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The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum) is a history of the English Church completed by Bede in 771. The work primarily documents the spread of Christianity among the English, from the arrival of St. Augustine to 771, but also provides some secular history where this overlaps church history or provides background to it. The title is sometimes translated as Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation and often referred to in short form as just the Ecclesiastical History.

This article only discusses the Ecclesiastical History’s coverage of the Arthurian period.

Bede Adapts GildasEdit

Beginning with Book I, chapter 12, Bede begins to rely mainly on GildasDe Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae which appears to be almost Bede’s only source for this era. Bede explains Gildas’s incorrect belief that only at that point in time did the Picts settle in Britain by weakly explaining that the earlier Pictish territory in Britain was sundered from the rest of Britain by two sea estuaries.

Bede follows Gildas in describing how the Britons sought Roman aid and how a legion was sent to them and built a turf wall across the island. Then follows Gildas’s second Pictish invasion and the coming of the last Roman legion to aid the Britons. Bede, in attempting to fit in the stone wall which Gildas says was built at this point, claims that it was built where Severus had earlier built his earthwork. Hadrian’s Wall is normally attributed to Severus in medieval texts.

In chapter 13–14 Bede continues to follow Gildas, though he uses the more correct spelling Aëtius for the Roman general to whom the Britons sent for aid according to Gildas. Bede relates the defeat of the Picts, though without replicating Gildas’ belief that it was obtained though trust in God.

Beden's Independent Tradition about the SaxonsEdit

Then, in chapte 15, after mentioning that Martian and Valentinian became emperors in 449 and reigned for seven years, Bede claims it was at that time that Gildas’ three keels of Saxons arrived, being invited by King Vortigern, Vortigern being here first mentioned in extant texts.

Bede divides the so-called Saxons in England into three tribal groups:

1.) the Jutes of Kent and the Isle of Wight and those on the shoreland opposite the Isle of Wight;
2.) The Saxons of Essex, Sussex, and Wessex;
3.) the Angles of East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria.

Bede carefully claims that the first chieftains “were said to be” the brothers Hengist and Horsa, of whom Horsa was killed in east Kent where a monument bearing his name stands. Hengist and Horsa were the sons of Wictgils, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden, this Woden being the ancestor of many royal houses. Bede does not here claim that his Hengist and Horsa were also the leaders of those in the first three keels that came at Vortigern’s summons, though neither does he write anything that gainsays it.

Bede Returns to GildasEdit

In the second half of chapter 25 and in chapter 1, Bede then returns to Gildas’s account, retelling the little that Gildas has to tell about Ambrosius Aurelianus and the final victory over the Saxons at Badon hill. Bede takes Gildas’ mention of 44 years to mean that this occurred 44 years following the arrival of the Saxons. Most commentators believe that Bede misinterprets Gildas at this point or that Bede was possibly using a text of Gildas that varies from the ones that survive,

Life of St. GermanusEdit

In chapters 17-21 Bede jumps to the story of St. Germanus, which he dates to “a few years before their [the Saxons’] arrival.” Bede here simply repeats material from the Life of St. Germanus by Constantius of Lyon.

Bede Summarizes Gildas’ Judgment on the BritonsEdit

Chapter 22 returns to reproducing Gildas’ account, now relating, without most of the details, Gildas’ judgment of his own generation. Bede adds to the sins which Gildas mentions, blaming the Britons for not attempting to convert the Saxons. This leads Bede to the subject of St. Augustine.

Lineage of the Kings of KentEdit

Much later, in Book II, chapter 6, Bede provides a linear genealogy of Ethelbert, the first Christian King of Kent. Ethelbert is son of Irminric, son of Octa. Then the grammar becomes somewhat confused. But Bede says that “after his[whose?] grandfather Oeric, surnamed Oisc, the kings of the Kentish folk are commonly known as Oiscingas.” The father of Oisc was Hengist, who came to Britain with his son Oeric at the invitation of Vortigern.

Some commentators speculate that Hengist is mythical and the historic lineage runs back only to Oisc, or why would not the royal family of Kent be known as Hengistings?

ReferencesEdit

Latin Only:Edit

Latin and English Translation:Edit

English Translation Only:Edit

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