Grant Allen (full name Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen) was born in Canada to Irish parents, spent part of his life in the U.S., on Jamaica (teaching there at a college for black women) and most of it in England, where he received his education at King Edward's school in Birmingham and graduated from Merton College in Oxford. (He does look rather like an old man there, doesn't he, in spite of him not reaching more than 51 years.)
His father was a protestant minister, but young Grant had different ideas: he became an agnostic and socialist. Being very much interested in psychology and evolution (and writing about both subjects), he even introduced some rather revolutionary concepts in his novels. One of his books, "The Woman Who Did", caused a scandal when it was published in 1895: it portrayed an independent unmarried woman who has a child. He even wrote some novels under a female pseudonym, and a few science fiction books.
In "Anglo-Saxon Britain", however, he was still pretty much a writer of science and history, and the book is compiled in a thorough and accurate manner, with many footnotes and always naming his sources, both contemporary and historical.
In the preface, he writes:
This little book is an attempt to give a brief sketch of Britain under the early English conquerors, rather from the social than from the political point of view. For that purpose not much has been said about the doings of kings and statesmen; but attention has been mainly directed towards the less obvious evidence afforded us by existing monuments as to the life and mode of thought of the people themselves. The principal object throughout has been to estimate the importance of those elements in modern British life which are chiefly due to purely English or Low-Dutch influences.He goes on to explain how the Anglo-Saxon names are pronounced, a subject which is picked up again later in the book in an extra chapter about the development of the language (very interesting!).
Then he proceeds to outline the origin of the Anglo-Saxons, how the tribes lived on the Baltic coast, and their progress across the North Sea to the south-eastern part of Britannia, and spreading throughout what today is England.
A lot of what the author sees in his fellow Englishmen he traces back to characteristics - physical ones as well as socio-cultural ones - already firmly established with the first settlers originally from Sleswick and Friesland.
He contradicts some of the apparently popular theories of the time about the almost complete wiping out of the Celtic population, and does so with arguments brought forward in a logical manner.
The Anglo-Saxons are portrayed as a savage people, made up of warriors whose whole (often rather short) lives centred around warfare, constantly engaged in one fight or other, often against their nearest neighbours and only rarely fighting with them against a common enemy.
What I found remarkable (because I had never thought about it that way before) was how Allen describes the essential role the first monasteries had in the development of anything worth being called civilization: they really were the only places a less blood-thirsty man could turn to if he wanted to learn about things and live in (relative) peace; they were practically islands of peace and learning, of culture and science, of reading and perfecting methods of agriculture, husbandry and much more, amidst a tumultous sea of permanent warfare. Monasteries and churches were accepted as being neutral in conflicts by most parties, and left in peace, which allowed them to grow and prosper in a manner impossible to any other community, continuously under threat of being burnt and plundered.
The history of the many small Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, later forming three main kingdoms until, at last, there was but one king of England, is well mapped out. Speaking of maps - a map would have been very useful to trace the movements of the various tribes, but my free kindle edition only contains the text of the book.
It was a good and interesting read, and would have been even better with some illustrations. If I'll come across another free ebook by this author, I think I'll download it.