However, to see the Saxon invasion as a continuous
battle is incorrect. Although the period is littered with numerous
military confrontations, for the majority of this time the native
Celts and invading Saxons appear to have tolerated each other. This
can be evidenced by the relationship between Dumnonian King Geraint
and Saxon Bishop Adhelm.
Following the 'conquest' of Devon the Saxons had
four laws. Not only did they practise different laws for rich and
poor, but had rules for Saxon rich, Saxon poor, Celtic rich, and
Celtic poor. This demonstrates not only that the Celts 'survived'
the conquest, but that some managed to retain some wealth at the
transition, although the law for Celtic rich was later dispensed
Evidence of continued Celtic settlement in Devon
at this time can also be found in Exeter which retained a 'British
quarter' and which bore this name for centuries, and also by
reference to 'Wealcynn', which is what the Saxons called those Celts
who did not live in Cornwall (essentially 'British folk'). Branscombe
is one such place mentioned in King Alfred's will in AD 900.
In 927 Saxon King Athelstan expelled the Celts
from Exeter (possibly due to concerns that they had allegiances
with the Danes), although they relocated only as far as what is
now Exeter St David's railway station.
In 936 Athelstan set the boundary between Devon
and Cornwall at the Tamar, where (largely) it has remained ever
However, this was not a boundary between Celt and
Saxon, but rather a simple ecumenical boundary. It can be claimed
that this is obvious because Cornwall was 'conquered' by the Saxons
a hundred years beforehand (in the early ninth century), but no Saxon
advance before 875 seems to have crossed the Tamar. Much more
supportive are surveys of current genealogy (as in the BBC's Blood
of the Vikings series) which indicate that the majority of the
people of the West Country (and not just those of Devon) share a
common gene pool which dates back to pre-Saxon times. In essence,
the Saxons supplied a new ruling class in this region but just about
everyone else was a Briton.
In Michael Wood's book, In Search of England
(in which he searched for pre-Conquest England, and the ghost of
the imaginary Ulric the Saxon), he visited a Devon farm and found
not only pre-Conquest England, but pre-Saxon Devon. He noted that the
Celtic language in Devon 'survived for centuries', and that when King
Edgar granted the land charter in 974 he described the location as 'in
the place called in the common speech by the name Nymed'. Nymed is a
Celtic word (meaning 'sacred wood'), and it provides tantalising
evidence that the Celtic language was still the de facto common
language of the day.
We Britons may have learnt some new languages, but
we have survived.