One of my long standing pet peeves about Anglo-Saxon studies is the absolute dearth of study of Hengest and Horsa, reputed to be the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain. The usual excuses — that there isn’t enough information on them and they are not historical– are utter rubbish. Since when does a character need to be historic for primarily literary scholars to deal with him? There is more known about Hengest and Horsa than most of the figures in Beowulf, about whom there is endless ink spilled. Even Vortigern has his defenders , where are those who study Hengest?
So lets start with the supposed lack of sources:
- Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People is the first to mention Hengest in his relation to the Kentish royal family and in listing him within their royal genealogy.
- Historia Brittonum (825, alas the link is a poor cobbled together translation) gives a very long and detailed account of Hengest and Horsa, including the first description of battles between Hengest and Horsa and the Britons from the British viewpiont. Also a different version of the Kentish royal genealogy. It also includes the first references to Vortigern and Hengest’s daughter and the ‘night of the long knives’ motif.
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c. 875-900) also list Hengest in genealogies and a variety of dates, including battles with the Britons from the English viewpoint.
- Anglican Collection of genealogies dates from about 850, a couple generations after the genealogies of the Historia Brittonum.
- Armes Prydain Fawr (‘The Great Prophecy of Britain’) Welsh poem from the time of Aethelstan. Mentions Hengest and Horsa in its recounting of the marks against the English, section II out of IX.
- Beowulf and the ‘Fight at Finnsburg’ give accounts of Hengest before coming to Britain.
- Welsh triads refer to Hengest and Horsa, if I recall correctly.
- The Matter of Britain: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, (Welsh) History of the Kings, Wace’s Roman de Brut, and Layamon’s verison, etc.
I just don’t get the lack of interest. There are far more sources in different types of texts (chronicles, genealogies, poetry) than most other early English figures. The Kentish genealogy starting uncharacteristically with Hengest is one of the best to track the development of royal genealogies (Bede, HB, and Anglican collection, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in that order of age). You can track the development of a legendary and literary figure from Bede to modern Arthuriana. Oh..perhaps that’s the rub… you might get an Arthurian lurgy (or cooties).