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 - administrative
and perhaps military control of the island by a single central
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 century).
Magnus Maximus had already established principalities
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
It seems that it was from those areas that were more
advanced in terms of their independence (relatively or completely) 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 imperial hierarchy.
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.
Perhaps the 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, 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 usually 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 perceived troubles were so
acute at the time (even if it was mostly internal political troubles)
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 clutches.
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.