It only tells that Horsa fell in the moment of victory; and the flint-heap of Horsted, which has long preserved his name, and was held in after-time to mark his grave, is thus the earliest of those monuments of English valour of which Westminster is the last and noblest shrine.
The victory of Aylesford did more than give East Kent to the English; it struck the key-note of the whole English conquest of Britain. The massacre which followed the battle indicated at once the merciless nature of the struggle which had begun. While the wealthier Kentish landowners fled in panic over sea, the poorer Britons took refuge in hill and forest till hunger drove them from their urking-places to be cut down or enslaved by their conquerors. It was in vain that some sought shelter within the walls of their churches; for the rage of the English seems to have burned fiercest against the clergy. The priests were slain at the altar, the churches fired, the peasants driven by the flames to fling themselves on a ring of pitiless steel. It is a picture such as this which distinguishes the conquest of Britain from that of the other provinces of Rome. The conquest of Gaul by the Frank, or of Italy by the Lombard, proved little more than a forcible settlement of the one or the other among tributary subjects who were destined in a long course of ages to absorb their conquerors.
French is the tongue, not of the Frank, but of the Gaul whom he overcame; and the fair hair of the Lombard is now all but unknown in Lombardy. But the English conquest for a hundred and fifty years was a sheer dispossession and driving back of the people whom the English conquered. In the world-wide struggle between Rome and the German invaders no land was so stubbornly fought for or so hardly won. The conquest of Britain was indeed only partly wrought out after two centuries of bitter warfare. But it was just through the long and merciless nature of the struggle that of all the German conquests this proved the most thorough and complete. So far as the English sword in these earlier days reached, Britain became England, a land, that is, not of Britons, but of Englishmen. It is possible that a few of the vanquished people may have lingered as slaves round the homesteads of their English conquerors, and a few of their household words (if these were not brought in at a later time) mingled oddly with the English tongue. But doubtful exceptions such as these leave the main facts untouched.
When the steady progress of English conquest was stayed for a while by civil wars a century and a half after Aylesford, the Briton had disappeared from half of the land which had been his own, and the tongue, the religion, the laws of his English conqueror reigned without a rival from Essex to the Peak of Derbyshire and the mouth of the Severn, and from the British Channel to the Firth of Forth.
Aylesford, however, was but the first step in this career of conquest. How stubborn the contest was may be seen from the fact that it took sixty years to complete the conquest of Southern Britain alone. It was twenty years before Kent itself was won. After a second defeat at the passage of the Cray, the Britons "forsook Kent-land and fled with much fear to London;" but the ground was soon won back again, and it was not until 465 that a series of petty conflicts made way for a decisive struggle at Wippedsfleet. Here however the overthrow was so terrible that all hope of saving the bulk of Kent seems to have been abandoned, and it was only on its southern shore that the Britons held their ground. Eight years later the long contest was over, and with the fall of Lymne, whose broken walls look from the slope to which they cling over the great flat of Romney Marsh, the work of the first conqueror was done. But the greed of plunder drew fresh war-bands from the German coast. New invaders, drawn from among the Saxon tribes that lay between the Elbe and the Rhine, were seen in 477, only four years later, pushing slowly along the strip of land which lay westward of Kent between the Weald and the sea. Nowhere has the physical aspect of the country been more utterly changed.
The vact sheet of scrub, woodland, and waste which then bore the name of the Andredsweald stretched for more than a hundred miles from the borders of Kent to the Hampshire Downs, extending northward almost to the Thames, and leaving only a thin strip of coast along its southern edge. This coast was guarded by a great fortress which occupied the spot now called Pevensey, the future landing-place of the Norman Conqueror. The fall of this fortress of Anderida in 491 established the kingdom of the South-Saxons; "aelle and Cissa," ran the pitiless record of the conquerors, "beset Anderida, and slew all that were therein, nor was there afterwards one Briton left." Another tribe of Saxons was at the same time conquering on the other side of Kent, to the north of the estuary of the Thames, and had founded the settlement of the East-Saxons, as these warriors came to be called, in the valleys of the Colne and the Stour. To the northward of the Stour, the work of conquest was taken up by the third of the tribes whom we have seen dwelling in their German homeland, whose name was destined to absorb that of Saxon or Jute, and to stamp itself on the land they won.
These were the Engle, or Englishmen. Their first descents seem to have fallen on the great district which was cut off from the rest of Britain by the Wash and the Fens and long reaches of forest, the later East Anglia, where the conquerors settled as the North-folk and the South-folk, names still preserved to us in the modern counties. With this settlement the first stage in the conquest was complete. By the close of the fifth century the whole coast of Britain, from the Wash to Southampton Water, was in the hands of the invaders. As yet, however, the enemy had touched little more than the coast; great masses of woodland or of fen still prisoned the Engle, the Saxon, and the Jute alike within narrow limits. But the sixth century can hardly have been long begun when each of the two peoples who had done the main work of conquest opened a fresh attack on the flanks of the tract they had won. On its northern flank the Engle appeared in the estuaries of the Forth and of the Humber. On its western flank, the Saxons appeared in the Southampton Water.