Front Matter Early Times The Druids The Britons Caesar in Britain Queen Boadicea The Great Walls The Great Irish Saint The Anglo-Saxons Brave King Arthur The Laws of the Saxons The Story of St Augustine Three Great Men The Danish Pirates King Alfred and the Cakes Alfred conquers the Danes A King's Narrow Escape The King and the Outlaw The Monasteries An Unlucky Couple St Dunstan King Canute and the Waves A Saxon Nobleman Lady Godiva's Ride The Battle of Hastings The Conquest Lords and Vassals Death of William The Brothers' Quarrels Arms and Armour The "White Ship" Matilda's Narrow Escapes Story of Fair Rosamond Thomas a Becket Murder of Thomas a Becket Richard's Adventures Richard and the Saracens The Faithful Minstrel Death of Richard The Murder of Arthur The Great Charter The Rule of Henry III A Race Persecution of the Jews The Conquest of Wales A Quarrel with France The Coronation Stone The Insolent Favourite Bruce and the Spider Death of Edward II The Murderers punished The Battle of Crecy The Siege of Calais The Age of Chivalry The Battle of Poitiers The Peasants' Revolt Richard's Presence of Mind A Tiny Queen Henry's Troubles Madcap Harry A Glorious Reign The Maid of Orleans The War of the Roses The Queen and the Brigand The Triumph of the Yorks The Princes in the Tower Richard's Punishment Two Pretenders A Grasping King Field of the Cloth of Gold The New Opinions Death of Wolsey Henry's Wives The King and the Painter A Boy King Lady Jane Grey The Death of Cranmer A Clever Queen Elizabeth's Lovers Mary, Queen of Scots Captivity of Mary Stuart Wreck of the Spanish Armada The Elizabethan Age Death of Elizabeth A Scotch King The Gunpowder Plot Sir Walter Raleigh King and Parliament Cavaliers and Roundheads "Remember" The Royal Oak The Commonwealth The Restoration Plague and Fire The Merry Monarch James driven out of England A Terrible Massacre William's Wars The Duke of Marlborough The Taking of Gibraltar The South Sea Bubble Bonny Prince Charlie Black Hole of Calcutta Loss of the Colonies The Battle of the Nile Nelson's Last Signal The Battle of Waterloo First Gentleman of Europe Childhood of Queen Victoria The Queen's Marriage Wars in Victoria's Reign The Jubilee

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Druids

The Gaels were a very rude people, but they were a little more civilized than the first inhabitants of Britain. They went out on their hunting or fighting expeditions under the leadership of one of their number, who, on account of his strength or skill, was chosen to be their chief. They had also learned how to build mud huts, which they placed close together and surrounded with a wall of tree-trunks and mud. This wall protected their dwellings from the attacks of the wild beasts which ranged through the forests then covering the greater part of the island.

The Gaelic villages multiplied until they soon dotted the southern coast of England. Then, little by little, the Gaels improved, and learned to make a kind of cloth, which they used for clothing instead of the skins of wild beasts, and to fashion clumsy earthenware pots, in which they cooked their food.

But, just as the Gaels had driven away the first inhabitants, of whom we know so little, they were, in turn, driven away themselves. Another tribe of the same race, called the Celts, now came from the mainland; and as they were more civilized than the Gaels, and had better weapons, they forced the Gaels to retreat before them into the interior of the country.

The newcomers knew how to plough, and sow, and reap, as well as to hunt and fight. They brought with them their priests, who were called Druids, and began to practise in England what is known as the Druidic religion, or Druidism.

These priests were the wisest men of the Celtic nation, and they knew something of agriculture, arithmetic, astronomy, medicine, etc. They were very careful, however, to teach what they knew only to a few of the most intelligent men of the tribe, who thus became Druids too, and were greatly respected by their less learned companions.

At first the Druids used to teach their disciples by repeating over and over again the things they knew; and as it is easier to remember poetry than anything else, most of their knowledge was put into a sort of rhyme. The Druids wore long white linen garments and strange golden ornaments. They selected one of their number to be their chief, and obeyed him in all things. The chief is said to have worn a little golden box, which contained a serpent's egg. But you must not imagine that this was an ordinary snake's egg. Oh, no! The Druids said it was a magic egg, and that if the box were put into the water it would swim against the current.

Now the Celts and Gaels were so ignorant that they believed all this, and listened attentively to everything the Druids told them. But although the Druids did make them believe some very silly things, they also taught them some very useful knowledge. For instance, these priests told them that there was one great and powerful God, who had made them and enabled them to live. They said that this God was so great that no temple could hold him, and hence they always worshipped him out of doors.

Sometimes the Druids held their services under a huge oak tree, in the depths of the great forest. Then they would tell the people that the oak was an emblem of the great God whom they worshipped, while the mistletoe, a little plant which grew on its bark, was like man, who was so weak and small that he could not live for a moment without the help of God.

The Druids had very solemn services at times; and once a year they used to march out into the forest, accompanied by holy women who were supposed to have the gift of prophecy. These women wore long white linen robes, had crowns of vervain on their heads, and carried golden sickles, with which the Druids cut down the mistletoe while chanting a sort of hymn. The herb thus gathered was used for medicine, and the Celts believed that it would cure almost every disease.

In different parts of England, you can still see huge stone altars or tables, which are called dolmens. The rocks which form these altars are so large that it is not easy to understand how the Druids built them; but it is evident that these wise men knew something about machinery, and secretly made use of this knowledge to put them up. The ignorant people, however, believed that the stones had moved into their places at a mere touch of the Druids' magic wands.



Although the Druids generally offered up a horse or some other animal, they sometimes laid human sacrifices on these great stone slabs, in which little grooves were cut to receive the blood. As they fancied that such a sacrifice was agreeable to God, the victim sometimes offered to die of his own free will. In times of war, prisoners were sacrificed; but when they were very numerous, the Druids made a huge wicker cage in the shape of a man, crammed it full of captives, and then set it afire, while they intoned their chants.



Besides the stone altars, the Druids are also supposed to have built one of the strangest monuments in the world, that known as Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain in England. There, around a huge stone altar, you can see two circles of upright stones, which were once connected by flat slabs laid on top of them. Learned men now think that this was one of the Druidic temples, and hence left open to the sky; but it was built so long before real history began, that the people, unable to account for its origin, declared it had risen by magic, in the course of a single night, from stones spirited over the sea from Ireland.