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Emperor Honorius



emperor Honorius


It is known that 'British' envoys went to emperor Honorius in AD 410 in an attempt to normalize the relations with the Empire. They also needed soldiers to stop the incursions.

This is interesting.

We can only assume that during the 'reign' of Constantine III the British upper class was divided. Some must have supported Constantine III with financial means. When it became clear that Constantine III would fail, many senators changed side. Expressing loyalty to emperor Honorius meant also a political maneuver in London. It could be an attempt to neutralize the pro-Constantine faction.

Gildas wrote that the Britons had sent a delegation, with letters, to the eastern emperor Flavius Theodosius I after the demise of Maximus Magnus (probably after 388). In a similar fashion a delegation went to Honorius in 410.

It is very well possible that Honorius knew the real situation in Britain. The eastern, proto-English side of the isle was luke warm about the Empire. On top of that, many eastern lords hired more and more private guards, often led by Anglo-Saxons, and that was against the law. Undoing that situation could provoke serious problems. Those local guards were the only ones who effectively defended the country. The unthreatened western, proto-Welsh side was far more pro-Roman, but exactly that (overzealous) side had betrayed Honorius. On top of all that , the central tax administration had been dissolved.

The delegation faced serious problems in convincing the emperor. Britain had betrayed Honorius, precisely at the worst moment when the emperor had to deal with the Visigoths. Neutralizing Constantine III must have drained Honorius' finances. In 410 the British usurper Constantine III was still a threat to Honorius. The credibility of the British delegation must have been very low. In Honorius' mind, the very same people who had betrayed him now pleaded for his support! They asked for costly legions to defend their backyards! Honorius was known to be suspicious and indecisive. This was not the first time that the Britons had conspired against the empire (Maximus Magnus) and asked for defense after they had realized that 'things' had go wrong. It is very possible that Honorius was convinced that the indulgence of Theodosius I was the cause of the renewed rebellion under Constantine III. But Theodosius had been the last great emperor of a united empire and Honorius was in reality a disaster.

In theory, Honorius had some options:

(1) he could accept the British apologies, but it was clear that he was at that moment (financially) unable to restore his authority in Britain. The constant raids in Britain meant however that help was urgent. As Honorius was unable to intervene within a reasonable time, he could lose his face completely .

(2) He could give Britain the status of foederatus (federated region). Then, Britain had not only the right, but even the duty to defend itself. In addition, Britain would have been obliged to deliver troops to the emperor too, something the emperor badly needed. Against this argument was the fact that the raids were more a serious nuisance than a real danger. The other problem for Honorius was that this also meant that Britain would be exempt of taxes.

In both cases, the traitors in Britain would remain unpunished.