King Arthur – History of Britain, King Arthur and Seven Kingdoms. The populer picture of King Arthur and his knights is of a band of vhivalrous gentlemen clad in shining armour. This is far from the truth. So far as we know, Arthur was a general serving a British king named Ambrosius Aurchanus.
When the monarch died, he took over the task of harassing the Saxons. His troops were probably mounted, and disciplined like Roman soldiers. Many of the engagements seem to have been fought at crossroads and fords. Possibly, they were ambushes.
Arthur’s men certainly seem to have been unusually mobile – making sudden attacks, and then melting away into the forest. In the year 516, they fought a full scale battle against the Saxons at a place named Mount Badon somewhere in the West Country. They were victorious, and this success seems to have halted the Saxon advance for the better part of fifty years.
King Arthur was killed in a civil war – about twenty years afterwards.
The Seven Kingdoms
It took one hundred years for the Anglo-Saxons to complete their occupation. Britain now was divided up into seven kindoms. Among them were Northumbria, which reached from the Humber to Edinburgh and eventually westwards to the Lancashire coast; Mercia – the Midlands; and Wessex – southern England.
Offa, the ruler of Mercia (he who built Offa’s Dyke running from Prestatyn to the Wye as a boundary between England and Wales) once described himself as ‘King of the English’, but this was a mere boast. When, in the 9th century, King Egbert of Wessex helped himself to Kent and other Saxon lands in the south-east, it became generally accepted that the Wessex king was the senior monarch – and that, therefore, he ruled England.
Althoug these early kings were based in strategically sited towns, they spent much of their time travelling – collecting rents and taxes and administering justice. The Saxons believed in handing down the throne from father to son – unless the their turned out to be unsuitable. In such cases an advisory council appointed another member of the royal family.
Apart from supervising the law and collecting his money, the king settled feuds, led hunting and military expeditions, and gave sumptuous banquets. He was assisted by an official known as the Ealdorman.
The Anglo-Saxon kings did not maintain large standing armies. They did, homever, keep small, well-equipped, bands of warriors for emergencies. In wartime, these forces were strengthened by peasants conscripted from the fields. They fought with fanaticism; for they knew that, if they were captured, they and their lives is slavery.
The small farmer depended for his land, his livestock and his supplies, on his local lord. In return for these things, he spent two ar three days each week working for his master. Sometimes – after, for example, an exceptionally bad harvest – the only chance of survival was for the whole family to become slaves.
The alternative was to go without food. It was a dismal outlook. As they knew very well, even the law against murder did not apply to these unfortunate people. If a slave was slain, his killer could be prosecuted only for ‘destruction of property’.