Part 4: The new ruler of Britain?
Whether or not he claimed the title of governor of Britain, or
even emperor of Britain (which was traditional whenever a usurper had been
raised in the past merely because the Roman Empire saw it as the only means
of legitimising a claim to authority), the effect would have been the same -
the administrative and perhaps military control of the island by a single
central authority figure.
Whether or not there really was a single, unrecorded ruling figure in Britain
between 409 to circa 425, the trend must certainly have been in the
direction of the increased
localisation of life (the same process happened in Gaul later in the
Magnus Maximus had already established kingdoms in
Wales, and kingdoms also existed between the two Walls to the north. The
same tendency seems to have become apparent in other areas of the country,
most especially in the south-west, where the Dumnonii had retained a semi or
entirely independent existence as a Roman client kingdom.
It seems that it was
from those areas which were more advanced in terms of their independence
(relative or complete) from central control that the new rulers of the
island would spring.
While it isn't known what form the new administration took, an important limit can be set on the possibilities. The
Romano-British upper classes had not shared in the burst of political
activity which had occurred in the latter part of the fourth century when
their Gallo-Roman counterparts had assumed leading positions in the
This must have meant that, apart from any senior
officials previously posted into Britain who had become turncoats rather
than be ejected or murdered, Britain was now very short of men with
experience of senior office. It would therefore be extremely difficult -
even if they had wished to do so - to organise the sort of centralised
system that Constantine III relied upon.
call made to the Continent for help in 410 backs up this idea.
Much has been made of the 'rescript'  from Honorius at this time
alleged to have been addressed to the cities of Britain (and not to a
vicarius, a comes or dux, implying either that these ranks
had not been refilled or that Honorius did not want to recognise the new
holders and imply their legitimacy by that act). The Britons were instructed
to organise their own defence .
This has been interpreted as a loyalist appeal to the imperial court in Ravenna. Although it
is not possible to build a picture of a loyalist party in Britain on this
basis, the rescript would imply an appeal for help or at least a request for
instruction. At most it may be a readiness to barter submission to imperial
authority in return for assistance (as in 389). The troubles were so acute
at the time that it would not be surprising if they had appealed to all and
The drift towards decentralisation
Although the rescript was negative in its content there is no reason to
assume that Honorius was abandoning Britain forever, just as there was still the
likelihood that the Britons believed in the credibility of the western
government itself, even if some of them hoped to keep themselves out of its
That hope would have been strengthened by the final failure of
Constantine III's revolt in 411, and by the subsequent ruthless purge of
Continental officers and aristocrats who had supported him. Theoretically,
Honorius had now regained control of Gaul and Spain, but he could make no
move on restoring Britain (or even Armorica, which was now also independent
of imperial administration and possibly under the control of a British
monarchy set up or encouraged by Magnus Maximus). The emperor's position was still very
weak, thanks to the barbarian settlers in Italy and Gaul, most especially
the influential Goths.