Saisne, Saisnes, Sesne, Sesnes
A collection of only loosely-unified Germanic tribes that invaded England in the fifth and sixth centuries, and eventually conquered it, holding it until the Normans invaded in 1066.
Their own history (in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), as well as archaeological evidence, shows their encroachments beginning in the south and east of Britain, shortly after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the early fifth century, which had left Britain near defenseless. They were closely related to the Jutes and the Angles, who led raids into Britain about the same time as the Saxons. The first conquests of these Germanic invaders included Kent, the Isle of Wight, Wessex (West Saxons), Sussex (South Saxons), Essex (East Saxons), Suffolk, Norfolk, and Northumberland. From these settlements, they led incursions into the territories of the British, Scottish, Cornish, and Welsh, effectively conquering the entire island within 200 years. In the early legends, Arthur’s fame is founded upon his successes in the struggle against the Saxons.
Multiple early sources, including Gildas, Bede, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle assert that the Saxons’ relentless aggression was stopped for a few decades when the disparate British kings united under a succession of war-leaders and enjoyed a series of military victories against the invaders. Ambrosius seems to have been the first of these generals, and Arthur is given by Nennius as another. In any event, the British were unable to remain united long enough. The Saxon invasions soon resumed and were largely completed by the close of the sixth century.
By the time of Nennius’s writing, the history of the Saxon invasion was already becoming tainted with fantastic elements. According to the chronicles, the original Saxon invaders were led by Hengist and his brother Horsa, two characters who appear in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and are probably based on historical figures, though they would have only been leaders of a particular tribe of Saxons; there was no “Saxon nation”. Vortigern, who was the king of Britain two generations before Arthur, befriended the Saxons and employed them as mercenaries in order to defend Britain against the Picts from the north and against Ambrosius in Brittany. This practice of hiring one barbarian race to defend against another is in keeping with Roman tradition and it is not impossible that a historical British ruler called Vortigern did exactly that, probably in the 440s (Alcock, 108). Sources disagree as to whether Vortigern invited the first Saxons to Britain, or whether they already had encampments on the eastern shore; archaeology seems to favor the latter hypothesis. If, as some historians speculate, Vortigern was anti-Roman, the his plan for the Saxons may have included prevention against a Roman re-occupation (Lindsay, 190).
Continuing with the chronicles’ stories, Hengist married his daughter Rowena to Vortigern and was granted the country of Kent. Capitalizing on Vortigern’s fear of attack, Hengist brought thousands of Saxon warriors to Britain, covertly plotting to take over the island. When Hengist’s plot became clear, Vortimer, Vortigern’s son, broke from his father and led an army of Britons against the Saxons, killing Horsa and driving them off the island. When Vortimer died, however, the Saxons returned and reoccupied areas of Kent, Middlesex, Sussex, and Essex. They were driven out again by Ambrosius, only to return to plague Uther Pendragon.
Arthur won a final victory against them through a series of seven or 12 battles, culminating in the battle of Badon Hill. A final Briton golden age flourished under Arthur, and the Saxons returned upon his death. Leaders of the Saxon warriors who plagued Ambrosius, Uther, and Arthur are given variously as Octa, Eosa, Colgrim, Baldulph (Baldulf), and Cheldric.
A large portion of the Vulgate Merlin expands upon the Saxon invasion, listing a multitude of Saxon kings from Ireland, Denmark, and Germany who entered Britain and besieged its greatest cities at the beginning of Arthur’s reign. The more notable among these dozens of rulers include Aminaduc, Bramangue, Clarion, Galahad, Hargadabran (Hargodabrans), Maragond, Oriel, Pignoras, Rions, Salebrun, and Sapharin.
Arthur allied with a collection of kings who had been in rebellion against him and, after a number of assorted battles, crushed the Saxons at the battle of Clarence (here replacing Badon). Arthour and Merlin and Malory replace this Saxon invasion with an attack by Saracens. The Vulgate Lancelot tells how they again invaded Scotland some twenty years later, but Arthur and Lancelot defeated them at Saxon Rock and drove them away. Mordred was said to have allied with the Saxons when he usurped Arthur’s throne, and several Saxon armies participated in the battle of Salisbury, in which Arthur was killed.
Battles | The Legend of King Arthur