Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Groans of the Britons - The Battle of Wimbledon


The sources for British history in the 5th Century are not entirely clear, to put it mildly, but it would seem that at first the heads of the civitates got together to elect a Governor and military commanders. The first of these elected governors is known to history as Vortigern, though this seems to have been a nickname meaning "wide ruler" or, more informally, "big boss". His real name may have been Vitalinus, a rich man from Gloucester related to the Bishop of London. Certainly his descendants would become great landowners and important nobles in the Severn Valley. Vortigern died about the year 450.
It was during Vortigern’s rule that one of the few fixed points in the history of the Age of Arthur has been fixed. We know that at some point during the mid-5th century the government of Britain sent a message to the Roman commander in Gaul and Spain asking for help against the barbarians attacking Britain. The letter was addressed to Flavius Aetius “thrice Consul”. This allows the letter to be dated to between 446 when Aetius was Consul for the third time and 454 when he was Consul for the fourth time.
The letter is generally known as “The Groans of the Britons” and read, in part, “the barbarians drive us to the sea, the sea drives us to the barbarians, between these two means of death we are either killed or drowned.”
Aetius was too busy with his own wars to send any soldiers to Britain. Instead Britain received a visit from a retired general turned bishop, Germanus of Auxerre. The record of his visit states that he arrived at a south cost port, probably Southampton from the description, where he was warmly welcomed by Roman noblemen. These men would probably have included the ancestors of Ceawlin who fought at Wimbledon. After offering assorted military advice, visiting the shrine of St Albans and making speeches opposing an heretical teaching known as Pelagianism that was gaining ground in Britain, Germanus went home to Gaul.

from "The Battle of Wimbledon" by Rupert Matthews.
Buy your copy HERE

In the chaos that engulfed Britain after the "Age of Arthur", one battle stands out. This was a key battle fought in the heart of the Dark Ages for control of southern Britain that pitched the King of Kent against the leader of the Romano-Britons. The victory won here decided the fate of Britain for a generation. Fought across what is now built up Wimbledon the battle raged from the ford that carried the Roman road Stane Street over the River Wandle to the defences of Caesar's Camp on Wimbledon Common. The bloodshed was profuse as thousands of men packed shoulder to shoulder hacked at each other with spear, sword and knife. In this book historian Oliver Hayes outlines the reasons for the war and gives detailed notes on English weaponry and tactics of the time before describing the events of the battle itself and its aftermath. What has for years been a little-known and poorly understood event in early English history is here described and explained clearly for a general readership.

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