Saturday, 23 December 2006

The White Dragon of the English

The White Dragon is the ancient emblem of the English origins of the Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain which began in the 5th century AD. The most famous of the early migrants were Hengest and Horsa who arrived with their warriors in three ships. In the following years many warriors and settlers crossed the sea and settled lowland Britain from East to West. They came from the Engle (English), the Seax (Saxons) and the Jutes. From the Jutes came the people of Kent and the people of the Isle of Wight and the mainland opposite Wight. From the Saxons came the East Saxons (Essex) and the South Saxons (Sussex) and the West Saxons (Wessex). From Angeln came the East Engle (East Anglia), Middle Engle (English Midlands), Mercians (Mercia), and all the Northumbrians (North of the Humber), which included those now known as the Lowland Scots.

The Engles (English) were the dominant group and by the 9th century the settlers had merged into ONE English identity. The English gave their name to the land they lived in (Englalond) and the language they spoke (Englisc), which has evolved into modern English. It was those scholars writing in Latin who called the English Angels and Anglo-Saxons.These settlers were closely related peoples – so similar in race and culture that they were able to merge into one English identity. Later they absorbed closely related Danish and other Scandinavian settlers.
The English adopted the White Dragon as their battle flag, while their enemy at the time, the Welsh/Britons, flew the Red Dragon. The White Dragon battlestandard was also flown by Harold II (Harold Godwinson), when he destroyed the Norse army of Harald Hardraade and Tostig (Harolds traitorous brother) at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 and it was the banner under which he and his warriors fought to the death, three weeks later defending their homeland at the Battle Of Hastings on 14th October.
It was also the battlestandard under which King Alfred the Great defeated the great Viking Army at the Battle of Edington and it was the banner carried by the mighty King Athelstan when he smashed the combined armies of the Scots, Welsh, Norse and Irish at the Battle of Brananburgh in 937.

An account of the Battle of Hastings - 14th October 1066
Harold positioned himself at Senlac Hill near Hastings and selected a spot that was protected on each flank by marshy land. At his rear was a group of trees. He further strengthened his position with a ditch and some fortifications. The English housecarls provided a shield wall at the front of Harold's army. They carried large battle-axes and were considered to be the toughest fighters in Europe.
The fyrd (local lords and the peasantry) were placed behind the housecarls. The leaders of the fyrd, the thegns, had swords and spears but the rest of the men were generally inexperienced fighters and carried weapons such as iron-studded clubs, scythes, slings, reaping-hooks and hay-forks.
We have no accurate figures of the number of soldiers who took part in the battle although historians have estimated that William had about 5,000 infantry and 3,000 knights while Harold had about 2, 500 housecarls and over 6,000 members of the fyrd. At nine in the morning the Norman archers advanced up the hill and when they were about a 100 yards away from Harold's army fired their first volley of arrows. Using their shields, the housecarls were able to block most of this attack. The Norman infantry then charged up the hill.
The English held firm and the Normans were forced to retreat. Members of the fyrd broke ranks and chased after the Normans. William ordered his cavalry to attacked the English who had left their positions on Senlac Hill. English losses were heavy and very few fighters managed to return to their place at the top of the hill.
At about twelve noon there was a break in the fighting for an hour. This gave both sides a chance to remove the dead and wounded from the battlefield. William, who had originally planned to use his cavalry when the English retreated decided to change his tactics. At about one in the afternoon he ordered his archers forward again.
This time they fired higher in the air. The change of direction of the arrows caught the English by surprise. The arrow attack was immediately followed by a cavalry charge. Casualties on both sides were heavy. Those killed included Harold's two brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine. However, the English line again held and the Normans were eventually forced to retreat. The undisciplined fyrd broke ranks to chase the retreating Normans. William of Normandy ordered his knights to turn and attack the men who had left the line. Once again the English suffered many casualties.
William decided to take another rest. He had lost over a quarter of his cavalry. Many horses had been killed and the ones left alive were exhausted. William decided that his knights should dismount and attack as infantry. This time all the Normans went into battle together. The archers fired their arrows and at the same time the knights and infantry charged up the hill.
It was now four in the afternoon. Heavy English casualties from previous attacks meant that the front line was too short and the Normans were able to outflank them, attacking from the sides as well as the front. The few housecarls that were left were forced to form a small shield-circle round the English battlestandard. The Normans attacked again and this time they broke through the shield wall and Harold and most of his housecarls were killed.

The White Dragon in the 21st Century
Today , as we see a resurgence of patriotic pride sweeping our land, the White Dragon Flag can be seen flying as a symbol of English identity and pride alongside the later Cross of St.George, as the ethno-English fight again to protect our homeland, albeit this time through the ballot box.

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