of God,
inasmuch as by their holy prayers, as by certain pillars and most
profitable supporters, our infirmity is sustained up, that it may
not utterly be broken down, I would have no one suppose I intended
to reprove, if forced by the increasing multitude of offences,
I have freely, aye, with anguish, not so much declared as bewailed
the wickedness of those who are become servants, not only to their
bellies, but also to the devil rather than to Christ, who is our
blessed God, world without end.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Liber querulus de excidio Britanniae. English - On the Ruin of Britain" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home