The conquest of the bulk of Britain was now complete. Eastward of a line which may be roughly drawn along the moorlands of Northumberland and Yorkshire, through Derbyshire and skirting the Forest of Arden, to the mouth of the Severn, and thence by Mendip to the sea, the island had passed into English hands. From this time the character of the English conquest of Britain was wholly changed. The older wars of extermination came to an end, and as the invasion pushed westward in later times the Britons were no longer wholly driven from the soil, but mingled with their conquerors. A far more important change was that which was seen in the attitude of the English conquerors from this time towards each other. Freed to a great extent from the common pressure of the war against the Britons, their energies turned to combats with one another, to a long struggle for overlordship which was to end in bringing about a real national unity. The West-Saxons, beaten back from their advance along the Severn valley, and overthrown in a terrible defeat at Faddiley, were torn by internal dissensions, even while they were battling for life against the Britons. Strife between the two rival kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira in the north absorbed the power of the Engle in that quarter, till in 588 the strength of Deira suddenly broke down, and the Bernician king, aethelric, gathered the two peoples into a realm which was to form the later kingdom of Northumbria. Amid the confusion of north and south, the primacy among the conquerors was seized by Kent, where the kingdom of the Jutes rose suddenly into greatness under a king called aethelberht, who before 597 established his supremacy over the Saxons of Middlesex and Essex, as well as over the English of East Anglia and of Mercia as far north as the Humber and the Trent.
The overlordship of aethelberht was marked by a renewal of that intercourse of Britain with the Continent which had been broken off by the conquests of the English. His marriage with Bertha, the daughter of the Frankish King Charibert of Paris, created a fresh tie between Kent and Gaul. But the union had far more important results than those of which aethelberht may have dreamed. Bertha, like her Frankish kinsfolk, was a Christian. A Christian bishop accompanied her from Gaul to Canterbury, the royal city of the kingdom of Kent; and a ruined Christian church, the church of St. Martin, was given them for their worship. The marriage of Bertha was an opportunity which was at once seized by the bishop who at this time occupied the Roman See, and who is justly known as Gregory the Great. A memorable story tells us how, when but a young Roman deacon, Gregory had noted the white bodies, the fair faces, the golden hair of some youths who stood bound in the market-place of Rome. "From what country do these slaves come?" he asked the traders who brought them. "They are English, Angles!" the slave-dealers answered.
[Authorities. - Bseda's "Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum" is the one primary authority for this period. I have spoken fully of it and its writer in the text. The meagre regnal and episcopal annals of the West-Saxons have been brought by numerous insertions from Baeda to the shape in which they at present appear in the "English Chronicle." The Poem of Caedmon has been published by Mr. Thorpe, and copious summaries of it are given by Sharon Turner (" Hist, of Anglo-Saxons," vol. iii. cap. 3) and Mr. Morley ("English Writers," vol. i.) The life of Wilfrid by Eddi, and those of Cuthbert by Baeda and an earlier contemporary biographer, which are appended to Mr. Stevenson's edition of the "Historia Ecclesiastica," throw great light on the religious condition of the North. For Guthlac of Crowland, see the "Acta Sanctorum" for April xi. For Theodore, and the English Church which he organized, see Kemble ("Saxons in England." vol. ii. cap. 8 - 10"), and above all the invaluable remarks of Dr. Stubbs in his "Constitutional History".
The deacon's pity veiled itself in poetic humour. "Not Angles but Angels," he said, "with faces so angel-like! From what country come they?" "They come," said the merchants, "from Deira." "De ira! "was the untranslateable reply; "aye, plucked from God's ire, and called to Christ's mercy! And what is the name of their king?" "aeWa.," they told him; and Gregory seized on the words as of good omen. "Alleluia shall be sung in aella's land!" he cried, and passed on, musing how the angel-faces should be brought to sing it. Only three or four years had gone by, when the deacon had become Bishop of Rome, and Bertha's marriage gave him the opening he sought. After cautious negotiations with the rulers of Gaul, he sent a Roman abbot, Augustine, at the head of a band of monks, to preach the gospel to the English people. The missionaries landed in 597 on the very spot where Hengest had landed more than a century before in the Isle of Thanet; and the king received them sitting in the open air on the chalk-down above Minster, where the eye nowadays catches miles away over the marshes the dim tower of Canterbury. He listened to the long sermon as the interpreters whom Augustine had brought with him from Gaul translated it. "Your words are fair," aethelberht replied at last with English good sense, "but they are new and of doubtful meaning;" for himself, he said, he refused to forsake the gods of his fathers, but he promised shelter and protection to the strangers.
The band of monks entered Canterbury bearing before them a silver cross with a picture of Christ, and singing in concert the strains of the litany of their church. "Turn from this city, Lord," they sang, "Thine anger and wrath, and turn it from Thy holy house, for we have sinned." And then in strange contrast came the jubilant cry of the older Hebrew worship, the cry which Gregory had wrested in prophetic earnestness from the name of the Yorkshire king in the Roman market-place, "Alleluia!"
It is strange that the spot which witnessed the landing of Hengest should be yet better known as the landing-place of Augustine. But the second landing at Ebbsfleet was in no small measure the reversal and undoing of the first. "Strangers from Rome" was the title with which the missionaries first fronted the English king. The march of the monks as they chanted their solemn litany was, in one sense, the return of the Roman legions who had retired at the trumpet-call of Alaric. It was to the tongue and the thought not of Gregory only but of such men as his own Jutish fathers had slaughtered and driven over sea that aethelberht listened in the preaching of Augustine. Canterbury, the earliest royal city of the new England, became the centre of Latin influence. The Roman tongue became again one of the tongues of Britain, the language of its worship, its correspondence, its literature. But more than the tongue of Rome returned with Augustine. Practically his landing renewed the union with the western world which the landing of Hengest had all but destroyed. The new England was admitted into the older commonwealth of nations. The civilization, arts, letters, which had fled before the sword of the English conquest, returned with the Christian faith.