466AD. Whether invited by the High King of The Britons Vortigern, as some sources say or came of their own accord in search of land and bounty, as others describe, the Saxons came to Briton in 446 or thereabouts.
Three hundred warriors came in three ceols ( Keels) and landed at Ebbsfleet on the shores of the isle of Thanet. They were a mixed bunch of men comprising of Jutes, Danes, Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Franks and their leaders, two brothers called Hengest and Horsa, came from Jutland. Taken on as the king’s mercenaries they were allowed to live on the Isle of Thanet and be fed and clothed from the king’s purse. In exchange they took battle to the enemies of King Vortigern. Flying the white horse banner these fierce warriors fought alongside the king’s own men and drove off the Pictish raiders time after time.
Well pleased with his new found warriors, king Vortigern rewarded Hengest well. After a while Hengest request that he be allowed to bring over his family and more men. Vortigern agreed, believing that besides being hostages the family would bind the Saxons to his cause. On his new land Hengest built himself a fort and sent word back home. Presently eighteen ceols arrived filled with relatives, retainers and warriors.
King Vortigern was invited meet with his new warriors and at the feast that followed they say that he took a great fancy to Hengest’s daughter Rowena and asked for her hand in marriage. Hengest demanded land as her dowry and the smitten king agreed to give him Thanet. Hengest and Horsa demanded more supplies sent for more men from home and began to look longingly at the whole of Kent.
At this point Vortigern with his new bride may have joined Hengest on Thanet as he drops from view and his two sons from a former marriage Vortimer and Catigern take command of the Britons and pledge to drive out the Saxons. Others of the Britons flocked to the cause. Hengest and Horsa called on the Picts and Scots for support and war broke out.
The two sides met in battle Four times, and four times the Britons prevailed. The first time was on the banks of the Darrent, the second was at Eagles ford (Aylesford) and it was there that Catigern king Vortigern’s son died. And Hengest’s brother Horsa was killed, by Vortimer’s hand.
The third took place in Kent on the seashore at Stonar and also at sea where ships battled against ships. The Saxons withdrew from the Britons, fled and were trapped and besieged on the island of Thanet. In dire straits and with the threat of starvation or death hanging over them the Saxons sent Vortigern to treat on their behalf with his son. While the meeting was taking place the Saxons piled aboard their ships and fled leaving their women folk and children behind.
With the Saxons gone and Vortimer as king the country prospered and the was peace throughout the land. A state of affairs that didn’t last. Vortimer’s own stepmother, Rowena the daughter of Hengest had him poisoned. After his death for some strange reason the Britons allowed Vortigern to be king again. Which was a bad move because Rowena persuaded him to send for her father Hengest. In due course Hengest arrived at the head of a great heathen army. The Britons of course threatened to throw the heathens back into the sea. But crafty Hengest called for a day of truce and promised on oath that only those that the council should allow would stay and the rest would leave and go home.
A time was arranged for the council to meet and Hengest was invited to attend with a party of men, all of whom were to be unarmed, as per the rules of the council. Hengest and his men attended the council, but when he gave the signal they drew hidden weapons and began to slaughter the unarmed Britons. Altogether they killed three hundred lords of the of the land, although one or two did manage to escape. The King was taken a prisoner and after some time agreed to ransom his release by granting Kent to Hengest as his fief. The incensed Britons once more gathered in opposition and the two sides clashed at Crayford in Kent. 4,000 Britons were killed and the defeated army retired to London.
The Hengest and son Esc, from their base in Kent, continually created havoc, raiding and pillaging across country and into Wales and the Britons fought back. According The Anglo Saxon Chronicles they fought the Britons near Wippedfleet in 465 AD and killed twelve of their leaders, while only one of their own died. They clashed again in 473 and took much booty, while the Britons fled.
When Hengest died in or around 488AD his son Esc (Eric) took over as king of Kent.
After gaining his freedom Vortigern fled into Wales and was killed at a later date, when his castle burnt down. Some say by accident, others that it was a deliberate act by the Britons.
By: Fred Watson